Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful Thursday :: Thanksgiving 2017

Every Thanksgiving for the last 13 years, I've logged in to compile a list of 100 gifts for which I'm grateful--the big things, the little things, the silly/random and the profound. In the last twelve months, it was nearly the only blog post I managed to write. I'm still sorely out of the habit--both the habit of giving thanks and the habit of blogging--but at least today, I'm jumping back in to continue what I think is a valuable tradition.

As I look back over the past year, I'm especially thankful for... 

1. a thriving, growing girl in our family
2. her squishy legs
3. her happy disposition
4. those glorious three months when she slept well (long gone now, alas)
5. endless raspberries and motorboat noises

6. the way Miriam lights up when she sees her brothers
7. the way they greet her and shower her with attention
8. Steve babywearing
9. hairbows
10. a house full of laughter

11. obstetrician
12. midwife-turned-doula
13. chiropractor
14. aqua yoga instructor
15. craniosacral massage therapist

16. pediatric dentist
17. babysitter/mother's helper
18. occupational therapist
19. physical therapist
20. friend-turned-counselor

21. sertraline
22. loratadine
23. whatever drugs they put in an epidural :)
24. ibuprofen
25. clean water

26. help from my mom during pregnancy and postpartum
27. help from my MIL during pregnancy and postpartum
28. support from our church family
29. my BIL and SIL coming to visit and serve
30. generosity and prayer at my baby shower

31. boys doing laundry
32. boys making eggs
33. boys emptying the dishwasher
34. boys cleaning bathrooms
35. boys entertaining Sister

36. plentiful milk supply
37. grace to persevere through months of nightmarish nursing
38. a stellar lactation consultant
39. insurance-provided double electric pump
40. relief from pain and a smooth nursing relationship at long last

41. sharing book recommendations with Elijah
42. hearing Jude's reading skills take off
43. reading Sandra Boynton board books to Miriam
44. a Kindle with a light for reading in bed
45. extensive selection of e-books for free through the library

46. Every Mile Mattered, Nichole Nordeman
47. Red Sea Road, Ellie Holcomb
48. The Burning Edge of Dawn, Andrew Peterson
49. A Home and a Hunger, Caroline Cobb
50. Fortunate Fall, Audrey Assad

51. big skies in Ohio and Indiana
52. German Christmas markets
53. the canals of Amsterdam
54. rolling hills in middle Tennessee
55. getting to see Hamilton on stage in Chicago

56. cold brew coffee
57. hot apple cider
58. smoked turkey stock
59. Vanilla Coke
60. fresh squeezed orange juice

61. Vienna Springs ring slings
62. Moses Basket custom handmade baby items
63. Binky Beads pacifier clips and teethers
64. winning a giveaway from Brass Bee Bonnets
65. VIP and buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook for these mama shops

66. piano lessons
67. soccer games
68. basketball camp
69. school bus stopping right in front of our house

70. long-awaited daughter adopted by a friend
71. long-awaited daughter born to a friend
72. friend with a new house
73. friends with new jobs

74. hard, grown-up conversations with Elijah
75. snuggles with Jude
76. Miriam's kissable cheeks
77. unprompted hugs and "I love you"s from Elijah 

78. Simeon Trust workshop for women
79. women's Bible study during Sunday School
80. monthly women's prayer meeting
81. others connecting with and being encouraged by my writing
82. Steve in my corner, advocating for me

83. student of the month awards
84. keys of excellence awards
85. glowing reports at parent-teacher conferences
86. skilled, caring teachers
87. dedicated, hardworking administrators and staff

88. health insurance
89. stable employment
90. a promotion for Steve
91. his being accessible/flexible at work
92. getting to tour the facility on a recent family day

93. Steve's tremendous wisdom
94. his relentless servanthood
95. his willingness to listen and then tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear
96. his back rubs
97. his gorgeous gray-green eyes

98. recording of "He Will Hold Me Fast" from T4G 2016
99. the fact that our church started singing this song right after I fell in love with it
100. the reality of Christ holding me fast when my love is cold and my faith is weak

Friday, November 03, 2017

Autumn Disappointment

 I'm on a walk with Miriam, and the sky is a gloomy gray. For the last couple of weeks, Timehop has been teasing me with pictures of past autumn glory. Orange and red, gold, scarlet, rust, yellow, vermilion--our neighborhood a beautiful blaze of color. Today I mostly see dull, faded green and the occasional brownish-orange, nothing brilliant or spectacular.

I'm not sure what to make of this. I have the impulse to try and write about it. And then instead of adding it to my to-do list as one more "should" that I'll never get around to, I pull out my phone and start dictating as I walk through the neighborhood, pushing a stroller with my daughter.

It's 70 degrees today, and I'm sweating. The deliciously cool fall weather that finally seemed to have arrived for good has disappeared again. I hear someone mowing his lawn. Are the leaves actually going to change, or are they just going to let go in disappointment? I can't believe how green the trees still are on November 2. The wind kicks up, and dozens of leaves float to the ground without having revealed their beauty. Why?

Too much warmth? Too much sunshine? Too much chlorophyll? I have no idea of the scientific answer, but I can't help feeling let down. The promise of autumn's beauty--the glory in the dying that I have waxed poetic about so many times--isn't showing up this year. What does that mean?

It's this strange reminder in this strange new season of my life that nothing is promised. Or is that even true? Lots of bigger, eternal things are promised. I can trust the God who is sovereign over the seasons. Even when the transition is unremarkable and disappointing. Even when the beauty I anticipated and longed for falls short of my expectations.

We keep walking, and suddenly I see a beautiful red tree--the kind that usually populates our entire neighborhood. It stands out all the more because of its solitary beauty; there are no other colorful trees around to distract from its brilliant red leaves. The clouds shift a bit, and above the red tree I get a glimpse of that crisp blue autumn sky I always love to see.

A question surfaces: What will I choose to remember? The dull green-brown trees under the gray clouds...or this flash of crimson and bright blue?

It's a dilemma I face every day--a lesson the Lord has tried to teach me countless times. It's a question as old as Eve. Will you emphasize what you have, give thanks for what has been given, celebrate with gratitude? Or will you complain, meditate on what is lacking, focus on what is not yours--what has  seemingly been withheld?

The choice is always mine to make--even about something as simple as autumn leaves and brilliant colors, on a walk around my neighborhood on an ordinary Thursday morning. I'm hot and uncomfortable in my short sleeve shirt, but the breeze is blowing through my baby girl's hair. These sidewalks are uneven, hard to navigate with a stroller, but rundown houses are being renovated and given new life. The sun briefly peeks out in between all the clouds. I can walk again, after so many months of being immobile and in pain. And instead of the "all or nothing" thinking that plagues me, I'm choosing "all or something": I'm dictating this blog post instead of letting the idea disappear into the draft folder of good intentions. 

But how is all this different from Pollyanna, from naivete and rose-colored glasses? Reality is also that my girl is starting to whine, and chances are good she might be full-on screaming by the time we return home, my blood pressure rising. The lack of color is still a disappointment. I'm still going to need a shower. My jeans are still too tight.

It's a matter of who gets the last word. Sunshine briefly warms my face. Tiny dimpled hands grasp the side of the stroller. No matter how unspectacular their dying, these trees will still be reborn in the spring.

The darkness will always be there. The disappointment is a permanent fixture east of Eden. But the light is more permanent still--the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

Beautiful Through Dying
Autumn Beauty
Contemplating Beauty
Part of the Whole
The Last Word: BUT God

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Hanging and Hoping

photo: Flickr/Jared Tarbell
When I was in elementary school, gym class at some point during the year included an activity I quickly grew to loathe: the rope climb. In the makeshift office area (it had once been a stage) off the gymnasium, a long, thick rope hung from the ceiling. Our class would line up in a row, and one by one, each kid had to step forward and shimmy as far up the rope as she could.

As a skinny kid with noodle arms, I didn’t have near the upper body strength to reach the top. In fact, I could hoist myself exactly zero inches up from my highest reach when dangling at the bottom. It was humiliating to hang there, the rough strands of rope burning my hands, unable to pull myself up.

I spent a good portion of my pregnancy meditating on 1 Peter 1, and at some point in the midst of memorizing, I remembered that old rope. I read “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” and pondered Jen Wilkin’s exhortation at TGCW16 to set your hope *fully* on God, not partially. I pictured not just the one rope but two giant ropes hanging from an impossible height. In my mind’s eye, the ropes don’t merely hang a couple of feet off the ground, with a kid-sized chair at the bottom; below them is a black hole of darkness.

I picture myself suspended between those two ropes. This time my assignment isn’t to claw my way to the top; all I have to do is hold on, keep from falling into the darkness. I’ve got a death grip on each one, but I’m dangling in the middle, vulnerable, precarious. My strength can’t hold out forever. The ropes burn my hands. My fingers cramp and my shoulders ache; the muscles in my arms start to quiver. This is what it is for me to hope partially (even *mostly*) in the grace of Christ and yet also not be willing to let go of other hopes.

What I can't feel or see is that one of the ropes is slowly fraying at the top--fiber after fiber breaking under the strain of my weight. It won't hold forever. If I will let go of that other rope and devote all my strength to the sure and solid one--the one anchored in the Rock that is my Savior--I can wrap my entire body around it. I can grip it with both hands, forearms pulled securely against it. I can hold it right next to my whole body, twist my legs around it, even use my feet for extra traction. If one hand gets tired, I can let go and shake it out while the rest of me holds tight. And if I grow weary and start to slip, I will not freefall into the chasm below the ropes—I will simply slide down this one rope a bit. Even if my strength should fail and I slide all the way down—there is a steadfast knot tied at the bottom, massive, firm enough to stand on. In the end, it will hold me.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

Hey, so. If GoDaddy is going to keep billing me for this domain name, I should maybe use it, huh?

I don't really know what happened to this space. Well, I mean, I sort of do.


I spent nine months devoting most of my energy (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual) to carrying her in a 35-year-old body that does NOT do pregnancy well.


And then I've spent the last five months figuring out how to settle back into a season of life I've not seen in a long, long time.


My days are once again full of nursing and diapers, tummy time and babywearing, walks with a stroller and troubleshooting fussing and trying to catch a quick nap. Only this time around, they're also filled with listening to a beginning reader, signing math homework, driving to piano lessons and soccer practice. It's hard to find time or space to think my own thoughts, much less write them down. Especially when I'm desperately rusty, having all but forgotten how.

Today I have a babysitter. Three whole hours of a friend's homeschooled teenage daughter entertaining my baby so I can do whatever I want. Ha. Of course "whatever I want" looks like being paralyzed with anxiety about how best to use the three hours, knowing the time will fly by. It looks like fighting rejected insurance claims, calling orthodontists, attempting to summit Mount Laundry, and stressing about whether I'm going to end up paying the babysitter to be here while Miriam sleeps.

But, at least today, it also looks like sitting down to a blank screen and a blinking cursor and trying to remember how to do this writing thing. Let's be honest: this blog was dying a long, slow death for quite some time before Miss Miriam arrived on the scene. And yet, as a much-beloved writing professor reminded me years ago: "Thankfully, we are people of the resurrection!"

Just yesterday I came across this incredibly timely and encouraging post by Rebecca Reynolds at Thistle and Toad. She concludes:
...Now and then I can write an encouraging post for five people--or I can write a post for one person who is struggling.
I can wait to post until I have something important to say.
I can let the gospel apply small. I can let God be God and trust Him to place my labors in the context that is most useful to him.
I can live small then smaller still, encouraging my readers to do the same.  
I can do all this because the gift of writing doesn't offer an identity that springs into being with a publishing contract, or with a following in the 100’s of thousands. Writing well is simply a tool to utilize in the context of an identity that was secured long ago by the work of Jesus. We have nothing to earn; we have only to wake up each morning and say, "In every small step I take, Thy will be done."

So here's to fresh starts. Here's to tiny baby steps, the smallest of efforts in the right direction. Here's to awkwardness and imperfection and muscling through the anxiety to get something, anything, on the page. Hopefully I'll be back soon.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful Thursday: Thanksgiving 2016

Well, I don't really know if I can even call myself a blogger anymore...and I'm sorry to say my years-long habit of daily gratitude lists has fallen off dramatically. But I couldn't break a twelve-year tradition, so I'm logging in this week to name a hundred gifts in celebration of Thanksgiving.

This year I'm thanking God for, among His countless blessings to me, these specific gifts both tremendous and small:

1. my boys' unprompted gratitude
2. their incessant sound effects
3. their creativity
4. their love for and knowledge about animals
5. their chatter at the dinner table

6. dedicated, hardworking elementary school teachers
7. teachers' glowing reports about my kids
8. opportunities to volunteer in their schools
9. the diversity of my kids' schools
10. caring parents who work hard at fundraisers

11. dear friends with whom I can be completely real and honest
12. deep, intense conversations
13. texting to keep in touch with faraway friends
14. friends who pursue me
15. friends who pray for me

16. the way Steve just gets me, hears my heart
17. the way he pushes back and sharpens my thinking
18. his tremendous gift of wisdom
19. his incredible patience
20. his relentless servanthood

21. leggings
22. stretchy jeans
23. fuzzy sweaters
24. soft scarves
25. tall boots

26. antihistamines
27. ibuprofen
28. chiropractic care
29. midwives
30. water aerobics

31. Jude blowing me kisses
32. Elijah winking at me
33. Steve doing the driving, and the fact that I feel safe with him behind the wheel
34. FaceTime with my parents
35. emails from my MIL

36. red maples
37. trees whose leaves change to multiple colors
38. bright yellow gingkos
39. star-shaped sweet gum leaves
40. lawns carpeted orange

41. iced coffee
42. family recipes
43. smoked turkey
44. pumpkin scones
45. candy cane Oreos

46. hours spent reading aloud to the boys
47. audiobooks
48. Elijah poring over his animal encyclopedia
49. Jude learning to read
50. endless supply of Kindle books via the library

51. a business trip for Steve on which I can tag along
52. Steve's strong desire to have me join him
53. Airbnb
54. air travel
55. a U.S. passport

56. online shopping with free returns
57. jewelry cleaner
58. yummy scented hand lotion
59. high-pressure showerheads
60. mascara

61. gathering with women to study God's Word
62. the privilege of teaching them
63. the ways they teach me
64. monthly women's prayer meeting
65. weekly discipleship time

66. wise and loving elders who shepherd our church
67. our deacons' hard work behind the scenes
68. preading that consistently makes much of Jesus
69. theologically rich music
70. beautiful people who love the Lord and each other

71. the experience of being a soccer mom to teach me about my parents' sacrificial love
72. Elijah starting piano lessons
73. how easy it is to access almost any music, instantly
74. pizza
75. toenail polish

76. Jude's full-body hugs
77. boys joining me for morning quiet time
78. walks to school with Elijah
79. the boys' love for and kindness to each other
80. the times when they're eager to be helpers

81. Simeon Course for Biblical Exposition
82. The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference
83. This American Life
84. Nicholas Kristof's excellent journalism + magnanimity
85. Compassion International

86. loving me when I'm wrong
87. inviting me to cast all my anxieties on Him
88. keeping all His promises
89. preserving His Word to reveal Himself and strengthen our faith
90. remaining faithful when I am faithless

91. evident fruit of the Spirit in friends' lives
92. friends who persevere through unfathomable trials
93. friends who struggle and cry out for help
94. friends who hold up their shields of faith when I am weak
95. people who fight against injustice

96. the ability to memorize His Word
97. an imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance
98. His being a joyful God and inviting us to share in His joy
99. the certain hope of Jesus' return to right all wrongs, make all things new, reign forever in justice and righteousness
100. His dwelling with us, in us, in the meantime

Friday, August 05, 2016

Bruschetta Pizza

When you buy 22 pounds of tomatoes at the farmers' market and your basil bush stands as tall as your waist, there's only one thing to do:

OK, there are a lot of things to do :) ...but bruschetta pizza should be at the top of the list! It's long past time for me to share one of our very favorite summer recipes.

The crust can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Refrigerated pre-made crust, if you're into that. Your own favorite homemade recipe. We love this one--because it's healthier (made with whole wheat flour), it's heartier (you need a substantial crust if you're going to pile on this many juicy tomatoes), and it's full of flavor. It's also quicker than many homemade pizza crusts, due to a unique but effective method of force-rising the dough in the microwave on 10% power.

You then top the crust with sausage (which is also much easier to make than you think) and mozzarella. No sauce--you're going to dump fresh tomatoes alllllll over it instead.

So let's get started...

Homemade Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

3 cups whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 pkg instant yeast (about 2 1/4 tsp)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup + 2 T warm water
2 Tbsp olive oil

Measure flour, sugar, salt, yeast, cheese, garlic, and oregano into the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor and mix well. With dough hook (or processor blade), while the mixer is running, slowly add warm water and oil; mix until dough forms a ball. Mix for an additional minute. If dough is too sticky to roll into a ball, add a little more flour.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead lightly 4 or 5 times. Add a little olive oil and shape dough into a ball, then poke a hole through the center (so that it resembles a fat donut). Place dough in microwave-safe bowl and cover with a plate.

Preheat oven (with baking stone inside) to 400 degrees. Fill a small glass measuring cup with water and place in back of microwave. Place dough bowl in center of microwave and heat on LOW (10% power) for 3 minutes. Let stand, covered, in microwave for 3 minutes. Repeat this procedure two more times, allowing 6 minutes for the last standing time.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead lightly 4 or 5 times. Divide into half (for a thicker crust) or thirds (for a thinner, almost crispy crust). Working with one portion at a time, use roller or hands to shape into pizza crust.

Transfer crust on preheated baking stone and bake for 10 minutes, or until crust just starts to brown. Remove from oven; add sauce + toppings and return to oven, baking until cheese melts and crust is browned on bottom (10 minutes).

Bruschetta Pizza toppings
1/2 lb sausage (more or less), browned and drained
2 cups shredded mozzarella (more or less)
tomatoes--maybe 4-6?
fresh basil
minced garlic
balsamic vinegar

When you take the parbaked crust out of the oven, top with sausage and mozzarella and bake until cheese is melted (we like to broil for a couple of minutes at the end so the cheese gets nice and brown).

The bruschetta mixture is a loose recipe, mostly to taste; it depends on how generous you want to be with your topping and how much you like fresh basil. The photo with the original recipe was laughable, with a tiny sprinkling of tomatoes almost as a garnish. Me, I like it when I can barely see the pizza underneath the giant pile of tomatoes--probably one smallish tomato per slice of pizza! The great thing is, if you end up with too much, you can use the leftovers for traditional bruschetta (toasted slices of bread) or stick it in the freezer and use it in soup this winter.

Basically, you dice up several tomatoes and chop up as much fresh basil as you prefer. Add in minced garlic (maybe two cloves for a whole pizza), a splash of vinegar, and a little salt. Mix well and spoon over individual slices of pizza at the table. This is one pizza you'll definitely want to eat with a fork.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Pursuit of a Person

If I set out to become a better mother, the internet would have no shortage of advice for me. I wouldn't have to look far to come up with an exhausting list: things to stop doing, things to start doing, things to do differently; what to think, what to say, what not to say, how to connect, how to discipline, when to teach, where to teach--you get the picture.

But my role as a mother is not an abstract job title. The fact that I can be called a mother at all is a function of relationship. My approach to motherhood cannot be an impersonal strategy; it is intimately connected to two living, breathing people.

So while strangers on the internet, or expert authors, or even trusted friends and family, can give me helpful insights and wise counsel...the single most important priority in the pursuit of "becoming a better mom" is the pursuit of Elijah and Jude. To grow in motherhood means to move toward my sons. It happens as I spend time with them, listen to them, observe them. It happens through intentional efforts to know them better, through building shared memories and learning how to meet their needs. I become a better mom only so far as I deepen my relationship with my sons, only so far as I love Elijah and love Jude.

*     *     *

Sometimes in our efforts to avoid legalism, we drive into the other ditch, believing that any earnest effort to obey God smacks of self-righteous attempting to earn God's favor. Hebrews 12:14 corrects us:

"Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord."

To strive is to run hard, to chase after, to pursue. "Run swiftly in order to catch...holiness!" And the command is accompanied by a warning: "...without which no one will see the Lord." These are sobering words. The pursuit of holiness is not optional; it is essential to the life of faith. It is not the means by which we are accepted by God, but it offers evidence that we belong to Him.

But I think the core of this call to pursue holiness is best understood as a call to pursue a Person. The way to avoid self-righteous legalism is not to avoid the striving. It is to clarify what--or rather, WHOM--we are chasing.

We would have no reference point for "holiness" apart from God. He is True North; He *is* holiness. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty." Holiness comes from Him and is defined by Him. Our call to holiness is always rooted in His holiness: "You shall be holy, for I am holy." 

Holiness is not a set of attitudes or behaviors, an abstract state of being. It is the essence of His character; it does not exist detached from Him. So to pursue holiness is to pursue Him. Strive to know Jesus. Draw near to Him. It's not about a list of qualities you attain to or exhibit; it's about a Person you love and resemble. 

Take, for example, the practice of reading/studying/meditating on God's Word. All Christians know they are "supposed to" do this. But WHY? Do we read the Bible as part of a checklist of "good Christian behaviors," something we do to accrue points? Does time in Scripture give you a higher "Holiness Score"?

No--we go to the Word to see Jesus. To know Him. This is where He is most clearly revealed, where He speaks to us. We read and study and meditate as a way to pursue Christ--a way to see His glory, to understand His heart. With this foundation, holiness is not about us. It's about looking like Him. We admire our Elder Brother, and we imitate what we see. We become what we behold.

By all means, pursue holiness. But don't merely strive for an abstract state of being. Chase after a Person--not just any person; our Redeemer and Savior! Our ultimate goal is to be near to Jesus because without HIS holiness, we have no hope of seeing the Lord. It is His perfect record of righteousness that makes us fit to enter the King's presence. Without holiness, no one will see the Lord. But because Jesus' blood makes us holy, we have the privilege of striving, pursuing, running hard after Him--desiring to be near Him and so becoming more like Him.   

Monday, June 06, 2016

Multitude Monday, Take 359

"...if you let something steal your thanksgiving, you let something steal your joy, and if you let something steal your joy, you let something steal your strength. ...we will give thanks to God not because of how we feel, but because of who He is." (Ann Voskamp)

Thanking God for who He is and for gifts He's recently given, including...

7867. a little boy in Honduras with the same birthday as Elijah--now connected to our family through Compassion International

7868. Elijah's excitement about writing his first letter
7869. tres leches cake
7870. an afternoon to sit and talk about deep stuff with a dear friend
7871. a holiday weekend with my mentor and her wonderful family
7872. their famous pepperoni rolls

7873. hilarious doubles game of ping-pong
7874. authentic Chinese food
7875. wisdom from a mom further along in the parenting journey
7876. the privilege of watching her boy grow up over the last 13 years
7877. my boys dogpiling on top of the big kid they adore

7878. the testimony of a teenage boy in our church, rescued from rebellion and saved by amazing grace
7879. an envelope punchboard, generous gift from a sweet friend
7880. giant salads
7881. conviction from His Word
7882. a sweet, deeply encouraging letter from the Kenyan boy we sponsor through Compassion

7883. bushes bursting with hydrangea blooms in pink, purple, blue and white
7884. Christmas gift from Grammy and Pops: Beauty and the Beast tickets!

7885. Jude every five minutes: "Mom, was that real?" "Is that real?!"
7886. Elijah's loud laughter and enthusiastic applause
7887. fond memories of singing "If I Can't Love Her" approximately 47,000 times with our high school show choir
7888. a morning walk around the neighborhood
7889. Book Bingo for the library's summer reading program

7890. grace to "beat my body and make it my slave" for a change
7891. eyes to see the gospel so clearly in Ezra
7892. twenty women gathered to study God's Word together
7893. Steve's simple but moving Scripture meditation on Psalm 117
7894. dinner with a friend tonight, long overdue chance to catch up

Monday, May 23, 2016

Multitude Monday, Take 358's been a while, hmm? By special request, an old-fashioned round of the Monday gratitude list. Because, as G.K. Chesterton once said, “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

Thanking God recently for...

7816. strawberry season

7817. Jesus' glorious invitation: "Let the little children come to Me!"
7818. the privilege of leading them and telling them about Him
7819. an impromptu pizza date with Jude
7820. memories of countless pre-orthodontist-appointment pizza lunch dates with my dad
7821. peony blooms in the light of the magic hours

7822. six big bushes heavy with gorgeous peonies

7823. painting with a friend while we caught up on life
7824. grilled cheese with bacon jam(!)
7825. boys opening my car door for me
7826. the way the neighbors' white dogwood glows in the early morning
7827. walks to preschool

7828. friends' listening ears, empathetic hearts, encouragement
7829. two-year-old sleeping in my arms during church nursery duty
7830. super kind and helpful endodontist
7831. sweet church friends babysitting for the boys
7832. double date in Nashville
7833. the neighbors' peonies
7834. Northern friends' peonies to enjoy on Instagram after mine are dead and gone
7835. cool morning breeze after overnight storms
7836. sweet times of sharing and prayer with the women in my community group
7837. VidAngel: way better movie selection, cheaper + more convenient than Redbox, *and* the ability to filter objectionable content!
7838. the energetic, joyful, kind woman working at the donut shop--loving her job, loving people, loving life
7839. visits from both sets of parents
7840. makeshift Narnia costumes

7841. theology discussions with Steve
7842. bluebirds on the greenway
7843. the scent of honeysuckle
7844. a friend's example of staying in the fight
7845. a Skype meeting with an old college friend

7846. Talenti coconut almond chocolate gelato (check your grocery's freezer...oh man)
7847. time to pray and prepare my heart before a meeting I dreaded
7848. incredibly merciful and sweet answers to those prayers
7849. our pastors' care for us
7850. their families' sacrifices to free them up to care for us

7851. Jude saying "Bless me!" when he sneezes
7852. a clean desk--with space to actually work *at the desk*! what?!
7853. re-launch of our women's Sunday School class
7854. getting to snuggle a dear friend's impossibly cute grandbaby
7855. boys dressing like ninjas and taking their swords for a walk on the greenway
7856. Steve sneaking and swordfighting with them, to the great amusement of passersby

7857. this cutie pie (who's grown an inch and a half since his October birthday!) graduating from preschool

7858. five-year-olds in mortarboards

7859. three quarts of rhubarb from Ohio
7860. great big creamy white magnolia blooms
7861. their scent surprising me as I passed under several trees
7862. the privilege of intercession
7863. seeing the gospel in Ezra
7864. silent reading time with Elijah while his little brother naps

7865. at least one friend who reads my blog and misses it when I don't post
7866. summer break!

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Compassion: A Child is Waiting...for You?

Scripture makes it clear that God cares deeply for the poor and the oppressed. Do we share our Father’s heart for the poor? And if we care as He does, how can we help? The needs are overwhelming—-what can we possibly do?

Extreme poverty is a massive, complex problem. There are so many issues to address--infrastructure, water, sanitation, hygiene, public policy, justice...all of those circumstances are important. Yet, as Compassion VP Scott Todd argues:
"…the heart of overcoming poverty lies in developing people, and with people development you get the most impact during their childhood. Compassion’s program contains the core components of really good child development—it’s comprehensive in a child’s life, it provides long-term involvement, and it points kids to the only true source of hope, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“When the tactical value of all these things really hit me, I understood that this Compassion thing that I was already involved in wasn’t just a cute thing to do to help out a kid. A Compassion sponsorship is actually a profoundly strategic approach to dealing with poverty. You enter into children’s lives with the message that ‘you matter,’ you introduce them to Jesus, you give them protection and opportunity, and then you watch them flourish. Then those kids grow up to be the kinds of people who change their nations. When the poor themselves become the solutions to the problems they face in their societies, that is sustainable development. So for me, the simple and practical step toward tackling poverty is to sponsor a child through Compassion."

I’ve been a sponsor with Compassion International for nearly 16 years now, and it has been a beautiful gift. What a privilege to receive letters and photos, to watch Leni grow up and graduate from the program, to hear about Bahati’s dream of becoming a doctor, to have Providence tell what she bought with the birthday gift we sent. What a privilege to be a vessel of grace and truth and love to these children, to encourage them and point them to Jesus.

You see, it’s not just they who are poor. I, too, am poor—to echo Psalm 34:6, “This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” Steve and I are not Compassion sponsors out of guilt or a sense of duty. It is our joy to extend hope to children in need because in a spiritual sense, we know what it is to be poor and needy and then to be rescued and given hope. We count it a privilege to reflect the image of our Savior, who, though He was rich, for our sake became poor, so that through His poverty we might become rich.

Sponsorship costs $38 a month—an investment of about $1.25 a day. Some of you would hardly miss that kind of money; for others of you, it really would be a significant sacrifice. But it provides opportunities for your sponsored child that most of the world’s poorest children never see. We have so much to share--not just our financial resources, but our love, our prayers, our letters. And I’m confident you’ll find that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive. The effects of your generosity will ripple through eternity.

Our church recently celebrated Compassion Sunday, and I received packets for 16 children. My church stepped up and sponsored nine of them! That means I still have seven left--seven precious children who need someone to come into their lives and say, "You matter. Jesus loves you, and I care about you. You have hope!" Orlin ... Bright ... Ariane ... Dorvensky ... Mohammed ... Immaculee ... Jonathan. Real people in need of real help and hope.

Could they be waiting for YOU? I would love to find sponsors for every one of these little ones before their packets expire and they go back onto the waiting list. If you're interested, leave a comment below with your email address, or email me at amykannel [at] hotmail [dot] com and I will get you set up.

I hope you’ll consider participating in this ministry of releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. I believe in Compassion and I'm thankful to participate in the important and beautiful work they're doing.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Florence Day 10: Dinner at Il Latini

Not only had Il Latini had come up on several must-try Florence restaurant lists, our B&B host also recommended it, saying he had been eating there since he was a kid. Since it was only a block or two from where we were staying it, we definitely wanted to eat there on our last night in Italy.

Our Lonely Planet guidebook said the restaurant had two seatings and that reservations were a must. But when we asked our host if he would make reservations for us, he said they didn’t take reservations. Just get there for one of the seatings (7:30 or 9:30) and be prepared to wait 5-10 minutes, he said.

We arrived extra early, around 6:45, and a few students were already standing outside. The wait staff were sitting inside eating dinner in full view of everyone on the street; the doors were locked. A crowd began to form in front, and of course since this was Italy, there was no orderly queue, just a growing mob of people ready to stampede.


No one seemed to know what was going on or how the whole thing worked, and as we stood there reading Yelp reviews and waiting, we grew increasingly uncertain and nervous. The wait staff took their sweet time eating and drinking and smoking, completely ignoring the crowd. 

Finally around 7:30 someone came to the door, reassured us that there was plenty of room for everyone, and said to stand back. But as soon as he unlocked it, pandemonium ensued. We had been waiting longer than anyone else except one party of eight, but after they got in first, everyone began crowding and people pushed past us. Mass chaos.

Sure enough, though, the restaurant was bigger than you could see from the entrance, and everyone seemed to get in. The tables were pushed together so closely that we felt like we were eating at a table of six, with strangers. The place seemed to be filled with tourists, and it was incredibly loud.

Our food was definitely not the best we had in Italy, but I think that had everything to do with our preferences and what we ordered, not with the quality of the restaurant.

For our antipasto, we ordered caprese salad and were disappointed to find the mozzarella and tomatoes came with lettuce but no basil (doesn’t caprese always include basil?).

As a primo piatto, we ordered the zuppa mista, eager to sample three traditional Tuscan soups, but we didn’t care much for any of them. It was mainly a texture thing for me.

pappa al pomodoro // photo: TripAdvisor
zuppa di fagioli col grano faro (soup with beans and farro grain)

Our secondo piatto, however, was phenomenal. The agnello arrosto (roast lamb) was one of the best meats we ate in Italy. 

Dessert, a raspberry tart, was not as delicious as it looked:

...but we also received complimentary biscotti e vin dolce (cookies and sweet wine) and the cookies were yummy.

The really bizarre part was, it seemed like the whole “two seatings” thing was a myth. The whole time we were there, they continued to seat people as tables opened up. And when we left the restaurant around 9:20, there were plenty of empty tables and no one standing outside. We couldn't help wondering if the whole “two seatings” thing is a huge joke on the tourists! Maybe the staff/owners get a kick out of seeing a crazy mob at 7:30, and the locals know they can then just come later without all the drama?

Moral of the story: go late.

Italian Artisans: Alberto Cozzi and Stinga Tarsia

I have to devote my penultimate Italy post to two artisans with whom I was especially enamored: Alberto Cozzi (in Florence) and Stinga Tarsia (in Sorrento). A bit out of order, to go back to Sorrento, but it seemed like a good fit to combine the two in one post.

As soon as our ferry docked at Sorrento, we set out to find Stinga Tarsia. We had a bit of trouble locating the shop, but finally found the storefront and spent some time inside marveling at the incredible craftsmanship. Sorrento is well known for its inlaid wood art and furniture; the technique is called intarsia. Stinga has been run by three generations of family artisans.

The artwork wasn't limited to two-tone wood designs on boxes or tables. Stinga and other intarsia shops also had unbelievably intricate artwork that looked like a painting, but was in fact wood inlay:

This one is from another shop in town:

The enormous wooden doors of Sorrento's cathedral are covered in intarsia panels done by Vicenzo Stinga (the father of the brothers who are currently in business at Stinga Tarsia) and another artisan, Giuseppe Rocco. We were unable to take photos, and I cannot find any to post here without copyright violation, but you can see them on the cathedral's official website here and here

*     *     *

In Florence, we heard about Alberto Cozzi's shop in the "Heart of the City" walk that the Lonely Planet guidebook recommended. Florence is famous for its handmade marbled paper, and Cozzi is a fourth-generation papermaker/bookbinder. Given my general obsession with stationery, I definitely wanted to take a look.

The shop was fascinating and full of so many beautiful things--paper in traditional prints, the handmade marbled paper, leatherbound books and journals, albums, pens, pencils, and other gift items. 

I wish I'd gotten a shot of Mr. Cozzi at work. We got to watch him stamp the cover of a leather journal for another customer. If the journals had been lined, I'd have splurged on one myself! As it was, I deliberated forever (while Steve patiently waited) before buying a small pack of marbled papers and a journal with a traditional Florentine print on the cover. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Florence Day 10: Heart of the City Walk

After touring Palazzo Vecchio and the Bargello museum on Wednesday morning, we grabbed lunch and headed back to our B&B for a bit of rest and to wait out the rain. Lunch was panini from I Due Fratellini ("the two brothers")--a literal hole in the wall that has been in business since 1875. Twenty-nine kinds of sandwiches, only €3 each! Not to mention a large wine selection.
When the brothers saw me taking a photo of their shop as we walked away, they stopped and posed :)
We'd been told to expect long lines, but didn't have to wait at all. The sandwiches were so cheap that we chose three different kinds to try. Below, top to bottom: pancetta e peperoni arrosto (cured meat with roasted peppers--note that uncooked pancetta, while translated "bacon" in an English menu, does decidedly *not* taste or feel like bacon); bresaola e rucola (cured beef and arugula--or as the English menus translate it, "rocket salad"!); and crudo, mozzarella (ham and cheese). These were all just OK because, no salt in the bread! Ugh! I don't care how salty the meat is, The Bread. Needs. Salt.
The photo on the right is the view from the window of our B&B room--in the distance is Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Thankfully the rain let up after a little while and we were able to go exploring again. Unfortunately because of our pre-scheduled wine tour smack in the middle of our time in Florence, we weren't able to maximize the use of our Firenze Cards. So that's another pro tip for you: If you are going to venture out into Chianti wine country or to Pisa or Cinque Terre (there are so many interesting day trips to make from Florence), schedule that on the first or last day of your trip. Firenze Cards are only good for 72 hours from the moment of activation, so after we'd activated ours on Sunday, we essentially "wasted" all of Monday while out in the countryside and then they expired at 2PM Wednesday, when we still had several more hours available for sightseeing.

So, since we didn't have time to do any more museums, we used our Lonely Planet pocket guide to go on a "Heart of the City" walk. The guidebook says:
"Every visitor to Florence spends time navigating the cobbled medieval lanes that run between Via de Tornabuoni and Via del Proconsolo but few explore them thoroughly, instead focusing on the major monuments and spaces. This walk will introduce you to some less visited sights and laneways."
The walk begins at Piazza della Repubblica, which was the site of a Roman forum back in the day and was also the heart of medieval Florence. The square in its current incarnation was created in the 1880s (quite controversially, as it involved displacing nearly 6000 people).

From there we walked to Chiesa Orsanmichele, a church created in the 1300s by walling in an old grain market. Unfortunately many of these smaller churches did not allow photography inside, so I don't have a ton of pictures. 


Next was Mercato Nuovo, which I shared about in my Mercato Centrale post. Apparently you're supposed to rub the nose of Il Porcellino ("the piglet"--a bronze wild boar) to ensure your return to Florence. Better safe than sorry, right? :)

Palazzo Spini-Feroni, a Gothic palace that houses the flagship store and museum of shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo.

Chiesa di Santa Trinità // photo:

Chiesa dei Santissimi Apostoli--a Romanesque-style church, one of the oldest churches in Florence. It faces Piazza del Limbo, a sunken square that was once used as a cemetery for babies who died before being baptized.
The walk ended at Ponte Vecchio, so we continued across the bridge. It's so strange the way it doesn't even feel like you're on a bridge, with shops lining both sides. 

In the next two photos, you can see part of Cosimo (one of the Medici Grand Dukes)'s walkway, built so that he could travel between his home and office without mixing with the lowly commoners.

Just on the other side of the river, you find Palazzo Pitti--designed by Brunelleschi for a wealthy banker in 1457, but sold upon completion to...who else?? The Medicis. 

Since our Firenze Cards had run out by this time, we didn't end up touring the palace or the Boboli Gardens. We simply wandered around a bit, and then headed back across Ponte Santa Trinità to find an early dinner before our flight out the next day.