Thursday, April 3, 2014

When you are in the wilderness

A banner hangs over the entrance to Jayci’s school; changing to reflect the seasons and holidays throughout the year. We drop Jayci off late, or almost late, for school just about every day. I’d like to blame our lack of timeliness on the steady stream of boys knocking sheepishly on our door after missing the bus; but at this point we know they’re coming, and truthfully morning-time-management falls woefully outside my realm of ability. Finally, this morning, I pause for a moment to peer up at the words I have been hurrying beneath for weeks now, splayed below an image of Martin Luther King’s face: Lent is the first step towards resurrection. I nod and smile vaguely at the reminder, before hurrying Jayci and Caden away from the flowers and towards their classrooms. True, I think to myself as I lament and sigh and attempt to hurry Caden’s I-can-do-it-myself attitude towards three flights of stairs. But it’s also true, I can’t help but think, that Lent is the first step towards death. And this season feels more like an exorable and somewhat painful march towards death than resurrection if I’m completely honest.

What happens, I wonder, when we suddenly find ourselves deep in the wilderness, even as we wander the aisles of the grocery store, and wipe dirt from our children’s hands, and sip chai lattes with friends at the coffee shop. When we keep praying and reading and journaling, but suddenly everything seems quite silent on the other end. I read testimonies and memoirs of those who found their life transformed by Jesus. Who gave up bulimia and drugs and alcohol cold-turkey when they encountered Jesus or discovered they were pregnant. But what, I wonder occasionally, about the ones who still wander amidst the desolate landscape of temptation and failure. Who fear finding themselves at the end of their days with a memoir that writes more like one who died in the wilderness than one who tread triumphantly over the threshold into the promised land. Who march mile after weary mile through a dust-carpeted landscape that alternates harsh unrelenting heat of day with the icy darkness of blackest night.

A year or so ago, I helped lead a Bible study for some neighborhood girls. One evening, we opened with prayer and I passed around notecards and pens. My friend instructed the girls to take a few minutes to draw whatever came to their minds when they thought of God. I remember closing my eyes, fist curled around a blue ballpoint pen, beginning to scratch lines onto the 3x5 card in my lap. Looking down at the blue ink figure, I am vaguely surprised to recognize the curve of my back leaning into prayer beside Caden’s bed in the CICU. Surrounding the whole scene, arms enfold both my bended form and my infant’s tiny beating heart. God feels close and intimate, visceral, bodily holding me near in comfort and peace.

In the wilderness though, the landscape looms spacious and vast. Wide, dust-filled, parched. God feels not close and intimate, but distant and a bit ominous. Perhaps even a mirage. Here, I suppose, we must rely less on how God feels but on the promises He has already fulfilled. Wandering, complaining and grumbling, I find myself learning to rest on the promise wrought beside a hospital bed, in the baptism of His presence draped over my shoulders calling me Beloved. And when the enemy whispers lies, when identity wraps itself more readily in what I do, or what other people say about me, or the things I have; then I lean into this assurance of an identity bought at great cost.

When I wrote of untethering, my only intentions were in giving up coffee, diet coke, and alcohol. Which seems less soul-shaking than “gentle lent” or 40 acts of stewardship or what-not. But it’s harder than it should be for me to remember how much more I need Jesus than I need my morning coffee, or my late-afternoon-how-will-I-make-it-to-bedtime Diet Coke break, or my thank-goodness-we-made-it-to-bedtime glass of wine. And so I give them up, only to be reminded again and again of my great inadequacies. Which, of course, reminds me on a good day of my desperation for Jesus and on a bad day makes me try harder. But trying and striving gets me nowhere in a wild landscape of parched land stretched farther than I can fathom in every direction. The only thing I can do is lay my head on a rock and rest, remembering the ways God brings water to a woman beside a well, and to equally grumbly Israelites stumbling through their own wilderness. And hope and pray that when I wake, having wrestled with the Lord, I will say with assurance: surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.

From where I stand, Ash Wednesday is but a distant speck on the horizon; and Good Friday looms still out-of-view. Lonely and solitary, I will myself to remember solidarity with my Savior. Each time I sit down to meet you in this place: to write words, or share pictures, or point you towards my newest favorite book, something stays me. Maybe God, or maybe writer’s block, or maybe a desperate need to cut some strings and celebrate freedom. All I know is that letting go of things in this wilderness season both scares and liberates me. I walk towards the light and hope desperately that I am headed to Good Friday and, yes, towards death. But also towards resurrection. And sometimes, I catch glimpses of what lies ahead. And suddenly new life springs, if not an assurance, than at least a promise.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Two days ago, I sipped my coffee on the front porch, basking in the warm sun on bare shoulders. Relishing the quiet, away from the noises of pancake-breakfast behind the slammed-shut front door.
Today, however, the wind whistles beneath grey skies and the freezing cold feels perhaps like a metaphor for my heart. In what I can only assume is an act of anniversary-mercy, Adam agreed to take the kids to school this morning. I shiver at the thought of even getting out from under this blanket snuggled on the couch, and so I sit and think about the ways I feel disconnected. Or maybe too connected. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. My mind flits from one worry to the next, from one book to the next article. I try to read all-of-the-things, edit pictures for work, listen to a podcast, and simultaneously design a logo for the football league we have decided to start in a few weeks. As I sit and shiver and multitask, I find myself surprisingly unable to decipher my own emotions. I think, perhaps, I feel gray simply because the sky beckons me into it with icy pale light. While Sunday dawned cheerful and hopeful, under the light of brash blue skies and warm sun draped casually across my shoulders.
When my children have bad days, or the boys act especially foolish. When the house brims with clutter and the laundry and dishes stack higher than seems possible. On those days the fog drips heavy. But the other days, when Jayci shares with her brother readily; when Caden makes me belly laugh and they play together quietly while I read a good book. Or the days when the teenage boys offer to take out the trash, and chase my children cheerfully and lead them in games of Uno and living-room-basketball alike. These days, my grin comes readily and my responses drip with grace. 
Today is Fat Tuesday and my eight year wedding anniversary. There were no flowers today, and tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent. And the words of Pastor Leonce this weekend echo in my heart: untether. Because my heart, my attitude, not to mention my outlook on myself and my children and the day, finds itself tethered to the world. To circumstances and sunshine. To my children's behavior, and to the kiddos "success." To the comments I got when I wrote my heart. To the number of likes on my last instagram photo. To morning coffee and afternoon naps. 
And all of this tethering makes it hard to hear. Hard to hear myself, to hear my children, and to hear the voice of the Father. I get confused in the noise, I start thinking I need more. I think I need to do more, be more, buy more. And instead of untethering, I tie more threads to this world. 
Lent begins tomorrow, and I am not one to typically "give up" for Lent. Mostly because every time I try, it winds up one more opportunity for failing. But this year, I'm reminding myself of all I dont need so I can focus more clearly on the One I desperately do need. I am untethering myself, even just in small ways, to I can tie my heart more securely to Jesus.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What I'm Into: February

What I'm most into this month: Lupita. Y'all, she is simply gorgeous. And then her words about beauty, they about did me in. Love her, and so glad she won that well-deserved Oscar last night (ps - loved her acceptance speech too). 
via Time
"I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin… And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then…Alek Wek. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. . . You can't eat beauty: you can't rely on how you look to sustain you. What actually sustains us, what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. . . But also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside: there is no shade in that beauty." 
Some readings etc from around the interwebs that I'm into this month:
Lord Lord - DL Mayfield
Sacred Scared series - Momastery
In light of my post on mothering this last week, my sweet friend sent me this video, What moms think about themselves vs. what kids think. You guys, all of your kind words and encouragement and especially your ME TOOs, they made me verklempt. Because sometimes I try to hide behind pretty words, to mask my vulnerability in flowery language and things that will make it less-scary. And y'all see right through it and encourage my heart. Thank you for that. Seriously.
Books I'm into this month:
I just finished reading The Good Lord Bird: A Novel, and really enjoyed it. And now I'm reading Americanah, which I'm super-into (I'll keep you posted on if I love the whole thing, but it's looking good so far) *note: check out my last post for my 2014 reading list/book recommendations. 
And Movies:
Adam and I just watched 12 Years a Slave this past weekend. Which was painful, but important. (And also, Lupita, as I've already mentioned). We also watched a documentary called The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, which was also important, albeit maddening.

Less heavily, we also really enjoyed About Time and Drinking Buddies.

What I'm also into: 
Stitch Fix y'all. For those of you unfamiliar, it's an online personal styling business. You pay $20 and fill out a really detailed profile of what your body, style, and budget is like and what you need clothes for. You schedule a "fix" and wait. A personal stylist in California looks at your personal profile & puts together a box for you of 5 items, sends it to you. You try on said items. If you keep anything, your $20 fee goes towards whatever you buy. If you keep nothing, you send it all back for free; just pay that first $20. If you keep it all, your entire order is 25% off! Repeat.

I've received 3 "fixes" so far, and kept every single thing from 2 of them. I even, miracle-of-all-miracles, was sent a pair of jeans that magically fit like a glove. This has never before happened in the history of the world. And truth be told, I almost didnt even bother putting them on, scoffing at the audacity of my sweet stylist to try and send me jeans. But thankfully I did try them on, and now I would wear them every single day if I could. I would highly recommend trying it out. If you don't like anything, you're only out the $20 styling fee. But seriously, for those mommas (such as myself) who have neither the time nor the will to go shopping, it's perfect. 
Stitch Fix
(please note: if you do decide to try Stitch Fix, please use my referral link! It would make my day/week/month/wardrobe. I am not, however, merely telling you about this for the possibly referral credit, I really do love this service!). 
And finally, I'm into this Lip Sync Battle. Yes please.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2014 Book List

I am often asked how I am able to read so much, since I always complain about being SO busy and having no time to myself. The trick is that I mostly steal reading time in snatches of minutes here and there. I usually read for at least fifteen or twenty minutes before going to bed, although I've also been known to stay up hours past my "bedtimes," due to an inability to put books down. Also, I am a freakishly-fast reader, Adam makes fun of how crazy my eyes look when I read because they move back and forth like "a ping-pong ball." I know, it's attractive. I might have a problem with having more books I want to read than I have time to read them. See exhibit A: my nightstand. It's a problem. 
Anyways, I wanted to keep my reading list for 2014 up-to-date in case anyone needed some recommendations (or perhaps non-recommendations). I've starred some of my favorites, and I rated most of them on Goodreads as well. My favorite book on the list is probably The Goldfinch. My least favorite was Serena, although I'll probably see the movie anyways because Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Plus my book club agreed that the story will make a better movie than book. 

The Interestings (Meg Wolitzer)
Orphan Train (Christina Baker Kline)
In This Moment (Autumn Doughton)
*The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
*The Lowland (Jhumpa Lahiri)
And I'm currently reading: The Good Lord Bird (James McBride)

I find most of my book recommendations via my friends Leigh and Shannan. I also just stumbled onto this list on Amazon: 100 books to read in a lifetime. So many books, so little time. 

*Note: links to books are affiliate links, which just means if you click on them and purchase the book, I get a tiny little referral fee. Which means I can buy more books, hurray!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mothering in the dark

Most of the time, the darkness swats away easily, no more meddlesome than a troubling fly or perhaps a noisy bumblebee. Other days though, the darkness settles on me heavy and thick. Fog rolls in over the skyline, and buildings lose themselves to the grey sky somewhere above the fourth floor.

On these days, my heart sinks at the familiar clink of her doorknob turning long before I am ready. My ire rises at yells of MY MOMMY from Caden in the back room. I scurry to him, trying to shush his yelling before he wakes the teenagers sprawled across the hall. Settling him, and climbing back under the covers, I convince myself he times his yelling and she her tiptoeing based on the ideal amount of time for me to get myself cozy. They are working together against me, I think. And I cannot shake this me vs. them mentality, even as I muster momentum to roll myself out of bed. To brush my teeth, pour my coffee, and push my feet into rumpled jeans and a black Anteaters t-shirt. Adam and I snap short over spilled cereal, and I bang the dishes loud as I unload the dishwasher, making room for the mountain of dirty pots and pans and peanut butter crusted knives and old milk cups. We tally minutes and tasks, each certain our tally runs higher than the other.And the darkness nips at my heels, treading underfoot, tripping me up in the grocery store when the children fight over cereal flavors and insist they need all-of-the-things. I whisper-yell words out loud that should stay inside my head. I apologize again, only to snap more unkindness in an effort to mold them more fully into the tiny models of adult behavior I expect and feel certain I deserve. Later, I sob into the phone that we are raising the worst-5-year-old-in-the-history-of-the-world. Our two year old is a menace and our five year old is a brat and don’t even get me started on all the unrepentant moody teenagers!

If I’m honest, I don’t actually feel ok. Rather, I’m lost somewhere beneath long strings of snow days and sick days and mountains of laundry. I question my purpose, my abilities, my reasons for getting out of bed. I want to give in to the darkness, I think. To simply climb back under the covers, and perhaps never get out. But the kiddos knock on the door, and my children cry for snacks, and Maverick barks insistent. So instead, I put one foot in front of the other, even when it’s not pretty and I’m still not sure how to shake the fog. Because apparently life keeps moving, and I have no choice in the matter.
Inexplicably, the last few weeks have mounted the hardest parenting phase thus far. Caden throws tantrums and yells loud, and Jayci struggles to find her own space in the mix. She wants him to play the way she imagines; he rebels, already, against any constraints snaked around him. She responds ugly, with cries and whines and yells and hitting.

I cannot stand the yelling and arguing thrumming angrily against nerves already strung-taut. And so we all dig in our heels, each stubbornly trying to shape the world into the one we imagine. She wants princesses and magic and little brothers who answer her bidding. He, I suppose, wants to be free to run and tackle and eat all-of-the-things. And I want children who listen perfectly, play together nicely, and mostly leave me space to breathe.

We dig in heels and pull and push and try to make it all work, and we end up hopelessly locked in the same endless cycle of me-vs-them. And the truth falls hard because in this cycle, we all lose. It inevitably ends with tears and shame and all of us certain we have missed living the life intended for us.

The shame, of course, flings the ugliest pieces back in our face in endless loops. I replay the words spat through pursed lips next to the sliced cheese at Publix. My heart sinks and I push myself lower and smaller, in shame and sorrow. The voices in my head and ears bark soft but insistent: you are not enough. Not kind enough or patient enough or forgiving enough or fun enough or anything enough.

I need the space, found sparingly and not without much searching struggle, to remember the truth. To recall whom God ordained as momma to Jayci and Caden. To remember that shame never rests on my heart the same way as repentance. To sit at the foot of the cross and beg forgiveness. And then to accept that forgiveness and walk in it. To know, even in the deepest darkness, that life and parenting are hard. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I’m doing it all wrong, it just means that I’m doing it.
So if today is a day, or week or month even, for you that looms dark and foggy, know that I am with you. Because together in the fog feels much less scary than alone. I let friends in, and cry ugly in my pajamas on our new Ikea-via-craigslist-sectional. I ask Jayci for forgiveness for the hundredth time, reminded by a friend that modeling humility and asking forgiveness renders far greater grace than perfect parenting ever can. Rescued by another friend with a late afternoon trip to the park, we sit on a bench missing its middle slat and let the kids run wild. They fall and scrape their knees, barely missing a beat before running up the slide and spinning on the swings. And so too, I fall and it hurts. But I get back up and run covered in the grace that Christ extends every single time. Because light still shines, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reunited and it feels so good

The Fedex man brought me back my laptop this morning. And I just about jumped for joy or hugged him or something equally ridiculous. Luckily I contained myself (particularly lucky for the Fedex guy).

Now I feel like we have so much catching up to do around here my friends.

For now, though, just a quick 365 project update. And some of my favorite reads from the past few weeks.

I feel as though spending half of the last month with no school and multiple snow days has really thrown off my life in general, and especially my sense of time and accomplishing actual tasks. Hopefully, we can get back into the swing of things now that temperatures are in the 60s (which I love, obviously, but what in the world is up with this crazy weather?)

These two: important, kinda painful, not really "pretty." But I loved them both, and I think you should read them too.
The Problem with little white girls (and boys) 
OK, white folks, here's how you can really help!
Grace Waits
A Careful Charismatic
The Ultimate Guide to Parenthood
3 D's and The Big Three: A Survival Guide to Survival Mode
On Being Jacked and All the Things I'm Not
I've also really been loving the Sacred Scared series that Glennon is hosting on her blog (Momastery). Love. I guess I've been thinking a lot about fear lately, and the ways we can so often overcome fear by showing up anyways.

Speaking of fear, a quick excerpt from one of my favorite things I've written here, I feel like somehow it encapsulates so much of what we do and how we feel about our life here in the city. Also, we spoke again to the same college class (just a new semester and new batch of students). And guess what? They asked so many of the same questions too.

Adam and I have discovered that the similarities between us and our neighbors far outweigh the differences. We've discovered that we belong to each other; and that together we discover Jesus across the dinner table, in the backyard, and throwing the Frisbee at the park. That the lady on the corner is Mikey, never prostitute. Because who among us wants to be labeled and described by our most desperate mistakes? So we learn names. And then we call people by them. Because we firmly believe that Christ would not brand junkie or homeless or drug dealer or gang-banger. Why do I believe this? Because the gospel in my own life carries the freedom and grace in called-by-name, not labeled by the mistakes I’ve made. Not proud, or greedy, or fearful, or anxious, or depressed, or quick-to-anger. None of that defines me in Christ, and living out of my identity in Him is the quickest way to breathe fear-less wherever we find ourselves (read the rest here).

Finally, I leave you with one of Adam's greatest creations (via Smitten Kitchen). Banana Bread Crepe Cake with Butterscotch: this was everything I want in a dessert breakfast: fruity, sweet, tangy, and a little nutty. Plus, we shared it with some of my very favorite people in the whole world.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Because it's been a minute (and Caden's cardiology appointment)

At this point, I'm embarrassed to admit how much I miss my laptop. And not just because I'm behind on returning emails and editing pictures and various other important tasks. Because I miss being able to google things and browse pinterest and check IMDB when I'm watching a movie. Also because I have two full memory cards of pictures from the last few weeks, not to mention video footage of a rap battle the kiddos had in our kitchen.

Enough about my problems related to my apparent laptop-addiction. We've had a crazy couple weeks, which I realize is as-per-usual around here, but that has all been compounded by the number of snow days and holidays we've been lucky unfortunate enough to experience the last week or two. In fact the children were out of school for over a week. And it's not just MY children who i am pleased to see go back to school today: it's the neighborhood kiddos too. It's time, ya'll. Past time really.

Last week, we took Caden to his cardiologist appointment (he has a check-up every six months). In the days leading up to these appointments, I find myself fluttering with a strange mixture of trepidation and assurance that things will be just fine.Mostly because our little boy has all-of-the-energy, all-of-the-time. And his cardiologist keeps telling us we will notice his energy lagging significantly when it comes time for his next surgery. Despite this assurance, I cannot help feeling unsettled perhaps by the mere reality that our son even needs a cardiologist in the first place. I don't know.

Anyways, they did an EKG and an echo, even though Dr. V thought that he could probably gone without an echo since his murmur sounds mostly unchanged. For those who have asked more specific questions about what the doctor said (sorry if this is confusing/jargon-y to those of you who didn't ask/don't care): They said there is a little leakage from the neo-aortic valve (Caden's new aorta, which was previously his pulmonary), but that this is to be expected because all pulmonary valves (yours, mine etc) have slight leakage. We will just continue to monitor this. He also said that Caden's pulmonary valve (which is his donor valve, the one he will need future surgery on), has significant leakage. This has caused slight dilation of the right ventricle.

All of this sounds much more dire, apparently, than it actually is at this point. He said we will need to continue to closely monitor this, but he doesn't think that intervention will be necessary "anytime soon," which is of course really good news. The longer we can wait for his next surgery, the better. Caden will go back to the cardiologist in August right around his third birthday. Thanks for keeping him in your prayers, as always!

In other news, the snow melted and now it's supposed to be like 70 degrees this week. Crazy Georgia weather, y'all. We had fun playing in the snow (well, kind of. It turns out my children are kind of wimpy when it comes to cold. At one point, Jayci was sobbing and asking "but why is it so cold in Georgia?!"). All that to say, good riddance to the snow: bring on the warm weather!


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