Lessons In Cuddling

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We were in Chicago a few weeks ago and the kids ran around the house and actually slept at night (by golly!).

Then this thing happened, that hasn’t happened for a little while. First, I put Kaiden down for a nap. He was curled like a soft animal, in his pack-and-play, crying, and I watched him for a moment, standing there at the edge.

I realized I had nothing to do, and nowhere to be. I climbed into his pack-n-play and wriggled my body into a kind of L-shape next to his chubby limbs. And there we lay. After a while, he kind of forgot that I was there, and I soaked up the smell of his curly golden locks, like syrup. I watched his tiny fingers play with his zipper, and the way that his lips pursed and he breathed like a kitten breathes: its rib cage visibly compressing and decompressing, its very knowable, breathing life right there—hard as its tiny miniature bones.

Right then and there, I fell in love with gratitude again, that slippery, sweet taste that comes into your mouth when you have paused, and when an unexpected gift slips right into your fingers, like a sweet candy or a the icing on a cookie melting on lips.

At first I thought: this is it. This is life. When gratitude slips in and holds your hand. I live for these moments. But then I thought about all the harder times, when gratitude is still slippery, but like a slinky salamander sliding through your fingers, and out, into the water, and then it is gone. Just gone. I thought about all the times where I’ve had to crawl towards thankfulness, and where it has been less sudden and more brutal, and less kind, and more like a cookie with gritty sand crunching in your teeth; you have to nibble around the edges to get the good bits.

I am not a “one thousand gifts” type person. By that I mean, the idea of “writing down things I am grateful for” makes me nauseous. Chris suggests that I might be in a better mood if I made this a habit, but I stubbornly refuse to believe that gratitude is a list of inane items I’ve come up with before my morning shower. I wish I was naturally optimistic, naturally thankful, naturally joyous, but these things don’t come naturally to me, so I feel like I might need to give this list-making a chance. Usually gratitude feels to me like wringing out a damp dish towel, trying to get the few drops of honeyed appreciation out. Perhaps writing it down is the answer. Maybe thankfulness is something like beckoning a skittish dog closer and closer.

Along the way, as I’ve thought about gratitude, I’ve realized that it comes in a million forms. It can be fancy, or simple, or brutal, or life-changing. It is this multitudinous, faceted thing, like a complex clock. I can cultivate gratitude, like a garden, and dig in the dirt of it and give the bulbs a chance to become flowers. And I can also wait for gratitude, like I waited that day with Kaiden, and my heart filled beyond capacity with warmth and hope and I was surprised by joy.

Sometimes gratitude comes fast and hard like a rough wave, dousing you in it’s force. Sometimes you get back up, laughing and shaking and teary-eyed with delight. Sometimes gratitude is hard as a black pebble in your palm, and you have to hold it and see it, and really look at it to know it.

Sometimes gratitude is crawling on your hands and knees, bloodied and barren, to surrender, but sometimes gratitude is like balloons falling, silver and gold diaphonous orbs streaked with sun, like pure grace bouncing on your head.

What I’m Into: Chicago, Books, and Beets

We’re back from a short, whirlwind trip to Chicago where we drank cabernet in ample glasses by the cozy fireplace, watched the kids bounce around Chris’ North Shore house, ate thick cheesy deep dish, and overall, indulged.

This month I have read a lot. I’ve also spent more time than I’m willing to admit ruminating on why book writing is as painful as pulling out a molar–or going into labor (except wayyyyyy longer), etc. etc. There are a million metaphors for writing a book, but none of them suffices for the grinding amount of self-humiliation and self-love it takes to bleed all over a piece of paper, take a step back and call it “good.”

Other nouns and descriptors for the process come to mind: vomiting on a page, sub-par, ‘oh well, I tried,’ chicken scratches, worthy-of-being-burned-in-campfire. It is rough, I tell you. Yesterday I sat in bed and told Chris that I’m getting to the point where I no longer know what the book is about at all. The ridiculous part is I have the first three chapters just about memorized. Memorized. And I don’t know what the book is about. Sometimes when I’m reading it over I wonder it if is in Spanglish or something, because by the time the neurons fire in my brain, it translates into something like Spanglish in context.

Wonderful Books:

I read a bunch of lovely books this month, including Donald Miller’s Book about fathers, To Own A Dragon, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Thrive by Arianna Huffington, Washed and Waiting:Reflections on Christian Faithfulness by Wesley Hill, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park.


My month of reading consisted of being consistently surprised. I loved almost every book that I read, but that said, they were all across the spectrum. I’d recommend Gone Girl  for those who like dark, riveting novels that have characteristics far less nice than strange and intense. It’s probably more PG-13/R rated, and I recommend it carefully–but I can’t stop thinking about how well done it was, it was one of those well-written/literary books that kept me up all night. I couldn’t stop reading it, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who doesn’t like dark to begin with.

I love Donald Miller. He is a fantastic writer and I never get tired of reading and re-reading his books. I picked up his book about fathers while I was in Chicago and loved it, though at one point he says that girls won’t like/relate to the book (umm…okay?). Even with some of his interesting views on women (he loves to talk about them as fluffy, sweet creatures–kind of like bunnies), he has a way of universalizing the human experience that I love.

Where’d You Go Bernadette was actually a disappointment to me. I wanted to like it, but I was kind of bored by the end. I know it was supposed to be funny and silly, but the characters were annoying and unbelievable to me. The writing was fantastic, but I sometimes felt like she was showing off, and I hate feeling that way. I’m surprised I didn’t like it more.

I listened to Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell) while Chris was lying face-down in bed with pneumonia groaning. He agreed that it was a sweet, cute, and wonderful little book. We enjoyed the audio version immensely, and because it is YA, I found my mind drifting back to what if felt like to be 15 again…and then I was happy I’m 26.

I read Thrive, by Ariana Huffington of HuffPo fame, and at first I loved it. She inserts tons of interesting facts and makes a great case for getting enough sleep, yoga, making life more about family, etc. But then I read several scathing reviews online that marred my pristine, happy, guru image of her. Basically, they made it hard for me to believe that her book was the “read deal.” Not that that matters, but I like reading authentic voices, and it was hard for me to believe that it was authentic when Slate writes:

The woman who complains that “people are so addicted to technology” that 20 percent of us use smartphones during sex has also traveled with two BlackBerrys, one for each network so she is never out of touch….“We’re all on a journey,” she writes,and although she is not really prone to confessions, it’s obvious from talking to the people who work with her that she has further to travel than the rest of us. According to some Huffington Post staffers, her yoga teacher once told them that Huffington sometimes checks her BlackBerry while doing yoga but that’s OK because she’s a very spiritual person. Her assistants told me that she almost always double books flights in case she changes her mind about when exactly she wants to leave. “She’s insane! She works all the time. Literally all the time!” says another former personal assistant. (Read the rest of the scathing review here.)

I picked up “Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Miller, because I read something he wrote for CT Today that was phenomenal, and then I was hooked into his voice. He is a Wheaton graduate and writes about his journey as a celibate gay man. This book was as beautiful as it was life-changing (note: I am not making any kind of commentary on homosexuality here). So much of what he talks about applied to my own Christian spiritual walk that it hit me that I was missing out if I didn’t read more Christian stories from the margins. This might be my favorite pick for November. A reviewer at Relevant writes: “I did not expect my own faith as a heterosexual to be so encouraged as I read Hill’s reflections on being faithful to Christ. ” I felt this exact way reading this book and would recommend anyone read it–whether or not you share Miller’s convictions. It was on par with some of my favorite Christian reflections this year.

Movies

Chris and I watched some truly great movies this month. I absolutely loved this movie: Begin Again (Redbox). I loved it so much I started bouncing up and down in the middle. It is so hard to find a good romantic comedy, and this was it. For lovers of quirky, sweet movies and good music, this movie got romantic right.

After the best romantic movies do you heave this big sigh and feel like you have fallen in love again? I’m talking about the sweet, cute, wonderful kind of love. That’s how I felt about this movie. The funny part is that there is no real love story that progresses–it is more about life and it’s wild, beautiful, quirky grandeur. ‘Nough said.MV5BNjAxMTI4MTgzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTAwODEwMjE@._V1_SX640_SY720_

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Chris loved this movie (I think it is on Netflix) but it is also weird.  It is slap-stick, feel-bad-for-the-main-character, sloppy-fun comedy. With the exception of a little PG-13/R humor, it was great. It will also force you to say “In a World..” with different accents to your husband/wife all night. Rotten Tomatoes calls it “a hilarious romantic comedy about a struggling vocal coach who strikes it big in the cutthroat world of movie-trailer voiceovers…” and a “funny, well-written, screwball satire.”

Frozen Beets & Raisin Bread

Found in any grocery frozen vegetable aisle. Pop ‘em in the oven for 20-30 minutes and they are a healthy, crunchy snack for everyone. I’m always, always trying to life-hack vegetables.  I love beets, but hate the peeling and the bloody fingers that result so that you look like a contributor to a homicide. This eliminates all of that. I bought two bags today.

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Also: Ezekiel Raisin bread, found in the frozen aisle as well. Supposedly these loafs are made according to the biblical method of making bread? Who knows. Either way, I eat two pieces every morning. So satisfying when you add a good hunk of fat batter on top. I’m loving this new routine.
That is all.

 

 

On Zombies and New Life

Here we are, bursting into winter. The season of buttery turkeys rolling in ovens and pumpkin décor losing it’s luster. This morning, frost dusts the ground like spices on cinnamon toast crunch. Zoe and Kaiden bundle up like stubby caterpillars and we march across the hard driveway: tiny Russian soldiers.

The car is frozen; whirled snowflakes ate the windshield. Our breath begins to steam. Hello winter! Thanksgiving. Christmas. Celebration. Darkness.

The darkness is a surprise every time. It creeps up after daylight savings, linking its hands into the day, relieving the sun of its duties. When we lived in Chicago, it felt like perpetual night. Darkness. Darkness. Darkness.

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Two days ago, in the evening, I sat with Zoe and Kaiden on the couch. We Skyped with my sister who recently gave birth to her first child, Paxton. Officially, this makes me an aunt. I love saying his name: Paxton, The Paxman, Paxxy, Little Pax. Nicknames come easy with this one.

During our conversation, Paxton’s tiny eyes peered around the room, investigating every corner of the darkness that is November in New England. I thought: all he has known is black. Even blacker than this. He’s been encased in warm black ink as dark as the depths of sea. Then suddenly, haphazardly, light. Even this shadowy, crappy light is bright to him.

And here he is. The surest sign that fragility and tininess and smallness are nothing if not beautiful. Nothing if not Grace. How is it that a curled hand, a blinking blue eye, can come out of the soft black of a woman’s body and inspire such hope?

I want to touch his little fingernails. I want to remind myself that he is closer to heaven than I have been for a long time, this tiny salamander boy. Fresh off the boat from God, a stumbling passenger arriving bleary-eyed on earth.

Chris and I watched the Walking Dead the other day (I watched a total of 15 minutes of every 30 because it grosses me out). I hate zombies, but I was drawn into the drama for a few moments. There is a baby on the show that they are trying to save; this was the height of the drama for me. That blinking, smiling, laughing baby, completely oblivious to the peril and the human attempts to either save or hurt him. Just tottering around like tiny humans do.

Zombies were crashing and destroying and killing and this baby was oblivious to it all. It terrified me.

Somebody save that baby. Save yourself, you dumb baby! I cried into Chris’ shoulder.

The baby was a hindrance the entire time (as you can imagine, zombies + human babies are not really a recipe for successful survival). It made me so angry to see something so small and of such great value dropped amidst such great darkness. So helpless.

Why would the TV show creators do this? I swung between being angry with the baby for being a difficulty and then to being desperate for them to rescue the darn baby. Everything was riding on that child. Everything.

Just as for a new mother like my sister, everything is riding on an infant. For my sister, the world shrinks to a bedroom, a breast, a baby’s soft mouth and belly breathing; the whole universe becomes that single life nurtured into the light amidst the looming dark.

As we approach Christmas, I can’t but think that the most vulnerable example, the most holy and outrageous way for God to appear was through taking a baby, that precious savior, and placing him amongst the destruction. The slashing, the killing, the zombie-like stomp of Herod’s rampage. It’s the beginning of a terrible drama. Our whole world shrinks to the size of a hazelnut during this time of year as we await this infant who comes on a black silent night, his cry shattering the dark.

This then, must be how we learn to see a great light in the darkness. This then, must have been His message: I have brought light to great darkness.

And we respond back, as we clutch an infant against the black sky, completely helpless and wondering and wandering. We understand that we are clutching for the holy: Save the baby. Dear God. Please come, Emmanuel.

When You Need Gratitude

The dishes are piled in the sink. Toddler pants and jackets strewn up the stairs like the laundry machine vomited on its way up to a nap.

The hubby has pneumonia, which makes everything seem harder: cleaning up the crunchy chips on the floor, constructing a tuna sandwich without the dried mayonnaise dropping onto the crust.

Yoga pants: the apparel of choice for 3 days.

Emails are clicked on, but not replied to. They linger like sly remarks about your competence.

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Nobody in the family has eaten unless it contains tomato sauce: spaghetti, more pasta, quick-bake lasagna. Microwave rays bounce across the room and boomerang enough times to arrive on that comet yesterday.

 Salad hits the plate and the kids look at it like it was harvested from Mars: some inedible alien leaf.

 The kitty litter stinks up the corner of the kitchen and Kaiden hobbles over to it. He thinks it’s a sandbox. So far he’s been deterred from his quest to dig in with a silver spoon.

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It’s 7 am, and you feel like you are behind. Rise and shine. You’ve forgotten something you were supposed to do. Is it the bill for the Pediatrics visit from 6 months ago? The mortgage payment? The goldfish Pre-K asked for in a giant-classroom size box?

All of the above.

Stumble downstairs to dump coffee grounds into the top of the pot. At this point, there is no tablespoon scoop. Just dumping. Strong is the only measurement. Strong enough to wake Lazarus from the dead. Strong enough to resurrect your nice self.

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The husband says he feels like you’ve staked your flag everywhere but with him. Your children have flags and you’ve given your blog a flag and sleep a flag and everyone else a flag but him. Nobody knows why the discussion is in terms of flags; it’s a stand-in for something else.

Sleep is like chocolate, soft and gooey and you never get enough.

You stare at him. He says he doesn’t have a flag, again. You don’t even know where to find one.

What do you mean, you ask? But you know exactly what he means.

Husband: Forget it. Can you pick up some Gatorade? The G-2 kind.

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It is a battle to love one another. A battle to think outside of yourself. Ebola is a thousand miles away. Remind yourself:

(1)Purell and Lysol and sick days and Arithromyacin.

(2)Four bodies with distended stomachs, not from hunger but from pasta.

(3)Starbucks holiday drinks just arrived; that warm, red cup like gold in your hands. Throw in a chocolate chip cookie for good measure. You deserve it.

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Crawl on your knees to gratitude; sometimes it’s the only way to get there.

I see you: fighting to be grateful. Feeling overwhelmed and tired and worried that your marriage is suffering, that you don’t have enough flags to give out. Those darn flags.

Tired. Over-extended. In need of a nice, warm bath.

All remaining love is gathered tight inside, somewhere that takes a screwdriver to get unstuck. You’re not the only one unsticking yourself, peeling off the glue of discontent, feeling that balled-up part try to unfurl, like a leaf.

Unfurl. Crawl on your knees to gratitude, it doesn’t matter how you get there, scraped and bleeding, it’s the finish line that counts.

 

 

On Writing and Art and Vulnerability

We are in the age of “will you play with me?” My daughter, Zoe devises worlds of me and you with two-inch plastic animals. She sits in the living room, hopping her hello kitty figurines to the hospital, stringing them with tiny necklaces and saying, “hi” a million times, from one tiny kitty to another. Children, like Zoe, make something out of nothing and are pleased with themselves. Picasso once said, “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Why can’t we create art as adults? We’ve forgotten the urgency of play, that imagination is not a job, but a way of being in the world. A way of seeing that everything has potential: the cardboard box, an unwieldy lifeboat, the kitten a physician, the playdough a cereal bowl. I’ve also forgotten, because I’m weary of audience, of standing up and raising my hands to respond with my teeny-tiny voice that is ordinary.

My friend once said to me that she doesn’t want to write because she is afraid of failure, of her words resounding out and echoing back, empty. “What if I put myself out there and it doesn’t matter?” She said. The shame is that she is a phenomenal writer.

All writers and artists and musicians feel this same way at some point: that their precious words boomerang back, void. It is a courageous, brave thing to create, but it is also a courageous brave thing to walk into a conference room and give a presentation, to arrive at a dance audition, choke down some ice water, and fling your body into the air before a judge. It is a courageous thing to “make” anything out of yourself, which is why art is larger than music, writing, or dance. I think it is anything where you give a piece of yourself away, without asking for anything in return…which is just about everything.

My mother is an artist. The kind that paints broad swathes of landscape in oil and watercolor. Her house is decorated with art—soft taupe trees in dark forests, a rushing ocean tumbling onto the sand, each a gift she made, not to be commissioned or bought—though they are beautiful enough for such endeavors; they are placed around the house, to me, they are reminders of her.

Have you seen the Always commercial where little girls are asked to “run like a girl?” It’s one of the most heartbreaking productions. Girls push their legs out, crane their bodies and prepare to give it their all. Their legs are jagged, racing machines, and their bodies thrust into running (watch it at the bottom of this post).

Then the teenage girls arrive, long-limbed and flush with self-consciousness. When these teen girl models are asked to “run like a girl,” they wing their arms out and act flustered and take miniature, halting steps. Each time I see this commercial, I think about Zoe, and her wholeheartedness and absorption in everything she sets her heart to. Zoe, running like she is giving everything she’s got, imagining that she is an Olympic racer, a beautiful specimen of physicality and brawn and strength.

Someday, Zoe’s play will come to a halt. The Barbies and dollhouses and cars will sit, stationary on top of a shelf. She’ll turn to mastering the quadratic formula and reading novels, and she’ll begin to understand that “running like a girl,” is an equation for half-hearted effort combined with the fear of failure, with incompetence. I’m terrified of that day.

We need vulnerability to create without fear of repercussion, without fear of looking dumb. To continue to create, whether it is only to adorn the walls of our homes (like my mother’s paintings) with beauty, or to present a product to the world with confidence and aplomb, we have to withhold our adult-knowledge of “what it looks like to run “. We have to come back to ourselves as toddlers, prancing our toys about a stage, glancing up at our mothers and fathers with absolute confidence and faith that words do not return void, that creating is a calling for every single one of us: the VP of a company, the general contractor, the musician.

Zoe understands this. Art is a portal back to childhood, stepping into a time-machine and returning to a lackadaisical freedom undeterred by constraint and fear. She creates as a way of being herself in the world, as a way of learning what the world has to offer and what she has to give. So should we all.

Money Doesn’t Buy Marital Bliss

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Weddings are expensive—scrap that—weddings can put you underwater and even into debt. A national survey at theKnot.com showed that the average cost of a wedding is now a hefty $29,858. That seems unreasonably high to be the average. My question: are these average prenuptial folks all lawyers in their thirties?—‘cause I don’t know anyone who has $30K to plunk down. Filet mignon for everyone! *waves hands in the air like she doesn’t have a care*

Chris and I had a smaller wedding with around 150 people. We kept costs pretty low (I think we spent around $7,000 and organized a lot of DIY projects–which my mom spearheaded.) I really enjoyed creating my own invitations and researching cheap ways to make the wedding beautiful.

Recent research finds that high spending on a wedding is inversely associated with marriage duration for women. If you spend low amounts on the wedding, this is positively associated with duration of marriage for both men and women. Translation: don’t throw dollar bills at the florist and DeBeers and be happy with a wedding dress in the clearance aisle—because you’ll be more content in the long-term. If you spent a lot of money on a ring, you’re in trouble there too. The research shows that spending more than $2000 on a ring is correlated with a shorter duration. (But spending less than $500 is a negative sign too).

On the flip side of the coin, having a large ceremony and jet-setting off onto a honeymoon is associated with having a longer marriage.The more the merrier. This bodes well for extroverts with giant families. It’s also great for those of us whose parents’ chipped in for our Jamaican week in paradise. ( I still look back at my honeymoon as the best week of my life, so I understand how crucial seven days can be in the scope of a lifetime).

It seems to me that the important part of this research is that money doesn’t buy happiness. Spending more money to create a unique event doesn’t actually make that event more meaningful. In other words, mo’ money, mo’ problems.

On the other side of things, it’s nice to know that celebrations matter. People matter. Bringing more people to the table to celebrate and commemorate is a positive, beautiful thing.  People give witness to our life-long bond to another person. What it really comes down to is the importance of marking lines in the sand. This applies to more than just weddings: it applies to graduation parties and babies being born. Dissertations being written. The important aspect is celebrating with lots of people and a good 7-day vacation.

Dr. Alice Chan (PhD) a psychologist writes “when you celebrate with loved ones, not only do you get the benefit of riding on the high of accomplishing a goal, you get the double benefit of basking in the energy of those around you who feel happy for you.”

I like that. I love living life with the blessing of other people. I’ll never forget introducing my Zoe and my Kaiden to the world amidst the clapping and cheering of midwives, friends, and family at the hospital. Celebration matters.

Did you (or do you plan on) spending a lot on your wedding? Did you have a lot of people attend?

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What I’m Into: Elephants, Witty Blogs and Getting Lost

Books:
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College. Life. Girls.  Packed with theology and twenty-something life experiences, this book is worth reading if you went to a Christian college. His writing is stream-of-consciousness, but it was a decent read. I have to admit, I flipped through the last quarter of the book, so I think it could have been wrapped up a little sooner. Lily had different thoughts about it, which I generally agreed with. I think it’s very hard to toe the line in memoir between an individual story and a universal story. I also think it’s hard to write a book when you are in your twenties. ( I am familiar with self-absorption)

Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels is edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani (who once judged a writing contest at my college that I didn’t even place in :-). This book has an entire essay on mentions of poop in the Bible. It has a whole essay on Ruth laying down at Boaz’s feet and what this actually meant (hubba hubba). Basically, a series of unorthodox essays by Christian writers. In their introduction, the two editors describe the contributors as ‘nonconformists and oddballs.’ I loves me some noncomformists.

Mama’s Got A Fake I.D.

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Written by Caryn Rivadeneira, who writes at Christianity Today and a few other places on the internets. I read this quickly and liked some of the ideas she brought up about how to break through false guilt about  being a three-dimensional person (i.e. not only a mom, but also a friend, wife, professional, etc.) My biggest qualm was actually with the title. I didn’t like the title and felt like sometimes the humor wasn’t my type of funny. She has a new book called Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed about God’s Abundance.

My favorite: Rebecca Solnit: A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Essays)

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I’m loving this book, although it’s not for the faint of heart. If you like Annie Dillard and Barbara Kingsolver (and have some time on your hands), it’s a gorgeous book. After this, I’m aiming to get my hands on “The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison, which many people have talked about.

Quote I’m lovin’: “A person in her twenties has been a child for most of her life, but as time goes by that portion that is childhood becomes smaller and smaller, more and more distant, more and more faded, though they say at the end of life the beginning returns with renewed vividness, as though you had sailed all the way around the world and were going back into the darkness from which you came.”

Ridiculously Witty Blogs:

My new fave blog is Kate Baer. She writes about her two kids (who are the same age as my littles!) and about vasectomies (yes, she takes this on) and about having a husband in Med school. Yup. She’s that wide-ranging, pithy, and I am dying to be her BFF. I couldn’t help but love her immediately. In fact, I have to admit, I was wild with jealousy when I saw that she manages to be witty, cool, and blasé all at the same time. If only I could juggle that many “cool” plates at once. Even her photography rocks. Ugh.

Her (Kate Baer’s) monthly music playlist is incredible. Take a listen.

Semiproper (Formerly Neon Fresh): My friend Margaret reminded me of this blog. Roo (that is her name) is so hilarious that I often check back throughout the week. She does a Friday series of .gifs that make me laugh out loud.

Adorable Photos of My Kids (Because I’ve Got You Here):

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 Sibling love is better than sibling rivalry. We have both in our casa.

 

DSC_1535I was a cat for about 26 years of my life. It’s time to pass the torch to the next generation. Meow.

TV Shows & Movies:

Rotten Tomatoes failed us for the first time last night as we watched Snowpiercer, one of the whack-est movies ever. It was a poor mix of The Hunger Games slash gruesome Action Flick that tried to tie up the end with a polar bear and a message about global warming. Other than that, we are watching The Good Wife, Nashville (on occasion, and  comedians such as Mike Birbligia. We continued to finish episodes of “No Reservations” that we’ve missed.

Videos & Podcasts:

Ira Glass on Storytelling and what makes a good story. A girly podcast that I listen to on occasion from Tsh Oxenreider called “The Art of Simple.”

Momastery on Oprah.

Video on Vimeo that is the fictional story of a girl in the foster care system. Created by two twenty-somethings on a shoestring budget, it’s well done, guaranteed to make you cry and consider how to be a part of the foster care system. Part two is coming soon after crowdfunding.

* I received these two books in exchange for my fair review.

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Grab button for What I’m Into

Clicks and Links for Yo’ Week

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This week there has been quite a few blogs and articles that are notable for their emphasis on vulnerability, truth-telling, and the wide world of blogging:

My favorites:

D.L. Mayfield wrote an excellent post about writing and mothering in “Write Like A Mother”

My friend Lily has an excellent blog series running on Christians and the Church. Her hubby wrote a post today that was both inspiring and gentle in it’s admonition that we consider sex both “dangerous” and “beautiful.”

This awesome post:

“Ah, and there it was again, this age-old, heart-breakingly cruel thing we women do to ourselves. We compare ourselves to someone else and come up wanting. We look at what someone else is doing and feel our own contributions mean less, are worth less, amount to less.” Katrina Kenison on “The Gift of Presence”

We don’t have to be brave on our own: Sarah Bessey on bravery.

This fascinating look at the different sides of depression and creativity in photographs.

Hollywood Housewife writes about blogging with “The Conversation Bloggers are Having About You.”

My week has been busy with two publications, one at Bedlam on millennial life “Why We Millennials Are Not Special Snowflakes,” and over at Christianity Today’s Hermeneutics blog with “Bright Lights, Big Cities”

 

Have a great week!

 

 

 

 

 

Why I (Mostly) Won’t Read Self-Help Books for Women

You know what really bums me out? When I’m reading a review of a spiritual book I’ve loved, and one of the reviewers gives one star because “they are too emotional and self-absorbed.” Well duh. It’s a memoir. Memoirs are entirely composed of blood, guts, and glory. If there were no tears, it wouldn’t be real life. If they aren’t partially self-absorbed, they wouldn’t be human. Real life is like this: hard moment, no epiphany, tears, epiphany, blood, guts, sadness, happiness, tantrum, realization, happy-sad tears.

I’m skeptical of self-help books. There are the Lifeway books, which are about happiness and bravery and finding our best selves in God, and then there are the “progressive” books which might not even talk about God at all, but are banned from Christian bookshelves because the writer inserted a curse word. I love reading about messiness and chaos and God’s love for the self-absorbed people we are, but I don’t like when people claim that they are being “real” and then solve everything in an instant with a single Bible Verse. I’d rather not talk about God if it’s going to make people feel inferior or confused.

It’s rare that someone can teach you how to be brave or how to change your life in ten days. I’ll read it and want to cry because I suck at bravery.

This is why Shauna Niequist is one of my favorite writers. If you’re reading this blog, it’s entirely possible she’s one of yours too. If you haven’t read her, leave now, read, and come back when you’re done. I mean it. Go.

One of the reasons her books resonate is that they are about the ordinary moments of life (sprinkled with a little upperclass Christian bubble glitter) They are about digging into community and finding the spiritual in the everday. All that jazz. She talks about losing her first job, miscarriages, and weight problems. You know, real stuff.

I grew up reading Christian self-help books. Many of them went like this: I had this one moment, and it was awful and it was so hard BUT THEN…..INSERT RANDOM BIBLE VERSE HERE. My life was forever changed (read: so is yours!)

I read a book recently that was like this. (I should say, I mostly just flipped through). It was a parenting book and basically said read these bible verses, parenting is actually super easy if you read these bible verses. Okay, got it? The end.

This is why Jen Hatmaker and Glennon Melton and other bloggers who are quirky and real and self-aggrandizing have had their heyday recently. It’s because people are reading these self-help books and they are like, wait a second….

Maybe we’re tired of picking up five books and feeling that tinge of envy and sadness afterwards when we think hey, why isn’t my life fitting into this box? Why does it feel like a a carnival ride after eating way too much cotton candy instead of a glory to glory progress to eternity?

I think real life with God is hard. I think it is good. Real life looks more like labor contractions on a hospital machine. We doubt a lot more than we have faith and the squiggles are all over the map, rising and falling.

The pressure to fit all of it into a tidy narrative is real, but we have to be careful that we don’t oversimplify the spiritual life. After all, the Bible is rarely simple. Everyone is messed up in the Bible. Everyone is sleeping around and killing people and apologizing for killing people (okay, this is an oversimplification).

We have to leave space for the messiness of sanctification. We have to leave space for failure. Period. We have to leave space for being human.

The spaces where I have achieved the greatest transformation in my life have been the spaces where I am fully knowned and loved. The spaces where grace comes first and no one is trying to “self-help” me out of anything. The stories full of failure and also full of life and hope. Where hope is a figure on the horizon, coming steadily closer until I can see his face finding me in my brokenness.

Not after I have an epiphany. Not after I get my act together. Right here. These are the spaces where our brokenness and his goodness meet. Maybe here, in the gritty, war-torn margins, we’ll move from glory to glory.

How My Toddler Taught Me To Shoplift

photo 1-2The cutest klepto you’ve ever met.

I’ve stolen more stuff as a Mother than in my short stint of teenage debauchery. Yesterday, Zoe brought home a pamphlet from the grocery store. Upon closer inspection, it was not a pamphlet at all.

“Where did she get this?” I shot at my husband. I pointed to the steaming pumpkin pie cover.

“From the store.” He said. “I figured it was one of those free things they give you.”

In a little box on the cover it said $4.99.

“Umm, babe. This” I pointed at the book, “Is definitely not free.”

“Oh” My husband said, and returned to munching his Honey Nut Cheerios. “Oops.” The cover of the thin recipe book said “Fall Favorites: Baking Pies. ”  Zoe sat on the couch flipping through it like Martha Stewart preparing to go on-air.  Which was appropriate, considering Martha was a jail-bird.

“We are the worst.”  I told my husband.

“This is my favorite!” Zoe pointed to a pumpkin tart with chunky cream-cheese in the middle. It looked like a froofy fall Pinterest project. It also looked delicious.Here is a list of objects, things, paraphernalia, ridiculousness we’ve stolen just in the past year.My toddler shoplifted:

1. A Lonely White Onion:

When you have five diaper bags in hand and a infant car seat rocking precariously in the cart, things slips by. In this case, it was a white onion in green cellophane under the Chicco. We were catapaulting over the concrete, before I realized my mistake.  I cheerfully handed the bulb back to the cart-person. He straddled fifty carts and looked confused. There was not a “cart” protocol for this onion.There was a moment where he looked down at the root in hand. Then we stared at one another for a second too long. I realized nothing I said would make sense.

“I stole it.” I told him. “Now I’m giving it back.”

2. Three Packs of Magnet-Backings: Staples, circa 2013. Zoe put several in our bags on the way out. We didn’t find them until I unearthed them on the kitchen floor. “What the heck?” I yelled at Chris. “Did you buy these MAGNETS?” They weren’t even pretty magnets. They were the BACKS of magnets, with sticky-stuff for attaching a save-the-date picture or whatever. Now we have 88 black 2X2 inch square  magnets sitting somewhere in a storage room. We could put them in a tile arrangement on our stainless steel fridge—except it isn’t magnetic. Why can’t my daughter steal useful things?

3.Strawberries at Trader Joes

Scene: Two screaming children, one maxed out credit card, one woman pleading with her husband via phone. Two anxious Trader Joe employees in the background. A three-way phone call between the bank, the husband, and the woman.  The bank rep. repeats: IT IS GOING TO BE OKAY. Unconvincingly.

The woman yells into her phone: But I have toddlers and you don’t understand! You. Don’t. Understand. *Sob* The husband instructs her to hang up and back away from the scene of crime. A grocery cart full of groceries is quietly taken to the back. The remains of a few munched-on strawberries fall between the metal wires in the Baking Aisle. End of scene: the woman lurches toward the door with two wailing toddlers in tow like a quarterback going for the end zone. Tally: 5 samples of red pasta, 2 toddler sips of sample juice, a sip of Pinot Noir,  6 headless strawberries, paid $0. Overall, a budgetary success.

And cut.

4. Actually Free Stuff

My daughter steals evangelism materials from the  church where she attends Pre-K. You know,  “How to Accept Jesus materials?” This is sort-of fine with me. Perusing tracts in her carseat might eventually bring her to Jesus. Who am I to know? She isn’t a Christian yet, so she is the prime audience. Unfortunately, she’s not perfect. She often gets rid of them by tossing them onto my Ford Focus floor. At least she’s getting an early start on her theological training. I’m sure the pastor of Cary Alliance thinks 155 people have come to Christ since that’s about how many pamphlets she’s read. (It would help if these tracts didn’t have NEMO on the cover! I mean people, c’mon? What’s a toddler supposed to do?! It’s like candy!)

End Note: For all of you who might reprimand me re: stealing stuff. If I could find the magnets, I would attempt to return them. I think. I’m not sure. I’m really not the best at this. I wish I was. If Jesus asks, I’ll blame my toddler.

 

Am I the only one who has klepto toddler? Have you ‘accidentally’ stolen anything from the store before?