2013, Ready Or Not

Monday, December 31, 2012

An entire year has flown by again.  So long, 2012.  It wasn't the end of the world, but the Mayans aren't the only ones needing a new calendar - tomorrow we will all hang up new clean slates to start off 2013 with our best foot forward.

What a year it was.  I was laying awake at 5am this morning snuggling my ornery 17-month-old and reflecting on how just a year ago I was snuggling my 5-month-old.  Whoa!  When did that happen?  When did she grow all this hair and start talking and dancing on command?  And when did my Matilda (now 3) sprout up and start singing full choruses of Disney movie theme songs and teaching her sister how to put on socks?

One year might as well have been one light year away from where things were last year.  Little kids are non-stop changing machines, and if there was ever a time to stop and be completely perplexed as to how we can all compete with their ability to adapt...well, this is the time.  Sure, we are all adapting around them at the same rate (well, we're trying at least).  But, I step back for a second and am amazed at my little girls' ability to simply absorb and develop, process and exercise, adjust and relate - all as if they'd been doing it for decades.  

I could learn from this, is what I'm thinking.

With the turn of another calendar month, comes great will and intention toward positive changes.  I have an entirely new year laid out before me and a completely new list of wants and needs and plans that I hope for.  I have every intention of success and yet, somehow, before the clock even strikes midnight, I fully know that not everything I hope for will come true in 2013.  I definitely won't work out as much as I should, I can't possibly eat as many vegetables as I want to, and most certainly I will opt for purchasing something entirely frivolous to my financial goals.

Toddlers are not the best reactors to change, I'll admit that.  Their irrational tantrums, lack of tact, and self-centric universe obviously limits their ability to function appropriately at all times (in fact, none of us have truly conquered this, have we?).  Nevertheless, they undergo extreme change on a constant basis, literally from the inside out.  As their bodies and minds grow at a rapid pace, their outside world is either changing, moving, or being discovered as something entirely new to them.

While they don't hide their feelings towards the challenges of life, they don't try and run from them either.  With open arms, my girls embrace (albeit, kicking and screaming at times) whatever lies ahead.  It doesn't mean they like it, it just means they take it, grow from it, and accept the world around them, come what may. They adapt.  They change.  They grow up.  And they enter into the next day with the same vigor, never wondering if they wished for an alternate route or what would have happened if/if not, etc.  They wake up and GO! Day after day after day.

2013.  Let's do this.  Bring it.  Bring me change.  Bring me pain.  Bring me joy.  Bring me tears over triumph and angry fists over injustice.  Bring me peace that surpasses my understanding and humility beyond my own strength.  Bring me contentment in the midst of frustration and confusion in the face of doubt.  Let me ask the hard questions.  Let me seek God for the answers.  Test my faith if you must, and let me show you the Jesus inside me who fights when I can not.  2013, use this vessel to bring about the adaptations to my being that are necessary for my purpose.  Make me uncomfortable.  Make me reach out.  Make me less so I can be used for so much more.

2013, I dare you.

I don't know what the year will bring.  I don't know who or what I will encounter or how I will adapt to it all.  I don't know the future, and I'm glad I don't.  This constant mystery of life that is us churning out the future and creating it into the past is a present-day thrill we all get to experience.  It comes with emotions and feelings that make it all heap up into one giant "good intention" that we look back and call "purpose".  We pluck out the best and worst and wonder what it was all for.  We have regrets and hopes and lump it up to a wonderful word we call "effort" so that it doesn't sound so bad when we admit we didn't do what we wished we had.

Change doesn't need a midnight or a countdown or confetti or champagne.  Change requires two things:  you and time.  We can all allow for this.  I can.  I must.

Whatever changes 2013 may bring my way, I pray I embrace it with the confusing joy of a toddler first waking up in the morning to a new day.  I might shake my fist or stomp my feet or explode in an inexcusable cloud of emotion...but, I hope I take it head-on and allow the change to work its way into my soul.  I pray God uses each day to shape me into the person that can best be used for His plan, not mine.

2013.  Ready or not, here I come.

Christmas Chaos

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

 What in the world is going on with the holidays this year?  Am I the only one who feels like everything is starting to spin out of control right before the big day is even here?  Am I going to lose my mind just in time for Christmas morning?  Or do the Mayans have it right after all?

Goodness gracious, this has been an insane season.  This last week alone has felt more chaotic in every way than memories of many Christmases past.  Personally, it is just a crazy-busy time.  (I know I'm not alone in feeling that!)  My hours at working seasonal help at Williams-Sonoma have picked up significantly as Christmas approaches, so much so that I was happy to pawn off some of my work time on another girl who was really trying to earn as many hours as possible (yay - win/win!).

Josh has also been working late a lot, maxing out his days before deadlines and new semesters arrive (he is an administrator at a local Christian high school).  And, for some ridiculous reason, I took it upon myself to primarily try and craft the majority of Christmas gifts for the family this year.

She may not have my same affinity for crafting
Side-note here on Christmas crafting - WHAT was I thinking?  I absolutely got suckered into amazing photographs off Pinterest and talked myself into the affordability that people will appreciate the effort of my endeavors and thoughtfulness over an alternatively less personal gift.  Oh me, oh my.  Well, I truly am counting on my family seeing the heart behind much of my production.  All in all, much has turned out fine or even better-than-I-expected-in-the-end.  But, let me tell you, it was not without much trial and many errors!  (I realize I can't expand yet on what I actually have worked on, so as not to reveal any gift secrets, but trust me, many a mess was made in the name of Pinteresting!)  Looks like everyone might be getting gift cards next Christmas.  Haha.

Back to the chaos.  So, you take all those obligations, and you throw in a couple toddlers.  Okay!  On top of all the time I don't have to do the laundry or dishes, I will cram two little bodies into that schedule and do my darndest to offer them attention or at least the promise of food, water, shelter, and hugs.  We've done our best to make intentional time for seeing Santa, having friends over, and keeping our home merry and bright (even if it does mean the tree has fallen over a grand total of SIX times now...seriously?)  We've watched many a Christmas movie (Matilda now loudly announces "Did you hear that?" after she burps, thanks to watching Elf) and indulged in holiday treats that let us know that, without-a-doubt, Jolly Old St. Nick is on his way (if none of that gave it away, then listening to Matilda sing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" every single night as she goes to sleep really seals the deal).  Indeed, this Christmas-a-go-go is in full swing.  And as the checklist only seems to be getting longer and longer, I know that somehow, someway, everything will manage to get done before this next week is up.

And then, the world stopped last Friday.  You already know what I'm talking about.  You can't turn on the TV or Internet for two seconds without seeing a new update or story about the horrific events of Newtown, Connecticut and all that occurred there on December 14th.  We see the news, we read our friend's status updates about how we all feel just sick and sad and grateful and confused about it all.

And just like that, I'm stopped in my tracks and holding back sobs as I cling to my babies and thank God for what He has given me.  I'm at a total loss for words in my prayers for the families and parents and everyone even remotely tied to that event in any way.  And then my mind wanders for a second and I consider all the horrors of the world that I don't even know about.  All the children that only God can see hurting.  All the names that go unread.  All the pain that feels unknown.  And I'm angry and just so so sad and confused.

And I'm supposed to go Christmas shopping and bake cookies in the middle of all this?  I'm supposed to fold laundry and stuff stockings and carry on like it doesn't matter?

God, what in the world?

Yes and no.  Yes, we must carry on.  No, not as if it doesn't matter.  It matters.  It all matters.  In fact, it's for these reasons and many more that Christmas even exists at all.  Right?  There wouldn't be a Christmas, after all, if we didn't need a Savior.  And, just when we think we are going to go crazy from watching Christmas commercials on TV, something unimaginable like the Sandy Hook tragedy happens and we are reminded in an instant of what truly matters and how we are so, so desperately in need of a Savior.  All of us.

A sweet moment not taken for granted.
I have more questions than answers in this life.  But, I don't need a lot of answers.  I only need the one answer that matters most, that conquers death, that diffuses confusion, and creates new mercies with every act of love - I only need Jesus.  We all only need Jesus.  I don't mean to diminish anyone's questions or doubts, in fact, I encourage us all to take this time and ask God the hard questions and keep looking for how we can strengthen our faith, especially at times of amplified emotion (which the holidays already are, regardless of what's on the news).

This frantic state of hustle and bustle that the holidays throw at all of us also got me thinking about the first Nativity and what it must have been like.  I look at my neatly sculpted Nativities that sit about my home and I see the Christmas cards flooding in that have serene pictures depicting the birth of Christ and I get this warm and fuzzy feeling about how calm and beautiful it must have been.  It seems so precious, so perfect, as if I can only imagine it with Silent Night playing the background and the warm glow of the Christmas Star shining overhead to perfectly light the scene.

And then, I really start to think about it.  Slowly I'm imagining the stench of barnyard animals and afterbirth.  I imagine (no matter how sweetly) the cries of baby Jesus and the sweat beaded up on Mary's brow.  I imagine the anxiety and fears of Joseph.  I think of the shepherds, stunned and skeptical with joy.  And I can't even fathom the chaos of the time - a forced census crowding the tiny town of Bethlehem, the scary authority of the cruel and controlling King Herod and how "political turmoil" is the lightest term I can think of for the state of Israel.

New International Version Matthew 2:16
"When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi."

This was not a pretty time, people.  The world was in CHAOS!  And there wasn't the refuge of shopping malls or Charlie Brown Christmas Specials or making fudge or wrapping gifts to take their minds off the fact that the world needed a Messiah.  I can not fathom the horrors that rocked the planet at that time...much like I can't imagine the horrors that exist today - this week - right here.

I don't bring this up to send us spiraling down a holiday road of depression.  No, no - not at all.  It feels as if the world has never been as bad as it is now...but, that's not true.  In fact, since the fall of man, we have always been lost.  Enter this:  the good news of Christmas!  One tiny, perfect, miracle baby was born to bring us the only hope we'd ever need.  Jesus could have chosen any entrance into the world, but he came at a time of great horror and chaos to deliver us and provide a path to eternal joy.  It sounds kooky, it sounds unbelievable, it sounds unfathomable, and yet, it's all true.

It's been an emotional roller coaster for most of us this month.  I don't know anyone who hasn't been exhausted lately.  It seems everywhere we turn someone is either sick or sad or just frustrated with this manic season.  And I catch myself daily being confronted with choosing gratitude and peace over anxiety and worry.  Because I have to be intentional in choosing it, it's not natural for me to default to a calm state of thankfulness in the middle of such a crazy, unfair world.  I can so easily find myself hung up on things like "I wish I had more money to buy this or that for my girls for Christmas" and now choosing to intentionally change that thought to "Thank you, God, for my [living, breathing, healthy, ornery] girls that I get to spend Christmas with."

Merry Christmas from the Pardys
If this last week has taught me anything, it's that the world isn't going to get less crazy until Jesus returns.  Our need for Him will never lessen.  And, with each step towards the chaos, I grow in my capacity to be grateful.  That is, because we hurt more, we recognize our need more, and can deepen in our gratitude for what we have been given.  Jesus isn't just the reason for the season...He's the only answer for peace on earth.

I pray love and peace to you and yours this Christmas.  I hope you can hug someone you love and laugh as you assemble ridiculous toys for your kids on Christmas Eve.  And, above all, I pray you find Jesus amidst whatever Christmas chaos you are experiencing.  This time of year is full of highs and lows of all kinds.  Emotions and anxieties and electric bills all run high, and it can be very easy to forget why we're all running around like maniacs.  This world might not get any quieter while we're in it, but we're all in it together.  Let's take a deep breath, thank our Savior, and spread the good news that we are not without hope.

Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 7, 2012

The time has come.  Team Pardy needs a much needed brrreeeaaakkk.  No, not from each other!  No worries.  Team Pardy needs a childless break!  Woot woot!  We are finally going on our first (yes, very first) night away since before having children.  Can this be possible?  Well, unless you count the two nights I was away giving birth to Daphne in the hospital...then, yes...very possible.

Oh my.  How could we have let 3 years slip by without a night away?  Some of you are probably gasping in surprise and some of you are shrugging out of embarrassment.  It's okay, come here - **group hug**

Like I've said before, children are a time machine.  The second you have them, they catapult you into a time warp that speeds up everything about life that you love (cuddling, sleeping, relaxing) and slow down all the things you can't quite handle (whining, vomiting, fighting).  And before you know it, three precious years have slipped by without your head hitting the pillow for a solid 10 hours straight.  It's true, I have no idea when the last time I had an entire night's sleep was, but it was well over three years ago. (Refill on this coffee, please?)

I extraordinarily value my husband.  I love him to pieces.  I want to stare at him and not be thinking in the back of my mind "How long do I have to wait after you come in the door before I ask you to take out the trash?  Is ten minutes long enough?  Fifteen?"  So, even though we get to connect in the evenings after the youngins are in bed, and even though we do make an effort to get out and have a date night every so often...we are far overdue to get away and spend the night in a room that isn't resonating with the annoying static of a baby monitor.  Whew.

Here's the thing.  I want to go.  I'm psyched out of my mind for it, really.  Ideally.  But...then, there's this thing called motherhood that has been nipping at my heels all week trying to get me to feel guilty about it all.  Argh!  What's with this?  Why does this happen?

Us mamas just can't catch a break, right?  It feels like no matter what decision we make, somebody is going to be let down (well, let down or have a meltdown if you are a toddler, anyway).  You want to runaway with your husband and rekindle the romance, yet, you don't want to be checking your phone every twenty minutes just waiting for tragedy to strike.  You want to enjoy dinner by candlelight, but not at the expense that you accidentally forgot to tell the babysitter to not give the baby milk at dinner or she will be sick.  It all makes it just feel...well...not worth it!  Oh the woes!  What's a gal to do?

I hate this nagging feeling.  I've been combatting it all week, and here's what I've concluded:  What would I tell my daughter to do if she were me?  Darn tootin' I'd tell her to leave the irrational toddlers in the care of responsible, loving souls and get back to building her rock-solid foundation of a marriage before you really have to start checking for cracks, that's what!

Yes, the babies will miss me.  Yes, the babies will cry and scream and at one point demand more than the babysitters can provide.  Yes, there will be tantrums and food will most likely be thrown.  Diapers will need to be changed and tears will need to be wiped, I'm sure.  But, they will be fine.  They will live.  And they will learn a little, tiny, minuscule piece to the puzzle of life that changes their irrational behavior into a logical example:  Mom and Dad put each other first.  

Any steps we take that help solidify this belief for them, the greater chance we have towards them believing this for themselves someday.  Someday, that is, when they choose someone to conquer the world with.  And I really, really, really want them to choose someone who will put them first, just like their daddy puts me first. (First, right after Jesus, of course.)

Leaving my kids, even only for a night, stresses the crap out of me.  I'm just being honest here.  I have insanely responsible friends who love my children tremendously, and my girls adore them, and probably will show them more respect in the hours they're together than they show me in a whole week...yet, my stomach tenses up at the thought of them asking for me when I'm not there.  I clench up inside at the idea of them waking up in the middle of the night, disturbing our sitter's slumber, and being confused and emotional about misunderstanding why we're not at home.  It might be scary for them, but I'm the one conjuring up the real fear here.

Fear NOT.  Fear not.  Fear...not.  Okay.  No fear allowed.  Listen here, Fear, the girls are going to be just fine.  I'm going to choose to replace you with Trust and that's going to be the end of it.  I have amazing friends who, for some reason, have convinced me that it is actually a blessing to them to watch our children, so I'm going to trust them about that.  I'm going to trust that my babies will know in their heart I will see them just as soon as they miss me and be back before they really can't stand it.

I'm going to trust that all the over-planning/over-cleaning/over-worrying were unnecessary, yet vital baby steps towards my ability to let go and allow some healthy separation to focus exclusively on my marriage.  I'm going to trust my husband that this investment of time and money and energy and love is validated and treasured and reciprocated ten-fold, because that's what Team Pardy is all about and we've gotta long way to go in this road of life.

I'm going to trust God.  Thank you, God, You are in control.  Not only do you hold my babies in Your hand every day, but You also have provided the resources, the provision, and the opportunity to make this possible.  I trust in the definition of marriage, that God encourages me as a wife to not only make sure my husband knows he comes first in my world, but that I teach my children (and model to them) that family is structured accordingly.

This might seem like an awful lot of intention put into one little overnight getaway.  But, when it comes to our kids, don't we get a little kooky sometimes?   Mothers are grand multi-taskers and the number one thing we multi-task the best is worrying!  I'm not going to let my talent for concern wedge its way into Team Pardy.  Instead, I'm going to steer it straight into the storm.  I'm turning that worry on its head and taking all that energy and placing it directly into the palm of the One who cares more (yes, even more) than I do.

And so, yes, as I make my final checklists and sticky notes to ensure on my end the safety and schedules of my girls, I'm doing my best to remember that the underlying intention of this whole event comes back to this:  I love my husband.  We belong together.  We can take on the world.  And, so, to take on the world...we gotta step outside once in a while.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thank heaven for little girls 
For little girls get bigger every day! 

 Thank heaven for little girls 
They grow up in the most delightful way! 

Those little eyes so helpless and appealing 
One day will flash and send you 
crashin thru the ceilin 

Thank heaven for little girls 
Thank heaven for them all, 
No matter where no matter who 
For without them, what would little boys do? 

 Thank heaven . . . thank heaven . . . Thank heaven for little girls!

Ah yes, as that somewhat-creepy-yet-sugary-sweet song says, thank heaven for sweet little girls.  Being a mom of two daughters is, indeed, a delight.  I'm sure raising sons has it's incredibly endearing moments as well, and maybe someday I will get to wring my heart out for a little boy...but, for now, I'm the mother of girls.  

Never has it seemed so apparent to me that I am raising such girlyish-girly-girls than at this commercial-driven time of the year, Christmas!  Everything is gotta-have-it, toys toys toys and more toys, purple and pink and sparkly too!  There are entire aisles just beaming with hot-pinkness and you can't walk by them (you know which ones I'm talking about) without Barbie glaring you in the face screaming "BUY ME" through her perky little smile.  

My girls LOVE dolls.  They love dress up.  They love tutus.  They love princesses and Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony and anything that smiles and has bouncy hair and wears a dress and/or crown.  They are girly girls.  Whew!  What have I gotten myself into here????

I keep trying to remind myself that I'm raising future little mothers here.  Future little wives.  Future little bosses or managers or somehow-other-influencers who will in someway, hopefully, impact their peer groups and challenge those around them.  I do what I can to live a rather well-rounded, intentional, grateful and transparent life, one that's not limited to stereotypes, capabilities or finances.  I strive for excellence because that's what Jesus did.  I aim for the impossible, because that's who Jesus was.  (I fail constantly, but hey - that's part of the journey too.)

So, how do I help shape and mold my precious little girls into grateful little princesses rather than gots-the-gimmes Bratz through this season of giving and sharing?  How can I compete with these glitzy toy commercials when all I seem to offer them as an alternative is a boring advent calendar or another storybook depicting the Nativity?

This season is a toughie.  As my girls grow older, it seems the more and more Jesus and Santa are arm wrestling through the holiday, trying to win the war on commercialism versus meaning.  I want to celebrate it all, really, I want my girls to be just as excited for the story of Jesus as they are looking through the ToysRUs catalog...but, it's a challenge.  

Then, as I looked back in the backseat of my car today, on our way out to do a little Christmas shopping, it hit me.  I looked back, and they were holding hands.  Carseat to carseat, reaching out and holding hands just sweet as could be.  "Look mom!" said Matilda, "We holdin hands!  I got her." 

Suddenly, I think for maybe the first time, I realized that they really had each other.  Sisters.  They were girly-girls together and going to help shape who each other were becoming.  I think I have kept feeling so much responsibility as their mother, as the sole female who will influence their young journey, that I never stopped to think about how much influence they will really have on each other.  Kindness, charity, forgiveness, love.  These are all things they can give and receive as sisters, as girls, as little nurturers to one another that will empower them as individuals.  Barbie's got nothin on that!

At 3-years-old and 16-months, my girls are itty-bitty in the grand scheme of life.  But, now is the time that they are forming their little opinions about who they are, what girls do, what's important and so on. They test the boundaries of patience and trust.  They make sure they can call on me and rely on each other.  They care for and about each other, and I'm just so grateful they are sisters.  Of all the dolls, of all the toys, the beauty of their little friendship is far superior and irreplaceable.  

And, as we continue to read them and teach them the story of Jesus and what this season is truly all about, I can pray that God uses their influence on each other to help them along their path towards Him.  I have no doubt that each one of them was necessary to each other's life in order to become the person they are and will be.  That is SO COOL to get to witness as a mother!  (Plus, it takes a little of the pressure off me!)

Today in the car as I was strapping Matilda into her carseat, she said "Mom, can we sing that song? You know," and she hummed a few unintelligible bars.  "What song?" I said.  "You know, that Sisters, sisters song.  Never were there Sisters, sisters..."  OH!  It hit me - she was talking about "Sisters" from White Christmas - my favorite holiday movie!  

My heart beamed with joy, and of course I broke into song right then.  It made me so happy that she not only liked that song (I mean, we're talking future talent show competitors here, right?  The Pardy Sisters Duet?) but also that she smiled when singing it.

Maybe someday I will have a son, and if I do I will certainly be thrilled and surely confused about how to raise him.  (Ha!) But, right now, there is just something about having these little girls in my life that make me so acutely aware of how God places specific, innate traits in girls to make us who we are.  It may come with lots of chatter, sparkly shoes, and an affinity for all things pink...but, it is also comes with tendencies towards nurturing and compassion.  (Please don't write me letters about how your son is nurturing and compassionate, I'm not going there with this!)  I'm just saying I'm thrilled and grateful to embrace the tutus and all that comes with it.  

My girls can be wild, crazy, barbaric princesses sometimes, don't get me wrong!  But, no matter what, they'll be wild, crazy, barbaric princesses together.  And I pray it always stays that way. 

"Never were there such devoted sisters."  Thank heaven.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Tis the season...for germs.  Time to stuff the stockings with Purrell and trim the tree with Kleenex, right?  Oh man, it seems like just about everywhere I turn someone is coughing or sniffling.  I'm feeling MUCH better (thank you, Lord!) than a few days ago, but awoke Wednesday morning to a sick husband and a sick baby!  (Somehow my three-year-old, Matilda, is so far getting through this week unscathed.  My best guess is that her super-human energy allows her to dodge most germs simply out of sheer speed!)

If anything trumps not feeling well...it's watching those you love not feel well.  Luckily, a couple long naps, vitamins, and decongestants seemed to ward off any real health villains for my husband; but, unfortunately the baby has not been so triumphant.  Is there anything worse than a sick baby?

What's worse (in my book, anyway) is that she didn't catch a cold...she caught a tummy flu bug.  UGH!  Wah-waaaah.  The poor sweetie bear.  Again, the only thing worse than cleaning up disgusting germs is having to watch your pitiful little 16-month-old stare at you blurry-eyed with her sad gaze of "Why mommy?" going unanswered.  Gosh, it just breaks my heart!

Having two kids and one of them be sick is a whole other ball game.  Instead of the usual Get off your sister, you're killing her! you have to referee them with a new initiative:  Don't touch your sister, you'll get sick!  You have to quarantine them both the best you can and about halfway through the day - by the time the sick one has sneezed on the other one, they've accidentally swapped sippy cups, and you catch them cuddling and just can't bear to break up the love-fest...well, you just cross your fingers and pray the plague doesn't go any further.  What's a mom to do?

Taking care of a sick baby is such a weird, odd, terrible little gift that I think God gives us moms.  I mean, it's awful, for sure.  If I could bubble-wrap my kids and shampoo them in Purrell, I'm sure I would, don't get me wrong.  It only takes one heinous Yankee-candle-of-all-diapers to convince you that baby-flu-bug is certainly the doing of the Devil himself.  Ugh.

But, since we do live in a fallen world where illness exists, why not take this moment to try and recognize God among the yuckiness?  Anything's possible here.  So, honestly, I feel the presence of Jesus when I am stopped COLD in my footsteps to throw everything else out the window in that moment and care for my baby.  Dishes stink.  Clothes rumple.  Floors crumb-up.  Whatever.

Daphne has not been able to nap in her crib the last two days.  Not a wink.  I'll rock or nurse her completely to sleep, multiple times, but as soon as I lay her down she springs up screaming and won't stop.  The only way she has been able to sleep during the day has been cuddled up ON me.  The first time was heartwrenchingly wonderful.  Endearing.  The kinds of moments you dream about as a mother.

The next few times...well, it progressively got awkward and a bit burdensome.  With an energetic 3-year old vying for attention, it just wasn't exactly the ideal situation.  Not only that, but when you have a 22 lb. anchor on your chest you can't exactly get anything done during the day.  This is when it occurred to me:  Shut up, Emily.  Sit still.  Look at your baby.  

Whoa, okay.  Right.  Put the iPhone down and focus on the present.  WHY is this so hard to do?  (Granted, I was glad I had the phone there just to capture the moment!)  I want to remember that feeling.  I wish I was the kind of person who never needed to be forced to STOP and smell the roses (or the baby), but I am.  I'm just so grateful that I could soak that up, as best I could (even if there was a dancing Matilda in the background at times) and allow that baby to smother her germy self into my body for that moment.

How many times does this happen in our lives?  How much longer will she turn to me for that amount of comfort?

It's such a challenge to hold still these days.  It's increasingly difficult to be thankful for tiny things like fragile babies with vomit-covered jammies and greasy hair and diaper rash.  It's frustrating to have our daily schedules overturned and interrupted and entirely disregarded.  But...it's so insanely worth it.

We always talk about how this baby/toddler stage of life goes by in a blink.  But, you know, if we can just slow down once in a while (even if that's only when the germs of life slow them down) then we get to capture a silent, beautiful moment where nothing else in the world matters but this sacred, sweet gift of our very own baby needing us for who we are - mom.  It may go by in a blink...but, we're in the midst of it right now...the part where your eyes are closed and you can still hear your heart beating outside your body.  Inhale, exhale.  Everything can wait.

I hope I remember this moment.  Maybe it's even contagious.

Seasonal Help

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Well, I'm back!  I don't know why I used an exclamation point, honestly it's more like an "eh, here I am" because, well, I'm hopped up on decongestants and weary from wrestling toddlers while under the weather.  Whew.  But hey, here I am.  I revived from my post-Thanksgiving-turkey-coma just long enough to catch a cold, but I'll be darned if I let one more day slip by without getting a word in edgewise on this blog!  (I am a stubborn one, aren't I?)

I come bearing news.  Perhaps you've seen the update pop up on my personal Facebook status or Twitter, but if you haven't, then here it is:  I'm employed.  Ha!  (What, were you hoping for something more monumental?)

Yes indeed, I've joined the work force once more and extended my ever-changing resume to include yet another mall job.  I've accepted a position at the local mall to work at Williams-Sonoma as holiday seasonal help.  It's part-time and absolutely temporary, but, it still requires me to show up somewhere on time with a smile, punch a time card, and fill out one of those horrible W-4's that make you feel like an idiot every time you see them (Put 1 for dependents on the what and add up the who now?)

I'm a holiday mall rat, it's true!  Josh and I had a good chat a few months ago as we looked ahead to the holiday season and figured it would be in our best interest to tuck away some extra cash if possible.  If nothing else, we can at least not go into any additional debt this Christmas, barring I don't give in to blowing my paycheck on Calphalon and Le Creuset (which is harder than it sounds, let me tell you!)

I've only been to work a few times so far, but it's going well.  Luckily they only call in the "B team" when it gets extra hairy and their more competent crew can't carry the full (chaotic) load.  But, it's been great thus far and I'm so thankful to take on a new challenge in such a lovely setting.  It sort of feels like working in Mrs. Claus' own personal Christmas pantry, or that's partly how I like to think of it anyway.

Truth be told, this is the 32nd job of my life (if you count stay-at-home-mom as a job - which you should and if you don't, you really have no business reading any further) - and so, I honestly went into this whole idea of working part-time with the utmost confidence and enthusiasm.  It's the first time in my life I've had the luxury of choosing to work and knowing it was for a very short amount of time, all of which has given me new insight into myself, my schedule, my ideals, and goals.  It also is a great reminder of what is happening in the world outside of my little bubble, namely, my little Christian-mom bubble.

Williams-Sonoma is a beautiful, luxurious place to work, no doubt.  I can't pronounce nor afford over half of the items available for purchase, and I count it a privilege to even be thought of as "one" among the clientele who enters.  You know what I mean, it's just one of those "shmancy" places that you hope is holding a good sale, or you go into because you see someone handing out samples...it's not a place you go to blow chump change.  That is, it's not a place I've ever gone to actually spend a wad of cash.  I love it, I adore it, but I simply can't afford it!  And, if we are all being honest here, it's just sort of pretentious...and that's exactly what we love about it.

All this to say, I entirely admit that I pretty much figured I'd be encountering some snobs when it came to selling kitchenware that costs as much as my rent.  This excited me!  It had been a long time since I'd worked with a crowd like this (yes, I have a bit of a retail resume history).  And, to be honest, it's a huge weakness of mine to find compassion and empathy for those that are overprivileged than myself.

You know, the overprivileged.  Yeah, you don't hear much about them this time of year.  Maybe you see them on commercials and envy them or drive by car dealerships and wonder just who does get a Lexus with a giant red bow on it for Christmas (I always wonder this)?  In fact, this is the time of year when we especially take time out to remember the impoverished, the poor, and the underprivileged.  But, I'm here to tell you my friends - while we middle-classers may have blinders to them, we are full well living among the plentiful.  Oh yes, oh yes we are.

Sometimes I feel like it is easier to reach out to the needy than the rich.  There is a fine line between my feelings of jealousy and my feelings of resentment towards those that are seemingly more "successful" than me.  They make me feel insecure.  They make me feel uncool.  They make me feel like they must have done something better than I to deserve the belongings they have.  They make me feel like I need Jesus more than they do.  That's some pretty sick stuff, right?

When I reach out to those who have less than I do, I never feel that way!  In fact, I feel fabulous.  When I hand a homeless girl a few bucks, or take a name off the Angel Tree at church, or buy someone's coffee in the Starbucks drive-thru line behind me (okay, maybe they weren't that underprivileged) but, still, I get a feeling of heroic enthusiasm bursting in my heart.  Hooray!  Score one for humanity and goodwill!  I feel like a parade should be held in my honor because I graciously bestowed my overflow among the begging.  Wow.  That's some harsh reality there.

If I am among openly broken people, it's fairly easy to become transparent and shed the outward skin of security and show my redemption for what it truly is:  a gift.  But, it's a lot harder to be confident in my broken need for Jesus when I'm among people who can seemingly not look like they are lacking.  When I get around successful, beautiful, intelligent, wealthy people (no matter the time or place) it becomes more and more difficult to act like I don't deserve the life I've been given - the blessed, redeemed, totally sanctified life that I'm usually so eager to share.

I'm just being honest here.  I'm just asking you to stop and look around you this holiday season.  I'm just wanting to encourage you, as you roam the malls and stores and sales that are attacking you with ever possible angle (guilt, insecurity, bargain, glitter, what-have-you) that you need such-n-such before you are complete or that you have-to-have such-n-such to give to someone else or you aren't worth it, etc. to please consider what's really of value here.  Yes, consider the impoverished, of course (no duh, right?)  But, when's the last time you considered the snobs?  Hmm.

This is why it has become a little bit thrilling for me to go to work in the epicenter of holiday madness - THE MALL.  Commercialism and pretentious snobbery at its best.  You can feel the electricity of the sliding charge cards in the air.  Yikes.  They all need Jesus just like I do, just like you do, just like the broken soul on the corner with the cardboard sign.  They need honesty.  They need prayers.  They need exposure to transparent hearts who give all the glory to Jesus.

It's a goal of mine to try and remain rooted in my identity in Christ regardless of my surroundings.  When things look lovely, I'm just as in-need.  When things are dire, I'm just as un-deserving.  When things are confusing, I'm just as saved-by-grace.

The holidays can be an emotional time for many.  A lot of times we see a movie on TV or hear a sermon that can reference a troubled soul falling to their knees in recognition and in awe of their Savior.  All I'm saying is, let's not limit our scope of who is considered "needy".  That lady who just bought a leather coat for her teenager or spent a rent's-worth-of-cash on a pair of earrings for a Christmas party might be in the perfectly-vulnerable place to ask you about why you are so cheerful about the holidays. And, you might want to have an answer ready.

The world around us, even the privileged, holiday, glamorous, commercialized world we witness daily right now, is a mission field waiting for our genuine and compassionate touch.  The touch only a true Savior could offer through us.  The touch that each believer has the capacity to delicately give.  This Christmas season, as you're looking to give to a worthy cause (and I urge you to do so!) don't overlook your own surroundings.

It's a mission field out there, folks.  Don't let the tinsel fool you.

Meat & Potatoes

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The other day, I was at a crossroads.  Perhaps you've been there before.  It was early afternoon and I was just beginning to think about that age old (yet, daily) question:  What's for dinner?  The pickings were slim.  I didn't want to order in (scratch that, I did want to order in, but we really couldn't afford it and I knew I shouldn't cop out of dinner-making one more time that week) and I definitely did not want to load up the girls in the car, unload them, scream and cry our way through a trip around the grocery store, and have to come all the way back home to start cooking.  Ugh, that sounded terrible to me.

So, I faced my cupboards and my fears and decided with all my might to figure out something that could be constructed into an edible excuse for supper.  I sighed as I sifted through my barren pantry, finding a can of this or that.  I yanked out my last pound of meat at the back of the freezer (ground turkey!) and found some frozen peas next to it.  I dug around the bins of my fridge and discovered leftover potatoes that hadn't rotted through yet.  I know, this sounds scary to most of you, but I was so determined to scrape by until payday that I had really let our kitchen become quite meager.  Still, I knew I could pull something together.  Something.

As I surfed the Internet for ideas, it suddenly struck me.  Maybe it was the crisp new chill in the air, but suddenly the need for comfort food hit my belly and mashed potatoes crossed my brain.  Aha - that was it - Shepherd's Pie!  For those of you who may not know, Shepherd's Pie is a sort of an old "peasant" kind of dish, meant for recycling leftovers for people who don't have access to the first round of good food.  It's a layered dish of meat and vegetables topped with mashed potatoes.  Generally, around here anyway, you see it with ground beef, carrots, corn, and peas.  The topping of buttery mashed potatoes is really its selling point, let's be honest here.

Voila!  Shepherd's Pie it was, and as the weather got chillier and our tummies grew hungrier, the better and better it was smelling.  Sure enough, by the time we ate, it was super delicious.  Yay - a hit!  And I was mighty proud that I had scavenged our cabinets and turned our humble means into something quite delectable.  (Great recipe here for those of you wondering!)

It wasn't until hours afterward, with my hunger and dignity satisfied, that it occurred to me what an analogy my day had become.  As I tucked my girls into bed for the night, exhausted from another haphazardly wonder-filled day, it struck me how motherhood is like that silly Shepherd's Pie.

In the day-to-day events, motherhood is such a mess.  It really is.  I must look at the clock about 13 times a day, and I have no idea why except for the fact that it helps confirm one thing to me:  this too shall pass.  I love motherhood.  Sincerely!  I cherish these precious girlies the Lord has blessed me with.  I want nothing more than to be with them, nurture them, engage with them, help guide them.  But, boy oh boy can they press my buttons!  Whew!

The hour-by-hour focus that two little toddlers requires of me is astounding.  At their best, they are talking non-stop, running around, climbing, throwing food or clothes, or trying to leap from furniture.  And at their worst, well, let's just say I've had to clean Play-Doh out of carpets, crayons off of walls, get glue and honey and paint and applesauce out of hair, and keep them from strangling each other with dress up clothes or jewelry.  It's crazy business, let me tell you!  In fact, just today it crossed my mind that, "Hey, God, if even EVE couldn't keep her kids from killing each other, how do you expect me to?!?"  Sometimes I wonder.

The everyday mischief is just like those peas and carrots.  It's just like that freezer burned ground meat or those nearly rotten potatoes.  You line it all up and it looks like nothing but a heap of garbage.  What a mess.

But, you're looking at it all wrong.  There's more to it then that.  (Hold on, I'm gonna go all Karate Kid on you here!)  How many times has an older mother passed by you and your youngins in public and looked at you sweetly, maybe even stopped and said something like "Oh, how wonderful, I remember those days!  Cherish them!"?  Do you think she is remembering the rotten potatoes?  Heavens, no.  She's smelling the Shepherd's Pie.

All these days, these terribly exhausting days of trouble, they are all adding up into a terrific era of our lives.  I just know it.  I can't quite see it, at least, not while I'm in the middle of it and just want to strap my toddler to her highchair so I can please just fold this basket of laundry that's been sitting in my living room for a week!  Please!?  But, I know it's true.

Some days, when the dust settles long enough for the sunlight to beam in just right and my girls are smiling and my brain hits pause just long enough to capture a moment in time that looks better than any Instagram filter ever could...I get a glimpse of the big picture.  I can very nearly imagine myself an old woman trying to recall this very moment.  I can almost smell the memory of the present, though it is happening right in front of me, as if it were decades ago and I'm longing for the sweet innocence of not knowing their futures.  I blink, and their older.  I blink, and I forget it all.  I blink, and suddenly I am back in the throws of the day and just struggling to survive once more.  Peas and carrots, again.

This daily struggle matters.  This mess that we're trying to make sense of, it will make sense before we know it, and all too soon we will be smacking our lips wondering why we ever thought it seemed so terrible.  We don't have to wait until then to believe it will be satisfying.  Take hold of it right now, dig right it, get messy and creative and believe in what you are doing, because before its all over you will want to know that this was part of what makes it great.

You're in the thick of it, mamas.  This is real meat and potatoes kind of life stuff.  Keep up the good work, and savor every second.

Voting for Gratitude

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I sort of hate politics.  Hate is a strong word, but then again, tis the season for throwing around strong words and slandering your fellow man until he's covered in enough mud that it sinks him, right?  Ugh.  Everywhere you turn it seems like someone is super passionate about something, even if it's being super passionate about not caring about any of it.  But, I did my civic duty and voted today, just as many of you did.  So, congratulations, we took a step and did our part, and now we can sit back, relax, and celebrate and/or cringe as the results start pouring in.

Tonight is election night.  And, like it or not, the chances are that by morning as I'm posting this blog I'm writing right now, we'll be glued to our televisions hearing about who will be our President for the next four years.  Crazy stuff.

I told Matilda tonight, "Just think, four years from now when there's another election, you'll be seven years old!"  I had to literally stop and count on my fingers if that was correct because I just couldn't comprehend the thought of her being a seven-year-old, it just seemed so impossible.  This is when it dawned on me that when the last election took place, she wasn't even conceived yet!?!  Holy moly.

A lot can change in four years.  Maybe not the way we like it.  Maybe not the way we planned.  Or maybe exactly how we predicted (whether to our chagrin or delight).  But there is only one guarantee:  plenty of change will occur.

I think there is a reason that elections take place in November.  I mean, yes, there probably actually is a good reason they take place now in the practical sense...but, I'm actually talking about the kind of season we're in.  I think there is a genuine reason God placed our election day so close to our Thanksgiving Day.

(Maybe you are already arguing in your head the calendar-making-statistics of why this doesn't involve God's hand, and let me just stop you right there - you've been watching too many numbers on the screen.  Take a deep breath, chill, and just stop worrying about it all for one second with me.)

In all this hubbub of debates and passion and arguing and apathy and criticism and cringing...is the season of thanksgiving.  What a strange time.  I see the newsfeed in my Facebook account just full of complaints and promotions, and then scattered throughout the day are status updates celebrating whatever someone is thankful for.  I'll tell you one thing:  I think we'll all be good and thankful when the ads for all politicians stop running and we can get a little bit of our sanity back!

I don't know who will win in the morning.  You'll already have the answer (most likely) by the time you are reading this.  But, I know that I want my daughter to grow up the next four years surrounded by more thanksgiving than debating.  By the time she is seven, I want her to understand that people can love the same Jesus and vote for different people for President.  I want her to see her parents honor and respect the authority that God has placed over us and our country.  And I want her to know without a doubt that we're able to do it only by the strength of knowing our dependance comes from the one true authority of Jesus Christ alone.

I'm so thankful for our next President.  I don't know who he is yet, but I'm thankful for him.  I'm thankful I don't have his job.  I'm thankful that God will use him regardless of his strengths and certainly through his weaknesses.  I'm thankful that he has willingly opened up his heart to guide a nation, and I can't imagine the kind of pressure, influence, or guts that it must take to step into a position that is so irreverently criticized by today's media.  I'm thankful that we live in a country where we can still speak the name of Jesus and open our Bible's in our own language without any concern or worry.

As the political persuasions dwindle down over the coming days, let's try to amplify our voice of gratefulness.  We may not get the President we voted for, or the President we think we deserve, or the President we think should have won...or, we might!  But, our future is not in his hands anyway.  There's a lot to be thankful for, folks.  Let's try and not lose sight of that.

Four years from now, we'll be right back here, wearing our "I Voted!" stickers and watching the TV with baited breath.  But, four years from now, maybe I can be explaining to my seven-year-old Matilda how proud I am to live in a thankful country.

You don't have to like the weather to be thankful for the sun.  Let's welcome this morning with praise.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!  I wish you all a treat-filled day of fun and autumnal festivities!

Halloween will forevermore be known in my mind as the anniversary-of-the-day-I-first-went-into-labor.  Here we are, three full years later, and I can still picture that entire day with pristine clarity.  I suppose you never forget the day that, for the first time in your life, you reach maximum capacity in your pregnancy.  (It probably also added to the drama to have my water break in the middle of watching Dracula!  That is definitely something you never forget!)

My firstborn daughter, Matilda, will turn 3 tomorrow on November 1st.  I just can't believe it.  THREE.  Actual kid-dom.  For real little-girl-ness.  Absolute, walking, adorable energy balled up into one little being who has as much spunk as she does splendor, as much curiosity as she does cuteness, and as much fervor as she does favor.  I love her to pieces, and can hardly remember life before her existence.

There is something about the firstborn child that just makes my heart sing and cry out for her.  On one hand, I think that I will extend to her opportunities that my second-born (and not-yet-conceived-subsequent-children-of-the-future) may miss out on.  I think I will experiment the most in my parenting methods with her.  I think that I will challenge her more than the others, seeing how far she will push the boundaries or how far my limitations will be tested.  It's hard to tell.

On the other hand, I really feel for her.  She is the "pioneer" of our children.  The first to have us as parents.  The first to be wholly under our supervision and influence, and I gotta say - that can't be easy! Sometimes I wonder if she already realizes she is the guinea pig or not.  Sometimes I worry whether she can tell we are just winging it as we go or if she knows how much I tweet about her strong will!

Matilda is stubborn, willful, and delightfully spirited.  She knows what she likes (or as she says "I yike dat!") and will throw a dramatic fit just to clarify when she detests something.  She plays hard and loves even harder.  She will strangle perfect strangers in bear hugs if they smile at her and gleefully wave at passersby just to make her enthusiasm towards life that much more contagious.

What I have come to know (and gradually, daily, strive to fall in love with) is that toddlers are irrational, honest, unashamedly-answer-seeking individuals who just want to be in charge.  Picture an angry lunatic running a big corporation and then yelling at his employees to tell him what's going on, and you'll have some clue as to the confusing day-in-the-life that it is to be a toddler.  Their world just makes no sense to them, but they know there are answers out there to be had.  Not having the answers, however, doesn't limit them from exacerbating themselves by throwing unwarranted demands around like they are stuffed animals (and sometimes, they are stuffed animals).

I have a feeling that 3 is going to be an amazing age for Matilda.  I sense great rises in things like intellect and vocabulary (yikes) and hefty depths of character sinking into her mind and soul.  Already she talks about angels, God, Jesus, and asks questions about feelings and how others are doing (like, really doing - like, empathizing better than many parents I've met).  Its kind of like living with a resident-psychologist, someone always making you question your ideals or motives (why? why?) but still withholding judgment.

As we approach the threshold of her birthday, it got me thinking about who this little warrior will be when she grows up.  What do I want for her?  Who do I hope her to be?  How will I relate to her?  What if she turns out differently than I hope?  Certainly, she will turn out differently than I hope...not necessarily better or worse, but she will be her own self, and how do I parent something so....so...so, unknown?

But, this led me to two thoughts:

1.  There is no more unknown today than there was yesterday than there will be tomorrow.
There is always the same amount of unknown about our future, it's just that we usually get to comfortably live under the illusion and within the security of our predictions coming true.
Matthew 6:34  Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own. (NIV)

2.  I need to model my life according to who I hope my child grows up to be.
I all too often find myself taking the easy road when it comes to living up to the standards I idealize.  But, when I picture walking into my life as if it were my child's - am I disappointed?  am I proud?  would I try to fix her?  would I encourage her?   If I picture my current life as my child's future, how would I live differently?  I find this much more motivating than simply longing for something better or settling for disappointing myself.

I hope so much for my Matilda.  I fervently pray that God will take the passion in this crazy/sweet child and turn it into a Christ-centered calling that only this spit-fired, pistol-blazing, mighty, little whipper-snapper could fulfill.  I'm so grateful to belong in the journey of her story.

Have a happy birthday, Matilda.  You inspire me.

Oprah pt. 5 - The Grand Finale!

Friday, October 26, 2012

1 Corinthians 1:27-29

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

Check out Part One!
Check out Part Two!
Check out Part Three!
Check out Part Four! 

From the second I arrived at O YOU! I knew I was in for a memorable experience.  I arrived about 6:30am (doors opened at 7, but the actual first session didn't start until 9!) and there was already about 500+ people in line.  Rumor had it that there had been women camped out since midnight the night before just so they could get dibs on good seats.  Whoa.

As I made my way down, down, down (does this line end?) down the line, it suddenly struck me how incredibly diverse the audience was.  Ages 16 - 86, mostly women but some men, every race, every religion, every sexual orientation, everyone looking way too fabulous for it still being dark outside.  Everyone there because of one person and one reason:  To see Oprah and improve our lives.

I quickly befriended a few gals in line and started chatting with them about how interesting it was to me that we were all here for the same reason, and yet here for completely different and individual reasons all at the same time.  "That's true," one lady said, "I guess we all have something we need to work on!"

I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted out of the day.  I knew I was just going to enjoy an entire day on my own agenda, not having to worry about the needs of my little girls (for the most part) and ready to engage in this culture that was inviting, intellectual, and interested in who I was.  I mean, after all, the day was called O YOU! it was blatantly branded as brightly colored validation and felt special to be welcomed as if we were the celebrities getting the notice, and not the other way around.

Even standing in line became a treat as the Oprah Staff handed out free breakfast sandwiches and smiled at you as if you had just accidentally tipped them too much.  As I entered the foyer of the convention center, it became apparent that this level of stardom brought with it a bandwagon of brand management that I had never witnessed before.  The LA Convention Center had become "Oprahland" overnight.  Signs and giant "O's" were everywhere.  Every column or wall was somehow signified by her enterprise.  It was seamless and beautiful, and if I didn't know any better I would have thought this was Oprah's very own event coliseum that had always been hers and this event had always been there and always would be.  This is the best of the best, I thought.  And there is something spectacular in witnessing and appreciating the effort behind such a feat.

As you have read through the week, you now are familiar with all of the sessions I attended throughout the day.  The "experts" I encountered truly were just that - experts in their field.  Each one of them held captive an audience of 5,000+ as if they were talking to their family around the dinner table.  Each one of them spoke so freely, so confidently, so fluidly that it made me look behind myself to see if there was a teleprompter stationed somewhere I couldn't see.  There wasn't.  They held no notecards.  They needed no pause.  They owned that auditorium and knew it.  And the (I'll just say "women" since truly the audience only held about 1% men) women they spoke to ATE. UP. EVERY. SINGLE. WORD.

Myself included.

I had invested money in the day.  I had invested time.  I had invested thought and energy and deliberation to absolutely sponge as much "expertise" out of these individuals (and the experience as a whole) as I possibly could.  I had already assigned value to the task from the moment I bought the ticket, so now was the time to cash in on the life lessons I was promised.

And boy-oh-boy, did those speakers make some serious promises.  Even reading the session topics or the list of sponsors that was there gave you hopes of walking away as a completely organized, fully energized, highly motivated, intellectually stimulating, emotionally enriched, vibrant woman who would walk out the door with her head held high and surely be mistaken for Halle Berry shooting a Loreal commercial!  It was invigorating, to say the least.

By the time I was waiting in line to see Oprah in the final session (did I mention I was in line 2 HOURS prior to schedule...though, I did get in the 12 row, center stage!) I was bursting with information.  My brain was on overload with the intake of tips, advice, how-to's, to-do's, and what-not's.  I was tired of the stubborn women and exhausted by enthusiastic ones.  I just wanted to see my Oprah, get an emotional hug from afar, and go home and get in my jammies.

It was in the middle of this dreamy thought (as my feet were gaining numbness from standing for so long) that a Security Guard informed us that our line ("Group A") was going to need to calmly and efficiently move around to a different area before entering the arena.  A collective "Ohhhh hellll no" erupted from the crowd.  I sort of shrugged it off, just glad that someone around here evidently knew where we were supposed to go, and I was happy to be cattle-corralled into the correct location as long as Oprah was at the end of it all (Oprah and a seat for my tired feet, please).

But, hell hath no fury like a woman scorning a security guard for coming between her and her Oprah.  Whoa.  Let me tell you, I've never witnessed angrier, lunatic, irrational women outside from watching a clip from a Jerry Springer show.  It was ugly.  And, believe it or not, most of those terrible loud-mouths got their way and were let in line in front of the rest of us (the squeaky wheel got the grease that day, evidently).  It was sad.  It was gross.  And it made me take pause and see how passionate these women were about learning ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Witnessing this debacle, I leaned over next to the person next to me in line and said "Wouldn't it be so great if that security guard just "Mission-Impossibled" the crowd and pulled off his face like a mask and it ended up really being Oprah???"  We had a good laugh, thinking about how Oprah would surely laser-vision-destroy those line-cutters with her glare of shame.  Some people just never learn, no matter what it is.

I finally got seated.  The room is buzzing.  Music is blaring and the rhythm makes you question whether we are at an information session or a nightclub, it is so intense.  There are giant screens on either side of the stage with quotes from each of the day's speakers.  It's the final session and you could cut the enthusiasm in the room with a knife, it was so thick.

Before this day, I had never been to anything so emotionally charged, so spiritually uplifting, so energetically palpable that didn't have anything to do with Jesus.  That is, having been to women's retreats or various ministry conferences, it felt strange to feel so connected with strangers and understood by people I'd just met, that didn't necessarily worship the same God I did.  (If you've ever been to a ministry conference, Christian camp, concert, or retreat, you probably know what I'm talking about.)

I looked out into this sea of women, their arms raised high, their voices shouting out with happiness and confidence, and I had the strangest sensation come over me.  I teared up as I felt God revealing to me exactly what I was looking at...orphans.

These women, this "Oprah culture" if you will, was a crowd of wandering, wondering, parentless children.  They were in desperate search for a parent.  Not only someone to look after them, love them unconditionally, or validate their feelings...but someone who would guide them, instruct them, set limits, give them boundaries, and model our ideal of who we truly want to be.

My heart broke right then and there for them.  Such desperation, such hope and expectation, all placed on a single woman's words, kind eyes, and ideals.  How could Oprah possibly adopt them all?  How could Oprah lead them?  How could Oprah fix them, guide them, teach them?  How could she...after all, isn't she an orphan herself?

What Oprah had to say that day was nothing short of magical.  It was lovely and encouraging and some of it even felt prophetic or divine.  That might sound sacrilegious to some of you or just plain exaggerated, but let me tell you - when someone is the best at something, you feel affected by it, and right or wrong in content, Oprah is one of the best communicators on the planet and that's a fact.  It was like watching an Olympian perfectly and easily demonstrate their sport, as she gracefully paced the stage and spoke with such genuine authority.  It was eerie and serendipitous all at the same time.  I've never seen anything like it (of course, it doesn't hurt that I highly and deeply value the art of communication, so I was rather in awe of her mastering of the craft).

But, Oprah's message (the basis for the entirety of the day) has one consistent and critical flaw.  Her main idea is this:  "You can fix you." 

And, my dear friends, I'm here to tell you, NO...you can't.

You can't fix yourself.  No matter the degree, no matter the method, no matter the strength.  You, I'm sorry to say, are not your answer to your problems.  The sad part about this news, is that the harder you work to improve yourself, change yourself, or alter yourself, the more and more futile your efforts become.  You will lose time, energy, money, and most likely a lot of sanity as you attempt to change more and more things by doing the same exactly wrong method towards self-improvement over and over and over again.  This is why all these women, this "Oprah culture", these orphans, are caught in a cycle of coming back for more.  Nothing ever changes.

There's a reason we call God our Father.  There's a reason Jesus came to earth to be a lowly human being and show us finally and for once how to live.  There's a reason we can live securely and contently as weak failures day in and day out.  Hallelujah - the good news is this - You can't fix you!  

That's right.  The same exact sad news as before turns out to actually be the absolute BEST news you could ever learn.  Think about it for a while and just consider how this looks in real life.  I mean, religious skepticism aside - why in the world would you actually turn to your broken self to fix yourself?  Why do you think you are equipped to handle what life has given you?  What makes you the expert on yourself, exactly?

Maybe think about it in this way - if your car broke down tomorrow, would you ask your toddler to fix it?  I mean, she's ridden around in the car for a few years, she has opinions about comfort and style.  She might even be able to turn the radio on by herself or buckle herself in or something.  Ridiculous though, right?  Obviously you wouldn't ask your toddler to fix your car...you would maybe take it to a trained mechanic; but ideally, you would go directly to the manufacturer to find out what the heck went wrong.

So then, why is it so different to consider going to our Creator, for our answers about ourselves?  Why wouldn't we turn to God about things like depression, anxiety, marriage, children, direction, motivation, etc....anything!  Certainly, we should read the manual.  Definitely, we should call on professionals at times.  But, all this to say - you are broken.  We are all broken.  Just like that lady in line next to me at the very beginning said, "We all have something to work on."

I know, I know, I know.  It can sound too good to be true.  It can sound hokey and boring and ridiculous.  But, we are all in need of that "parent".  We all long for boundaries and rules to run up against and test the limits just so we can acknowledge the fact that there is a love that exists to protect us and keep us safe.

It's just not about "us" at all.  This game we play with ourselves that we just need more "me time" or we just need to learn more about ourselves (and, I'm all for rational, quality time to be alone and seek guidance, don't get me wrong) but, it is an illusion if you believe that is what will bring you answers to your deepest longings.  Our weaknesses do not exist to limit our possibilities - our weaknesses exist to allow the impossible.  Jesus is our impossibility.  Jesus is our strength.  Jesus is ours.

It was by no coincidence that the very next day after O YOU! I was sitting in church listening to a sermon on exactly this.  Our newly appointed pastor, Mike Erre, has changed they way I feel about sitting in church in only the couple months he's been speaking at EV Free Fullerton.  I had just been in the presence of "greatness" the day before - sat merely feet away from one of the world's most prolific speakers in history - and here I was, sitting in the far back pew of my church welling up with more inspiration than my soul knew what to do with.

That, my friends, is the power of truth.  That is the power of the Holy Spirit.  That is the power of the Almighty.  No branding, no sponsors, no flashy programs to make you feel comfortable about the fact that you are not in control of your being.  Just raw, beautiful truth that will change you, fix you, and adhere you forever to the road you are meant to travel.

Orphan no more, oh you.

I invite you to listen to the sermon I heard last Sunday morning.  Follow this link to listen to the audio now, or visit HERE to watch the video or subscribe to the podcast.  The sermon that day was titled "Weakness in an Age of Self-Sufficiency"

Oprah pt. 4

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Check out Part One!
Check out Part Two!
Check out Part Three!

Today's post will be a bit shortened for a few reasons.  1) It's like 11pm and it's been a taxing day. 2) I didn't take handwritten notes at either of these sessions.  It was the final session time of the day and I really wanted to appreciate, enjoy, and absorb all that was being offered.  So, I observed and soaked up as much as I could.  Direct quotes are taken either from video that I sneakily recorded at the time or from the O Magazine twitter feed.  3) I want to keep you all interested enough to come back for Friday's major post.

Thanks for sticking with me through this week!  It's been a doozy!

Who spoke?  Iyanla Vanzant
Iyanla Vanzant, accomplished author, inspirational speaker, talk-show host, and living testament to the value in life's valleys and the power of acting on faith, goes behind closed doors and deep inside people's lives for emotional, riveting conversations.  Iyanla has had a unique life filled with many personal struggles, which she has overcome and used in order to help herself become stronger.  Now, she's back, hosting Iyanla: Fix My Life, a new series on OWN.  Iyanla is helping people fix their lives, using her past to help others' futures - she puts the real  in reality. [Official bio from the O YOU! program]

About what?
Iyanla burst onto the stage with the energy of a young preacher hosting a revival!  As the entire day was centered around "O YOU!" she began a series of comments starting with the phrase...

"Oh you!...who's yadda yadda yadda..".  This wavered from the incidental (Oh you who is here today) to the profound (Oh you who has already made it) to the revelatory (Oh you who needed it yesterday).

It went on for several minutes, cleverly, and honestly I couldn't tell whether she was making it up as she went along by pure inspiration or if she had memorized it all ahead of time.  It really fired up the crowd and kept us all nodding and smiling.

She took off her uncomfortable shoes and just carried them over her shoulder as she paced the stage back and forth.  Cute and a little kooky.

"I am the part of you that's willing to stand up, not worrying about what other people are about to say."

She gave an illustration about sports and life.  She said she really didn't know anything about sports, but she knew enough that she knew when a player was on the court/field/diamond/rink that they didn't worry about the trash around them...the trash from the crowd in the stands.  She knew that (let's use football, for example) if that football player was headed toward a goal, he didn't stop along the way to pick up a wrapper from food that got in the way.  It wasn't his trash to deal with.  It was just an obstacle, a distraction maybe, but it had nothing to do with getting to his true destination.

She said this was like life.  You gotta just keep going forward.  She said life isn't in a straight line where you can see everything ahead perfectly.  Life is a curved road.

"The road curves because if God showed us the distance from where we are to where we want to go, we'd think it was too far."

What did I think?
I think the women in that arena were so fired up to see Oprah (who was coming next) that they would have applauded like mad no matter who was on the stage.  However, Iyanla has such a striking voice, such charisma to her demeanor, that you simply couldn't ignore the words she spoke.  She was wholly motivating.  And the way she spoke so definitively about any subject, you just believed what she was saying.  You didn't want to argue with her.  You just wanted to yell out "AMEN!" or give a little "woot woot!" from your seat and maybe high-five your neighbor.

I wasn't sure if I was listening to poetry or a sermon or a coach's speech at half-time.  It was confusing and invigorating all the same, and yet, I almost couldn't keep up with how simple it all was.  I know this sounds as clear as mud to you, but I don't really know another way to put it.  She gave simple analogies (life is like sports, okay) but then threw out these lines of conclusion that seemingly wrapped it all up in this nice little didn't-you-just-have-an-epiphany feeling, yet left me feeling like "Wait a second, is that right?  Does that make sense?  Is that true?"

Iyanla is a motivator.  She is gifted and inspiring and you feel like you are being hit in the head with little cross-stitched pillows when you listen to her.  You know, those little pillows that look lovely from afar, filling a gap in the middle of a comfortable chair because you just aren't really sure what else to do with it, so you let it fill a void for the time being.  Little pillows that have sayings stitched into them that sound lovely and ideal and clever and yet lose all intention and true meaning because you have no idea how it would apply to your real life in the middle of a real crisis dealing with real people.  Little pillows that are soft and comforting and cover up stains on cushions you don't know what to do with otherwise.

Huh.  Maybe Iyanla's not the only one with some analogies up her sleeve after all.  (Haha.)  I only wish I could have gotten a some concrete follow-through on her steps of motivation.  I had the energy, I just wanted the application!  That is to say, I really liked listening to Iyanla, but I was left with emotion, not action.  Don't just accept good feeling "advice" to fill a void with an answer just because you can't tolerate the unknown.


Who spoke? Oprah Winfrey
She needs no bio.  If you don't know who Oprah is you shouldn't be reading this blog - go wiki Oprah and get back to me.  (This video was already after a few minutes of cheering, by the way!)

About what?
Oprah's entrance was incredible.  To say the crowd went insane would be the understatement of the century.  Everyone must have cheered for five solid minutes.  Not only did she do an adorable little shuffle-step-dance as she waved and smiled; but, she also shot the cover of a spring edition of O Magazine on stage, live!

Oprah graced the stage radiantly in a lovely mint green dress, and opened with a short-background (as if we'd never heard it before) about being conceived by accident by two underprivileged, uneducated parents who didn't want her.  She was raised by her grandmother and always felt as if she was meant for something great, but didn't know what.  She said as she grew up being taken to church by her grandma that she was the child in the front pew, listening to the preacher, who genuinely and whole-heartedly believed there was a calling on her life.

Of course, we pretty much know the rest of the story, and she unexpectedly rose to fame by climbing a surprising ladder of terrible news anchoring jobs to then talk show host where she really found her purpose on the planet.  She mostly breezed through this part of her story as we in the audience were familiar with it already.  Still, astounding.

She quoted Joseph Campbell, "The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are."

She said the following (and this is verbatim, transcribed from audio I recorded on my phone):

"What I know for sure is that there is a calling on every life today.  Be the star of your own life.  To recognize that every morning when you wake up that there is breath in your lungs, and you can claim the day, you can claim the day, you can claim the victory of the day, understanding that there is something at work and at will in your life as it is in all of our lives.  I feel so, so blessed to have been able to have led a life that I'm allowed to stand before you and speak to you and share the wisdom that God has put inside myself.  To offer that on multi-platforms. ...I don't care about what the form is, what I care about is what the message is.  What I care about is being able to speak to an audience, to speak to you in such a way that you understand that your life matters.  Who you are matters.  What you do with your life matters. What you take upon yourself and how you show the world every day and present yourself matters.  That your calling into space, into this earthly plane, matters.  And that the real work...is to understand...the real reason you are here is that the power of the Creator blew into you the breath of life.  That breath of life comes with enormous responsibility.  To honor the privilege that is you.  The privilege that is you, when you think about that, the privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are."

She then told a short, recent story of how she had felt a lump in her breast (everything is fine, she later revealed).  But, when she was seeing the doctor and laying on the table with uncertainty as they brought in other doctors to come and speak with her, she was feeling overwhelmed with the unknown.

She said "As I was lying there on the table, I felt the greatest calm...and you know what my prayer was?  'In God, I move, and breath, and have my being.  In God, I move, and breath, and have my being. And no matter what, in God, I move, and breath, and have my being,' and it's going to be all right."

She ended with, "The work that needs to be done, right where you are right now, starting today from this moment, to use all of this information to be you, this privilege, when you do that, you honor the fullness of your creation.  Bless you."

What did I think?
I think you'll have to wait until Friday to really find out.

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