Friday, December 3, 2010

Zits, Juicing and the Better Me

I'm juice fasting this week.

I woke up the other morning with a huge, unfriendly zit from all that terrible food I've been giving thanks with for the last week.

A Thanksgiving zit. How lovely.

So, realizing the need for some detox, and anticipating that the bridesmaid's dress I'll be squeezing into in a couple of weeks for one of my best friend's weddings may be a little snug, my meals for the most part this week consist of juice. Beets, carrots, celery, garlic, jicama, leafy greens, citrus, apples, cucumbers and ginger are piled up in my refrigerator and on my counter tops awaiting their final destiny within the blades of my fabulous juicer. I think they're proud to go out of this world in such a way. It is a most honorable death.

I've been doing a lot of juicing this year. I read some books last winter and Derek got me a juicer for Christmas so I could do my own experimentation at home, like the mad scientist I wish I was. Well, maybe not the mad part. When I started my juicing odyssey, I needed to lose 45 lbs.

I've lost 19 as of today.

So I have 26 to go. I'd like to lose another 10 in the next two weeks. I know that seems a bit extreme, but juice fasting is one of the healthiest ways to lose weight. Your body shuts down the digestion processes for the most part after a couple of days of fasting because the vegetable and fruit juices you are drinking are very easy to digest and don't require a lot of energy. So your body is able to take that huge amount of energy that is usually used for digestion and apply it to healing itself. At first, you lose quite a bit of old fecal matter, and I won't be gross, but it's quite encouraging to feel the lightening of your body by getting rid of old waste that has been accumulating in your intestines.

Then, because you are getting all of your nutrition from raw foods that are full of wonderful enzymes, your body starts to attack it's fat. Quite a bit of the toxicity in the human body is trapped in our fat. So as it is burning through the fat, causing you to lose more weight, it is releasing those trapped toxins and they are able to escape your body through your skin, saliva, stool, and sweat. Often you will notice that your body smells funny, your tongue feels coated and your skin feels funky. This is all the result of toxins making their way out of your body.

As the fast goes on, and I don't recommend doing more than a day to start with, and then moving up from there, you feel better and better. Often while I'm on a juice fast, I sleep phenomenally. My sleep is deep, restful and healing. I've also noticed that I have really good ideas when I'm on a fast, maybe because my brain is able to focus better, and I have incredible energy. My skin starts to glow on about day 2. Prior to this week, the longest juice fast I've done was 3 full days. I had amazing results. I lost 10 lbs. and have kept it off. I felt so much better after I had done it, not so sluggish and foggy. That optimistic and healthy feeling hasn't left me since I've started juicing so much.

This week I'm doing a five day fast. Fasting is so incredibly good for you. There are excellent benefits to be won not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally as well, by practicing regular fasting. It gives your body and digestive system a chance to rest and repair itself and gives you an opportunity to go without for awhile, brightening your perspective and inviting a whole myriad of healthy gratitude for the amazing body that God has given you. We are "fearfully and wonderfully made" it says in Psalm 139:14, and for me, juicing and juice fasting has been life-changing.

One of my biggest quests for this year as my children went off to school and I was left home alone during the day was to get healthy. I had gained about 40 lbs. over the last three years from when I was at my healthiest in 2007. Back then, my boys were babies, which required all kinds of work but for some reason I was able to keep a pretty regular running schedule and ate plenty of healthy foods. Derek and I were even able to somehow manipulate our schedules to include running some 5k's.

But as a result of some hard financial times due to some very unexpected and quite expensive home repairs and the crash of the housing market in Florida (and many other states too), we had a pretty stressful year and I did what I always do when I'm stressed out: I began to eat. I ate and ate and ate. Salt n vinegar chips with hot sauce, which is my favorite evil snack, tons of refined sugar and white flours and rices with heavy fatty "comfort food" sauces, frozen dinners, Chinese takeout, pizza, and on and on until, whaddyaknow, I had gained 40 lbs.

So frustrating. Talk about self-hatred. Not only was I disappointed in my inability to handle stress in a better way, especially when I knew better from all the health, fitness and nutrition books I'd read to get there in the first place, but I was mad at my lack of willpower. I couldn't run without breathing like an asthmatic. I couldn't eat healthy food without feeling it was the beginning of a long diet back and I didn't know if I had the resolve to do it again. I couldn't shop for clothes without leaving the store feeling like a fat lard and an abysmal failure. I started hating myself. Then I started lying to myself. I pretended it didn't bother me that I wasn't the best version of myself. For a long time, almost two years, I just gave up.

Sometimes starting is the hardest part of a journey we know we are meant to make.

But I truly, deeply want to be all that I am meant to be. I know it's not super spiritual to be ultra concerned about my physical health, but what I put into my body is an indication of the health of my mind and my spirit. After all, God made us physical beings, so while it's not the most important thing to be physically healthy, it is important. How can we expect to fulfill the calling and purpose He has soaked each one of our lives with if we don't have the energy, stamina and health to work hard at it?

I was putting crappy food into my body and acting as if I were a martyr for being overweight. Maybe you've done this too? Every time I would look in the mirror I would tell myself how ugly and fat I looked, but then I'd start to mentally list and catalogue all of my grand excuses for why this had happened, justifying my own unwillingness to move in the direction of change, however small.  Every time someone gave me a compliment, I would cement into my brain the exact opposite message they had given me. They'd say you look nice and I'd think but I don't look great. My perfectionist tendencies combined with my self-torture made me a walking time bomb of negative criticism.

So I don't write this to point fingers, or act the know-it-all about health. I just want to be honest about my struggles, hoping that someone out there is given a little more encouragement or inspiration to take that next step in their own journey. Juicing has changed my life. It has helped me to see the energy level that is possible for me and allowed my body to get rid of the toxins that were making me sick and tired all the time.

It has helped me to better live my life, and though I'm not there yet, 26 lbs. from now I hope to have a huge sense of accomplishment and the energy and rest to keep up with the work required to make my dreams a reality. I know, with the grace of God as my constant companion and the willingness to work these life issues out daily for myself, it is possible to be, in every category, the very best version of myself.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My Boy Toys

On any given weekday, if you show up at my house unannounced after school, you may find any manner of blanket and chair built contraption in our living room. You may find a tent set up in the family room, or a rock city being constructed in the backyard. There could be small people running around in inexplicable combinations of costumed attire or someone in the bathtub with every spatula I own and a towering display of measuring cups, each with a different army man in them. There may be a pillowcase tied to a sword, hanging off of the trampoline net in the backyard and billowing in the breeze. Or a series of sticks stuck in the ground in a row and then tied with string and spaced with pieces of paper marked with random letters and shapes on them. There might even be a huge hole that has been dug and filled with sticks, water and inflated plastic bags. Everyone could be hiding in the closet, or someone could be guarding the laundry room door with a pair of chopsticks. You will have no idea what any of it means.

But they will.

You see, in the time they could have spent watching television or playing a video game, my two little boys were inventing a new language, or putting on a play, or playing pirates on the trampoline. They were stealing all the spoons out of the silverware drawer to dig up worms. Or singing freshly invented songs on the tire swing, and trying to build a catapult out of sticks, rocks and yarn. They were involved in a heated debate about how high the Lego tower around the tree trunk should be, which ended in someone tattling, and were instructed to work it out like gentlemen, without violence. They may or may not have followed this wise advice.

They play outside constantly. Sometimes they drive us crazy because they're not in a trance in front of the television so they require a lot more interaction. But it's worth it. Just ask a couple of poor tiny trees with a spider webbed network of ropes tied all over them in the front yard where homemade swings and child-engineered brilliance are experimented with daily. Some future genius architect of some amazing physics-defying building is probably living in my house right this minute while I write this, smearing toothpaste all over everything in the bathroom every morning as he gets ready for school, and forgetting to put his dirty laundry in the hamper every afternoon.

I grew up with boys.

I had three little brothers and our house was never quiet. In fact, in a two story house with wood floors in my brothers' rooms, if you were unfortunate enough to be meditating or trying to find inner peace on the bottom floor, it often sounded like the ceiling was about to come down. They were always wrestling, pummelling and ambushing each other.

I remember playing manhunt and capture the flag with my brothers in my teenage years in the orange groves near our house late at night with thirty or so people from school and church, everyone decked out in camouflage and war paint, armed with pocket knives, rope and flashlights. We usually had to sneak over the ditch and under the fence to get in the groves in the first place and then there was no shortage of muffled shrieks (from all the girls), blinding lights being shined into eyes and random oranges and grapefruits hurtling past one's ear as he or she crouched in a hyperventilating state, trying to avoid capture or worse, the huge spiders that lived in the orange trees.

I shudder now just thinking of those disgusting spiders.

I was always a bit of a tomboy and spent plenty of time climbing trees, exploring the woods, and building forts. I still think that kind of childhood, with tons of time spent outside, to be sacred. And rare. You just don't see lots of kids playing outside anymore.

So I think God knew what he was doing when he gave me two boys.

I realize that quite a few parents don't have the type of schedule or freedom that gives their children hours of time outdoors to learn uninhibited. And I know a lot of video games are educational.

But leaves are more educational.

And rocks. Trees. Lizards and worms. Dirt and kitchen utensils turned props. And puppy dogs.
Usually when our children ask if they can watch television, the answer is no. I believe deeply that Derek and I are doing them a huge service in this regard. Less television is more.

I have to admit, in my normal crazed goal-setting self, I'm a little bit Utopian about my children. As much as it is in my power, I am determined to see them to adulthood with every opportunity for their betterment, and have many ideas of what this finished product looks like. For my boys, my forward thinking involves qualities such as being Christ-followers, men of their word, punctual, wise, able, tender-hearted, self-controlled, articulate, comfortable with leading and following, and gentlemen. I want my boys to be well educated, both with books and the outdoors. We're trying to raise men. Men in the real definition of the word.

So Derek and I decided a few years ago that we didn't want our boys to fit in. We didn't want them to take their cues from Hollywood. We didn't want them to be addicted to video games, television, or entertainment. We wanted them to treat women with respect and honor and never to judge the value of a person by what is on the outside. We wanted them to value their time and not to be always bored without electronic forms of entertainment. We wanted our children to be able to use their ingenuity and God-given creativity to invent their own entertainment.

We wanted them to love God.

We wanted them to read good books.

And we wanted them to play outside a ton.

For us, the idea is that their lifestyle as adults will be inspired by the great and the beautiful, principles from the Bible, nature and the classics, so we knew we'd have to give them the kind of childhood conducive to that.

I don't pretend to be an expert at this kind of childhood.

We make truckloads of mistakes.

And this is all still in the experimental stages. They are still small children. And we will always be a parenting work in progress. But I believe in parenting on purpose, in writing down what we hope the finished product of our children will be, and then aiming accordingly with our habits and allowances. I get excited about this kind of strategizing, about the huge influence I have in the lives of two very special someday men.

Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it."

With our sights set on excellence, I hope and believe that in allowing our boys hours every day in exploration of nature, promoting the reading of good books like Treasure Island, Gulliver's Travels or My Side of the Mountain, and by studying and upholding the principles found in the Bible, despite our many mistakes, we are helping to make them into the finest kind of men. The kind of men that will make a difference.

The kind of man you'd want your daughter to marry.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Somewhere's A Miss

You know what I miss the most about Florida?

I bet I know what you think I miss.

The constant sunshine. Or the ocean. Disneyworld. The warm weather year-round. Wearing flip-flops all the time. The beach lifestyle. Being tan without trying. The salt air.

Nope. I miss my hometown. And my people. And my church.

I miss the feeling of not just expertly knowing my way around town, but the feeling of knowing the town. Knowing the history behind different buildings, knowing that that restaraunt was actually a Domino's before it was a Verizon. Or that the Rack Room Shoes used to be County Seat and before that it was The Gap. Knowing that the spot where the new high school auditorium is, was actually an orange grove when I was a kid. Knowing the man who actually built that auditorium - he's my friend's dad. Take this feeling of knowingness and multiply it by every street, sign, and building in town. That's what I miss. It's that feeling of belonging somewhere, of having a piece of a location that no one can ever ever take away from me because it's a part of the fabric of me. Just about every single street in Merritt Island, FL holds a memory for me. And I could draw you a map to get from one side of the island to the other with my eyes closed.

I miss my people. I miss walking into a room full of people who I know and love and share all kinds of memories with. I miss rehashing old crazy tales with my high school partners in crime. I miss being around my best friends that I've had since I was fifteen years old, and the old friends who I'd see around town sometimes, at random weddings, the beach, the mall or  El Tucan, the people I've known and went to church with since I was six or seven. I remember just in going to the mall in my hometown, you were sure to see at least one or two people you knew, no matter what. If you were Derek, you always saw ten people you knew. I miss that feeling of being safe and understood, of having the trust that even if they don't agree, these dear friends know right where you're coming from and who you are, and they value and respect you.

And I'll just be honest with you, I miss my old reputation.

I miss being casually confident in my creativity and ability to cook, because amongst old dear friends it isn't seen as show boating, it's just who I am and always have been. I miss the sewing nights my girls and I would have where we'd all cook together and then sew, and the late night talks over a glass of wine with my friend Julie. I miss seeing my bestie Kate and her two sweet babies, and going to the beach with fifteen other women and all our kids, and then spending the whole morning counting children to be sure no one has drowned or wandered too far down the shore. I miss the reunions when all the old friends that moved away were in town for a holiday and we'd all get together with our kids and catch up. Now I'm one of those out of towners. I miss double dates with awesome couples, many of whom Derek and I have known since we were in high school. And I miss being in my friend's homes. And parties. I miss throwing parties. Oh how I love to throw a good party. I miss always having a free babysitter in Derek's parents, and always being able to go on dates. I miss the family gatherings at his parent's house with all the out of town relatives throughout the year.

I miss my church. I miss the praise and worship team, and all the creative outreach events they would put on. I miss how simple they kept it, to reach more people. I miss Trunk or Treat and the Bible studies I took on Thursday mornings, the mom friends I made at the MOPS group on Tuesday mornings. I miss the preschool all three of my children went to, and all the amazing friendships that came out of that. I really miss seeing my friends in the commons after church got out on Saturday nights, and sitting with people during church. But I mostly miss my pastor, Mark Balmer. I went to that church for seven years, and really came to love and trust him. I would email him when I didn't understand something or to tell him when something great had happened in my life as a result of one of his sermons. In a church of six or seven thousand people, he always wrote me back. I even sent him poems I had written about different subject matter he was teaching on, and he always liked them and encouraged me to keep writing. I never really knew him that well because our church was so huge, but I never felt neglected. I always felt pastored and cared for. I miss his wisdom, his faith and practical sense. I have a lot of respect for him. So many times I would walk into church completely confused, anxious or even depressed, and the light and encouragement, and the Holy Spirit's use of the compelling grace Pastor Mark packed his sermons full of would have their way in my heart and mind and I would leave buoyant once again, filled and inspired to live out another week.

I love being in Tulsa. I prayed for ten years to move here, and it really was a desire of my heart. I had unfinished business here from my college days, which I will write about another time, and when Derek suddenly wanted to move here too and was able to find a great job and everything else just completely fell into place, it was wonderful. Like being handed a dream on a silver platter. Like being taken seriously by my Heavenly Father, something He's great at. It was the fulfillment of what I had written off as a silly hope. So I am excited to be here, starting over, with plans to raise our kids in the midwest and to fully thrive where we feel that we are meant to be.

I'm just homesick lately. And writing about it helps.

The transplanting is going a bit harder than I thought it would. I still feel a foreigner after being here for almost a year, and find that I get my feelings hurt by new acquaintances and even perfect strangers for small, perceived, and I'm sure, unintentional slights. I am kind of shy, so it's harder for me to just throw myself out there and be friendly.

I promise I'm not ungrateful. I feel so blessed. I'm so happy to be right where I am. Tulsa is a really special place. A place that will surely become home in my heart someday. 

I just miss the old home that has always had dibs on my heart. That's all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Archer

Bow tightly strung, shoulders taut
I stand poised on mountains
With gravely shaking legs
A seasoned eye and mind my gain

I take note
Of lethal acrobatic height
Pluck splinters to their bitter end
And sing all manner of warbled lullabies

Stalwart grace and knees well spent
Shaping small earthen hearts toward infinite Divine
With ears that hear what is never said
I point thoroughly to places hard to find

After years of valiant deposit
And sanding down closets of doubt
My bullets form well below the sand
Their eyes and minds in route

In distances felt more than seen
Measure taken of all failed stands
Lifting hands to check the wind
Lifting wings to check for span

Through nights of brave and cautious razing
Smoothing the onset of every hope
And offering the killing of every kind of loving
But to firstly place that One withstanding grope

Carving sharp heads to bind to blazing hearts
Wringing from flint the finest work
And circling every shadowed angle
Watching imperfections or stony dirt

My muscled years of squinted eye
And little hearts of trusting shape
Sent forth with quick fast arcing flame
Sights confirmed for deadly aim

Letting great hands move me
Through positions of every honing sense
My hands holding with the ease of an archer
An arsenal to silence the largest defense

Jillian Rose

"As arrows are in the hand of a warrior,
so are the children of one's youth"
Psalm 127:4

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Snapshots of Fall

I am sitting at our old kitchen table.
The thing is scarred, stained and wobbly and has been through quite a bit and every time I sit down at one of the old rickety mismatched white chairs that are pulled up around it, I think man, we need a new table. However, my attention is diverted at this moment to the backyard. It is early October and it's one of those perfect end of summer/beginning of fall mornings. I have a steaming mug of coffee in my hand and the kids are at school, the house is clean, all errands have been run, I've baked some banana nut bread for our afternoon snack and just got off the phone with my best friend Kate. I have the whole house to myself and I am in the perfect frame of mind. The sun is high and bright in the sky, a couple lazy clouds drift by, and a lackadaisical breeze shifts through the trees, the highest of whose leaves are ever so slightly beginning to fade. The air is cool and fresh in the low 70's and I have all the windows in our bay window in the kitchen open, while I sit and watch the trees. Our large backyard has quite a few hardwoods and most of them are tall and mature, so I can tell it's going to be a beautiful show when the leaves start to change. I can hardly wait.

I am in the middle of a cane maze.
It's mid-October. It's the pumpkin patch field trip for my daughter's second grade class and I'm one of the chaperones. The cane stands tall in the foggy morning air, swaying slightly to a tune that only it seems to hear. The kids are going wild in the maze, running back and forth to tell each other what they've discovered just around the corner, shrieking and pretending to be lost while they look for the exit, and forging new paths everywhere where the cane stands tall and undisturbed. The day is cool and breezy, and the fog begins to burn off as we walk, the sky emerging a bright and hopeful blue. We are walking on straw underfoot, that has been laid down on top of the wet dirt paths, muddy from rain the night before. A second grader runs by on the adjacent path, screaming Help!, chased by several other second graders, finally getting caught and tackled as they all end up in a squirming pile struggling to stand up in the close-knit stalks, giggling uncontrollably. The other moms I am walking maturely and calmly through the maze with, denying my sudden impulse to run and shout and play, chuckle indulgently and continue on.

I am standing in my backyard.
The day is overcast and kind of gray and the air is humid, but still cool. I'm lounging in an adirondack chair underneath a huge oak, in the exact place where I will put a hammock next spring, and the kids are jumping on their trampoline. It is surrounded by a huge net with posts, giving the entire humongous contraption a birdcage look. Occasional leaves float lazily on the cool, hazy air and drift quietly down into this net-contained space. They are jumping and diving and the boys have recently figured out how to do front flips. They're front flipping with complete abandon, and asking me every ten seconds did you see that? Did you see that one? What about that one? And watch this Mommy! It is the end of October. It seems almost like it might rain today. I hope so. I've heard that the more fall rain there is, the better the colors are when the leaves change.

I am standing on my front patio in my socks and flip flops.
It's kind of cold on this afternoon early in November, but in that perfectly crisp way that you don't mind if you have a good sweatshirt on. The sun is shining down on me and all three kids are taking turns with the water hose, washing off the gourds and pumpkins we have just bought at the hardware store. We are decorating our front patio for fall. They soap up each tiny nubby gourd I've purchased, misshapen and blazing with all sorts of wildly splotched colors - green, yellow, orange, magenta, brown - and rinse them (and each other) off before moving on to the large green speckled swan gourd and then finally, the several orange pumpkins we have in varying sizes. Meanwhile, I plant yellow mums in a huge terracotta pot, and then a small cheerful hosta in a little one. I separate and re-pot my fern, getting it ready for colder weather and making it easy to bring inside if I need to. All up and down the street the leaves on the trees are changing, half-yellow and brown, many of them a bright scarlet color. There's an especially beautiful tree at the end of the street in a blaze of glory. It has lost almost all of it's flame-tipped leaves, and they lay discarded in a wide circle all around the base of it's trunk, like a molten pool of fragmented shards. 

I am standing in Woodward Park.
I hear Derek suck in his breath as we pull into a parking slot and the kids and we start to climb out of the van. The trees alone are enough to render him and me speechless, and I am standing under a massive oak that stretches out over the parking lot, and must have been here for a hundred years or more. I let my eyes stretch all the way down to the end of the park, as the grassy knoll dips and rises and tree after tree, hundreds of them, and all huge, stretch their branches wide and drop their leaves, humbly acquiescing to that brilliant death. We walk toward the lower end of the park, wading through thousands of leaves on the ground, in all shapes and hues. I stop frequently, trying to capture the breathtaking beauty with my camera, though I know it's futile. There are photographers and small parties of people everywhere. The leaves are almost at peak and everyone is getting their Christmas photos done. It is mid-November and the world is aflame. This is my first real fall as a resident in Tulsa. I think I'm in love.

I am jogging down Riverside Avenue
It's cold, in the high 40's, being only nine o'clock in the morning and when I dropped the kids off at school a little while ago I made sure they had their coats for recess. I run lightly, with the Arkansas River winding it's way on my left, wearing my sweatpants and a long sleeve shirt, starting at 41st and heading north, to run the two miles to 21st and then back. I am listening to the sounds of the wind, birdsong, and the traffic that zooms by a couple hundred yards away. It is toward the end of November, but not yet the week of Thanksgiving. I can see my breath as I run and after a rusty start, my stiff muscles start to warm up and loosen. The trees are right about at peak, and a few of them have lost most of their leaves. As I run down shaded parts of the path, the sun filters through the remaining golden, burnt orange and red leaves, rendering the path below my feet in a strangely dappled pattern, each leaf's silhouette quivering and spinning. My feet are crunching through leaves on the ground and I am like a child at Christmas, looking all around me, taking it all in, thirsty for all the color and meaning this season holds.

Now I sit and type all of this, looking back in my mind's eye at all of these moments of autumn that I have recorded. Thanksgiving is this week, and as I watched the landscape change over the last six weeks, something inside of me changed too. I found fall in my own heart. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose." As the irresistible green and growing season gave way to a restless display of spinning leaves, with cooler nights and shorter days, and then switched to a soulful and melancholy settling in for the colder winter months, I found in my soul the same settling, the same tucking away of this year's greener memories, the same surrender and gratitude for all the growth. Like the trees, I find myself able to now digest experiences that have stretched me, in a hibernation of sorts. I feel the closure that was sure to come from watching the trees cathartically release all of their life and growth to the stillness of winter, and I feel the hope that starts to grow, even now, in anticipation of the buds of spring.

It is with a truly thankful heart for the faithfulness and mystery of God that I find living in the beauty and order of seasons, that I render these snapshots of fall.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I'm Looking for a Bunch of Rejects

Writing is harder than it looks.

Here I am, with my little blog, attempting, by describing my life, to impact the world for better, and I often doubt the value of anything I might have experienced or have to say regarding what other people are doing.

After every post, I find myself filled with self-doubt and fear of rejection. While I understand the importance of writing honestly and being transparent, in order to be fully effective in my gift, it is with fear and trembling that I traverse the country of vulnerability.

At least in my poetry, I can hide from most people, with cryptic messages that will hopefully reach the right kindred spirits, those who don't misunderstand me. Why do I feel the need to be so understood? Why do I place my value in how well I can do something? They aren't related, worth and ability.

It's hard to transfer this from my head to my heart. I hold back from using my abilities out of fear of my inabilities. Maybe it is this kind of author who never arrives at the glowing destination they dream of, be it getting published, or arriving on a bestseller list, or better yet (and seemingly so unattainable), joining those hallowed souls on the classics lists. Oh to be not just a writer, not just a good writer, but to be a great writer. It is one of the most layered, for better and worse, and intentioned prayers of my soul.

Maybe it shouldn't be. Maybe I should be content right where I am, in so-so world, where I haven't worked hard or achieved that English degree that I know will help me immensely, and I haven't been published, and I almost always have a hard time hitting "publish post", and just having the respect of family, fellow moms, friends and other Christians usually suffices to satisfy.

Well, if I squint my eyes and let it get blurry it satisfies.

I often wonder if this goal is completely wrong. I want to be the kind of writer who adds to the world, who contributes to the great conversation, who asks and is willing to answer hard questions that polarize most people into two groups. My personality is kind of polarizing, so it seems like I would write the issues I am pondering, but I don't. I often steer away from them in fear. Fear of rejection.

I need strength and courage to be alone on the stand. I need to give myself grace to be exactly what I was meant to be, especially if it has nothing to do with greatness. How hard to lower my expectations. I know some of us struggle with not expecting enough of ourselves, but I struggle with expecting too much. Typical Type A who can not, will not, must not, under threat of failure, go easy on myself. I expect excellence. I crave it in everything I encounter, be it friendships, food, music, nature, child-rearing, fiction, organization, marriage...

I recently started forcing myself to write a few times a week, about whatever I'm thinking of. Having never done it before, I wasn't sure, after all these lofty ambitions, if I could actually do it. If I could actually find subject matter that was intriguing enough to spend my time and energy on that frequently. I found it was possible. I had it in me. I found it required tons of hard work. And sometimes I find myself being lazy, not really reaching for that excellent way of putting something or that well-placed sentence or better word that hits the nail on the head. Laziness. Hmm, I didn't really expect to find that in there with all my wannabe over-achiever goals. So that's definitely something I'll be working on. I want to want to work. It can't all be a pizza party, this writing thing.

I started wanting to write a book when I turned 30 last year. But about what? I tend to skip over the small, necessary steps in pursuit of the large gold medal moments. Derek, wise as he is, recently suggested doing some short stories and seeing if that takes me anywhere. Start small, he said. So I think that's what I'll do.

But it's submitting my work that freaks me out most of all. Putting yourself out there like that, in such a look at me way, with the hugely probable chance of getting a rejection slip back in the mail, is simply terrifying. I'm scared to death of that kind of "professional" rejection. But most published authors get tons of rejection slips before getting published. I know one of my favorite childhood authors, Madeleine L'Engle, writes in her journals about getting turned down over and over for A Wrinkle in Time, the book that went on to win a Newberry Medal, and other awards too. So getting rejected is good, right?
Whatever the case may be, I'm striving for growth on this blog. I'm striving to become a better writer, a more honest communicator, and trying to set some goals toward getting my work out there. I'm looking to work harder, be lazy less.
And I guess I'm looking for a bunch of rejects.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Leaving

The upper world ablaze
Quiet trees in slow-simmered murmur
Hissing death in brilliant splendour
Remembering the Crucifixion

Green grown dark, blood-red,
With royal golden crown
The pruned and manifested light
Glorious surrender from a green-steeped life

And falling with
Height-drunken and subdued ballet
They sink into the brothy history
My own rich and layered seasoning

Becoming muffled testimony
Of that most-stretched reach,
The branching death and Life-thawed birth
That beckons all

Whispered staccato of rain falling
And changing of old guards
From firefly evenings of loose-tied cloths
To a weaving of the grayer cocoon

Where we will draw close
With communion once again
By fireside and thick warmth
Humming our anticipation of emerging buds

In high strung breezes
In crawling golden afternoons
Of woodsmoke and God's own confetti 
We find the oldest song of love

Jillian Rose

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Valley of the Shadow

I've been pondering shadows lately.

I grew up loving the 23rd Psalm and always thought the "valley of the shadow of death" (in verse 4) to be an eerie place filled with gray light, traversed with all muscles tensed, brightened only by the presence of God in the midst of our deepest or deadly troubles.  I have walked through whole days, months, and unfortunately, even years in the shadowy gloom of my unreliable emotions, or shadowed indecision, or even with the shadow of a friend or loved one's death hanging overhead. I've spent much time just not knowing what to do, or say, where to go, how to get there, how to have joy, or just asking why. But I think there could be more to shadows than just bad.

After all, how would we define sunlight if we didn't have shadows to compare it to? How would we have shade if not objects in front of the sun? Or what about hiding - usually you pick the darkest, most shadowed spot when hiding from enemies. The philosophical content that lives in the mere topic of shadows and light is vast - too deep for me to attempt explanation of or even proper enlightenment with in just a whimsical blog post, but it's a subject I've been contemplating for some time.

George MacDonald said, "Afflictions are but the shadows of God's wings." Psalm 91 states that "he that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."

I am on an airplane.

Contrary to my blissfully uncontainable love for travel of all kinds, I hate flying. It terrifies me to be up so high and at the mercy of something as manmade and breakable as an airplane, not to mention the concepts of physics (that I don't understand) that are being employed, and the gravity that is being defied. My friend Jill sits next to me. I have volunteered the fact of my overwhelming fear of flight just minutes prior, out of sheer last minute panic before takeoff, and she has said she will hold my hand if I like.

We are speeding down the runway and my eyes are closed, my stomach turning, my hands tightly gripping the armrests. I feel the loss of control, the separation of wheels from the ground they were built to turn upon, as we are suddenly airborne. For a moment, as we gain altitude quickly, it feels as though the air is pressing down all around me, in uproar at the arrogance of man so nonchalantly mocking physical laws. The day is slightly cloudy. There is some turbulence as we push through the layers of cumulus and mile high fog, and I can see rays of light trying to pierce the cloud cover.

But then we break free of the gloom and I am suddenly enthralled by the brilliant sunlight, the bird's eye view, the shadow of the plane on a particular thick cloud just below. Another shadow. But different in every way, this. This is a shadow that serves to illuminate my location, high above clouds and turbulence, in a place of bright, uncorrupted beauty.

It's just a thought for today. Perhaps the shadows in our lives serve to further illustrate the light. Maybe we are meant to see trials and afflictions as simply a gray canvas on which Providence will paint in bright and lasting color. 

Romans 8:28 is reassuring when I stand in a melancholy, dimly lit place, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are called according to His purpose." No matter the shadow or the seemingly permanent gloom, there is a sparkle around the corner. There are muscles to be had in walking this dark place, and compassion and encouragement to be given to future friends in need of it. Unbelievably, there is gratitude that will pour involuntarily from my heart for every having gone through this valley - because I am stronger, wiser, and more effective from living through it. No matter the ingredients of the hostile air that surrounds me, there is grace available for me - I just need to breathe it in.

When I'm walking through a place of fear or uncertainty,and cannot remember what the warmth of light felt like, with whatever circumstances that may entail, I must remember that I'm also in a place of peaceful shadow, under the wings of my Heavenly Father, safe in His infinite care. I need not worry about the threat of destruction, the clouds of sadness and regret, or objects standing obstinately in front of the light, for they must ultimately serve His purpose in my story. Another part of Psalm 23, verse 6, promises that "surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
No matter the shadows, no matter the valleys, no matter the hopeless days and futile situations.

His goodness will have the last say in my life.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Great Expectations: A Ream of Dreams

I'm reading Great Expectations right now, one of Charles Dickens' most beloved and widely read novels. What riches I am finding inside this wise story! I'll spare you the book review but at the very least, the contents of this book make me think of my own great expectations for my life and what I hope to see and achieve in my lifetime.

Like the expectations I have for my writing. I've been writing all sorts of things since I was a kid - poetry, short stories, a few magazine articles here and there, some newspaper articles and a zine in college, and now I've been trying to be more disciplined by writing on this blog. But I want to get published. How scary to type that last sentence, realizing the real weight of all the commitment, calling and sweat that is required. I want to be a real, too legit to quit author of something meaningful and inspiring. I realize my expectations are not in line with my disciplines. Writing is way harder than it looks. And I'm so very inconsistent. For me, it's all about making it a daily practice, and pushing myself to work hard when I don't feel inspired or eloquent or philosophical. It's about stretching myself and writing for practice, not just to be profound or amazing or original. I've never done this kind of thing before. I can feel the growth. I can see the stretch marks.

I have expectations for my reputation. Oh, nothing glamorous or fame-laden, if you would know, but I'd like to be a role model for teenagers. And a support system and sounding board for fellow moms. One day, I'd like to do foreign mission work full time. I'd like to be known as an artist. And a godly woman. I'd like to be a cherished wife and mother, a jewel in my family's setting. I want to be trustworthy, self-controlled, discreet and honest. I want to be an excellent friend, one whose words are like "apples of gold in settings of silver" (Proverbs 25:11), properly timed and seasoned with grace and love. I want my children to think of me as loving, gentle, adventurous and protective. I want Derek to think I rock all mics!

Then there are the expectations I have for my family. I have visions of us making incredible memories and doing great things together: cooking delicious meals together, scuba diving when the kids are older, travelling the world, going on family missions trips and playing musical instruments together. I see us hiking part of the Appalachian Trail, standing in front of the pyramids in Egypt, the Mayan ruins in Mexico, and camping at Yellowstone. But these things will never happen unless I take the first step. I cook with my kids almost daily and we've been upping our hiking mileage every time we go, but I haven't really started pursuing any of my other family goals. It's not even about going and signing up for a missions trip or booking a campsite at Yellowstone for 2011 (yes, you have to book them that far in advance). It's more about keeping our family goals always before me, in the front of my thoughts, alongside the mental grocery list and weekly schedule of events. I am learning that if I don't pursue these things on purpose, they will fall in at the back of the line behind small things that no one will remember when they are grown and gone.

Habakkuk 2:2 says "Write the vision, make it plain on tablets so that he who reads it may run with it." This verse inspires me to write my goals down, to pray over them, and to see them happen. After all, God made me the woman I am and He had the full knowledge of my driven personality - He knew these would be my goals and I believe He gave me the creativity and passion to dream them up. He knew I'd marry an incredibly zany and adventurous guy who grins from ear to ear when I start brainstorming about random road trips. This verse encourages me to run with my vision, not crawl or walk or trot, but run! All out sprinting toward those green pastures and still waters (see Psalms 23). 

I have expectations for my health, including a goal weight and a certain lifestyle of fitness and eating really well, expectations for my ridiculous, uncooperative hair - I'd like for it to look good every once in a while. I know Derek has plans for his career, and we both have plans for our education. These things can seem so untouchable when I lift my head out of the murk and flow of daily life and look at them there in the distance, so far off. But attacking them now, if only in prayer, is never a bad idea. I know God holds my life, my plans, my heart and it's most treasured desires in the palm of His hand. I am learning not just to trust Him, but to dream big! I am learning to step off that cliff of practical safety and take a little bit of risk, have a little more faith.

I have expectations for my house. I want to have a cheerful, quirky, elegant and artistic home, with peaceful lines and colors and bright splashes of color, with handmade items, timeless pieces of furniture and some funky modern ones too. I know furniture isn't the most important thing in life, it's really not very important at all. But as an artist who hopes to inspire others to a new idea or color or lifestyle choice, the palette and design of my home matters some. It is the place that I create, the place I retreat to for comfort, safety and freedom. It is the symbol of warmth and invitation for loved ones. For me, the way my home looks is the backdrop to my life.

As you can see,when it comes to great expectations, I have no shortage. In fact, as I start to brainstorm, more and more ideas come. I could sit down and write ideas out for every category in my life for hours. Dreaming comes second nature to me. And I've always thought it was a bit like window shopping. Why even look if you can't buy? But I've recently changed my mind. This window shopper thinks maybe God can handle all of my expectations and then some. Maybe there are some that will never come to pass. Some of them can't happen for a while, while maybe others can be worked in somehow. But I'm looking to the One who made the sky blue and the stars innumerable. The One who spoke all the layers of this world into being and then used His hands and breath to make me. I'm thinking of a Creator spinning webs of food chains, sea life, ecosystems and life cycles without any help. Fashioning dinosaurs. Inventing color. Building brains and dreaming up music.

And I'm starting to see how silly I've been in putting dreams aside. Ephesians 3:20 supports my sneaking hunch that I haven't yet begun to dream, "Now to Him is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine...."
Just the words "immeasurably more" give me a physical reaction. Chills all up and down my spine. Goosebumps of anticipation in realizing that I was meant to dream for all that this life could possibly hold. I am intended to be the best possible version of myself, to live life abundantly, created by God and crowned with His purpose. The possibilities are endless!

Maybe you've stopped dreaming. Maybe you're waiting until this current season of life has passed to pick up where you left off with your biggest hopes.
Maybe you should stop waiting. Maybe you should write down every far fetched and wildly delicious hankering you have and after quietly considering if there could be anything else you might have forgotten, wave that paper skyward with a ridiculously huge grin on your face.

Because I have a feeling we were meant to fully realize our greatest expectations.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Overnight Pothead

I am so excited about all the huge free pots Derek scored from the landscaping company at the next door neighbor's house this weekend! Some of them are huge.

We live up on a hill here in Tulsa and I haven't been able to grow much in the ground aside from green beans and a teensy bit of unhappy basil because our soil is mostly clay. Even the green beans seemed like they weren't thrilled. I was so excited about gardening in a full four-season climate when we moved here from Florida and then when the soil proved to need much doctoring that I wasn't willing to pay for since we are renting this house, I decided I'd have a container garden next spring. But I have quite a large gardening appetite and knew I'd have to find those many containers at a garage sale or in Home Depot's dumpster or somewhere cheap or better yet, free. When I noticed our next door neighbor Jeremy planting a bunch of crepe myrtles and other large plants and flowers this weekend by way of a landscaping company my eyeballs immediately lit upon the massive stack of various sizes of black heavy duty plastic pots and tubs.

I sent Derek over to do my dirty work. He came back with a smile and a stack of about eight massive black tubs. Score!

Now I know black plastic is not the most aesthetically pleasing material in the world in which to garden with, but let's face it. It does the job. So until I am an independently wealthy millionaire who can afford to purchase fifty amazing artisan handcrafted mosaic masterpieces in which to house my vegetables and herbs, I shall be happy with what God has so obviously dropped out of the sky on my head.

Now they are all stacked up in my garage and since I'm still a bit under the weather from this cold, I have nothing better to do today than to take care of my daughter, who is also sick, and run around plotting what I shall start growing immediately. I have already called Derek at work three times and it's not even 11:30 yet. Albeit, one of those times was to tell him of the brilliant epiphany I had at around 8:30am to slipcover our nasty couches, but I'm pretty sure I squeezed in some gardener talk too.

Now, to figure out what I can actually grow during the winter seasons. Hopefully, there will be something, else I might have to attempt being the first gardener ever who grew tomatoes in snow.

Is there any better drug than gardening? Not for this overnight pothead.

Wish me luck.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Golden Compass: School of Nietzsche (book series review)

I recently finished the His Dark Materials series, by Philip Pullman, better known as the Golden Compass series, which is comprised of three books:
1. The Golden Compass
2. The Subtle Knife
3. The Amber Spyglass

I had heard all kinds of talk about this series, and being a Christian, most of the hubbub was bad. So of course, in ordinary me fashion I decided to investigate. My favorite kind of fiction is young adult fantasy and it is both my privilege and responsibility to read as much as I can, especially since I am the mother of three children who will most likely be voracious readers like their parents, and also because in my deepest hopes I would one day love to be a writer who contributes to this particular genre.

It is my goal with this post to simply deliver my opinion of this series. Keep in mind I come from the viewpoint of Biblical standard, so if you don't share the same perspective, I pray you will not be offended but simply take into consideration anything I might think in the same way I would do with you.

I will give the positive first :)
I thought this series quite well-written, with much application of modern philosopy, explanation of physics and some nice irony, imaginative and inspiring as far as creativity and plot, and hosting several quite loveable and understandable characters. It was not hard to picture myself as one of the hero or heroine, and the adventurous spirit was contagious. I was also able to gain, by reading these books, a better sense of where atheists are coming from in their belief set.

Now for the negative.
I hated this series. As far as the ideas and content, I was deeply disturbed at what I found. I have not read every award-winning young adult fantasty series out there, but I have read quite a few, and I will say of all those I have read, I felt this series was by far the most dangerous set of books for kids that I have read.

The books start slowly in their ultimate design, which the reader starts to suspect and suddenly becomes wise to: The destruction of God. By men. John Milton's Paradise Lost is frequently alluded to, and these books take up the stance of commending the Fall of man as a stepping stone of progress, instead of a "paradise lost." These works are deeply cynical about any kind of spiritual authority, other than self, and set the church up to be an evil institution intent on controlling everything with rules and punishments. There is none of the beauty of faith in these books. Most of the bad guys are employed by or in cahoots with the church.

While I could go on and on about the specifics, I will stick to the largest theme. God is portrayed as an old feeble angel that became power hungry and had a little more cunning to him than his fellow heavenly hosts, and so he set himself up as The Authority and began dishing out severe rules for all of mankind to follow or not follow - at their own peril. The books are all about the main characters Lyra and Will, being chosen to dispel the myth that is God, destroy Him and His armies, and set up a new worlds system (the book is in the setting of multiple parallel universes) as a new Adam and Eve, without God or any kind of allegiance to anything higher than the physical world and self. The culmination of plot in these books is the war that man wages against God and all His angelic armies. God dies of His own frailties in the end of book three, and is written as a geriatric mute who no longer speaks or understands and seems liable to wet his pants at any moment.

These books are powerful in their ability to render God silly and laughable, unworthy of regard, and in the light of mockery and scorn. They are quite persuasive without seeming to be so, at undermining reverence toward God and anything mysterious that surrounds our knowledge of Him.
I was astonished by the blatantly atheistic and humanistic content in these books. By the end of the second book and in the third, there are multiple bold references in complete mockery calling God by His Biblical names, such as Yahweh and the Ancient of Days,  in jest. The first book is deceptive. It's a good story and you only just start to see the glimmer of Pullman's motive, and so are drawn into the wild, imaginative adventure Will and Lyra and all their comrades are on. It is only when you are hooked and move on to the second book that the confession from several characters of their scorn and hatred for The Authority is revealed. It is sudden and stunning and by then you want to keep reading because you have fallen for the characters.

I believe that by being subtle and well-written this book becomes dangerous. It attacks the existence of God, and it also attacks adolescent belief in God, which I feel is the far more dangerous of the two in this context. How well I know to what extent the fiction I read as an adolescent helped to shape my ideas, morals, beliefs, tolerances, and supposed facts about the world. I feel that if the belief in God that resides in almost any child in whom it is nurtured, and I believe that young faith to be a natural, instinctual response to eternity, is undermined, it sets one up for a life without hope. Without prayer, or the peace that comes in trusting in Divinity, in the Higher Power that is at work, wherever you are in that belief.

I believe Philip Pullman, the author of this series, knows this and pursues the "liberation" of the minds of youth worldwide from that of reliance on God or the belief that He is at least there. Mr. Pullman is a professed atheist, passionately so. While I disagree with his beliefs, there are many writers out there whose beliefs I share in no way, but whose fiction I love for the simple reasons of relevance, application, truth, beauty, creativity, and skill. For me, these books were offensive. I remember reading The Davinci Code (Dan Brown) and never once being offended, because I felt the whole time that while that book could definitely confuse and divide, it was always fiction and more of an expirement in theological history than a soapbox for the author. Pullman's books are a potentially lethal assault on faith in God, period.

I warn against letting your child read these books at a young age. I also caution against letting them read the books by themselves. I would not be surprised if they end up on many public junior high and high school required reading lists, or at least if the first one does. They have won all kinds of awards and accolades.

Good fiction is meant to illustrate that which is true. Sometimes, the story is sad, or gruesome, or difficult to read. But if it is good, it resonates with us somewhere. We find ourselves and our plight, and hopefully, a semblence of the real cure to that plight, in some way, in good fiction. However, when fiction starts to lie and call something fundamentally what it is not, we have reason to be alarmed and counter it. Though I read a lot of controversial fiction, in order to talk about it with others and to know what is being published and revered, I take many of my cues for art and literature from Philippians 4:8, " Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

I am in no way a professional reviewer of books, although that would definitely be near the top of the list of my dream jobs :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My God Rocks: Story of a Bank Robbery

Has God ever intervened in your life in a huge and dramatic way? What about in a small way? Have you ever felt that absolute certainty in the middle of one of life's storms that He was right there with you, lending you courage, giving you grace, making you strong despite your very apparent weakness?

It is July 2002.

I am 7 months pregnant with my daughter Carson, and work as a bank teller part-time. I am standing behind the teller line on a Friday afternoon, counting the cash in my drawer and wearing a plaid maternity dress, when the glass doors at the front of the bank fly open and a hostile male voice screams, "Get the @#$* down now!"

In complete alarm I look up and watch four masked men dressed in black shirts, camouflage pants and holding guns run into the bank and head straight toward the teller line. My brain is already switching into what trauma experts call "survival mode", where I am willing to do whatever it takes to only live.
All along the teller line and throughout the bank I hear gasps of fear and shock as every customer and employee drops to their knees and faces on carpet and cold tile. One of my closest and oldest friends in the world, Carrie, works out in the lobby at one of the desks. One of the men shouts something unintelligible and I hear her voice in response and feel my hands clench involuntarily in expectation of something terrible. Turns out she sassed the guy. He pointed a gun in her face and shouted for her to get down and she looked down the barrel of that gun, remembered her southern belle upbringing and said with attitude, "O-kay!" before crawling under her desk and activating the alarm. I remember when she later told me what happened, I loved her refusal to act the victim, and her spunk in the face of such horror.

"Jesus help me", I whisper desperately as I fall to my knees, breathing shallowly and feeling my heart start to squeeze with pressure and panic. I breathe prayer after reflexive one word prayer, reliant on the intervention and protection of the God I have loved since I was 3 years old, trusting that He will, as the psalmist wrote, "give His angels charge over us, to guard us in all of our ways". As I crouch there, moving my mouth with no sound, the weirdest thing happens. I start to feel calmer. I hear the men jumping over the counter of the teller line. I hear people sobbing and falling everywhere. There is, accompanying the adrenaline coursing through my veins, the wretched anticipation of a gunshot.

But a weird peace drops over me.

I start to feel as though I am cocooned inside a bubble of quiet. I cannot feel the intense turmoil that I am sure is roiling in the air around all of these terrified people. There is instantly a noticeable difference in the erratic pumping of my heart. I suddenly know with certainty that God is here with me, in the middle of this horror. I can feel Him. I am suddenly sure that I will be okay. The apostle Paul refers to a "peace that surpasses understanding" in the book of Philippians (ch.4). Kneeling there, almost tranquil in the midst of a violent bank robbery, I have firsthand experience with this supernatural sedative and decide to pay attention.

I note the time on my wristwatch: it is 2:04pm. I can hear the bank robbers, after vaulting over the teller line, begin to ransack our drawers for the thousands of dollars locked inside. Fortunately for me, my drawer is unlocked because I was counting my cash, so they are able to take the cash quickly and without paying any attention to me at all. I crouch there quietly, both hands spread wide on the worn blue carpet, every pore listening intensely. I notice one of the men's shoes: black athletic sneakers that I am later able to describe to the police. I hear another teller pleading with one of the men; it seems her drawer was locked and she is completely hysterical and without the presence of mind to give him her keys. I silently pray. "Help us God. Preserve our lives. Keep us safe." Over and over. Crazily enough, these coherent thoughts come to my mind and I offer them to Heaven with all I am, knowing this to be my only option, my real reliance, my most hopeful alliance. She finally hands over the keys but not until he has punched her. I can hear her sobbing now, and I am praying for it to be over. Now.

My eyes trained on my watch, I am frozen, listening to every sound. Now I can hear customers that are on their hands and knees and laying on the floor in the lobby being robbed of the cash in their hands, their purses and rolls of coin they were bringing to deposit. I hear gasps and screams, thuds and shouting from one of the gunmen, then I hear coins fall to the tile floor.

They finally leave. Though it seems an eternity, they are there for less than 3 minutes. Immediately I stand up and walk to the phone. I dial 911 and in a calm voice tell the operator we have been robbed, please send the police. My fellow teller, the one who has been punched, is crawling toward me, sobbing, and I help her up and wrap my arms around her, cradling the phone in between my shoulder and ear, the big sister in me wishing I could have stopped her from being violated in this way. The customers in the bank are starting to stand up, employees are beginning to come out from under their desks. I am amazed, even while I give the bank address to the emergency operator, find a chair for the teller who was hurt, and with Carrie and my fellow employees, start to help customers stand, checking to make sure everyone is okay, and assessing what is missing, that I am not shaking, not crying, not without the sense to do what is needed for the crisis at hand.

I am okay. I still feel as though there is an invisible barrier with a temperature-controlled environment of peace that completely surrounds the immediate air I am breathing. As I write this now, it reminds me of the verse that a close friend of mine, whose 7 year old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor as a tiny infant, puts at the bottom of all of her emails - "He will keep in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee." (Isaiah 26:3)

The police come. I am able to remember the time, the shoes, a few important details, the type of car they were driving, and how to work the video surveillance system to play back the tapes. Carrie is okay, the teller who was punched is okay but badly shaken, we are all okay. After the police leave, we finish out the work day with locked doors, only admitting customers whom we recognize or can identify quickly. It is not until days later that I realize the experience I have had and the real, sustaining involvement of my Heavenly Father on my behalf and that of those in the bank. What if it had turned out worse?

In the Old Testament, in the book of Exodus, God instructed the Israelites, after He brought them across the Red Sea and delivered them miraculously from the hands of their enemies and certain death or slavery, to build a tower of rocks, a memorial to remind them and future generations of His faithfulness to deliver them. He knew they might forget just how good He is. He knew the power that lives in just one testimony of His strength and willingness to help those He loves. This story teaches me many things, but one of them is that our own experiences, whether grand, gruesome, mundane or messy, hold riches for those whose shoulders we brush in this life. No one can tell your story but you. God works in your life uniquely and means for it to be shared - a fine thread tightly woven into all the others, making a rich tapestry that verily shouts of the color and wisdom, the joy and peace to be had in living a life that acknowledges and trusts God.

I will never forget the inexplicable peace, heightened awareness and endurance that dropped over me that day at the bank, so remarkable it was. It defied coincidence and pointed definitely to the care and ultimate control of God. It served to cement my faith even more fully to the daily trust of His guidance and help, His promise to rescue and protect me, and to design great opportunity for my life.

This story is one of my rocks.

My God rocks :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Last Summer of the Sippy Cup

Whew. August 2010.
While it was rather warm, the heat was not the only thing making me sweat.
I've waited to write this post for two months now, anticipating a peace to overtake my sentimentality, a settling of the mom-turmoil in my heart. It is with a finally peaceful, albeit a little sore, heart that I type these words. All three of my children have been in school since August and I must admit, it has been an interesting adjustment for me. Unexpectedly, I feel almost like I'm grieving the loss of something. In a healthy way. For me, these last couple of months have been a time of remembering the past quietly, and a bit tearfully, and saying goodbye to it, folding it up gently like a newly washed favorite quilt, and putting it away somewhere that I can always find it, but nevertheless, putting it away.

In our house, this was the last summer of the sippy cup.

For me, the month of August signaled the end of an era. The baby era. The toddler era. The morning playdate era. The I've got to get out of this house or I'll scream era. The era when you have conversations about bowel movements with other moms that you barely know or when going to the grocery store is a grand getaway because the kids are in bed at home with Daddy and you can't spend money anywhere else. It was the end of what I always fondly referred to as "the wiping decade". For the last 8 years of my life, I have spent much of each day wiping faces, spit up, bums, noses, potty chairs, high chairs, tables, floors, innocent bystanders, throw up, slobber, doorknobs, snot, carseats, booster seats, toys, and well, you get the picture. I have spent these years in every imaginable frame of mind. I have been incandescently happy, overwhelmingly depressed, deeply grateful, full of regret, happy to help, sick of being the maid, ready for anything, grossed out by body fluids, undercaffeinated, overcaffeinated, unconditionally loving, a jerk, full of wisdom, and mean and vengeful, all in one day. I have been at home with my children since they were born and now they are all in school. The change I am adjusting to goes far beyond the newness of having them all in school. It is a new season altogether.

These last eight years I have fished bugs out of mouths, changed sandy diapers (when we went the beach and Lane ate a mother load of sand while I wasn't looking), looked for shoes that had been tossed out of car windows on the side of the road, had arguments with pediatricians about immunizations, researched rashes in the wee hours, read Green Eggs and Ham eighty-four million times, watched The Jungle Book ninety-four million times, made macaroni and cheese ten thousand times, ordered chicken finger and fries from every restaraunt I know, and stood helplessly baffled in the middle of the grocery store while my 2 year old repeatedly banged his head against the floor, in the throes of a temper tantrum because I wouldn't let him write on his jeans with a pen.

I have had three C-sections.

I have stayed up all night a lot. Feeding newborns, praying for wisdom, worrying about money, cleaning up vomit, rocking a colicky baby, watching over fevers, putting together Christmas gifts, and making cakes for birthday parties.
I have actually hidden in the bathroom with the door locked, eating chocolate and praying that they would all just go away. Please, stop banging the door down and just go away...

Seriously though, my resume, if I were allowed to have one for being a stay at home mom, would rock.

However, I have given up much to stay home. I haven't gone back to school to finish my degree. I haven't gone back to work. I wanted to be home for all of it. I knew I'd regret it if I didn't stay home when my children were babies. I haven't had that power career I started to think I'd have right before I got married. I haven't even hit the foreign mission field yet, like I thought I would when I became a christian. I haven't had much spending money, or the cool designer clothes and shoes that I would have loved to wear. I haven't gone to Spain or Paris or Ireland or even Alaska, like I thought I would do before I turned 30. I haven't hobknobbed with sophisticated people, or decked out my house with the coolest antiques or mod retro furniture or that white slipcovered couch that I made the mistake of buying and then sold pretty quickly when Lane spit up on it.

I have gained weight and gone whole days without brushing my teeth, given up on having fabulous hair and, in some ways, let myself go, because for most of those years, there just wasn't room for what my family needed and what I needed.

So, at the beginning of the summer when 4YO Matthew, the last of my three to go off to school, was having trouble giving up his sippy cup I told him he had until the end of the summer, when he started school, in August. Since he would be in school every day, he needed to be able to handle it without a sippy cup. Every other trace of babyhood had pretty much been done away with except for the sippy cups. We had already grown out of cribs, pack n plays, diapers and pullups, strollers, and baby dishes.

The last day of summer came. I remember waking up in the morning and thinking this is the day that we throw away Mattie's sippy cups. He was ready. After breakfast he took one more last long swig, stared me directly in the face and said, "Here. Throw it away." As I tossed those faded, chewed up cups and lids into the trash can,whose spill proof seals no longer worked and Cars characters couldn't be discerned anymore, I watched his face for signs of panic. Nothing. He smiled up at me, shrugged his shoulders slightly, and turned and walked out of the kitchen. I found myself standing there staring down into the trash can, bereft. There, among the potato peels and empty egg carton, next to the junk mail, lay the remnants of almost a decade that changed me forever from a whining burden into a capable set of hands and feet and heart, from a wimp into a warrior, from a woman into a mother.
Since then, I will admit, I've been throwing a little bit of a pity party. I've been holding back from really engaging among new acquaintances at our new church here in Tulsa. I've delayed making plans, making friends, making my peace. It's as if, with the kids in school and all this time for me to now pursue those other dreams of being a writer and an artist, of getting healthy and going back to school, I don't know who I am anymore beyond being a mother to very small children. I know it's time to find out again.

So I ask you to picture me now. I am sitting on the couch, a cup of tea on the table next to me, the soft lighting of the lamp on overhead. I am holding a book. The book of these last eight incredible years of motherhood to my three children as babies and toddlers. It's not an attractive book. It's old and kind of smelly, with smears of food and ripped pages. It looks like someone has taken a black marker to some of the pages, and scribbled with abandon. A few of the pages are crumpled, some have been chewed on, and one is missing. If you look closely, you'll notice different chapters in this book. There's the chapter called "Sleepless With a Rattle", and then there's one named, "Will Rock For Food", and "Ancient Times: Date Nights". Then there's that last chapter, about something as inconsequential as a sippy cup, for Heaven's sake. Though not attractive, it's a very well-bound book, built to last. Certain pages are dog-eared. It is full of memories that only a mother could love, experiences that made me know how strong I really was, love that made me even more certain of the daily involvement of my Heavenly Father, teachable moments, and milestone celebrations that are among my most precious posessions. But now, it is time to close it. I have no regrets. I have peace about where our family is and have felt the guiding hand of God every step of the way. But this is the end of this season.
Picturing me taking my one last swig...
As I sit there, in the soft lamplight in a quiet house, while everyone is sleeping, I am ready to say goodbye. I must prepare my heart for what is next. I must ready myself and my life for the next season that God has for my family, for the fresh page to write upon, for the brand new book in which to chronicle my continuing journey as a mother. With prayers that have no words welling up in my heart, and tears that have their source in both joy and sadness upon my cheeks, with gratitude that makes me feel among the richest and most blessed of women, I close the book. I am saying goodbye to those wild days and to the particular brand of joy that surrounded them.
It is time to embrace what's around the bend and acknowledge that the best is yet to come.
I guess, without a lid on my cup, I can heartily drink to that.