Cookies and Cliches

Today, I found myself living a cliche…or at least as close to a cliche as our lives allow.

David’s been gone for 7 days on a business trip.  Now, he’s a youth pastor, so his version of a business trip is taking 62 high school students to Jamaica to help orphanages and schools. Think fewer steak dinners and Powerpoint presentations and more “holding kids’ lives in your hands” and power tools, and you get the picture…but still.  Husband on business trip.

Meanwhile, I’ve been the wife and mom at home, balancing the weight of the household on my fragile shoulders (or whatever,) ready for my husband to return so things like “mowing the lawn” and “taking a shower without feeling like a child-neglecting monster” can occur.

Naturally, if we’re going to truly live up this cliche, I HAD to make cookies during Zoe’s naptime to welcome him home.  I mean, I’m a stay-at-home mom and wife.  There are STANDARDS, people.

And so I whipped out my cookbook, preheated my oven, and got baking.  It was a vegan recipe, but other than that, pure cliche.

Right about the time I found myself running an extension cord outside so that I could use my hand mixer without waking Zoe up, I had to laugh out loud.

This is my life.  This crazy person baking cookies half indoors, half outdoors to celebrate her husband’s return while her baby naps is…me.  

At one point in my life, I had dreams.

They did not include being a stay-at-home mom.

They did not include being married at 22.

I wanted to live alone in a big city until I was 28, then maybe get married.  Maybe.

Definitely not to a youth pastor, though.

I wanted a high-powered career.

I wanted to be the one on business trips, not the one waiting at home baking cookies.

I would have viewed today’s scene as the ultimate failure, a waste of my potential, the collapse of my dreams.

But you know what?

This afternoon as I splattered cookie dough on my door frame and washed bottles and fed my daughter sweet potatoes and wiped away baby tears and sang “The Wheels on the Bus” and and waited for David to get home, I didn’t feel like a failure.  I felt like a happy, whole person.  I didn’t feel like a person whose dreams were UTTERLY DESTROYED.  I felt like a person whose dreams had surprised her and then come true.

I think the one of the worst things we can do as humans is to limit ourselves and our journey to a predetermined path.

It’s natural and good to set goals and create a vision of our future.  But every day we experience unexpected circumstances—things we never could have predicted when we sketched out our futures.

If we refuse to let those experiences shape us, if we refuse to let our ideas and visions change, if we refuse to let ourselves be surprised by unwitting passions and preferences…we refuse to let ourselves grow.  We go through life unfeeling, untouched.  We leave less of a mark on the world because we don’t let it leave a mark on US.  And THAT’S a waste of potential.

Allow your dreams to grow, change, and seemingly even shrink if you’re doing what makes you happy.  Allow yourself to think bigger than whatever future you’re pigeonholed yourself into. Allow yourself to be surprised.

And if cliches make you happy…let yourself live them up.  It’s your life.  ENJOY IT.

photo-37“But it would be a dry kind of perfection that made no allowance for some flexibility, for the possibility of local re-arrangements within the overall structure–perhaps following the cycle of the seasons, or perhaps to accommodate changing preferences.”  –Michael Balston in his book “The Well Furnished Garden”

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How To Make a Fussy Baby Less Fussy

How to make a fussy baby less fussy?

I’d like to offer up a really novel, academic, well-researched technique.

Instead, I present Photo Booth.

We begin with a baby who doesn’t want to nap and has been letting me know about it for the last 20 minutes.  Now, normally I’m not like, “oh, Zoe, you’re crying.  Let’s take a photo!” But desperate times call for desperate measures, and when you combine Photo Booth with silly faces and noises…something magic happens. Just watch!

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Photo on 6-24-13 at 3.10 PM #2Creator of Photo Booth, you are my hero.

Pursuit

When I was a freshman in college, there was a boy who liked me.

He wrote me notes, put chocolate in my desk when I was out of my room, sensed when I needed to talk and listened to me, and planned group activities that I would enjoy.  

I swore up and down that we were just friends and that was ALL WE WOULD EVER BE.

But eventually, I caved and told him I’d go to dinner with him.  Being pursued feels good…and I knew deep inside that he was good for me.

It took years before I fully let him into my heart, but he persisted.  He kept hanging around.  He took me hiking and backpacking and helped me realize how much I loved the outdoors.  He listened to the things that made me angry, sad, happy, passionate…and he asked questions that showed that he really wanted to know more.  He held me when I needed to cry.  He challenged me to be better while always making me feel loved for who I already was.

He woke up early and drove over to my apartment to scrape my windshield for me on cold Washington mornings so that I didn’t have to do it.  He got a part time job so that he could take me out for dinner every week.  He bought me flowers and lattes just because.  He wrote me a poem.  He tried so hard to win me…and eventually I realized that I was the one winning here, wised up, and loved him back.  Now we spend every day together and have made a life together.

Pursuit is a powerful thing.

Lately, I feel like I’m wising up just a little more to someone else’s pursuit of me: God’s.

A group of friends and I are doing the One Thousand Gifts group DVD study.  The sessions are kind of a mix between Steinbeck’s prose, a documentary on the Amish, yoga, and a theology class…narrated by a cyborg with really perfect eyebrows and a lot of feelings.  They make me alternately sigh, roll my eyes, laugh out loud, and shout “JUST SAY ‘EMAIL’ INSTEAD OF ‘PENNING AN ELECTRONIC MISSIVE,'” but dangit, the principles are sinking in: slow down, SEE and pay attention to the gifts around you, and say thank you for them.

I’m keeping a gratitude journal and it’s been amazing to see in just a few weeks how much more I see and appreciate His gifts and His presence in ordinary—and even challenging—moments.

I thought I was aware of God’s presence, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how this study has affected me.

Here’s an example.

It was 4 pm a few Wednesdays ago.  It had been a rough day and Zoe was a cranky, crying mess.  David was working late that night and I couldn’t fathom how I would get through the next few hours without screaming.  I took Zoe outside to see if that would calm her ragefest…and this blue jay came ridiculously close to us and just hopped around, letting us enjoy its rich hues, its long tailfeathers, and its calm presence.  Zoe got quiet and looked at the bird with me.  We enjoyed it together, and in that bird, I felt God saying, I see you.  

And I said, thank you for this bird.  Thank you for seeing me.

I see that blue jay every day now.  I don’t know how long he has called our yard home, but I had never seen him before.

I see him now.

I also see cardinals and sparrows and mourning doves and owls…every one of them, I recognize, a reminder of my Creator and His love for me.  Y’all, we live in a suburban home with a fenced-in yard on a busy street.  I would understand if we had a completely blank and nature-free yard.  But God has chosen to fill our yard with life, with sound, with color, with beauty, with humor, with reminders that I am seen and loved.

He has chosen to pursue me.  Every single day.

Not just with birds, but with other precious things, too.  And I have the choice to overlook those things in my haste and busyness—or to slow down, SEE, and acknowledge them, being blessed in the process.

I choose to see.  I choose to allow myself to be pursued.

I choose to respond.  Thank you, Lord.

Nourishment

I feel and perform at my best if I eat a balanced 300-400 calorie breakfast.  But sometimes, I just want toast.

My problem: when I give in and just eat toast, I wind up feeling snacky ALL DAY LONG.  My body is not as satisfied and I wind up being a little distracted and a little “off” all day.  Missing that nutrition in the morning makes the rest of my day a little harder.  So most mornings, you’ll find me eating a bowl of oatmeal, adding some eggs to my toast, or eating some yogurt, whether I “want” to or not.

Likewise, some days I wake up very eager to connect with God and I make my quiet time happen.  Other days (like most days this week) I wake up and do other things.  I think, maybe I’ll get to it, or I don’t want to do it right now, or I’m too tired that I can barely process words or I have other things to do or Zoe needs me.  And so I eat toast instead of oatmeal, and all day I’m just a little “off” as a result.  My reactions to people are more “me” focused.  My emotions feel all over the place.  My heart isn’t as sensitive to the Spirit.  I’m not grounded in what I want to be grounded in, because I didn’t feel like nourishment that morning.

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Someone else who didn’t feel like nourishment

95% of the time, skipping my quiet time comes from a good place.  I think, I don’t want to bring God obligation or duty.  I want to bring Him a joyful and willing heart.  “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants for you”  and so on (stupid Psalmist and your ridiculous standards…my mornings are more like “as the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants for coffee.  Seriously, WHERE IS THE COFFEE?”)

But you know what I’m realizing through parenting? That obligation and duty still show love.

There are times when I just do not want to soothe my daughter through whatever “crisis” she is experiencing (e.g. The Great Mom Put Me Down So She Can Go to the Bathroom Crisis of 2013 for the 270th time) and would rather meet my own needs or desires…but I put my own feelings aside and meet her needs anyway and try my hardest to smile while I do it.  Other times, there’s nothing I’d rather do than give her everything she needs and wants.  I joyfully and willingly sacrifice for her and it makes me happy.

Both times, I act out of a desire for my daughter to feel like she is loved and secure, that the world is a safe place, that when she hurts someone sees and feels her pain and will try their hardest to make it better.

And today, God showed me that both times, I act out of love.  A disciplined act of love is still an act of love.

If our intent is love and we wholeheartedly offer up our deficit, He can make up the difference.

While I would like to wake up every morning ready to pour my love into God, He doesn’t need that to feel good about Himself.  He’s totally big enough to handle my duty and obligation.  He’s totally big enough to handle me ignoring Him, too…but that leaves ME not at my best all day.  A deer that isn’t panting for water can still drink.

Today, God gave me the ok to bring him my obligation sometimes.  Not in a legalistic way, like “check off that quiet time task or you suck at life,” but in a way that says, “if your mind or body isn’t 100% there but your heart craves me, feel free to seek me anyway.  I totally get it and I’ll meet you there and refresh you.”

I’m curious–do you ever struggle with this in your own faith journey?

Belonging

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a youth pastor’s wife.  Today I just want to write a little bit about our church and what that’s like for me.

We belong to an awesome church.  And I say “we belong to” instead of “we are members of” this church because they make me feel like we belong.  I know that sometimes people in ministry feel like they lead a community but aren’t really IN it.  One of the best things about our church is that they let us be in it with them.

And that means they let us be human.  And imperfect.  And a bad dresser sometimes.  (And thank goodness for the latter, because I don’t think that fashion is my spiritual gift and sometimes the best I can look is “not a total embarrassment.”  You feel me?)

I do think about my role and how my speech, my actions, my appearance, and my involvement reflect on me and especially on my husband.  But that’s because a) I don’t ever want to be a deterrent to my husband’s ministry, and b) because I should care about those things anyway.

It’s NOT because people in our church make me feel like I have to “prove” something or meet a certain standard or fit into a mold.

And that’s a gift.

I never wanted to be married to anyone in ministry.  To me, being a ministry wife was asking for attention, a pedestal, and a life of sacrifice, and I’m introverted, not that great, and like financial security.  But I loved David and unfortunately after we had been dating for over a year, he began to feel called to ministry.  It was a real inconvenience.

A few months later, I decided to try chaperoning a youth retreat with him.  I had some great conversations with the girls in my cabin and I was just beginning to think “this whole youth ministry thing might not be so bad” when I watched the youth director’s wife breastfeed her baby around the kids and then jump off a zipline.  And I almost broke up with David because I just could not see myself doing stuff like that.

But he kept telling me “you can write your own job description. And that could read ‘I HAVE MY OWN LIFE.’  I won’t take a job at a church that has expectations for you.  It’s my job, not yours.”

When David first took this job, I spent his whole first year being unhelpful at church.  I didn’t get volunteer in any official capacity because I didn’t want to set a precedent that this was a “2 for 1” deal or that I would “always” volunteer.  I wanted to give him space to create a program and get his bearings without my ideas or criticism or influence, where he had freedom to make mistakes and choose to tell me about them or not.  And he wanted me to set a precedent that I had my own life and interests (graduate school was very consuming, so I appreciated this!) That first year, I hosted things at our house, joined a women’s Bible study, and was a youth trip driver once or twice, and that was about it.

A year or later, I decided to stop being a mooch.  I started helping slowly and through trial and error have found and keep finding the fits that work best for me and my personality and gifts (my most recent possible fit: I’m now a member of the new hospitality committee, AKA the “improving the coffee” committee.  There may be other goals, but that’s my agenda and I intend to push it through work democratically in our committee to achieve our shared vision.)

After that time, I feel like I have a little bit of an understanding of my place in our church and my ministry:

I work with some of the high school girls in one on one and small group relationships.  I open my home to youth who need a place to hang out, an event, a meal, whatever.  I tutor a guy who came through our youth program and is now in college.  I sometimes lead youth trips and I always meet youth for coffee or fro-yo when they have things to talk about and need someone to listen.  I’m part of a healthy marriage relationship that the youth pay attention to.  I talk to the youth group moms when they need a listening ear or insight into teenagers.  I eat twice and sometimes thrice-weekly dinners alone and spend long weeks alone so that other people’s kids can hear about Jesus.  I get my husband out the door on Sundays and have nice meals waiting for him at the end of long workdays and I give him feedback on sermons before he gives them to the congregation.  And apart from the youth/spouse stuff, I mother my child and participate in a women’s Bible study and try to be vulnerable with my story, my issues, and my heart so that others feel freedom to do the same.  And now the coffee.  

And through this process, I’ve found that my heart is pulled towards my husband’s ministry after all.  I’ve realized that it’s a privilege that youth want to hang out with us and that we can create some of their most cherished memories and be with them during some of the moments that determine their future direction and character.  Plus they’re fun.

Anyway, on Sunday I was standing in worship surrounded by the people that I love.  I saw moms holding babies, teenagers who are doing their best to offer their tender forming hearts to God, an older brother drumming on his younger brother’s head, families who had hired me to babysit their children when I needed income, college students who have babysat MY child, men holding their coffee and singing loud, and a woman from the housing project we work with clapping and swaying to the music next to a woman who doesn’t live there and I just thought: THIS IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

And I belong.  And I don’t have to wear a fancy dress or stop drinking wine or know everyone’s name or play the piano or do anything but be myself.  I’m no different than anyone else…I’m accepted as I am.  Like He accepts us.

And I’m so grateful.

(Also, challenged.  I’m so blessed to feel like I belong.  Do I make others feel that way too? Something to check in with myself about from time to time.)

Day in the Life: Six Months

I did this when Zoe was three months old and thought it would be fun to do an update!

June 4, 2012

5:30 Zoe wakes up and starts chattering happily.  She had been asleep since about 8:00 pm the night before.  Thank you, Zoe!  I get out of bed; David keeps sleeping.  I make a bottle and go in to her room to get her.  She gives me a HUGE smile, an excited shriek, and a hug.  My heart melts.  I change her and begin feeding her.  I sometimes pray during her morning bottle; today, we watch an episode of Sex and the City.  Pretty much the same thing, right?

5:50 We play while David gets up, showers, and gets ready for the day.  He’s commuting back and forth to seminary this week (it’s about 1.5 hour away) and he’s not feeling well so he decides to stay up there tonight instead of coming back home.  He packs his clothes while I pack him some snacks and medicine, and Zoe plays happily on a blanket on the floor.

6:25 David leaves.  Zoe and I play for the next hour, rotating through tummy time, Bumbo time, singing, and pretty much every toy she owns while I drink a cup of coffee.  At some point, I eat a bowl of cereal with blueberries.  This photo isn’t from today (I hadn’t had enough coffee yet to realize I should be taking photos,) but it shows her cute playful side.  Could I be any luckier?!

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7:05  Bath time! As soon as I get a clean Zoe out of the bathtub and onto her changing table, she projectile vomits all over me and herself.  I clean her again (plus her changing table and myself!)

7:25 I fold some laundry while Zoe “helps.”  She LOVES it when I fling laundry on her and let her shake it.  We also play peek-a-boo with her clean PJs.  So cute.  At one point, I have to go put some laundry away into the hall closet.  As soon as I leave her room, she starts screaming.  This is probably a good place to note that she is developing separation anxiety!

7:40 Zoe goes down for a nap.  I change into some gym clothes because I’m hoping to go to the gym when she wakes up, make our bed, do some dishes, respond to some work emails, and give some feedback to my mom and her friend on the rough draft of their nonprofit’s newsletter.  I’m just about to start folding some laundry when…

8:25 Zoe begins squealing.  Bottle time! However, once I make her bottle and go into her room…she is asleep.  WEIRD.  I back out slowly and fold laundry while listening to Andy Stanley’s “Breathing Room: Choosing to Cheat” sermon.  After hearing it, I send it to my parents and some close friends.  It’s a doozy.  Then I put laundry away.

9:15 Zoe’s up again! Bottle time for real.

9:35 We’ve missed our window to go to the gym this morning and the childcare hours won’t allow us to go this afternoon.  Bummer.  I shower while Zoe kicks on her playmat.  Once I’m out of the shower, she watches me get dressed while she lays on the bed playing with my towel.

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Selfie time!

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10:05 We head out the door to our Tuesday morning playgroup.  This week, playgroup is a few blocks away, so we walk! Zoe has a blast playing with new toys and staring at her friends.  Usually, I love playgroup too, but I feel like my brain is moving slowly today.  I drink a few sips of coffee and still feel dead.  I try to talk as little as possible to the other moms (and just listen) because forming sentences feels really challenging.

11:20 Zoe is having a meltdown, so we begin our 8 minute walk home.  She falls asleep on the way home, so I transfer her to her bed while I make some lunch: a spring mix salad with almonds, goat cheese, craisins, and poppy seed dressing and a multigrain roll.

11:45 I sit down to eat with “The Week.”  Zoe is screaming.  Maybe she’ll drift back to sleep?

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11:50 Nope.  She is distraught.  I get her out of bed, hold her for a few minutes, and let her cries of desperation die down.  I put her in her chair while I finish eating.  She really wants attention, so I read her sections of “The Week” out loud in between bites.  Zoe is now well versed in last week’s world events.

12:25 Bottle time.

12:40 Zoe falls asleep with 0.5 oz left.  I seize my moment to check a few blogs, finish filling out some pre-employment paperwork (I’m going to sub some Friday mornings next year at our church preschool,) write a letter to my friend Erin because we’re both trying to write more snail mail, get “caught up” on our morning on this blog post, and research a few purchases for starting solid foods.  I tentatively put three things in our Amazon cart.

1:15 Zoe wakes up.

1:20-1:40 I finish my research while holding Zoe and singing all of her “standards.”  Multitasking!  I pull out all of our baby utensils/serving dishes to see what we already have, and decide to go to Whole Foods and Target to price and buy a few supplies to get us ready for The Great Solid Food Experiment of 2013 (happening Saturday!)

2:00 At Target,  I return something, open a Target Red Card, buy 4 containers of pureed prunes and pears, and price a Fisher Price booster seat (cheaper on Amazon, so I don’t buy it.)  I also get a tall soy latte at the in-house Starbucks. At Whole Foods, I buy frozen organic peas and butternut squash to puree for Zoe.  For the adults, I buy some on-sale wine and blueberry scone mix.  I finish my latte and marvel at the clarity I feel.  Hurray! 

3:15 Home.  I unload everything in the rain and make a bottle.

3:40 I listen to music on my computer.  Zoe falls asleep eating her bottle.

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I enjoy the preciousness for a second, then put her in bed and buy the booster seat and my other items on Amazon, email David, clean two bathrooms, dust a few rooms, and wash all of her utensils/serving dishes while listening to this playlist of worship music.  My solids stuff, including today’s store purchases, so far: (the cookbooks are on loan from the library…I’m planning to do a mix of making my own food + purchasing some food) 

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4:15 Zoe is up! I leave her in bed for a few extra minutes I finish getting Clorox out of my sinks.  Sorry, Zo.

4:30 A handyman is here to fix our broken bedroom fan.  Zoe and I play and stay out of his way.  She slowly melts down.  I wind up just holding her and singing to her.  Hope the handyman liked his soundtrack…

5:00 I make a snack plate—a few carrots, a few cherry tomatoes, and some hummus.  Zoe screams.

5:15 I put her in her PJs.

5:20 The fan is fixed! The handyman leaves and we call David and talk to him for 20 minutes about his day until Zoe starts screaming.

5:45 Someone is EXHAUSTED.  I feed her and she falls asleep 3 oz in.  Uh oh.

6:00 I make a tuna wrap from The Organic Family Cookbook by Anni Daulter (that cookbook is my new obsession—every recipe I’ve tried has been great!) I eat it with some of the potato salad I made last night and some raspberries.

6:30 I log in remotely and begin working.  I respond to emails and then work on compiling a report on our spring programming for our Board of Directors.  I’m interrupted at 6:50 when Zoe wakes up wanting the rest of her bottle.  Luckily, she gulps it down in 5 minutes and falls back asleep.  I work for 1.5 hours.

8:00 Done with work!

8:10 Zoe wakes up screaming. I soothe her back to sleep.

8:35 Zoe is asleep again.  I’m pretty beat, so I decide to write this blog post, wash some bottles, put a check in the mail, and look for some plane tickets for an upcoming trip to my parents’ house.  Wild night!

9:00 I decide to have a glass of wine.  This happens.

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9:20 After Googling the situation and trying a few suggestions, I still haven’t been able to get into that bottle.  I give up, talk with my mom for about 30 minutes on the phone, buy my plane ticket, eat some cherries and a square of dark chocolate, and get ready for bed.

10:10 Go to bed.

Love

“Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”  –Romans 12:9

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I am so thankful for my little girl who is my living, breathing lesson about love.

Before I became a mom, I thought I knew what love was.  But welcoming Zoe into my life has made me realize that my understanding of love was incomplete.

On our own, we can kind of love.  But when God is involved? We can LOVE.

There is so much “bad” in our world and it seems impossible to find anything pure or right.

I certainly don’t find it in myself.  Sometimes it seems impossible to lovingly deal with difficult people, to put someone else’s needs first, to serve someone when I don’t want to, to stay away from badmouthing others when they really frustrate me, to be a peacemaker when I’ve been hurt.  It’s tempting to just settle for being mostly loving, mostly caring, mostly compassionate, mostly at peace.

But then I look at my little girl and realize that the love I feel for her is more than mostly love. It’s full-on fierce and terrifying LOVE, purer and better than anything I could create.  It flows straight from God to me to her and I don’t have a choice in the matter—it sweeps me away and changes my entire life and everything I once wanted and “needed” becomes secondary.

This is LOVE.  Good.  Sincere.  Powerful.  Transforming.  A mighty weapon.  A gentle change agent.  Holy.  Pure. Something to cling to.  Something to build a life on.

He’s amazed me with how much I can love her.  What else could He do in and through me if I would let Him?