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I’ve been wanting to post pictures of baby Andy’s room for the past week and half, but a few things have gotten in the way (got some stomach virus, our internet was cut off and won’t be re-installed for awhile, and then just mom/wife stuff).  There are so many reasons I wanted to explain the pictures, number 1 being I wanted to say a big thank you to some people who have blessed us in some really tangible ways.  The first thank you I wanted to write about is to Steve & Charlene Fleming.  The Flemings are a dear family that we met in 2001 as college students at Christ Church Presbyterian (now called Christ Community Church).  At the time the church had an “adopt a college student” program, and they were my “adopted” parents/family.  I got to eat good food with them at their house, stayed the night when I was having boyfriend struggles (who, by the way, is now my husband:) and enjoyed hanging out with Leah (their daughter) at the community pool for the first time when she was in 7th grade (and who just got married!).  Steve and Charlene have loved Jared and I really well over the past 10 years, from throwing wedding/baby showers for us to helping take care of Ethan at an early infant age to now.  Steve is incredibly handy; he has a man cave that he built that is his workshop where all the magic happens.  I had seen a great wooden tree at a local children’s store (Treehouse on Baxter Road) and told Steve and Charlene how much I loved it, and asked if I could commission Steve to carve one for me.  That was all I said and before I knew it, Steve was asking for measurements and pictures.  I intended to buy the supplies and bring everything to him, but they surprised us by coming to our house with a 7 foot wooden carved tree over a week ago, and not only was it what I was imagining but so much more.  He carved a little owl family (mom, dad, toddler and baby owl) in the knot hole (is that what you call that, Charlene? I keep forgetting!!!) AND he carved out little birds, squirrels, etc. to live on the branches.  It is amazing.  He even put it up on the wall when they got there (which is half the battle- to actually get something up on the wall once you get it!!!).  I love it.  Steve said he wanted to make it for us because they loved us and were grateful how we had been a part of pre-marriage counseling for Leah and her husband, Drew.  I have so much gratitude in my heart for them.  After they left, I just sat in Andy’s room and starred at the tree, enjoying it.  I love it when a room reflects joy and gives you good feelings… which sounds kinda weird.  I like happy rooms.  I’m sure everyone’s definition of a happy room is different but for me, this room is one of the happiest places I could be.  And this is so needed and appropriate as we anticipate the arrival of baby Andy.  Babies are known to cry a lot, need a lot, sleep at odd times (i.e. not at night), and for those reasons sometimes the first few months of a baby’s life can be difficult for parents.  But somehow having a room that is bright, cheerful and decorated with things given graciously by others is a reminder that children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord.  Everything in the room has been a gift to us in some way.  The crib was given to us from a family who had an extra crib they didn’t use anymore, the dresser was purchased for us by Jared’s parents, the crib bedding was made by my mom, the chair was an ikea craigslist find for $35 that my mom picked up in Atlanta, and even the wall color is a gift of grace.  Originally my parents drove up to Athens to help us paint… so we picked up a color I thought would be great but turned out to be way too similar to the color of baby poop.  I was trying to make it work, thinking it wasn’t that bad in the sunlight, just ugly under the yellowish lightbulbs.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would hate going in there to change diapers.  Then my dad mentioned that at least it wouldn’t matter if baby Andy pooped on the wall because it would match.  That confirmed it… I hated it.  Jared was a super kind husband and said he would repaint it, and that he knew it would be better just to go ahead and fix it now.  Even a lady at Lowe’s saw our previous paint color and mentioned baby poo.  How was I so blind? Clearly not a natural decorator.  So my dad and Jared primed the walls to repaint, and Jared finished the job that week.  The walls are a reminder to me of grace and patience and love.  Finally, the fun yarn balls (I know they have a much cooler name than that, I just don’t know what it is!) that are white and hanging over the chair were given to me by a great and talented woman (Ossie Brewer, mom of Katie Brewer).  I photographed Katie and Gabe’s wedding in August, and Ossie made so many great decorations for the reception.  I told her how much I loved them and she ended up giving me these for the nursery.  I love that it reminds me of how my job is a blessing as a photographer and how God has given all us of so many different talents (you should see some of the other stuff Ossie made… she’s needs her own business!)  The quote above the dresser is from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  I have a major literarry (sp??) crush on Lewis, and this quote seemed so perfect for a baby.  One day, God willing, Andy will know that God is big, bigger than he ever imagined.  Our prayer is that he will know that God is our creator and redeemer, and find out how that plays out in every little corner of our lives.  As he grows, we pray his love and view of God would grow bigger and richer.  Just like Lucy begins to understand the majesty, power, and greatness of Aslan as she grows, we hope Andy will begin to see God as the lion that doesn’t use his power and strength to crush people, but instead lays down his life to rescue needy people like us.  I have a little ”Andy” banner that I hope to finish soon, but no pictures of that yet:) So we are making room in our home and hearts for baby Andy.  I’ve had lots of contractions in the past 2 weeks, and they’ve been good reminders to me that he is coming.  They’ve also been reminders to me that birth is painful… so pray for me if you think about it for courage and help in the labor process.  But I know once I hold him for the first time I will quickly forget all labor pains in light of the joy of holding this little gift that I’ve carried for nine months without ever seeing his face until that moment.  I can’t wait to meet him.  We love you baby Andy… all of us.

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I’d have to say parenting has been the most challenging part of my life so far.  I think most people would say that.  It has been difficult at various stages for all sorts of different reasons.  For example, a few weeks ago Jared and I were trying to have a conversation after dinner while Ethan was playing.  Then I heard a small voice coming up from behind me saying, “I want to hurt you…,” and before I knew it I was clubbed on my arm with a plastic golf club.  And just because it’s plastic doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.  I was emotionally exhausted that day and physically tired with my 8 month pregnant self, so the next natural reaction was to go to my room and cry.  I just felt sorry for myself and my arm genuinely hurt.  I had a big red sore spot on my upper arm and thought I could read “little tikes” or something like that branded on my skin.  Jared took care of the discipline side of the situation (major rule: no hurting mommy, especially with golf clubs, especially while pregnant).  It’s times like this that I tend to dwell on.  Ethan has been struggling with self-control and anger (as many 2 and 3 year olds do, I’m sure, but he’s ranks pretty high on the total meltdown scale) but it seems that he smells my weaknesses and knows the best time to lash out.  There are way too many more stories like this that make me laugh after the fact but have slowly started to dominate my view of him, being a mom, and family life.  Survival has become the daily goal instead of being thankful.  Fear of this small little person and what the next 10 hours hold until Daddy comes home start to take over my mind and heart instead of finding ways to enjoy the day.  Thus the need for celebration in my life.  All of this has been going on while I’m pregnant and inviting yet another child into our world, which has made it hard to look forward to.  But recently there has been a change in heart in both Jared and I that has helped give us a new perspective and joy in parenting.

We’ve been talking a lot about what it means to practice thankfulness in our lives.  How it doesn’t come naturally to dwell on what is good but so much easier (especially with small children) to complain about how they thwart our schedules and make even the easiest task difficult.  I noticed when I went to the park one day how most of the conversations were about how difficult children are, how tired they make moms and dads, and how everyone is trying to survive each day just to start over again.  It is all around us, a negative or overwhelming feeling that is associated with being a mom.  I’ve read some really good books lately that have talked about the need to celebrate life in all its ordinary hours, to be intentional about thanking God throughout the day, and to not give in to a hopeless feeling about life as a mom-slave.  Jared and I have seen that if we are going to be parents who love our children well, we have to work hard at being grateful.  We have to talk about what God is doing in us, giving us the children we need to grow to be the people he has called us to become.  We need to remind ourselves at dinner what good we see in Ethan, in what ways he is growing for the better.  We need to celebrate any signs of maturity.  We need to laugh more, and remember that our days are numbered.  Instead of seeing Ethan as an angry little person, we need to see him as someone who is struggling with anger but that it doesn’t define him.  He loves music.  He loves to dance.  He likes playing guitars and wearing funny hats in the kitchen while we sing Beatles’ songs.  He likes to make funny faces.  He gives really sweet hugs and kisses.  He even told Jared one time that he was asking Jesus for help because he was angry at Daddy.  That is success… not that Ethan perfectly behaves but that he is learning to ask for help and forgiveness from our gracious God.  Instead of telling people about my son who sneak attacks me with golf clubs, I can more faithfully portray him as someone who is much more like me than I think.  He laughs & enjoys life while also messing up a lot, especially when he’s hungry or tired (which I can totally relate to).  And this is where our hope for him is the same as our hope for us as adults, that God loves and delights to help us in our weaknesses.  Our hope that God is always at work in us, helping and changing us to be more like Jesus.  I’ve been looking for books and articles on how to “handle” the strong willed child… how many times to spank, or what other tactics I should use to reign in a wild child who loses it to such a degree that I have to break out ultimate fighting or WWF moves just to pin him down.  But God was so gracious to me in the past few weeks to give me simple and somewhat mysterious wisdom.  I was reading in the Psalms how he gives strength to the weary, wisdom to those who ask, help for people like me.  So I just prayed for help.  I prayed for strength to love Ethan as his mom in the midst of Ethan raging against me.  I asked for wisdom to know how to handle whatever specific situation came up that day.  And everyday I’ve been trying to pray these simple prayers as we go through the day.  Ethan and I were in the car when he started a fit, and as he was screaming, “I want to hurt you!” I just kept praying for God’s protection over me.  Not just my physical protection- although I pray for that sometimes- but really protecting my heart from despairing or giving up on the whole parenting thing.  And I have been strengthened and encouraged by God.  And I’ve started to see that those bad times aren’t all day or everyday, and the times in between them are really fun and joyful.  Before I couldn’t enjoy it because I feared so much what he was or wasn’t going to do at naptime, or when he didn’t get his way.  But I feel less fearful, more taken care even as a mom, and protected by a God who loves me and will be my help.  It’s funny because it’s not some easy step-by-step parenting program but a daily trust and dependence on a big and powerful and loving God.  I couldn’t really explain it any more than that to someone or tell them “how” to do it or how to make it “work.” But it’s a position of the heart that has changed and an expectation that God is at work in my family, and I can look for evidence of his redemption in my son’s heart and mine.  Just yesterday Ethan said he wanted to hurt me while I was driving, and I asked him why.  He told me it was because he didn’t want to leave his friend’s house and I made him.  I talked to him about how he wouldn’t want others to hurt him and I could tell he was thinking and processing.  He had a Gatorade bottle in his hand and I knew we were at a crossroads of self-control… would the Gatorade bottle be chunked at me while driving? Ethan held the bottle and then… he decided not to throw it.  CELEBRATE!! God is at work in my little son’s heart! Not that it won’t happen in the future, but for that moment he practiced self-control.  He ended up falling asleep within minutes of that conversation and I knew that we were alike… having difficulty controlling our emotions when tired.  But he is growing and we are celebrating that growth.  At night I told Ethan that I love him because he’s mine.  I don’t love him because he behaves or is cute (although he is very cute) and conversely love him less because he misbehaves.  Simply being mine is enough for me to love him forever and nothing could ever change that.  And I’ve learned that through my relationship with God, that he loves me because I am his and nothing changes that.  I’m redeemed, forgiven through Jesus, bought at a price and forever loved.  And that makes me want to live a life where I don’t attack or throw stuff at people.  Maybe that will be Ethan’s story, too.

So in keeping with a celebration theme at our house, we have bought brownie and cake mixes to try to celebrate after dinner on a given night what we are thankful for.  We are trying to play more music and dance in the kitchen more.  I decided to bring my camera to the park the other day with Ethan so I could look for things that I love about him- the funny faces he makes or the way he loves to play chase and give me great big hugs.  The pictures of him in the car are reminders to me of the good gift he is to my life.  That very day he kicked and screamed when we left the park.  But that temper tantrum doesn’t erase the laughs and fun we had running around and him showing me all his different facial expressions.  And that is life… joy mixed with difficulty.  It’s easy to just focus on the difficulty but so much more rewarding and fuller to see both.  So posted in the above picture are Ethan’s new favorite facial expressions… angry, sad, happy, sleepy, and loving on his new stuffed animal, Dolphie.  And I’m learning to be thankful for each one of these faces.  Ethan, if for some reason I save these posts and you read them when you are older, know that God has been good to us through it all and I love you.

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So one conversation Jared and I have had more than a few times over the past 7 years is my dream of one day writing a book, or two.  I think it’s because I feel like life provides so many good stories to tell and writing seems like the best way to do it.  I have a few imaginary books in my head, and my most recent unpublished book is called, Blue Vespa.  The main idea for this unwritten book is to pull together a collection of funny and inspiring stories from the past 28 years.  Whenever funny things happen, I add a chapter to the table of contents, and usually months after a hardship I end up including that story, too.  I have no major aspirations of ever really publishing and all the work that goes into that, but I think blogging might be the easier answer to my ongoing book.  I’ve had lots of blogs, and like most things in my life, they last for a little while with initial excitement and energy and then fade as the worries and cares of this world make it seem more difficult to perservere with my endeavor.  But that doesn’t keep me from continually attempting new ideas.  I think it’s kind of like cleaning the house and organizing theclosests & the garage… it is an ongoing effort and every 6 months you find yourself living in chaos.  But that doesn’t mean you give up completely on the hope of order in your home.  You just try new methods of keeping things in their place, knowing it will need a total renovation in a few months.  So here it is, blog #40 (not really, but I do have quite a number of blog attempts- so much so that I left all the posts from my Banquet for the Soul blog on here just to not lose them).  It’s not even that I want to blog or write a book so that people will read it, but more of personal avenue of processing life.  I like browsing through lots of blog themes, and that alone takes me weeks to decide on one theme.  Then I want to change it the next week.  So it’s great if friends or family enjoy reading this, but my real goal in it all is an outlet for my thoughts and stories.  It’s kinda like when you trip down the stairs and no one is there to laugh.  I always feel like that is a wasted funny moment, and I usually have a few lame laughs to myself really wishing I could talk to someone about my seemingly uncaused fall.  The internet (in a somewhat dangerous way) is this “someone” you can tell the awkward moment to… andI think that is why writers write.  It’s an outlet that for some people really energizes the soul, and I’m realizing I’m one of those people.  I took me awhile to return to it after years of forced writing in school, but it turns out my teachers were planting some important seeds in my mind and soul that would really benefit me later, if only for the way that writing helps me enjoy life more. 

So as to the theme of the non-book blog, I thought the title, Blue Vespa, would be most appropriate for thoughts on my life because it’s kinda random (as is life) but also a picture of one of my longest running dreams.  I have wanted a Vespa, or Honda Metropolitan for a long time.  I went to Italy when I was 15 and saw people everywhere on these little scooters zipping around the streets and fell in love.  Ever since then I have gotten little scooter parafanalia from my mom, some friends, & my husband to make me feel closer to my dream.  Example: blue vespa key ring for Christmas years ago that just recently broke (hopefully not symbolic of a crushed dream:), or the yellow wrapping paper with blue vespas that my dear friend Caroline not only wrapped my Christmas gift with but she also bought me more of the paper since she knew I would like it so much.  I have often had my picture taken on other people’s vespas at gas stations (after I akwardly ask if I may sit on their scooter) to make me feel closer to the dream of having one.  I actually had never driven one until last year when husband and I went on a cruise to Key West and the Bahamas.  We rented 2 in both places, but had very different experiences with each.  Key West was made for mopeds, with small and not so busy streets, while riding in the Bahamas was like coming face to face with death.  The worst part was when I took off my helmet and read the words, “Made in China.  Novelty Item: Not Intended for Protective Head Gear.” I have a picture of that, too.  Who wears a helmet as a novelty item? My near death experience driving in the capitol of the Bahamas didn’t change my love for scooters.  At any rate, one reason I want to blog more is because I want to dwell on life experiences and lessons that have made me come alive or taught me something deep and powerful.  I don’t want to get stuck in the everyday routine that I miss what animates me or the joy that is before me in the ordinary.  Blue Vespas are a picture to me of coming alive, the way you feel when you’re going a breathtaking 40 miles an hour (which is as fast as I ever really want to go)… I want to write about silly things and deep things because that is so much of my life and I need both.  I read the book Cold Tangerines this summer thanks to a great friend sharing it with me, and it essentially was just stories from the author’s life.  The stories weren’t anything heroic or newsworthy, but still something made that book like water to my soul.  I think it was her reflections on ordinary life that made me see that my life, too, has joy and beauty embedded in the mundane.  I started thinking that anyone could write a book about their life and find out it was much more beautiful than they initally thought as they reflected on it more.  I need that.  I need to know that my days are meaningful and there is more to look forward to than I often feel.  I really didn’t want to finish the book because I was afraid to lose perspective or that I wouldn’t get to live the joys of another person’s life after I finished.  But that’s what made me want to return to the blogosphere, because I knew that my own life had its own ups and downs that were worth writing about not because they’re especially dramatic but because God is at work in all of it, and often I just don’t take time to look for the deeper story that is at work.  So the Blue Vespa blog project is an attempt to process my life through writing in hopes of enjoying it more, appreciating what is happening in and around me even in difficult circumstances, and in some ways balancing it out with a picture of me driving through life eternally young on a blue vespa.  That’s the inspiration behind the blog. 

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a picture of our finest snow day cuisine: grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup.  Margin is taking the time to make lunch and enjoying an unhurried meal with your family and friends.

a picture of our finest snow day cuisine: grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup.  Margin is taking the time to make lunch and enjoying an unhurried meal with your family and friends.

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I went on a women’s retreat in November, and on the retreat my good friend Carol talked about the need for all of us to have “margin” in our lives.  She began her talk with a few statements from a book: “Overload is not having time to finish the book you’re reading on stress.  Margin is having time to read it twice.  Overload is fatigue.  Margin is energy.  Overload is hurry.  Margin is calm.  Overload is the disease of our time…”  She continued by explaining that margin is the space between our load and our limits.  The book Carol was referring to is Margin by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.  He is a doctor who for years has encountered lots of stress-related problems, enough so that it really made him study why his patients seem to be so stressed and burdened.  The book is really good.  When Carol talked about the life of the marginless person, she talked about the person who is 30 minutes late to the doctor’s office because you were 20 minutes late getting out of the bank because you were ten minutes late dropping off the kids because you had to stop for gas, because your tank was on empty.  Your tank is empty.  I teared up when she read these quotes, because I knew that was me.  The chain of events that “make” me late are just symptoms of overload in my life.  Dr. Swenson writes about how our culture has progressed and progressed with new time-saving methods & devices, and yet these “time savers” have made us think we can fill our days with even more than before as if we have no limits.  Progress makes us think there are no limits, no limits to our emotional or physical energy.  We have cars and access to airplanes, so that we can travel and be everywhere for vacations and holidays.  Yet this convience has made most families need a vacation after a vacation because of all that we fill our “time off” with.  Every person seems to have immediate access to other people’s life via email, facebook, texting, cell phones, iphone face time, etc.  Because we have all these communication channels, our culture so often acts as if we can be a million places at once (texting while eating dinner with family, responding to emails while working out, changing our facebook status on the computer while enjoying our son’s first birthday party).  It’s just a little nuts.  

How can we really ever be present in one moment while we are attending to so many other things?  So we run around like chickens with our heads cut off, always doing & multitasking, with very little left for the emergency situations that come up (like diaper explosions, grieving friends, even just noticing the needs of those around you).  Jared & I have come to laugh at the statement, “this is going to be a crazy week.”  After years of saying that, we have realized that no week is totally “normal.”  Every month is a little more hectic than usual, and May, August, & December are inevitably crazy times.  I was at the Chickfila playground talking with some other moms, and most of them were saying how busy life is and their desire is for rest. 

The author of this book mentioned what he believed to be the reason we all enjoy snow days or any other events that stop us in our tracks.  He said it is because our culture runs at such a fast and busy pace that we need something to stop us, something that keeps us home, keeps us from making more commitments, lets us rest.  Herein lies the joy of snowdays.

My dear friend Nan & I laugh about one reason we like having a newborn.  For a small window of time you (as the hormonal mother) are totally off the hook in most areas of life.  You aren’t expected to call people back, be at every event or gathering, keep the well-oiled machine of your house running perfectly.  The expectations drop, and freedom and rest can often be experienced.  I remember being sick in the hospital for a few days and thinking as much as I hated going through stomach issues, at least I was afforded some days of real rest.  I think this just shows me that I have need for real margin in my life, that there is no space between my load and my limits.

It is hard for me to imagine Jesus living in our present age.  I know he worked as a carpenter in his days, but what would his occupation be now? Would he wear a watch and schedule his time to the minute?  How would that leave time for a woman at a well, or stopping by a crowd and feeding them?  Did he schedule in his times to heal sickness, but only for about 15 minutes because he needed to run to his next disciples’ meeting?  I just don’t think he lived that way.  We do live in a different time and I know I can’t just throw out my watch and not plan anything (I’m sure Jesus planned the last supper, and knew which day was the Sabbath).  But I do think he lived in such a way that he was not controlled by a planner, but more by an overarching purpose to love people and give himself as their redeemer.  I know Jesus continually invited people to come to follow him, not just in a physical sense but in a figurative sense of his way of life.  I don’t think he would leave a gathering of needy people to change his status to “helping the poor…”  Not that changing my facebook status or twittering is evil or anything, but I do wonder when all of that starts to crowd out time for real relationships and being present in the moment. 

In a world where progress has made it seem like the sky is the limit (i.e. that there are no limits), our expectations grow for each other, for our work, for our family, and our church.  Everyone should get back in touch with me soon.  With all this great equipment, you (ms. photographer) should be able to get great pictures without mistakes.  Since you have a car, you shouldbe able to be here at such and such time.  But really God has not called me to achieve perfection and everyone’s expectations, but he sums up all that he has called me to do in this: Love God with everything I have, and love my neighbor as myself.  That is really what I should be doing.  That will often look like calling a friend back and trying to take excellent pictures, but sometimes that looks like having quality time with your husband and not talking on the phone, or saying no to an invitation because that means you can be available to help out a home or just be present with your children.  The point is love, and realizing I have limits to what I can do and how much time the Lord has given me in a day.

All of this comes after 3 wonderful days at home with my family.  School was cancelled for Jared & I (as teachers we enjoy it as much as students!), so we not only have had the days off but have also been forced  to not go anywhere for 3 days.  We have eaten meals at home.  We have all played together.  We have taken walks in our neighborhood, and met neighbors we have lived by for over 5 years and yet haven’t talked to them until now.  We spent quality time with our good friends down the street, sharing meals together, sledding down hills, eating smores and sitting by the fire.  I have loved these past few days more than anything.  I love that we used up the food in our pantry and made simple meals.  I love that we ate every meal together, and found ways to ways to make even a grilled cheese seem like cuisine.  I love that we were all present, physically & emotionally.  We weren’t thinking about running late, getting to 5 different places in one day.  This will always be a treasured time in the life of our little family.

We probably will have to go back to work tomorrow, and that means most of our other activities will resume.  I think that can be a good thing, too.  But what I do think we have learned from these past few days is that we need to lighten some of our load to create more margin in our lives.  We need less craziness, less commitments in order to better love those in our lives.  I woke up this morning feeling like we had forgotten to check on our neighbor who is a widow, seeing if she had food or needed anything.  Hopefully we will take a walk down there today to bring her something and see how she is doing, but the funny thing is that I don’t often think about this in my day to day life.  How could I? My brain is maxed out with so many other things on my “to-do list.”  Where is the space to consider who might be in need around me?  Where is the space to practice what James says is true religion, that is, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction  (James 1:27).  I need to order my life in such a way that there is space to truly love people, especially unscheduled giving of myself and energy to the needs that present themselves.  This means not maxing out my days or weekends with activities and commitments, but being realistic with my limits.  I need to leave room in my day in order that I can follow Jesus in the unexpected.

I am so thankful to be in this stage of life learning this.  I am hopeful that Jared and I can make changes this year to slow down, to enjoy this stage, and to not let the tyranny of cultural or personal expectations take over our lives.  The only expectation we hope to rule over us is the call to love God and people, and even that we look to the one who did this perfectly as the one who is at work in our imperfection.  Possibly a side note, but still relevant: We brought a meal to a family from church who just had a baby.  We brought them a homemade pizza, with a TOTALLY burnt crust.  This was such a good picture to me of my attempts to love people.  Our love will be imperfect until heaven, and yet I trust the Lord is using all our imperfect acts to ultimately make a beautiful story of redemption in our lives and the world.  Our friends ended up eating the pizza, and thought it was great because it reminded them of one of their first meals as a a married couple when Kristy totally burned the pizza. At any rate, you can’t schedule the birth of a neighbors baby (although our culture increasingly tries to schedule even birth!) or the need to bring a meal to a sick friend, and this reminds me that I need to leave space in my life to meet real needs of those around me.

I offically added the option of comments to my blog.  I didn’t want that option at first, but after thinking about it I thought it could be used as an encouragement for me and others to talk through stuff.  So if you click on the word “comment” at the top of the post, I think it lets you respond.  We’ll see how that goes…

I gotta go check my facebook and see if anyone left a comment on my status, and then respond to some emails, and then text some friends about dinner plans.  Or maybe that can wait until Ethan takes a nap and right now I should just go color with him and Jared.  That’s more like it.

i am a messy eater, but only when I am enjoying my food (otherwise I am very clean because I’m not eating!).  My messy eating = life enjoyed;)

i am a messy eater, but only when I am enjoying my food (otherwise I am very clean because I’m not eating!).  My messy eating = life enjoyed;)

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I haven’t written my Sunday blog for a few weeks now because life has been a bit crazy, but today I am ready to get back on the blog train.  I have blog entries I have “written” in my head that I wish I could just easily download to my computer, but that is where writing becomes more a labor of love because it isn’t that easy.  I really do love writing, though.  It forces me to flesh out what I’ve been thinking, and helps me to clarify my thoughts.  Writing also immortalizes thoughts, and can be a gift to others whereas thoughts unshared can never be a blessing (unless they are bad thoughts, which I try not to blog about:)  Okay, so topic of the day: postive perspective on messiness.  Glorious mess.  Worthwhile chaos. 

I have written a bunch of times about the bible study I am in at church, and how we are studying the book of Job in the Old Testament.  One reason I have enjoyed this study so much is because of the way the actual discussion is formated.  We are all assigned tables for discussion & have a table leader who helps facilitate the discussion.  We also have a large group teacher who leads us in some deeper thoughts on the passage we are studying, and gives guiding questions for our discussion (all that by way of maybe unnecessary intro).  I have really enjoyed hearing the wisdom and life experiences of the women who sit at my table.  Most recently a friend at our table talked about the mess her husband continues to make in the kitchen, even after she cleaned it up.  She mentioned how he is always thinking of new ideas, wanting to make something new or just decides it is time for a fruit cake.  This friend said she hates the continual process of cleaning up (after him, or anyone), and that sometimes she just wants clean counters.  But here is wisdom.  As she was talking about this desire for clean countertops, she brought up that the busyness of her husband was actually examples of life taking place.  His projects & cooking happened because he if full of life.  It is in the moments of life that her kitchen gets dirty, and yet life is what we all want.  I might not be explaining this exactly right, but the thought that really stood out to me was that when life happens, it is messy.  I have the same desire, but it isn’t just for a clean kitchen but a clean & organized house.  I hate when there is stuff stacked on any free space, cereal all on the floor, even when my hangers face the wrong way (that is a little crazy, I know).  I love the feeling of waking up and getting coffee in a clean home, but I am reminded of reality as I trip over matchbox cars lined up on the floor. 

So here it is <insert main point>:  When life takes place, it is messy and somewhat disorderly.  Life enjoyed is not in clean and organized all the time.  Life freely lived is not bound by constant concern for making sure nothing around you is disrupted.  This is true about your home, car, purse, work, but mostly and more significantly… relationships.  But first the home, car, purse thing.

You can live in a perfectly orderly environment as long as nothing ever gets used or others are never invited into it.  My house could be perfectly clean as long as no one uses the toilet or showers, eats, or enjoys anything around the house (except by just looking at).  And even if they look at something, better not sit on the couch because you will make the couch look too slouchy when you get off of it.  In contrast, if your home is a haven for others to rest, enjoy company, have fun, then you will have slouchy couches, probably dishes to put away, and toys around.  This doesn’t mean you have to leave them out and never clean up, but it does mean that order will be disrupted for something greater, and that you aren’t obsessed with the order and blocking any enjoyement of life.

My greater concern is how this applies to relationships in life.  I was just talking with a friend about how most of us “just don’t want to stir the pot.”  We want relationships to be pretty uneventful and “peaceful,” even if that just means we harbor bitterness inside but since we don’t talk about it, things are okay.  We don’t want to stir the relational pot.  But here’s the deal: those kind of relationships are lifeless (just like the perfect house that is really not a place for life but possibly dead plants).  Relationships, if they are not stagnant and lifeless, are messy.  Because the mess happens when life take place.  The best example is to look at the relationship between husband and wife.  A marriage relationship where thoughts, hopes, fears, dreams are not discussed are pretty quiet and “good” relationships in that there is no rocking the boat, but cordial agreement to live without real interaction.  Those kind of relationships aren’t a mess because there is no real significant activity or evidence of life between the two.  But it is in the sharing of ideas & plans, hopes & fears that real life and intimacy takes place.  Your relationship can actually grow and become new things in this setting as you struggle and wrestle through tough topics and perservere to love each other in the midst of it.  Real relationships are messy, but the mess can lead to greater life.

The way that I seem to miss the concept the most is in my relationship with God.  Sometimes I am surprised when my relationship with God is messy and I have lots of questions and frustrations.  I think that it isn’t supposed to be that way.  I think I should just have a grateful heart and pay my respects to the Almighty, and that way keep God at a safe distance.  But if my relationship with Jared includes struggles that lead to better understanding and intimacy, how much more so in my relationship with God? Jesus calls us friend in his final recorded prayer before his death (” No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, forall that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15).  Jesus is saying that we are actually friends of God, not merely servants who are to obey some tasks but part of his inner circle, intimate allies of God.  We are called to live in a close relationship with God, and because humanity has some core heart problems we call sin, all relationships humans enter into are messy (including the relationship with God).  So as God calls me his friend, I realize that I called to enter into the mess of relationship with God.  I am not only his friend, but daughter as he adopted me as God the Father through killing his only son on my behalf, to forgive and bring me in.  So I am relating to God as his friend, daughter, and even more mysterious that either of those, through the church as his bride.  I feel like I need to explain all the theological reasons we as the people of God are called his bride, but because other people on the internet do a much better job I will just leave it at this.  We, as those who love and trust in Jesus, are called the bride of Christ to experience union with God in Heaven.  This engagement and marriage is a picture to us that the deepest relationship we experience with God is even closer than marriage!  So back to the original point, that if my relationship with my husband is messy, than how much is the relationship with the Lord that is even greater than that relationship!

That seemed like a lot of jumbled words, but that is probably just the way I’m thinking about this.  My relationship with the Lord is not neat and tidy, where I attempt to just not stir the pot because I want there to be “peace.”  No.  God calls me to cry out to him, to cast my cares upon him for he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7), to wrestle with the Lord until he blesses me (like Jacob in Genesis 32), to ask & let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:7).  I think of the relationship the disciples had with Jesus, and how it was a big mess! Peter reveals his foolishness in telling Jesus not to go the cross & die, arguments happen about who gets to sit next to Jesus (sounds like a family cartrip), and Jesus is constantly having to confront them with their sins and redirect them towards life.  And yet this is what Jesus calls people to do: to follow him, not staying at distance and being disengaged from life with God, but coming to him and abiding.  It is the ultimate mess relationship when the perfect, sinless God interacts and loves the imperfect, sinful man.  And yet this is the mess that God sent his son to enter into.  He chose this mess, and he pursues and desires to engage with us in it.  Like he says, he desires to be the great physician to those who are sick (i.e. to be the counselor & healer to messy humanity). No clean countertops here until heaven, but he is progressively wiping away the mess of our hearts and creating space where he can dwell.

I think this can be encouraging for me to remember because I often think things are good when nothing major is happening or bothering me, and especially in my relationship with Jared & God.  And yet what the mess teaches us is that it is evidence of life taking place, of a lively relationship where real growth can happen.  If my relationship with the Lord is pretty uneventful, than a lot of times it means I am really not entering into his presence, listening to his word, praying through my desires & fears with him.  My relationship is uneventful and stagnant with Jared when I haven’t spent time with him and we are just co-existing while doing other things apart from each other.  My house is clean when we are out of town (maybe) or simply when we aren’t there.  I desire clean countertops, but I know that cars on the floor, books piled on the kitchen table, and a dirty carpet are signs that my home is not a muesum but a place where people interact and attempt to love each other, which is infintely more valuable. 

So my hope is that I won’t fret everytime I can’t seem to keep the house clean, or when I feel uneasy and need to pray to see and worship God more clearly, because these are indicators that redemptive activity might be taking place.  I want that most.  I want Ethan to know that special time with mommy is more important than organized shelves, and for God to know that I want to know him better and be more like him, even if that means I have to experience the pot of my soul being stirred so he can show me new things and change me.  Thankfully that is what he does as I live in relationship with him.  God is gracious to stir up my circumstances to show me that I need to make decisions that allow more quality time with my family and creator.  That is pot stirring.  God gives me friends who help me see things in my life that are not honoring to God, and this momentary mess brings about a cleaner heart in me learning to live differently. 

Okay, so the mess is worth it…  I promise to never clean my house again:)

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So this past week I went to the dentist.  Bloody gums, check.  Sore mouth for few days, check.  Look of disappointment from dentist, check.  One of my favorite lines from Matt Adair’s brother, Nathan, is when he told me when he said to the dental hygenist when he went to get his teeth cleaned.  As his gums were bleeding from the brutual cleaning, the hygenist asked him if he was flossing… and he said, “would you believe me if I said yes?”  That makes me laugh.  Clearly my bleeding gums showed that I was guilty of this sin of omission, i.e. not flossing or using listerine:)  So I really dreaded going to the appointment, but out of fear of a cavity and worse damage later, I got my big girl pants on and went off to the dentist.  This may sound funny, but I really did have to pray that I wouldn’t be in “too much trouble” with the dentist because I hadn’t been in a year.  I should say on the front end of this that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I created it to be in my head, and the dentist and hygienist were very gracious with my poor habits.  I did get a good talking to about not drinking so much coke or coffee with creamer, and after my 3 lashings I said I was sorry and would attempt to drink less coke, more water.  Now on to my deeper musings while sitting in a dentist chair…

As I sat there in the super comfortable chair, eyes closed, with some one’s hands in my mouth, I thought about the work of keeping your teeth clean (which I hadn’t done).  The hygienist had to first use this scraper to get the plaque or tartar off my teeth.  She had to do this for each tooth, scraping around the whole surface.  Then the hygienist used that not so great tasting paste to polish each tooth with some motorized device.  After that, to get all that paste out, I got a good flossin’.  As if my gums weren’t crying enough, more blood tears poured out with further agitation from the waxed string.  I knew I had almost made it and would soon be done.  I was thinking how much less painful this experience would be if I (a) flossed regulary, and (b) trained my gums to be “strong’ by using the tear producing listerine.  <apply dentistry metaphor to life here>

It’s funny how something like teeth cleaning can remind me about big truths of this world, my life, and God.  I was thinking as I was sitting there that the condition of our lives are so much like our teeth.  We neglect certain areas of life, usually to the point where we realize we need to make some changes but we know those changes will hurt a little bit.  It’s just one of the universal principles: the more we let something build up and don’t deal with it, the more work it is to fix in the end.  This could apply to so many things (i.e. cleaning the house, work, relationships) but I was thinking specifically in my relationship to God.  I go through times where I haven’t prayed or talked with God about life, I haven’t read his promises to me about his love and how he is in control, or just have been to busy to remember who He is and who I am created to be.  I get busy, like everyone, and as more time passes, it is easy to see that parts of me have become harder.  Like plaque, there are areas of my life that are exposed when I go before God to pray, and graciously God always forgives and leads me into new ways of living, freeing me from plaque life.  But like my putting off of the dentist appointment, I often put off that “meeting with God” because of other things demanding my attention, or because I know that God has some things to show me in my heart that may be hard to swallow. 

We learned in campus ministry in college about these “quiet times” or as some people call them, “devotions.”  I really didn’t know much about that term before college, although I did know that Christians seemed to read their bibles.  I am such as “why” person, meaning I usually don’t like to do things unless I know why it is significant.  So this quiet time thing was supposed to be a time to go before God, pray, and read his word.  Why?  There are so many answers to that question based on who you talk to, but for me, at this point in my life, I need to be reminded of the truth of God and life as passed down in the bible.  I wake up in the morning and the worries and cares of life can easily begin to take over.  I find myself doing great until so one criticizes me for something, and I easily believe lies that I stink at something or over think my failures in a particular area.  I know that this is the battle every one of us faces daily, a dilemma about what to believe, who to trust, wondering if our lives are significant, having the strength to handle the different situations that come our way.  I know that I need Jesus to remind me of his varied promises from scripture because I will forget them.  Promises like he has numbered all my days, that not a hair falls from my head apart from his will, and that he takes care of the birds of the air… how much more so will he take care of me as I am much more valuable in God’s eyes than a bird.  Promises that those who trust in the Lord will not be moved or shaken by the surrounding storms.  Promises that the Lord will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on the Lord, for he trusts in the Lord.  Promises that the man who delights in the words of the Lord will be like a tree planted by streams of water, and whose leaves do not wither and bears fruit.  That is what we all desire: peace, stability, blessedness.  Yet we often wake up believing that if we could just get the house clean for good, then we would have peace.  We think that stability comes when all our finances are set, money in the bank, contributing to an IRA, and refinance our house.  We believe that we will be blessed, or happy, if everyone could just approve of our work and when we “arrive” at a place where we can’t be criticized because we are just so great at what we are doing.  This is the plaque that builds up on the proverbial teeth of our souls.  This plaque can harden and produce cavities in our hearts, holes that cannot be filled by the thing we thought could satisfy us.  These cavities must be addressed if further damage is to be prevented.  This is the battle we face every day, although like dental care, we don’t realize the damage that daily neglect can do to our souls. 

My time with God, preferably quiet and in the morning before the onslaught of activities begins, is a dental care for my heart.  It is the work of reminding myself what God has spoken ages ago and is still relevant today to my life.  It is bringing my cares before God, knowing that there isn’t anything too small or insignificant that he doesn’t want to hear.  I can be reminded of his truths about his world and my life, and ask God for strength to believe where peace, stability, and blessedness can be found.  It can free me from the desire to control all my circumstances, and enable me to love people instead of use them for my own controlling purposes.  Sometimes, especially when it has been a while, my visits with the Lord are hard to get into.  I am praying to someone I can’t see.  I am reading a book written at least 2000 years ago.  I am fighting to believe in the face of people around me who would say that is absolutely nuts and worthless.  But I have “tasted and seen that the Lord is good” and that the Lord is a rewarder of those who seek him.  Sometimes it just means that I have some plaque that needs to be removed, and it may hurt initially.  Sometimes my heart has been busy and hardened by the daily activity of life, so it is a “de-hardening” process that takes awhile to warm up to.  But I know that in the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore, and this motivates me to put down the computer, the remote, the to do list and invest in lasting joy.  Again, this lasting joy doesn’t just “happen” when I open my bible, or start to pray, but as I hear the words of God, the promises, and meditate on the goodness of God and his specific act of love for me on the cross, I notice I am changed.  Like rain that erodes a rock, I find the rain of God’s grace forming me, molding me, even though some mornings it looks like me desperately trying to stay awake to read even just one or two verses.  Coffee helps that.

I thought about all this because I haven’t been spending great time with the Lord.  I have been believing that if I could just clean and reorganize my house, then I would experience peace.  I have been trying to get my to do list done for awhile, but find that there is always more to do.  I see in me that I really just need to be close to Jesus.  I need to follow him, through dirty diapers and dishes, through unanswered emails and unwashed clothes.  Not that those things don’t get done, but they are not of first importance.  I need to hear the calming words of Christ, and sit at his feet.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  If we feel our burdens are great and we are weary, Jesus says to come to him.  Yes, in that mysterious way of coming to a person you cannot see, and knowing that it won’t be some 7 steps to success experience.  It won’t be 7 steps but worshiping a God who not only runs the universe but also is intimately involved and cares about each of our lives.  So I was reminded that I need to be quiet before the Lord this week, even if only for 10 minutes, before the hustle of the day to hear the comfort of Christ.  I need a good flossin’ to get some things out of the crevices of my heart, things that get stuck in there and often cause decay.

I wanted to be a dentist for about 2 hours in college.  I dropped all my classes one night because I thought I wanted to work on people’s teeth.  Then I realized that all I really wanted to do is work with people and that I hate studying biology.  So I quickly tried to get all my history and philosophy classes back, but most of them were filled.  It was a funny few hours of figuring out my new schedule.  But maybe dentistry would have been a good field for me… my bleeding gums think not:)