Monday, August 29, 2011

Epic Battle and Exciting News!

I'm pretty excited!  This blog can now be read at leannepenny.com.  Quick and Easy to remember, if you can remember how to spell my name.  So tell your friends, leannepenny.com is the place to be.  I'm surely going to rent a sky writer and some billboards later this week, but for now I'll start small.  


This morning at the Casa de Penny there was an epic battle, a saga of good vs evil that draws so many biblical parallels you can probably count it as your devos for the day.  It has rainbows and snakes, mystery and victory and even people dancing in their underwear!  So grab a cup of coffee and prepare yourself.

This morning started like any other morning at the casa, with one small difference.  Rain.  As the sun came up I noticed that our patio was wet, which can only mean one thing.  Unbeknownst to us as we slumbered, it rained.  Which if you read my post a few week ago, you know has been ridiculously rare this summer.  As we were wrapping up breakfast I lifted the shades a bit and noticed a huge rainbow stretching from one end of the sky to the other.  It appeared as though it started in a far away land and ended right in our pond.  In our excitement we took the kids out to the patio to show them a real live rainbow, which turned into our 2 year old dancing around in the drizzle in nothing but her diaper.  


The most glorious rainbow ever!  



It was one of "those moments" and for once I was aware of the momentary beauty going on around me.  I grabbed my coffee and held my baby boy as he watched his sister play and dance in the backyard.  As I enjoyed the rainbow, I couldn't help but drift to Gods faithfulness from the days of Noah to now.  He picked a pretty great way of reminding us, nice job in the rainbow department God.



As I sat there on our patio in bliss I had no idea that the makings of an epic battle were beginning behind me in our living room.  My dreamy moment was cut short as my husband, Kel, opened the door and uttered the words no one wants to hear and everyone dreads.  "Hey Baby?  I found a snake in the living room.  I'm going to go take care of it"  He made his report and returned to the front to vanquish the beast.  I frowned but decided to continue enjoying my rainbow moment as best I could.  The gauntlet had been thrown and I had complete faith that my man was on the job and that our home would be snake free in a moment or two.  I was thinking Frodo vs Sauron, Harry vs Voldemort and other very nerdy thoughts as I imagined Kel beheading the sake and raising it above his head victoriously.  Yes our house would be safe and snake free in seconds.  I should buy that man a sword or something. 

A few moments later, even worse news came.  "Baby, I can't find him anymore, maybe I never saw a snake."  But he did see a snake, and it had disappeared in our house where it would cause me pretty intense anxiety and stress until it was evicted from the casa.  How was I supposed to have a day with our kids in our house with a snake?  That snake must be found, and either killed or put in a gunnysack and driven to a remote location where it would be swung in the air until dizzy and then dumped in a field.  Clearly these are the only two options.  However victory was still elusive because the snake had gone undercover.  

I think so often I find myself in situations like this in life.  There I am enjoying a rainbow moment and a snake pops up and ruins it for me.  And rightfully so, because you can't just let snakes roam about in your life.  You have to find them and kick them right out.  Sometimes our snakes are addictions and bad habits, painful circumstances or broken relationships in need of repair.  It is very tempting to pretend they never happened and try to go about with life as usual instead of dealing with them.  Here's the thing:  You can't comfortably live with a snake in the metaphorical living room of your life, I mean it's aptly named isn't it?  The living room?  It's the room where you do life.  It needs to be as snake free as possible.  You can't very well enjoy a good episode of Grey's Anatomy or Cupcake Wars with a carpet swimming with snakes.  

So you have to pick up your snake killing tools, this morning my husband used a pair of turquoise tongs and a steamer bowl, but you should use whatever tools you have in your personal arsenal.   If you know you have snakes, arm yourself accordingly and go in swinging.  Snaky problems and issues have to be dealt with, because like a snake in your house, they will just pop up at inopportune moments and ruin things for you.  

Here are some tools that I keep in my metaphorical snake killing arsenal.  

1) Community:  Don't even try to deal with snakes on your own, call a friend, confess the issue and get encouragement, wisdom and advice.  Ask for accountability and prayer.  Do it.  Do it now.
2) Time with God:  So often I don't want to go to God with my issues because I would much rather ignore them than drag them out in prayer or on paper.  If I talk to God about them they become so much more real.  However when I do bring them out, however painful that process may be, my snakes get smaller and more manageable and they go from rattlesnakes to glorified shoe-strings types.  It always makes me wonder why I didn't go to God in the first place.  Every time.
3)  Solid teaching:  Some people who follow Jesus avoid church.  Which is not great.  I have been convicted and brought to tears at church in the middle of many battles in my life.  Those days where I am tempted not to go to church are almost always the days I need to be there the most.  If you are hurting because of a bad church experience, start by pod-casting a teaching until you deal and heal from the snake bite that's keeping you away. 
4)  Quiet Reflection:  I recommend a glass of wine in the bathtub as a perfect place to plot your snake killing plan, but maybe you are more of a walk in the park type.  And that's okay too we can still be friends, but you need to think things through.  So find your zen place and spend some time there.

So lets all grab our bright turquoise tongs and kick out a few snakes.  



Oh and by the way, Kel did end up getting the little guy, tonging him and sending him packing.  Sadly there were no gunnysacks or rides in the trunk of the car.  But, he did take him all the way across the street where he will never bother us again.  Hopefully.  

So there you have it.  A pretty exciting start to our week.  So, what snakes do you have creeping around in the corners of your living room?  I pray that this week you have the strength to find them and that God gives you the bravery needed to vanquish them.  Find your inner warrior friend, and thank you for reading.  I am so thankful for you and I pray that God helps you make this a week of Joy.


Those are my thoughts, a penny for yours?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Choosing Joy 8-28-11

I felt called to write about all the places I discovered joy this week, from the little things to the big things, it's a really quenching exercise to reflect on your week with thankfulness and see the joy no matter what your week brought with it.  So for me, here is some little springs where I was refreshed by Joy. 

This week has been a fairly average one and the week days flew by.  What wasn't average was my daughter breaking into some prescription pills on Friday.  It was a hectic moment but God is good and I don't think she swallowed any.  


So without further ado, here is what brought me Joy

Pioneer Woman Sheet Cake... stop, make it, gain a pound, deal with it.
Sheet Cake- We have started going to a new life group this summer and I am really in love with this group of people and their intentional passion for life and relentlessly pursuing God in their lives and their families.  It's no secret I love to cook and eat, and this past year I have absolutely fallen in love with Sheet Cake.  After my son was born in January a friend brought over a southern meal of brisket and sheet cake, and I have to confess I ate the entire sheet cake in less than 36 hours.  I'm chalking it up to needing calories from having a baby... it makes it seem less shocking.  Anyway, last week I remade that very sheet cake (here's the recipe) and I found so much delight in preparing it and enjoying it with friends.


Behold the tooth in all of its splendor.




The Tooth!- My almost 8 month old son has one tooth, just one, and it stick out of his bottom gums like a little monument to progress.  A butte ( love this word) in the dessert of his mouth and it cracks us up every time with see it all lonely and white.  When you have just one tooth, looking goofy is part of the territory but when you have a smile like he does, well, goofy = adorable.  



Ree Drummond's book from Black heels to Tractor Wheels:  I promise that I will get off my PW kick soon but for now you are going to have to deal with me where I am.  I read this little novel / biography in less than 36 hours and I highly suggest that you do the same.  Here's a morsel to make it even more tempting for you married types: Kel and I are going through a marriage workbook right now, just some marital maintenance.  Anyhow this book did more for my marriage than the marriage book did.  I won't say marriage anymore, but read this book, marriage!  (sorry I couldn't help myself)

I snuggled and watched this not so new release this week:   The Lovely Bones.
Movie Nights- Ask anyone who has ever worked with me, lived with me, or spent more than 37 seconds in a room with me, I don't sit still.  Period.  Ever.  I took up crocheting just so that I could watch movies, because if I can't do something with my hands then I won't make it through even the most engaging flicks.  This week however I endeavored to change that and I sat on the couch with Kel and watched a movie.  We sat on the same couch, we didn't play with our phones and with him so close with me I found something to do with my hands.  I held his hands, get your mind out of the gutter.  (We watched the Lovely Bones and Something borrowed

Rosemary Lemon Water- I'm still nursing so I can't have caffeine from sunup to sundown, nor should I, and I am trying to steer clear of diet pop too.  I also trying to continue to wear my current pants.  Along this lines I drink a lot of water.  A lot.  It gets bland, so I have started to flavor it with lemon and a sprig of rosemary from my garden.  Eureka!  Give it a try, even skeptics are coming over to my side.


My old timey rag rug.  Your grandma would be impressed ;-)

Freeeeee Sheeeeeeeets- I am making a rag rug for my kids' room out of old sheets.  It really fits with the crafty shabby chic look I strive to maintain around Casa de Penny.  Along those lines I have been scouring thrift stores around our town for color coordinating old sheets.  I wash them (because it would be nasty not to) and I rip them up and make them into a beautiful rug.  Well yesterday I had to resort to garage sale-ing for sheets because to be honest I bought all the ones at the thrift store that match my motif.  Yesterday I cruised by a garage sale that was packing up and scored 2 color coordinating queen size sheets for FREE!  I think I probably texted at least 7 people only 2 of whom cared about my haul.  I'm aware I'm the only one on earth excited about free mismatched used sheets.  

Alright, those are my thoughts about Joy, a Penny for yours?  I would love to hear about where you found joy in your kitchen, your home, and your world.  And hey, if you need a home for your old sheets, I am crazy enough to adopt them.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Celebration


 Pretty much every morning my daughter wishes me an enthusiastic “good morning!” usually followed by a “Happy Birthday mommy” which I love.  Children are phenomenal at celebration and even the simplest of things like cinnamon sugar sprinkled on pancakes can bring a level of excitement and joy that most adults won’t hit in a year.   What wall do we hit in our adolescence that forces our drive for celebration to be thrown from our lives as we travel toward adulthood?  Because I suggest that we figure out where we dropped it, pull over and get it back.

If you read through the books of law in the Old Testament you’ll notice that God repeatedly commands Israel to put celebrations and festivals in their annual calendar.  He commands them rest and celebrate, feast and festival.  And there are consequences if they decide to ignore his command, pretty serious ones like death.  Now I am not suggesting we take it that far at all, but I think that as adults we need to return to Gods call to rest and celebrate. 

We are committed to celebration in our marriage, to rest and to rhythm.  So when milestones come along we carve out time no matter where we are financially to celebrate in some way, big or small.  Our busy lifestyles tend to make us believe that celebration is frivolous and wasteful but I can assure you that God says otherwise.    I know that many of you let birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other milestones pass by without any sort of pomp or party.  I have found immense connection and joy in being intentional about the practice of celebration. 

Growing up I saw my parents repeatedly let their anniversary pass with no celebration that distinguished it from any other day of the calendar year.  I vowed that when I got married I would take elaborate trips and go out to fancy dinners on my anniversary, somewhere really nice, like Applebee’s or TGI Fridays.  Thankfully my taste in sub-par restaurants fell away but my dedication to make celebration part of my life stuck around.  So for the past few years we have taken a night at a Bed and Breakfast coupled with a fancy dinner out.  And two days ago when my daily blog hits soared above 100 for the first time I headed down to the wine shop and bought a bottle of red, and after the kids nodded off for the night, my husband and I toasted God’s faithfulness and prayed for dedication to continue down the paths God is leading us on.

I hope that God stirs you up as you read this, don’t believe the lie that any birthday after 21 isn’t worth celebrating.  Life is worth celebrating and milestones are so much sweeter and relationships deeper as a result of celebration.  God is calling you to this, what is holding you back?  Those are my thoughts, a penny for yours? 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bold

Fact:  Cinnamon Coffee is a gift straight from heaven
Fact:  I still have a massive girl crush on Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman
Fact:  My son only stops talking or squealing when he is asleep
           Sub Fact:  We have been going through a lot of advil ^


If the last week of my life got it's own catch phrase it is this: "In God, good change happens"  I mean I am cooking southern gal recipes for crying out loud, hello?  That's change. 

Up until this past month or so I lived in a pretty gray place when it came to believing the best in the about my future.  Then our church started doing a teaching series called "Bold." And more than any other series in the history of our family, we have changed for the good.  Through boldly believing in God's plan for us, much of our cynicism has melted away.  Kel and I are more in love than we have been in years and there is much butt grabbing and couch snuggling in our home again.  Rejoice!  The reason this series has had such an impact is because it has shaken the dust off our family and helped us believe in the good again.  Not all change is bad change.


Watching my Mom go through more than a 20 year battle with depression conditioned me that the power of God wasn't always enough.  That you can throw all your best intentions and efforts at life, read your bible and go to church and still sink until you drown in the pain of life.  Here is the thing: Depression is a disease I don't have, so is cancer and so is addiction.  These illnesses are not of God and he does not send them to us.  We live in a world that is sin-sick and fallen but God loves us enough not to control us like puppets.  We are in a sick world, we will make sick choices and I don't know why some are healed and some are not.  I have stopped beating my head against that wall and started living in thankfulness for my health, both physical and mental.  For me leaving behind this gray world of questioning was Bold.  Very Bold.


All the grayness of our past year has made us wonder, when God says he has plans for us, what does that mean?  Can we trust those plans?  We were living in fear of what life might bring.  And so through this last month we decided to go bold and believe.  Believe that no matter what happens, our future with God is bright.  We will obey him boldly, pray boldly, and speak bold faith to each other and over our future.  We were challenged and we are changed. 


And through these things, life around Casa de Penny is drastically different.  Kel is leading us and his college students like never before.  And me? I am pursuing my writing career, faithfully believing that my past does not dictate my future.  For me the impact of this new way of thinking is like a pebble in a pond, it changes everything.  

God is massively powerful and through him people do change.  We changed, all we are seeing people around us change too.  I am re doing my mind and tearing down all the dark wallpaper, the patterns and textures that forced me to live in fear and worry of depression, heart disease and car accidents.  I am plastering my life with God's truth and Boldly believing in a bright future full of romance, laughter and a future following a path I can't see.  This path will have more dark valleys as I journey, that is guaranteed for all of us I am afraid.  


But I boldly, BOLDLY, believe the best.  


PS- Check out the sermon series that shook us to our core.  Just podcast it, you can make time, you won't regret it.  You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.  Actually you have fear, worry and doubt to lose.  And that is a very good thing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

My prayer for now

We are always changing and growing as God calls us onward in this life.  All too often I will come face to face with a glimpse of where God is leading me and it infuses life into my weary heart.  Unfortunately the glimpse fades too quickly and within the next few days the wisdom I saw all but disappears.  God is constantly discipling me along the road and I am always on the watch for new devices or systems to keep these lessons at the front of my mind.  I tape verses and quotes on my bathroom mirror and the window above my sink.  I re-tweet relevant thoughts from teachers I respect and admire.  This all helps, but today I feel led to write a prayer, something I can change up and add to as I progress.  A personal prayer for me to repeat often to remind me where I am and where I am going, my own little litany.

So I have been jotting down notes and thoughts in my phone and on a plain legal pad and this is my "for-now" prayer.

Dear Father
You are so faithful and I am amazed at your relentless pursuit of us, me especially. 
When I take a look around my life I am amazed from the depths of my soul at the extravagant way you have blessed me.
There are no words in the English language to express how thankful I am for the gifts of my family, Kel and our two kids.  Their faces bring me a powerful joy I didn't knew existed this side of heaven.
When I look back on the journey you have taken Kel and I on, I can only shake my head and be thankful.  I ask that you strengthen and shape us into people who bring heaven to earth, both individually and together.

So often I feel small and incapable of navigating the life you put me in.  I want to be obedient to the amazing plans you have ahead of me, grant me more resolve and courage to believe myself capable of your call.
Remind me every hour that you don't need another carbon copy of anyone I compare myself to.  Strengthen me with the truth that I am uniquely equipped with a story and voice that can change the world, but only if I use it.
Banish the fear that so often keeps me from following your voice.
Help me trust what can be and not doubt because of what has been.
Help me trust and not be cynical.

I want to serve those you have placed in my life, people are a gift.  Through your spirit I want to serve them fiercely and put them before myself.
Teach me to be more of a listener than a talker and more of an encourager than one who demands praise and encouragement.  
I want to be generous in the way I give my resources to others, from my time to my money it is all yours and I want to spread it out and not waste it.

I want to be in love with today, even if it isn't ideal or where I thought I would find myself as I approach my thirtieth birthday.  
Continue to help me find delight in the small things from my morning cup of coffee to my fluffy duvet as I turn out the light.  I want to choose joy in the here and now, no matter what that means. 
Never stop calling me to connect well and deeply as I seek to push aside distractions and give my full attention to my family and friends.

Give me patience as I slow to the rhythm of your timing.  Help me to live today to the fullest as I move at your pace around each turn.

Help me to know Jesus more today than I did yesterday, to immerse myself in his way of living and to conform to his patterns.

Thank you for the wisdom that it took to meet in this moment and speak this prayer over the day you have so generously given me.

I'm ready.  Amen.

If you even feel a little called to write your own prayer "for now" I can't tell you what a valuable practice it is.  I am so thankful I have it out of my heart and onto paper, ready to be prayed this afternoon, evening and tomorrow morning over yet another 5:45 am mug of coffee.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Big metaphorical pumpkins of hope



I know I have mentioned it before but this summer has been unprecedentedly hot and dry.  Unfortunately if the weather forecasters are correct our triple digit days are slated to go until October.  This news makes my heart sink to the floor because I am running out patience with scorching forecasts.  I want to pull out my phone, flip to my weather ap and see a ten day forecast with no triple digits in sight.  Really I would like something in the 60's but I will settle for mid 90's at this point.  So I have decided to spite the weather and ignore it as much as possible.  Along these lines I have spent the late morning hauling out my fall decor and scattering it around the house.  


Fall is by far my favorite season.  Pumpkins, apples, cider?  Love it love it love it.  So I got started early this year and my bar now has a trio of harvesty candles and an apple basket, the light fixture in my dining "nook" is wreathed in leaves and I am plotting something epic for the mantle.  This morning I made pumpkin oatmeal and had cinnamon spiced coffee.  I am declaring that in my house, it is fall because I need it be fall now regardless of the weather outside.

I am actually a fan of the phrase "fake it until you make it" for some situations in life.  I don't mean that I encourage pretending, on the contrary I think I have a pretty good track record of authenticity.  However, sometimes when you are thirsty and of a change of you have to do something drastic.  Maybe you need to start living like the next season has arrived, even though it is still around the bend.   So today I am going to put a big pumpkin out as a reminder that things won't always be this dry.  For me, I need to remember that I won't always live in toddler land, my nights won't always be sleepless and I won't always be crunching cheerios when I walk to the kitchen.  Life has seasons, and this one is good albeit difficult. 

It can be confusing to figure out when you need to live the hard season that you are in and when you need to change it up.  When I was in the season of heavy grieving for my parents it would have been damaging for me if I hadn't lived in the darkness of it for a while.  However, even in that season I did need to decorate with hope and reminders that a new season would come to my life.  Sometimes we are called to bring change to our season and sometimes we need to decorate our lives with visual reminders that it isn't forever, for me right now this is a pumpkin.  In fact I am coining the phrase "big metaphorical pumpkins of hope.  It's so concise I am sure it will catch on. 

No matter what your season I promise you there is something to love about it, even if only in hindsight.  Even in my darkest seasons I have sweet memories of being surrounded with prayer and love from my closest friends and family.  You may be in one of three places as you read these words.  Perhaps today you need to pour a big glass or mug of your favorite liquid delight, whether that's coffee, wine, etc, and sip as you breathe prayers of thanks for your season.  Maybe today finds you somewhere terribly difficult and you need to pray for some big metaphorical pumpkins of hope to come along and remind you of God's faithfulness in cycling our seasons.  Or maybe you need to decorate your life for the next season as you pray for the strength to do the work needed to change your forecast.  All three of these types of seasons find their way into our lives.  


Look for a pumpkin of hope as you go through your day, and if you find it put it somewhere obvious to remind yourself that seasons change, and they are all at least a little sweet no matter the circumstances.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Peanut Butter Mouse & Expectations

Life never turns out exactly as you planned.  I know that because today as I am writing to you from my office / play room there is peanut butter on my computer mouse.  I didn't plan that, It got there because my daughter made off with a peanut butter sandwich before I realized it.  And since the peanut butter is delicious and the computer has tons of buttons there was an obvious collision.  I chuckle a little when I click the mouse and come away with a sticky palm because this is so typical of my life these days.  I'm still in yoga pants in the afternoon, we haven't left the house and as the kids nap and I switch my brain into adult mode, I find I cannot escape kid land.  


I finished college, I even did a little grad school and during those times I used up some of my mental energy envisioning myself in heels and trendy outfits working happily and efficiently in my tastefully decorated office.  Life didn't exactly turn out that way and I can pretty much pinpoint the moment I decided to put the high heels, business card lifestyle on hold.  Being a full time mom is a choice I made, but believe it or not it was harder for me than going back to work.  I like life organized and neat.  I love to click around in high heels.  I love adult conversation around wine, fancy dishes and $17 cheese.

However now, any time I clean something, my 2 year old ensures that it immediately gets messy again, there isn't room in the budget for expensive cheese and wearing heels around the house is both stupid and hazardous considering that extreme sippy cup spills are commonplace.  I have had to grow and adjust into this little people life where I give a lot more than I get.  My expectations of life were totally different than the reality I am living in.

If I didn't learn to adjust my expectations I would spend my days miserable, and I did for a while.  This concept is so much bigger than me and I am convinced that it applies to everyone on the planet.  I have stopped expecting a spotless house or dinners filled with adult conversation and I donated a lot of my heels and invested in a wardrobe that allowed me to chase my kids around and be comfortable.  

Whatever life you are living now I am sure that it's different than the one you expected to have.  I think God works like that on purpose to keep us guessing and relying on him.  You have to learn to love the life that God gave you, because if you hate it that much you should probably make a change, and if you're not willing to change you may as well fall in love with it.  

Just when I made peace with the full time Mom life God started to drop hints that he wants me to be a writer.  He loves to keep me on my toes, and I am thankful for the ways I see him using me now and on the horizon.   

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stacy's muffins

Everything we experience from the moment we are born to our last days on this planet is woven together to form our memories.  Our five distinct senses are really just doors to our memories. The smell of baby shampoo takes me back to a place of new innocence and the sight of a red convertible will always remind me of my Grandma Mac, who at the age of 69 drove a red sunbird with the top down, so cool.


The other day I was flipping back through some pictures of last October and I came across one of my daughter, naked and playing in what we call the "pillow fortress."  The pillow fortress is automatically created anytime we actually make the bed all the way and there is wall of pillows to hide in.  This photo is the last image my mom ever saw of my daughter and the email which contained it was the last correspondence I ever had with my mom.  When I saw it, I instantly I tucked my knees up to my chest and I was back in last October all over again.  My senses stopped experiencing the moment I was in and started to recreate the sounds, smells and experiences surrounding my mother's death and funeral.


The same thing happened to me last week when I was baking blueberry banana muffins in my kitchen.  I used whole wheat flour, flax and fresh fruit and as I pulled them out of the oven I was instantly taken back a few semesters back to a time when I was leading a college bible study in the hallway of our ministry.  I always tried to bring a home made breakfast of sorts that would fuel conversation as well as the bodies of the students I met with.  One student, Stacy always begged for my "healthy muffins" and they were the litmus test she used to measure anything I cooked and labeled as healthy.  "It's good" she would tell me, "But not as good as the muffins."  Stacy died this past spring and when I made those muffins I was flooded with the details of the weekend we lost her.  Those muffins made me ache for Stacy all over again.


It is funny how our senses work with our emotions to help us process grief.  I never know what small event will whisk me away to a place I wasn't planning on visiting.  I have found it best to just go with these moments when they arise rather than fight them.  Loss and pain cannot be contained and they appear in our lives as needed.  Last week I think I needed to stop and miss Stacy because this week our students are all returning to school to haul bags to class and collapse exhausted on the couches of our college ministry.  As they return to these simple rhythms of college life today I have no doubt they will find themselves missing her.  We have all lost in this life and we all encounter moments like this.


When you find yourself swept up in longing for someone who is gone, I encourage you to drift for a bit, to honor that person in your heart with memories of their life and all the color and texture they brought to our world.  Take the beauty they gave you and carry it with you as you move forward.  Grief is not weakness, it is one heart missing the unfillable hole left by the absence of another.  Never seek to replace someone you lost.  You will develop new relationships and they will all be exquisitely unique.  Though I will be blessed by new care takers and meet new students there will never be another Mom or another Stacy.


So to my college students, friends, family and all who find themselves surprised by grief.  You are strong in your remembering and to live in the face of loss is necessary, beautiful and brave.  

Friday, August 12, 2011

steak and storage containers

Writers, myself included, have a tendency to use storms as a word picture for dark and trying times.  Yesterday that was not the case for me because yesterday in my little town, for the first time in months the heavens opened up with the most glorious rainstorm of my life.  To say that the land around here is dry would be the understatement of the year.  To give you an understanding of just how dry it is:  our grass is dead, our pond is almost completely dry, no one has been able to grow a tomato in our county and the dirt is so dry that its cracking the water mains and leaving thirsty people without water.  The average rainfall for our town in July is around 8 inches, last month we got .5 inches.  I have never experienced a summer that has left me hotter or thirstier than this one.  
Yesterdays storm rolling into our backyard


Yesterday morning when the sun rose it came without scorching heat but grey clouds that rumbled in the distance.  As I watched the storm approach I opened all the shades covering the bay windows in our dining "nook" and the kids and I watched it all roll in.  As the drops blew against our windows I swear I felt quenched on a soul level.


My mind kept conjuring images of dry plants busting open with big beautiful flowers and of dry ground popping up blades of thick green grass.  As I stood there in my kitchen, coffee in hand, I realized that the quenching had been happening for the past little while, the much needed moisture soaking through me and causing seeds to sprout.


I have had experiences with a few friends lately that have reminded me of who I really am and ways in which I had forgotten to bloom.  


Last weekend we went to our friends Joley and Jason's for a cookout and before we had a chance to change her into her suit, my two year old got into the kiddie pool and then rolled in the dirt.  There was no salvaging her clothes and when it came time to wrestle her back into the house we had to opt to cross-dress her in some of their son's clothes.  When we went into his bedroom for boy clothes I noticed Joley's meticulously organized closets and I was simultaneously depressed and jealous.  They were lined with storage bins and drawers, which were both labeled and full of folded clothes.  I used to work at an organization store and in a past life would drool over a good shelving or filing system.  When I saw Joley's closets the dry seeds of my love for organization got watered.


Then earlier this week I visited my friend Sarah for our first play date/lunch at her house.  Her house is beyond gorgeous and she has the most amazing style which is sort of vintage meets shabby chic.  To top it off she made a phenomenal salad for lunch complete with roasted chicken, kalamatta olives, feta and homemade balsamic dressing.  She also introduced me to lemon water with a sprig of rosemary in it.  Sarah is an amazingly sweet person and she's also kinda fancy.  As I sipped my herbed water and admired her antique bird scones I was reminded that I used to like being kinda fancy too.  My evenings used to be cloth napkins and new recipes and I used to enjoy artisan cheeses and home decor magazines.  Somewhere along the way that part of me got so thirsty that it went dormant, but that afternoon on Sarah's couch those seeds got a little water too.  


So because of these two encounters with my friends, this week  was just a little different.  Yesterday I hauled out some plastic storage containers and organized my spice drawer as well as all my crafty stuff.  And tonight for dinner we will be enjoying seared steaks topped with mushrooms and rosemary butter and served beside vanilla bean whipped sweet potatoes and roasted corn on the cob.  I'm doing this because I am a little bit organized and a little bit fancy and when I let those parts of me bloom I am a whole lot happier.  


Please enjoy the bold and beautiful colors of my organized spice drawer.  It's okay to be a little jealous.
Along the way parts of us get dry and usually it takes interacting with someone who is blooming in an area we let shrivel to make us realize how thirsty we are for something.  So perhaps today you are thirsty for something small like organized drawers and herbed butter or maybe you are thirsting for something a much more important like God and connection.  Don't let another day go by where you choose to stay parched, turn the hose on your life and be the vividly stunning person God planted you to be.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nerd-fession

This is my confession (not an Usher song) about being a nerd, my nerd-fession if you will.  In my previous anniversary review post I mentioned that part of our anniversary celebration was a 3D viewing of the final installment of Harry Potter.  That's nerdy enough, but to truly confess I must inform you that my nerd streak goes a whole lot deeper.  I have loved two great novel series in my life, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.  I had an affair with Pirates of the Carribean and once dressed up like Jack Sparrow, but I try to sweep that one under the rug.  Nevertheless I must let my inner nerd out occasionally and now seems as good a time as any.  


Nerd Proof 1)  My husband bought mt an exact replica of the Evenstar necklace worn by Liv Tyler in LOTR for our first Christmas

Nerd Proof 2)  We bought two copies of the final book in the Harry Potter series because we couldn't share and had to finish as soon as possible.

Nerd Proof 3)  I saw LOTR Return of the King at a 12:01am showing and then went back to see it 4 more times.

Nerd Proof 4)  I had my name translated into elvish, it's Tari Nienna.  Which is pretty awesome, you know... if you're on your way to a sci-fi convention.

There.  I feel so much better after confessing my inner nerd.  So, back to last weekend when I was watching the Harry Potter Finale in budget breaking 3D IMAX.  I won't spoil anything but in the final scenes where wands and spells were flying and the students and faculty of Hogwarts were striking blows against Voldemort and the bad guys I found myself incapable of containing myself.  And I actually began to cheer out loud in my theater seat.  My heart was wrapped up in the story on screen and it seemed as if my future depended on the good guys defeating evil in the film.  That my friends is a sign you are in a good movie, but as we walked out of the theater I started to reflect on why is it I love a well written good vs evil epic series so much.

Feel free to call me corny, I've already confessed to nerdy, but I see and feel strong connections between these fictional stories and what I have experienced about life.  If you have read or watched either Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, you know that the basic premise of the story can be broken down like this.  Good people are forced to fight very bad guys in order to go about the basic business of everyday life.  In each series there is a dark lord trying to wipe out all that is good in the world in order to achieve ultimate power.  And the little guys have to step up and fight for the most basic of freedom.  In each story there is one article, be it a ring or a wand through which all can be ruled and forced into dark submission.  

Can we all be honest?  Sometimes life feels like that.  Battle language is spread throughout the bible, and when times get tough we all feel like we are in a battle for our very survival.  While I am confessing I can honestly tell you that in the darkest days of my life, after my parents died, I fought for very basic things against a very dark force, death.  When death, illness, divorce or loss comes you do have to stand your ground and fight hard.  The bible I read does portray a story of good vs evil, and as God released the whole book all at once we don't have to wait to find out who wins in the end.  

That brings comfort but doesn't take away all the pain of fighting in today's conditions, where the enemy still prowls and seeks to steal our joyful life.  I think in some way we all resonate deeply with some version of these two stories.  We have all fought our own versions of these epic battles and we all have scars and tales to tell.  And so I say, thanks be to God we are still fighting, and kudos to us for refusing to surrender the spirit.  Be honest about your battles, both won and lost, and share your story.  Someday when my kids are old enough to understand I will regale them with my stories.  I will tell them of the times where something dark crept in and tried to steal my soul out of me, I will tell them how I fought, how God came through and I will make sure they understand that that is why I am able to sit with them that day and explain the past.

I don't know where you are today in your battle.  Maybe you are in a time of peace, resting your soul from a previous fight.  Maybe today you are fighting something dark, just trying to survive.  To you I say: keep fighting.  Contact me and let me know if I can pray for and support you.  Reach out to those who love you, ask them to revive and encourage you.  We are in a battle friends, so stand strong, remember who you and who sustains you.

If you need some encouragement pop Lord of the Rings, return of the King into your DVD player or head on over to the theater to catch the latest Harry Potter movie.  As nerdy as it may seem, there is truth in those films and a beautiful reminder that in the end, love wins.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Marriage advice from a Jello Mold

This past Friday my husband and I celebrated our fifth anniversary.  We were blessed to have overnight childcare, so we took advantage of it and booked night at a Bed and Breakfast in Edmond, OK.  Before we checked in at the B&B we made an ultra nerdy move and watched the final Harry Potter movie in 3D IMAX, definitely the best and most expensive movie going experience of my life.  $45 for tickets and snacks, I mean seriously?!?!  For dinner we got a corner booth at Lottinvilles a few miles from our hotel and reflected on the past year over pork tenderloin with chutney and sourdough chicken fried steak.  

This past year has certainly run the gamut of peace and storm, of joy and pain.  We took turns sharing moments and memories as well as lessons learned.  I firmly believe that wisdom and truth is made to be shared like a good piece of cheesecake, and so here is a slice of what I have discovered in my small yet significant five years of marriage.  

1)  Be a Safe Haven not a critic-  I am a bit driven and my husband is more than a bit relaxed.  For the first four years of our marriage I considered it my personal job to motivate him and point out every lesson that could be learned around every corner.  When his plans failed, instead of being there to mend his wounds I was there in the fray, highlighting the failure.  One day I realized how harsh I was being, that life beats us up all the time, and what we both needed in our marriage was a place where it was safe to fail.  Failure is inevitable in life and when your home is a safe haven to heal, you can grow stronger together while at the same time still growing and learning from your mistakes.  The seeds of this lesson were planted from a chapter called "steak frites" in the book Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist.    I recommend both of her books.  

2)  When times get tough don't be each other's enemies-  After my Mom died, Kel and I were both shocked, raw, and we lost our bearings.  Rather than healing side by side we took turns tearing each other down and keeping score of who was doing the worst job in our marriage.  We focused on what we weren't doing for each other and how we weren't measuring up.  We became each other's enemies instead of being an encouragement and support.  This is a tricky lesson to learn and carry out because the dark times in life have a tendency to strip you of the ability to serve each other.  If you are both completely empty, I have learned it is better to coexist in peace and draw strength from God and the support system surrounding your marriage until you have enough strength to support each other.  No marriage is an island and when both of you are knocked to the ground, heal in peace and allow yourselves to be carried until you have legs again.

3)  Have fun in the little things, life will always give you enough serious-  We will both admit that we took everything too seriously these past five years.  There wasn't enough laughter, dancing or inside jokes.  We are learning to be silly with each other, to laugh about what would seem downright dumb to anyone looking from the outside in.  This may seem trivial or easy, but it is so easily lost along the way of life.


4)  Don't run the extraordinary in search of the perfect- This was the best anniversary we have ever had, and the greatness of this day was not contained in the quality of the food or the fanciness of the bed and breakfast, but in the relaxed and casual air that flowed throughout the day.  Instead of expecting a perfect gift and a surprise around every corner, I just expected to have the rare gift of a whole day of one on one time with the guy I love.  We chatted about life and all of its ups and downs and we went garage sale-ing for our anniversary presents.  I finally got that jello mold I have been wanting all these years for $1 at a knights of columbus sale.  I'm bringing jello molds back like Justin Timberlake brought back sexy.  I think the used jello mold sums up the whole concept, It's not a five year diamond band but I think I love my Tupperware jello mold more than anything fancy or frivolous.  


and yes I also scored a tremendously vintage-cool deviled egg platter which will soon contribute to the plate mural I am creating for the dining room wall.  Oh and small food prep ramekins.  Because lets be honest, you can never have too many of those.... 


So these are my lessons, my victories.  I would love hear about yours as we quilt our lives together and savor the truth we find around the bend.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bread and Water in the everyday

Like the new look?  I'll assume you do and so do I.  The hidden penny "where's waldo style" banner is the new norm and it will change with the seasons and my whims.  For now please enjoy these zinnias, they are the only thing besides basil that survived in our garden this stifling summer. 

Every time I am blessed to witness a baptism celebration, I cry, regardless of how well I know the people being baptized.  No matter what emotion I came into church with, the moment always brings me to tears because of the deep and powerful moment in front of me.  I also cry nearly every time I take communion and I think these tears come out of a very thankful place, deep inside of me.  This well of thankful tears springs up to God because he is so alright with my humanity that he gave me the simple but powerful practice of both baptism and communion.


If you were to make out a list of things you do on a daily basis, I can assure you that eating and washing yourself would make the cut.  Some of you may eat and wash more or less than others, but the basic human need is still a common thread we share.  So when God gave us the gift of Baptism and Communion he centered them around everyday elements and in doing so they have a not so simple impact on us.  They are multi-faceted and can serve to connect us to God no matter where we are when we approach them.  


The reason that we shower and or bathe on a daily basis is that we pick up grungy stuff as we go through a day of life.  The same is true with sin, each day we live life on this earth, some sinful moments will stick to us.  The beauty in baptism is that we don't have to repeat this practice daily, weekly, or even annually.  What we must do, however, is remember our baptism and all that it means in our daily sin-sticky lives.  Our sins are forgiven and when we take time to talk to God about it we have that fresh out of the shower feeling knowing that he washes away our sins always and permanently.  


Communion for me is a sweet reminder every time I walk up to the table.  It uses the elements of bread and wine as a reminder of our daily and constant need to be fed through the sacrifice of Jesus.  There are so many facets to the gift of communion and one thing I always remember when I approach the communion table is the promise not only of forgiveness but of restoration.  No matter how broken I feel that day, God always reminds me that he is in the process of healing the broken pieces I see scattered across my life.  I live in a world that is full of the love and hope of God, but still waiting for the full promise to be realized.  


And so I fall in love with my God over and over again through the simple elements of bread, wine and water.  He loves me enough to give me tangible pictures to bridge the gap between us.  I so easily forget the freedom I have in him and  I lose sight of his promise to heal our broken world.  And so when I see someone washed in the water, or I walk up and eat the bread and wine, I remember my God who loves me exactly where I am, and I am amazed and how willing he is to meet us in the everyday places.  
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