Saturday, December 01, 2018

Go Slow, Let it Go, Anticipate

I love mantras, intentions, a focus. Each month, I spend some time going through the prompts provided by my Cultivate Planner and chose a word or a phrase that will serve to guide me intentionally through the month.
I ask God to set words apart for me that will provide a visual reminder of how He wants me to cooperate with His Spirit and His work in my life for that month. 

Obviously, I cannot know what the month ahead will hold, but I can look at my calendar, think about the season of life I am in and decide how to make the most of it all. 

For this December, I chose the phrase, "Go slow, Let it go, Anticipate."

Christmas can be such a time of frenzy. It can come and go so fast that by January 1st, we wonder what just happened. It can also be heavy with expectations that are hard to meet, demands we place on ourselves and others. 

I've spent too many years getting to December 25 and feeling like I wasted a month. I have stood at Christmas Eve service with my candle lit, unable to truly enter in the solemn anticipation of what we are about to receive in recognizing the coming of Christ because I cannot stop obsessively going through the mental checklist of all I wanted to do, had to do, forgot to do, and still need to do. 

So, for several years now, I have sought to approach December differently than I have in the past, intentionally, purposefully.  I want to come to January 1st knowing that I was not whisked through the whirlwind of shopping, decorating, baking, and all the other typical trappings of Christmas and missed the wonder of it all. 

Go slow
I am task oriented by nature and love efficiency, probably to an idolatrous level. Just this morning, I found myself stirring my emergen-c drink while trying to fill my K-cup with coffee grounds at the same time. I mean, I do have two hands.  Might as well make both of them work at the same time?! Ah...this is my default setting. 

And, then I remembered how I actually want to go through my days: walking not sprinting. I want to go slow.
For me, it means

  • doing ONE thing at a time
  • walking through my house at a reasonable pace (I am known to move rather quickly from task to task)
  • not allowing my brain to shift into its default setting of frenetically thinking through all that needs to be done but rather purposing to be fully present with what is right in front of me.
But, guess what happens when I slow down, am fully present and not rushing through my days?  I don't get to everything I want to get to. 
Laundry piles up. 
Floors remain crumby. 
Leaves continue to blanket my yard. 
I miss a lot of deals on stuff we might want to buy for ourselves or others. 
There is not a ubiquitous supply of cookies and fudge in my house throughout December and so on and so on. 

Hence, the second part of my guiding mantra for December, "
Let it go."

Let go of my endless expectations to make it all perfect.
Let go of the expectations others may have of me to show up, give the best gift, give a gift at all.
Let go of the expectations the culture around me that tells me there is a specific and comprehensive way to "do Christmas right."  It just ain't so. 
Let go of the fear of letting my kids down.  (Maybe the hardest one for me. Am I right, mommas?)

As I go slow and let it go, it makes room for me to anticipate, and this, for me is what December is really all about. Or, at least for me, this is what I want the month of December to be all about. 

A few ways I anticipate the coming of Christ.

A plethora of advent material exists. Do just a quick search on Amazon, and you will find a host of products, books and materials to choose from.
A few of my favorite over the years are:
Ann Voskamp's, "The Greatest Gift."  She has a book for adults and separate ones for you to use with your children. 

When my children were preschoolers, I simply looked up "Free printable advent coloring pages," found something I loved and printed them.  I had the kids color them, and we hung them on a long piece of twine in our basement as a fun visual for them to add up the days to Christ's coming.

  • Light it up!  My husband and I are big fans of light: natural light, candlelight, LED light, etc. Christmas is the perfect time of year to confront the ever-darkening days of winter with lights of every kind. We light our Christmas tree, wrap stringed lights around our floor lamp poles, weave lights through our pine garland, and set candles wherever there may be any shadows.

    Each morning, I amble down the dark hallway with the glee of knowing I get to turn on all the lights. I used to wait until the evening came, but I am finding this year, I want to enjoy the lights all day long.

    I try to pass on the spirit of anticipation and glee by giving special permission to my youngest to light the candles.  Kids love playing with fire, and this builds an atmosphere that something special is happening.

Over the years, there have been other ways I have built anticipation into our daily December rhythms such as putting an empty manger (think shoe box with straw inside) under the Christmas tree. On Christmas morning, "baby Jesus" shows up in the manger (think whatever baby doll I can find lying around the house, usually one that had no clothing on it...which, come to think of it, is probably rather accurate.)  

I have a nativity set with a manger and baby Jesus that is separate. So, I hide that baby Jesus as well; He comes out on Christmas morning to take His place of 'honor.'  

I have visual "cues" around the house to foster a spirit of anticipation such as scrabble pieces that spell out "We Wait" on my kitchen window sill above where I wash dishes daily, the word, "Adore" decoratively hanging from a birch peg log my parents gifted me years ago, nativity sets from all around the world providing the bulk of our Christmas decor in the main living areas of our home, and framed Christmas cards that speak of the Christ to come. 

These are just a few ways I have sought to cultivate a spirit of anticipation in my home. I know many of you could come up with many more and creative ways to do similar. And, I would love to hear about them in the comments. 

If you love the hustle and bustle, and the frenetic pace most people get caught up in this time of year gives you a buzz, then go for it. It's your jam and your way of making the most of this season.  For me, however, I will choose to go slow, let it go and anticipate. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Make Your Purchases Count

A quick google search will take one to several sites where she can find people and/or companies doing business in a way that leaves the consumer with greater confidence that her purchase is making a positive impact on other humans and/or the environment.

In fact, here is a site with a hefty list of what is known as "fair trade" or "ethical" shopping: 
I want to provide for you a list of companies that are not on the above list because they may be a little smaller but are nevertheless close to my heart for the products they sell, the people they empower, the ministries they support, and the causes they trumpet.

Consider what they might offer you and yours this Christmas and in turn, how you can make your purchases count.

Jewelry, Accessories, Art, Prints, notecards, journals, T-shirts, apparel (including kids' clothes!), Home Decor (including christmas ornaments!):

(I have a friend, Amy, who is an ambassador if you'd like me to connect you for your purchase!),-assorted/ (my birthday gift to myself this year!)

I have participated with home shows and adore my local compassionate entrepreneur, also named Amy.  :)   The stories behind each product go from heartbreaking to heartwarming because of the impact of Trades of Hope. I'm so grateful for this organization. 

3. The Grace Crafted Home, supported by one of my favorite authors and board members of The Mercy House, Ann Voskamp. 100% of all funds not only empowers artisans around the world, but partners with Mercy House Global to support several homes for young women and their babies in crisis pregnancies in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. 

4. Elora Inspiredfaith-based children’s tees, hoodies, and other clothing items. With each order you help us support many kids through Compassion International

5. The Shine Project. Her tagline is "Wear Change. Ignite Hope." Founder, Ashley LeMieux, is a radiating ball of energy and hope. I love her vision to empower teens, encourage women, and connect the two demographics through her business.

6. Better Life Bags founder, Rebecca Smith, is making a better life for a number of women in her local community of Detroit, Michigan, while simultaneously making beautiful, custom made bags that you are bound to love. She also makes stockings (as in the ones hung from the chimney with care), earrings, luggage tags, and prayer card sets specific for adoption, pregnancy, children, and grief. 

7. Be a Well Watered Woman  by investing in the various Bible saturated products sold in their shop from bible studies to memory verse card sets, mugs, T-shirt's, journals, stickers, and jewelry.

8. Grab all the good things at All Good Things Co-owner, Jess Connelly is one of my top five favorite women to follow on instagram. She daily encourages me in my walk and witness of Christ.  Check out the unique art prints, t-shirts, hats, bible study helps, and one of my favorite products, "victory cards" (meant to inspire and equip you to get in daily physical fitness).

9. Ornaments 4 Orphans is a fair trade social enterprise dedicated to providing critical support for orphans and vulnerable children in Africa. I have ordered ornaments for my kids from this company for the last several years, but they also sell jewelry, nativity sets, and stocking stuffers. 

10. It is an effort with which I am most passionate to participate: the resettling and empowering of refugees around the world. I love the work of Preemptive Love, have gifted their soaps and supported their efforts to "love anyway" all around the world. On their site, they provide the opportunity not just to purchase products, but also to gift hope and a future to some of the world's people most in need.

That is my "Top Ten" places to purchase this year; I'd love to hear if you do!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Bitter or Better, Our Choice

I rounded the corner at the end of the hallway and realized I knew where I was. This was a familiar place. When it dawned on me, I looked to my boys, now 13, and with a smile, pointed to these two chairs and said, “Boys, I nursed you in those chairs and on the floor of one of the exam rooms in the back. Initially, I recounted this to them as a fond memory, filling them in on a time they were very much a part of but would have no remembrance because they were just babies, days old as a matter of fact. 

But then, as I took a seat to wait once again for an ultrasound to be taken of my oldest’s (by two minutes) eyes, the tears welled up in my own eyes. Surprised by this rush of emotion, I tried to quell the sobs that were building, to no avail. There in the pediatric division of Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins, I sat and sobbed. My sons inquired; a nurse walked by observing and offered us dum dums, the quintessential, “This will make everything better” offering to all children in every hospital or medical clinic worldwide, I am convinced. The external stimuli jolted me out of that traumatic place the sight of those two chairs took me, and I was able to compose myself enough to decline the sweet nurse’s offer of comfort in lollipop form. 

It’s been 13 years walking a road I never could have anticipated traveling. When we were first told about our son’s diagnosis of Sturge Weber Syndrome and all the potential havoc it could wreak on his, and subsequently our lives, we were shell shocked. Entering Hopkins’ clinics just days after my twins were born introduced us to a world of specialists, medical jargon, tests, procedures and surgeries we would not know anything about should God have spared us from this lot. But 13 years later, I can see how much we have all grown through what God chose for us. I can see we have learned so much; we have grown in empathy and informed compassion for a whole segment of this world that we may have otherwise overlooked or even ignored. I can see our endurance for life’s challenges, curve balls, unexpecteds and unknowns has been strengthened. 

 I want to take this opportunity to encourage anyone who’s been thrust upon a life path you never would have chosen and can’t get off of. Or maybe you did run after & welcome a certain life trajectory, but it’s all new and proving to be harder than you thought it would be, with costs you aren’t sure you’re prepared to pay. Time really is an important player that you will either thank or regret depending on what you cultivate with that time. 

It may be cliche, but the truth nevertheless remains. Circumstances can make you bitter or better, and it’s time that will deepen what you chose to cultivate. Let me be a voice in your life today urging you to fight to be shaped for the better by whatever it is that is pressing down hard on you right now. Be vigilant about uprooting those bitter seeds that want to grow deep in your soul. They often sound like, “This isn’t fair. I deserve better than this. I hate my life. Why do things go well for everyone else but me? What have I done to deserve this? How will anything good come from this?” 

I’m not saying that there won’t be struggle or that I never thought these things or still don’t sometimes think these things. But, let’s together remember we have a choice in what we’re going to do when these thoughts come. We can choose to nurture these embittering thoughts or reject them and replace them with God’s truth. He has promised to work all things together for the good of those who love Him. He has promised to fulfill His purposes for our lives, and as those who love Jesus and have given our lives to Him, we can trust His purpose is to prosper us and not to harm us. It might look oh so different than we could ever have imagined, but He is wise. He is good. And He will sustain us even through the darkest of times. 

We received another diagnosis yesterday for my son, one that likely has been there since he was born. And despite the numerous eye specialists who have spent hours, that could likely amount to days if added up, looking into the depths of my son’s eyes, this anomaly was not discovered until yesterday. It’s likely the cause of his extremely poor vision in his one eye, at least according to the doctor we saw yesterday. Honestly, who really knows? 

I could be tempted to anger over this, but for 13 years, I have sought to cultivate a firm belief that God is my son’s Creator, Sustainer and his ultimate Physician. And He reveals what He wants and keeps hidden what He wants hidden even to the “Best of the Best.” And because I’ve cultivated that truth over a long period of time, I do not have to get angry about this potentially missed diagnosis. I do not have to wonder if we could have preserved better vision in that eye had this been discovered earlier in his journey. I can fully trust that we have sought God throughout my son’s whole life for help with his needs. We have followed through on what God led us to do, the doctors to whom He led us. And we can have confidence that though we undoubtedly have not walked this out perfectly, we have a God who is perfect in all His ways even when His ways seem to run counter to our finite wisdom. For 13 years, I have imperfectly but genuinely cultivated trust in God, and I’m not going to stop trusting Him now. 

Today, I’m beckoning you to do the same.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Thoughts from the funeral home. In memory of my Uncle Dick

Brokenness and beauty
Pride and humility
Confusion and clarity
Grief and celebration
Despair and hope
Doubt and confidence
Turmoil and peace
Merit and mercy
Shadow and sunlight
Toil and rest
Fear and courage
In these we live and die.
All is grace.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Summer Break from Social Media

On June 12, I went quiet. What some might call a radical decision, I decided to go off social media for the summer. For me, this meant instagram and facebook.

As stated in my instagram post from that day, I sensed some things were coming to a head in my life, and I needed the space to process it all.

The break did indeed offer that space, and I'm jumping on my blog to journal some of the observations I made during the last two months I have *mostly* been off of social media.

I say "mostly" because I did hop onto facebook and instagram to check my notifications.  Like it or not, if one has had, in particular, a facebook account for any length of time, it can actually be logistically challenging to pull the plug entirely.  For some people, facebook and/or instagram is their only point of contact for me.  I receive a number of invitations via facebook and learn quite a lot of community happenings via this medium as well.  It makes a complete removal from fb not impossible but unattractive for sure.

Also, about a month into my break, I started to go onto instagram just to look up specific people and "catch up" on their life...well, their instagram life anyway.  :)   So, a cheater I am for sure. But, this actually worked well in helping me make some observations about myself which will in turn help me to set individual boundaries that will serve me in the long run in my social media use.

So, here are a few things I observed during my break.

1. Less cluttered mind
The first two weeks I was off social media, I found my mind less cluttered with both the joyful and mournful events of others' lives and more fully engaged in my reality.  Sometimes, this actually felt selfish and self absorbed. I am an incredibly relationally-oriented person, and oddly enough it felt self centered at times to not be in touch with others' lives.

Nevertheless, the break was absolutely needful because this summer has not been the relaxed, carefree season that most associate with summer.  It's been hectic and full of unexpected emergencies, mild disasters and ongoing health issues.  I really needed to be fully engaged--mind, body and spirit--with my small, little life here on Montford.

I was more attentive to the needs of my home and family because I wasn't also simultaneously cataloging the needs of others. If you're not an empath, you may not understand this. If you are an empath, you are totally nodding your head, and may want to consider a social media break yourself.

2. Timing of checking others' accounts is crucial
My "cheating" ended up revealing to me how important it is for me to be intentional about when I check social media. Do I have the emotional capacity and the physical time to process through and respond to something I may see or read in a way that is honoring to God and to those I follow on these accounts?

If I'm at the end of a stressful day with my children or in the middle of a conflict with my husband, it may not be the best time to check instagram where I may stumble upon someone else's well dressed, smiling children being rewarded for their hard work at school that day or a couple's anniversary smooch shared in front of the Grand Floridian hotel.

If I am waiting on hold with a doctor's office, is that really a good time to scroll facebook where I could learn that someone's loved one has suddenly passed away?  Do I really have the time to respond well to that information at that time?

For me, this is important.  There are real people on the other end of our social media feeds. Many of them are people I know in real life and who I have a deep affection for or at least respect. To quickly "like" someone's post or write, "praying" on a post where someone has just shared heavy news does not set well for me.

3. I benefit from those I follow on social media, and I missed that.
Over the several years I have been on social media, instagram especially,  I have curated a specific group of mostly women who really do minister hope and inspiration to my soul through their feeds. While away, I missed their input.

4. I love to communicate via this medium.
In addition to being a highly relational person, I am also a highly communicative one.  I missed the outlet social media provides for me to communicate not only the events of my life but moreso my thoughts and feelings.

Stepping away allowed me to evaluate my own feed. Of all the noise in this sphere, I want to set myself apart by providing a feed that will be encouraging, uplifting, soaked in solidarity for those in similar seasons or stages of life and always, always pointing people to Jesus.

With all this in mind, I am ending my break from social media.  But, I'm doing it with some clearer and more helpful boundaries in place to make it beneficial rather than the bane of my online presence.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Still Waiting

I'm 40 years old and still waiting.
Waiting for my children to apprehend all I am trying to teach them, all the ways I have laid out before them how it is to live a godly life, full of meaning, purpose and joy.

I'm 40 years old and still waiting.
Waiting for my time to come, my time to shine in the fullness of what I believe God has put so clearly and passionately on my heart to do.

I'm 40 years old and still waiting.
Waiting for a complete healing of chronic health issues for which I have tried many remedies and interventions, all of which have brought some relief, some comfort but not full healing.

I'm 40 years old and still waiting.
Waiting for prayers I have prayed for many years to be answered.
Waiting for dreams I have dreamed for many years to see their fulfillment.
Waiting. Sometimes I don't even know all I am waiting for; I just know I'm still waiting.

In her book, "Still Waiting," Ann Swindell talks a lot about waiting, and shares a message of hope for all of us who are in the waiting room of life.
And, frankly, I don't know anyone who isn't waiting for something.

Ann beautifully weaves her personal story of waiting with the biblical account of the Bleeding Woman (Matthew 9:20-22), both women knowing the ache of waiting on God for healing.

What I appreciate most about Ann's book is that she did not wait to write it until she experienced full healing, until her wait came to an end.  No. You see, Ann is still waiting.  And, there is something so incredibly God-glorifying, hope-giving, and satisfying to my own heart to read words of hope and to be pointed rightly to the Source and Giver of both hope and healing from one who is still waiting herself.

This lends such credibility to the strong, sure message Ann conveys in "Still Waiting."

In her book's chapters, Ann breaks down the effects waiting has on one's soul, mind, body, and relationships with others and with God. She discusses how waiting makes one weak, broken, is costly, claims one's identity, feels offensive, brings shame, feels like suffering, and is risky.  She concludes her book with a chapter entitled, "Hope for the Waiting Ones," but Ann does an effective job at sprinkling hope ALL throughout the book.  You don't have to wait until the end for a strong dose of hope.

If you are waiting for anything or anyone and want to wait with hope, I strongly urge you to get your hands on Ann Swindell's, "Still Waiting."

*I wrote this endorsement to help spread the word about Ann's book, not solely or even primarily because I was chosen to be a part of her book launch team, but because I have been encouraged deeply by her words, believe strongly in the message of hope about which she writes, and appreciate greatly the skillful, artful way in which she presents that message. I did receive a copy of "Still Waiting" at no charge in order to read it before its official launch.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

To honor Rare Disease Day, 2017

Initially, the OB said he was bruised from the birthing process which I found odd because he was pulled out along with his twin, via emergency C-section.

The next day, however, we met our pediatrician who proceeded to clarify for us that our son, Judah, was not bruised but born with a permanent birthmark called a Port Wine Stain (PWS) covering 40% of his body, most of his face and skull, and carried with it the possibility of an accompanying rare syndrome known as Sturge-Weber Syndrome (SWS).

Five days after Judah was born, we drove to Johns Hopkins where skin, eye, and neurological evaluations confirmed Judah had two of the three markers for SWS: skin and eye. Neurological involvement was then unknown and since has been ruled out as much as medical knowledge can provide that assurance.

It is still essentially unknown if Judah will remain free of neurological involvement, but to date we are grateful God has not asked us to walk through those particular hardships.

Nevertheless, the challenges we have faced these past twelve and a half years have all drawn us closer to God, to each other, to our community of friends and fellow Christians who have more than done their part in shouldering this burden with us.

And by burden, I mean the surgeries, the procedures, the endless quest for a cure, the countless crossroads we have come to where decisions have had to be made on Judah's behalf--something that has at times evoked significant anxiety, self doubt and near paralysis as a mother.

But, never, never do I or have I seen or felt Judah a burden. He is such a delight to our family and all who know him.

He is a joyful, outgoing, intelligent, creative, opinionated, strong, compassionate little man who feels deeply, loves sincerely, sings sweetly, perseveres, has so many dreams for his future, is ambitious, and a conqueror.

I love this kid whose rarity exceeds his diagnosis of SWS and extends into his person-hood, his infectious smile and warm hugs.

I look at his red face everyday, left side more full with hypertrophy from the genetically mutated proliferation of blood vessels, and see nothing but a handsome gift from God.