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Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: Vibrant Faith at Home Website

As a household with two pioneer parents (a term I stole from Mary DeMuth meaning that we were not raised with Christian parents), I'm always looking for resources to help me live out our faith within our family. When my sweet friend Anna from Girl With Blog directed me to the Vibrant Faith @ Home website and asked me to review my experience there, I was astounded by the wealth of topics and resources to be had. Curious who was contributing and what "slant" they may have doctrinally, politically, etc., I clicked over to their authors page and was happy to find a true variety of contributors from a wide range of denominational backgrounds, including a few female pastors (yes!).

The site is all about experience, bringing families together through shared experiences and conversation, whether they are just a young couple starting out or seasoned grandparents. I found more than anything that this site was big on encouraging thoughtful communication and intimacy within the family, something I highly agree with.

Here are a few of the resources our family personally enjoyed (the arrows will direct you to how to access these resources within the site under their proper categories). Most activities feature a video with a resource "do it" type document to help you put the knowledge into practice or have a specific experience with your family.

Summer Camp à Go In Peace
With two kids attending sleepaway summer camp for the first time ever this summer, this was a great resource to help us launch conversations that would alleviate fears and encourage learning and fun while away. I love that the Scriptures suggested for reading were included right on the document which made it easy to print and use.

Just for Kids à Media Spot à Aliens!
With a sci-fi nut in our household, I had to give this one a shot. This talks about the popularity of aliens in the movies and I thought it was a great way to open a dialogue with my kids about where we all stood on our beliefs about life on other planets, as well as media/entertainment considerations and what we chose to watch. I was particularly impressed that the writers didn't assume you held a certain perspective but just gave you the tools to open the conversation for yourself.

Articles à Hannah's Blessing
A sweet and encouraging article about the wisdom of a child's simple message in the middle of a hurried, rushed day. Ironically, it took me about an hour to get through this article, even though it is short and sweet, because I had constant interruptions from children while trying to read. A timely word? I would say so!!

Adult Couple à Serving Others à Lend a Hand
This video had some great ideas about how to practice the service of mercy and hospitality in various ways, and what the importance is of doing so. I enjoyed the reminder to practice works of justice and not just works of mercy, and the encouragement to make this a part of your family life in order to truly live the message that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

All in all, this is a great site.  I have a harder time watching the videos than I do with articles, so I would love to see more articles or more videos with content rather than Power Point style formats, but the wealth of encouragement at Vibrant Faith @ Home is worth checking out for families of all ages and stages. 

The Daily Dance

Haven't done much Five Minute Friday lately, but five minutes is about all I have these days, with the arrival of our two new foster babies, so here goes:


We're in survival mode nearly all the time, eat, bathe, brush, hug, sleep, wash, rinse, repeat. Their hearts are big and mine is too, and we're getting through these days with grace and giggles, husband and I just sort of smiling each other as we pass. We'll get a rhythm, I know, but right now it is all a blur of cereal bowls and cartoon underpants, bedtime stories and child services offices and a plethora of missed phone calls and missed deadlines and deep, deep breaths. I don't know how people with three toddlers clean their house or take a shower and I'm afraid I haven't really learned yet. 

Somehow, it feels like a dance, dipping low for an embrace, a right spin through the kitchen on my tiptoes, a leap over laundry piles. I fall flat but tighten laces and get up again, spinning and spinning in concentration, spotting on the cross so I don't get dizzy. 

I pull Caleb from the bath and he stands shivering. "Wrap me and carry me?" he pleads as I wrap the towel around him. Yes... and all at once, this is my prayer. "Wrap me up, Father... cover me. Carry me. Hold me steady and take the lead in this dance. 

Linking up to Five Minute Friday at Lisa-Jo's. Today's prompt:  Dance. Join us?

Five Minute Friday

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Making Room - Where Love Fits In

The week started with a bang… a publisher meeting, a book acceptance, a tearful hug, a bottle of champagne…long chilled for the day this excitement came, popped and poured and savored. I didn't know that wouldn't be the most exciting thing that happened this week.

Tuesday we were notified our foster care certification was official, that our home was opened to provide care, and less than 24 hours later, our phone was ringing… would we take a 4- and 5-year-old sibling set in an hour? We had said we had no room for boys, what with three already in one bedroom, and could only accept girls for placement, and with my writing and work commitments, only school-aged children fit into our current life.

But when the call came, it was so much clearer than it had been before… we don't fit love into the rest of our life. We just walk in love, first, and let the rest fall all over and around it, soaked up and stained by the color that bleeds from what love does.

With shuffling feet they came, feet but no shoes for them to fill, only the smoky, stained clothing on their bodies, and the funds normally set aside to clothe wards of the state previously squandered by those who came before us. They both wore diapers (and it turned out, they were 2 and 4 in actuality which made three babies under age 4 in our three-bedroom rental, plus our 8 and 12 year old, plus the 15-year-old whose adoption is underway).  They came with no clean diapers to change into… no car seats, no clothing, no belongings but the dime-store teddy bears that they had selected at the child services office.  

They peeked cautiously around corners, suspiciously tiptoed into their new home with trepidation and I watched my biological kiddos, the ones who didn't really choose this arrangement and told me, before the others arrived, that they weren't excited about it. I prayed, I asked you all for prayer, and we were covered, abundantly.

I know because despite my own bout of insomnia, three preschoolers snooze in mismatched sets of my son's pajamas, divvied up across the crowd until we can make it out shopping for right-sized ones. I know because there were way more laughs than tears today and because my children took the lead on loving them, taking hands and leading prayers, sharing toys and whispering sweetness, breaking my heart wide open with the simple practice of love that they grasp so much easier than I do, loving wide and well even when they didn't want to.  

Little J took deep whiffs of the ill-fitting pajamas after his bath and proclaimed, "They smell so good," and I remembered how simple delight could be. Then, kissing his sweaty forehead at bedtime, he asked, since the others called me Mama, if he could call me Mama too and if he could stay forever, and my heart swelled with the ease with which he felt at home here, despite his world being ripped wide open just a few hours ago even while I fought to remember that I was not charged with forever for these children, just for now.

They said Little M wouldn't sleep without her big brother in her bed, that they'd shared a twin mattress their whole lives and I probably shouldn't try to sleep her solo, but we read about Jesus and I stroked silky hair and her eyes drifted away and I knew this tiny girl needed a bed to grow into, a spot in the world that was only hers.

Mr. Smitten had to be away this evening, so I juggled a little more than usual and uttered a holy thank-you for the frozen flautas on hand for dinner in a pinch. There were tears and fibs, spilled milk and popsicle juice in the carpet, messy pants, bumped heads, cranky moments, and for Mama, excruciating back pain that leveled me to bed before the laundry was sorted (and yet, insomnia gets up me again and to my keyboard for the telling).

But there was love… much, much love. The kind that comes raining down like invisible pearls and echoes of the whispered prayers of friends and strangers. The kind that has me choking back tears at not just the disgrace of a world where foster care is needed, but the beauty in it, too.

There is love.


Linking up at Emily's for the summer's last Imperfect Prose and with Jennifer at Getting Down With Jesus. Join us?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: Praying God's Word for Your Husband


I admit, when it comes to praying for my husband, I am often stumped and stick to the basics. "Please, Lord, keep him safe...help him do well at work and enjoy his job...help me to be a good wife…" and so on. Since he was not a Christian when we were first married, I was forever petitioning, begging, pleading God for his salvation, but once the prayer was answered and he began to know the Lord, I tended to forget that my "prayer warrior" work wasn't done yet.

Therefore, I was glad to review Praying God's Word for Your Husband by Kathi Lipp when Baker Publishing offered me the book. In these pages, Kathi walks us through various aspects, circumstances, challenges in the lives of our husbands and how we not only can pray for them but pray God's Word back to Him in our prayers. Why do this? As Kathi points out on page 33: "I was praying Scripture, so I didn't have to wonder if it was God's will. I was praying the promises that God had set out in his Word. Praying Scripture over my husband gave me a new freedom in my petitions to God."

I found this book to be a great resource in not only learning how to pray Scripture but how to apply it to specific circumstances in my husband's life. I also loved that there was a section in the book on how to pray for an unbelieving husband, since I think a lot of prayer references tend to leave this possibility out. I also enjoyed having the Scriptures and instruction broken out by circumstance/situation, because it makes for an easy reference when there is something in particular I want to pray about (employment, relationships, parenting, worry). This is more than a read once book, but a reference to keep handy as an aid in being an effective prayer partner for your husband.

**Available June 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. 

Note: I received this book for free in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Speak Gently, Stand Firmly, Love Wildly

I already ranted about Mother's Day here, so I'll try to spare you from Bitter, Part Deux

For the most part though, I feel the same about Father's Day as I do about Mother's Day… that it's sort of exclusive and selective and celebrates an ideal that nobody really lives up to, making the fatherless and non-fathers somehow less honored.

But I'm a lot more torn in my affections today because despite the sea of broken hearts from broken lives left by broken daddies in so many of the people around me, there are also so many amazing men I want to honor, men who give me hope that even in the brokenness, there are moments of heaven on earth in the form of strong hands and tender hearts.

I consider my greatest gift in the world to be my front-row seat to the effect of my husband's love in my kiddos' lives. Truly. Ryan is many amazing and wonderful things, but at the top of the list, he is a daddy who drops all pretenses, sheds all expectations, and loves his children wildly and well. I don't know what my children's futures will hold but I know they will rest surely in the love of their daddy, a man who allows skeptics like me to be able to even fathom the love of a perfect and holy heavenly Papa.

He delights in his children and teaches me how to do the same. He loves me well and teaches them what marriage can and should be. He respects and honors me and my voice, and I'm so very grateful that my daughter is growing up strong and confident because her worth as a daughter is confirmed and encouraged every day in her life.

My sons see that the strength and power of a man is often on its best display in the tiny moments… a 
midnight diaper change, an ice cream date, a tickle war, a towel around the shoulders, a goodnight hug. 

They know that a strong man speaks gently but stands firmly, loves deeply, and acts rightly.

Thank you, Ryan, for being what I never even knew existed… for modeling a whole and holy love over our children and our family. Thank you, readers who are fathers and readers who are raising future fathers. 

Your work is vital and the moments matter. You are an embodiment of our heavenly Daddy and your influence is profound. 

Happy Father's Day. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Get Naked for Jesus

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited to him as righteousness.” – Genesis 15:16
I know the verse. I’ve heard about grace, about faith versus works and the whole nine. I get the big deal about righteousness.
It means to be good, to do what’s right on God’s behalf. To be obedient and do what He has commanded. It means to be right, to be ever-striving toward perfection.
Doesn’t it? 
Come visit me over at BibleDude.net to read the rest. The true path to righteousness might surprise you, when you get down to the nitty gritty. Come get naked with me over there, today. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Blessed Are Those Who Don't Do It All

In past seasons of my life, I filled notebooks with goals, to-do's, strategies and techniques for getting things together. From a fundamental place inside of me came the constant, relentless message: Be Better.

I wanted to be better at everything and somewhere inside I believed that every other woman out there was accomplishing all the things I couldn't manage, an entire lifestyle of doing it all with grace and effortlessness. I saw myself as failing in some level at just about everything, not only everything in my life but everything in the world if you counted all the things I wasn't doing. (And I counted.)

If I spent five hours cleaning the kitchen, I felt bad about the state of the pantry. If the house was neatly picked up, the carpet stains screamed loudly at me every time I walked into the room. If I'd baked a fabulous dessert for my family, I berated myself for the mediocre dinner they were served just prior.

But somewhere along the line, something within me broke and I saw that part of myself from outside eyes, like an out-of-body experience. I learned to be kinder to my heart and treat her like a friend of mine and not just an abused little girl who couldn't live up to anything. This was all unfolded, I'm sure, as my depth of understanding unfolded about grace, about the God who loves so purely and completely that His heart for me cannot be changed by any amount of my goodness or lack thereof.

At some point, I stumbled on peace and self-forgiveness.

I started a Things I Don't Do list in my head and began to check off, one by one, the things that would creep up on me and tell me lies. I thought hard about the things that tormented me and decided whether I really needed to make space for them in my life, whether I really did believe my call was to be better in that area. Sometimes the answer was yes. Sometimes, I added them to the TIDD list, and breathed a little easier.

The Things I Don't Do are mostly good things. They are things that may be sacred and creative and might beautifully enhance another person's life. But for me, they are things that would take the space I have to give the other things in my life, the ones that give me life and joy and serve a higher purpose than to simply be better. As I have let things go, I have learned that with less effort to be everything and more effort to be the uniquely created me, I am a little bit better by proxy, and that is the ironic-flavored icing on the cake.

Here is a portion of my list:

I don't go to the gym. My body is not perfect or even necessarily pretty but it is the body that has bore three children and held tightly to a dozen more. It sags in areas it shouldn't and bulges in places I wish it didn't and has erupted in a terrible case of adult acne, but its scars and stretch marks reflect its purpose. I love to see old Bibles, worn from years of use and tears, notes scribbled in the margins and pages bent back. I'm beginning to see my body in this way too, an open book, a love story, in which my life is written slowly into laugh lines and chipped nails, tan lines and chronic illness and chapped lips and birthmarks, calluses and tattoos and scabbed-over wounds that I am beginning to love. My exercise comes in the form of wrestling t-shirts over squirmy kid heads and games of hide-and-seek, hiking to waterfalls and the thousand leg-lunges I do every single day while picking up Matchbox cars. I don't count calories and I eat more chocolate than is good for me but I've decided I'm basically okay in my size 11 jeans because this body has been awfully good to live in despite its many flaws. 

I don't garden. I grow children well, pets poorly, and I kill most other living things. I admire and respect those who find gardening to be a spiritual experience, but for me it is dirt and thorns and grub worms, and it takes all the beauty and mystery out of nature. If I manage to keep alive a rose bush, I resent it for the creative time lost in its cultivation and therefore, gardening makes the TIDD list.

I'm not on the PTA. I'm not the room mother or the field trip chaperone or the teacher's aide. I care deeply about my children's educational experiences but this is not the outlet for that, for me. I admire that there are others who are so much more patient, more talented, more gifted with teaching children and I give them space to be positive influences in my kids' lives, too.

I don't pair socks. Laundry is serious business around here and I spend way more of my life than I care to in the act of cleaning and putting away clothing. We have a Sexton Sock Basket, and when I fold laundry, all socks go in the bin. When someone needs a pair, they Scuba dive for two that pass for matching, and we all live happily ever after, the end. Most people are seriously horrified by this. What kind of mother doesn't even match their kids' socks? Let me tell you. This kind of mother. The kind that has living room campouts with them for the heck of it and throws unbirthday parties every once in awhile and decorates a living room birthday tree for the special kid of honor. The kind who has decided to make other things a bigger deal than socks and does so without apology.

There are scores of other things I don't do. I don't eat organic or change my refrigerator filter as often as it needs it. I don't do play-dates or mom's group or homeschool (anymore). I don't cloth diaper. I don't vacuum every day or run marathons or cook from scratch or iron or dry clean. I am not against any of these things. They're good. They're great, even. They're just not great for me, right now.

I am not totally guiltless over all of these things yet, but I'm getting there. The Things I Do list (I have one of those too) is getting shorter and shorter in quantity, but fuller and fuller in quality and I'm learning to see that as the better thing.  

You're blessed when you're content with just who you are – no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
(Matthew 5:5 MSG)

What's on your TIDD list?


Linking to Unwrapping His Promises and Imperfect Prose. Click on links below to join us.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Virtual Reality -or- How to Make a Life

I tend to live too long sometimes in this world in my head, fueled by online friends and brilliant blog wisdom, where hours are marked by hashtags and Facebook becomes a lifeline, where I register a comment count or today's subscriber numbers like a self-worth bathroom scale forever showing a number that leaves me feeling bloated and unsatisfied.

In this neighborhood and since it's my fantasy, my quaint old chippy farmhouse with miraculously leak-less faucets is nestled right in there with awesome neighbors like Emily and Sarah and Lindsey. I lunch with Anne and Ann and Annie and Anna and we break bread and talk about life and God and gratitude. My kids hang on the neighborhood monkey bars next to Shannan's and Lisa-Jo's

I camp in the woods in invisible tents with Emily and Suzannah and their beautiful families. Tamára, Preston, Nish, and I debate microbrews at the backyard barbeque. My pretend writer's group meets at the corner bakery where Jeff and Mary and Dan and Shauna, over bites of something buttery, offer brilliant insight on this tricky manuscript, which I can't wait to share with my make-believe agent, Rachelle.

Because this is sorta what it really feels like for me to live here in this online space. To wander from house to house and blog to blog, to eat my lunch beside you folks and nestle myself into your reality, make you part of mine, let your words make mine somehow come out a little better next time. Like a fantasy. Like one of those dream sequences on TV marked by foggy edges and a twinkly soundtrack.

It's not merely virtual, though. The real-life encouragement, support, prayer, and tangible love that floats across keyboards and computer screens is not make-believe. It is substance and it is depth and most days, it gives me strength I haven't had before.

But I have a real life too. I carry spare pairs of cartoon underwear and emergency fruit snacks in my purse. I have foreheads to kiss more often than I do, and toilets to clean and filters to change and sunscreen to apply and more book ideas floating around in my head than time to write them all down. I have dirty carpet and friends I need to visit (the kind who knew me when I wore leg warmers and slap bracelets and crimped my hair). I have movies to watch, stories to tell, a husband who keeps me one step ahead of psychosis every day. Somewhere, there is probably chocolate I should be eating too, regardless of what my protesting belly pooch has to say. There are real books with real pages to read and holy moments to be had.

There is life to be lived, and you have one too.

Is virtual reality overshadowing actual reality, in your life?

This is a struggle for me. I'm a writer at heart, and at times, I think I need to set up camp in this virtual space to "make it" and make sleazy flashing billboards to get my voice heard. Everyone is trying to make a name for themselves out there, and the Internet never sleeps.

But flesh and blood does.

It sleeps and cries and laughs long over good wine with good friends. It turns the laptop off sometimes to paint toenails with pigtailed daughters, to play in the rain with fuzzy-haired sons and attempt daring new recipes. It kisses your husband long and sweet, and dips its toes in river water. It leaves the bedroom window open and listens late to crickets and rhythmic breath and cars driving past. It star-gazes and goes out dancing. It eats the moments of life like bites of a sweet summer peach.

Be careful not to miss it.

Don't trade your life for eye-strain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Don't sell your soul for another Twitter follower if you aren't bringing your whole heart into the world beyond the computer screen. Virtual reality has a funny way of reflecting actual reality. If your life is empty, your work will be empty. Live.

As much as I love my fantasy neighbors in my make-believe neighborhood, I have real neighbors I've never met, ones with pet roosters who wave enthusiastically every time I drive by. I have a lonely grandma who could use a lunch date. I have avocados to savor and dandelion heads awaiting the breath of a small boy who doesn't yet know about making wishes.

So, if you'll excuse me, I'm off go make a living… and make a life. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What Lightning Has to Say

{written yesterday} 


I have lived a lifetime this week and it is still only Monday.

Baby Girl (who is 9 these days) was baptized in beauty and love and living water, surrounded by family on Sunday as she said yes to Jesus. My open-aired barefoot church split at the seams with family old and young, and even the nonbelievers among us lifted hands to Him and it was the kind of beauty that is still making me weep 28 hours later.

I was asked to be a part of somethingso incredibly close to my heart, so vital to this blog community, so honest and real and out of my league that it, too, made me weep for good things.

But I am weeping today for things that don't feel good or right at all, things I don't know how to justify or make sense of, things that shouldn't be and searching to find God in it all.

A phone call with our adoption caseworker left me sobbing into the phone, as muffled by red tape as the pleas of our boy caught in the system have been, and equally as unheard, then later, louder, into the nape of my husband's neck with pounding fists at the injustice of a child whose future is reduced to manila and copy paper and black ink while his heart swells with anger and nobody hears.

She heard, though. She heard me when I said I will fight for him, lady, and keep fighting and sucked breath sharp and mean and bit my lip to keep the rest of it inside.

Brokenhearted people have to clean their floors too, it turns out, so I mop the floors with tears and soap and scrub like I can lift the dirt off the world with elbow grease, taking out anger on the tile while polishing it with apple-scented solution and somewhere in here is a Garden of Eden metaphor but I'm too tired to find it.

I nauseate and the sky tumbles dark and green too and bolts of lightning flash in the distance, sky all sad and angry and it's Him to my heart saying, "Yes, I know, dear One. Me too."


Linking to Imperfect Prose, a sacred space where our souls can breathe... so, so blessed to be a part of this. Join us over there, will you, and be blessed?