Friday, November 28, 2014

Sing We Now of Christmas

NOW we can talk about Christmas music! I do not like to get it out until the day after Thanksgiving--but then I've got it playing nearly 24/7 through the new year.

 My two favorite Christmas albums are non-traditional ones. It was about five years ago that our church introduced us to Andrew Peterson's epic Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ. I cannot praise it highly enough. It is a continuous journey through the Old Testament, seeing the shadows and pointers to the Messiah, culminating in Jesus' birth. Moves me to tears every single time--I cannot sing along to "Labor of Love" without weeping. Please, please, if you have not heard this music, do yourself a favor and buy it this year! Today it is actually on sale for only $8.99 (a two-CD set). Also, check to see whether the live performance might be happening in your area--Andrew Peterson and friends go on tour every December and perform the entire album. Perfect December date.

I also love Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man from Sovereign Grace Music (full review here). The CD is only $8; digital downloads are about the same price. All-new songs that magnify the incredible truth and beauty of the Incarnation.

Given how amazing that one is, I didn't hesitate to buy Sovereign Grace's new Christmas album, Prepare Him Room. I haven't listened to it yet, but if it's half as good as Savior, it will be worth every penny of the $7 sale price (good through Monday)!

Other albums I look forward to every December include:
David Phelps - Joy, Joy
Mariah Carey - Merry Christmas
Straight No Chaser - Holiday Spirits
Handel's Messiah
Selah - Rose of Bethlehem
Sojourn - Advent Songs

And a few favorite songs not on the above albums:
"One King" - David Phelps, O Holy Night
"How Many Kings" - Downhere, How Many Kings
"A Strange Way to Save the World" - 4Him, WOW Christmas (Red)
"This Baby" - Steven Curtis Chapman, Christmas is All in the Heart
"Welcome to Our World" - Michael W. Smith, WOW Christmas (Yellow)
"The Night Before Christmas" - Brandon Heath, The Night Before Christmas

Also keep your eye on Amazon: Not only do they typically offer one free Christmas song download every day of December--but there are TONS of albums you can listen to for free if you have Amazon Prime! (We were several months into our membership before I realized this!)

Finally, one more bonus: I recently downloaded a FREE album of new Christmas music from Stephen Miller called Light Has Broken Through. And you can also name your price on Songs for the Incarnation from Cardiphonia. Looking forward to checking those out.

What are your favorite Christmas albums? 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Thanksgiving 2014

This year marks ten Thanksgivings in a row for counting a hundred gifts. Always good to zoom out and think not only about the gifts I've received in the last few days, but the gifts that enrich my life all the time. So this week, I am remembering again how many, many blessings I enjoy over and over, and thanking God for things like...

6705. hot drinks that warm you from within
6706. ice cream on a hot day
6707. heavy blankets on cold nights
6708. hot meals to feed my family, three times a day
6709. Jesus' patience with me when I am neither hot nor cold

6710. cobalt blue
6711. Jude's electric blue winter hat against his blue eyes
6712. the richness of language, that there could be so many words to describe "blue"
6713. eyes to perceive aqua, cerulean, cornflower, sky, navy
6714. ocean waves

6715. Elijah's brown eyes crinkling when he smiles
6716. his Lego creativity and math-nerd mind
6717. the way he has been an encouragement to his teachers
6718. his calling me "my sweet mama"
6719. all the times he teaches me about forgiveness and unconditional love

6720. a new sister-in-law
6721. readers of my blog
6722. our pastors
6723. new local friends
6724. elementary + preschool teachers, aides, principals

6725. not restraining His mercy from me
6726. no condemnation for me
6727. adopting love lavished on me
6728. a compassionate yet perfectly sinless Mediator who welcomes me
6729. calling the stars by name...and yet numbering the hairs on my head

6730. Jude's full-body hugs
6731. the way he says "becept" instead of "except"
6732. his imagination + constant chatter as he plays with trucks and trains
6733. his ability to make friends
6734. the way he has to be right there in the thick of things anytime Daddy is working

6735. poetry
6736. written prayers
6737. metaphors and analogies that clarify and sharpen
6738. funny sarcasm
6739. words of encouragement and affirmation

6740. dancing with my husband
6741. reading with my boys
6742. FaceTiming with my parents
6743. praying with my newest friends
6744. catching up with my oldest friends

6745. calligraphy
6746. memory
6747. immunity
6748. honesty
6749. sanity

6750. ponytails
6751. belly laughs
6752. felt-tip pens
6753. chocolate
6754. texting

6755. my boys' soft skin
6756. the feeling of having my hair played with
6757. holding Steve's hand
6758. arms strong enough to do pushups
6759. the ability to taste and digest food

6760. spiritual gifts
6761. evidence of grace changing me
6762. opportunities to serve
6763. reminders of my weakness
6764. glimpses of Jesus' beauty in others

6765. more shoes than I need
6766. more love than I deserve
6767. a peaceful, privileged childhood
6768. opposable thumbs
6769. sunglasses

6770. hearing my boys pray
6771. hearing them recite Scripture from memory
6772. hearing my husband say "I love you"
6773. hearing friends speak hard words of criticism/rebuke
6774. hearing talented people sing

6775. the riches Scripture yields no matter how many times you read it
6776. gifted women and men who teach it
6777. brothers and sisters who serve quietly, faithfully, with love and humility
6778. friends who succeed by grace
6779. friends who fail and keep fighting

6780. Steve's willingness to listen and learn
6781. his relentless, sacrificial servanthood
6782. his incredible DIY skills
6783. the ways he challenges and sharpens me
6784. his wisdom and ability to point me to Jesus

6785. toilets
6786. traffic laws
6787. teeth
6788. toenail polish
6789. truth-tellers

6790. a perfect remedy for the individual + systemic sin that plagues our nation + world
6791. the certain hope that justice + mercy will prevail in the end
6792. eyes to see the Remedy and a heart to trust the Rescuer
6793. reminders that this world is not my home and something far better is coming
6794. how incredibly easy it is to come up with a list of a hundred gifts I've received
6795. audiobooks
6796. memoirs
6797. fantasy novels
6798. narrative nonfiction
6799. 140-character nuggets of wisdom and truth

6800. the experience of being needy
6801. the experience of having something to give
6802. the experience of putting words to what someone else can't describe
6803. the experience of being speechless
6804. the experience of being known and still beloved

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What to Do with Your Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey-Cranberry Panzanella

There are a lot of traditional Thanksgiving foods I can get excited about. Turkey is not one of them (unless it is smoked...then I will fight you for it). Roasted turkey is boring and mainly a vehicle for cranberry chutney. So what do you do with the leftovers?

Wonder no more: You make panzanella. You feel really fancy for whipping up a dinner with such a glamorous name. And you enjoy the deliciousness (it's even good reheated). This is one of those meals I pretty much only make in November/December, but we've eagerly anticipated it every year since I first cut the recipe out of Taste of Home in 2009. It is worth the wait!

Disclaimer: I just learned that technically, "panzanella" means "Italian bread and tomato salad." Whatever. Somehow I got the idea that it was a generic name for a bread salad more than a descriptor of a specific *type* of bread salad. I'm still calling this Turkey-Cranberry Panzanella, because stubborn. Also because it's way more fun to say and write than "Harvest Turkey Bread Salad," which is what the original was called. Bread salad? Who thinks that sounds appealing? Plus, I am in good company calling a non-tomato bread salad "panzanella."

Anyway. Call this what you like, it is mouthwatering (more so than my once-again-lackluster-food-photography implies...the Taste of Home photo may entice you a little more!).

Turkey Panzanella
adapted from Taste of Home

5 cups cubed bread (I use day-old five-minute artisan bread)
1/2 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce or chutney, divided
6 T oil, divided
6 T balsamic vinegar, divided
2 tsp salt, divided
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large sweet onion, cut into large chunks
1 T fresh thyme
4-5 cups cooked turkey, cut into chunks
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted

Bake bread cubes on an ungreased baking sheet at 250 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until lightly toasted. Set bread aside and increase oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix 1/4 cup cranberry sauce, 2 T oil, 2 T vinegar and 1 tsp salt. Toss with sweet potato and onion. Spread vegetables in a foil-lined or well-greased baking pan (a 15x10 jelly roll pan works well) and bake for 30-40 minutes or until tender, stirring halfway through.

In a small bowl, mix thyme with remaining oil, vinegar, salt and cranberry sauce.

Combine bread, roasted vegetables, turkey, cranberries and pecans in a large bowl and drizzle with dressing. Yield: 6-8 servings.

Note: You won't want to use all the dressing--it's pretty strong. If you have kids, you'll probably have better luck serving this deconstructed, with everyone assembling their own salads at the table. My boys will eat the individual elements of this, but they don't care for the balsamic dressing. They'd rather dip their turkey and bread in straight cranberry sauce and avoid the pecans, too.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Listening to #Ferguson

I had yesterday's post set to go before the Ferguson grand jury announcement...I wish I hadn't. Today it feels wrong to talk about anything else. Today I need to keep silent and listen. Below is a sampling of what I've been listening to.

This link-dump may overwhelm you. We *should* feel overwhelmed by injustice; we should mourn with those who mourn. We *make* time for things that matter to us. Please, will you take some time to listen? Will you open your heart to care? Will you dare to hear perspectives on this besides Fox News or Matt Walsh? Any one of these links would be worth your while to consider. Maybe you could skim through the quotes below and choose even a couple of articles to ponder. Maybe you could realize your privilege means you get to choose whether to care about Ferguson and racism and police killings. 

"White evangelicals must listen because there is a context to this tragedy, we must listen to feel the pain behind the problem and finally we listen so that we might acknowledge that injustice really exists.
"...Rioting is wrong and stupid—but so is using rioters as an excuse to ignore the hurts of so many. For many, this is about an incident. Yet, for many African Americans, it's about a system. It's worth listening to why people are responding differently to the situation in Ferguson."

The Ferguson Grand Jury Has Given Us Our Marching Orders
"We saw an American prosecutor fail the principle of 'blind justice' by handling court procedure in a way most legal experts found a dereliction of duty. Over and over again we heard that the grand jury bar for an indictment is so low all it takes is a ham sandwich. Prosecutors who want to prosecute don’t 'present all the evidence;' apparently, they present only that evidence that gets them the indictment and commences the trial. If that’s true, and I have to trust the majority opinion of legal experts since I’m not one, then Ferguson’s prosecutor failed to even live up to the low-bar ideals of his profession, much less America.

"...a grand jury indictment depends largely on the recommendation of the prosecutor. If he/she wants an indictment, they tend to get one. They present the parts of the evidence that lead to the conclusion. In this case, a prosecutor with a history of close affiliation with police officers and no record for ever bringing an indictment, 'rigged the system,' according to one analyst, to get the result he wanted. He took the unprecedented steps of giving the grand jury 'all the evidence' and allowing the accused to testify to the grand jury for hours instead of leading a prosecutorial effort with integrity.

"Here’s how I wish the President had ended his comments and what I pray the remaining movement in Ferguson, New York, LA and other  parts of the country would commit itself to.
  • Forming a National Commission for Reviewing the Use of Deadly Force by Police Authorities
  • Federal Requirement and Funding of Police Body Cameras
  • Creation of a Mechanism for Appointing Prosecutors
  • The Demilitarization of Local Police Departments"

Most White People in America are Completely Oblivious
"I think this, more than anything, is the source of our trouble when it comes to racial division in this country. The inability of white people to hear black reality—to not even know that there is one and that it differs from our own—makes it nearly impossible to move forward. But how can we expect black folks to trust law enforcement or to view it in the same heroic and selfless terms that so many of us apparently do? The law has been a weapon used against black bodies, not a shield intended to defend them, and for a very long time."

Race and Policing in America
"Generally, people of color have an understanding of white perspectives because they live in and among the dominant culture. But most whites have no significant relationships with people of color. An August study by Robert Jones of Public Religion Research Institute notes that 75 percent of whites in the United States have no friends who are people of color. Three-quarters of whites never discussed racialized policing with those most directly affected by it. Ignorance is breeding more ignorance.

"...the New York City Police Department made more than 5 million stop-and-frisk stops from 2002 to mid-2013. African-Americans and Latinos accounted for more than 80 percent of them. In 88 percent of the stops, no arrests were made nor was there evidence of a crime."

Mike Brown’s shooting and Jim Crow lynchings have too much in common. It’s time for America to own up
"...the rate of police killings of black Americans is nearly the same as the rate of lynchings in the early decades of the 20th century. About twice a week, or every three or four days, an African American has been killed by a white police officer in the seven years ending in 2012...That number is incomplete and likely an undercount... Even though white Americans outnumber black Americans fivefold, black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed when they encounter the police in the US, and black teenagers are far likelier to be killed by police than white teenagers."

#Ferguson: A Gospel Issue
"What I’ve seen is that in my privileged white world, the ‘Gospel’ is domesticated.  Ferguson is not on our radar.  I’d dare say for many white evangelicals, today is just another day.  The real scandal would be if some prominent evangelical wrote a pro-LGBTQ book, for instance.  The Gospel is tamed, reduced, narrowed.  It becomes a balm for guilt-ridden souls who crave 140-character tweets reminding us that we’re accepted, but it hardly seems applicable to what is happening in Ferguson. And, after all, isn’t what is happening there really just about some angry black folks who’ve, once again, made a much bigger deal out of something that clearly was the result of a young black man’s aggression against a police officer?

"We don’t get it, friends.  And we can’t, and won’t, until we walk a hundred miles in the shoes of someone very different than us or until our friendships reflect the diversity of society.  Statistics show, in fact, that we have the least diverse social network – 91% white, and only one-percent black.  We naively think that changes in voting rights some forty years ago solved the problem of race.  And as Christians, we become incensed at a Facebook dialogue about abortion or homosexuality, but hardly understand the fury of young black men and women in the streets last night who feel so powerless that throwing stones and burning things provide some outlet, albeit a tragic one, for a voice.

"...Far more hinges on how we meet one another from here on out than on an indictment in Ferguson, MO.  Until my white (mostly evangelical) brothers and sisters are as impassioned by this as they are the next Rob Bell book, I don’t see much changing.  And when I say that, I’m not saying that you need to get behind an indictment but get behind your black brothers and sisters, to get into their worlds, their realities, their sufferings.  I’m saying we need to ask questions, to listen, to exercise holy curiosity.  I’m saying that we might have blindspots, might not see so clearly."

A Prayer for Ferguson
"Forgive us for not weeping with those who weep. Forgive us for judging others with a measure we do not use to judge ourselves. Forgive us for speaking when we should be silent and being silent when we should speak. Forgive us for being hard-hearted and dim-witted. Forgive us for loving our comfort more than our neighbor. Forgive us for being too often indifferent to injustice in our world and unrighteousness in our lives."

"We all love to think we would have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We all get misty eyed at the 'I Have a Dream' speech. If you get all inspired by Rosa Parks, Dr. King and Diane Nash, but are repulsed by what’s happening in Ferguson and cities all around the U.S. (LA, NYC, Chicago, Seattle and more are already marching tonight), realize you would have had the same feelings in the 60s. It’s easy to look back and see the pictures of the CRM & think it was a bunch of one day marches and then we passed some laws, everyone was equal!
But it looked like TONIGHT. It felt like tonight. It was scary and exhausting and long. It started over a kid who was “no angel”. It was at least 14 years long."

Violence of Whiteness
"How do we even summarize the damage the criminal justice system has done to black communities over the course of American history? It is white supremacy that has found ever creative ways to shut out and shut down black folks from being considered fully American, fully human. It is white supremacy that has been historically violent.

"It was not blacks who enslaved millions of people for financial gain. It was not blacks who lynched thousands of people for entertainment. It was not blacks who regularly invaded the neighborhoods of other communities to wreak havoc. It was not blacks who created laws to disenfranchise others. These are the violent inventions of white supremacy.

"And this is why we sit in anticipation of every decision that involves unarmed, dead, black bodies. This is why we sit on the edges of our seats and wonder whether or not America will acknowledge our humanity this time. This is why we anxiously watch Ferguson."

And some Tweets:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Made for More: Review and Giveaway

When I interviewed Hannah Anderson for a recent Ungrind article, I had more material than I could use there--so I am glad to use my own space today to continue discussing Hannah's ideas. PLUS, her publisher has promised one more copy of her book for me to give away here!

Let me first whet your appetite with a favorite passage from the book, one that encapsulates Hannah's thesis (and one of many that had me shouting, "Ohmygoodness YES!"):
“In recent decades, there has been strident debate about the roles of men and women in society and the church. Some argue that because gender is a significant, but not primary, part of identity, women should find their place through their gifting rather than their womanhood. Others volley back that gender should lead where a woman’s gifts are utilized and that they find fullest expression as nurturers.
But the problem with the whole conversation is that it tends to separate a woman into parts and pit them against each other. And unintentionally, women are forced to choose between two very essential truths about themselves. The fact that I am a woman demands that in some ways my identity and roles will be different from a man’s. Despite being equal image bearers, we are not the same. God even chooses to reveal aspects of His nature through my womanhood that could not be understood otherwise. So in this sense, gender itself is as much a gift—a grace—as intellect or personality could ever be.

Conversely, my imago dei identity cannot be summed up by my womanhood alone. While being a woman is essential to my identity, I am not ‘simply’ a woman. There is a part of me that transcends my gender, so in the end, regardless of how conservative we may be, we must all agree that a woman has more in common with a man than she does with a female cat!

The paradox of identity is that I am both a woman who is a person and a person who is a woman. And this will never make sense until both my womanhood and my personhood are united in Jesus Christ."
AMEN. I so love Hannah's determination to strip away all the baggage various branches of the church have brought to the "gender roles" conversation and establish a common-ground foundation: Women's primary identity as image-bearers of the eternal God, created to reflect Jesus Christ.

Chapters 8 and 9 (“Queens in Narnia: Embracing Your Destiny to Reign” and “Toward Perfect Union: Living Holistically in a Fractured World”) are worth the price of the book. I only wish chapter 9 had been written about a decade ago! How I remember the painful wrestling with my identity and calling as I was graduating from college and preparing for marriage. I absolutely loved Hannah’s metaphor of identity as a multifaceted diamond—it resonated so deeply with my journey and my struggle to reconcile opposing parts of who God has made me to be.

I still feel like there are plenty of unanswered questions as we attempt to move from vision-casting and lofty theology to concrete, practical choices--but I love how Hannah has reframed the discussion and am thrilled to promote ongoing conversation about this both online and in the local church.

With that, I'll leave you with a couple of follow-up questions and answers from Hannah:

In chapter 7, you talk about the dangers of identifying first and foremost as women, therefore making womanhood our central focus instead of Christ. You shared at Ungrind about why you think women’s ministry has so often been restricted to the “pink passages.” As a follow-up to that, how can the church “make room for feminine voices that can speak and write about doctrine and theology,” as you suggest?

HA: When I suggest that we need to make room for “feminine voices,” I’m emphasizing the truth that our experiences as men and women lend us different eyes on the same truths. For example, a woman who has gone through pregnancy and childbirth will have an entirely different insight on the process of spiritual birth than a man ever could. We must welcome these perspectives without women feeling like they have to relinquish their womanhood in order to share them. If we truly believe that God did a good thing when He made us male and female, womanhood has been given to us to reveal something about God’s nature that manhood cannot. As churches, we must find ways for both men and women to speak to the Body of Christ on doctrinal and theological issues.

At one point in the book, you acknowledge that “pursuing imago dei simplicity is anything but simple”…but then somehow “when you look to Jesus,” it will all magically fall into place. HOW, specifically, can we fight for wholeness and an imago dei focus in our own lives and in our sisters?

HA: For me, the struggle for simplicity is a process of constant re-evaluation, of learning to align my priorities with God’s priorities. When we hear the word “simple,” we often think “easy”—but that’s not the case at all. Simplicity means that the different planes of your identity are working together and you exist in God’s shalom even in the midst of busy, chaotic times.

For example, part of submitting to Christ means acknowledging my own limitations, acknowledging that HE is the Messiah, not me. So when I’m going through a period of stress, when it feels like I can’t meet all the competing demands of work and family and church, it’s really important for me to learn to let go of some things. But my ability to do this is directly related to my understanding that He is in ultimate control. I can let go because Jesus doesn’t. And when I come back to this place—when He is the center of it all—I experience His peace. Even if the dishes didn’t get done and I forgot to sign the field trip form. (Again.)

Hannah, it has been a delight to interact with you about this book and its ideas. Thanks so much for your time and for your winsome efforts to refocus women's identity around imago dei!

Grab a copy of Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God's Image at Amazon...or enter below to win! And to read more from Hannah Anderson, check out her blog, Sometimes a Light, or follow her on Twitter for frequent links to her articles around the web.

I've never run a Rafflecopter giveaway before, so we'll see how this goes...thanks in advance for your patience :) Winner will be chosen on Sunday, November 30! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Recommended Advent Reading

Besides family Advent traditions, maybe you're looking for some quiet meditations to read on your own during the Christmas season. Below are a few suggestions--some I have read, others are on my wishlist because of their authors. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!

Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative by Russ Ramsey and Andrew Peterson
I appreciate any book that gives you a sweeping view of Scripture as one big story with Jesus at the center—which is what this Advent devotional does. Inspired by Andrew Peterson’s absolutely brilliant work of the same name (more on that soon), Ramsey takes the reader through the Old Testament stories that point to the coming Savior, then brings humanity and poignant detail to the familiar Christmas story.

The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas and Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas, both by Ann Voskamp
The former is a devotional; the latter is a Jesse Tree resource. I have long enjoyed Ann's writing, so when we started our Jesse Tree tradition a couple of years ago, we used her free printable--but I confess I really didn't like it, in spite of how much I love her. It was poorly edited, difficult to read aloud because of her poetic style, and not at all geared for little ones. I'm confident this reboot is probably much different and better--I've heard wonderful things about it. Either way, I'd still love to read her Advent reflections on my own. 

Counting the Days, Lighting the Candles by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
This devotional includes both family readings and individual readings. I have loved other work by the authors.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
This devotional is out of print, but looks wonderful, with readings from T.S. Eliot, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Annie Dillard, Madeleine L'Engle, and Henri Nouwen, to name a few.

Finally, some of my favorite Advent readings are John Piper's poems. I've attempted to write poetry in strict meter and rhyme only enough to know that it's very, very difficult to do well. Piper has (in my opinion) an extraordinary gift for it. Not only is the poetry beautiful, but his "imaginative reconstructions behind figures of the Bible" are amazing. Every year I am moved and awed by the way he points to Christ and the glory of God in these poems. He doesn't write new ones anymore (they used to be a yearly Christmas gift to his congregation), but the 25-year archive of past Advent poems is available free on Desiring God's website:
New Testament figures
Old Testament figures
Note: I highly recommend listening, not just reading.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Celebrating Waiting

Usually waiting is a process to be dreaded, avoided, or endured. Who likes to wait for what she doesn't have but earnestly desires? But every December, I very much look forward to a season of waiting.

Over the last few years, we have begun to develop some special family traditions to keep Jesus at the center of the Christmas season. My favorite by far has been the Jesse Tree. If you’re unfamiliar with this custom, a Jesse Tree is a way of celebrating Advent by tracing the story of redemption through the Old Testament, looking for hints of Jesus in His family tree. The name comes from Isaiah’s messianic prophecy:
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1).
Each day an ornament is added to the tree, a picture or symbol to remind us of a Bible story that points to Jesus—the ram Abraham sacrificed, Jacob’s ladder, David’s crown, and so on.

In recent years, it seems like Jesse Trees have become quite popular, and there are countless resources out there to get you started. Because there are far more than 24 Old Testament types and prophecies that point to Jesus, each collection of readings and ornaments is a little different.

Last year we used Story Warren's Family Advent Art and Reading Guide (which is a FREE download and includes *gorgeous* printable ornaments) in combination with a Jesus Storybook Bible Advent reading plan (I cannot say enough about this children's Bible storybook; if you somehow haven't seen it, put it at the top of your Christmas list--even if you do not have children!).

This miniature tree sits atop our piano. Its ornaments are a hodgepodge I've cobbled together--some homemade, some found at Hobby Lobby or JoAnn, some printed and mounted to cardstock. For once in my life I have not let "perfect" be the enemy of the good! My ideas and inspiration came from Passionate Homemaking and Rocks in My Dryer. You can get as fancy or as simple as you like--and you can build your collection over the years, rather than having everything "just so" right from the start. If you don't have the time or desire to make your own, there are hundreds of options on Etsy, like this beautiful set.

In addition to the tree, an Advent wreath serves as our December table centerpiece. My wonderfully talented husband made a wooden spiral that holds 24 candles, modeled after this beautiful one designed and crafted by Ann Voskamp's son.

Each evening of December we add another candle, we move the Mary figure one space closer to the center, and we read an Old Testament story, talking about how the story points to the coming Messiah. (And, lest I paint too idyllic a picture, we try to keep our boys from fighting about who gets to blow out how many candles and who gets to hang the ornament on the tree.)

I absolutely love this new tradition. Retracing the unfolding of the Bible's one big story throughout the month keeps the Christmas season focused and builds our anticipation for Jesus' coming to earth. And I think the tactile, interactive stuff (lighting and blowing out candles, hanging ornaments) has done wonders to hold our boys' attention. They loved it last year. 

So that's why I am eagerly anticipating waiting! I can't wait to get out all our Christmas boxes after Thanksgiving break and gather once more around the stories and symbols that tell of our coming Savior. 

What Advent or Christmas traditions do you anticipate and enjoy each year? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Treasures :: A Black Folder Full of Choral Music

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 eight of the "Treasures" series. 


VIII. A black folder full of choral music
When I first auditioned for the Indiana Wesleyan University Chorale, I didn’t really care much about whether I got in. Being in a choir was a requirement for joining a ministry team, my real dream and priority. Choir? Been there, done that. Might be fun, have to sign up anyway, here we go...

Yet by the end of my college career, I would identify my time with the University Chorale as the  most meaningful part of my college experience, the absolute last thing I ever would have given up. How can I sum up what membership in that group grew to mean to me?

We sang “Now, Shout” the first week of rehearsal—a chaotic twentieth-century piece that changes time signatures approximately every other measure and involves actual shouting. It’s a staple of the chorale, so all the returning members dropped their folders and launched into the a cappella piece, clapping at the appropriate times and thundering on the risers as they stomped to the beat. I, like most of the freshmen, wanted to assume the fetal position. Toto, I have a feeling we're not in high school anymore...

I spent frantic hours in the practice rooms, plunking out the second soprano part and trying to memorize songs the upperclassmen could sing in their sleep. On our first major trip, to the Gaithers’ “Praise Gathering,” I got yelled at by upperclassmen for “cutting the risers.” I didn’t even know what that meant.

And yet, even with the intimidation---even as I floundered in loneliness and struggled to learn my lines, find my place---I fell in love with this group. At 4:30 PM, four days a week, our conductor would sit down at the piano and play “More than Enough” or “I Want to Be Like Jesus,” and all sixty-five of us would flood the cinderblock walls with praises.

During my second semester, word spread that the chorale’s former conductor would return the following fall. He had left the university just before I arrived, causing no small amount of drama among the upperclassmen. Some had quit, unwilling to continue without Dr. Todd Guy at the helm. They told terrifying stories about him, yet they adored him.

The women’s chaplain, a junior who was mentoring me, was thrilled at the prospect of Prof Guy’s return, but I was dismayed. I loved Todd Syswerda, the professor who had taken Prof Guy’s place and the only conductor I’d ever known. I wasn’t sure I wanted to experience this legendary man who had been known to bend music stands and rip the clock off the wall.

Again, I couldn’t have imagined how much I’d grow to love Prof myself, or the influence he’d have on me over the next three years. Yes, he was demanding. Yes, his temper occasionally exploded. But he was the most passionate man I had ever known, and his passion was for us to make excellent music, the caliber of praise that our glorious God deserved.

We didn’t talk during rehearsal. We held our folders at eye level (after four years of that, it took me a while to break the habit of wanting to hold my hymnal that awkwardly high during church). We stood on the balls of our feet and never, never took our eyes off our conductor. We ended words with mouths wide open, producing “high, forward, resonant” sound. And we took Prof’s exhortations to heart—phrases he repeated so often they were almost meaningless clich├ęs, only they weren’t, because he meant them every time.

“Good is not good enough where excellence is expected!” 
“You can’t put a nickel’s worth in and expect a dime’s worth out!”
“I will not offer my God a sacrifice that doesn’t cost me something!”
“He deserves more than that!”

He’d point to the framed photos of former chorales lining the wall behind him, and tell us that they were watching us, expecting us to uphold the legacy they’d helped to build. He’d tell us that 4:30 was our sanctuary, our time to leave everything else at the door and come worship. And it was, and I did.

Prof worked so hard during rehearsals that the knees of his pants would grow dark with sweat. Never before or since have I seen a conductor move so much, communicate so much. I’m sure other choirs made fun of him behind our backs, just as we scorned their conductors for being so wishy-washy and unclear. Let them mock; Prof was dancing on that podium, and it was beautiful to behold. Every flick of his wrist gave you direction. If you watched him, he’d tell you *everything*---entrances, cutoffs, tempo, volume, feeling. And in a concert, we’d be singing “Give Me Jesus” and the tears would roll down his cheeks. My own voice would waver as I wept, a song practiced hundreds of times somehow fresh again and full of glory, its lyrics reflected on Prof’s face as he waved his arms and worshiped.

Chorale was worship, and it was also tradition. It was family. I’d never made such music; I’d also never known such community. All but one or two of my closest friendships during college arose from that group. We’d hold hands all throughout our last concert every year. During the benediction, Prof would point to each senior and mouth “I love you” as we all choked back sobs and tried to continue singing.

Once I rose to the rank of upperclassman and became an officer, I turned into one of those loud, bossy seniors who barked at the freshmen, wanting them to drop their high school arrogance and learn their place, wanting them to respect the traditions and uphold the standards, wanting to place my own bricks on that growing legacy. We were strict because we loved the group so much, because we couldn’t bear to think of it declining on our watch.

We sang Handel’s Messiah and pieces newly written by student composition majors. We performed  African spirituals and modern psalm settings, Russian alleluias and haunting medieval melodies and arrangements of traditional hymns. We spat out words, literally, overenunciating to the point of ridiculousness (someone once asked me why we sang “Cheesus”). And we produced truly otherworldly harmonies.

Our concerts took us all over Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, to Chicago and New York and Florida and Scotland. One spring break we sang a whirlwind eighteen concerts in eight days. And day after day, Prof demonstrated for me the truth of the hymn lines:

“Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

He showed me, four afternoons a week and several weekends a year, what that looked like. And the IWU Chorale gave me countless unmatched opportunities to lift my voice in majestic praise to the Creator of life and breath and music, to the Savior who gives us reason to sing.

Treasures, previously:
A broken piece of cornerstone
A sharp pebble
A pastel index card
A Bible with a broken spine
A rainbow lanyard with a pewter cross pendant
Pages of prayers scrawled in a journal
Flip-flops with holes worn through the heels 
A sparkly aqua heart necklace

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pumpkin Apple Spice Baked Oatmeal (Plus Lots of Flavor Variations)

It's that glorious time of year when people are eating and drinking pumpkin spice everything...and this fall I decided it was time to pumpkin-spice-ify one of our favorite breakfasts: baked oatmeal.

Don't judge a baked oatmeal by its photo...oatmeal is difficult to photograph attractively! I don't have the skills but I promise it is DELICIOUS!

My boys eat oatmeal nearly every day of the week, but I would really rather not touch the stuff. It's a texture issue. But baked oatmeal? LOVE. Especially the edges where it caramelizes a little...

I'm not gonna lie, it's way more of a pain than cooking up plain old oatmeal for my boys--which is why if I'm going to the trouble, I always double it and bake two pans side by side. It freezes beautifully--just cut it into squares and spread them out on a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat (or parchment or wax paper). Freeze them on the cookie sheet, then once frozen, transfer the squares to a ziploc bag. Super easy to pop a single serving out of the freezer in the morning--two minutes in the microwave and you've got a hot, delicious, nutritious breakfast! I actually did this in advance for our beach vacation last summer, which meant we got to start each day with a cheap + wholesome + effortless meal.

Baked oatmeal can run the gamut from "fancy name for cake" to "tastes like health food." This one is  pretty low in sugar, but still has great flavor. I'd *like* it to be sweeter, since I have a raging sweet tooth, but I still very much enjoy it. And my boys are used to eating oatmeal sweetened only with fruit, so they think this is a huge treat. 

I love how forgiving this recipe is--you don't have to be a pro in the kitchen. This past time, I accidentally had the oven cranked to 425 for the first 20 minutes and it still turned out beautifully. My next goal is to convert it to a crockpot recipe and see if I can get it to cook overnight so we can wake up to that delicious smell and a hot breakfast with zero morning effort!

We've tried many variations and loved them all. Spiced cranberry-apple; peach; blueberry; blackberry-apple...and now, pumpkin apple spice.

FYI: There are a lot of explanations out there for why soaking grains is important. I actually haven't delved into that aspect of traditional cooking much; 99% of the time, I don't bother to soak. But this recipe calls for it, so I'm glad to just follow along and do it (lots easier than learning new methods and recipes for things I already knew how to make in a non-soaking way).

Baked Pumpkin Apple Spice Oatmeal
{adapted from Just Making Noise}

The day before:
Combine 4 cups regular rolled oats + 1/3 cup raw apple cider vinegar (or whey or lemon juice) + 6 cups water in a large bowl. Cover and soak at room temperature for up to 24 hours.

1/3 cup melted coconut oil or butter
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup maple syrup*
2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 apple, peeled and diced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 13x9 baking dish.

Drain the oats in a large strainer (with fine holes) and rinse. Leave them to drain while you prepare the other ingredients.

In the large bowl that held the oats (no need to dirty more dishes, just rinse it out well), whisk together coconut oil, milk, eggs, syrup, vanilla, spices and salt. Stir in oats and fruit.

Pour mixture into a greased 13x9 baking dish, smoothing it evenly into the pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the baked oatmeal cool for 10-15 minutes before cutting and serving.

We like to eat this in a bowl with milk--but you can eat it with a fork on a plate, either plain or drizzled with butter and more syrup.

*Note: If your family is accustomed to sweeter oatmeal and breakfast foods, you may want to increase the sweetener. And if you use sugar instead of maple syrup, you'll have to increase the volume anyway--start with 1/2 - 3/4 cup if you're using brown sugar or sucanat.

Flavor Variations:

Berry-Apple Baked Oatmeal
1/3 cup melted coconut oil or butter
1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 eggs

1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 apple, peeled and diced
2 cups berries (blueberry, blackberry, or cranberry)--no need to thaw if frozen

Notes: The spices for the pumpkin spice recipe are great with cranberry, but for blueberry or blackberry, I leave out all but the cinnamon. I cut blackberries in half if they are large ones (but you wouldn't have to--it just spreads them out in the batter more). If you use cranberries, chopping is important--they are too sour to make a bite of a big, whole cranberry appealing! I throw the still-frozen berries in my blender or food processor to chop them up pretty finely.

same as berry-apple, but omit sliced apple and berries and add
1 lb sliced frozen peaches, chopped
1-2 tsp nutmeg

Monday, November 17, 2014

Multitude Monday, Take 336

Thanking God this week for...

6686. kitchen experiments turning out to be delicious
6687. new clothes
6688. opportunities to serve at Elijah's school
6689. Elijah's being humbled by getting a negative behavior point
6690. his telling me all about it freely

6691. an opportunity to reassure and encourage him
6692. the hilarious apology note he wrote to his teacher
6693. baking with Jude
6694. my grandma's sour cream cookies
6695. her Tupperware hand-me-down to put them in, just like she used to

6696. FINISHED stairs...cannot even tell you how excited I am about this project...after pics coming soon!!! here's a preview:

6697. all my husband's skill and hard work
6698. spots in the stain on the oak treads = reminder of how Daddy patiently lets his sons "help" :)
6699. significant decluttering accomplished
6700. Steve suggesting dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant after a long day of cleaning and other food prep and no leftovers in the fridge

6701. opportunities to practice hospitality
6702. Jude humming gospel songs, whispering to himself "Your grace has come to me..."
6703. pretty dusting of snow
6704. this lovely book of poem-prayers

Sunday, November 16, 2014

November Cuteness

Steve: "Ready for bed?"
Amy: "Hang on, I gotta throw a couple of pictures up on my blog and call it a night."
Steve: [chuckling] "You get credit for that?"
Amy: "Oh, it totally counts. Halfway through the month and I haven't even done it once yet."

As For Me and My House? We Live By Grace

A wooden plaque hangs above the doorway between our kitchen and dining room. It's a classic, mounted in thousands of Christian homes:

We received it as a wedding gift and didn't think twice about putting it up. I'm so used to seeing these familiar words from Joshua 24 displayed on household walls that I hadn't really considered the significance of the verse until Steve and I discussed it a while back. But the more I think about it, the more I am ready to take it down.

"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  

What could possibly be problematic about having these words over my doorway? Isn't this a helpful reminder? Certainly there's nothing wrong with the plaque; it's a noble aspiration. My earnest desire and fervent prayer is that I and my family will serve God wholeheartedly and faithfully!

But when we skim over the rest of Joshua 24 and pull out those eleven words as our family mantra, we put ourselves under law instead of grace. We rely on commands to do what only Jesus can do. We miss the point.

Think with me about the larger context of this declaration. Israel has finally come into the land God promised their forefather Abraham all those centuries ago. They have conquered their enemies. Their leader, Joshua, addresses them:

"And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed." (Joshua 23:14)

He gathers the tribes together and recounts a familiar story. "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel," Joshua proclaims, and he tells the story in God's own words:
I called Abraham and made him a father, impossibly.
I led Jacob and his children into Egypt.
I sent Moses and Aaron, and plagued the Egyptians, and brought My people out.
I led you through the wilderness and into the Promised Land and gave your enemies into your hand.

At the end of the telling, God pointedly reminds them whose work brought about this success, this divine favor:

" was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant." (Joshua 24:12-13)

It's only after all this that Joshua delivers his famous exhortation:

“Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

After this rousing reminder of their national history, how could they not affirm their commitment to God? Not a single one of His promises to them had failed to come true! And so they are quick to assure Joshua: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods...we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God" (v.16, 18).

Interestingly, Joshua warns them: "You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God...If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you" (v. 19-20).

Still they insist: "No, but we will serve the LORD. ...his voice we will obey" (v. 21, 24).

At this point, let's remember how this bold declaration turned out for the Israelites. Joshua died, and thus began the era of Judges: a depressing downward spiral of disobedience, destruction, crying out for mercy, receiving another chance, and disobeying again. After that came the briefly glorious rule of King David...followed by centuries more of disobedience, superficial repentance, more disobedience, and finally judgment and exile from this Promised Land.

Wow, that bold covenant declaration really worked out well for them.

Israel's history makes clear that determined human words don't take anyone very far. The problem is their hearts--their forgetful, wayward, stony hearts. And the truth is, my lofty-sounding words aren't worth much more than theirs.

But the good news is, God's words are much more potent. His promises never fail, in spite of how many times mine do. And in the centuries since the Israelites' exodus from Egypt and journey into the Promised Land, Joshua's speech still rings true: Not one word of all that God has promised has failed to come true.

He promised to send a Redeemer--and He did. He promised to remove hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh--and He has. He promised to send His Spirit to dwell within our hearts--and He does. Every promise of His is YES in Christ Jesus. And it's these realities--God's words, God's actions, not mine--that provide a foundation for my faith and my family to stand on.

I don't need a plaque to remind me of my duty; the law is powerless to transform the heart. But what the law could not do, God did! He sent His Son to meet every requirement of the law, to obey in ways we were utterly incapable of doing. And after Jesus perfectly feared the LORD and served Him in perfect sincerity and wholehearted faithfulness--after He utterly rejected all other gods and followed the LORD alone, never forsaking Him...then He went to the cross, where He endured the wrath we deserve for our insincerity, our faithlessness, our chasing after idols and forsaking the LORD.

This good news--this glorious gospel of grace--THIS is what I need plastered on the wall in my house. Like the Israelites, I am easily forgetful. And guilt is not an effective motivator; merely telling me what I'm supposed to be doing isn't going to get me very far. No, tell me what God has done. Tell me who He is and who He has made me to be in Christ. Replace the guilt with good news; that's what will motivate me to rise up and serve the Lord. That's what will keep me going when I fail.

We see it modeled right here in Joshua 24: The declaration of faith comes only after the reminder of God's character and saving work. And it's the latter that we are so prone to forget.

So I think I'd like to take down that plaque, and adorn my walls with the gospel instead. All I'd have to do is back up a verse:

"I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant."

These words that literally described the Israelites' entrance into the Promised Land serve to describe my own life, too--both my present privileges and my eternal inheritance. I received salvation I could not accomplish. I did not build this sweet 80-year-old house; I did not earn this loving husband, these beautiful sons. I not only didn't plant vineyards but worse, I actually fail to tend the orchards provided to me. Yet still they bear the fruit of grace. All this and more beyond (my inheritance in Heaven) has been deserved and paid for by Another. And I will live up to what I've been freely given only when I fix my eyes on Him and what He's already done.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to Make Last Names Plural or Possessive

We're almost to that wonderful time of year when mailboxes fill up with lovely Christmas cards. I hope you'll include a family photo and send one to me--I love to cover my refrigerator with the faces of our family and friends!

In the meantime, please allow me to indulge my inner Grammar Nerd and pass along a few helpful tips for writing last names on cards or personalized gifts. Last names can be tricky to make plural or possessive--especially if the name ends in "s." We get easily confused because surnames like "Brooks" or "Woods" sound like they are already plural. So we leave them as-is, thinking the "s" on the end will suffice, resulting in phrasing like:
  • "Pray for the Woods." (Which "Woods"? THE Woods--meaning Tiger Woods?)
  • "We're having the Brooks over for dinner." (Just Garth, by himself? You're on a last-name-as-nickname basis with him?)

Some people, realizing that doesn't feel quite right, will try to fix it by throwing in an apostrophe:
  • "Pray for the Woods' "
  • "We're having the Brook's over for dinner."

But making a name plural should never, ever involve an apostrophe.  JUST SAY NO to unnecessary apostrophes.

It may look or sound strange. But you always add "s" or "es" to last names to make them plural--even if those names already end with "s". So we would write:
  • "Pray for the Woodses."
  • "We're having the Brookses over for dinner."

If this feels too awkward, there is an easy way out: Just add the word "family"!
  • "Pray for the Woods family."
  • "We're having the Brooks family over for dinner."

Problem solved.

On the other hand, what if you *are* referring to something the family owns? What if, for example, you want to invite people to the house that belongs to the Williams family?

It's not just one Williams who lives in the house. You have to make the name plural before adding the possessive. So it's not "the Williams' house," but rather "the Williamses' house" or simply "the Williamses'."

Again, remember: the safe solution is to change it to "the Williams family's house"  or "the home of the Williams family."

Keep in mind, the same rules apply for names that don't end in "s"--always add an S for plurals and  never add an apostrophe unless referring to a possessive:
  • Merry Christmas from the Johnsons!
  • Happy New Year from the Martinezes!
  • You're invited to a party at the Johnsons' house!
  • The Martinezes' house is beautiful.
And in case you were wondering, names that end in "y" don't change spelling as other y-ending words do:
  • Happy Holidays from the Kennedys!
  • The Kennedys' dog is cute.

There you have it. I hope this helps someone out there preparing Christmas cards or personalized Christmas gifts for family and friends!

More on the topic from anal-retentive like-minded grammarians: 
Grammar Lesson: Last Names That End in S
How to Make Family Names Plural

Friday, November 14, 2014

Made for More: Author Interview

Hannah Anderson's book had me shouting YES! out loud as I read. I repeatedly scribbled "wow" and "AMEN!" in the margins. I think Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God's Image is a deeply important contribution to the church's conversation about gender roles, femininity, and identity.

I am delighted to direct you to Ungrind today, where you can find a recent interview I did with Hannah about her book--and a giveaway from her publisher! Hannah begins by saying:
When I first entered adulthood, life was pretty easy; I had my nice, neat categories. I knew who I was and where I belonged. And then life happened.
Ten years later, the roles and categories that had once given me security weren’t working anymore. I felt uncertain, out of sorts, and restless. When I looked around, I saw my friends going through very similar struggles. So I started asking myself, What have we missed? What has been absent from the conversation that would explain why so many of us are longing for “more”? It turns out that the “more” we needed wasn’t more opportunity or different roles; the “more” we needed was God Himself.
 Head over to Ungrind for more, plus a chance to win one of two copies of the book.

...And stay tuned, because I'll be revisiting this next week with more of my thoughts about the book and some "bonus material" from my interview with the author!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Treasures :: A Sparkly Silver Necklace with an Aqua Hearts Pendant

I've been sorting through my treasures in chronological order so far, telling the stories of God's work in my life as I remember them unfolding. But tonight I’m compelled to fast-forward from my college years to the present. Last week, I received a brand-new treasure.


“Treasure chests” have been a low hum of annoyance in my life ever since Elijah started preschool. Oh, I don't at all blame the teachers for trying anything that works for classroom management. I just don't love all the cheap junk littering my house.

Over the last two years, we’ve amassed quite a collection of plastic trinkets, thanks to our obedient (at school, anyway) boys. This year, Elijah’s first grade teacher invites the students who have good behavior all week to eat lunch with her in the classroom every Friday, so he always looks forward to “Lunch Bunch.” He also gets to select a treasure.

(As an aside, "treasure chest" has long been one of those adorable kid-language quirks in our house. It was only a few weeks ago that I finally explained to Elijah that the object itself was not called a “treasure chest.” For years he’s been saying, “I got a treasure chest today!” “Look, see my treasure chest?”)

I digress. So last Friday, on the way home from school, Elijah was excited to tell me what he had picked out from the treasure chest. “Mom, wait till you see it,” he said. “I got something for you. It’s beautiful.”

Instead of selecting some sort of racecar or superhero figure, Elijah chose a “pretty necklace,” and he presented it to me with pride.

Not since Steve placed a diamond on my left hand have I felt more proud to wear a piece of jewelry, or more undeserving of the love with which it was given.

I realize every mother gets a million of these cheap trinkets from her offspring. I can remember excitedly shopping at my elementary school’s Secret Santa Shop for Christmas gifts I was just sure my parents would LOVE (paid for with their own money). But this is my first one, and it feels like a milestone—not least because it actually cost Elijah something.

This wasn’t him taking money he’d gotten from Daddy and picking out a present for me. And it wasn’t prompted by an occasion like Mother’s Day or my birthday. This was Elijah simply loving me: looking through all the treasures, spotting a sparkly necklace, thinking of me and wanting me to have it more than he wanted a new toy.

These last few days, as I feel the weight of a cheap aqua heart pendant around my neck, it is heavy with a son’s love for his mama. And it has me pondering gospel implications.

Being a mother is indeed teaching me about unconditional love and the way God the Father relates to us. But it isn’t in the way everyone says, the way I expected. No, often *I* am the child in the relationship, learning from the love of my son. 

I’m finding that this little necklace—unexpected, undeserved gift—does more to motivate me to be a good mom than any amount of reading pep talks (or shaming screeds) about motherhood. It has more of an impact than “should”-ing myself, more than beating myself up about how I’ve failed and resolving to try harder and do better. I touch the bejeweled hearts, and when I realize how loved I am in spite of my mistakes, I *want* to be the mama Elijah needs. I want to walk worthy of a necklace.

How can I be irritated with him, when he chose something from the treasure chest for me? How can I yell at him, when he loved me enough to sacrifice taking something for himself? How can I be impatient with him, when he kept me on his mind and heart and picked out a beautiful trinket just because he thought it would make me smile?

“Stop yelling! You’re crushing him! Good moms don’t yell at their kids! You’ve GOT to get your anger under control!”—funny how that doesn’t actually seem to help.

“He loves you, in spite of yourself. He is glad you are his mama, even after all the times you’ve yelled at him.”—amazing how that inspires me to take a deep breath, look at him through different eyes, and love him.

And finally God begins to get it through my thick head: We love because He first loved us. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. Growth and change come not by beating ourselves over the head with should and ought-tos, but by resting securely in His grace—through being rooted and grounded in His deep, deep love for us.

How can I be indifferent toward Him, when He chose me as His treasure?
How can I betray Him, when He loved me enough to sacrifice His only Son for me?
How can I distrust Him, when His thoughts toward me are without number? 

What the law could not do, God did—by sending His own Son. By lavishing His love. By adopting us as His children. We love, because He first loved us. And then we change, because we love.

Elijah gave me a trinket that spoke volumes about his love for his mama. More than that, he gave me the gift of seeing the gospel a little bit more clearly. He gave me a glimpse of Jesus’ love for me.

Treasures, previously:
A broken piece of cornerstone
A sharp pebble
A pastel index card
A Bible with a broken spine
A rainbow lanyard with a pewter cross pendant
Pages of prayers scrawled in a journal
Flip-flops with holes worn through the heels 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

About Me

I believe my sidebar has said "full bio coming soon" for about a year or so now. So here I am, finally getting around to fixing that :) 

I've been a writer for as long as I can remember, but I often feel like an impostor calling myself such. As a quick look at the archives of this blog will tell you, I write in fits and spurts at best. Somewhere after college, I seem to have misplaced my discipline and self-motivation, and that part of me sort of died. But as my favorite writing professor pointed out when I mentioned this to her a few years back: "Thankfully, we are people of the Resurrection!"

Still, in light of the dizzying number of bloggers like me out there--women who are more prolific, more business-savvy, more eloquent and have a far bigger platform--I often wonder why I feel compelled to keep this up. I've been writing on this blog for over ten years now (here's where the title came from, in case you were wondering), but I don't have a lot of followers or a significant reach; I don't bring in any side income for my family. Why do my words here even matter? Am I just one more unnecessary voice adding to the cacophony of internet content clamoring for your limited and valuable time?  

I don't know, but I'm realizing more and more that I *need* to be writing--even if I am not exceptional, even if there are a million other bloggers out there. As Jennie Allen so helpfully said recently, "Before killing your dream because someone else is already doing it, remember there are 7 billion people on the planet. I am just saying there is a chance that the other person is not reaching all of them." Point taken! Whether there are many or few who read my words here, it is a privilege to have even a single soul visit my little corner of the internet and consider what I have to say. I don't take that lightly.

Beyond that, I write for my own health. If I am not writing, I am generally not seeing, not preaching to myself, not mapmaking. If I am not writing, I am not thriving.

So I write to preach the truth to myself, and welcome you to listen in along the way. I write to reflect on the joys and trials of living in a testosterone-filled house. I write to process the challenges of pointing two impressionable little ones to Jesus (and the ways they point me to Jesus). I write to practice gratitude and remembrance. I write to capture and celebrate the extraordinary stories of ordinary people and the Grand Storyteller behind them all. I write to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing--to redirect my focus to Christ. I write to remember who He is, what He did at the cross, what He has done in my life, and what He promises to one day complete.

And I also write about random and/or frivolous things like my pen obsession (which, incidentally, is still the #1 most viewed and commented-upon thing I've ever written...keeps me humble) or grammar (I will freely admit to chronically overusing the ellipsis and the em-dash). 

A few more rooted, less lofty specifics: I grew up in Ohio, graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University, and married a boy I'd known since we were seven and loved since we were seventeen. We moved to the Nashville area immediately after our wedding, and I will be forever grateful to the South for introducing me to tomato pie.

When I'm not writing, you might find me making said pie and other kitchen messes, singing and snuggling and reading with my boys (ages 7 and 4), ballroom dancing in the living room with Mr. Wonderful, pretending to be a photographer, or working on one of our many never-ending home renovation projects. Or, OK, let's be honest: I'm sorry to say you're also likely to find me wasting time on Facebook and procrastinating from cleaning my shower.

At any rate, if you’d told me ten years ago that I would even think of mentioning cooking in a bio, I would have declared you certifiably insane…which helps me remember that God is in the business of changing people, even if the process is slower than my perfectionistic self would prefer.

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