Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

"Christmas is the end of thinking you are better than someone else, because Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you."
--Tim Keller

Monday, December 23, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 309

"Doing all things without grumbling is humanly impossible. But thankfully not with God (Mark 10:27). What it requires is getting our eyes off ourselves and onto Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and all God promises to be for us in him. It requires seeing grace. Being different comes from seeing differently.

"Yes it is hard. It’s a fight. God told us it would be that way (1 Timothy 6:12). But we will grow in the gracious habit of cultivating gratitude through the rigorous exercise of constant practice (Hebrews 5:14) of seeing grace. Lord, help us speak more in the accent of heaven!
"Prone to grumbling, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to scorn the God I love;
Here’s my eye, O take and peel it
Till I see the grace above."
--Jon Bloom, "We Are Far Too Easily Displeased"
Fighting to see grace this week by thanking God for...

5905. not having to pay for Jude's terrible haircut
5906. lunch at Chick-Fil-A to console ourselves :)
5907. the reminder function on my phone
5908. Steve helping Elijah with his homework
5909. Mom DVRing things on TV I'd like to see

5910. dance lessons in the living room with Steve
5911. Jude desperately wanting to dance with me, jealous of Daddy
5912. homemade tomato soup
5913. the gospel in 1 Kings 8
5914. Elijah reading Pete the Cat to Jude

5915. Christmas gift projects finished
5916. friends here for supper
5917. sweet bedtime moments
5918. dedicated, hardworking teachers
5919. Elijah's calm obedience in the midst of his classmates' craziness

5920. Hungry, Hungry Hippos
5921. the hilarious, adorable Christmas card we got from Elijah
5922. a friend taking the time to correct my insensitive language
5923. Jude's throwing up was short-lived
5924. protection through storms (tornado warning four days before Christmas?! what?!)

5925. light of Advent candles growing brighter every night
5926. the anticipation of His coming, not as a babe in a manger but as King of Kings

Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Two Cents on the Duck Nonsense

I’ve tried to ignore this whole Duck Dynasty kerfuffle. I really have. But my Facebook friends keep blowing up my news feed with links and comments and articles about it, and I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer.

Three things:

1. I find it highly ironic that the Christians who are so agitated about A&E’s suspension of Phil Robertson are, in all likelihood, the same Christians who have been appalled at the recent court cases involving Christians who are fighting for their rights not to do certain types of business with gay or lesbian couples. The photographer in New Mexico, the florist in Washington, the baker in Colorado—all have argued that they should not be compelled to provide services for a same-sex wedding. They believe they should have the freedom not to work with people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in conflict with theirs.

Um. Does A&E not have the right to the same freedom? This is not a First Amendment issue. Phil Robertson is not going to jail or being killed for saying what he believes. This is a private company saying, “Hey, we don’t want our name and brand associated with your beliefs.” Which is pretty much the same exact thing the photographer and the florist and the baker are saying. We can’t have it both ways, folks.

2. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of homosexuality, please do not claim that Phil Robertson “simply said what Scripture says” or “was only stating biblical values.” As a Christian, I found his remarks offensive. He displayed a lack of compassion for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, a disturbingly demeaning view of women and marriage, and a staggering ignorance about race. That last one was what startled me most when I read Robertson's quotes, and Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan summed it up well:
 I don’t even know where to start with this one. Comparing black people to white trash is cringey, but suggesting that black people were happier during segregation? That because Phil never heard a black person publicly complain BACK IN THE ERA OF LYNCHING means that they must have been satisfied with the state of things? This is so racially tone-deaf that it reminds me of the time Paula Deen romanticized the slaves as being “like family”. Not to mention, the subtext of his remarks is that black people nowadays are entitled, unGodly, discontented welfare recipients. So when I see people as “standing with Phil” based on their Christian values, I really have to ask . . . how does an apologist for our country’s ugly Jim Crow legacy represent Christian values? 

3. Really, church? This is what we’re going to get ourselves all worked up about? How about we save our energy and outrage for things that are truly, unarguably outrageous. Like, I don't know, human trafficking. Also, can we just stop crying “persecution” all the time? THIS is persecution. A millionaire being suspended from a cable TV show for making crass and ignorant statements not even about the gospel (please, for the love of all that is good and holy, PLEASE do not confuse “the gospel” with “morality”), is not persecution.

I know a lot of ink has been spilled over this already, but I couldn't scroll through the slew of "I support Phil Robertson, the righteous martyr" posts on my Facebook feed any longer without throwing in my two cents. Thanks for indulging me.

Further worthwhile reading:
The Duck Thing: Is There Another Way?
Duck Dynasty, First Amendment Rights, and Christian Values
This is Not Worth Quacking About
Dear Kids: Never Forget the Power of Words

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Little Man Turns Three

Every once in a while I still find myself counting words. "Can you put my window down so the fwy can go out?" Twelve. "An' den it will be CWISMAS! An' I'm gonna JUMP outta my chair 'cause I'm EXCITED!" Sixteen.


You see, throughout the process of evaluating Elijah's language delays and getting therapy, I frequently had to fill out surveys that assessed his "mean length of utterance"--How long are his sentences, on average? What is the longest sentence he spontaneously says? List three examples.

I'd listen carefully for a couple of days and scribble down the most impressive ones I could come up with, encouraged as the number grew with each successive evaluation. Meanwhile, friends of mine would recount the conversations they were having with their two-year-olds, and part of me didn't actually believe them. Your child is Elijah's age (or younger!), and she says all that? 


I never knew it was possible to have an actual conversation with a two-year-old--until a certain adorable blond-haired, blue-eyed little boy came into my world. Week after week over the last year I have marveled at the difference it makes to have a verbal child.

I don't want to spend my life comparing my boys to each other. I know they will each have their own strengths, each be their own selves. And as I've shared before, Elijah has more than overcome his early struggles (sometimes at the dinner table, when we're struggling to get a word in edgewise, Steve will glance at me with a look that says, "Remember when you wanted him to talk?"). Still, unless you have dealt with a language delay, you can't fathom how incredible it is to talk extensively with a toddler, to feel like you can interact and *know* him.

Jude is articulate, interesting, funny, mischievous, exuberant. He turned three last week almost two months ago, so I'm overdue for a photo-heavy blog post reflecting on my littlest man.


He is a delightful (or at times patience-testing) mix of "I can do it! I don't need help!" and "I want you to cawwy me. I can't! Mama help pwease?" The word "can't," by the way, has two syllables. Jude has picked up more of a Southern drawl than his big brother so far.

Jude is definitely still obsessed with school buses and the garbage truck--well, trucks of all kinds, actually. He also loves to help Mama bake...

...or help Daddy fix things...

Really, he just loves to be considered a helper in general. He is joyful and energetic, sensitive and imaginative and always, always thinking. And talking. Did I mention this kid would talk to a brick wall?

Jude is my social butterfly--the one who's eager to have friends over or go to their houses, who barely says goodbye to me when I drop him off at "Jude's preschool" (a Mom's Day Out program at a local church) once a week. He loves other kids, but in the end, when I asked him a while back, the answer was, "Lijah is my best fwend."

His other best friend is a certain Big Red Dog.

Our stuffed Clifford was actually a gift from my parents to Elijah, years ago, but somewhere along the way Jude co-opted the dog and now Clifford rarely leaves Jude's side. He has his own chair at the dining room table; he sleeps in Jude's arms every night. We get away with not taking Clifford everywhere we go by explaining that he needs to stay home and be our watchdog.

Jude has already mastered the art of the Sunday school answer; it's not uncommon to hear him shout proudly, "Jesus died on the cwoss to forgive our sin!" (We won't talk about the time he listened carefully to a Bible story and then shouted, "Jesus is a bad guy!") But however superficial his current understanding, a few weeks ago he blew me away with his quiet spiritual insight. I was looking everywhere for my keys, with no luck. Jude sat patiently in his stroller, watching me, and then remarked, "God knows where your keys are."

On the other hand, Jude can also be my little Pharisee, self-righteously declaring in response to his brother (or other children) being corrected: "I'M not cwying!" "I didn't whine!" "I didn't touch it!" "I'm not throwing it!"


Like his big brother, he does remarkably well with entertaining himself--but his solitary play is so much more verbal than Elijah's was. He's *really* into cars and trucks and trains, and they have endless conversations. Occasionally I'll hear him saying, "You need to be kind," or, "Do you understand me?" "Good job! That makes me so happy!"

When Elijah is around, Jude happily submits to his brother's dictating the toys' conversations. It is ridiculously comical (and sometimes irritating when it continues on and on) how compliant Jude is as Elijah scripts the entire interaction. "Say, 'Wow, that's amazing!'" Elijah orders, and Jude cheerfully parrots, "Wow, that's amazing!" "Now say, 'I didn't know you could fly!'" and Jude doesn't miss a beat: "I didn't know you could fwy!"


On any given day you might find him imitating anything and everything his big brother does...sliding his arm around Mama...jumping from the second-to-last step...singing a rousing rendition of "Hakuna Matata" or "The Itsy Bitsy Spider"--or singing "Na, na na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, Hey Jude!" Or hearing the Beatles' rendition, and exclaiming, "Dat's my song!"...pretending his toy vacuum (or a pair of sticks, or any other random prop he can find) is a cello, and playing along with the Piano Guys...or parked in a chair with a giant pile of books.


At the end of the day, before I put him to bed, we usually sing Randall Goodgame's little lullaby "Sweet Baby Boy." A really sweet moment to share with him, though lately it's been more silly than mushy, because Jude recently decided it was absolutely hilarious to sing *with* me. Only he sings (in between giggles) "Sweet Baby Mom."


I love this kid. And wow, parenting the second time around is so much different. I can see how things I freaked out about with Elijah, fearing his misbehavior meant I was a hopeless mother whose child would turn out to be a sociopath, actually were normal developmental phases he would simply outgrow. I realize how challenges that were all-consuming (hello potty-training) faded into a distant blur.

The delight of having a preschooler/kindergartner in the house, combined with the fun of Jude's verbal skills, have made parenting a two year old much more enjoyable this time around. I have been *present* for Jude's early years in a way I was not with Elijah, and for that I am grateful. The days are still long; I am still too easily irritated and impatient. But our Jude indeed gives me many reasons to praise the Father who has given me such a sweet gift.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Like Father, Like Son

In many ways, Steve is just like his dad--and at Thanksgiving, he got called out on it by my five-year-old niece. That little anecdote came to mind when I read John 8 in preparation for this month's article over at Pick Your Portion. Click over for the story, the ultimate Storyteller, and a little about our favorite Christmas tradition!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 308

But grumbling is the accent of hell’s language because it’s how a creature’s pride responds to the Creator’s decision to do or allow something that the creature does not desire. Grumbling scorns God because it elevates our desires and judgments above his.

That’s why the world is so filled with grumbling. It’s ruled by the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) and its citizens speak the official language.

And that’s why Paul tells us to “do all things without grumbling” (Philippians 2:14). The children of God should not speak with the accent of hell.
Rather, our speech should always be gracious (Colossians 4:6); it should have the accent of heaven. Those who have been forgiven so much (Luke 7:47) and promised so much (2 Peter 1:4) should speak words that are always salted with gratitude (Ephesians 5:20). That’s one way we “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Gospel gratitude is a foreign language here. We are citizens of a better country (Hebrews 11:16).

--Jon Bloom, "We Are Far Too Easily Displeased"

Working on my accent this week by thanking God for...

5871. our pastor starting a new sermon series - the book of Galatians!
5872. the incredible wonders of the internet - my mind is often blown at the information I can access so easily
5873. Jude entertaining himself SO well all morning on a day last week when I was crunched to meet a deadline
5874. catching him having a picnic upstairs with his stuffed animals
5875. the relief of finishing a massive project I put off for over a year

5876. companies with excellent customer service, above and beyond what I ask (Shutterfly, Kohl's)
5877. Brussels sprout chips
5878. the smell of fresh oranges
5879. clementine season
5880. a gracious extension on a writing assignment

5881. Christmas songs that move me to tears
5882. Steve and the boys making Grandma Kannel's cranberries
5883. new lipstick
5884. sparkly jewelry
5885. photobooth at Steve's company Christmas party

5886. getting to try out our dance moves at the party
5887. friends babysitting, boys loving them
5888. cranberry honey cinnamon butter
5889. the opportunity to use my gifts to serve the body
5890. the way proclaiming the gospel publicly moves me deeply

5891. reminders that I am not God, my agenda is not law
5892. Steve patiently helping Elijah with his homework
5893. grace to think twice and keep my mouth sIhut
5894. Thai food
5895. Handel's Messiah at the Schermerhorn

5896. the gospel proclaimed at the symphony
5897. two dates with Steve in one week!
5898. our babysitter serving and serving while she was here
5899. the talent He gives to writers, singers, cellists, trumpeters, conductors, architects, engineers
5900. views of the Nashville skyline at night

5901. Christmas cards from friends and family
5902. Steve's ability to fix our clothes dryer
5903. the way contact lenses protect my eyes from onion fumes
5904. nightly Old Testament stories in which the punchline, the climax, the hope of glory is always and only, "JESUS!"

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Things I Learned in November

I'm a little late with this, and I didn't remember to keep track this time as closely as before, but I still have to share a couple of brilliant lifehacks from last month. Without further ado, with a nod to Emily at Chatting at the Sky, a few things I learned in November:

1. How to peel a head of garlic in ten seconds without a knife. Really. I use a LOT of garlic, and peeling it is always a pain. I tried this out after seeing the video, and it really does work. It took more than ten seconds, and that was only about three or four cloves, but still! Life changing. I can't wait until the next time I make this soup. I usually quadruple it, which means peeling 20 cloves of garlic. I know the "smash it with the side of your knife" trick but that only helps so much. This one will blow your mind. (P.S. That soup? If you didn't click the link, go back and click it. Print it and make it ASAP. You're welcome.)

2. How to de-seed a pomegranate. I don't often buy these, because they're just not worth the trouble. But learning this may make me change my mind. I'm not linking to the video because it was maddening--it was advertised as "how to de-seed a pomegranate in thirty seconds" and then you have to sit through a solid two minutes of inane blabbering before the guy even *starts* showing you! Ain't nobody got time for that! You don't need a video anyway--just score the pomegranate all the way around, break it in half, and then hold each half loosely over a bowl and whack the daylights out of the outside of it with a wooden spoon. This really does work...but you will want to wear an apron and make sure you are working somewhere that can be easily wiped, because you will end up with red juice spattered everywhere. 

3. It seems like every month I give a nod to a company I'm pleased with...this month it is L.L.Bean. I just love them. We had an issue with one of Jude's sneakers, where it was like something underneath the lining in the heel broke and was sticking out weird. They shipped out a new pair immediately. I am willing to pay a bit more for sneakers and backpacks and jackets and such when I know they will be excellent quality, durable, and backed up by L.L.Bean's satisfaction guarantee.

4. How to get rid of the hiccups: Take a deep breath, exhale completely, and swallow twice. It totally works. Forever grateful to a friend of a Facebook friend for that gem.

5. Jellyfish can't locomote. Loved World magazine's interview with Phil Vischer (creator of VeggieTales) and his spiritual reflections on that fact.

6. I've often heard and thought about Proverbs 29:18, "For lack of vision the people perish," as some sort of call to setting goals, casting a vision, writing a mission statement, etc. But in the interview linked above, Phil Vischer also pointed out that that verse doesn't apply to our ambitions. I was challenged and fascinated by his story and the way he's taking his new company in a different direction (and also thrilled to know that he sees and regrets how VeggieTales were cute and clever, but Christ-less moralism).

7. Patience pays off. To make a long story short, I finally got the iPhone I've been wanting for a long time--and paid less than half of what I was prepared to pay for a smartphone earlier this year. Super excited. A few apps I have been using and liking so far:
  • Pocket - for saving blog posts and articles to read later. Much better (quicker, easier) than saving them to Delicious with an "unread" tag and never coming back to them. 
  • Feedly - for the handful of blogs I want to keep up with but don't get in my Facebook news feed
  • ESV Bible - so handy. Do we realize how astounding this is, that we can have the entire text of God's Word in a device that fits in our pockets?!
  • TrueHDR - got a couple of great fall color photos with this. Perfect for those situations when the scene has a lot of contrast and either the sky is blown out or the details are too dark (which, incidentally, also says a lot about the magnificent design of our eyes, that we can naturally absorb all that beauty simultaneously in ways a camera can't!). 
  • Vyrso - haven't used this much yet, but I purchased a book through here and I love the idea of having the Bible linked to the book so you can easily look at a passage the author mentions.
How about you - what have you learned lately?

Monday, December 02, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 307

"Gratitude is the accent of the language of heaven because there everything is undeserved grace. No creature that basks in the eternal, deep, powerful, satisfying, overflowing joys of heaven will have merited being there. Each will be there solely by the grace of God, which is why we will all sing, 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!' (Revelation 5:13)
--Jon Bloom, "We Are Far Too Easily Displeased"

Practicing my native-but-forgotten tongue this week by thanking God for...

5921. raucous games of Twister with Steve and the boys
5922. Grammy playing hide and seek with the boys
5923. my dad's homemade ice cream
5924. doting grandparents
5925. the word "Mama"

5926. Brussels sprouts growing on a giant stalk
5927. blue glassware
5928. babies growing in friends' bellies
5929. baking with Jude
5930. blue ballpoint pens

5931. hauntingly beautiful echoes of the gospel in 2 Samuel
5932. blood-bought promises
5933. the Holy Spirit sealing my heart, guaranteeing my redemption
5934. opportunity to pray with a hurting friends
5935. ability to text friends and ask them to pray for me

5936. sunlight filtering in windows
5937. nonstick pans
5938. paint
5939. comfortable shoes
5940. steaming mugs

5941. little boys' sound effects
5942. speaking "Jude" so fluently I don't realize it's a different dialect
5943. a Father who hears and understands what my heart can't even express
5944. Jude chatting it up with Grandpa over breakfast
5945. Grandpa's laughter

5946. time to journal through a messy muck of thoughts and emotions
5947. boys excitedly picking out gifts for Operation Christmas Child
5848. cinnamon dolce latte
5849. the beauty of a friend's fight to worship and obey Jesus
5850. friends willing to babysit for upcoming holiday dates

5851. my brother's hospitality, fixing a huge breakfast for us
5852. Wendy's coupons
5853. snow flurries
5854. poop in the potty!!!!!
5855. cheerful cooperation from the boys

5856. a double date with my BIL and SIL
5857. getting to see my oldest childhood friend and meet her husband
5858. cousins playing "Lion King" together
5859. turtlenecks
5860. pizza sub with my BFF

5861. mascara
5862. glasses
5863. e-versions of books I've been wanting to read on sale for super cheap
5864. smiles and coos from my baby niece
5865. safe travels to Ohio and back

5866. first Christmas cards in our mailbox
5867. Christmas tree lit up and decorated
5868. Advent candle-lighting and reading begun
5869. Christmas music
5870. the promise that Jesus is coming again

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful Thursday, Thanksgiving 2013

So much for my NaBloPoMo goals, hmm? This November has felt much crazier than normal, and the blog was the first thing to let slide. At any rate, here I am on the holiday: As has been my custom for nine Thanksgivings in a row now, I'm counting not just a couple dozen but a hundred gifts today...

5818. storm clouds
5819. impossibly white, puffy clouds
5820. blue, cloudless skies
5821. first light in the early morning darkness
5822. streaks of orange, purple, pink at sunset

5823. the feeling of finding exactly the right word to express your meaning
5824. the feeling of relief when your loved one arrives safely
5825. wonder
5826. lightbulb moments
5827. feeling seen and heard

5828. prayer with friends
5829. friends who ask hard questions
5830. old friends who can pick up right where you left off
5831. new friends who dive deep quickly
5832. access to God's Word

5833. people who are gifted to teach children
5834. people who are gifted to care for the sick and elderly
5835. foster parents
5836. the way different people's gifts complement each other's
5837. getting to participate in miracles

5838. leaves carpeting sidewalks, crunching underfoot
5839. first flakes of snow
5840. bare branches against a winter sky
5841. first buds on wakening trees
5842. the beauty of the color green each spring

5843. the ability to see the full spectrum of color
5844. the ability to hear children's voices, cello music, crickets chirping
5845. the feel of my husband running his fingers through my hair
5846. the ability to smell onions sauteing, coffee brewing, little boys' heads, husband's shave gel
5847. the privilege of tasting different flavors every meal, every day

5848. vastly different perspectives that challenge me
5849. having to admit I'm wrong and change my position
5850. Jesus, the Truth
5851. membership in a broken but beautiful community of believers
5852. godly shepherds

5853. electricity
5854. loyalty
5855. hospitality
5856. possibility
5857. irreducible complexity

5858. languages
5859. stories
5860. loops and swoops of cursive handwriting
5861. twinkly lights
5862. reunions

5863. unconditional love
5864. perfect love that casts out fear
5865. tough love
5866. love by choice and commitment
5867. abounding, steadfast love

5868. soft scarves
5869. belly laughs
5870. iambic pentameter
5871. sterling silver
5872. air travel

5873. museums
5874. conviction
5875. encouragement
5876. God remembers that I am dust
5877. the anticipation of listening to Christmas music for the first time all year

5878. God's provision through Steve's hard work
5879. the privilege of being a vessel of His provision to others
5880. grace for today and not a drop more
5881. weakness
5882. feeling inadequate, incapable, uncomfortable

5883. family stories
5884. family resemblances
5885. family heirlooms
5886. family photos
5887. adoption into God's family

5888. hiking
5889. swimming
5890. jumping
5891. sleeping
5892. driving

5893. medical technology
5894. natural home remedies
5895. access to information about both
5896. access to information about everything
5897. a decisive husband who steps into my analysis paralysis

5898. inside jokes
5899. songs that move me to tears
5900. getting to participate in miracles
5901. writers who help me see beauty and truth
5902. outlets to share my own writing

5903. bear hugs
5904. slobbery kisses
5905. cowlicks
5906. dimples
5907. little hands in mine

5908. broad shoulders
5909. strong muscles
5910. crooked smiles
5911. green-gray eyes
5912. sharp intellect

5913. mercy
5914. wisdom
5915. gentleness
5916. patience
5917. the sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross

5918. the realization that I could keep going like this for days and days
5919. the knowledge that I don't deserve a single one of these gifts, and yet they have been mine to enjoy by God's grace
5920. the anticipation that far, far greater gifts than these are in store for me

Monday, November 18, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 306

"The opposite of grumbling in the soul is gratitude. And gratitude also gauges our gaze on grace. It tells us that we are seeing grace.

"Gratitude pours out of our souls whenever we we’re receiving a gift we know we don’t deserve and we experience a humble happiness. And as sinners who have received the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24), we are receiving these gifts all the time.

"Gratitude is a symptom of a healthy, expansive soul. The gospel of grace has given it panoramic vision, allowing it to see that this grace will be sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9) to meet every need (Philippians 4:19) when inconvenience, crisis, weakness, affliction, unexpected demand, suffering, and persecution hit. In fact, in all these things this grace will make us “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37)."

--Jon Bloom, "We Are Far Too Easily Displeased"
Squashing grumbling by thanking God this week for...

5801. Elijah quickly forgiving his harsh, mean, ungracious mama
5802. Steve preaching the gospel to me
5803. time spent sorting and identifying beautiful fall leaves with the boys
5804. challenging reminders that my kids are my neighbors, deserving of respect, and their stories aren't wholly mine to tell
5805. Shutterfly photobook on Groupon (can always use those!)

5806. oatmeal knots
5807. the kids at Jude's "preschool" excited to see him
5808. phone chats with dear friends
5809. FaceTime
5810. Jude telling one of his little friends: "Ruf Anne loves ME."

5811. getting to hold my friends' babies
5812. an unexpected conversation with Elijah about how great Heaven is
5813. a stiff neck: reminder that I am not God, that this body will wear out, that this world is not my home and not about my comfort
5814. the crockpot that shattered on the kitchen floor was clean and empty
5815. cracked, dry hands: I have soap and water to wash them repeatedly

5816. Elijah big enough to actually help Daddy with house projects, not just "help"
5817. a friend pursuing me, drawing me out, listening, loving

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Look of Love

Some of the most evocative wedding photos I've ever seen were on BuzzFeed last year, in a collection titled "24 Grooms Blown Away by Their Beautiful Brides." In the pictures, the men clap their hands over their open mouths. They weep. They are unable to hide their awe and joy and amazement. Each man is captivated by the beauty of his bride, stunned that this incredible woman is actually his.

As sweet as it is to see the way a man takes pleasure in his bride on their wedding day, I think this is a mere shadow of something even more breathtaking. Click over to Pick Your Portion today to find out why these pictures came to my mind when I read Psalm 149 recently, and how I think these emotional grooms offer a tiny glimpse of a far more incredible love story.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Steve and Amy: A Love Story (Part 12)

[continued from part eleven // start here]

Steve's offer to start a relationship with me was the very last thing I expected to happen on New Year's Day 2003. I had all but convinced myself to date Tom when we returned to school after Christmas break! Now everything had been turned upside down again. But in the end, there was no way I could *not* say yes to Steve, when it was what I'd dreamed of for three years.

What in the WORLD was God up to in all this? I wondered.

Steve and I spent time together over the next couple of days almost as if nothing had ever happened--though he, too, was questioning what God was up to a bit. Sometime after "The Drive," Steve suddenly had this urge to "cast lots" about the whole situation with me. He just couldn't get his mind off the idea, so he went and found two Yahtzee dice and sat in the living room at his parents' house, half-thinking he was crazy. He already felt pretty sure of what he was supposed to do, but he said, "OK. If the right hand is higher, I'm supposed to date her, and if the left hand is higher, I'm not supposed to." Imagining it would be a four on the right and a three on the left--confirmation, but barely--he tossed the dice. The right hand came up six; the left hand, one.

Finally on January 5, the day before I went back to college, he came over so we could talk.

I explained that if I had seemed less than enthusiastic the night we had gone for a drive, it was because I had felt completely blindsided and overwhelmed. But after having a few days to process, I really liked the idea of giving it a try. However, in light of all the events of the preceding month, I didn't at all feel ready to jump into a new relationship. For starters, it seemed incredibly disrespectful to Tom to show up back at school dating someone else so soon. Besides that, I felt like I really did need some time to refocus and get grounded again after the exhausting, emotionally intense semester I'd just had.

Steve agreed that waiting a month or so sounded like a good idea. The whole time we talked, we both had this huge sense of, "I can't believe we're having this conversation!" Then he did two things that really impressed me. He told me he wanted us to talk with my parents about the whole thing. And he prayed with me. Steve asked God for direction and guidance, and also thanked Him "for getting my attention, finally." :)

It felt good to part ways knowing that I could trust him--believing that he really would spend the next few weeks praying and seeking the Lord, figuring out how to lead the way as we took our friendship in this new and slightly scary direction. (What we didn't realize until several years later was that we left that afternoon at my parents' house with different ideas of what had been decided. In my mind, we were going to wait a month and then start dating. In Steve's mind, we were going to come back together in a month and decide whether we were going to start dating!)

So a month to the day after that infamous drive, Steve drove up to Marion, Indiana, for our very first official date. It was February 1, 2003. I have to smile when I reread my journal entry from the night before, when I battled "this is too good to be true" doubts and tried to preach the truth to myself:
1.31.03 …I can’t shake this nagging fear in the back of my mind that Steve is changing his mind, that on second thought, he doesn’t really want to date me and he’s coming up to tell me in person and clear it all up, and after all the spazzing out I’ve done with all my friends, the whole thing will be over before it began. I know that’s not extremely likely, but…I’m anxious to get everything out on the table tomorrow night. And, you know, the Lord is my strength and my song, and if it doesn’t work out with Steve, well, I’ll undeniably be very disappointed, but my hope is in Him.

After we went out for dinner, we came back to my townhouse on campus and spent a couple of hours having this slow, wonderful, honest talk--laying out our uncertainty, our expectations, how we might handle the long-distance thing, etc. Steve said he felt like he was blindfolded on a ship, and he had no idea what he was doing, but he was willing to just jump. At that point I mentioned a quote I'd run across that afternoon--and Steve laughed and said his roommate had shared that same quote with him earlier in the week.
“Gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain of all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sign of sadness; it should rather be an expression of breathless expectation.” –Oswald Chambers

By 11:00PM, Steve still had a three-hour drive home ahead of him, so he asked in conclusion, "So, do we know what we're doing?" I said, "Um, pretty much no." And he laughed and said, "Good! I wanted to make sure we were on the same page, and we are." :) He prayed with me again, promised to call the following week, hugged me goodbye. And that was the end of my last-ever "first date," the beginning of the next ten years and counting of my life.

The very next day and for several days (weeks? months?) after, I struggled with plenty of fear. It seemed so clear that this new relationship was a gift from God, that His fingerprints were all over it--and yet I still had this gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach. Again and again I had to take my doubts and fears to the Lord, laying this relationship at His feet and trusting Him to do what was best in my life, even if that meant leading me to walk away from Steve. Obviously (thankfully) that was not the case :)

At this point it seems appropriate to add a postscript about Tom. A couple of days after my first date with Steve, I emailed Tom to let him know what was going on. It was a super difficult and awkward email to write, but I felt it was important that he hear the news straight from me. His reaction floored me: he actually picked up the phone later that afternoon and *called* me to congratulate me, to say he was really happy that this had worked out for me. I was absolutely flabbergasted, just humbled and amazed at the genuine sincerity in his voice. I mean, can you believe a human would react that way?

Later that night, Tom rode with me to a Chinese restaurant for a short-term missions class we were both taking that semester, and he asked me for details about how it all had happened. Needless to say, I didn't give him the 12-part version--but after I shared [the world-record shortest version I'd ever told before or since], he again affirmed what great news it was. I was pretty much speechless. I wrote in my journal that night, "Wow. Some amazing girl someday is truly going to get a treasure in him, I'm convinced. What a weight off my mind, too, that he would be so mature, so gracious and selfless and sweet." And though it took a few years, Tom indeed got a happy ending of his own :)

While I'm at it, I might as well go on to share some highlights from our dating relationship and the story of how Steve proposed--but that will have to wait for another day. In other words, the end of this interminable series is actually in sight, but first, another guest post from my dear husband, a few more stories, maybe some love letter and/or journal quotes, and some beautiful gospel thoughts from Steve that came up just recently as we reminisced about all this :) Or to put it more succinctly, the story is still

[ be continued...]

Monday, November 11, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 305

Thanking God this week for...

5774. gummy smiles from a friend's baby
5775. Junior Mints
5776. a friend helping me see Jesus in Daniel 2
5777. safe roads and bridges
5778. Steve building spaghetti-and-marshmallow towers with Elijah

5779. leaves carpeting the sidewalks
5780. their satisfying crunch
5781. the slant of autumn sunshine
5782. my first iPhone
5783. a Groupon from Zazzle for Christmas cards

5784. dear friends' hard work to plan a women's brunch
5785. the 25 women who showed up for fellowship and teaching
5786. the opportunity I had to speak to them
5787. wonderful time in Colossians 1 with a dear friend
5788. the way He speaks in His Word even when you've read a passage dozens of times 

5789. a sweet, thoughtful friend bringing me old issues of Southern Living
5790. the power of multiplication to make one-on-one ministry incredibly effective
5791. friends praying for me while I spoke
5792. Steve helping me declutter in the kitchen and office
5793. Steve taking apart the back door's deadbolt, so that the keys actually slide in and out easily--so amazing! I am leaving the house with a smile on my face every time I lock the door now!

5794. a Broadway station on Pandora, and belting showtunes while I cleaned
5795. the unbreakable chain of Romans 8:29-30 as a sure foundation for the promise of Romans 8:28
5796. songs with beautiful, interesting alto parts
5797. laughing gas
5798. lidocaine

5799. a leaf-collecting walk with the boys this afternoon
5800. love that surpasses my understanding

Friday, November 08, 2013

Treasures :: A Pastel Index Card

Inspired by Leigh McLeroy's book Treasured: Knowing God by the Things He Keeps, I'm asking: What tangible pieces of my spiritual history would I place carefully in my own cigar box for safekeeping? What stories have shaped my journey with this ever-faithful, treasure-keeping God? Below is part three of the "Treasures" series. 


III. A pastel index card
That best friend of mine who’d invited me to church camp? She surrendered to Jesus that night of the “walk to the water,” too. And I’m certain that it was her friendship, her encouragement and support, that made the difference once we got home and settled back into “real life.” It would have been so easy for us both to slip into old habits and patterns, to let that joy fade into an album of camp snapshots, closed and shelved. But in His generous mercy He had claimed us both simultaneously, and so Julie and I tuned our radios to YES FM and dug into the Bible together.

We were eager to grow and learn, adorably na├»ve (and arrogant) in our new passion for God. As we began to read Scripture for ourselves, we exchanged index cards every day. I’d write a verse reference for her at the top of a candy-colored 3x5 card, and she’d give me a white lined card with a blue ballpoint verse written across the top in her neat cursive hand.

Every day Julie and I would exchange cards, and each night before bed as I settled in with my journal and Bible, I’d eagerly look up the Scripture that Julie had chosen for me, copying it onto the card. Then I'd flip through my Bible, searching for a really great verse to share with her the next day.

Were we ignorantly ripping random verses waaaaay out of context? Did our methods leave much to be desired? Oh yes. But I feel quite sure God smiled on our immature zeal for His Word. I had owned a Bible for as long as I could remember, but this process of actually reading it, eating it up, and finding the words powerful, meaningful, personal--this was totally new. And I couldn’t get enough.

Treasures, previously:
A broken piece of cornerstone
A sharp pebble

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Steve and Amy: A Love Story (Part 11)

[continued from part ten // start here]

Steve continues:

I knew that it was a “now or never” type scenario. Either I was going to say something to Amy, or she was going to tell this other guy “yes,” and likely be out of the picture for me. Enter tons of conflict.

Remember, I don’t even have feelings for Amy at this point. All I am really going to be saying to her is that I am willing to *try* to have feelings for her, while this other guy apparently has feelings for her already. If I say something to Amy, I may only make her decision that much more complicated, since I would be adding one more variable into the equation. Would she really want more options? 

I witnessed her decision-making process on where to go to college, and it wasn’t pretty. I hated the idea of causing her even more grief for something that was clearly not a sure thing from my perspective, and I hated the idea of losing her as a friend if things didn’t work out between us. Yet I also hated the idea that if she started dating and ended up marrying someone else, it wouldn’t really be appropriate for us to be close friends as we had been.

Finally, after much talking with my mom, and Kaleb, I decided to give Amy a call to see if we could go for a drive and chat. I knew she would know something was amiss, as we never chatted on the phone, or chatted in the car alone, or really did anything just the two of us. But after working up considerable nerve, and picking up the phone several times only to put it down, I finally dialed her number.  

Now back to my perspective:

I was watching I Am Sam with my parents on New Year's Night 2003 when the phone rang. My mom answered, and when she said it was Steve, I was surprised and confused. Steve *never* called me. Ever. We were close friends, but we mainly communicated via email. Any in-person or phone interaction happened only with Kaleb around. So for Steve to call me was really, really strange. Even more unexpected was his request: Could I go for a drive and talk?

What in the world was going on?!

Maybe half an hour or so later, Steve pulled into my driveway. But first, a disclaimer from him:
Before we get into the actual conversation, let me start by saying that I am not a great off-the-cuff speaker.  I like to think about what I want to say well before anything needs to be said, just to make sure I don’t make a fool of myself, or convey a wrong message.  For this conversation, I didn’t have the luxury of prep time…

So as we started driving, Steve began by saying: "I've been warned about you, and about our friendship, by someone whose opinion I really trust."

At that moment my stomach dropped into the floor. My thoughts immediately went to a few weeks before, when Kaleb had accidentally found out that I cared for Steve. He had made an offhand remark in front of my mom, one that could have easily been misinterpreted as referring to Steve and me getting married. I realized just in time that that *wasn't* what Kaleb meant, so I played it off and casually agreed. But my mom took Kaleb's remark the wrong way, and she said with surprise, "Did you just admit to him...?!"  

Oh no. Oh no. Nonononono. I tried to cover, but no amount of backpedaling or changing the subject would deter Kaleb from getting to the bottom of this. "What's she talking about? Admit to what?" I was cornered. Finally, I reluctantly acknowledged that yes, I had feelings for Steve. But I begged Kaleb not to breathe a word. Quite honestly, I didn't 100% trust him not to tell his best friend about this new development, but I was desperate for Steve not to find out like that.

So, with this odd and ominous-sounding opening line from Steve, I assumed that Kaleb had spilled my secret. He knows. Kaleb told him, and he's trying to tell me he's not interested. I want to crawl in a hole and die. After I kill Kaleb. This is the worst moment of my life. 

It turned out that that wasn't where Steve was going at all--he just wasn't very smooth with opening lines :)

What he actually meant was that a cousin of his--an amazing girl whom he was close to and deeply respected--had challenged him to think carefully about his relationship with me. Lots of people will say that they don't want to pursue a relationship with a close friend out of fear of wrecking the friendship--but Janel pointed out that eventually, our friendship would *have* to change. As soon as one of us married someone else, we wouldn't be able to remain friends at the same level of intimacy. The way Janel described it, Steve had two choices: our friendship could change by becoming more distant when we each met and married other people...or our friendship could become closer and develop into something more.

So as we drove all over county roads in the darkness, Steve attempted to clarify and explain. It wasn't the confession of undying love I'd so often fantasized about. He had realized I had a lot of the qualities he was looking for in a wife, but he wasn't totally gone over me, heartbroken at the thought of losing me to another. He was simply open to pursuing the idea, he said, and he wanted me to have options.

When he dropped me off at my house later that night, I walked into the living room, flopped face-down on the couch, and promptly burst into tears. I had been blindsided by the development I least expected in this whole mess. This moment I had always dreamed of had actually happened, yet not at all in a romantic way--and the whirlwind of emotion was more than I could handle.

[continue to part twelve]

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Autumn Beauty

The sky today is my favorite color of blue, the crisp shade that only comes with the quality of autumn light. Our neighborhood is finally in peak color—burning bushes ablaze, ginkgos fluffy and yellow, the maple by the park lit with an otherworldly orange.

I didn’t learn until I was an adult that the trees were these colors all along. The chlorophyll hides what is always there—but when the tree finally surrenders to the dying, the beauty emerges. I guess I always imagined that the fiery fall colors were something a tree put on, sort of the botanical equivalent of a fancy red dress. But no, the green was only hiding the tree’s realest hues.


In a culture that places great emphasis on "being true to yourself," on discovering your identity and living authentically, on pursuing what makes you come alive, I find it fascinating that the trees tell a different story.

I don't pay much attention to the trees in our neighborhood all summer long. I am thankful to live in an old neighborhood, where the trees cast generous shade, but their greens all bleed together unremarkably. It isn't until autumn that I realize they are so very different--that this one is a sweet gum, that's a sassafras, over there is a ginkgo. Each tree's truest, most beautiful self is only revealed when it surrenders, when it dies.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).

But for the trees, and for us, death is not the end--because for our Jesus, death did not have the last word.

Every autumn I remember again why this is my favorite season, and I see again how God has written His truth large and lovely on oaks and maples and tulip poplars: beauty comes through dying.

Previously in the fall (including more photos of our gorgeous neighborhood):
Contemplating Beauty
Death and Beauty
Part of the Whole
Compelled to Capture Beauty

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Compassion: Changing the Story

Does child sponsorship really make a difference?

You've probably heard of the concept, but maybe you've wondered: is it really a wise use of your money, really a good way to help the poor?

Some researchers asked that question a couple of years ago and found that no one had ever investigated the impact of child sponsorship. They approached many organizations, asking for cooperation, and Compassion International was the only one who said, "Sure, we'll throw our records wide open to you. Check out what we're doing."

These independent researchers spent two years collecting data on more than 10,000 people in six countries. They interviewed adults who had been sponsored through Compassion as children. And they were blown away by what they discovered. One said:
"You could beat this data senseless, and it was incapable of showing anything other than extremely large and statistically significant impacts on educational outcomes for sponsored children."
Compassion-sponsored children were far more likely to complete their education, far more likely to have stable jobs, far more likely to become leaders in their communities and churches.

But these adults who had been sponsored had something more than education and good jobs and community success: They had hope.

This news didn’t surprise the president of Compassion. Dr. Wess Stafford said:
“…individual child development is the most strategic long-term solution to poverty that exists. …There are so many great ministries tackling various aspects of poverty…I love that Christians put in fresh-water wells or build houses or work on income generation. Compassion does some of those very things, too. But fighting poverty is bigger than repairing the externals. The worst thing about poverty is what it destroys. Poverty is an internal assault on self-worth, growth, and hope. But that’s where Compassion does its best work—deep inside the heart, inside the potential of individual children.” 
Millions of children are living in extreme poverty around the world—but we, as followers of Jesus, can reach out to individual children, one by one, and help to change their stories.

We must help the poor. Not out of guilt or duty, but because our God calls Himself the defender of the fatherless, the rescuer of the needy. The reality is, WE are needy, and we have been loved and redeemed by Jesus, who gave up His life to bring us to God. And if we belong to Him, He calls us to imitate His justice and mercy.

In Psalm 82:3, God says, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 

If we have been rescued, we have the privilege of extending God’s rescuing love to the poor. By making some small sacrifices, we can imitate our generous God, sharing the blessings He has poured out on us and inviting desperate children into His story.

Would you be willing to sponsor a child? Compassion recently sent me 15 packets for children who need sponsors. And seven generous families from my church signed up to change their stories! I still have seven children left—some of whom have already been waiting as long as 10 months.

Sponsorship costs $38 a month—an investment of about $1.25 a day. That’s less than what we might pay for a Coke or a cup of coffee. It's probably less than your monthly phone or internet bill. But it can provide opportunities for your sponsored child that most of the world’s poorest children never see.

When you sign up for sponsorship, Compassion links you to an individual child who needs your help. You receive his or her photo and personal story, and you can build a relationship through letters and prayers.

If you’d like to sponsor one of these precious children, leave a comment below, or contact me directly by email: amykannel[at]hotmail[dot]com. 

I’ve been a sponsor with Compassion for over 13 years, and the more I learn, the more I am impressed with this ministry. I've also read countless blog posts from real people who started out skeptical, went overseas for a firsthand look at Compassion's work, and came away 100% sold on what Compassion is doing. For more information, check out:

Ayar, Betelhem, Vadavalasa, Collins, Eric, Maite, and Sneha would love to have the Christmas gift of a new sponsor to provide educational opportunities, health care, hope, and tangible evidence of Jesus’ love. Could you be the one to offer them such a priceless gift?

Many other children besides these seven are waiting for sponsors. Visit Compassion's website if you'd like to select a child who's been waiting the longest (some have been waiting more than 400 days), a child from a specific country, or a child with the same age or birthday as your own child.

Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion

Monday, November 04, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 304

Thanking God this week for...

5751. Daylight Saving Time. I know all the moms of littles are throwing tomatoes at me for this one...but I gotta say, I'm glad it's light out earlier in the morning. I was having a HARD time getting up early--and so was Elijah. Not a fan of it being dark when Steve gets home in the afternoons, but what can you do.
5752. Cameo apples (a whole bushel of them) - my *perfect* eating apple
5753. a visit from my in-laws
5754. two more families from our church sponsoring children through Compassion
5755. Jude taking a nap on my lap during church

5756. the storytelling power of movies
5757. the courage of Jackie Robinson (and Branch Rickey)
5758. Elijah cleaning out my car to earn money for missions
5759. Steve giving me a night away to work on writing/speaking assignments
5760. Jude and a friend's son playing so well together

5761. a pre-dinner walk around our gorgeous neighborhood
5762. burning bushes in full color
5763. the giant orange maple near the park
5764. fluffy yellow gingkos finally starting to turn
5765. the cumulative effect of all this beauty

5766. ordaining the changes of seasons
5767. never changing Himself
5768. missing car keys found
5769. a day off school for Elijah, quality time spent together
5770. a good report from Elijah's teacher at our first parent-teacher conference

5771. no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
5772. eyes to see what is truly beautiful
5773. a new heart to love and follow Him

Saturday, November 02, 2013

NaBloPoMo 2013

Having just finished a 31-day blog challenge, it seems a bit much to launch straight into National Blog Posting Month. But I'm hitting a writing groove, and I've done it for the last seven years straight. And I've got no shortage of material in my drafts folder.

I'm not going to try to write every day in November; I don't think that's a wise goal at this point, with all the other stuff on my plate. But my loosely-held plan is to be here every weekday. Among other things, I'm determined to wrap up the love story series before the end of the year, and I've got a whole bunch more treasures to share.

So stick around! And if you need some motivation to write, join in with NaBloPoMo. This will be way easier than 31 Days--you can write about whatever you want, not just a specific theme!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Things I Learned in October

I'm hooked on this prompt from Chatting at the Sky--finding it fun to keep a draft running all month and jot down the random things I learn. Here are October's lessons:

1. "Sushi" does not actually mean "raw fish." Am I the only one who totally misunderstood this? My Filipina friend Ana set me straight after I asked a confused question on a Facebook photo she posted of her homemade sushi made with cooked crab. She explained:
"It's still considered sushi even when you use cooked meat. The term sushi literally means sour-tasting. It's actually the vinegared rice that makes the sushi a sushi. When you use raw meat (not necessarily seafood), then you call it sashimi."
I always avoided sushi because I was pretty certain I couldn't handle the texture of raw meat--well, not that I've had tons of opportunities to try it, but I've certainly never sought any. Now I'm kind of curious to give it a taste.

2. There are few foods I love more than burnt cheese, and I may or may not have recently purposely placed plain provolone cheese on my stone and baked it to eat straight up burnt cheese. Turns out there is actually a fancy-sounding name for that, which sounds so much more sophisticated than burnt cheese: "frico." That said, frico grilled cheese seemed like a brilliant idea--but it was an epic fail. The cheese glued the bread to the pan and made nothing more than a mess. 

3. Britax has excellent customer service. We learned the hard way that with the more expensive carseats, you're paying for ease of use. The Cosco Alpha Omega seat we had when Elijah was a baby was terrible--incredibly difficult to get installed correctly when rearfacing, a pain in the neck to adjust. With Jude, we splurged on a Chicco KeyFit30 and LOVED it. Now both boys are in Britax seats--Jude in a Boulevard and Elijah in a Frontier--and we are very pleased with them. However, the side impact wing/headrest on Jude's recently broke, so I called Britax. The seat is more than a year old, but they sent us a replacement part, no questions asked.

And while we're on the subject...70-90% of carseats are installed or used improperly, even though 95% of parents think they're using the seats correctly. Here's a simple guide with helpful photos--make sure you are one of the minority! Some of the most common mistakes:
  • chest clip too low (it should be at armpit level)
  • harness straps too loose (you should not be able to pinch any slack)
  • seat not installed tightly enough (it should not move more than one inch side to side at the belt patch)
  • improper seat choice (forward facing too soon, booster too soon)
4. Magic Eraser works on soap scum. CHANGED MY LIFE. Yes I'm about a decade behind on this. Better late than never right? I ignored the hype for the longest time because I assumed it had to be full of all kinds of crazy chemicals to be so magical. Finally I found out, nope, it's just sanding off the top layer of dirt. Cleaning the tub/shower used to be my most despised housekeeping task ever. OK, it still is, but I couldn't believe how much easier and more effective the job was when I gave the Magic Eraser a try at last.

5. Rome apples are not crisp. Neither are Winesaps. I've been on the hunt for a good apple to eat plain since they are in season right now, but I have been striking out repeatedly with local orchards. Two growers have told me that these varieties were crisp...they were NOT. I have Cameos on order--I'm pretty sure I remember really liking those in the past. At least we can always make applesauce from the mushy, mealy ones...but I am really hungry for some good tart-sweet, hard-crisp eating apples!

6. You can use 1/3 c. maple syrup instead of the sugar in this baked oatmeal recipe, making it even healthier. The boys are happy to eat regular oatmeal every morning, but I don't care for it. Every once in a while I make this and we all consider it a delicious treat. I've also used blueberries or blackberries in place of the cranberries. All work well, but I have learned the hard way that chopping the cranberries is important. This recipe isn't very sweet at all, but even with my sweet tooth, I really enjoy it.

7. Remember the lady who sued McDonalds back in the 90s because their coffee was hot and she spilled it on herself? For 20 years we've pointed to that story as the ultimate example of how ridiculously out of control lawsuits are. But it turns out there's WAY more to the story than you've probably heard. Did you know that she suffered third degree burns that left her hospitalized for a week? Or that her first move was to contact McDonalds privately and ask them to pay her medical bills? Or that not only did the jury's original recommendation of $2.7 million amount to only two days' coffee sales for McDonalds, but that a judge ultimately reduced the settlement to less than $500,000? The news report I watched this month was eye-opening, to say the least. How many times do I have to learn this lesson--that stories are almost always much more complicated than the little pieces I know?

8. The number 42 has been retired not just from the Dodgers, but from all of baseball, in honor of Jackie Robinson. Steve and I just watched the new movie 42 and absolutely loved it. 

How about you - what did you learn this last month?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Noticing the Good

My default mode is to look for error. I have been a perfectionist my whole life--and so my sharp eyes examine carefully to spot flaws. I easily see what's wrong, what's ugly, what doesn't work. This mistake-radar serves me well as an editor; it's less helpful as a mom, a wife, a friend.

Over the last few years, I've been reminded again and again of the need to take a second look. I must learn to see--my own life, others around me, the world at large--through a lens focused on grace. If I am skilled at finding fault, I want to become even more adept at finding beauty. This world is full of ugliness, to be sure--but it is also full of people made in God's image, full of His handiwork, full of His gifts.

I recently read Sam Crabtree's book Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God. He makes an unconventional argument: "we rob God of praise by not pointing out his reflection in the people he has knit together in his image." Furthermore, when we affirm others, we're actually reflecting God's character ourselves. "Blessing others reflects the image of the Christian’s Father," Crabtree continues. "It’s what Christians do, because it’s what the Father does."

Failing to affirm people--being hyper-critical instead of encouraging--is not only hurtful to them but dishonoring to God. He has created every one of us in His image. And those He has redeemed are walking around with His very Spirit living inside them. If I cannot see something to celebrate and praise, I am believing the lie that He is not at work in His beloved children. I am blind.

Crabtree offers this challenge:
"Generally, our failure to affirm others is not rooted in them, but in us. So ask God for personal transformation, including the development of things like greater alertness (from a heart actively on the lookout for the image of God in others), greater humility (considering others better than yourself), and greater gratefulness (appreciating how God has surrounded you with so many echoes and reflections of himself)."
Part of the journey of "seeing Jesus"--which is only beginning as this 31 Days challenge ends--is a quest to see how He is at work in the lives of those around me. As I have been vigilant in looking for error, I must be vigilant in looking for evidence of grace.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).
It's about noticing. It's about taking note of the truth, the nobility, the rightness, the purity in the ordinary people and things and events in my everyday world. It's about pausing to notice the lovely in the common instead of noticing the ugly in both. It's about looking for something to admire instead of something to criticize. It's about looking for something praiseworthy instead of something to nitpick. And it's about praising the gracious, glorious Savior who is the Source of all that's good.

"Striving to affirm others puts us in the practice of looking at them positively—that is, looking for evidence of God’s work in them. Affirmation changes us before it changes them," Crabtree notes.

I am quick by nature to see what's distasteful, what's broken, what's substandard. Lord, transform my vision. Make me quick to see what's pure, true, noble, right, excellent, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy. In other words, open my eyes to see Jesus.

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Keeping Promises

This morning I snapped at my six-year-old over missions money. Of all things.

Elijah’s school is raising money for missionaries, and I recently started having him do some chores to earn his own money to contribute. Because he has no concept of money and its value, he is over the moon about getting TEN CENTS!!! to put in his little jar—which is really precious and funny. After helping with a bunch of laundry last night, he has accumulated quite a few pennies, and to say he’s eager to take them to school would be an understatement.

So he keeps asking me: Mom, can I take the missionary money to school tomorrow? When do I get to take it? Are you going to put a lid on the jar? How will I take it to school? Can I take the missionary money?

I see no need to bag up and keep track of money every day; I planned to wait and send all that he had collected at the end of the week. But despite explaining this to Elijah, his anxious questioning persisted, to the point that I finally threatened to take money *out* of the jar every time he asked. That quickly put an end to the pestering, but this morning he started in again. “Do I get to take the missionary money in today? When can I take my missionary money?”

Already irritated because his dawdling was messing up my morning plans and making us late, I yelled at him. DO NOT ASK ME ABOUT THE MISSIONARY MONEY AGAIN! I PROMISE I WILL SEND IT TO SCHOOL WITH YOU THIS WEEK! BUT WE ARE NOT TAKING IT TODAY!

Awesome mom, huh?

The whole thing reminded me of a blog post I wrote almost four years ago, when Elijah was still a barely-verbal toddler.

Back then, I described how upset he tended to get when I didn’t immediately do what I said I was going to do. I saw that he didn’t trust me, that he needed constant reminders that I really would do what I said I would do. Again and again I had to reassure little Elijah that I wouldn’t forget my promise.

These days, it looks a lot different, but six-year-old Elijah still gets antsy when promises aren’t immediately fulfilled. He still needs those reassurances that I’ll do what I said. And four years later, this part of parenting again points me to the ultimate Keeper of Promises.

Like my son, I tend to freak out when I think my needs or desires have been forgotten. Like him, I easily overlook all the past instances of promises fulfilled, wondering if this time, God might not actually provide.

How thankful I am for my Father’s patience. Instead of lashing out at me angrily when I get antsy and fail to believe what He says, He gently repeats His promises again and again, preserving thousands of them in His Word. He remembers that I am dust, and He has compassion on my weak and fearful heart.

Oh, for grace to extend that patient, compassionate mercy to my boys—to respond to their whining and anxious nagging with gentle reassurance that Mama can be trusted, and to teach them that even when Mama fails, they can trust in the God who will never break His promises. Every single one has been written in the blood of Jesus.

Reminders of Promises

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Monday, October 28, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 303

For whatever reason, my practice of daily gratitude has really been on the decline for a while now. I still keep my book open on the kitchen counter 24/7, but so often I find myself scribbling down a few highlights each morning from the day before, rather than pausing throughout the day to note the gifts I receive. Is it any wonder if I am struggling to see? Better late than never, definitely, but I need to get back into the practice of opening my eyes and counting all day long.

This past week I've been thanking God for...

5731. bushy-tailed squirrels flying up and down trees
5732. husband fixing our furnace for just the cost of parts
5733. forcing me to do hard things I don't enjoy
5734. Elijah scoring a goal at his last soccer game
5735. soccer ending = getting our lives back

5736. his awesome coaches who sacrificed more than we did this season
5737. grace to apologize to Elijah
5738. his quick forgiveness
5739. time to sit and read to the boys in the midst of a chaotic day
5740. an opportunity to bless friends with a meal I know they like

5741. a text from my friend saying her two-year-old ate four bowls of the soup and raved about it :)
5742. a visit from Steve's younger brother and his girlfriend
5743. Jude's teacher's hard work in reinforcing the kids' potty learning
5744. Elijah displaying a servant heart at school
5745. POOP IN THE POTTY!!!!!

5746. frozen yogurt to celebrate the momentous occasion
5747. lunch at Mafiaoza's
5748. hiking at Radnor Lake
5749. grace to preach truth to myself, fight against resentment
5750. the boys' love for music

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]