Leftovers

When you’re pregnant, everyone tells you that sleep will consume you–thinking about it, wishing for it, not getting it. This hasn’t been quite true for us. Now, I fully admit that through some combination of genetics and God’s mercy, we were blessed with an amazing sleeper (please don’t hate me), but overall, I’ve found that we tend to be consumed by something else: food.

When Ian was brand new, it was nursing (or lack thereof). It was the one thing that threatened to throw me off the motherhood deep end. Eventually, we decided to stick with formula. At that point, we found ourselves obsessing over Enfamil or Similac or Target brand, and do we want the type for sensitive tummies or reflux or fussiness? Then, baby food: which flavors to try and how much, and should we finally buy a high chair? Solid food has been a battle ever since: he simply refused to eat it for months, having complete meltdowns in his high chair until we acquiesced and gave him the mushy Gerber stuff.

So yes, it has been food, rather than sleep, that has ruled our lives since Ian was born.

leftovers1

Along the way, I’ve been amazed at how much I learn about my own relationship with God by watching Ian eat (or not).

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, as Scripture is rife with stories, parables, and images centered around food and drink. God demonstrated His care for the Israelites through the provision of quail and mannah, and His rules about food’s preparation and consumption made up much of the Jewish law. Jesus’ first miracle was centered around drink, and He went on to say that He himself was Bread and Wine. In Acts, we see the early church did much of their community around the table. In his letters to the early church, Paul used food metaphors to admonish and encourage them to continue growing in their faith.

Food is central to our lives. It seems only right that it would be central in Scripture too.

One of Ian’s favorite pastimes is throwing food onto the floor. Some weeks, we leave a bath towel on the floor under his high chair, because otherwise we constantly need to to mop the floor. When he refused to eat solid foods at all, he demonstrated defiance by repeatedly and rapidly throwing all his food on the floor. Now he’ll eat the food (sometimes), but it turns out throwing vegetables on the floor is a universal sign for “all done.”

What really gets me, though, is that when I’m not looking, he loves to go back and eat the food off the floor. He will refuse more cereal at breakfast until we put him down to play, at which point he finds every discarded Cheerio and devours them as quickly as possible.

I don’t understand it. Nothing has changed about the food except that it’s now probably covered in dirt or dust and may be slightly smooshed, yet Ian finds it completely irresistible.

When he crawls back to the table, searching for scraps on the floor, I scoop him up and carry him away. “Nope, it’s no good anymore, buddy.” It’s dirty or cold or (if I’m being a responsible parent) already swept up into the trash. If only he had said yes the first time.

Aren’t I the same way, though? God places something in front of me–a relationship or opportunity or lesson–perfectly appetizing, the right temperature, prepared just right.

But because I am a person motivated by pride and stubbornness and–even more often–fear, I often say, “No, no right now, I’m fine, thanks.” I ignore the offer or distance myself from it. Occasionally, I take so much time to muster up the courage to try it, that I miss out completely.

Only later–after I’ve played around and had some time to think about it–do I decide, “Well, you know, that doesn’t look so bad after all. In fact, it may even be good.” Because of grace, the offer may still stand at that point, but I’ve missed the opportunity to humbly and courageously show God I trust Him. I’ve missed the opportunity to be a changed person as a result.

I’m thinking about the things to which I said “yes” the first time: marrying Evan straight out of college, interviewing for a job at Summit, deciding we were ready for a baby, leading the team to Malawi. What if I had said no to these things? I want to cry when I consider–seriously consider–what my life might have been without them.

“Yes” is not always the right answer. Undoubtedly, there are some opportunities from which I need to walk away. But overall, I don’t want my fear and desire for control to stop me from fully engaging what’s in front of me. Jesus has my good at heart. I don’t want to miss out on might be really, really good.

I know that God’s already given me a place at the table. Now it’s time to partake.

Applesauce

It’s ten o’clock at night, and I just finished cleaning applesauce off the walls. (Full discloser: I didn’t technically finish, but I’ll have to try again tomorrow with a scrubby sponge and when it’s not, you know, ten o’clock.)

Evan and I have been battling the flu for days now, and now Ian is covered in a rash from hand, foot, and mouth.

I say all this just to be clear: motherhood is not always glamorous and Instagram-worthy. I can’t even clean this all up enough to post to social media under the guise of authenticity. You know, #RealLife and all that.

I feel like a bit of a mess this week. I am struggling to keep up with work, laundry, Ian, or much of anything at all.

It is in these moments–these in-between, mundane, yucky, tiring, but normal–when I most struggle to see Jesus. No tragedy, no mountain, just blah. Sometimes I count gifts and sometimes I play worship music, and all that helps, but I still can’t always shake the feeling that I am not enough, that all this is not enough.

I’ll be honest: sometimes, I just want to transcend all this, to rise above the mundane somehow. But, as soon as I think it, I hear a gentle whisper say, “That is not My way.”

Jesus was hardly one to transcend. No, He made His way among us. I think this was tricky for the disciples too. They understood when He healed the blind man and raised Lazarus from the dead: power! glory! But when He wanted to scribble in the sand or touch the lepers? What of that?

The Man got down and washed their feet, for goodness sake, and I imagine, He never once prayed for a cleaning lady like I did as I stared down that applesauce tonight.

It’s not time for me to transcend, not today. Today, I’ve got to dig a little deeper, sink down a little lower.

Happy (Another Malawi Story)

Last night, I dreamt of Malawi again. I was actually visiting another African country (though it wasn’t clear which one) at the very beginning of September (perfectly clear, because dreams are strange). In the dream, I told someone, “This is my second trip to Africa this summer.” I don’t recall how the story began or progressed, but the end was very clear: someone asked me what I learned from my trip, and I repeated the line from the end of this blog post. God is at work in Africa, and He’s at work through child sponsorship. Then, I cried. (Surprise, surprise.) Emily Freeman talks often (referencing someone else, I believe) about paying attention to the way a dream makes you feel, rather than the content itself. The content of this dream seems to speak for itself. Still, beyond that, I woke up with the strong yearning, yet again, to tell more Malawi stories. I’ve been quiet about them lately, but there are more. Today, I’d like to tell you about a boy named Happy. IMG_0158That’s him. Doesn’t his name seem to be a wonderful fit? It is. My friend Melissa sponsors Happy and another boy, Albert, both from Malawi. When she wasn’t able to come on our trip because of a pesky and unwelcome broken shoulder (as it a broken shoulder could be anything but pesky and unwelcome), our team promised to look out for them and deliver her care packages. When someone introduced me to him, I was sitting with Fotunate, struggling to talk to her. Happy immediately smiled at me and said, “Is this the girl you sponsor? Don’t worry, I’ll translate for you.” When I explained that Melissa was unable to make the trip, he said, “Oh. Perhaps I am not so happy after all.” I loved him right then and there. Happy lives in Chitipi, one of COTN’s children’s homes in Malawi. COTN operates two primary programs. The first, village partnerships, matches sponsors to children who live within their village with their parents or other family. The second program is the children’s homes, which take care of children who have lost both parents and have no other family capable of caring for them. Happy’s parents both passed away when he was quite young, though I don’t know why. I didn’t ask. For sometime, he lived with his uncle in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. “I liked living with my uncle,” he said, “but I was always hungry. Yeah, we did not have any food. Then, I came to live at Chitipi, and Melissa is my sponsor, and I am not hungry anymore.”

Happy. Always smiling.
Happy. Always smiling.

I loved talking with Malawian teenagers and college students, because they could articulate so clearly what sponsorship meant to them. For Steven, it was relationship. For Happy, it was a fully belly. For both, it was the honor of knowing that someone far, far away believes they are valuable. For a long time, Happy and I sat on the concrete gazebo floor, coloring pictures with Fotunate. He translated my questions into Chichewa and her responses back to me in very impressive English. Along the way, I learned more about him and his story. English, he told me, is his favorite subject. “Did you know Melissa used to be an English teacher?” I asked. “You two are a perfect fit.”

I wonder if you might also be a perfect fit for a child needing a sponsor. My guess is  yes, yes, and yes. Often, COTN matches children with more than once sponsor, in order to meet their needs more fully. I just checked, and it turns out, Happy is in need of another sponsor. 

A Saturday Book Review: All the World

Ok! I’ve decided to make Saturday book reviews an ongoing series here. To be honest, though, I don’t finish books quickly enough to keep up, so I’ve decided to include some children’s book reviews as well. I love children’s books, so I think this will be so fun. When I review my own reading, I’ll probably just give an overview of my thoughts, but when I review children’s books, I’ll try to include helpful information for both parents and teachers, as well as my own opinions.

I’m going to get the ball rolling with some of my favorite picture books. First up? All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee. I first read this book in a children’s literature course at UCF; we were milling about the room, exploring the illustrations in books sprawled across our tables. As I flipped through this book, I actually gasped as I turned one of the pages, because the pictures are just that striking. I love this book because it is simple one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read: Frazee’s illustrations are detailed and colorful, and the large size of the book really makes them stand out. I always think that the pictures would be awesome framed and hung up in a playroom or library.

Now, I know picture books can be expensive. You might be tempted to buy a paperback version or an iPad version but here me when I say this: you want this book in all its hardcover, book jacket, page turning glory. (And it’s only about $13 at B&N online right now! Worth it.)

All the World follows a group of people from morning to night and through various places in their community: the beach, the farmers market, a restaurant, and home. It’s a short but sweet poem that highlights the beauty in our communities and the significance of our relationships. The language is rhythmic and lovely to listen to–it would make a great bedtime story (and occasionally does in our home. I also love that the book includes multiple ethnicities, but it never seems forced or contrived.

The details:

Scholastic rates this at a mid-first grade reading level, but some of the vocabulary is a bit higher than that, for sure. Still, the repetition and sight words makes it great for early readers. I think children through the upper elementary grades will love to listen to this read aloud.

For teachers:

Use this book for mini-lessons on adjectives, opposites, and rhyming. It would also be a great book to incorporate into social studies lessons about communities, landforms, or geography. Poetry features prominently in the Common Core standards, and this is a great way to incorporate a poem & poetic features in a picture book format. Vocabulary: moat, husk, blossom, bed (as in “garden bed”), kin.

For parents:

This is a great book to initiate conversations about what’s special in your community: where does your family like to go together, how do people in your community help one another, and where are your child’s favorite places to spend time? The illustrations are wonderful reflections of the beauty of creation, and there are lots of pictures of people serving one another: great for sparking conversations about how our families can care for the environment and the people around us.

all_the_world

This book was a Caldecott Honor Medalist, but I feel like it hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves. It’s a favorite in our home, for sure, and I hope you love it too!

 Let me know if you read it with your family, or if there’s any other helpful info you’d like me to include in these reviews in the future!

What I’m Into: October 2014

oct2014

October flew by for me. I feel as though I was just putting together this post from September, and I feel a bit overwhelmed trying to process the month! But here we go anyway. (Today I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer!)

Read:

Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World (Wieseth): I enjoyed this book. It was not earth-shattering, but it’s full of good stories and lots of wise thoughts. I have been thinking a lot about how my love of stories and storytelling finds its roots in my relationship with Jesus, and Nish did a great job hammering some of that out. If you are a writer and a follower of Jesus, it will give you plenty to process.

Jesus Feminist (Bessey):  Love, love, love. You can read more of my thoughts on this book here.

Reading:

Travelling Mercies (Lamott), Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Lewis), Goblet of Fire (Rowling), Courageous Leadership (Hybels), The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family (Powell), Believing God (Moore), A Wrinkle in Time, (L’Engel)

Listened to:

Serial. I’ve Instagrammed and tweeted and told everyone I know about Serial. I’m obsessed. At first, I tried to pace myself so I wouldn’t run out of episodes, but that didn’t last very long. I sit on the edge of my seat until every Thursday, and try to save myself some mindless tasks for those days so I’ll have prime listening time. A crime drama is totally NOT my thing, but the storytelling is fabulous and the story intriguing. I don’t know what to believe! If you’re not listening, you should be.

I really enjoyed the conversation with Anne Bogel on this episode of the Influence Podcast.

Brigid Schulte on the Sarah R. Bagley pocast was so interesting. I have wanted to read her book for awhile, but now it has jumped up my list. Because she did such extensive research for her book, I think she brings a perspective and some information to this conversation that other people aren’t bringing. She also talks about the connection between her procrastination and perfectionism, which I wrote about awhile back.

Around the Internet:

I read this and this about the American Girl dolls, and was a bit heartbroken. Growing up, I read the complete series (what the heck is the plural of series?!) for Felicity, Kirsten, Samantha, Addy, and Molly. I loved those girls, and I don’t care if it sounds cheesy, but they helped me understand the important role of girls in history. I distinctly remember learning about apprenticeship, loyalists, child labor, the Underground Railroad, and food rationing for the first time in those books. I’m so disappointed to hear of the way they are becoming watered down and ethnocentric.

Why Do We Do Halloween? from Shaun Groves. Short and sweet. I have mixed feelings about Halloween, some of which are expressed nicely in this story.

What’s Behind the Great Podcast Renaissance? I don’t want to sound all hipster on you, but I have been listening to podcasts for a long time. Originally, I was just the RELEVANT podcast, the NPR staples, the Paperclipping Roundtable, and some sermons. At one point, I asked for podcast recommendations on Twitter and Facebook and didn’t get a single response. Now, I subscribe to over 60 podcasts. (though I do NOT, by any means, listen to all of those episodes!). I love them. Evan suggested at one point that I publish some podcast reviews here on the blog…is that something anyone would be interested in?

Self-Care for the Highly Sensitive Parent: (There’s that Anne Bogel again!) Like Anne says in this post, I also didn’t know I was highly sensitive (I didn’t even know it was a thing) until I read Quiet by Susan Cain. It’s part of my personality I had unwittingly fought against for a long time! I’m learning to embrace it now, and self-care is a big part of that.

Anything good to share? Send some good links my way! 

On David & Goliath

Tonight, I’m thinking about Goliath.

A few Sundays ago, the preschoolers in our children’s ministry talked about David and Goliath, and the night before–as my brain already jumped to the next day’s work–I was asking, “What should I tell my volunteers about this story? What haven’t they heard before?”

The tale of David & Goliath is one of those Bible stories we’ve all heard a million times. It’s alluded to often: David, the quintessential underdog who slays–literally–the behemoth Goliath. Small, preteen, shepherd David. Nine foot, military man, Goliath. The Royals and the Yankees. The upstart and the incumbent. David and Goliath.

One of the great joys of my job is helping my volunteers understand how the Bible story–which they will share with their kiddos in the simplest terms–applies to their own lives. Instead of asking, “What are we going to teach our kids?” I ask, “What does God want to say to me?” I’ve learned so much about what God’s up to in my own heart by engaging in this process every week. Scripture comes alive for me this way.

So, what is God saying to me through David and Goliath?

Personally, David and Goliath is a Bible story much like Noah’s ark and Jesus’ feeding of 5,000: it’s hard to actually wrap my mind around, to logically work out the details, to consider its implications for the people who experienced it. Meanwhile, we’ve packaged it as a nice children’s story for so long, it’s hard to consider with fresh eyes. That’s what I found myself thinking in front of the bathroom mirror last Saturday as I wiped away my mascara & brushed my teeth.

Am I facing any “Goliaths” right now?

Not really.

We’re healthy and our jobs our stable and our family’s fine. No storms to calm or fire to put out.

I am not staring up at a giant right now. No, instead, I’ve just got the mundane and small and uneventful: another pile of laundry, another email to send, another meal to plan, another drive to work.

Still, I find myself wondering if my stone will fly far enough.

God helps me do the extraordinary, but mostly what’s in front of me seems perfectly ordinary. I’m just the small shepherd boy, delivering lunch to my brothers, and I’m not always sure I’m doing even that well.

Still, I want to look at my smallness with fresh eyes, to see the gospel behind, before, and all around me. I want to abide with Christ, the tendrils of the vine wrapped around each moment, knowing that when I do so, each of these small tasks is gradually shaping me to look more like Jesus.

goliath_image

My ambition and pride gets in the way of all this, leaving me constantly looking for a bigger and better thing. I love David because he didn’t arrive at the battlefield posturing for some position, accolade, responsibility. He just delivered lunch.

God uses the unqualified and the overlooked, the lowly shepherd boy whose sole responsibility is delivering a meal to those seemingly doing the real work and fighting the real battles. Smack dab in the middle of our small acts of faithfulness, He hands off the job He’s been prepping us for all along.

A Saturday Book Review: Jesus Feminist

Wouldn’t this be a fun little blog series? Book reviews on Saturdays? We’ll see. 

I have loved Sarah Bessey’s blog for quite a while, so I bought Jesus Feminist almost as soon as it released. It took me awhile to get around to starting it–I hate being in the middle of too many books at once–and I’m just now, finally finishing the book.

It started slow for me. I’m not sure why. In the first few chapters, (though, in all honesty, it’s been awhile since I read them, so maybe my memory is foggy!) it was a little more cut-and-dry, a little less flowery and poetic than most of Bessey’ writing. That caught me off guard, and I had trouble getting into a good rhythm. Still, I was determined to power through and finish.

I’m so glad I did.

I’ve willingly embraced and self-identified with the word feminist for a long time: ever since the day in AP US History when Mr. O’Brien said, “Raise your hand if you want women to vote. Guess what? That makes you a feminist.” I probably identified with the word long before that, but didn’t realize why. It’s a running joke between Evan and I, when I get fired up about some issue or story and he says, “Oh, it’s because you’re a feminist. Ian, your mother is a feminist.” And we laugh. Because doesn’t that word make people uncomfortable? I guess we start to identify certain monikers with the most extreme of their followers. In the same way that we use “liberal” and “right-wing” to deride those on the other side of the aisle, we love to use labels we don’t understand to put up barriers and isolate ourselves.

Personally, I’ve wrestled with the word as I’ve wrestled with my own calling. I’m a mom. I work full-time out of the home, and I work part-time from home. I’m a wife. I’m a writer. I’m a former teacher. I work in ministry. Politically, I waver back and forth between liberal and conservative depending on the issue, and I am staunchly pro-life, but that stance means much more to me than simply being anti-abortion. All that being said, I recognize that many within American evangelicalism will have differing opinions on whether or not I’m embracing my “true calling” as a woman, and whether or not I’m exemplifying “biblical womanhood” (though I shudder to even use that expression).

I, like many women, wrestle with comparison. I fear that if I were to stay home with my kids, I might be doing my most important work but not living up to my full potential vocationally. When I work, I feel guilty that I’m not at home. I imagine this is why more women don’t self-identify as feminists, or at least aren’t talking about it. Because each of us wrestles with the idea that we are simply not enough, that we can’t fully identify with the phrase because perhaps we aren’t fully in one camp or another. But there’s a better way.

Bessey outlines how a desire to participate more fully in the building of God’s Kingdom made her a feminist. She writes, “…in Christ, and because of Christ, we are invited to participate in the Kingdom of God through redemptive movement–for both men and women–toward equality and freedom.  We can choose to move with God, further into justice and wholeness, or we can choose to prop up the world’s dead systems, baptizing injustice and power in sacred language. Feminism is just one way to participate in this redemptive movement.”

Once I hit Chapter 6, I couldn’t put this book down. I actually read Chapter 7 twice, in part because my mind needed some extra time to sort out my thoughts but mostly because it was just so good.

As the book goes on, Bessey writes about motherhood changed her understanding of God, her relationship with Him, and her sense of how He’s at work in her own life. I resonated so deeply with what she wrote in these chapters. My relationship with God had changed as a result of pregnancy and motherhood, but Bessey put it into words in a way that I could not. I practically underlined the entire chapter, and I prayed and cried my way through much of it.

Overall, though, the message of this book goes far beyond motherhood or womanhood or feminism. It’s just about the gospel. Bessey’s love for Jesus is captivating, and it oozes out of every paragraph. Her writing is humble, beautiful and encouraging, and at it’s heart, the book is about acknowledging the worth and value God sees in each of us, regardless of gender or gifting. It’s about embracing our identity in Christ, affirming that identity in others, and engaging fully in the work of building God’s kingdom.

“Rest in your God-breathed worth. Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head, dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice, and satiating your hunger with the lesser gifts of this world.”  (pg. 195)

This is a message I’ll never grow tired of hearing, and one I need to be reminded of often. I have worth and value not because of my capabilities, my accomplishments, or my choices. I have worth and value because I am a child of God.

If you flip through my copy of the book, you’ll find an awful lot of underlining. You’ll also see a lot of “Yes!” and “Love!” and “Amen” scribbled in the margins. It’s that kind of book.

“That’s the work of the gospel, isn’t it? Not me first; it’s you first–we’re all equal to serve. I want both men and women to flourish in their God-ordained self; I want women around the world to be safe and well educated, to have rights of citizenship, voting, and property; safe arrivals of their babies, the choice of marriage for love, freedom from sexual exploitation. Our energy goes toward the Kingdom as part of our participation in Kingdom living, and we do it on behalf of others first.” (pg. 195)

Let it be so, Jesus.