{Site currently under construction. Grace for my mess?}

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Words of Wisdom I overheard today:

"It's only if we're willing to risk believing that somehow, despite all of the troubles and the warts of the church, that somehow it still remains essential in God's plan for redemption that you will be convinced to dream, to imagine, not just by yourself but together with others who also believe, that the church is still essential, that there's no plan B." 

- Nick Bott/Sanctuary/Menlo Park Presbyterian Church 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Crap. It's Almost Summer. or What Cheap Decor Really Looks Like

I have a bone to pick with you décor bloggers. When I'm sitting here, sipping my coffee and drooling over beautiful room makeovers and one of you prefaces your recent remodel with "Check out this nearly free room re-do!" I'm totally hooked. I drool a little. And then I click on through and read that the new doors cost $600 and you got a steal on the new rug for only $350, and the sofa was a mindboggling steal at $800 but those custom curtains cost just about that much.

Dude. That's like mega-millions in my world. That is the farthest thing in the world from nearly free.

Here's what a "nearly free" room makeover looks like for me, and my other poor frugal friends. Steal curtains from the next bedroom over. Dig through boxes in the garage and come up with a few trinkets. Spray paint them to match the look you're going for. Bust out some scrapbook paper, craft paint, canvases, and exacto knives for wall art, or just paint over some thrift store ugly that you discovered. If you're really lucky, dig around in the bargain bins at Big Box Discount Store for a new comforter. Nevermind that it feels like sleeping on cellophane. Drool over adorable baskets and bins, but balk at the $30 a pop you'd have to shell out for them and instead opt for gift-wrap and cardboard boxes for a custom look. Super glue the wheel-tracks back on the dresser that is falling apart (that should buy you another year with the thing) and replace the knobs with the ones you found for $1 a the thrift store.

{That little trinket was free, just for you. You're welcome.}

One of these days I'll get around to hosting that virtual open house I've been promising…the one where I show you my real life, totally imperfect, thrift-store decorated abode and you laugh hysterically at me. Hopefully soon, since decorating is back on the brain.

I am lacking adventure in my life at this particular moment. Whenever I lack adventure, decorating takes stage front and center. It's bad when decorating takes over my brain, especially in the state of financial affairs known affectionately as broke as a joke or too broke to pay attention. Honestly though, I find this the best time to revamp a room or liven up the place a bit. When money's not in the picture, decorating requires a serious level of creative problem solving and it feels like a challenge. You can't just run to the store and buy what you like—you have to figure out more interesting ways to get the look you're after. I'm all about the challenge.

Our adventure-less life won't last for long, though. Tomorrow we get our foster care certification and our out-of-state adoption is moving right along at the same time. In the next few months, we'll probably have anywhere from 4-6 kiddos living in our (did I mention humble?) little one-story house with three bedrooms, including ours. I am excited. I am also sweating with nervousness. Oh, did I mention my 15-year-old brother-in-law is also coming to stay the month while my in-laws renew their vows in Israel? And he's a drummer?

{Take that noisy neighbors who just acquired pet roosters!}

The three kids I already have are on top of each other every single second and sibling rivalry is beginning to come up against homelessness and starvation in my mind as one of the world's most insurmountable obstacles. Okay, not really, but you get the point. The 4-year-old is in the 12-year-old's stuff constantly. The 9-year-old is a total slob  organizationally challenged. The walls are closing in and this house is beginning to feel very small…and we're not even full up yet. Eek. This is particularly distressing because summer is just around the bend, which means 4 to 6 7 kids, age 4-15 in each other's space 24 hours a day and I'm starting to wonder… Oh crap. What in the world am I going to do to keep these kids from killing each other every day? (Especially on those days I'm tempted to let them).

What are your favorite keep-em-busy summer activities to maintain peace in your home? Restrictions include budget and time (I work full-time from home), and the challenge of activities that appeal to the various ages. We are blessed with plenty of outdoor space (2 acres) and a flexible schedule, though. Lay it on me—I'm desperate, and there are only so many $2 movies a mommy can take!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thank You, Jesus and Up Yours, Hallmark (On Mothers and Non-Mothers and Orphaned Hearts at Mother's Day)

(Stick with me through this one, friends. It's long, but I hope it's worth it.) *All names have been changed.

It's approaching that time of year again…the day of breakfast in bed, greeting cards, and grocery store floral arrangements.

Mother's Day.

It's a day for mom to bask in the glory of the day reserved just for her, a day for acknowledging the sacrificial love of mothers and showing our appreciation.

My youngest son, Caleb, was born on Mother's Day weekend, and I couldn't have prepared myself for the absolutely spellbinding glow which surrounded us the weekend of his birth. Family came from far and wide and we passed around the baby bundle, mothers and grandmothers, in-laws and sisters, overtaken and bonded together in strength and fragility, a veritable village right there in the hospital suite. We huddled in circles and gave each other knowing glances, uttered thanks to Jesus and cried for the way perfect, tiny fingers can level a person with gratitude.

The weekend remains in my memory a sort of Ebenezer, an altar of remembrance. It's a place where the veil between natural and supernatural was so papery thin I could peer right through it. It was otherworldly and I think this must be what heaven is like. Quiet strength, a sense of absolute perfection, unrestrained awe. I wonder if the drugs had anything to do with it. The weekend of Caleb's birth was self-contained, a capsule of ethereal beauty, wistful and glorious. My own mother was there, and my mother-in-law and her mother, too, loving on our other kids and forming between our hospital room and home a bridge of matriarchal love, a family bond like I haven't experienced before or since.

I thought my skin might split open for its inability to contain the magnificence of those moments as they unfolded. The raspy whimper and rattled breaths of this new human, learning that he had lungs. The perfect, jaundiced skin that made him look like he'd been lounging on a beach in Florida for the last nine months instead of wriggling around in my guts, swimming in placenta slime. He was my only planned pregnancy of the three, and I wasn't so scared this time around, having a pretty decent grasp of what all I was in for.

Every year when Mother's Day rolls around, I am transported back to the hospital room with it's aura of wonder and gratitude. It is a gift in itself to have this memory, to commemorate my day of mom-appreciation by celebrating one of my own personal best moments of motherhood. But the truth is, I have a love-hate relationship with Mother's Day. I mean, don't return the chocolates or anything. I'll roll with the Hallmark holiday like any good consumerist, but the day is a little bittersweet for me.

I am gun-shy to celebrate motherhood as a singularly wonderful experience when I have lived in the land of unfit mothers. I was a housemom at a children's home. I am involved in the foster care system. I have seen the way a wounded child curls up on himself at the realization that the entire world goes on believing that mothers are good and careful and sacrificial. What about the mothers who aren't? What about the children of the mothers who aren't?

Last year we attended the Mother's Day service at Podunk Baptist. The kids crafted wire crosses and construction paper cards in Sunday school, then filed to the front forming a conga line in front of the baptismal. The pastor asked the mothers to stand and their prospective children honored each one of us with a single carnation and their handmade gifts. I was quite the spectacle, a mother hen surrounded by eleven little chicks, standing in substitute for the real thing. I received my carnation bouquet and gushed over hand-crafted goodies in place of the mothers who couldn't or wouldn't be there, those that were in prison or inpatient centers or graves.

It was sweet and it was beautiful, but it was gut-wrenchingly awful at the same time. We listened to Pastor go on about how wonderful mothers were and the boys sank deeper and deeper into the pew. I kept my eye on Levi, just praying he could tune out the words. It would be his first mother's day since his own Mama passed away. The kid had a reputation for explosive tendencies and I was sure we were about to experience one, right here in church. It was all just too much and tension like poisonous gas filled the sanctuary.

Minutes, then hours, dragged on with painful delay and I suddenly hated Mother's Day. I hated the whole idea of it. I hated the way well-meaning words and pink carnations stripped these kids of security in an instant, that a day on the calendar, just another Sunday, could spiral us all out of control.

After church, the day went downhill. One by one, the boys each lost their cool in a sickening domino effect. Blowups, meltdowns, slammed doors, hot tears…and that was just me. By bedtime, I never wanted to celebrate Mother's Day again.

Up yours, Hallmark.*

I don't know how to feel about things, now. I am not the mother hen anymore, and the construction paper cards I collect this year will be the happy type, the type that symbolize what motherhood is supposed to be. But I haven't forgotten what it looks like for the other half, for the children whose hearts are left aching and empty on a certain Sunday every May, and a big space for these boys is still reserved within. I have a child of my heart, this year, who is not yet where he belongs, and even in the best case (if the adoption goes through without a hitch), I will be a forever substitute for the mother that should have been, the one who lays in eternal sleep.

I think, too, about several friends who are struggling with infertility, one of whom has fought her body for nearly a decade, trying for the precious new life she longs for and, if you ask me, so totally deserves. I want a baby for her so badly I'd extract my own uterus and give it to her if I thought it would help. Though I see her so clearly as a mother who doesn't have kids yet, but will, and though she'll be celebrating her own mother on that day, I am angry on her behalf, at the calendar and even a little at God, because surely this must be an oversight, a mistake. Surely, with so many mothers who can't and who won't, there's room in the Mommy Club for this woman who is mindful and wonderful, educated and faithful, capable and so much more worthy than me.

I struggle to find solidarity with my infertile friends under the guilt of having healthy, happy children, and two of them while actively trying to prevent pregnancy. It matters and though there is nothing I can do about it, with Mother's Day looming, I am aware for the others, the folks who are cringing from under the covers or behind mimosas in a restaurant full of beaming mothers effortlessly sporting spring fashions, telling labor stories and basking in the glow of their reward, a brunch smothered in Hollandaise sauce.

As ever, the lack of control over the whole roulette wheel of it is maddening. I celebrate the beauty and amazement of a day that brings pain to so many and know that I just don't see the whole picture. I grip tightly to that and whisper thank yous to the heavens even while crying out why? I weep with gratitude and shake my fist at the brokenness of this place, hit my knees and lift my hands, all at once.

Maybe it's all we can do in this world, lift hands, cry out. Say thank you and why and oh, wow. Wrap wings as hens around little chicks, and let the hurt transform.

(*Disclaimer: This is not a dig at Hallmark directly. I, actually, am quite fond of Hallmark, particularly of their Dayspring division, and actually hold them in high esteem as one of the most generous, authentic, compassionate companies I'm aware of. Rather, it's the "Hallmark culture" we're probably all guilty of buying into, to some degree, the way we think a holiday is supposed to make us feel, etc. Seriously, love you Hallmark folks. For real.)

Linking up to Imperfect Prose over at Emily's place... my *favorite* way to spend a Thursday-ish.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Review: When Work and Family Collide by Andy Stanley

When Work and Family Collide by Andy Stanley is a book dealing with the pressures heaped upon working parents, specifically the tendency we have to give our work life a higher priority with our time and devotion than our family life. Andy's main perspective is that no one has enough time to give 100% to every pursuit we're involved in. Therefore, we have to choose which area of our life to cheat (and in fact, the book was previously released with the title Choosing to Cheat). The concept can be applied not just to work and I know some hobby bloggers who could plug "blogging" into that outlet as well because of the demands it places on our time.  

Since I am a work-at-home mom trying to make a full-time living while also being home with my family, the title of the book was intriguing. Work and family collide for me every single day, and I'm always looking for ways to help me get my work done more efficiently so I can be fully present for my husband and kids. That wasn't really what the book turned out to be about. Rather, it first encourages you to see your family as your highest priority, reminding the reader that a company for which you are sacrificing that which is most important in the world may not be so loyal to you when it comes times for layoffs, and the author presents a formula for those spending too much time at work on how to approach your supervisor with alternate solutions.

Since I am self-employed and am blessed to have found a workable solution to help me keep my family my first priority, I didn't gain as much from this book as would someone working a "normal" out of the home job or struggling with a typical work/life balance problem. There were several passages of the text that I would have liked my husband to read, since I know he has a very strong work ethic and can tend to give a great deal of himself to his work, and this has, in the past, been a point of contention. He used to travel a great deal and this book does address that particular situation quite a bit.

To be honest, I found the "you have to cheat somewhere" notion a little strange. He clearly isn't telling anyone to be dishonest or defraud their company; rather it's all a matter of prioritizing, but the "cheat" thing had some negative undertones to it and I sometimes found it hard to overcome the "cheat at work" mindset. I believe it's important both to put your family before your work as a general matter but also, to work hard and give it the best you have. I think managing a family and a career sometimes takes creative problem solving, and I'm not sure that his one-size-fits-all approach (based on Daniel's diet story in Scripture) is really applicable in all or even most situations.

It is a quick read, though, and definitely has some great encouragement for seeing your family in its proper place, then following through on that with action. If you struggle with how to give more of yourself to your family while holding down a career that demands a lot of you, you may benefit from giving it a read.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for a review from the Blogging for Books program. All opinions are always my own. Review contains affiliate links. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Listen for Inspiration

I have escaped from the circus.

My husband gave me leave this morning to slip out before the kids had even woken up (thanks to a strategic stay-up-late free pass from Mom last night). I have five blessed hours to write uninterrupted, except for the occasional table-wiping, since I'm sitting at a fast food restaurant and siphoning their free Wi-Fi…at least until I start getting long glances from the staff. Then I'll shuffle over to the library. A writer's gotta do what a writer's gotta do. I'm working on a book manuscript and every second counts.

Unfortunately, the toughest time of writing hits right about now. Laptop is out. Coffee is hot and sugary and delicious. Fingers are poised on plastic buttons. The conditions are right and now I wait for the floodgates of inspiration to open and fill blank pages with wisdom.

So far, this is all I got.

It has me thinking about inspiration, about how the work of writing is sort of really just herding inspiration, catching a muse and riding her wind. Where and how do you find it? What can you do when the words won't come?

My advice?


Not to me, but…to everything.

Listen to the silence, to the wind, to music. Listen to your kids when they don't know you hear them, listen to what they think of the world. Listen to a bird's song or the conversation behind you at Starbucks. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Listen to the washing machine swishing around in circles and let it take you somewhere else. Let the rain on the window or the hum of the ceiling fan open doors in your mind. Get carried away. Daydream. Wonder.

And remember that hearing is not the same thing as listening.

Then, get it on paper. It may not be what you set out to say…write it anyway. Sometimes our writing is blocked because our brains are…because something needs to get worked out in our brain before the thoughts can come, like a clogged artery.

Take time to listen today, and write what you hear. For me, it's the chiming of the french fry machine and the rhythmic scritch-scritch of the worker's broom across the fake brick floor. It's the elevator music that reminds me of junior high school and the gaggle of uniformed FFA girls here on a pit stop and the slamming of bathroom doors as patrons shuffle through them. This is just sound, life-music, but it is full of inspiration, sparking memories and giving me much to ponder.

How do you find inspiration? 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review: I Blame Eve by Susanna Foth Aughtmon

I Blame Eve by Susanna Foth Aughtmon is a quick and easy read that had me chuckling while examining my own heart. The book exposes our Eve-like actions and sheds a humorous light on the lies we believe about ourselves and others. I particularly loved the subtitle: "Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues, & the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes."

The essential solution Susanna presents is a simple one in theory, harder in practice: Know who you are in God and run quickly from the whispers of the Enemy. I enjoyed the author's voice, finding her quite relatable. She offered enough humor to keep me giggling…

"…Adam and Eve got to sit around naked and unashamed. Naked and unashamed. Now that is an oxymoron if I have ever heard one. In my world, if you are sitting around naked, there is shame aplenty. And if you don't have the good sense to be ashamed of your naked self, I'll do it for you. We live world's apart, pre-apple Eve and I." (page 26)

"You have never known the freakish strength of a toddler until you try to loose his tiny grip on a Thomas train." (page 38)

…but also enough substance to be worth the time.

"When God beckons us with his grace, offering us hope for a new life, it is a two-fisted offer. With one hand he offers full forgiveness for all our wrongdoing, past, present, and future, so we can reconnect with him by way of Jesus's righteousness. With the other hand he offers us a chance at a new way of living in which he leads and we follow. He does not forgive our sins and then say, "Give it your best shot, kid. I hope you figure it all out." (Page 94-95)

Check out I Blame Eve, available April 2012 from your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Baker Publishing Group in exchange for a review, but all opinions are always my own. 

Be Authentic, For the Love of God - At BibleDude.net today

I write the truth. I have written a lot of words over the course of my 32 years on this planet and I find one element that binds them to those who stumble onto them. One string runs down the middle of my ramblings and (to God’s glory), that string can be a lifeline to people who feel alone.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Feeling Green

I had a big week, on the calendar…in my mind. Nothing major, but a bunch of appointments and a desperately-needed date night, followed by a just-as-desperately-needed-entire day away from home to hunker down and work on the book I'm writing.

We made it as far as the movie theatre on date night. Ten minutes into The Hunger Games, my insides started twisting and I was writhing in my seat. Fifteen minutes in, I cried out loud and blacked out in the movie theatre bathroom, but thankfully did not pass out completely and break my neck on the public toilet. I did, however, crawl my sorry self through the theatre and down the aisle on my hands and knees to gather my waiting husband, so we could get the heck out of there before my abdomen exploded in the popcorn of the people next to us, which I was quite sure was imminent at this point. 

Sorta how I feel right now. Only greener. 

We stopped for puke breaks on the drive home. It was the kind of pain that should have landed me in the emergency room, but I was honestly hurting too bad to even consider a 30-mile car ride (but not bad enough to justify an ambulance). The ticket clerk offered us free passes as we rushed out the doors and I was in too much pain to care at the moment, but ticked off now that we hadn't taken her up on it. (I do, someday, hope to get a do-over and actually watch the movie). We got home, I found a position in bed (stock-still with short breaths), and got through the night. The pain was on the left side so I knew it wasn't appendicitis, and *surprise*, although this pain rates at least thrice as bad as drug-less childbirth on the pain scale, it happens to me about once a month since the age of 13 (with occasional periods of remission lasting from a month to two years).

This was the worst episode ever, but I've been to the ER with debilitating abdominal issues enough times to know the most they would do is pump me with something through an IV and I'd go home and sleep it off. I wasn't up for a waiting room or being poked at, and I figured I'd rather die in bed from an exploding spleen or whatever was going on than wait for 6 hours on purple vinyl chairs for a little intravenous Vicodin.

Nothing has never been diagnosed—sonographic evidence points to ovarian cyst rupture but it happens a little too frequently for that to be the obvious answer, and it always involves other digestive components, of which I'll spare you the gory details…and gory they are. It does, however, happen in a cyclical fashion at a predictable time every month (and no, it's not premenstrual).

I really hadn't intended on sharing all that. What I came to say was… I've been in bed for 80-some hours. The pain and other fun mostly subsided by yesterday morning, but I am weak and tired and left feeling like I recently survived an airplane crash while also nursing a tequila hangover. I've been in (the same) pajamas for two days, and so has my son. Not fun. Earlier this week, the girl child simultaneously had an ear infection and pink eye in both eyes and both ears, then a stomach virus that the youngest also picked up. I watched three of the saddest/most disturbing/pointless movies of all time (Like Crazy, The Descendants, and Shutter Island… and all three were a terrible waste of time, though The Descendants was watchable, unlike the other two.) I also watched the same episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition three different times. Help. Me.

Pajama-clad superhero. Day Two. 

On the way out the door to work today, my husband discovered that our front tire had not only gone flat but completely disintegrated in the process, peeling into several pieces. We missed three dentists appointments and somehow overdrew the bank account, despite being more careful than ever with our finances lately. Ugh. At least I'm in bed and can pull the covers over my head. I'm sort of wishing for the days when my biggest problem was what time Sesame Street was going to come on. I want to lay in my bed and have someone else bring me ginger ale and not think about bills or flat tires or making dinner for bickering kids with ear infections. I'm bracing myself to go pick up the kids from school in about 2 hours, and it seems monumental, at this point.

I'll be back to my busy self in a day or two, I'm sure, and the world will have survived a few days without me. Shocking, I know. Still, the longer I lie here, the crankier I get, so I will probably attempt a shower for the sake of humanity and maybe I'll use my current snarky attitude to write something other than blog fodder (read: a distraction against writing anything useful).

Blah. How's your week been? 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rush, Rush... Hush, Hush

There is a laundry pile in my bedroom requiring a harness and ropes to scale. Scattered Legos lay like landmines across the living room floor and graham cracker crumbs wind a trail through the kitchen like Hansel and Gretel's roadmap. Little C munches on licorice sticks while last night's spaghetti pot still soaks in suds and dishwater. Girl Child's hair is tangled but her fingernails gleam with freshly painted purple sparkles.

This is what we've chosen, today.

Don't worry. The mess will be tidied, the dishes and laundry and landmines will be cleared… but not today.

The lot of us is up to here with busyness and interruptions – dental appointments and conjunctivitis, volunteer commitments, adoption paperwork, book reports, ear infections, dirty floors, church functions, birthday party plans and work to be done.

When I visited my mom yesterday, fiddling with email on my phone while we chatted, she joked, "It's okay to rest, you know." I flinched. "You don't have to be busying yourself every second."

I chuckled and she did too – knowing me and my penchant for distraction, constant motion, attention deficit disorder. Juggling with both hands and both feet and burning the candle that I hold between my teeth. It's just the way it is. And while I wish I didn't have to be deliberate about rest, I realize that even Jesus was, and how wise He was to be. In a world where otherwise normal people spend hours with thumbs jumping across the screen of their cell phones, electronically hurdling animated birds at neon pigs as if we needed one more pointless thing to occupy us, it's hard to remember that it's okay (it's necessary) to sometimes... just. be.

I scan the landscape before me, three prone bodies draped listless over couches, feet in the air, carefree giggles like soft music. The shades are open and the air is still, soft gray, not cloudy and not bright, as though the sun and rain and wind are resting too. All is quiet and calm and comfortably still, until C pops up from the couch in a concentrated tuck-and-roll, hopping across the carpet, exploding in imaginative play. A tickle war ensues, we catapult toys across couch-pillow barriers, and rescue make-believe princesses from make-believe dragons. We blow bubbles and eat marshmallows and talk about Jesus and hide-and-seek like we were born for only this. It's serious business, this rest stuff.

It amounts to refocusing, honing our eyes and ears to the vitally important. Filling our insides with laughter and love and peace -- fuel for the journey ahead. Tomorrow we'll be back to school, back to work, back to learning cursive and washing dishes, feeding the hungry and encouraging downcast friends. Tomorrow I'll gear up and scale the laundry mountain and these moments… these bottled giggles and captured yawns will course through me, strength for the road.

Is your family too busy? Your house too harried? Check out Little House on the Freeway, a resource for getting busy families off the rushed freeway of life.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book Review: My Imaginary Jesus

"Matt Mikalatos likes Jesus a lot. In fact, he can't believe how much they have in common. They share the same likes, dislikes, beliefs, and opinions. (Though Jesus does have better hair.) So imagine Matt's astomishment when he finds out that the guy he knows as Jesus…isn't."

So declares the back cover of My Imaginary Jesus, the spiritual adventures of one man searching for the real God. The front cover quotes Relevant magazine: "Think Monty Python meets C.S. Lewis…" After all the heavy duty stuff I'd been reading lately, I grabbed this up off the Tyndale Blog Network list, figuring I could use a fresh breath of snark in my life, and snark I did receive.

The book follows Matt on a wild goose chase through the streets of downtown Portland in an effort to discover the real Jesus in a sea of imaginary ones… characters like Magic 8 Ball Jesus, King James Jesus, Testosterone Jesus, Political Power Jesus, Hippy Jesus, and Pure Reckless Fantasy Jesus. Here's a clip, taken from page 76:

"Nearby I could see a Jesus with a gray uniform and no mouth sweeping the floor.

'That's Liberal Social Services Jesus,' Bargain Jesus said. 'He thinks the best way to tell people about God is through service, but he never talks about God. He's great to have around because he keeps the place spotless. […] Sometimes his brother, Conservative Truth-Telling Jesus comes around. He has no arms. He thinks the only way to tell people about God is through hard truth, and he never raises a hand to help people with their physical needs. He's difficult to handle, honestly.'"

What I Liked
I loved that the book was set in downtown Portland, and as an ex-Portlander, some favorite PDX haunts popped up like unexpected friends dropping by… places like The Red and Black Café, Highway 26, Sauvie Island, Multnomah Falls Lodge, and even obscure ones like Pix Patisserie and Muchas Gracias. This probably accounted for a lot of my positive association with the book – there's something about Portland's comfortable weirdness that makes it the only acceptable city for a story this… well… comfortably weird.

I think Matt addressed some serious and vitally important issues in an approachable and humorous way. The book makes you laugh but also makes you look honestly at your version of Jesus, the biography you've written about him in your head, and compare it to the real One. It awakens the reality that we all are biased by a variety of false notions and we allow that to influence our faith and lifestyle. For this reason alone, I'd recommend it. I also think it's a perfect text for someone who isn't sure where they stand on the faith issue, or someone who thinks Christians are hypocritical or legalistic.

Believers and non-believers alike can gain something here and honestly enjoy themselves in the process. I think that's a tricky thing to do, and I applaud the author for that. Plus, the questions at the back are great, and in hindsight, I wish I'd have read this alongside a group of people and allowed it to open up some group conversations about the issues this book presents. There are enough philosophical and theological springboards here to engage a lively discussion that doesn't have to be a debate.

You know those movies you watch and think, "That would have been so much funnier or so much better if I'd have watched with a bunch of friends?" That's sort of what I mean. This is a perfect spark, funny and positive but serious at the same time, to start a discussion in a respectful way between people with differing viewpoints.

What I Didn't Like
What started out as familiar and fun, snarky and even genuinely convicting eventually turned daunting. I loved the Imaginary Jesus angle (and found that his favorite fake Jesus was a lot like mine), but I think Matt belabored the point a bit and I honestly think the story would have worked just as well with 50 less pages. Perhaps because it's written in a style I'm not used to reading (though I read plenty of snark and satire) – the sort-of-true, half-fiction, half-truth, sort-of-random-absurdity just kind of got old for me after a dozen chapters. It was a great concept, but I got impatient to be done with it when it became apparent that the wild goose chase was going to last 225 pages and end rather abruptly with the big question of the book feeling to me like it wasn't really answered. Perhaps that was the point, but it just felt a little weak and unsure and I had to actually re-read a bit to make sure I didn't miss something.

I personally would have liked more truth and less seemingly inconsequential drop-in characters. I did find myself wanting to know more about the real stuff he reveals in the story – more about some of his personal experiences that he half-shares, but were genuinely intriguing and interesting. It sort of felt like he wasn't completely committed to sharing his story, and so he made up some and filled some in, leaving the reader wondering what is true and what is made up, and it kind of killed the credibility of some otherwise powerful testimony.

Ultimately, I think it's a book a lot of people will enjoy, especially those who like (or need) to challenge their perceptions on faith and life and Scripture. It presents a huge and heavy spiritual challenge in a totally approachable and relatable way, and because of that, it's worth the read.

Disclaimer: Tyndale House Publishers provided a free copy of this book for me to review. All opinions are always my own. Product links above include my personal affiliate links. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On Quarters and Unbelief

I am wonky and off-center, stressed about money and nursing a headache and cramps and a pink-eyed daughter today. I am waiting for too many things that are suspended in air, aware that nothing easy is around the corner, and I'm cranky. I am too little already to be minced up so fine, scattered to the dizzying tasks of making life in a world that is not my home.

It all feels so worldly and more than ever, I'm longing for fresh life, for a break in the rain. Out the window there is a tree tower leaning crooked, ever closer to our roof than the day before and I watch the tree suspiciously, envisioning the break line…sizing up just where and when it might crack right through the middle, splinter and split and sever and crush whatever lies beneath it. And I might be more like that tree than I'd like to believe.

I, too, am precariously leaning.

But I watch the clock in the meantime and cling desperately to absurd ideas and anxious attempts at control and count quarters, again. I click-clack on the keyboard 'cause it's my job in life and it's the only thing I know to do when I don't know what to do, when I've gotten myself in the same mess that comes around more often than I can stand to admit. I contemplate less, so much less, and don't know how it's possible at the same time.

I balance and re-balance and the numbers topple like the tree will someday. I order mistakes in my mind and fine-tune on do-overs that will never be done over. So I say it, methodically, word-by-word to myself over and over, that Word, that reminder, the instruction of what to do with our anxieties and focus this time on the part "transcends all understanding" because I am ever and always trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to give God an "out" on His promises.

If I could trust, I would know He needs none. If I could trust, I wouldn't be gut-deep in this. But my pretending has got me here, and so I grasp quarters like a lifeline and rehearse verses like a lunatic, over and over to find new life in the words, to make myself believe them.

Linking to: Imperfect Prose on Thursdays at canvaschild.com.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Who You Used to Be


I used to be a housemom at a children's home in Texas. I used to be a social butterfly. I used to be a cake decorator. I used to homeschool my kids. I used to be blonde.

I used to be short. I used to be a single mother. I used to be divorced. I used to have a cat. I used to be an operations manager for a small airline. I used to be an egg donor.

I used to be the life of the party and I used to be busy, flitting from this activity to that one, laughing with friends all hours of the day until I collapsed, exhausted. 

I used to have dozens of friends. I used to write poetry. I used to drink gin and tonic. I used to work at a church. 

I used to be heartbroken. I used to be lost. I used to be a child.

All these things, I used up. I got over. I moved on. 

I am not these things anymore.

But still, when the day is quiet and I'm feeling purposeless, I'll grab hold of one of these old labels, and though the stick-um is linted and the paper is wrinkled from days of wear, I'll slap that baby back on my chest like a badge, smoothing over it every so often to keep it from falling off. This, after all, is definition.




It gives me something to grasp when the day ticks by and it is consumed by shapeless piles of dirty clothes, bland meals, and other aimless wanderings. But it is a trick and it is a lie. Because if I stay standing in who I used to be, I can never grow into what I'm meant to become.

I had a conversation last night with one of our boys in Texas, a boy struggling with his identity in light of who he used to be… not sure how to present himself to the world when the landscape around him has changed. It's a tricky balance, it turns out, between building upon your truths, letting who you've been be the stepping stones for who you're becoming, and abandoning your past entirely for a new future. Sometimes, we only know ourselves in light of the labels we've had stuck upon us. Sometimes we don't recognize our own faces in the mirror when those labels don't stick anymore.

Becoming is tricky business.

What labels do you wear? What do they say about you? Are those labels true? Are you hiding behind labels that lost their stickiness long ago? Are you letting your past stand in the way of your present, or your present stand in the way of your future?

When you were knit together inside your mother, God made a pronouncement upon you. He made you something. He did not pronounce you an alcoholic or a liar or a screw-up. He did not pronounce you a cheerleader or a missionary or a pastor's wife or a mother. He knew those things might be part of your story, but He made you with a depth that goes beyond your doings and your labels. He made you beloved, beautiful, joyful, full of light or laughter or encouragement or nurturing. He made you someone apart from your circumstances. Without the labels, do you know what you are called? Do you know what your name is?

"…to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off." – Isaiah 56:5

Monday, April 9, 2012

I'm Baaaaack -and- Who Are You Looking For?


And we begin again with a sense of a "new year" at all the rebirth that Spring will bring.

I'm glad to be back.

The Lenten experiment of quieting the social media voices in my life was redemptive, and in retrospect, I see that it was less about my giving up and more about my giving in, preparing my heart for what is upon me yet. In the quiet, I drew closer, I fell in love with words again without being a slave to them, and I also longed for the community of people that has become my extended family here.

I didn't miss the blogging business as much as I thought I would – I missed hearing from all of you, reading and keeping caught up on your lives, but the break was needed and I'm grateful that I heeded the call to quiet. There is much in the air as I come to life with the reminder of resurrection, my soul is stirred and I am always impatient for more.

Our home will be increasing, not with a baby of my belly but an adolescent or maybe three. We are both in the process of (God willing) adopting a teenage boy that we cared for in Texas and finishing up our foster care certification and we are braced and we are ready, as much as you can ever be ready for something like that. We may double the number of children in our home within the next few months, but this is not the first time we've been on this adventure, so it isn't as daunting or scary as it could be. 

Instead, it feels a bit like breaking in a pair of new shoes, this house we've made into a home bursting at the seems with life and chatter and happy chaos and the hard days that mean we're doing something worthwhile in this wonky little life. I want to ramble on and on about this, but it is something I need to tuck close to my heart just now until we have more to share, until there is more certainty. 

There are harder things too about me now – my brother overcome by the throes of addiction and us being powerless to stop what ravages and destroys. My family feeling the pang and sting of all the lies addiction brings like a smothering vacuum void where there is no oxygen. Grateful to have the source of life now and always all around, to be lifted up by holy breath and the learning of what comes supernatural in the midst of surrender. Celebrating beauty in all of this.

One more thought to leave you with today, as we settle into the reality of resurrection, move forward with what new life will mean to us now. The angels that visited Mary in the empty tomb asked her, "Woman…Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" (John 20:15).

So I ask you and I ask me… in light of the empty tomb, who is it you are looking for?

A lover? A spouse? A person to recognize your talents? A baby in your womb? A prodigal son to return? A person to validate your efforts? An individual to save you from yourself? Are you waiting for you to be who you want to be before you surrender? Are you looking for flesh and blood? Or are you looking for Jesus, who has risen?

Why are you crying, today? Who are you looking for?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Overcoming the World

I’m a mother of 3, and for me, pregnancy was a time of great anticipation. I loved the child within my womb and those who loved me and my husband also loved our child who hadn’t even been born yet. Their love for our child was solidified by their love for us. Similarly, I have dear friends who live far away from me and though we don’t see each other often, we remain close. Two of these friends have recently had children, and even though I’ve never laid eyes or hands on these babies, I know I love them. I love their parents. It goes without question that I love their children as well.
In the same way, but on a much grander scale, we put our faith in Jesus into practice because of the love we have for the Father (a love we have only because He first loved us, as we read about previously in 1 John 4:19.) 
(To read more, please visit me over at BibleDude.net today: Overcoming the World.) 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Review: I Am a Follower by Leonard Sweet

Perusing the shelves at the Christian bookstore about two years ago, I remarked to my husband, "Could they possibly publish another book about leadership? I've seen at least 200 in this place already. Someone needs to write a book on how to be a follower. The church is so inundated with the notion that everyone has to study leadership principles that everyone seems to be forgetting our call as Christians to follow Christ."

When I saw Booksneeze.com offering an opportunity to review IAm A Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus, I quickly put in my request. Finally, I thought, the book we all need to help us transcend this leader-centric culture.

Leonard Sweet starts off strong and in the first few pages, delivers a few powerful punches. "The longest distance in the universe is the distance from zero to one," he writes (p. 9). "Show me anywhere in the Bible that says the ultimate goal of human existence is to be a leader. It's not there. […] The church is not led by leaders but by Christ. Everyone else is a follower. Leadership has led us to a place where everybody is trying to get everybody else to do something, and no one ends up doing anything." (pg. 24)

What I would have loved to see was a chapter or two devoted to the why of "followship," and the rest of the book addressing the how. Instead, the book proved not to be a book about following but a book entirely promoted to the argument against the notion of leadership. By the second chapter, Leonard is worked up and slamming the leadership notion into obscure metaphors comparing leadership culture within the church to cannibal galaxies in the universe, calling leadership principles nothing more than cultish celebrity worship, and getting rather spiteful in his position against leadership as a concept.

The book took such a strongly defensive position so early on, and although I was on the author's side before I ever picked up the book, it wasn't long before I felt engaged in an argument I hadn't planned on being invited to. If you are one who believes the church should follow a business-model hierarchy, you may find a mind-opening concept here. If you don't, it may just feel like 288 pages of preaching to – or, rather, battling with – the choir.

The book was a let-down for me, perhaps because I feel the title leads the reader to believe the book will be a study of following Jesus rather than engaging in a theological argument against leadership and would have been more aptly titled 'Why There is No Such Thing as a Christian Leader' or 'Why Bill Hybels is a Sham.' It missed the mark, in my opinion, by being a philosophical exegesis to argue against the notion that, as Christians, we can ever be leaders in any form. He does suggest, nearly as an afterthought, that we can, perhaps, be influencers, but Christ is the only and ever leader. I may have agreed with his philosophy here had he spent any time dealing with either the practice of influencing or of following in particular.

This book's concept could have been a great resource to encourage the Body to step back and remember our purpose, but instead, it arms you with boxing gloves for battle when you didn't realize you'd even stepped in the ring. That said, there were occasional nuggets of wisdom that hit on important truths.

"Pedestrian churches consist of people who walk with Jesus in his journeys on the earth. I am increasingly calling for artisanal communities where success is measured not in statistics but in stories told in an authentic voice." (Page 82)

"We can't force fruit in our lives. That's the work of the Spirit. Our part is to faithfully sow the seed of the Word into our own lives and the lives of others, to cultivate the soil of our hearts, and to receive the rain of God's Spirit upon our hearts in whatever form God sees fit to pour it out." (Page 93)

I have a hard time believing that there is no place for leadership in the church. Call it influence if you wish, but as a woman married to a man who oozes a truly innate ability and desire to influence and point others toward the cross, I can't make the jump into wiping it out of the Church in general. I agree that our focus needs to be on emulating Christ, not seeking our own success or prestige and that, of course, Christ is the ultimate authority and all good leadership done is done under his authority and pointing only to Him, but I believe influencers have a place in the Body as a part of that design.

If you believe everything you hear in leadership conferences and buy every book on leadership principles you find then give this book ashot. It might challenge your perceptions in a way that helps you find healthy footing and examine your motives. Otherwise, skip it and use your time reading the Gospels for instructions on being a follower.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book by BookSneeze.com in exchange for my review. I was {obviously} not required to post a favorable review. All opinions are always my own. Read more product reviews and other information about this book here: http://booksneeze.com/reviews/bybook/9780849946387