Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Word for 2011


You know how some people pick a word for their year? Many do this in January, casting out a vision for what they want to devote themselves to that year. Hope. Contentment. Gratitude.

We have a word for 2011. It wasn't a word we picked in January. It's a word we have now as the year is wrapping itself in closure. It's a word that over the last twelve months carved itself into our hearts.

That word is:
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This year we made the biggest leap of faith we've ever made. Bigger, you say, than leaving all we knew five years ago for the unknowns of the Chinese kingdom? Yes. We were just a couple of newly weds ready for an adventure. And we had a fully loaded support account. And we had an organization to hold our hand. And we knew quite clearly that this was God's calling for us.

This year, we left everything we knew for the unknowns of the California kingdom. With a couple of little lives depending on us. And no idea this would work financially. And no one to hold our hand. But we did know quite clearly that this was God's calling for us.

Here's the thing about leaps of faith. When you work up the gumption to actually jump, you hope that you'll quickly be rewarded with the solid feeling of security under your feet again. But when we made this leap, we felt suspended in the air, waiting, waiting … wondering if we would land on our feet or crash on our faces.

And like Peter stepping out of the boat, we began to look at the waves and the wind around us. And like the disciples in the other storm with Jesus asleep in the stern, we cried out,“Lord, don't you care if we drown?!”

But one soggy step at a time, we moved forward. Sometimes up to our necks in doubt, but still moving, still waiting. Every job lead gave us hope, every possibility that fell through brought more swirling doubt. We're ashamed to admit that we even wondered if we'd heard wrong. Was this calling to pursue this degree, this mammoth research not divinely inspired, but conjured up on our own?

Then its own dreadfully slow way, light began to pierce the clouds. A gift and a note of encouragement. More waiting. Another job interview lined up. More waiting. A job! Yet the numbers don't add up. More waiting. Then at last dawn broke open the sky, and grace poured out. A higher salary than promised. An unexpected scholarship. A nine credit hour reduction.  An email to say, "How can I help you financially?"   

Faith became sight. We can see the way for this dream to grow real.

And in the dawn we see the face of the One who held our hand the whole time. A fatherly, knowing grin spreads across His face, as if to say, “I've got you, remember?”

This is how faith grows, through the fog and the waves. And here's the thing. If our story this year had been different, if we had felt a crash instead of the dawn, He STILL would be there holding our hand. And that would have been enough.

Somehow, for some purpose, He is making a way for us to put the pieces of education and experience together to make a tool for Him to use. In the process He is etching faith deeper into our lives. To each of you who have been a part of our story, who have given your encouragement, your support, your prayers, we thank you. You watered our tiny faith seed. And for that there are no words to spell our gratitude.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cake Pops and Other Foods on a Stick


This Christmas season I decided I must break out from the normal array of baked goodnesses and try something new.   After tasting a Starbucks cake pop at a Christmas party, I fell in love with these adorable treats and determined to recreate the chocolaty richness with the festive hint of peppermint for a fraction of the cost.  Understand that I was in China when cake pops first exploded onto the baking scene, so I feel a bit like I've missed the bus.  But I'm gonna drive my own cake pop bus.  Here it is.  




If you've had cake pop flops before, try this video.   My spin on it (or should I say, "My Starbucks copy-cat spin on it):  Chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, dipped in almond bark and sprinkled with crushed candy cane.  Must put them in the freezer vs. fridge before dipping.     

This got me thinking about China (as most things do) and made me think of how much the Chinese love food on a stick.  Here are a few of our favorites:
                                        
                                        
                                          Lamb on a stick -  Roasted over charcoal...mm, mm! 



                                           Pineapple on a stick - fresh, juicy, delish


Seahorses, beetles and scorpions on a stick -  (ok, ok, not really a favorite for us or the Chinese.)


Just something to do so you can say you did it!  And yes, I ate scorpion on a stick too (before kids).   Something about child birth removes the need to do crazy things just to say you did it.  

    
Could cake pops make it in China?  Probably the one food on a stick that wouldn't fly there.   Too sweet for the Chinese tooth.

I had planned to put a picture of Ellie eating a cake pop.  I handed her one and said, "Here, hold this."  I then went to grab the camera, took a little too long finding the camera, came back and....the cake pop was gone.  Apparently, they were irresistible.  :)  


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mary's Story For Me This Year


In some way or another, every Christmas I find myself stepping into Mary's sandals, wondering what it would be to conceive and birth the Son of God.  Just like every other little girl's Christmas pageant dream, I coveted Mary's blue robe.  As a thirteen-year-old girl listening to Mary's song, I remember putting my hand on my stomach, imagining Life inside.  I envisioned the Mary-me saying, "Really, Dad, this is a virgin pregnancy, I promise!"

This year as I advent through this season, I've gathered up some more Mary thoughts and pondered them in my heart. 

This year what strikes me about the Madonna is the transitions she went through to follow out this God breathed plan for her.  Transitions - life uprooting, tear-jerking, hurry-pack-it transitions were a part of her story too.  Nazareth cozy home. Three month hide away with Elizabeth. Bethlehem stanky stable.  Red-eye flight to Eygpt.  Life as the foreigner.  Back home to Nazareth. Home now as a woman, a far cry from the girl that left on the back of a donkey. 

Oh, for a glimpse into the daily blog of Mary during these years.  Or to chat over chai, "How DID you do it?"  

We have no blog.  No papyrus journal.  No Starbucks date.  Just a few quotes and a song.  But what richness in these small glimpses.

Sweet surrender to the overwhelmingly daunting.   "I am the Lord's servant.  May it be to me as you have said."    

This sweet surrender moves a troubled heart and fearful mind to boundless rejoicing and bold strength.  Have you read Mary's song lately, I mean really read it?  It makes you want to stand up and shout, "Preach it, Sister!"  Gone is the timid girl with her water jar whispering "How can this be?"

Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  Living in the now, not missing the wonder, she strung together the pearl of each gift, fingering each one gently.  And when he cried out on the cross, "I am thirsty," she saw the infant nuzzling for her breast.  She clutched those pearls, grasping through her searing pain the promise of Who He Is.




To me this year, the beauty in Mary's story is how God gave her just the pearl she needed, when she needed it most. 

What did God deliver to her along with the rock-my-world-upside-down news of the immaculate conception?  A kindred spirit, a fellow warrior, a someone-who-gets-me, an Elizabeth.  When you think about it, there's really no logistical reason that John and Jesus had to be in utero at the same time.   John could have been a few years older and prepared the way just fine.  I think the dual pregnancies had nothing to do with the boys and all to do with the mamas.  God knew the way he wired women to bond in pregnancy.  Imagine bonding through super-natural pregnancies.  God gave Mary the soul food of friendship, a companion who spoke blessing and joy and truth into Mary to bolster her through what was surely a lonely road ahead. 

And then there was Joseph, that pearl of such worth.  The partner, sustainer, the strong in my weak.  Their hearts He made one, to walk this road through.  With him she was more.  This gift she let go of, in willing submission, He gave back to her with the joy of a Giver.  There he'd be with her stringing pearl after pearl, living out life's messes and marvels.

God gave angel announced worshipers when she was probably lying exhausted in a pile of bloody stinking hay with a torn up old dress of a baby blanket, wondering, "REALLY?  This is supposed to be the Son of God and he's entering the world like THIS??"  (At least, that's what I would have thought.)  But then to look up and see shining shepard faces, eyes all aglow with wonder and awe, voices all hushed, but bursting to shout.  They clamor to tell of the sight they have seen, the symphony heard, the angel dust still falling from their shoulders.  Mary breathes out a wobbly breath into the wisps of His still wet hair.  Yes, yes.  This is exactly how He's entering the world.

Just what she needed, all that she needed, these pearls He provided.   




   

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My "I'm a Bad Mom" Week

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So you know the post I wrote about wanting to be Super Woman?  And how I'm trying to stop chasing the dream of being her?  Well, last week all illusions that I ever could be her have come crashing down into one big messy pile at my feet. 

Crashing Moment #1: Friday night we left the apartment in a whirlwind.  The kitchen was still a disaster from dinner, but there was no cleaning and getting there on time.  And so I left it all, even the bits of chicken fat on the cutting board.  Gross, I know. We came home to find a thousand ants swarming the cutting board. Gag, gag, shiver and gag.  

Crashing Moment #2: I had all these happy little hopes for our advent activities.  I knew it would be a stretch for Aiden unless he was in the right mood.  Well, he was definitely in the wrong mood on our first day of advent.  I finally got him happily distracted with balls, of course, only to find that the glue was maddeningly nowhere to be found.  Taping took much longer, so that Ellie lost interest.  And when I tried to summarize our little lesson, her contrariness kicked in and she purposefully gave me the opposite answers to my questions.  Me:  "Ellie, Jesus is the what? (Answer: Light)  Ellie:  "The dark!"  Sigh.

The Crashing Series:  It feels as if Ellie and I have been in one long epic battle this past week.  All the dailies of life, the hair brushing, the clothes wearing, the chore doing, the sibling sharing, the "no, you can't do that" become a warring of the wills that wears. me. out.  Did you ever look at someone's kid before you had kids and subconsciously think, "My child will never be that disrespectful or disobedient"?  I did.  I thought discipline + loving affection = good kid.  Turns out it's not so simple.  I'm not saying I think Ellie is a "bad kid."  But she is proving this past week, perhaps more than ever before that rebellion is steeped in her bones.  And I know that just means she's human, a member of the fallen race in need of redemption.  But here's what it feels like:  I'm a bad mom.

I was stuck in the "I'm a bad mom" rut, focusing on all the negative, defeated before the next battle even began.  It was a terrible place to be.  I hate admitting all of this, showing you this big messy pile of my crumpled Super-Mom-Wanna-Be fascade.  But in my commitment to vulnerability, I'm doing it anyway, because I know that it does my heart good to hear that other moms have these weeks too.  That I'm not alone.  Togetherness brings great comfort and hope.

Here are some other truths that are helping me climb out of my rut:

This too shall pass.  I find it easier to handle Aiden's toddler tantrums than I did when Ellie was that age.  I haven't found any magic solution, I just know that there's really only so much you can do until they grow out of it.  They need time to learn how to handle this big world.  Since we haven't passed through preschoolhood yet, it's easy to think this is just the way she is.  Remember, Self, give her the grace to grow through this.

This iron will of hers, this passion that pumps in her blood may very well become her greatest strengths.   

For all the rivalry that exists between my kids, they need each other like a cowboy needs a horse.  Their love is thick and strong.  Aiden's often waking words are "Where Eh-yay?"

Seeds are taking root.  The first thing Ellie does when Daddy walks through the door is show him her advent ornament, chattering on with the complete and correct retelling of the lesson.  

Remember what's worth it.   I could have stayed home to clean up my chicken fat, but instead I chose to go soak up our first taste of American Christmas as a family, relishing in the richness of the old carols, the wonder of candle-lit faces, and the joy of fake snow.  And that was worth a thousand dead ants. 

If I am so focused on the messy pile of failures and frustrations at my feet, I will miss the wonder of it all, the gift of each moment, the sweetness of each kiss, the awe of lives sprouting before my eyes.    






I don't know if my truths do anything for you, but they are helping me.  What do you do on your "I'm a Bad Mom" weeks?  And please tell me you have them too!   

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wonderful Advent Book for Little Ones

So I don't intend to use this blog to push products.  But if I come across something super great, something I'm really glad someone told me about, I'll tell you about it here.  Here's my super great find:



It's an e-book you can buy for $4.99.  It's an advent guide for parents of little ones, mainly preschool and early elementary.  I think Ellie will adore it, and I'm hoping Aiden will go along with it. 
It's has:
1.  Short daily devo with a great "clue" idea to make it interactive. 
2.  Two different options for an advent calendar/count down to Christmas
3.  A Christmas ornament craft for every day that ties in with the devo

I've been reminded lately of the power of remembrance.  And holidays are the great rythm of remembrance for our lives.  I want my littles to grow up with a deep sense of tradition in the midst of their transitory lives.  I want them to grasp the richness of the Sacred Story, reliving it in the vividness of their imaginations each and every year.  And I think this little book will help us do that.

To be honest, I bought the book and was a bit overwhelmed when I looked at the craft supply list.  And the thought of doing a craft every single day is well, just not very realistic for me and mine.  But as the author encourages, you don't have to do them ALL.  She offers a few ideas for paring it down a bit.  My personal hope is to attempt HALF of the ornaments this year and complete the set next year.  I'll pick and choose ones that I have the supplies for now (plus a few little purchases) and then have all year to gather the supplies for the remaining ornaments next year.  Who knows, even attempting half may be a bit of a lofty goal, but we shall see. 

Regardless, I think the devos and advent calendar will be Christmas soul food for my children.  If you're interested buy yours here today!  Cuz tomorrow is December 1, people!  Which is very weird, because it's currenty 67 degree and over the weekend it was 80 degrees.  And when I say weird, I mean, AMAZING.  The paper snow flakes taped to my window more than satisfy any desire I might ever have for cold. 


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What are your favorite traditions (new or old) that make the holidays special?         


Sunday, November 27, 2011

On Shopping, Contentment and The OC



China did a lot of things in us.  We're still processing what those things are, but one thing I know, China helped me to be content with less, with simple.  And I surely needed this, because it's not my natural bent.  I like things.  I like nice things.  But when you see people living simple lives free from the trappings of stuff, stuff and more stuff, it has an affect

Don't misunderstand, China is on the fast train of consumerism, headed straight to materialism.  But in general, the people we knew lived with far less than the average American.  And when a Chinese friend walks into your home, you can't help but try to see it through their eyes, and the excess stands out like it's been coated in highlighter.  

I wish I could say that these things alone caused me to simplify our lives and our "want" list.  But the truth is that it took a little more to force us into it.  Here's what it took: 

We've known our homes are temporary.  So we don't put too much into decorating or home improvement.  And while I miss having colored walls, it just doesn't seem worth the expense or effort when we know we're not here to stay.  We've learned that hand-me-down furniture is great, and simple pinecones from the park can make for simply beautiful decor.  Not allowing yourself to indulge in finery teaches you that you can be totally fine without it. 

In China I rarely bought clothes and never bought shoes.  Requesting the equivelent of an American size 9 shoe brought laughter from shoe vendors.  Long sleeve shirts almost never reached my wrists.  Since I skipped coming back to the US the summer before we moved back, it had been two years since I last went shopping in America.  I kind of expected myself to go a little shopping crazy upon our arrival.  Instead, in the five months since we've been back, I've bought two shirts and a pair of $10 shoes for myself.

We currently living on a tighter budget than we've ever lived on before.  Forced frugality has a way of dividing your "want" list into a much smaller "need" list.  And there's something quite freeing about that, a sense of "this is how we should be living anyway."

But here's the thing.  The longer I live in the OC, the harder it is becoming to live contentedly with less.  I'm becoming more in tune with the fashions of the day, and the internal wiring of my womanhood shouts "Compare and Compete!"  So I take a whole afternoon by myself to go shopping for myself (with hubby's approval), and after a few hours of fussing over the fittings and gagging over the prices, I come back with...nothing.

Here's what bothered me more than my empty shopping bags and my wasted time - my heart.  The contentedness wasn't there.  My heart had convinced itself that it could have been content with those knee high boots (if only they were in my price range), and that dress (if only it weren't too short), and that sweater (if only they'd had my size).  I wasn't content without them.  I believed the lies.  But here's truth: 

Real contentment has no "if only's." 
Real contentment can be in the OC and not of the OC.  
Real contentment can look at those with more without envy and without judgment.
Real contentment looks at those with less and is moved to sacrifice for them. 
Real contentment is a heart dwelling in the reality that I have the hope of Glory, the well spring of Life, the gift of Presence residing in me. 

And I let a little shopping trip get me down?  Really

Lord, slip me back into reality.     


Photo found on http://mamasonadime.com/2011/04/retail-coupons/shopping-bags/
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Ladies, does your womanhood shout "Compare and Compete"?

                           
     

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Thankful Heart is a Happy Heart


For Thanksgiving we invited some of Aaron's students to join us.  And so gathered round our table was the world - Russian, Jordanian, Korean, and Kazakh.  Hearts far from home, trying to find their way in this new land.  I hope they tasted warmth and joy.  My heart was as full as my little home.


Memories to bottle up:

     -  My mom was here.  For the first time in years, our hands together prepared the feast.  Somehow we didn't think to take a picture.  

     -  The day before Thanksgiving, my uncle who I met once twenty years ago, showed up and spent a hundred dollars giving my kids their first Chucky Cheese experience.  What?!



     -  Ellie got a little Aunt time in.

     -  While we pulled out the Christmas decor, Ellie pranced around shouting, "Happy Christmas, Everyone!"
 
     -  Upon plugging in the lights on the tree, Aiden attempted to blow out each light. 



     -  Thanks to Grammy's babysitting, the hubs and I got a post-Thanksgiving lunch date.  We found a gem of a restarant in Little India.  I wanted to drink the curry sauce.  Instead I sopped up each bite of naan, while soaking up my husband's company.



I'm learning thankfulness is the fuel of the peace and contentment life.  So as we roll into the season of doing and wanting and buying, may my heart and yours breathe slow with gratitude, quieting our souls to await the Savior's birth. 

Our thankful tree




 



 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I'd Like You to Think I'm Super Woman

This is posted under the "about" tab, but since it's the heart of me and my blog, I thought it deserved a post all its own. 
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This blog is my attempt to take off my good girl mask* and show the world who I am.  For so long I have tried to be worthy of your approval, hoping to impress you, fearing I may disappoint you.  I'm in the process of quitting, quitting this worry-filled, try-hard, have-to-do kind of life.  I'd rather have the peace and contentment life.  The dumb thing is that for years I have been seeking this peace and contentment life by trying hard to get it, doing all the must-do-things that we're taught make it happen, and then worrying why it wasn't happening.

But you probably wouldn't know that.  Because, like I said, I wear this mask to impress you.  I like for you to think I have it all together.  I'm the good girl who's always gone to church, homeschooled (minus the denim jumper), never did anything scandalous, went to Bible college, married my first boyfriend, served the Lord in far away countries, and naturally birthed my two babies in those countries.  I'd like you to think I'm super woman, a great wife, amazing mom, joyfully trekking my family back and forth across the globe doing incredible things for God.

The truth is, the last seven years of marriage, motherhood and this life we've chosen have only showed me that I am nothing of the super woman I always wanted to be.  (Insert lots of tears)

But here's what God's been showing me: I DON'T HAVE TO BE!  (Exhale big sigh of sweet relief.)

It's a slow awakening.  I often fall back into blurry, fitful super woman dreams.  But this blog is me taking a step in the journey.  Or rather it is about me sitting down on my journey.  Because the journey is not about heading towards a goal of becoming someone I hope to be.  He wants me to stop trying to acheive this ever allusive goal of being better, and be who I already am.  Broken.  Redeemed.  HIS.

This is me being free.  Free to be...Not Yet There.  I have not arrived.  I'm going to stop trying to fool you into believing I have.  This is me being right where I am, in the bosom of my broken, redeemed HIS-ness and sharing that with you.       

*The phrase "good girl mask" comes from Emily Freeman's "Grace for the Good Girl."

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Can anyone relate to any of this? 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Blog?


I've decided I must blog.  I must cast my voice into the internet sea, hoping to be heard.  If you know me, you know that blogging is not new for me.  You also know that I haven't touched our old blog (downtownchinatown) in ah...two years.     

So why the new blog?  A lot of reasons actually. And for the grand opening, here they are:

Because...

In my bones I am a writer. Not a writer, as in, I deserve to be published, but a writer, as in, when God gathered the dust to make me, he sprinkled some writer in. For me to be me, I need to write. Every major point in my life has been expressed through writing. As a nine-year-old girl, I wrote down my conversion story on a bright orange piece of paper. When I left as a freshly graduated eighteen-year-old for the unknowns of an Ecuadorian village, I said goodbye to each of my family with a letter. I greeted my groom in a garden on our wedding day...with a letter. As newly weds following a calling on our hearts, we chronicled our life in China on our blog. The life-giving experiences of my childrens' births were, of course, recorded. Nearly every time God has touched my heart in some way, I had to write it down. For me, writing makes it real. Writing makes it matter.




I've let it wither. Despite the fact that writing is so important to me, and despite the fact that the past few years have been among the most transformational years of my life, I have been writing almost nothing. I've let this writing gift wither. My excuse? Well, I had kids. And they kind of take up nearly all my waking hours. But this season of life means too much to not write it out. This is my attempt to breathe life into a part of my soul that has been parched.

To remember... How many memories are lost because I didn't take the time to write them down? How many life lessons are forgotten because I didn't record them? I want to remember, to remember it all, all the God-touches of my journey, all the heart cries of my struggles, each and every unrepeatable phase of my precious little ones. Then when I'm wrinkled and wobbly, and my brain is returning to the dust, someone can read me my blogs. And I'll be glad I wrote them.

To let you in. I could do all of this, the writing and remembering, in my own nice private journal, you know, one with real paper. Why plaster the innards of my heart for literally anyone to see? Because others have done so for me. They have let me in to their journeys, some perfect strangers I would never have the privilege of meeting. And I am changed. Their story moves me in mine. And I would dare to hope that my story would move yours.  

To throw you a rope. I am too many miles away from too many people I love. Scattered around the world, hearts tied to mine. I'm throwing you a rope, my dear yet distant friends, to bind us together. Our journey isn't over.

So stranger, family, friend, here's my invitation,. Come along with me. I'll move past my inhibitions, beyond the norm of “doesn't really matter” and delve straight into the good stuff. The stuff that we so rarely get to. This is my blog. If you care to know me, this is me.

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So when God made you, what did he sprinkle in?


My dear yet distant friends, how ARE you?