The Way to the Manger: Ruth

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I had the privilege of writing a post about Ruth–one of my favorite women in Scripture–for our church blog.

When Ruth’s story begins, I’m struck by how much is missing. Famine left Ruth’s family without food and without a home. Death leaves her, Orpah, and Naomi without husbands and without provision. Mostly, their story is characterized by everything they lack.

Burdened by grief and worry, Naomi can’t see past that scarcity. She tells her daughters-in-law, “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:21). I don’t fault her for feeling this way.

The Christmas season is often marked by abundance: commercial-free Christmas music, piles of snickerdoodles heaped onto reindeer-shaped platters, Santa’s red sack overflowing with goodies. Lights and tinsel and visions of sugar plums! It’s a lot.

But no doubt, some of us find ourselves more like Naomi: lacking. Perhaps we lack the money to buy gifts for everyone on our lists, or perhaps we lack family to spend the holiday with. We lack the job we want, the kids we hoped and prayed for, the car that runs smoothly, or the clean bill of health.

Is there more that you are wishing for?

Read the rest at the Summit Church blog.

Embracing Slow & Simple

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I tell everyone that Evan is Buddy the Elf–he wants all Christmas, all the time. I, on the other hand, enforce a very strict no Christmas until after Thanksgiving policy. Normally, this means Evan is putting up Christmas decorations behind my back through all of November, and I pretend to be very mad about it.

This year, however, we don’t have a single decoration up in our house. No garland around the white staircase bannister (my favorite), no stockings hung from the fireplace, no Christmas village up on the bookshelf. We didn’t get a tree because we couldn’t imagine how to keep Ian from pulling it down on top of himself, but for the rest of it, we’ve simply lacked time and energy: Evan is knee-deep in writing his dissertation and prepping for his pre-defense, and I am in the middle of interviews and hiring decisions.

Wait a minute! I take it back: we do have one decoration up. On December 1st, I wrote “25 Days Until Christmas” on the small chalkboard that sits on our mantel. I promptly forgot that it was meant to be a countdown, and it still says “25”.

I’ve been having trouble feeling the Christmas spirit this year, and I realized while talking to some good friends that I was waiting for the shoe to drop. I was walking around asking, “What terrible thing is going to happen, and when?”

The past two Decembers have been a strange mix of the greatest joy and acutest sadness. In November 2012, we found out we were pregnant. A few weeks later, our pastor resigned and I learned I was losing my full-time job. (I always think that perhaps God waited to provide our baby until exactly that time because He knew we would need a reason to rejoice.) Last year, in 2013, that same pastor died. Within days, our good friends’ home was burglarized and Sandy Hook happened. At the same time, we took Ian to Sea World and bought him a Christmas gift and celebrated our first holiday season as a family of three. Deep sadness, abounding joy, all at once.

It left me a little bit tired. Emotionally spent, perhaps.

Once I realized that’s what was happening in my mind and heart, it’s been easier to let go a bit and ease into the season.

Still, I am craving rest and quiet, and we are embracing slow and simple. I think I’ll hang our stockings, and we have two parties this weekend, but I am drinking my hot cocoa with two hands, and I am choosing to write instead of sweeping the floor. We have no tree, but “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is playing on an almost endless loop.

On some days, I’ve read the devotional on shereadstruth.com. Other days, I’ve opened Ann Voskamp’s new devotional for kids, sharing my favorite lines with my volunteer team. Most days at work, I grab an Advent book from the resource center in the church lobby, lean against the counter there, and savor the day’s reading. Nothing consistent, but still surprisingly intentional.

I thought that making the season meaningful–celebrating it intentionally–meant sucking the marrow out of every moment, and making space for all good things. If I didn’t get the decorations up quickly, they couldn’t be fully enjoyed. If I didn’t follow a devotional all month, I’d missed an opportunity.

But I’m learning that slow and simple is no less intentional. I’m not trying to cram a single thing in: as it fits, I’ll embrace it. And in the meantime, I am catching Jesus in the small moments of my days, and eagerly anticipating the hope of His birth more than ever.

Side note: A few hours after writing this, after hammering away at his dissertation for awhile, Evan got in the spirit. Our stockings are hung, some paintings are on the wall, candles are on the mantle. Still simple, but more festive.

*image via

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.

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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.

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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

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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!