Amen

I want to get better at prayer. I just finished Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, by Anne Lamott, and I basically wanted to take a highlighter to every page. Although I found myself identifying with a lot of her thoughts on spirituality, relationships, nature, etc., her ability to be in the moment was both convicting and inspiring. Lamott points out that being present is essential to prayer, and I agree…but my thoughts tend to bounce around more often than I’d like. When I take the Myers Briggs or StrengthsFinder or any other personality test, I am always described as having a “rich inner life” or an “active imagination”. This can be a good thing, but at times, it manifests as anxiety. My nature makes it difficult to be still (mentally). Maybe this resonates with some of you. I want to get better at prayer, in part, because I know it will make me better at life.

My mother-in-law had some time off between jobs for the first time in many years, and she came to stay with us for a month. Last week, she, my dad and I went to a beautiful nursery while the toddler was napping and my husband was working from home. We explored and asked questions and chose a few varieties of flowers to plant. IMG_0385FullSizeRenderIt was a perfect spring day, and we worked steadily through the afternoon—pulling weeds, raking leaves, spreading compost, sweeping mulch off the walkways and potting flowers. I left my phone inside. Ben woke up from his nap and joined us in the front yard, trotting around “supervising” and making commentary in toddler speak. I watched my dad and my mother-in-law enjoying him and smiled to myself. When we came inside I made iced tea, and we had it with leftover birthday cupcakes. I felt peaceful and invigorated and in the moment. That particular combination of atmosphere, activity and people really filled my soul with joy. It was a good day.

It’s important to remind ourselves not to aim for perfection. My goal shouldn’t be to live in the moment all the time, because that’s not going to happen. I have to give myself grace and celebrate good days and try to do more life-giving activities that make it easier for me to quiet my racing thoughts. Sometimes I look back with regret that I didn’t take advantage of an opportunity or appreciate the time I had with someone because I was distracted. Living in the moment, living prayerfully, means less regret and more peace. It means gratitude and awe. It means seeing beauty and potential in our messy, broken world.

At the end of the book, Anne writes,

“So we breathe, try to slow down and pay attention, try to love and help God’s other children, and—hardest of all, at least to me—learn to love our depressing, hilarious, mostly decent selves.”

Amen.

My Word for 2016

In 2015, I focused on savor.  2014 was about the word grow.  2013 was a year to celebrate.  This year I’ve chosen the most challenging word yet.  I’m taking grow a step further and focusing on the word deeper.  To be honest, it makes me a little nervous.  I still feel some resistance to this word, but that’s how I know it’s the right one.  For my purposes here, deeper means trying harder, digging below the surface, being more intentional with my time and, really, whatever else God reveals to me this year.

Since it is already late March (ahem), I can talk about what deeper has looked like so far this year.  Here’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned.  One way I can go deeper this year is to get more organized so that I can invest time in worthy causes without giving up my peaceful home hours.  

I’ve had a tendency to be too guarded with my time, so as part of my effort to live out my word for the year, I’ve tried to step up my involvement in activities when an opportunity comes up. In February, I ending up helping to plan events for two different groups that I’m involved with in the same week, and I almost didn’t recognize my life with so little down time.  [Please note that I realize this is just a normal week for some of you.  I’m talking to you, extroverts.  :)]  I felt guilty that I wasn’t home much during the day because Ben’s nap schedule was suffering and frazzled without my quiet time in the house to regroup.  Both events went extremely well, and knowing that I helped make them happen was really satisfying.  While I don’t regret participating, I also learned that it’s okay if I need a couple of quiet hours at home most days.

So, this gets pretty detailed, but I need to be able to refer back to it.  In no particular order, here are some goals that have developed out of choosing the word deeper, and steps I’m taking…

Get organized and balance my time

Steps Taken:

  • Drawing inspiration from women who have a routine or structure that is working well.  There are so many great ideas out there in the blog and podcast world, in addition to real life examples, of course.
  • Committing to some weekly routines like MOPS/Bible Study and story time at the library.
  • Being diligent with bed time and nap time for the baby.

Steps to Take:

  • Consider trying a bullet journal.
  • Try to structure time when Ben is sleeping so that I’m using it more effectively.

Go deeper spiritually

Steps Taken:

  • Joining a Bible study.
  • Attending church ladies’ retreat.
  • Having more consistent Bible reading time with my husband.  **work in progress

Steps to Take:

  • Embrace the renewed urgency I feel to deeper in my relationship with God and be prayerful and open to where he will lead.
  • Be fearless when he opens a door I might not have expected.

Build skills at home

Steps Taken:

  • Learning every day how to be a mom to this rapidly growing baby boy.IMG_0926
  • Repainting the cabinets in our guest bathroom!
  • Doing more reading and less TV watching, which makes me feel better about life.
    • TV is not an inherently bad thing, but it can become too time-consuming and even harmful to our spirits, in some cases.  When Parenthood and Parks and Recreation ended, for example, we didn’t replace them with new shows.  Now my beloved Downton Abbey has ended, too, (sigh) and the timing is good.  I’m getting a lot of book recommendations and making more frequent trips to the library.  My little guy is finally old enough for story time!  I cannot even describe the joy this brings to my inner literary nerd.  Libraries are a happy place.
  • Exercising most days
    • Right now that means a fast-paced walk with the stroller on the trail system near our house.  I love it and so does my boy.  This falls into the spirituality category, too.  It’s easier for me to find peace and connection with God when I am outside breathing fresh air and taking in natural scenes of trees and hills, etc.  It’s a win win.
  • In the kitchen— .
    • I made my own chicken broth. You know what?  It really does taste better.  🙂  It is definitely labor intensive, but one thing I love about cooking is how it reminds us that good things are worth waiting for.
    • I’ve enjoyed making food for Ben these last few months as well.  My personal favorite is sweet potatoes with applesauce and a pinch of cinnamon.  Que rico!
    • I’m finding some favorite meatless recipes for us, and I try to do a meatless meal at least once a week.
  • Trying to be more hospitable.
    • We love hosting family and friends for gatherings, whether special meals or just people stopping by.  We have done some of that already this year, and I’m really looking forward to some overnight guests coming up, too.

Steps to Take:

  • Get better at cleaning.
  • Make more progress on the long list of culinary endeavors I hope to tackle.
    • From scratch bread, yogurt, ranch dressing, some recipes from my fancy books, etc.
  • Start practicing yoga again.
    • I’ve heard about a great yoga YouTube channel, and I would like to start utilizing that to work on strength.
  • Take on more home improvement projects.
    • More painting, fireplace, yard…
  • Invest more time in writing.
  • Find more ways to be hospitable.

It should be an interesting and rewarding year, and I appreciate the accountability of being able to talk about my one word in this space.  Can any of you relate to the challenges I’m laying out for the year?  I would love to hear your experiences and any wisdom you have to offer.

Six Months of Awesome

I’m having a hard time writing about motherhood.  It’s too much.  I feel all of the things (mostly intense joy).  Also, the “mom brain” phenomenon that I heard about has hit me hard, and I’m not my most articulate self lately.  I’m not so much with the words.  It’s sad, but I’m hopeful that it won’t be a permanent condition.

Our sweet boy turned six months old last Friday in the midst of two weeks of travel and hosting and babysitting, so now I sit down to write about this milestone…and I just…there are no words big enough to describe my thoughts on this subject.  Benjamin is feisty and social and hilarious.  He loves to snuggle but he also loves to move. He is as wild as his hair would suggest and as sweet as his smile would indicate.  He sleeps like a champ and eats as though he’s certain each feeding will be his last.  He’s very verbal and laughs a lot.  He is DETERMINED.  He has a wide range of dramatic facial expressions.  He loves to grab everything in sight (his favorite is having two fistfuls of someone’s hair).  He fights naps because he doesn’t want to miss anything.  He loves music and the great outdoors.  His eyes light up when he’s in a new place or has a new experience (most recently starting solid foods).

He has the ability to completely wear us out, but he has brought us more joy than we ever could have imagined.  Benjamin has taught us so much about our Creator.  Bryan and I are so thankful for this beautiful, vivacious boy and humbled that God chose us to be his parents.  And since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a few that express the past six months a bit better than I can…

*Note:  The pictures on the striped rug are his monthly pictures, starting with 1 month old.

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Project Hohoemi (Part 2)

This story began with Part 1.  If you missed it, you can catch up here.  One day a few months later, I was scrolling casually through my Facebook feed like we do, and I saw a post from Renee.  She was asking for contacts in Japan.  She wanted to make some friends there outside of the military base where they were located.  I thought for a moment and realized I knew a wonderful family in Japan.  Thinking that they may live nowhere near each other, I went ahead and mentioned it to Michiko anyway.  Here is part of my message to her from March 6th, 2012, a little over two years ago…

Hello Dear Friends!

I love seeing the pictures and updates about your life in Japan. Our wedding photographer and her husband just found out that they are moving to Japan in August. Her name is Renee, and they have two small kids. I’m not sure where in Japan they will be living (her husband is in the airforce), but they are a sweet Christian family, and they really want to meet people who live in Japan. Would it be okay if I gave Renee your contact information so she could email you or facebook message you? Bryan and I continue to pray for your ministry there. Miss y’all!

Michiko replied warmly, as I knew she would, and I contacted Renee that same day…

I saw that you guys are moving to Japan. How exciting! It’s funny because I saw your status update about that and clicked on it and read that you want to meet people who live there. Then, right under that, my friend Michiko had just posted an album entitled “Japan 2012”. I knew I needed to put you in touch with her family. She is Japanese and is married to an American guy, Jonathan, and they have three small kids. They have been in Abilene for a few years and really recently moved back to Japan to work with the earthquake victims and a church there. I’m not sure if y’all will be close to where they are, but they are great people to know either way. I sent Michiko a message to ask if I could give you their contact info, and here was her reply:

And about your favorite photographer Renee, please tell her our contact information. When I wanted to ask someone to take our pictures in Abilene, actually she was in our list to choose from because your wedding and engage pictures are so great!!

So, it’s Jonathan and Michiko Straker, if you want to look them up.

Renee and Michiko

I love these beautiful women!

That’s all I did.  It was easy.  And then something amazing happened.  Renee and Michiko did, in fact, live far from each other, but they were able to talk online.  Those discussions developed into what is now known as “Project Hohoemi“.  I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that when two women with huge hearts get know each other, God does great things.  Renee gathered some photographer friends, and Michiko reached out to folks in her community who were impacted by the earthquake.  They arranged photo sessions with these precious people to help bring restoration and create new memories.  I highly recommend clicking on the link and checking out these incredible photographs (including some great shots of Michiko’s beautiful family)!  The expressions of joy on their faces are just priceless.  I LOVE it.  When I found out about Project Hohoemi, I got all tingly.  It started with my simple decision to connect two friends.  Several months later, I’m still amazed.  So, I will try to take advantage of opportunities to do this more often, and I hope this story inspires you to do the same.  You never know what might come from being a connector.  🙂

Finally Embracing the New Year and My One Word for 2014

Well, it’s the last day of January, so I guess it’s the last acceptable day to publish this post.  It’s good to know that my procrastination tendency didn’t fade out after college…

It was harder than usual this year for me to let go of the holiday season and move on to thoughts of a new year.  We had a funeral over Thanksgiving, photo 1a wedding right after Christmas…photo 2and a New Years spent thousands of miles away from my sweetheart.  It all felt like too much, and at the same time, not enough.  I felt cheated and disoriented for several weeks.  The holiday season is usually my absolute favorite time of year—starting with the cooler temperatures arriving (which is long-awaited each summer in Texas), all the way through Thanksgiving, our wedding anniversary and Christmas.  But things are changing.  And I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had a hard time with that.  When it comes to the holidays, I love special traditions and time for reflection.  I wait impatiently all year for the coziness and warmth of quality time with the family (and good food).  It all looked different this year, and I wasn’t ready for it.

It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve realized now, as I always do with time and prayer, that different doesn’t have to be bad.  I know I’m slow, but I get there eventually.  It’s a continual learning process.  I cannot recapture the joy of Christmases past, but I can change my perspective for future holiday seasons and find joy in new ways.  For instance, no holiday could be completely devoid of joy that included Chocolate Santa.  photo (2)And let’s think for a minute about what a blessing it is to have a family that you WANT to spend time with.  Furthermore, I look forward to a time when, Lord willing, I will be able see the magic of the holiday season through the eyes of my children.  That will be an entirely new kind of joy.

So, after some contemplation and reflection I have finally come up with my one word for 2014.  It’s GROW.  This year I will turn 30. (yikes)  It seems like a good time to focus on growing…relationships, opportunities to serve, my career, my marriage, my organizational skills, my writing, my exercise regimen, my brain, my connectedness with our new community, etc., etc.  The 30s are the time when you supposedly feel more grounded.  You’re more settled in your career/relationships/location and feel more comfortable in your own skin.  This sounds appealing to me, but when I take inventory of my life, it seems I have some growing to do.

I’ll go into some of my more specific goals later, but for now, suffice it to say I plan on challenging myself to grow this year.  I can’t wait.  🙂

Let’s Shine

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. You are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within you. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

Light

Happy New Year, friends.  

 

Day Ten: Shared History

When I was a sophomore in college, I studied abroad for a semester in England.  I believe there were fifteen girls and ten guys in our group.  We lived in two houses next door to each other.  We studied together, shared all of our meals, traveled together, worshiped together, etc, etc.

It was a pivotal chapter in my life—spiritually and emotionally.  I think it was for a lot of us.  You could feel God working.  So many conversations and experiences from that semester will stay with me forever.  Whispered words between four girls on a late night bus ride from Oxford to London, watching a powerful thunderstorm roll in off the Mediterranean from a cliff in Cinque Terre, Italy, befriending a Australian in a Scottish hostel, watching a pack of wild horses canter past us during an Easter sunrise devotional…God was there in all of it, working in our hearts and creating an unbreakable bond among us.

I’m so thankful for the opportunity I had to share that time with that particular group of people.  These days, I don’t see many of them too often.  We keep in touch via Facebook or Instagram.  Oh, that’s a depressing sentence for an old fashioned girl like me.  It’s a good thing I’ve heard talk of a reunion in the works.  I follow some of their blogs.  Several of my study abroad friends are incredibly talented writers.  No matter where they are or how long it’s been since we’ve spoken, I still care for each of them.  The thing about shared history is that when you have meaningful experiences with people then you associate them with the emotions you felt at the time.  Because that semester was such a positive, life-giving time for me, I think happy thoughts when I think about those friends.  I will always feel a connection with them, but beyond that, thinking about them is truly uplifting.  And I think that’s pretty cool.

snow in Oxford

The In Between

Well, it’s been a month since I’ve written here.  Adjusting is a delicate process that requires a lot of mental, emotional and even physical energy.  At least it has been for me.  Let me back up a bit.

We were so blessed to have many Abilene friends show up to help us move.  You never feel so loved as when people come to help you to load your possessions and send you off well.  We had the U-Haul packed in about an hour and made the journey without incident.  They didn’t have a midsize available, so Bryan got to drive a very large truck.  He didn’t seem to mind. IMG_4054From there, things started to get weird.  Monday was a holiday, and we took advantage of the free time to buy a second car.  We are now a two car family for the first time.  Our plan is to live in the middle, and everyday after we drink our coffee, we’ll get in our separate cars.  And he’ll drive north, and I’ll drive south.  It will be quite different than working/studying on the same university campus and having lunch together almost every day.  Hopefully, the time apart will just make our time together in the evenings that much sweeter (it will be homework free, after all!).  🙂  Monday night, Bryan drove back to Abilene to finish up a short course.  He stayed with our dear friends, Derek and Rachel (the couple he lived with before we got married).  Meanwhile, I stayed with my parents and commuted 45 minutes (or more) to my new job to start training.  It was a bit rough after two and a half years of my 4 minute commute.  I’m loving the new job, and I’m so thankful for it!  However, those three days were disorienting to say the least.  I wasn’t sleeping well, I was absorbing a lot of new information, meeting a plethora of people and reuniting with familiar faces from my time there as an intern back in 2009.  My favorite part was getting to observe the sweet lady I was replacing giving a refugee couple an English test.  I’ll have more reflections on the new job later.  Thursday night, Bryan returned and we watched my brother, Moses, graduate from high school.  It was a sweet moment indeed.  He’s a bit camera-shy, so I won’t post a photo.

Friday, we flew to Costa Rica.  Now the past two summers we have been spoiled to spend a month there due to Bryan’s status as a student and my work contract.  This visit was only a week.  It usually takes me three or four days to readjust to speaking in Spanish, living the Costa Rican lifestyle, etc.  So, as you can imagine, it wasn’t the most relaxing trip.  It was, however, wonderful and totally worth it to have some quality time with our precious family.  IMG_4090Bryan and I even snuck in a day at the beach.  Jaco is a special place for us.  It’s the first beach we visited together.  Bryan drove to a spot where he thought we might watch the sun set over the water, and we ended up on a totally secluded shoreline.  It was pretty magical, I must say.  Being near the ocean inevitably makes me feel small in a really good way and completely awestruck by the vast splendor of God’s artistry.  Can any of you relate?  Sharing that beach sunset with Bryan was one of those delicious, rare moments where time stands still.IMG_4132

When we returned to Texas, it was well into June.  Our plan was to stay with family in the area while we looked for a place to live and start a lease somewhere July 1st.  We moved our things to my aunt and uncle’s house very close to Bryan’s workplace and began our respective first weeks.  Bryan’s went well.  Mine was a bit more chaotic.  Though my aunt and uncle are geographically quite a bit closer to my office than my parents’ house, the roads are not great.  I’m embarrassed to say that it took me more than two hours to find my way back to their house through the traffic and construction after that first long day at the new job.  I might have even cried.  Low point number one.  We did enjoy having some time with my sweet family.  Some of the cousins were home, too, between jobs and degrees.  We went for walks in the neighborhood, played board games boys against girls (girls won, obviously) and enjoyed family meals together.  I wish I had a picture of my two red-headed cousins with their two red-headed dogs.  It was the cutest thing ever.  We moved back to my parents’ house the next weekend to stay there with my brother while my parents were away this week.

The saga continues in the next post…

Cambio

I like the Spanish word for change.  Cambio.  Given the meaning, it seems like a word that should have more than one syllable.  One syllable is so final.  I prefer to ease into it.  C.a.m.b.i.o. 

In my social work studies, I learned that any major life event can be defined as a “crisis”.  We typically assign this word a negative connotation, but it is defined as “a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point.” (dictionary.com)  One professor had us take a stress test of sorts.  It was a long list of potential crises that one could experience–job change, move, relationship change, graduation, etc.–positive and negative intermingled.  At the end, we were instructed to add up the number of crises we had experienced in the past year.  The higher the score, the higher your risk for unhealthy stress and anxiety.

Many people experience several other crises alongside getting married.  A marriage is often accompanied by a move to a new city (or even a new state or country) and/or a graduation.  I am thankful that this was not the case for us.  When we got married, we moved into our little casita in the same city where we had both been living for a year and a half.  I stayed at my job, and Bryan continued on as a student.  We have been given the gift of time to focus on adjusting to marriage.  Let’s face it.  Change is hard even when it’s exciting and joyful.  Now we are anticipating another new chapter; a turning point.  I look forward to my husband’s graduation for a myriad of reasons, but I am admittedly nervous, too.  It’s human nature, isn’t it?

The lesson that God is teaching me over and over again is trust and be patient.  It seems that no matter how many times He provides for me, in a time of uncertainty, I forget this truth.  How incredibly blessed we are that God never gives up on us.  When I see change on the horizon and questions fill my head and anxiety starts to rise up inside me, God is there to remind me again that I am his beloved child.  Everything is going to be okay.  I have this sign on a shelf in my office facing the chairs where my clients sit.  Sometimes I need it, too.  Office shelf

Church World Problems

This post about church really resonated with me.  I’ve been interested for the past few years in the mass exodus of my generation from organized religion during our 20s.  I became keenly aware of the problem while I was a grad student living in an unfamiliar place, looking for a church home.  I stuck out like a sore thumb at the church I often attended, and it was deeply troubling.  I didn’t have a place there.  I was not really a college student (or at least I felt much different from the fresh-out-of-high-school crowd), and I was unmarried.  I’ve mentioned the phenomenon of the quarterlife crisis before.  My emotional experience of church during those years had a lot to do with my personal quarterlife crisis.  Between leaving your family of origin to go out and make your way in the world and settling into a career, buying a home, etc. (with or without a spouse)…we often feel like we don’t belong anywhere.  We are floating in a sea of possibilities and might find ourselves struggling to connect with a church family.  I kept going by claiming the dear aunts, uncles and cousins of a college buddy as my own and sitting with them on Sunday mornings.  They took good care of me and made me feel less out of place.  I got involved with the children’s ministry and was eventually able to feel more useful.

This church was full of loving people, but I never quite got over feeling out of sync with the environment there.  I know that I am too sensitive, but I felt this pressure under the surface to somehow apologize for my status as a single woman over the age of 23 with no boyfriend and no prospects.  Have you ever met a cohort of social work graduate students?  There are not many eligible bachelors to be found.  Looking back on it now, I’m so thankful that I was unattached.  I had a very demanding schedule that would have made a serious relationship a huge stressor for me.  But in those years I wasn’t aware that I would meet my someone a few months after finishing my degree.  I had no way of knowing that I would ever find a person who would click with my particular brand of weird.  It was hard to even hope when I felt pitied by these well-meaning Christians.  And, really, why should hoping to find a man be my goal?  The desire for marriage and family is a holy one, but in no way should it be our ultimate desire.  I was studying social work because I wanted to serve others like Jesus did.  It’s that a better focus?  Wasn’t I a whole person who deserved to feel acceptance just as I was in that time?  How many of my single adult friends are experiencing this frustration now?  It’s not okay.  I often ask myself what we as church families can do to communicate acceptance to this huge group of people who are leaving because they graduate from college and don’t see place for themselves in churches anymore.  Some are leaving earlier than that.

Jen Hatmaker addresses the issue from a different angle.  She writes fervently about the troubling conformity she has witnessed.  This passage in particular made me want to “Amen!” my computer screen.

Jesus remained politically neutral, unswervingly, despite the teeny tiny fact that the Savior was expected to engineer freedom through political upheaval. He never once pandered to the powerful and prominent. He was called a drunkard and a fool for the company He kept. Jesus committed His kingdom to the most unlikely: the sick, children, women, the poor, the marginalized. Everyone else? Blind, deaf, according to Jesus…If you’ve been around me at all in the last six years, you’ve heard me pushing for reform, asking the church to stretch, to become the new wineskins my generation is begging for. I’m hungry for a church less known for sanctimony and more for their shocking intervention for hungry babies and human trafficking and racism and injustice. Christianity is too thrilling to reduce to middle/upper-middle class First World Problems, encapsulated in issues and gauged by a nebulous moral compass that lost its bearing decades ago.

Love it.  I hope you’ll go check out the rest of this brilliant post.  These words speak to a rising trepidation that I’ve had since my husband started applying for jobs in the Big City.  Now that he’s accepted a position, we will be moving in a couple of months and looking for a new church home.  I don’t want to end up somewhere like this church that Jen describes.  I don’t want to settle into a safe bubble of materialism and selfishness.  I don’t want my kids to grow up only knowing that lifestyle and only interacting with other kids that are just like them.  I don’t want them thinking our way is the only right way.  Basically, I want this…Children of the WorldIf I were having this conversation with Husband right now, this is the point at which his pragmatic self would jump in and tell me gently that I’m getting a little ahead of myself.  But, as he knows, I’m an INFP, and that’s just how I roll.  It’s a good balance we have going.  While I need someone to bring me back down to earth sometimes and temper my wistful thoughts with logic, my concern is a valid one.  I’m thankful for others like Jen Hatmaker who share it.

Photo credit