Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fighting for Joy

I wish joy wasn't so hard to fight for. I wish it didn't slip through my fingers just when I thought it was finally tight within my grasp. I wish once I found it, claimed it, lived it, chose it, believed in it, embraced it, and savored every tiny bit of it that it would stay that way forever.

But joy isn't a one time then forever kind of thing. It's an every day, moment by moment, in this very minute will I see it and be changed by it mystery reality.

It was absent when I woke this morning to the middle boy slamming his bedroom door which woke the baby and roused the stirring but quiet older brother. And I didn't choose joy when I thought about the hot and humid, long and longer day ahead without Daddy home to help entertain and discipline and be with to make it through.

So I guess I'm glad I'm not stuck in one joyful or joyless state. Because I always want the chance for more. To be more fully full of joy!

And there was joy to be found this morning. Joy for Donut Man's rainbow sprinkles sugar-stuck to happy lips and tall glasses of icy milk. Joy for boys bantering with sweet and silly voices. Joy for brothers sharing an under-mommy's-desk fort. Joy for having a mostly-uninterrupted phone call with my sister while boys ran backyard wild. Joy for sagging surfboard swim trunks and tiny buns peaking through to summer sun. Joy for three happy, healthy sons, even when their shrieking screams and whiniest wines make me almost come undone.

There is always joy to be found. Joy to choose.

But the secret is in the keeping on and keeping on and continuing to count the blessings big and small as grace gifts from the Savior's heart to mine. And if I keep on seeing, choosing, counting then surely joy will tower over the mounds of pain. Surely joy will surmount the mountains of struggle and trial.

Surely the joy beauty will shine through all the muck.

For me. For you. For us all.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reading Material

I wish I could spend a whole day reading. A whole week would be really magical. 

Feet up on the porch. Stretched out on the couch. Curled up with a latte in a Starbucks leather armchair. Just reading.

I love to read.

And I would love to be reading all the great books stacked on top of my printer and the ones in the green bag beside by bed and the ones stuffed in my nightstand and in the back of every deep desk drawer.

I want to start reading The Artist's Daughter, an intriguing memoir and the MOPS theme book of the year. I want to dig into one of the novels my mom passed on to when me I was collecting stuff for our Goodwill fundraising drive. I want to delve deeper into Wild Things so I can learn the art of nurturing boys. I want to soak up every word of One Thousand Gifts and practice eucharisteo till I've been wholly, holy transformed, too. And I want to read my Bible without worrying about the clock. I want God's truth to wash over me all tired body and wearied soul and drink deep the Word of Life

But opening a book takes time. Putting eyes on pages and digesting each word seen into understanding takes focus.

My time and focus is mostly spent elsewhere.

*     *     *

...Oh, but am I reading what I do see?

Am I being purposeful to learn my children? To read all their quirks, talents, desires, and fears? Am I understanding all they have to teach me? Am I laughing at and cherishing and relishing in each of their beautiful stories as they unfold before my eyes?

Some days, yes. Yes, a lot of days I do.

But surely too many moments go by with my eyes glazed over and these three remarkable full-of-life stories become a hazy blur of chaos, needs, redundancy, and messes.

And I forget to focus. Forget to stop and appreciate each amazing page of creative, instructive, and inspiring reading material 
of me.

Monday, August 26, 2013

When You're Depleted, God Can Use Costco to Fill You Up

"Stay in the car while I go get a cart," I told Noah and Elias with a stern voice and eyes that meant it. I already had Jude strapped on me and I wanted to snag the boys' double-wide ride just across the aisle. But before I got to our van's silver bumper, there was a woman waiting with a cart for me. She must have overheard my instructions to the boys. "I remember what it was like having young kids," she said warmly.

*     *     *

After flashing my membership card at the door a stylish couple with an adorable toddler with blonde pigtails shot a smile my way. "That use to be me!" the wife said. "This is our youngest and our other two are now in school. I hardly know what to do with myself without all three to look after." We exchanged a knowing look, from a mom who's been there to a mom who's there.

*     *     *

While deciding which brand of organic whole grain bread to buy, a dashing elderly man stopped his cart next time mine and with a cool Scottish accent said, "What a handsome family you have. Such a blessing."

*    *    *

As we were making our way to the last samples stand, coconut granola I think, another sweet senior flagged us down. His wrinkles were deep but his eyes shined with life. "Twins?" he asked pointing to Noah and Eli, sitting side by side. I told him their ages, 4, 3, and 1, and Eli showed off his new silly face. "Do they have a piggy bank?" he asked and then took two crisp one dollar bills out of his pocket, folded in rectangles with perfect creases. The boys' eyes lit up like the man's. "That's for being good helpers for your mama. Take good care and save that in your bank," he said. I thanked him for his kindness, and for his service, nodding at the WWII veterans cap he wore proudly.

*     *     *

When we finally made it to the front of the store, there were long lines of carts piled high. I calculated our chances for the fastest check-out and made my way over to the most promising line. Another shopper pulled up at the exact same time. Though we were pushing lunch time and nap time, I told the man to please go ahead. But he kindly insisted I move in front of him, even though my cart had double the stuff. "Thanks a lot," I smiled. Then when we finally made it to the loading zone, I was straining to reach the avocados that has slid to the depths without squishing Jude who was still strapped on me in the baby carrier. "Can I help you with that?" the same man asked. And then loaded the rest of our groceries onto the black conveyor belt.

*     *     *

Is my neighborhood Costco just full of kind-hearted citizens all ready to offer a helping hand or encouraging word? Maybe. Or does God pour out his loving kindness in everyday ways because he sees you always and knows what you need most and when? Absolutely.

Yes, it was a more pleasant than usual trip to the big box store. But more than that, it was gifts of goodness from the Lord's heart to mine. 

It was him saying,  I saw you up all night long with a coughing four-year-old and I see your tired eyes and weary soul now. I saw you this morning when you snapped at the kids because your patience was depleted and you forgot to keep your focus on me. But I heard you say sorry to your precious little ones and you are precious to me, too, even when you fail. And I see the day and week and months ahead and it's gonna be long and you're gonna feel weak, but I am your strength and I'm always by your side. My goodness never ends, not even in Costco, and I'll use every stranger you meet to show you more of who I am and how much I love you.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Last

"Writing is like a mirror, we see ourselves best in what we’ve written." -Lisa Jo
And that's why I take 5 minutes every Friday to write without worrying about getting it right. Click on over to Lisa Jo's blog to hear the whole story of the beauty and blessing of the Five Minute Friday Community.

Today's Word: Last

*     *     *

"Me first! Me first!" they both shout.

Whether it's first to get help with their shoes, first to get their Monster's Inc. gummy vitamin, first to put a token in their Good Job Jar, first to go down the slide, first to open the door, my four- and three-year-old fight over who gets to be first.

I cringe at their self-first desires.

I know their hearts and minds are young, undeveloped. That's what these early years of training are for. To cultivate their understanding of right and wrong. To mold their desires toward the things of God instead of the things of this world. But I just wish that putting OTHERS FIRST came more naturally.

I cringe not only because I want my boys to share and treat one another with kindness, love and respect, but because, if I'm honest, their "Me first!" whines are a reflection of my own selfish ways.

I know what Jesus says: "The last will be  first."

But do my actions, my motives, my secret thoughts always show that I believe him? That I obey him?

I put me first when I go for that front row parking instead of allowing the parent behind me to have the prime spot for an easy drop off. I put me first when I plan a playdate that's easiest with my kids' schedules and energy levels instead of doing what's best for my friend. I put me first when I don't serve my husband with a joyful heart because I really want him to put my needs first. And on and on the things of me first.

But "me first" is not the perspective I want to hold, the attitude I want to embrace. I want to walk the road of ME LAST because that is the journey that takes me closer to Jesus.

Combating the "me first!" clamor first starts with me.

Five Minute Friday

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Love, Hospitality, and Jesus' Padawon

I can't stop thinking about this post since I read it last week.

The message of radical love. The shining truth of blessings through sacrifice. The incredible example of following Christ no matter the cost.

Several lines keep ringing in my heart. Like this:
Our actual theology is best expressed in our actual hospitality.
Hospitality is Life with no Gates.
Hospitality means if there is room in the heart--there is room in the house.
I've grappled with the implications of Ann Voskamp's words.

...So what I believe is best demonstrated by what I do.

This isn't new. No, I've heard this before.
"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says....The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does." -James 1: 22, 25
And that's not all James, the half-brother of Jesus, had to say about it. Speaking about Abraham's example of doing what God said when he offered his son Isaac on the alter, he declared:
"You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did." -James 2:22
Am I listening to God's Word and then doing it? This is the question.

"Love one another." It's all over the Bible. Jesus is in the business of love and he wants us to be his partner, protege, padawon.

Then there is this that also reverberates in my soul:
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."-John 15:12-13
Clearly Jesus is the greatest example of sacrificial love to the point of a gruesome death on the cross for our redemption. Since I don't believe he's asking us to lay down our physical lives, what else about "life" might he be asking us, me, to lay down for the sake of loving my friends?

My comfort. My desires. My convenience. My preference. My pleasure. My will. My way.

It's amazing how when you ask God to SHOW you HOW to demonstrate your actual theology though actual hospitality, to show you HOW to love others and lay down your life, HE WILL DO IT!

He gave me the opportunity to extend an invitation to out of town family to stay in our home with us. Yes, we're already 5 people in a 2 bedroom house and squeezing in 4 more will take some creativity and flexibility, but Hospitality means if there is room in the heart--there is room in the house.

Then God gave me the opportunity to watch my niece and two nephews for several hours. Yes, my husband was working, and yes that meant having 6 kids 8 years oldand under (5 of them boys!). But Hospitality is Life with no Gates.

And that's just the beginning...

I share this not because I am awesome and always obey when God gives opportunities to clearly follow him. (Because I don't.) I share this because I am excited about this journey. Excited for what it means to love radically. Excited to put aside my own comfort to follow Christ's call to love.

It's absolutely amazing how God is using Katie to radically love children in Uganda. I'm encouraged and inspired by her example.

But in Ann's beautiful words:
Living radical isn’t about where you live — it’s about how you love.

It’s about realizing– Love doesn’t happen when you arrive in a certain place. It happens when your heart arrives in a certain place – wherever you are, right where you are, dirt road Africa or side street America.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Small

It's that time of week so I'm linking for another Five Minute Friday....5 minutes to write without worrying about getting it right. This week's word: Small.


It's such a small word. Just one syllable.


For much of my life this small word had a small impact. I heard it in church. I knew the Bible talked about it. But grace stayed in a little box tucked inside a larger box labeled Salvation which I stuffed in the big trunk called Jesus. Grace. I knew it was there. That I was somehow saved by it. That it had something to do with being right with God not because of how good I was but how much he loved us. An idea. A concept without credence.

But now things are different.

God has allowed me to take this small word out of the box I wrongly stuffed it in and has planted it in my heart, poured it all over my life. Now I understand that grace is too big to be boxed. Too powerful to be pinned down. Grace is the very nature of God and fills the very breath of our lives.

Yes, it is by grace that I will someday walk next to Jesus--a reality I can barely wrap my mind around.

But grace is not just for the someday. Grace is for every day. Today is grace.  It's every gift, every blessing, every trial he uses to draw me to himself. Grace is little arms wrapped tight around my neck. Grace is tromping on a wilderness trail and seeing one hundred hues of green. Grace is knowing I'm not a bad mom even when I have bad mothering moments. Grace is seeing God fill in the gap for where I lack.

Grace is God's love lavished without limits, without conditions. 

Not enough boxes in the world to contain all of Grace.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Lonely

Whenever I see a middle-aged man eating solo at a restaurant, I think of him. I wonder how many meals he ate alone. How many moments he shared with no one.

He never told me he was lonely. But I imagine he mostly was. Though a childhood with a sister and cousins close as brothers. Though a high school and college career earning accolades that surely earned allies. Though twenty years of combined marriage, between my mom and the second. Though three daughters he admired.

Still lonely, I’m sure.

If only he could have unlocked the door that separated the deep pain from the desire to be truly known and loved. I can’t imagine to lose both parents, just barely on the shores of post-adolescence. Nor the pain of addiction, depression, divorce.

I wish I had had the eyes to see more then. Or the courage to act, to ask more about what I saw.

It pains me now to think of all those salads drenched in blue cheese dressing (no tomatoes!) eaten one slow bite at a time with just his loneliness to keep him company. Trapped by or chosen. Either way my heart grieves the life that could have been.

But Dad's not lonely now. No loneliness in Glory. Thank you, God.

*     *     *

I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday where Lisa Jo challenges us to just write without worrying if it's just right.
Five Minute Friday
Let’s just write and not worry if it’s just right or not - See more at:
09 Aug 2013

Five Minute Friday: Lonely

Friday, time to crack open the chocolate ice cream and unscripted version of beautiful you!
Got five minutes? Let’s write. Let’s finger paint with words.
Let’s just write and not worry if it’s just right or not.
- See more at:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer Magic?

It's funny that my last post was about how we call Elias magical, because since then I've been seeing and hearing that word everywhere.

Bloggers are writing about it.
Friends are talking  about it.
Magazine articles are advertising how to get it...

The Most Magical Summer Ever.

Isn't summer just so magical? they all say.

As June blossomed into July and now July has melted into August, I've thought about this question. I've thought about their stories of perfect days at the beach and amazing family camping trips. But to be honest, as I've imagined their tan toes sunk in warm sand and faces lit by the warm glow of evening campfires, I've thought,

Nope, not so magical over here.

Because summer with a 4, 3, and 1 year old is really just regular life but hotter. It's still potty training and dinner making. It's still laundry and dishes and discipline. Nothing feels magical about bedtime battles with a strong-willed child. Yes, it's summer, but there's still fussing and whining and brothers bickering and occasionally biting. There's finishing the day with a to-do list with so many boxes still unchecked and yet feeling so spent that there's nothing left to give to one more to do.

So is it just me? Am I the only one not having the most magical summer ever?

Then I remember this from Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts:

"Isn't it here? The wonder? Why do I spend so much of my living hours struggling to see it? Do we truly stumble so blind that we must be affronted with blinding magnificence for our blurry soul-sight to recognize grandeur? The very same surging magnificence that cascades over our every day here. Who has time or eyes to notice?"

Oh, yes. THESE are the questions I should be pondering.  

Isn't the wonder HERE?
Here in the still same but hotter every day.  

Who has EYES to notice?
I will choose to have noticing eyes.

So I breathe deep. Take my eyes off the magical gifts of salty, beach-sun fun and crisp, mountain fill-your-soul air enjoyed by others, and place my eyes on the gifts of summer magic given to ME.

Then this is what I see.

Happy brothers posing for a Happy Father's Day photo. Magical.

Boys so strong like their super hero Dad. Magical.

My first two babies turned into Big Boy brothers, ready for their first day of VBS. Magical.

Captivated by Daddy and a garden hose. Magical.

Boring dirt and a fruitless tree made glorious by God's streaming rays of sun. Magical.

First time experiencing 4th of July fireworks. Magical.

Chalk on jeans. Chalk on cheeks. Baby in bucket. Magical.

Brotherly love. Magical.

Sun-kissed skin, surf boards, sharks, swim shirts, and sandals. Magical.

Isn't summer just so magical?  

Why yes, it is. 
Yes, it is.