Calendar Scribbled Upon By Child

Title: Calendar Scribbled Upon By Child 

Subtitle:  This might look like innocent scribbles by a toddler, but underneath the playfulness resides a weariness and latent aggression toward the month of April.  "Enough already!  Let's move on!" those erratic pen strokes seem to say.  Bring on the month of May.

Why My Kitchen is Not the Setting for a Reality Cooking Show

I'm raising a young chef.  Even as I type this, I'm scratching my head -- which is hard to do because both typing and scratching require the coordinated use of your fingers.  She doesn't get this from me.  At this juncture in life with three young children underfoot, my cooking philosophy is "Eat to Live."  There's little art involved, just survival.

It's a shame because when someone cooks with flair, it's beautiful.

I noticed this the other day when my daughter bypassed cartoons in order to watch a show on the Food Network.  When she discovered this channel she looked at us deeply as if we had been depriving her, as if she were thinking, Food Network, where have you been my whole life?

The chef was making lobster risotto.  My daughter was enthralled and, to be honest, I was too.  Everything about the way she worked was systematic, smooth, calm, and pleasant, and for a moment I felt desire rise up within me to cook.  Not just to cook -- but to create something exceptional.

Then I snapped back into reality.  Because what I'd actually like to see on the Food Network is a reality cooking show.  It can be filmed at my house, and it would go something like this:

At the start of the show, I'd scramble to see what we have in the refrigerator and make a quick decision that we'd be having tacos.  I wouldn't call it tacos, of course.  I'd call it Mexican Fiesta Night.  Two out of three children would cheer.  One would declare that she no longer likes Mexican food, although it was her favorite last week.

As I browned the ground beef and spoke to the camera about the fine aroma, my kids would begin fighting in the background about a toy that previously had been untouched for 17 days until one picked it up and the other two decided that they, too, must play with it instantly.  Cue commercial break.

Instead of having ingredients prepped and measured in adorably matching dishes at the onset, I would scramble to grate cheese, cut tomatoes, and shred lettuce, only to realize that we are nearly out of cheese and our lettuce is wilted.  At the last minute, I'd decide that canned corn would be a nice addition.  Isn't that color just beautiful, I'd comment, wiping my hands on my back pockets because my dish towel currently is serving as a blanket for someone's doll.

Periodically as I worked, small hands would reach onto the kitchen island to steal food items.  One child would wrap herself around my leg, hindering my movement around the kitchen.  Someone would yell from the bathroom that they just went potty and need to be wiped.  Cue second commercial break.

Once I'm back, the camera would capture me delicately scooping meat and sprinkling a meager ration of cheese into each taco shell, confirming "You wanted a hard taco, right?" while making direct eye contact with each child and observing the nod of affirmation in return.  I'd carry plates to the table and we'd pray.  Mere seconds after "amen" one child would look at her plate, shocked, and announce, "But I wanted a soft taco."

Three minutes into dinner, I'd remember to sit down at the kitchen table.  Instead of leisurely sipping sangria from stemware, I'd be drinking water from a plastic cup with butterflies even though I'm positive that it's not my glass.  After wiping up one spill, dinner would be finished in six minutes.

I'd wipe down the table and clean up the highchair.  I'd sweep the remnants of cheese, ground beef, taco shell crumbs, and corn kernels from the floor, empty the trash, load the dishwasher, and finally sit down.

Two minutes would pass.  Someone would ask for a snack.

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Image compliments of (Creative Taco Recipes)

Carrying Each Other's Burdens

A dear friend of mine just defended her PhD.  In her final grueling weeks of finalizing her dissertation and preparing her defense, she hit a wall.  She had been working toward this goal for years, and now -- mere days from completion -- she doubted whether she had the stamina to go on.

I can only imagine that she was in a state of exhaustdepletedespairalysis -- an unfamiliar term, one that I'm just now coining, that tosses exhaustion, depletion, despair, and paralysis into the blender of your psyche.  On high speed.  And it's one of those painfully loud blenders that makes your eardrums bleed.

I realized that it was bad when she sent me an email that was pounded out in one long paragraph, a manner of writing so unlike her characteristically tight and witty prose that it immediately conveyed urgency.

My response was heartfelt: I will storm heaven with prayers for you until you defend.  Once she defended successfully, my prayers shifted that she'd have the wherewithal to finish her revisions.

She's made it.  She's officially a Dr. and I am so proud of her.  Intensely proud.

I hope that she gets to sleep for two weeks.

Her email came at the perfect time for me: at a point when I, too, was exhausted.  It's a point when the semester bears down with oppressive weight.  Final essays, presentations, and projects align like the perfect storm.

When I came home from campus and set my bloated work bag on the ground, the girls immediately came to me, needy, and my husband headed out the door for work.  For the rest of the day, I would be mommy who had to take care of dinner, give baths, help with homework, supervise the bedtime routine, all when my mind kept snapping back to the pile of grading that waited for me after bedtime that night -- and the next night, and the night after that.

I've heard that you never should underestimate the "point two" of the 26.2 miles of a marathon.

Finishing is hard.

Every time that I felt panic welling up about my own semester, I prayed for my friend.  When I woke up exhausted, I realized that she undoubtedly had been sleeping even less, and I prayed for her.  When I caught myself at the tail end of dinner still standing at the kitchen island -- my shoulders tight, my plate in my hand -- mindlessly picking at my meal without tasting it, I made a point to sit down at the kitchen table for the last few bites.  If my appetite was this bad, then I better pray for hers.

We're invited to carry each other's burdens.  You would think that adding another person's burdens to your own would incapacitate you, but I found it quite the opposite.  Yet another paradox of God's upside down kingdom where the last shall be first.

As I prayed for my friend's strength, my strength increased.  As I prayed that she would be able to think clearly, maximize her time, overcome anxiety, and silence doubt, my thoughts untangled into more manageable strands.

Now, I'm seeing the light at the end of my own tunnel.  I hope to have my final grades submitted one week from now.  I'm in a much better place mentally than I was one week ago -- especially since I just passed back that hefty stack of essays to my students. (Just so you know, I refrained from dramatically slapping my hands together as I stood at the front of the classroom and declaring Essays, I wash my hands of you.  But I thought it.  Oh, I thought it.)

So, let's bear each other's burdens.  Are you finishing something that's particularly tough?  A project?  A rough patch with a child?  The final weeks of a pregnancy?  A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?

Well, drop me a comment.  I'll pray for you.

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Introducing Allan Scott

Whenever I witness someone living his or her dream, I get emotional.  The road to success rarely is an easy one to travel, and those who walk it have sacrificed and dealt with setbacks that would cause those with less determination to buckle.

So, when our friend and talented musician, Allan Scott, and his band launched their first nationwide single "Perfect Love" last week, I was overjoyed.  Allan Scott Band will be releasing their debut album Blameless and Free on May 15, and "Perfect Love" already can be bought on iTunes and previewed in its entirety on the band's website.

Allan Scott Band: Hayden Miller, Caleb Bush, Ray Ceglar, and Allan Scott

You could argue that I'm biased (because I am), but let me say this: they're excellent.  I've listened to "Perfect Love" on repeat, never tiring of the passionate vocals, subtly edgy melody, and powerful message.  It's the type of song that you want to get stuck in your head. 

Read more about Allan (he's got quite a story!) and the band here.  It's not every day that you get to witness people live out their dreams -- or get to hear your friend on the radio -- and I'm entirely enjoying watching this unfold.

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Celebration Cupcakes (Rockstar Style)

She waited for weeks and finally the cookbook that my daughter had been longing to check out from her school's library was on the shelf, just in time for her birthday cupcakes. 

Together we made karaoke cupcakes fit for a rock star, tweaking the recipe and baking the cupcakes into an ice cream cone, frosting them with pink icing, and decorating each "microphone" with silver sprinkles.  Sugar overload, to be certain, but undeniably cute. 

Singing while eating is entirely optional. 

Capturing the cute husband goofing off in the background on camera is entirely bonus.  Icing on the (cup)cake, you could say. 

Cupcake recipe: What's New, Cupcake?

Image depicting a much more complex and aesthetically pleasing display of cupcakes, disco ball, and pink feathers than I am capable of making: compliments of iVillage.

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Feeling Legitimate as a Parent (After 7 Years)

Today, my oldest daughter turned seven.  Seven years old.  Somehow having a child this age brings an air of legitimacy to this whole parenting gig.  I often feel like I'm still learning the ropes of motherhood, still testing the waters, still hoping that I'm getting things right (enough).

I've been feeling this way for seven years, give or take a few days when I either felt that I had my act together entirely (I am mother. Hear me roar!) or when I crashed into a deep abyss convinced that I've irrevocably scarred her for life with some horrifying combination of my impatience, my anger management failings, my forgetfulness as a Tooth Fairy, too many chicken nuggets, too much television, and one bad haircut when I trimmed her bangs to roughly one centimeter in length.

Despite all of this, she's turning out just fine.

Not just fine -- amazing.

Last night I tucked her into bed -- her last ever tuck-in as a six-year-old -- and I laid down beside her.  I told her about the first moment I laid eyes on her: how I knew that she was amazing then, and how seven years later I continue to be utterly convinced of the very same thing.

They steal your hearts, these kids.  You're never the same.   For seven years, I've been entirely undone.

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The Stare

Even though I war against clutter and disorganization, I've resigned to the fact that I'm outnumbered by people in my household who don't hold order in the same high esteem that I do.  It's forcing me to embrace the chaos. 

I do not do this willingly.

I embrace the chaos because, try as I might, I simply cannot keep up with it.  Oh, I want to keep up.  I devote time and energy to to keep up.  Sometimes I actually do keep up -- always a glorious twelve minutes -- but the afterglow dims when I notice that in the time it took me to wind up the vacuum cord someone has scattered a box of 64 crayons, trampled crackers into the carpeting, discarded socks on the kitchen table, placed pizza on the bathroom sink, upended a board game, shredded six sheets of paper to create a bird's nest, or removed the Tupperware containers from the cabinet to use them as hockey pucks down the hallway.

Cleaning up after kids is exhausting and unproductive, like swimming against the tide.  You exert such effort only to glace at the shore and realize that you're in the exact same place. 

Yet there is one area that I absolutely want to keep unaffected by the chaos.  It's our office area -- the simple desk and computer where I write and work.  As if my thoughts and my productivity are directly correlated with the room's organizational state, I covet order here.

The other afternoon I settled myself at the computer, opened a document, and started to write.  I couldn't shake the sensation that something was off.

Then I noticed.  My daughter's stuffed animal was perched on the computer desk, and he was staring at me.  Really staring at me.

The kind of stare that bores holes into your head.

The kind of stare that creeps you out with its unblinking intensity.

The kind of stare that makes grown men faint of heart and weak of knee.  The kind of stare that makes a woman sitting at her computer desk roll her chair back in alarm because those black-ringed amber eyes are so deeply unsettling.

I've finally found something more distracting than mere clutter.  It's those beady eyes.

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Short and Sweet: Sisterly Love

A short and sweet post on the love between siblings in 100 or fewer words:

Instigating.  Irritating.  Aggravating.  Pushing buttons.  It's still morning and my two oldest already have demonstrated mastery in these areas.

I scrutinize them from across the table and concoct a plan to turn the tide.  "Girls, you can't act this way.  You each need say something that you like about one another."

They sit for one moment in silence.

Brooke begins, "I like it when you don't hit me."

Reese finishes, "And I like it when you play in the other room."

No one will accuse us of setting the bar too high today.

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Not Caring What People Think

As I readied the girls for church this morning and we rushed out the door, I took a final look at their outfits.

For a moment, I thought that I should have done better.  Shouldn't they be wearing tights under their dresses instead of cotton leggings, mismatched socks, or bare legs?  Shouldn't they have new white dress shoes instead of everyday sneakers?  Wouldn't it be better if I had found my little one's shoes instead of resorting to strapping her pink sandals over her white socks?

Wouldn't we be better prepared for Easter if we looked the part?

As we drove to church, I realized that the answer to my question is a resounding no.  

It's not about our outward appearances.  We don't need to have our acts together to come to God.  He invites us this way -- honest, broken, disheveled, just as we are.  We can come before Him with mismatched socks.

During service, a man stood to speak about how Christ changed his life.  I hated everyone.  I didn't care what people thought of me then, he said, speaking of his sordid background filled with violence, crime, drugs, and stints in rehab and jail.  I've known this man for years, and I knew parts of his story but not the depths.

His life is so different now.  He's a preschool teacher.  He works in children's ministry.  He's been clean and serving God for ten years, and my children absolutely love him.  I can't help but smile when I see him..  And what he said next struck such a chord in me:  And I don't care what people think of me now.  I am living for Jesus.  How could I not want others to know?

I don't care what people think of me now.

During services, this is a man who claps the loudest.  This is a man who always stands in the front, his arms raised, and will will shout Amen! and Thank you, Jesus!  

This is a man who -- I am sure -- has gotten sideways glances, even from fellow church-goers, because of his unbridled zeal.  Can't he just tone it down?  Let's keep this respectful.  

But no, he can't tone it down.  His life has been radically changed, and he's never going to forget it.  He wants everyone to experience what he's discovered.

When I accepted Christ at age fifteen, I was a pretty good kid.  I hadn't done too much wrong by most people's standards.  I don't have a dramatic testimony of being lifted from the gutter by God's grace, yanked from a lifestyle of blatant sin or addiction.  I've been following God for nineteen years. 

Still, do I have the same tenacity to boldly proclaim, I don't care what people think of me now?  

Because sometimes I do care.  I work in academia, an environment where faith in Jesus is not the norm.  I live in regular society, a society where following God seems antiquated or closed-minded.  I blog for readers, some of whom might not agree.

Even though I should have immediately left the sanctuary to pick up my girls in their Sunday school classrooms once the service ended, I instead went to the front for prayer.  My request was simple: "I don't want to care."

So there I stood, tears on my face, wiping my nose with my daughter's jacket that was draped over my arm, knowing that I looked disheveled and mismatched.  Exactly as God wants me to be -- honest, without pretense.

I am living for Jesus.  An audience of one.  

It won't always be popular.  It won't always be applauded.  It won't always be understood.  But I'm like that man.  My life has been marked by God, and I am so grateful.  

How could I ever forget it?  How could I not want everyone to know Jesus?

I want to point others to Christ.  Let me always care about people, but let me not care about what people may think.

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Why It's Good

I am not perfect.  I am not always patient, always polite, always fair, always kind, or always helpful.  I lose my temper, I judge, I complain, and I screw up.  But there is something extraordinary about me.

I am a forgiven woman.

Such freedom!  Such acceptance!

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

My soul finds rest knowing that I'm accepted not because of my own goodness, but because of God's forgiveness.  There's nothing I could do to make God love me any more.  There's nothing I could do to make Him love me any less.

I've been looking forward to Friday this entire week, but not in the typical fashion.  Not simply to arrive at the weekend.  Instead, I've been reflecting on why this day is good.  It's because this day made a way for our forgiveness.  One crossbeam horizontal, one crossbeam vertical -- the merging of heaven and earth, the nexus of God reaching out to us.

Do you know how dearly God loves you?   

You.  He sees you.  He hears you.  He knows your thoughts from afar.  On this good day, take this to heart: you are mightily loved. 


A Bad Combination

I could rattle off many things things that go well together.  Things like chips and salsa, chocolate and peanut butter, or Saturday mornings and sleeping in late.  (I haven't experienced that last one for a while, of course, but I remember it with unparalleled fondness.)

Of course, there are also combinations that don't mesh nicely.  For example, today I heard my six-year-old talking with my three-year-old and juxtaposing these two phrases:

let's race and down the stairs.

Bad combination.

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A Gift

Deep in your heart, you know it when you're living a day that's a gift.  This afternoon I sat at my kitchen table grading papers as the low drone of a persistent bee and the friendly chords of a bird wafted in from the open sliding glass door.  Our tulips swayed underneath the supple limbs of a weeping cherry tree in bloom, their colors bursting in the sunlight.

What an overloading of senses.  What a gift.  I urged the girls outside for a garden tour, and together we explored.  Moments later, I noticed a subtle dip in the grass and stepped closer.  A baby rabbit was hidden in our own backyard, nestled in a high tuft of grass.

I immediately declared that the bunny was a he, and upon this declaration Brooke immediately named him Rose.  The girls crouched down to study him.  There was no touching, just watching.  Just amazement.

Before dinner I returned outside once more, knowing that Rose likely would have left in search of his real nest.  Just in case he returned, though, my daughter prepared a small treat.

It's a gift, she said.  In case he's hungry.

Yes, today it all was a gift.

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Choose Your Own

To open the door, turn to page 67.  To return outside, turn to page 73. 

As a child, I loved the premise behind Choose Your Own Adventure books.  They took reading, which already was alive for me, and upped the ante by making it interactive -- daresay, by giving me the power to shape the story.

With my fingers tucked into the paperback as temporary bookmarks, I never considered a book to be finished until I had unearthed every possible plot.

Now that I'm a mother, I think about these books when I rationally lay out consequences for my children.  To have a good day and avoid correction, choose the right path.  To have a bad day and face punishment, continue whining and disobeying.

It seems so simple, does it not?  Make the right choice; it'll lead to good consequences.

So why is it so hard to do?

One of our parenting goals is to teach our daughters how to manage their own emotions rather than to let outside situations and other people dictate how they feel.  But she made me so mad!, one will say.  I can understand, but I'd be doing her a disservice if I didn't teach her that the decision to stay mad -- to dwell and internalize on her anger -- is actually a choice of her own, not a necessary byproduct of what someone else "did" to her.

Letting others dictate our own emotional states makes for a volatile life.

If she just gave me the toy, I'd be fine!  If you just let me eat pizza and ice cream for dinner each day, I'd stop fussing.  If things were going my way -- exactly how I want -- then I'd have a great attitude.

Although they don't articulate these statements directly, this is the subtext to our children's complaints.  Our job  -- and it's no small task -- is to encourage them to choose the right attitude regardless of the circumstances.  Regardless of the outcome.  Regardless of who did (or didn't) do what.

The most painful thing, I am reminded frequently, is that this also applies to me.  It's my responsibility to choose my own attitude on a daily -- hourly, okay, minute-by-minute -- basis.  When the kids are whining and complaining and rolling on the floor in despair over some perceived injustice, my reaction often can as bad as theirs.  If you children would simply follow what I say, exactly when I say it, don't you realize how reasonable and patient and fun I would be?  I would be such an amazing mother if you weren't acting this way!

Choosing our own attitudes.  It's not an adventure for the faint of heart.

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My Life on a Stage

Have you ever wondered who would play you if your life was portrayed in a movie?  I have.  Who would be a good me?  I mean, besides from Denzel Washington.  (Obviously he and I are a resounding match.)

What?  You don't see the resemblance?  It's because I'm not wearing a tie, isn't it?  Use your imagination, people.

Last night I saw a small glimpse of my life played out -- not on the screen, but on the stage -- when Cynthia Mazzant, a talented playwright and co-founder of Tempest Productions, drew from the works of several talented authors and poets and wove them into the dialogue and monologues in Sunshine, Lollipops & Rainbows, an interactive play set at a bridal shower.  I was honored -- and humbled -- to be featured among them.

I watched as the humorous, heartbreaking, and complex rituals of women were dramatized before me, and I listened as these words of mine were beautifully delivered.  Let me tell you, this was special.

My warm thanks goes out to Cynthia, Tempest Productions, and the actors for such a touching adaptation.

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