on Lent: what do you do?

I’ll just come out and say it: this it the time of year I’m a little jealous of my liturgical friends. As an evangelical at heart (and in practice), our church doesn’t practice Lent in the traditional sense … but me? During this season of my life, I’m slowly becoming a sucker for stillness and rhythm, longing for a sense of balance and accountability.

So, I’m curious (you know I love input)–for those of you who practice Lent as a part of your church community and/or in your homes, what do you do (or not do)? What practices do you put in place during this time of year? What habits do you reevaluate or reconsider? And how do you (and your family) intentionally draw closer to Jesus?

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(That’s one of mine, by the way.)

it’s back: what i’m listening to, watching, and reading | february

It’s been a while, and I’ve missed doing these posts. In many ways, they serve as a reminder for me of how I’ve grown, what I’ve learned, and ways I’ve continued to change. So I’m bringing it back! Here’s what I’ve been listening to, watching, and reading this past month.

Listening… These days, it’s all about podcasts. For everything. Spiritual growth, parenting, friendship, writing, literature, family dynamics–you name it, there’s a podcast for it. When I’m home with Keegan, doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc., I’ve started listening to podcasts in the background as a way of practicing soul-care.

Watching… Parenthood took a little hiatus this month for the Olympics and so television has fallen to the wayside. Have I ever told you all about how my extended family keeps a running email dialog about The Bachelor? Well, they do, and it’s amazing (my grandmother has the best commentary of all). I tried to watch this season just to keep up, but I was so bored I fell asleep. So I’ve been watching recaps from Kristen and Sarah because they’re far more entertaining and I have a friend-crush on them both.

Reading… In case you missed it, Kyle and I are in the middle of a little reading challenge, so I started off with The Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book. And I love itAlso on my nightstand now is Song of the Exile by Karen Davenport and a couple other books for work. I confess: it’s been almost four years since I’ve read a fiction novel, which is just gross. I’m back in the groove and it feels good.

Eating… It’s true, I needed some extra incentive to lose the baby weight from Keegan. I mean–let’s just call a spade a spade, I gained 70 (!) pounds during pregnancy. It was outrageous. So I’ve been using Weight Watchers for the past six months and I love it! It helps me keep a balanced perspective when it comes to my body and lose weight in a healthy way.

Wearing… Stitchfix. I went on a purging rampage this past fall and got rid of so much stuff. And this sounds ironic, right? Like I purged everything to just buy more things? It’s actually been the opposite. I got rid of the sizes that will never fit me again, the clothes that just look ridiculous, stopped shopping clearance racks, and got rid of anything that had been sitting on a hanger for a year. If I hadn’t worn it, I said goodbye to it. Extra bonus? I consigned as much as I could and earned some extra cash. Insert Stitchfix. It really is like it sounds: a personal stylist delivered to your door. I’ve only done it a couple of times, and probably won’t for another year or so, but the items they sent me (particularly pants because wow pants and I struggle) fit so well and I wear them nonstop. If you do decide to do it, here’s my advice: be as specific as possible, use Pinterest to your advantage (the stylists look at your style board to get inspiration for what to send you), and put a realistic price for your budget.

Needing… To start and finish the laundry. We’ve got a situation here, people.

Feeling… Grateful and excited about things to come. I’ve joined a writing group and continue to learn from the amazing women from The Influence Network. We had a local meet-up recently (photo by Kaitlyn Meeks) and it was fun to just learn and hear about what other women in my community are doing.

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Enjoying…My job. I get to work with an unbelievable team of creative people and can be found pinching myself on a weekly basis.

What about you? What are you enjoying these days? Listening to? Reading?

on working and mothering

Back in October, I was out to lunch with baby in tow when I overheard a conversation that usually makes me cringe. It was between two moms, and they were going back and forth about their other mom-friends, when one of them said, “It’s just sad to me that ________ doesn’t really get to spend time with her kids, you know… because she’s chosen to work and have someone else raise them.”

Oh, for the love.

I’ve been at this “working and mothering” thing for almost a year now, and I have big feelings about it. But before we get into my big feelings, I want to start by saying–hopefully with humility and grace–that this entire conversation is a privileged one. As human nature goes, we tend to insulate ourselves with people who look and talk like us, and forget that others live with many different realities. In 2012, only 64% of children lived in a home with two married parents. And of that 64%, quite a few lived beneath the poverty line. So, let’s start there.

Here’s my other disclaimer: I very much have an equal partner. When Kyle is out of town, it’s a felt loss. When he comes home from work, he picks Keegan up and spends time with him. Kyle does laundry, unloads the dishwasher, pays most our bills, and does almost all the outside work. I know that I am fortunate to have someone who is fully invested, and I do not take him for granted. He champions me, encourages me, and supports me. Let’s just admit it: without him, this conversation would look a lot different. I know that.

When we found out we were having Keegan, we began seeking advice and praying about how to tackle the working/mothering decision. If you haven’t caught on by now–I love advice, and sometimes to a fault I can’t make a decision without at least five people weighing in. So I asked many women, mostly those who were older than me, and they all had different responses with many contrasting circumstances. Some never entertained the question because their family couldn’t afford it. One couldn’t get a work visa because she wasn’t an American citizen, so the decision was made for her. Some worked part-time, in and out of the home, and some stayed home full-time or worked full-time. In every scenario, they were all mothers raising their children, regardless of logistics.

Three months after Keegan was born, I was given an amazing opportunity to do what I love with very flexible hours. And for us, it’s the perfect balance. I work part-time and our childcare situation is wonderful. I truly could not ask for a better person to watch our son while I’m working. And here’s my big conclusion: IT’S ALL GOOD. I believe every single mother should make the choice based on what is right for her family, her own unique makeup, and her family’s financial situation. We’re all sacrificing, and every woman’s decision will look different because she is different, and so is her family.

For some women, their dream includes the minivan with crushed up goldfish and that is beautiful and worthy and true. And for others, their dream might be that but their reality demands something else, so let’s encourage them instead of shame them. For others, they come alive doing all kinds of other things and you know what? That’s okay, too. That doesn’t take away from her motherhood. Let’s not shame one another because we’re living different stories. Isn’t there enough insecurity in parenting? Don’t we all wonder if we’re doing it right and if we should be doing something different or better or more? Is it just me? And mostly, why do we care?

I’m saying this because I sense that we’re all growing tired of this being an “either/or” conversation. We don’t need tribes on this one. We need life-giving conversations. So let’s champion one another. Let’s trade high heels and exchange yoga pants (well…) and share stories about the things our children do that make our hearts explode. And then can we put down the working/stay-at-home swords and replace them with laughter and solidarity? Let’s try that instead.

And yes, this is my call to go live in the clouds. I happen to like it up here.

“You need to read this!” challenge

Surely you’ve experienced this too, right? You read a book, watch a movie, think it’s just about the best thing that’s ever happened and your spouse is, shall we say, unenthusiastic?

Well, we’re finally doing it. I pick five books for Kyle, he picks five books for me, and we read. I’ve actually been unofficially wanting to do this for a while, but after Sarah Bessey wrote about it, I was all, “Okay, it’s on.”

Here’s some background.

Kyle has wanted to do this forever. So we decided, from now until summer ends, we’re each going to read five books of the other’s choosing. We had a few ground rules: first, it had to be something the other has never read (this should be obvious, but much to Kyle’s surprise, I’ve read more fiction than he anticipated). Second, we set a 300 page limit, mostly so we still have time to read what we want. And third, no doubling-up of authors.

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Here’s what I chose for Kyle:

1. A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle–As a kid, I discovered my love for words while reading A Wrinkle in Time. Ever since, she’s been my muse. I go back to her when I’m feeling dried up and out of words. I read her writing when I’m feeling uninspired and dreary. And in many seasons of life, I’ve resonated with her questioning and depth of faith. This is truly a book I come back to again and again.

2. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning–During my sophomore year of college, I felt like I was rediscovering Jesus and what grace really looked like–for me and for others. I’m forever thankful for his work and can certainly relate with his description of “ragamuffin.” This quote sums it up, “The deeper we grow in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the poorer we become–the more we realize that everything in life is a gift.” (p. 81)

3. Love Does by Bob Goff–I read this in two days, and I’m a slow reader. I couldn’t put it down. As someone who almost always hesitates and second-guesses myself instead of just loving people, his book messed me up in the best of ways.

4. Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist–This book is so dear to me. I read it during a very bittersweet season of my life, and I couldn’t shut up about it. She has taught me so much about being present: in my home, in mothering, in my marriage, in friendships, etc. I have quotes from her all over the house, so it’s time for Kyle to get some context. She asks a question near the end that still resonates with me, “I don’t know anyone who has an easy life forever. Everyone I know gets their heart broken sometime, by something. The question is not, will my life be easy or will my heart break? But rather, when my heart breaks, will I choose to grow?” (p. 233)

5. Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright–It’s impossible to summarize what this book has meant to me (and so much of his work in general) in just a few short sentences. In some insane ability, N.T. Wright continually calls me up higher in the way I see Jesus. He has been called “the C.S. Lewis of our time” and I wholeheartedly agree.

In Kyle’s own words, here’s what he chose for me:

1. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway—Of all the Ernest Hemingway’s works to choose from, I am picking The Old Man and the Sea because it encapsulates everything about Hemingway in under 120 pages: his terse prose; protagonists battling against an uncaring world; more being left unsaid than said. It is a succinct response to Hemingway’s belief of the nada that faces everyone—you must fight against it.

2. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean—“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fishing.” Norman Maclean uses fishing as a way to connect with a brother he ultimately could not help. This story explores our desires and inabilities to help those closest to us. For me, this book was a gateway to Hemingway’s short stories.

3. Silence by Shusaku Endo—Powerful and layered, Silence explores the survival of European Christianity in xenophobic Japan during the 16th century. Partly narrated, partly epistolary, Endo’s book takes the reader to the verge of apostasy and asks the question, what does God’s silence mean?

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger—Holden Caulfield resonates with my inner-teenager. Irreverent, anti-social, ornery, Holden tries to hold on to an innocent youth to stave off what he perceives as a phony adult world. He struggles to cope with death and growing older—two subjects that hit far too close to home.

5. The Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book—Calvin and Hobbes is the single greatest comic strip of all time. Every time I reread the strip, it gets better. What I love is the truth Watterson captures using a 6-year-old and his tiger. This particular Calvin and Hobbes book is wonderful because Watterson leaves comments throughout. My favorite quote of Watterson’s is “The best comics expose human nature and help us laugh at our own stupidity and hypocrisy.”

So, if you could make your spouse/best friend/mother/dog read one book, what would it be? 

a day late: i want to be daring

This year, I want to be daring.

I probably won’t jump out of a plane, travel the world or hike Kilimanjaro. That’s just not the kind of daring that’s calling me right now.

(Maybe when Keegan starts using the toilet. Then we’ll consider it.)

I’m interested in a whole different kind of daring these days.

About a year ago, Kyle and I read a book together that has radically changed the way we live. Sometimes we read together, it’s true. And in almost every occasion, I make it through about two pages of what his book before I exclaim in a melodramatic voice, “I JUST DON’T GET IT!” He almost always puts my book down after three paragraphs … mostly because of indifference. I love non-fiction like I love tea; give him a novel or biography about someone who’s dead and he’s set for weeks. We’ve reconciled on this–we have different taste in books. But in this particular instance, we both wanted to read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. (Sidenote: I briefly talked about her work last year and how it was changing my life and I was telling people in Target about it, and a year later I can say it has actually changed my life.)

Because see–I read her words about the power of vulnerability, being willing to fail, and letting myself be seen right before I did approximately all of those things. I applied for a new job when I was 41 weeks pregnant (people usually don’t recommend this) and I interviewed when I had slept for just one hour. Dare greatly? Willing to fail? Uh, yeah. We plopped ourselves into a new church community with a newborn and opened ourselves up, willing to be seen. Kyle started grad school and sat in a class where he admittedly felt like a kindergartener and dared so greatly by sitting in a room full of experience. I knew something wasn’t quite right in July when I was still feeling blue, so I said it right out loud and walked myself into a support group for women suffering from postpartum depression, and I’m a better mother for it. During 2013, we most certainly dared greatly.

And so this year as I look ahead, I feel ready to be daring all over again, in lots of other ways. I want to live a less scared life. I want to stop being so afraid of failure, judgment, vulnerability, being seen, and all kinds of other things that hold me back from living a wholehearted life and following Jesus fully. I want to be daring and invite people I know and trust to tell me the hard truth about myself. I want to go through the beautiful (albeit sometimes painful) process of growth and change, because I know there’s nothing sadder than someone who’s decided to stop growing. I’m going to pay attention when I’m tempted to shut down, and learn from my mistakes and failures instead of never take any risks at all.

During a class with the Influence Network a couple of weeks ago, Jessi Connelly said it this way, “There’s no such thing as a perfect mom. So if you can’t be a perfect mom, the other option is being a mom who is unwilling to admit she’s wrong.” I lost my breath for a moment thinking about all the ways I’ve seen relationships fall apart or parents shame their kids simply because of pride. Isn’t it true? Haven’t we all ruined a relationship, burned a bridge, or had to ask for forgiveness because we held on tight to pride and didn’t just say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake?” I want to be daring and ask for forgiveness, say I’m sorry and mean it, and reconcile when I need to. I want to let other people get a word in and listen more and talk less.

In all these ways, I hope to be daring. So here’s to 2014 and another year of daring greatly.

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how i (slowly) became a mother

I signed up for a writing class this past summer, thinking that now would be the perfect time to explore this untapped gift. I’ve always had a knack for words–better or worse–and hardly use them sparingly.

So when Keegan came into this world and I was suddenly without words, I didn’t know how to handle myself. Friends would text me all day long, asking if I was okay, and I didn’t really know how to respond because I didn’t know if I was okay.

Back to the writing class.

In the beginning of June, I was in on a conference call with my other “classmates,” and our teacher gave us a prompt–twenty minutes of uninterrupted writing. Her question? When it comes to writing, what are you afraid of? 

And I discovered that when it really came down to it, I was afraid of what I would find in the dark corners of my soul. Because deep down, I felt shame. Shame about motherhood, shame about my selfishness, and shame over my sudden inability to cope in a healthy way.

I need to be really scary honest here: I didn’t become a mother right away.

I know, right? That’s despicable. How could I not be so grateful for this child? How could I not love him with every fiber of my being?

But see, that’s just it. I loved him, but I felt completely unqualified to take care of him, and I didn’t know how. I felt like surely there was some other woman somewhere else who was more capable than me. In the last weeks leading up to his birth, my due date kept getting further and further in the past. My OBGYN didn’t want to induce, because it greatly “increased the risk of a c-section.” I understood that. I didn’t want that! So we waited. And I did everything possible to make this baby come on my own. I mean, everything. Every list, every natural remedy, every-single-last-thing and there was NO sign of Keegan’s arrival, right up to the induction. So finally, when he was nearly eleven days past due (and no, his due date was not wrong… for the love), my doctor decided to induce.

And before you even go thereI know all the conspiracy theories behind induction. I watched “The Business of Being Born” while I was pregnant. We took birthing classes and I read every book I could get my hands on. I know that contractions with Pitocin are 3x more painful than contractions without. I packed our bags at 36 weeks, ready to go. I had a birthing ball that I bounced on endlessly in the last weeks leading up to Keegan’s birth. My due date came and passed. Nothing. I drank raspberry tea like it was my part-time job. Nothing. I ate every spicy thing I could find and put special, weird ingredients in my food. Nothing. I did lots of that thing “they” say makes labor start. Nothing.

So off we went, ten days after Keegan’s due date. We arrived that night to spend the evening in the hospital. I don’t remember a lot about that day. I remember eating lots of ice chips, and I asked my blonde nurse where she did her hair. Even in labor, I was thinking about my hair. (If this isn’t a window into idolatry, I don’t know what is.) I wore an oxygen mask all day because Keegan’s heart rate was dropping due to the Pitocin.

And you know what? It would be really easy for me to keep going here… to tell you about the pain that followed and the weeks of depression that quickly came after and how I battled through shame and guilt over how it all went down, but you know what?

I’m done with shame. I’m alive. Keegan’s alive. We’re healthy. I am done wondering if things could have gone different, should have been better, or whatever. I have a healthy, beautiful, happy baby and I through with shame and moving onto gratitude.

And for me? Gratitude has changed everything.

I didn’t instantly become a mom. It wasn’t as instinctive as I hoped, and it took extra time for me. If that isn’t you, you need to know, you have a gift. I am jealous. But if that is you, and you feel a little like me and a lot of crazy, I need to say something to you here. So would you sit down and let me whisper something directly to you?

You are enough.

It’s okay that you don’t have this figured out yet. 

It’s alright if it wasn’t what you thought it was going to be.

There is grace for you. 

There is love for you. 

And there is hope. 

I don’t know where shame has taken your soul captive, or how long you’ve let yourself believe something that just isn’t true, but I do know this: it’s not worth it and it’s eating you alive. Never before had I experienced what the true healing power of Jesus could do until I gave Him my shame and said, “Here, take it, I don’t want it anymore.” And slowly, I became a mother. I became a mother when I left it all there, in all its muck, and instead decided that this motherhood thing was designed to be messy, imperfect, and a little-bit-crazy. That maybe, perhaps, motherhood was created in such an overwhelming way that we would have no choice but to reach out our hands and ask for help, to come to the Father desperate for guidance, and to allow others to come in and love our babies in ways we cannot.

I patiently waited, Lord, for you to hear my prayer.
You listened and pulled me from a lonely pit
full of mud and mire.
You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm,
and you gave me a new song, a song of praise to you.
Many will see this, and they will honor and trust you, the Lord God.
(Psalm 40:1-3 CEV)
keegan.

a few things i’m loving

Fall is my most favorite season of all, and before I wake up and it’s December, I wanted to share a bit of goodness with you. No, this is not a sponsorship post, just things I’m actually loving.

First: Stitchfix. A few months ago, I decided to majorly scale down my closet. I was tired of buying cheap stuff and watching it unravel within weeks, so I decided to live out of my closet for two months and then get rid of anything I didn’t wear. If you’re like me and buy things on clearance racks (and convince yourself you’re “saving money”), and in months scrap it because everything has 3 holes in it… Stitchfix. I got a coupon at a conference to try it, and after a month of debate, I decided to go for it. If they sent me stuff I hated, I could send it all back, so why not? And wow, I loved it. It’s an online personal shopping assistant delivered to your door. No really, it’s that awesome. They should have a song. After filling out my style profile and linking my Pinterest account, they developed a style just for me to try. And the best part? If you don’t like it, they supply packaging for you to ship it right back. No harm done. It’s definitely a once-a-year type of thing for me, but wow, it was fun!

Here are some pics of my “fix”:

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I know, I know. Real bloggers take pictures of themselves in their clothes, I just couldn’t do it. Not because I’m above it, I just… couldn’t. But do you see the little “outfit idea” cards? Genius, particularly for people like me who wear one piece obsessively (as in: day, night, and to sleep) and then ditch it for a year. The girly side of me simply lost my mind.

Okay, moving on.

At the same conference, I met a really sweet girl named Caitlin, who actually lives about twenty minutes from me. She owns a pretty amazing shop called Lettered Life, where she makes all kinds of really pretty things. I’ve eyed this piece for a while … and it finally made its way to my mantle this week:

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Thanks for the living room tears, Caitlin.

Best and last: Jesus Feminist. 

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I’ve been waiting for this book to come out since I first heard Sarah talk about it on her blog. During my senior year of college, I wrote a paper in my New Testament Seminar class attempting to convey what Sarah has so beautifully created in this book. Feminism is so misunderstood within Christian culture, and I have strayed away from using the word in most circles because of how much it’s been distorted. But on an issue polarized by extremes, Sarah’s soft and gentle voice is so refreshing. And I really can’t say enough about her writing.

So, there you have it: the words on my mantle, the clothes in my scaled-down closet, and the book on my nightstand. Happy living.