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Monday, January 09, 2017

Becoming a Cozy Minimalist

So maybe it’s just me, but this New Year business has inspired me to really go through our home and de-clutter.  My Mom would tell you that is ridiculous because it wasn’t cluttered to begin with.  But the pile headed for our spring garage sale says differently. 


It all started when just around Thanksgiving time, I read about a mom who cleaned out her toy room and ended up with just one medium-sized Rubbermaid tote of toys at the end.  I knew I couldn't get down to one tote.  But I also knew there were probably many items we no longer needed in our toy room.  So one day while the kids were at school I cleaned it out.  I moved a few things around so that the toys they really played with were more accessible.  I threw away all the broken toys and the toys missing pieces.  I am embarrassed to say that when all was said and done I had four HUGE boxes full of outgrown toys.  I packed them away in the store room with a sense of certainty that there would be MUTINY when my kids got home from school.  Here’s the kicker: they never noticed. (Sh!  Don't tell!!)

I sat there looking at those boxes in my store room for weeks on end with a sense of satisfaction and challenge.  If there was this much in our toy room, imagine what else I could find in the house. 

I’ve done clean-outs before.  Certainly before we moved there was a season of purging.  Even after we moved there were several things that didn’t have a place and I just no longer wanted in our home.  But rarely (never?) have I gone through our things with the fine-toothed comb I have been using in the past few weeks. 

It’s not merely going through every cabinet or every closet or every drawer.  It’s going through every binder in every closet, every box in every cabinet and every container in every drawer.  My kids willingly volunteered to do the same in their rooms.  I’ve been through absolutely every single space at least once, some of them twice, and some three times.  It’s exhaustive and exhausting.

And yet, there is a great peace in looking at the towering pile of boxes marked for a huge garage sale this spring.  We are lightening our load over here.  The amount of our material possessions has decreased dramatically.  The possessions we still hold are treated with more respect and care.  And our grip on all of our things has loosened considerably. 


Until I started letting go, I didn’t realize how tightly I was clinging.  And now that I have started to let go, it gets easier because I have embraced the truth that my life is not measured in the sum of the things in my home.

We have several empty containers, empty spaces, empty shelves here now.  But we aren’t looking to fill them.  We aren’t shopping for new or better.  We are just enjoying the feeling of space – the feeling of less.

I could get rid of more.  That is so deeply humbling.  Even through this process I find that I have not sacrificed anything that really cost me.  I had so much excess that I could get rid of more than half of it and still not suffer – not feel a pinch – not feel a loss. 

I would never have claimed to worship my own things…but the truth of the matter is I do just that more often than I am comfortable admitting. 


This journey has been fascinating and revealing.  I’ve faced some weird rationalizations that I had made about what I needed to keep.  I am wrestling with my own consumerism and materialism in some major ways.  And mostly I have found that I am strong enough to let go of things.  I can and should do it more often.  It’s a season of easing my grip on all that is around me and sitting with palms up, open and waiting for the good that God is longing to bring into my life.  I just needed to make a little room.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Four

Dear Hunter,

Today you are four years old. 





















Contrary to lore, the twos were terrific.  And that’s when I learned that it was really the age of three that would give me a run for my money.  You have had a good year being three.  But it was full of huge changes for you – massive leaps in independence and vocabulary and ability.


I suppose I can’t really call you a toddler anymore.  You are my little boy.  A little boy who is growing super fast.  Here’s a little bit about you.

You are my talker.  You talk all day long.  You have so many questions and they are not always easy ones.  I am amazed at your ability to really process the things I say.  What is stranger still is your perfect memory.  I’ve explained events or concepts to you only to hear you retell them to someone else later with clarity that shocks me.  I love listening to and seeing the way your mind works, even if you wear me out sometimes.

Nearly all of your playtime is spent “farming” with your toy tractors and implements.  I couldn’t even begin to imagine how many miles you have crawled on your knees. 




Your big sisters are your biggest cheerleaders and you love them dearly.  It’s hard for you to wait until they finally get home from school, but when they do you love to play with them.  Most of the time they are quite patient with you, but I think they spoil you too.



When you are with me and the weather cooperates we like to go hiking in the woods.  You find a big walking stick and off you go, me trailing behind you on the path.  A few times we hiked when it was too muddy and you still like to remind me of how we got stuck in the mud.  You also got a bike this summer and learned how to ride it.  We would go for “runs” where you would bike and I would be sprinting along behind you. 

When you are with your Daddy you like to go to the farm.  The two of you have all kinds of adventures out there.  I hear lots and lots about it in the days that follow.  You also like to run errands with Dad, help him shovel snow, or go wash cars together. 

This summer you were super duper sick after a nasty tick bite.  Hunter, that was a scary time.  I couldn’t even carry you carefully without you crying and screaming in pain.  After many many days on antibiotics, your infection finally went away.  But I spent the entire time sitting on the floor next to your sick bed in the tv room, because that was where you wanted me.  Right next to you. Occasionally you will mention that awful time so I know it holds some dark memories for you like it does for me.  But we are so thankful that you are healthy and well and have had no residual problems.

We started tot school together – weekly lessons where I sit down with you and help you learn your letters and how to write them.  You absolutely LOVE tot school.  Sometimes you get frustrated when something is difficult for you.  Other times you laugh quietly to yourself and tell me how good you are at letters. 

While you love to make us laugh you absolutely HATE to be laughed at.  That’s a pretty fine line, I’m afraid.  Your one-liners are absolutely hysterical.  And yet you are sensitive and don’t want anyone to mock you.  Also, the Happy Birthday song is enough to absolutely freak you out and you will hide your face no matter whose birthday it is.

You are a showman.  Sometimes that is fun.  Sometimes it is a little…challenging.  You really aren’t shy.  It seems like you will talk to anyone about anything (not always something I want you to talk about). 

You run to me a hundred times a day to tell me something funny you said or did or heard.  You go wherever I go.  You listen to my voice more than any other.  And when we are somewhere it is my eyes that you want on you at all times.  You are not my little shadow – you are my little light.  And I love spending my days with you.

You are so curious and inquisitive and that is a quality I hope you keep always.  My prayer as you grow is that you will dare to not only ask God the hard questions, but that you will also dig into His word to find the answers. 

I hope you always delight in the simple things that you love now.  You are a great delight in my life.  And you are so very very loved.

Happy Birthday little man. 

Love,


Momma

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ten!

Dear Reagan,

Ten years ago you were born.  A whole decade.

Ten years ago my greatest dream came true.  The nurse placed sweet little baby you in my arms and I just stared at your face.  I could have never imagined the great kid you would be now, ten years later. 

This might sound strange, but I just really like you.  You are fun to hang out with and we have great talks when we find time to be together just the two of us.


You are still my super responsible one.  You follow rules.  You put in the work necessary to complete projects.  That isn’t to say you don’t test the boundaries every now and then.  But I have loved watching you for these ten years as you tried new things with bravery and a quiet strength.

You are not one who loves the limelight.  You don’t seek attention.  You prefer to quietly go about your business in your own way.  And yet, there are times when you shine and its extra beautiful.  For example, this summer in soccer you seemed to just step up and be a leader.  You worked extremely hard and learned so much and all of a sudden you were this force to be reckoned with on the field.  So many times your Dad and I would be sitting on the sidelines with goofy grins on our faces because it was so much fun to watch you do your thing. 

You are the caretaker.  You love young children.  You love volunteering in the church nursery.  Your face lights up and your demeanor changes when you are in the presence of little ones.  And they love you for it.  You are sweet and kind and attentive.


This year at school you have had a great year.  I love the way you have put yourself out there and made some new friends.  You are a good student, but you also work very hard.  Some things are easy for you, others are more challenging.  But you always try.


Sometimes you amaze me with your maturity, and then other times I am reminded that you are still a young girl.  I know you have so many big steps ahead of you, and yet you have handled each challenge in your life with calm grace.  That gives me great hope not just for the rest of your childhood, but also for you as a young woman. 

You are creative and innovative and it shows in your amazing Lego creations.  Legos are still your favorite thing.  You also love making bracelets and necklaces, attending Gems at our church, swimming, playing games, soccer, babysitting little ones, and occasionally cooking a meal.  The highlight of your summer was finally seeing your favorite animal, the polar bear.

Every time I let you go a little bit more I stand ready to catch you – but I seldom need to.  You take off slowly and carefully, but you always fly steady and smooth.  A good word to describe you would be calm.  Even so, I think I’ll stand here waiting to catch you just in case. 

We celebrate you today.  We’ve had you for a whole decade and it’s been easily the best decade of my life.  I will always be better for having spent these 10 years with you. 

You are quiet, serene and calm.  You are deep, devoted and faithful.  And I can see how God has begun writing a beautiful story through your tender heart. 

Lean into that story, Reagan girl.  Let His hand write on the pages of your life.  Let His heart be the one you trust.  Let His wisdom be the place you turn.  Train your ears to hear His voice.  Open your eyes to see His hand. 

And know this, I love you.  I love you more than I can say.  I love you more than 10,000 birthday letters can convey.  I love you more than words can frame.  I love you unquestionably, unashamedly, unconditionally.  Maybe someday when you hold your baby, you will know. 

But even all that is the tiniest glimpse of the love God has for you.  He loves you when you are easy to love.  He loves you still when you are not so easy to love.  His love knows no limits, no distance, no choice that it cannot still reach you.  The day you were born I placed you solidly in those hands – those nail-pierced hands – that formed you, that bled for you, that stretched out wide for you.  I let go more and more each day believing it is those hands that will catch you even when I cannot. 

In every decade of your life, my prayer is that you will look back and see His love for you. 

You are so very loved.

Always,

~Mom


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

So....before you read it...

Some of you have already ordered copies of my book and I am nearly choking as I read your messages of excitement.  I am equally extremely terrified and terribly excited just to think about you reading Bestow On Us Your Grace.  But before you do...a few thoughts.

They say that writing a book and having it published is little like having a baby.  I disagree.  Mostly because you don’t immediately put your baby on the stage of America’s Got Talent so that the world can judge whether or not they like him or her.  And that’s more what writing a book feels like to me.

Writing is opening a window into your soul. 



It’s one thing to take the very contents of your wild imagination and type them down on a page.  It is quite another to actually allow other people into those musings. 

Admittedly, there is a part that feels a little thrill.  Because if you like it then I am so happy and I don’t worry so much about my vivid imagination running amok.  Also, we can talk about imaginary people as if we know them.  You can ask me all kinds of questions about my characters and I could talk about them for hours and hours.  After years of hiding them in a closet.  Or a computer, as it were.  Now they are free.

Of course that is another scary thing.  It’s not just the story that is my “baby”, but I really want you to love the characters.  And it frightens me to think (to know) that there will be some who just don’t care for them.

I want you to know that I am what I call an “honest writer”.  I learned this from people like James Schaap and Anne Lamott.  If there is a scene where someone would swear, then you write it that way.  It shows their character.  It shows their humanity.  And I personally have trouble believing books where everything is too perfect, too neat, too tidy.  The things in my book are not neat and tidy.  There aren’t a lot of swear words – two, I think.  I didn’t put them in for shock value.  But they are there because that is what that particular character would say.  It reveals their truth – truth you need to know for the story to work.

I’ve done my research, but I am not expert.  I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent reading about, researching, studying, and listening to recordings of the Amish.  But even so…these are still hypothetical  situations and fictional characters.  They are New Order Amish which allows for much more freedom than being part of an Old Order district.  So I realize you may read this and say “Oh the Amish don’t do that!”  While that is possibly true for most of them, it isn’t for all.  And this is a made up story.  All that said, I have a deep admiration and respect for the Amish people.  It is my hope that even if this story does not represent lifestyles for the majority of them, that it still honors them and helps you to love them as I do.

Please note: the characters in this book are not actually representative of the people in my life.  I am not Kirsten.  Brian is not Silas (not quite tall enough – hahaha).  The Amy in the book is not my sister, Amy.  I was blessed to grow up with the best Mom in the world so Elizabeth is not my Mom.  If you see your name in this book, don’t think I am writing about you.  I am not that obvious.  At least not in this book – ha! 

Will there be more someday?  Maybe.  I have learned to never say never!  I have written another book in this series about Silas’ sister, Amy.  I have outlined another book about Silas’ brother, Caleb.  So there could be more.  But for now I am just enjoying this very uncharted territory of self-publishing.

Lastly, I cannot say enough good things about my publishing company – The Write Place.  I love that they host a book writing contest.  I am so honored to have won it.  And I have immensely enjoyed working with them on each and every detail – from the editing to the book cover design to the page layout to the marketing plans.  They are patient and capable and amazing to work with. 

This is actually not the first book that I have written, but it is the first to be published.  And as such I plead for grace and understanding.  Look at it like I’m in kindergarten and not so much like I should be giving my dissertation. 


So each and every one of those little books that lands in someone’s hands is just a story about a God who specializes in taking crazy situations and redeeming them for His good.  To me, this was never just an Amish love story.  This was a story of God’s goodness and His grace.  He is good even when life is painful.  My prayer is that this book will help you see His goodness and His grace in your own life as well.  


Links for ordering:




Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Leaves and Elections

I fill out my ballot while he stands quiet beside me.  It’s quiet here.  Quiet like church during prayer.  

He stills his three year old little self to stand beside me while I fill in the little squares beside the names.  Five minutes later, we’re finished.  The volunteer gives us both a sticker.

We step outside into the brilliant fall sunshine that seems to set the world ablaze.

He asks me for a donut.  So we walk the two short blocks through the beauty of downtown to the little bakery.  The leaves crunch under our feet.

He chooses a long one this time (a long john) with chocolate frosting.  He carries the small paper bag containing his little treat back to the car.

We stop at one more store and he tells me he’s tired.  Tells me he doesn’t want to shop any more.  Tells me it’s time to go home.  But it’s just one more tiny stop so I offer to carry him.  He relents.

We hop out of the car, me with this almost four year old on my hip, and step onto the sidewalk.

“Mommy, wait!  Go back!!  Look!”



I put him down and he bends to scoop up the biggest leaf I’ve ever seen.

It must have been glorious in its day.  Briefly I wonder if it grew at the very top of the tree.  What makes a leaf so stunningly big anyway?  When it floated down from its tree it would have cast a large shadow.  It was huge and it was healthy once.  But then came the autumn.  Big, brilliant, beautiful as it was, time held no refuge.  The green faded to gold, to orange, to brown in places.  And it let loose into the breeze. 

Seasons come and seasons go.  Rulers rise and fall from power.  Beauty bursts forth and then fades.  Little boys are only three for a short amount of time.
 

But One never changes.  One whose hand paints the canvas every morning, streaking the sky with blues, pinks, purples and oranges.  One whose hand formed the rulers who are good and the rulers who hurt.  One whose hand colors each and every leaf.  One whose hand created little three year old boys who don’t really care all that much about elections or paychecks or policies.  He gives them eyes to see the wonder we miss – the wonder we step right over in our hurry – the wonder we refuse to acknowledge because we’re too busy worrying – the wonder we tend to crush under our feet because it seems like it doesn’t matter.


And I marvel.  I stare at the giant leaf he clutches.  The same fingers that fashioned this beauty also made the sweet boy hiding behind it.  So I’m not sitting down with fear today.  I’m not entertaining disappointment.  I’m not giving my thoughts to worry.  I’m spending time with wonder – and with a little boy who found a treasure made months ago just for him.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Embraced

A friend of mine gave me a hug yesterday. 

I was standing in the fellowship hall of my church, just waiting on all the lovely women to arrive for Coffee Break.  She walked in the door, walked straight over to me, put her things down, and hugged me.

It surprised me.

This isn’t something we do every time we see each other.  Occasionally there are hugs given out at Coffee Break so it isn’t like it is something weird.  But it still surprised me.

The surprise wore off fast.

Like an instant melt, I felt all the cold loneliness and the tension of the last few days just melt away.  Gone. 


Like a sunrise after a dark night, light started spilling in.  Creeping over the surface, chasing away shadows, driving the dark of night away.

I wrapped my arms around her too and she just held me tight while I choked, “I needed this.”

I’d had a rough 24 hours.  I’m not going to explain why, but it was a day I didn’t care to repeat.  Somehow, this wonderful friend could see this in me.  I believe she listened to the Holy Spirit prompting her to offer me some acceptance and love.

Oh how we don’t know the battles of the women around us.  Oh how we have lost sight of the pain of other people. 

It takes eyes to really see it.  It takes ears to listen closely enough to hear it.  It takes a heart ready to break for other people.  It takes actually listening to those nudges you feel to reach out to someone else.

And then all it takes is a hug.  Bless the Lord, all it takes is an embrace. 

In that moment I knew I was still loved.  I knew people still saw me and cared about me.  I knew that there was still good in the world – that there was still God in the world.

He promised that He would never leave us or forsake us.  He promised that in this world we would have trouble.  And He promised that He would be with us always, even to the very end.

Yesterday, I knew He kept His promise.  And in the arms of a friend who offered a random hug I knew I had experienced the hands, the heart and the love of Christ. 


Go love someone today.  Offer an unasked for hug.  Message someone on facebook with encouragement.  Listen better.  Talk less.  Love more.  Be Jesus to someone today.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Where My Imperfection Meets His Power

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the five love languages.  They are words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, personal touch and gifts.  I have a daughter whose love language is personal touch.  I’ll be honest, this is a major struggle for me because this is not the love language I am most comfortable giving or receiving.

One particular Friday night my husband and I and our three children were getting ready to go to WalMart.  Cuz that’s what super cool parents with three little kids do for fun on a Friday night.  My daughter grabbed my hand and I did something I am ashamed to admit.  I shook her off.  I actually brushed her hand away and removed my arm from her grasp.  I did it all gently and without complaint.  Really, I did it all without even realizing I had done it.

It didn’t even register with me what had happened until early the next morning when I was driving home from the gym.  For some reason God chose that moment to remind me of how I had pulled away from her.  With tears streaming down my face I started to pray.  I asked him to forgive me and promised to apologize to her.  I asked Him to help me be BETTER.  And then I said words that shocked me.  “Help me to give more.” 

And my mind reels with that statement.  For women, who give so much all the time, HOW is giving more even possible?  But there it is in the cry of my heart - I want to give more.  I beg the One who gave it ALL to help me follow closer in His perfect footsteps - me with my stumbling, bumbling gait.

I don’t get it all right.  I mess up.  I’m very much the poster child for the imperfect mother.  I am not the mother of the year.  I am not even the mother of the last five minutes.  If I were writing a song you can bet it would sound like my three year old banging on the piano.  It would be a mess.  Probably no identifiable tune.  Lots of flats and sharps that don’t make sense on their own.  Too quiet in places and way too loud in others. 

I’m not alone in this, you know.  Reading the New Testament can be a little humbling for me.  With heroes of the faith like the apostles who really measures up?  But with a glance at the Old Testament I start to feel a little better about myself.  I look a little better standing next to Jacob the perpetual liar or Samson the prideful.  One might be tempted to chalk them up as bad melodies too. 

But if we take a step back we’re able to see more than just a few notes at a time.  We can see God’s hand composing a whole symphony.  And suddenly, strangely, all those places where we thought the notes were all wrong, those are the places He has filled in with chords and harmonies too beautiful to be believed.

You see it is not our hand composing this symphony of salvation.  Instead we are notes on the page of the most beautiful score ever scribed. Our off-sounding notes, best efforts and failed attempts are in many ways the harmony.  And God provides a melody - beautiful and pure - filling in all the gaps, suddenly making sense of it all.

Every woman wants to give more.  Its something almost coded in our DNA.  It’s what we do – we give.  We want to reason that the more we give, the better woman we are.  But it’s not our efforts that determine the beauty of the song. 

I'm learning about my need for a Savior all over again, and I invite you to do something brave with me.  I invite you to give yourself a break - to stop worrying about playing all the wrong notes, and to instead listen carefully for the music God is creating.  He’s taking all the bad notes, the off-sounding chords, and even the most off-beat moments and wrapping them in a beautiful melody.  He sings His salvation song over, around and through us and He invites us to drop the worry and to join in the dance.

(Photo credit: Megan Vande Voort)