Monday, March 27, 2017

Connected: Halfway Through Lent


So I don't actually know if we're halfway through Lent, but I'm thinking we're several weeks in and
we're still several weeks away from Easter.

One of my fasts (who am I kidding? Pretty much my only fast ;) ) was from social media. It's been such an interesting time. On one hand, I find myself with more mental space and energy and just time in general. I like feeling more in the present moment instead of feeling 'caught' with my phone in hand when my husband or daughter are around. I like feeling more available in the here and now. I just feel more free and relaxed and focused in the moment, which is beautiful and makes me contemplate and question how much of social media I want to allow back into my life when Easter comes.

But there's something unexpected that I realize I'm missing lately.

Connection.

Not the connection of knowing who's doing what and when. Not the nosy scrolling on Facebook. Not the competitive scrolling on Pinterest to stay connected to what's in and what's out. Not even the connection to giveaways on Instagram (um...actually I take that back. I'm a sucker for giveaways.)

But I'm missing the relational connection, connection with other women friends. The community that's found through social media. With staying at home full-time, it's encouraging to see other friends, moms, and just women in general living life and the little moments they're cherishing. I often felt refreshed and rejuvenated by those connections.

So what's a girl to do? Do I conclude that the benefits of social media outweigh the negatives?

Maybe. But Lent is not over so I'm not ready for conclusions. There are a few lessons I feel the Lord is teaching me...and it's not quite about the benefits of social media.

I'm learning we all need connection. Especially women. We live so isolated today compared to how families and villages used to live in community. This can feel especially lonely in the child-raising years when it's a little harder to get out of the house (though the single years can feel really isolated too!). So we turn toward social media-- facebook groups, instagram friends, etc. And while this can be good, it can't replace the "IRL" relationships...the real, face-to-face, in-the-flesh friendships that we're meant to cultivate. So I'm allowing this time of missing my online connections to nudge me to seek out real-life ones. I'm taking walks with my neighbor, texting friends when I need encouragement, inviting friends to visit even when my house is messy.

Honestly, it takes some motivation to reach out and connect in real life. It's so much easier to click on an app when I need connection and sign out when I'm 'filled'. But that's not the tidy, selfish way relationships are meant to be. They're meant to be a little inconvenient. They're meant to draw us out of ourselves and make us a little uncomfortable. That's what it takes to learn to be real and to grow...and we can't do that online no matter how much we preach authenticity in our profiles and bios. We're still editing and concealing and subconsciously choosing what we present. We're missing out on the raw beauty of an up-close-and-personal, messy-hair-day, don't-have-it-all-together-but-I'm-here kind of friendship.

I'm also learning that when we crave connection...it might just go a little deeper than even real-life relationships. At our very core, we desire friendship with God. And even more, He desires that with us. Have you ever heard the saying, "Loneliness is God's cry for intimacy and friendship time with you."? The beauty and vulnerability in that gets me every time. We're so quick to fill our loneliness with social media or friends or spouses or even kids. I know my greater instinct when I'm lonely is to call my mom or sister, or spend time with my husband or girlfriends. But this Lent I'm trying to make my first instinct to be to seek out the Lord, my greatest Friend. He is the only one who can ever truly fill my aches and desires and needs, so why not go to Him first? I want intimacy and friendship and connection with Him...and knowing He wants that with me is all the more inviting.

Join me these next few weeks to pause when we're feeling lonely or craving connection? Let's seek God first and spend time with Him, and then ask Him what relationships around us in real life we can cultivate to grow the abundant grace of rich and lasting friendships. He's the perfect Friend, and growing in friendship with Him will teach and guide us to be better friends to those around us.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring Bucket List

We are officially into Spring this week and the temperatures are rising along with our spirits! It's always such a joy to look around and see the spring flowers popping through the earth, hear the birds singing, and see the buds on the trees. I'm excited to bring G outside more soon-- the other day we just sat out on the patio and she felt the grass for the first time. What a blessing to experience her first Spring together-- I love this season and it's a treat to see it through her eyes. Here are a few items we're hoping to do to make the season even more memorable. I'd love to hear your favorite things about Spring or anything special you're hoping to do for it! Stay tuned for a Lenten update soon as well!

Our Spring Bucket List

Go on a run
Drink tea on the porch
Blow bubbles
Go to the zoo
Bring a baby gift and helping hands to an expecting friend
Buy fresh flowers during the Easter season
Make an Easter dessert or treat
Have a weekday picnic
Go to the metropark with daddy
Make donuts
Dye Easter eggs OR participate in an egg hunt
Go to the art museum (they have a baby tour we plan on trying out ;) )
Pick berries
Plant something

Monday, March 20, 2017

Once Upon A Time Storybook Bible


I mentioned a few posts ago I wasn't crazy about The Story Traveler's Bible. This children's bible, however, is wonderful!!! I LOVE this book. The size is a large 'storybook' size that just makes you want to open the cover and begin. The illustrations are beautiful-- similar to Disney type animation. There are many, many Bible stories in the collection and they are written at a great level for children, containing important truths but in a way little ones can understand. Each story begins with 'once upon a time,' going along with the book's subtitle of "The Bible is not a fairy tale, but every story happened once upon a time." I was also delighted with the "Happily Ever After" tidbits at the end of each story: a moral or lesson, such as 'Abraham trusted God even when he couldn't see the promise coming true. We too can trust that God is always working in our lives!' The only thing I might change would be the very last chapter about the book of Revelation. It talks about Jesus coming back and the kingdom of God, but Revelation is actually full of additional wisdom about God's kingdom here on earth, and even more specifically the Catholic Mass. All in all, though, a definite treat for a child. I've always loved fairy tales and I love the way this book shares the beauty and wonder of fairy tales but with Biblical stories that actually happened! As Hans Christian Andersen said, "Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale." I'm excited to give this to my godson for his birthday next month, giving him the gift of both stories and truth!

[Thank you to Booklook Bloggers for my review copy. This review contains my honest and original thoughts.]

Friday, March 17, 2017

These Days

Other than book reviews, I'm not blogging much these days. I'm thinking a lot, but my fingers stall on the keys.

Not much is happening, yet so much is happening. I told my mama-friend the other day how odd it is when someone asks how I've been. To the outside eye, every day is simply the same-- staying at home with my daughter, the diapers and food and naps and such. Yet every day feels like a roller coaster internally with all the physical, mental and emotional energy the day commands. Especially the emotional. No one told me that motherhood would take me to the end of myself and mirror back to me not only the best of myself and my strength, but also the ugly parts and the weakness.

But there's this nagging fear that maybe I'm the only one who thinks this is hard. Maybe she has family that lives nearby to help. Maybe her husband has different work hours. Maybe my perfectionist personality brings on my own hardships. Maybe it's just me.

Then there's this nagging guilt that this is everything I've ever dreamed of, this life of home and hearth and husband and babies. Guilt for the friends' who want this so desperately. The friends whose left fingers are empty of a ring, or whose wombs are empty of a heartbeat. I know. I remember. So I feel guilty when having those things now feels hard. 

Sure, there are the days when music is playing and dinner is cooking and the baby is smiling and my soul is soaring. There can be nothing greater than this, I think, my heart fairly bursting with gratitude and joy in this season of my life. My husband is romantic and charming, my baby is gorgeous and endearing, myself productive and accomplished and enjoying a good hair day (ha! rarely for that last one!). The sun shines and I cannot think of a better way to spend my life.

This swinging of the pendulum drives me crazy. Why am I so fickle? Why cannot I not be steadfast in the mountains and the valleys? Why cannot I not remember the joys in the hard times? Why cannot I see the grace in the the distasteful moments? Why cannot I not "count it all joy" (James 1:2)?

We're coming out of a week of teething, tummy bugs, respiratory bugs, and freezing temperatures and snow. I'd like to say I handled it all with saintly wisdom and grace and patience, but instead I feel bedraggled and, well, dragged through it. The lack of sleep and the constant body fluids wore me down.

But there's the tiniest light inside me that says all is not hopeless within me. That even though I don't like what I see in myself, God sees more. That even though I might have trudged more than I danced through it, I still did it. I showed up and offered up and begged for grace. I saw the places where I need His healing and molding and cleansing. Isn't that what Lent is all about? Perhaps this is all the point. God is at work, but it is a process. And for someone like me, that's difficult. I want so badly to "do things right" from the start but God simply wants me to do them and give them to Him, letting go of the outcome....and maybe sometimes not even to do, but just be.

My delusion is often that since motherhood is my vocation, I must do it well (and dare I say perfect?) all of the time and from the very beginning. Yet I forget that because motherhood is my vocation, God is going to use it to make me into the woman He desires and created me to be-- which will not happen instantly but rather over a lifetime. And wouldn't it make sense that the very vocation that will shine light on the dark and broken places for healing to occur will be a little messy (or a lot!) at times? I know when I'm cleaning out a closet, it gets messier before it gets cleaner!

I'm broken, friends. And that's hard. But it's also hopeful! We serve a God who mends the broken places and makes beautiful mosaics from them...and then shines through them.

"We're all broken...that's how the light gets in." -Ernest Hemingway

Maybe it's time I start focusing on the Light instead of the broken.

Come, Lord Jesus, Light of the World, and shine through us this day, even and especially through the broken places.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

On the Bookshelf

Since we've been snowed in (after all that gorgeous spring weather!! boo!) and little G. has not only been teething but also caught a small tummy bug and a big respiratory bug...needless to say, we've been home, indoors, and I've been reading a lot during snuggles and naps. Here are three that have been in our stack: one on marriage, one on motherhood, and one for little ones.



Your Marriage Masterpiece: Transform Your Relationship Through God's Amazing Design, by Al Janssen

This was a good book but not a great book for me. I fluctuated in my opinion through it actually. Some chapters I would be engrossed and think "YES! The world needs to read this!" and other chapters I would skim and feel like I've read similar things before. (Maybe I need to spend more time focusing on my marriage itself instead of reading books about it-- haha ;) ). A few things I liked: the book is a companion resource to The Family Project DVD by Focus on the Family. My husband and I LOVE that course/project, particularly the movie Irreplaceable (about the necessary connections of love/sex/marriage/children and how disconnecting those has broken down the family). I appreciate how much FotF has done and continues to do to promote healthy marriages and families. This book is definitely included in that effort. I liked the real-life stories of marriage. I liked the study guide included. I even liked the Biblical imagination narratives woven throughout, showing us how we are to mirror God's "marriage" to us in our marriages (very Catholic). I did not care for: some of the Biblical narratives were cheesy or took too much artistic liberty for my taste. I felt that the flow of the book was somewhat slow and didn't keep my attention. Overall, a good book on marriage but not one of the top five on that subject that I would recommend to someone.

[Thank you to Bethany House publishers for my complimentary review copy. This contains my honest and original thoughts on the book.]



Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline, by Catherine McNiel

I did not expect to like this book as much as I am! I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but so far it's exceeding that! What a beautiful, inspiring, and even gently convicting book! Ann Voskamp has a review quote on the cover of this book and I can see why-- it has something of the mystic/poetic prose style that she uses when she writes. This book goes deep into the soul of motherhood by using the simplest, earthiest everyday things. The author writes about the (sometimes monotonous) things we experience as mothers and encourages us to find God in them...the God who became a baby, a child, to bring us closer to Him. He is in our children today and wants us to find Him in them...and to find Him in our own weary, changed bodies as well. One of my favorite parts was when she wrote about Jesus being one of us in the messiness of life-- how He lived with and joined the normal, everyday people and talked about fish, yeast, water, taxes as He ministered and taught the kingdom of God. I mean, I know this already but somehow reading her words and seeing Jesus like that was very tender for me. I also appreciated the Catholic vein woven throughout the book even though the author herself is not Catholic-- she writes a lot about the sacramental realities...God using tactile, tangible things to give grace and spiritual meaning to our lives (reminds me of another great book I'm reading by Laura Kelly Fanucci: Everyday Sacrament). At the end of each chapter, there are several reflection and practice points to integrate into your own life. This has been a very meaningful book to me and one that I will likely read more than once.

[Thank you to Tyndale Publishers for my complimentary review copy. This contains my honest and original thoughts.]





God Loves Daddy and Me, by Bonnie Rickner Jensen

I'm such a sucker for faith-based board books. This one does not disappoint. Beautiful illustrations and a touching story to introduce little ones to God's gentle and fatherly love for all of us. I like the specific message that God loves not only children but also adults (who are also His children). I think it's good for kids to learn that God loves us even as we grow and that God loves and takes care of mommy and daddy too so that they learn faith is not just for children, but also for us as we grow up! (Maybe even more necessary as we grow and lose that sense of childlike innocence and trust!) My only slight hesitation about the book is that some of the activities the dad and child do may not be ones all fathers do with their children-- build forts, go on picnics, etc. I wouldn't want a child to feel left out if their daddy doesn't do these things with them. Also, the raccoon child seems to be a boy, so not that a little girl and her daddy couldn't have these adventures, but there's a father-son feel to the relationship described. These are all fine things, but just information for those considering the book if they have a daughter. :)

Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for my complimentary review copy. This contains my honest and original thoughts.]


Friday, March 3, 2017

7 Quick Takes



1. Lent. My devotional today was such a beautiful reminder that this is a season of GRACE. So often we see it as a time of lack or emptiness or dryness because of the fasting...but the fasting is simply there so we can make room for all the grace and growth and presence the Lord wants to give us!! I'm fasting from social media (oh, Instagram, how I miss you!) and though I'm missing the sweet connections with friends because of it, I'm also enjoying the mental detox and the greater openness to prayer, reading, and staying in my own present moments.

2. My monthly meal plan is going along swimmingly and I was THRILLED to notice the past few weeks' grocery bills have been lower as well as the grocery list itself being easier to plan. This tickles me to no end. I've tweaked a few things here and there, and will probably revamp the whole thing when spring/summer rolls around (give me all the fresh food!!) but for now, I'm delighted with the way it's kept us healthy, frugal, and saving time and energy.

3. P and I have been enjoying the When Calls the Heart series from Hallmark. He turned up his nose at the cheesy Hallmark DVD cover but it has since sucked him in as well and he happily joins me. My parents are watching it too and have commented how much Mountie Jack reminds them of my husband. What can I say? I married a charming, handsome adventurer...

4. As for books, I've got bookmarks in probably a dozen books these days...marriage, motherhood, simplicity, spiritual growth...but my fiction books really have my heart right now. Have you heard of Bess Streeter Aldrich? Lesser known than Louisa May Alcott or Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I'd say she's similar to both. GORGEOUS writer, I can't get enough of her characters and scenes and wisdom in each book. I finished Song of Years (my third time through it, though it's been years since I read it) and am now in the midst of A Lantern in Her Hand. Whenever I feel motherhood overwhelming me, I pick up this book and I'm re-centered. The main character Abbie Deal is a pioneer mama raising four littles on the wild prairie, how can I complain or worry or lament in my twenty-first century parenting world? And she throws in such beautiful life lessons and wisdom, it really gives you all the feels.

5. Our little "Spring in the middle of Winter" is over and we're back to freezing temperatures. But those crazy days of fifties and sixties were wonderful. I took lots of walks with baby G and P enjoyed his basketball hoop. One of the days we walked through our whole tiny town with no coats as the sunshine smiled down on us.

6. I had an Amazon gift card and decided to spend it somewhat frivolously and bought a curling wand. I'm hoping it is a dream come true when it comes to my hair, ha! I love the look of those beach waves, but my own hair is a bit of a frizzy, not quite straight, not quite curly mess. This little gem promises to give me those elusive beach wave locks, so we'll see. ;) You know how those things go...

7. The baby woke up so it's goodbye for now...I do appreciate that she waited until number 6 of my quick takes. Hey-- here's what we're having for dinner: Zesty Tilapia thanks to the simple idea from Sweet Little Ones! :)

Have a great weekend, dear friends! Let me know what you're up to-- books, TV shows, recipes! :)