The Fringe Hours

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Sometimes self care seems extremely selfish.  Making time to invest in oneself feels frivolous.  Often it seems like more effort to push through the barriers and prioritize the things that give life than just sitting on the couch, lapping up reality tv.

Monday morning gave me an unexpected moment to practice this potentially selfish and frivolous thing.  I was shocked to see a clear sky, yellows, pinks, oranges pushing the blue of night away.  I grabbed my coffee and ran out to cozy up on the deck and take in the sunrise.  The birds were singing.  It was so restorative.  Simple.  Free.  Only 15 minutes.  And yet, such a rich, almost indulgent way to start the day.  Truly doing things from the soul allowing me to feel that true river of joy as Rumi coined.

As a Type A girl through and through, known for strong tendencies to overcommit and spread myself thin, I jumped at the chance last November to be part of Jessica Turner’s launch team for her upcoming book, The Fringe Hours.  This book explores the ways the “must dos” of life push out the activities and balance we need to take care of ourselves and our passions.   To see how life giving and life changing it can be to embrace the activities that we love, that allow for self-care.

Women, in general, tend to swing towards guilt and comparison rather than perspective and community and rest.  Success is measured in to-do lists completed and the impossible balanced effortlessly without breaking a sweat or swear word.  Living well can be a very gray area.  Is living well about achievement at all costs or about finding balance?  My calendar might be neatly scheduled but if my family is overwhelmed with to many commitments there is no true balance.

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Finding the “fringe hours”, as Jessica writes, requires first looking at the places in ourselves of deeply rooted beliefs.  What pressures do we put on ourselves?  Where do we operate out of guilt and comparison?  When we work on identifying how to prioritize caring for ourselves, we have to first figure out what that even MEANS.  As we approach almost eight years of interrupted sleep in our household, I sometimes find it hard to pinpoint what is life giving anymore.  Sometimes the zoned out mind, comfortably settled on the couch after the boys are in bed feels like the most life-giving outlet I can fathom.

And yet…there is more there under the surface.  For me, reading the Fringe Hours helped me re-tap into these areas of passion.  Photography.  Cooking.  Reading.  Making memory books for my family with photographs.  Traveling. Enjoying a hike or walk with a friend. Sometimes these pursuits feel too decadent, though, and Jessica’s book was a deep reminder to me of the ways these passions can be prioritized and pursued in the time we have.  Standing in line at the post office can be enriched when I have a book in my purse.  Keeping a few notecards in my bag allows for a moment in the waiting room to be used to get a thank you note written.  Keeping my phone memory free to take pictures when beauty crops up unexpectedly allows me to remember my love for framing the world around me.  Planning a fun, unusual meal once a week after reading the latest copy of Bon Appetit.  Sitting down with my eldest and reading together over a cup of tea each night.  He gets in his 20 minutes of required reading and I do too.  Sitting down at the dining room table to actually eat and digest my lunch over that day’s Suduko puzzle. Enjoying a podcast from a favorite author or blogger on my way to work in the morning.  These are the fringe moments that might have passed me by before, but for which I am now keeping alert for.

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My Dad just sent me this picture to remind me that my love for photography started young…perfect timing.

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The Fringe Hours isn’t a book to allow maximum time efficiency and thus a perfect, productive life.  Jessica Turner’s goal is to help us see what passions truly make us tick as individuals.  To overcome the fears resulting in comparison and guilt and pursue taking care of ourselves.  The heart of her message is “finding underused pockets of time in [our] schedule and utilizing them for [ourselves].”  To say no to some things.  To prioritize other pursuits to allow for fuller, richer days.

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The chapter on “Finding Rest”, the spiritual practice of Sabbath, was the most meaningful for me.  Jessica reminded that if we don’t take time to be still and rest, that we will eventually suffer.  That in “relentless busyness….we have lost the rhythm between work and rest.”  (Wayne Muller)

She quotes Muller again, “Without rest, we respond from a survival mode, where everything we meet assumes a terrifying prominence….Sabbath time may be anything that preserves a visceral experience of life-giving nourishment and rest….the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing or true.”

Finding the fringe hours isn’t easy, but it is vital for a balanced, rich life.  For me, even reading this book meant finding time to make it happen–during bath time!  (aka:  parallel play at its finest).

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I hope you will consider getting your own copy of Jessica’s book, The Fringe Hours.  I was provided with a free copy of her words in exchange for sharing my thoughts here.  But, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.  You will be asked to do hard inward work, but it is the topic that I find at the forefront of almost all of my conversations these days—how to not loose our truest sense of self in the midst of day-to-day life.  Sometimes we really need the reminder to stop trying to be everything for everyone and start investing in who and what really matters.

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The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You

Order where books are sold, including:

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and DaySpring

Learn more and access resources at www.FringeHours.com

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Is Advent Just Smoke & Mirrors?

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When I find my blood pumping, heart racing & anxiety creeping in, I usually know I need to check myself.  I have calendars spread out, a rainbow assortment of Sharpie pens at the ready, books and resources dog-eared and post-it noted & notebooks of lists lined up.  Next, I usually panic and send out a few emails to trusting, wise folks looking for the answer to squelch my nervous fears.  My need to perform, be a perfectionist with polish gets the upper hand in my subconscious.  Reason is shoved out the window.

If we step back in these moments (I am saying “we” here in hopes that I am not alone!), get some perspective and take things down to the bare bones , something lies forgotten.  There was a point, one of good intentions and God-discerned truth, where we once placed our feet in the starting blocks, ready to run the race.  Clear on our intentions, goals and having trained, we were ready to pace ourselves and finish strong & focused.

I fear, though, that something has been lost along the way.  The anxiety is a sign to me as the little planner that resides in my head starts salivating at the plan making and expectation setting.  One part feels anticipatory and the other experiences dread before I have even begun.

The season of Advent, one of waiting, expectation & preparation, is also one of darkness, unknowns and fear.  We are waiting in the “in between time“, the moment of liminality where we know we are headed somewhere, but not quite finding even footing in the known or the not yet.  Mary knew she would birth a baby, even felt the weight of the promise of God, and yet, Jesus was “incubating”.  Even God’s own arrival here on Earth was marked with a wait.  On the other side of things, resurrection followed in the same footsteps.  Three days in the tomb and then, restoration and triumph.

As Advent approaches, I wonder how to sit with this concept of anticipation and waiting myself, let alone with my own children.  We almost need a shock collar to keep our boys at the dinner table after they have finished eating.  So looking at Advent, waiting on an inanimate concept (celebrating Jesus’ birth), is tough.  My six year old is able to recite many of the stories that lead up to Christ’s birth, but when does the deeper understanding come?  My fear lies in my own need to plan and perfect everything.  By spinning off on activities, plans and “must dos”, the deeper understandings I so long for get buried.  It can be so easy for Advent to become a guise for something else, smoke and mirrors for busyness, a never-ending list of activities and self-created expectations.

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One book that has reminded me of this true underlying desire to bring Advent back to its “proper place” has been Jerusalem Greer’s “A Homemade Year:  The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together“.  She writes:

It is now, at Advent, that I am given the chance to suspend all expectation for the entire season and instead to revel in the mystery; to give myself permission to hold both sadness and joy, sorrow and hope, disappointment and peace in the same heart and to wait for the night when the world will, and does, begin again, revealing the wondrous, glorious morn.

While her book has activities, crafts and cooking projects, they are all grounded in the understanding that Advent is not about the never-ending treadmill of unrealistic plans & expectations.  We are called to create a space to be present, to take note, to even sit in places that feel full of disappointment and heartbreak.  And….to balance it all in the Light of Hope.  To cling to the promise of what comes on the other side.  While we know the promise of God With Us, Emmanuel, came after those nine months and was birthed, the road there and after wasn’t easy.  But the story, while long, bump-filled and tough, has cracks where the Light shines through, eventually in resurrection.  As Sally Lloyd-Jones brilliantly put it in the Jesus Storybook Bible:

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story.  And at the center of the Story, there is a baby.  Every Story in the Bible whispers his name.  He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

Next week I hope to share a few plans I am ironing out for this year’s Advent Season, but for myself, if no one else, I needed to start first in this place.  To spend time thinking about how I’ve gotten pulled into the smoke & mirrors myself and to scale back, reorient and start again.

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Luckily, the whole process of faith is about the cyclical nature of grace.  We try our best & have fairly good intentions.  Later we get off track.  We admit it & get back on the bandwagon and give it a go again.  God washes this process in love and understanding, encouraging us to get back up.

We want to make this time holy and be made whole.  And it is not easy…We recognize that the search for the Holy is so urgent and real that we are vulnerable to the lure that the commercial world offers in its promise to fill in the gaps that we so painfully feel.  Materialism has contaminated the truth that ‘things’ indeed can be carrier of the Divine.  We do not want to fall for the ruse or Christmas becomes just another expensive disappointment.  During Advent, we are invited to be vulnerable to our long and open to our hope.” ~from To Dance with God by Gertrud Mueller Nelson

I plan to be back on Monday with a few thoughts on this year’s Advent season, but in the meantime, how are you approaching the upcoming weeks?  The lead up to Christmas?  Are you scaling back this year?  Ramping up?  Vacationing and trying to leave all the hooplah behind?  What do you long for during the season of Advent?  What traditions are not to be missed or forgotten in your family?  Where do you find time for stillness and waiting in the midst of materialism and unrealistic expectations?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

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To Tie or Not to Tie?

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Alex has had an obsession with ties for awhile.  Lately, however, it has hit a fever pitch and besides “Casual Friday”, when everyone wears their Wilson Wildcats’ shirts, he dresses in a button up shirt with a corresponding tie.  We’re talking clip-on ties, but slicking the hair over and wearing ties has become the norm of his 1st grade dressing experience.

My dear friend Pete, a teacher in Portland, had a similar approach, but made bow ties the newest trend, even holding lessons on technique.  The phenomenon made the Oregonian (article here and awesome video here).

So my fickle, silly question of the day….to Tie or Not to Tie?!?  Do you think “dressing the part” makes you more successful or on task during your day?  For example, as a stay at home mom, am I more productive and focused on the days I put on attire a step above jeans and a t-shirt or yoga pants and flip flops?  Do you think clothes make the person?  And most importantly, will ties become the “new, must wear item” among 1st graders this year?  Clip on or zip up (or heaven forbid, a REAL, tie it yourself tie??!?)?  And where to shop for the latest tie goodness?

Weigh in, friends.  Weigh in.  

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Bread & Wine

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A few months back, during California’s infamous “ski week”, I was glued to my bed.  Matt & I were gripped with a horrendous illness that kept us bed-ridden, energy-zapped, for over 10 days.  It was a doozy.  Two of the most glorious packages arrived, though.  One was delivered by FedEx and the other, to my inbox.  A “hard copy” and a “digital” copy of Shauna Niequist’s newest book, “Bread and Wine“.  I first read Shauna’s second book, “Bittersweet“, two years ago when it caught my eye at the Library and quickly became a devotee to her writing and message.  Eventually, it came time for Shauna to share some writing from her new book to come out in Spring of 2013.  She began looking for recipe testers and later, folks to read and review advanced copies of the book.  I jumped on both opportunities and have felt such blessing from the chance to be a small, teeny part of the process—watching alongside, anticipating the arrival of the finished product, a published book.  It’s almost like waiting for a friend to have a baby.  You know the induction date/due date/publication date, but you watch as announcements come out, glimpses via ultrasound or in this case, Shauna’s blog and instagram feed and think about holding that finished product—baby or book—in your hands.

It is hard to “find time” to read, let alone cook & bake these days.  Yet, both are endeavors which fill me with great pleasure and joy.  There is something so magical about tangible chances to create finished products.  Parenting, teaching and ministry are ongoing.  One never really “finishes”.   Cooking, food, life around the table, family & friendship are all topics that ignite me.  So when the final subtitle was determined for Bread and Wine, I realized why my anticipation for this book was so great.  Shauna titled it Bread and Wine:  A Love Letter to Life Around the Table.  As she began writing the book, she realized that it was a book that included recipes, yes.  But more importantly, it became vignettes about love, intimacy, shame, isolation, rest, nourishment and at times, fear.

We often can think of food, recipes, meals and eating as a chore and a to-do to be checked off our list.  On the other extreme, we can assume that we need a spread worthy of Martha Stewart or Williams & Sonoma to actually enjoy a meal with friends and extend an invitation.  Bread & Wine focuses on the joy, community and growth that can come from practicing authenticity and hospitality around the table.  The table provides a space  to let go of our need for perfection and show up as we are. Shauna sums this up so eloquently in the last chapter of the book, “Come to the Table”:

“Most of the time, I eat like someone’s about to steal my plate, like I can’t be bothered to chew or taste or feel, but I’m coming to see that the table is about food, and it’s also about time. It’s about showing up in person, a whole and present person, instead of a fragmented, frantic person, phone in one hand and to-do list in the other. Put them down, both of them, twin symbols of the modern age, and pick up a knife and a fork. The table is where time stops. It’s where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite.

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We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health. Come to the table.”

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I have made many recipes from the book already—-Blueberry Crisp, Nigella’s Flourless Chocolate Brownies, Green Well Salad, Mango Chicken Curry, Breakfast Cookies, Annette’s Enchiladas, Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Toffee, Gaia Cookies & Sullivan Street Bread.  I can tell you about the amazing flavors and sighs of yumminess I blabbered on and on about as I dug in.  I could describe the small scraps of toffee leftover, despite my incorrect cooking attempt.  Or the glorious first bite of Gaia Cookie I bit into while sick with fever.  I SHOULD have been sleeping while Drew was napping and Alex was absorbed in LEGO building, but nope…that recipe was literally calling me.

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But more than all of those bites of goodness, meals shared over the table and with the company of others are what hold the most true.  I am a perfectionist and I HATE feeling “undone”.  I want my house picked up, dishes and laundry done, kids behaving and quiet (better yet napping or sleeping!) when friends and family show up.  And then I am reminded of the true gift of communion over the table.  Not about perfection but being present as Shauna reiterated:

“Hospitality is about love, not about performance.  Above all else, people want to feel welcomed by someone who wants them in their home.  No matter how unimpressive the food is or how messy the house is, if you greet your guests at the door with happiness and warmth, they’ll feel glad they came.”

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In preparation for this book review, I had the gift of getting to hear Shauna speak last Friday.  I was a giddy groupie, unashamed of my geeky, cult following mentality.  The chance to spend some time with friends, though, over drinks after the event, was as much as a highlight as hearing & meeting Shauna again (first time here).  It felt like a small victory to raise our glasses that night.  It was a “late night crowd” at the restaurant, almost 10pm.  We were surrounded by Silicon Valley folks that in many ways seemed to lead a much more glamorous and exciting life.  But it wasn’t really about that.  It was about practicing presence and showing up with and for one another.

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shauna1Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, and Bread & Wine. Shauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois, and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She is married to Aaron, who is a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is recording a project called A New Liturgy. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life–friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God.  Shauna regularly blogs at http://www.shaunaniequist.com/.

It’s Worth the Postage

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Even though my youngest, Drew, at 2 ½, is still in the “parallel play” stage he is beginning to be very attached to friends. In the mornings, he will sit in his crib asking, “See Noah?  See Connor?  See Logan?  See Evan?”  Even after just departing from a playdate, Drew will bombard us with these questions.  These friends dominate his thoughts, words and questions from morning until night.

Recently, one of his buddies was visiting grandparents for almost 3 weeks.  Drew continued to ask for him day after day and called his name as we drove by his street.  He clearly missed regular sand box meet ups, walks around the neighborhood & building train tracks together.  When a postcard arrived from this friend, Drew was smitten & a little speechless.  He studied the writing, memorized the details of the picture on the front.  “Captivated” would be an understatement.

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Writing and sending letters may be archaic these days and potentially a thing of the past.  However, I see something in this practice that still moves me…..

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I’m blogging once a month at Practicing Families.  Please check out the rest of the post there!

Easter Overload

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My head is spinning with so many thoughts—many of which need time to percolate.  Suffice it to say, as TYPICALLY happens, my children’s questions and observations often push the boundaries and understandings I hold to in my own journey.  I know that I will squeeze in some time to write here this next week about that, but for today, I want to share some amazing things that I have read over the last few days.  Hopefully they will inspire you too as other things {CHOCOLATE!  BUNNIES!  EGGS!  TIES/SUITS!} tend to compete for our focus today.  Below all the amazing things written by others, I will overwhelm and overload you with happenings from our household.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you—-this is a long post!  Pour a cup of tea and settle in.

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Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

-John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter”

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Tenebrae/Good Friday Reflections from My Dear Friend, Susan Brady

This is the end.

The disciples have been watching with horror, stunned, all along this journey to the cross, waiting for Jesus to come down, assert His Lordship, and conquer the world.

But now, as His dead body is taken from the cross, carried away, and prepared for burial, there is no denying that it is over.

“Unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it will remain alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Jesus has been trying to tell them that this was going to happen, but they do not understand. And they are now devastated and stricken with grief, unable to comprehend what has happened, how this week that began so joyfully has ended so terribly. They do not know that Easter is coming, and they do not understand or have forgotten what Jesus said about death being necessary for life.

In our lives too, it takes death to make life possible. We must be dead to sin and be made alive in Christ. Dead to sin – to me this means dying to the dreams we have about how our lives will turn out, and embracing the life that God has for us.

For me, it meant getting to the end of grad school and realizing that spending my life as a research scientist – what I had been preparing myself for since 7th grade – wasn’t a good fit. Only when I gave up that dream was I able to move on to a fulfilling career in science education.

For me, it has also meant relinquishing my lifelong plan to be a wife and mother. It was an incredibly painful process, but I had to give up my dreams of being married and giving birth. Only then was I freed to live the amazing life that God had planned for me as mom through adoption to two incredible boys who bless my life beyond words.

Now as a parent, it means letting go of my dreams about what my children would be like – to stop trying to raise my imaginary children – in order that they can become exactly who God designed them to be. This is a terrifying, gut-wrenching, daily process. My own expectations have to die in order for my boys to be free to become all they can be – and for me to delight in them. The joy of who they become will be lost if I hold tightly to my own plans for them.

There are many other examples in my life. What does it look like in yours? What do you hold onto that needs to die in order for you to have room for the full life God is waiting to bless you with?

For the disciples, seeing Jesus die felt like the crushing end of their dreams. They thought that their plans for Jesus had been too big for Him to live up to. In reality it was the opposite – their dreams were way too small. They had no idea of what was to come and the way that Jesus would bless the entire world through the cross.

What do we miss when we hold tightly to our own plans and dreams about who God should be and what God should do? We dream such small dreams – God has the unimaginable in mind. But we must pass through death – a very long three days of death – in order to make it to the glory of the resurrection.

In this night of darkness and sorrow, may we surrender and put to death all of the things – our dreams, hopes, habits of body and habits of mind – that hold us back from experiencing the full blessing of the abundant, overwhelming life that God has for us.

Lord, help us to die to ourselves, completely and repeatedly, as painful and difficult as that is, in order to be truly alive in You.
Amen

upside down Easter

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And lastly, thanks to Laurie, who posted some words shared by her husband, our friend, Doug Bunnell….some thoughts on being Easter People.

“There is a quote by N.T. Wright that I absolutely love, ‘We’re the Easter people; let’s get on with it.’ What could be truer than that? Easter is what we proclaim, what we celebrate on the good days, what we hold on to during the hard days, and what we seek to live everyday. Death is not the final word; the tomb is empty, the story is not over, and the evil one gets kicked in the teeth. After watching people I love dearly face their last days, I hold on to Easter more tightly than ever. In the face of death I only have resurrection, and it is enough. In the face of grief I turn to Easter, for I am reminded that death does not last forever-out of the ashes life bursts forth. This is a choice we get to make everyday: do we live out death, or do we live out life?… Enter into Easter this year – ‘let’s get on with it!'”

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The last week has been filled with a lot of mayhem and…..life.  I’m realizing that hard moments/days are just par for the course.  They are just that…..LIFE.  Moments that can look serene and pleasant via photographs are often very different in real time.  Case in point—dying Easter Eggs. {looks calm, cool and collected in the first two pics—-reality is the third one—Drew and Mom (not pictured), both crying}.

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Many days I wonder if our table will ever be set and stay art/toy free for a meal…below, our Easter Breakfast “festivities”.

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Lots of digging in the dirt, walks to see construction sites & spring flowers….

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Buds

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This couple walks to Trader Joes everyday and buys one or two things and has the samples. I see them all the time and absolutely adore watching them. Followed them with Drew on our walk on Friday.  Good Friday, INDEED!

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Alex is always keeping us entertained and exhausted with his plans and activities and antics  (currently working on his “life story”)…..

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And Drew….oh, Drewske.  Hats, Glasses (sunglasses or bunny glasses or egg….you choose….)

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Cooking Projects Galore {this week Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Flourless Brownies & Sullivan Street Bakery Bread, plus green juicing to offset the carbs and sweets!}

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Easter Egg Hunts, Resurrection Roll Preparation {Alex made SEVEN this year and Drew made one….and THAT, friends, IS AN EASTER MIRACLE!!!} and the most touching moment of the week for me—Drew insisting on washing Alex’s and my feet on Maundy Thursday.  We had to skip the service, and thus, miss Matt’s sermon {boo!} in favor of bedtime and routines.  But it dawned on me that Jesus did the same thing on that Thursday night in the Upper Room, with his disciples.  Did Drew or Alex remember that and plan it out?  No.  But I caught it.  And it was a reminder to me that God still breaks into the ordinary moments with worship in the everyday.  Later that night, Alex and I read from the Jesus Storybook Bible and had some very good {challenging for me!} discussions.  It was so special.

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So….if you got to the end of this ridiculously long post, you win….

a CHOCOLATE EGG!!!

No….but, really….this is more to remind myself of the ways God has been moving in my life day-to-day.  I will forget these moments, the nuances as the days go by.  And I want to remember.  Despite the moments where I feel so out of my league and element as a parent, friend and spouse, I know that God’s grace is big enough for all of my failings (and believe me, there are MANY….).  On Easter, the hope of the resurrection is HUGE.  If I remember that it’s not just a nice little story, but a life-changing interruption—-the GOOD kind of interruption!—it should upend things.  Life should look different.

Today, I am thankful for Jesus.

And very thankful for my family.

And….Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs which I stole from the boys.

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Easter, 2013

{below, Easter 2012 and then Easter 2011….same tree at Sunnyvale Presbyterian}

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Vision from the Frontlines: Piggy Bank Learning

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This post is the tenth installment of a series on children’s faith development called Vision from the Frontlines:  Voices, Experiences & Practices of Faith Development.  For more information about this series, click here.  I am to welcome my dear friend, Krista today.  Krista and I met about twenty years ago and enjoyed many years of friendship and ministry together while on staff at Westminster Woods Presbyterian Camp.  I have relied heavily on Krista’s wisdom, humor, groundedness  & parenting advice.  Thank you, Krista, for sharing here today.  I know it is a message that will give us a lot to think about and some new practices to try as we navigate parenting young ones growing into new independence. 

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This is the year.  I have decided to allow my two girls, ages 5 and almost 7, to finally have their own allowances.  I’ve hemmed and hawed over this decision for some time now, but as my 5 year old seems to have a love for shopping that comes neither from her father nor from me, it is becoming clear that money is a topic that I need to address with her sooner rather than later.

I grew up with a sense of stress about finances.  After losing my mother to cancer at the age of 11, my newly single father, a music teacher in Oakland’s inner-city schools, was rightfully concerned about providing for my older brother and myself.  It may have been his upbringing during the depression, his fears about impending college tuitions for the two of us, or any number of other factors that led him to respond to finances with a sense of anxiety.  Regardless, I learned to fear money, or the lack thereof, and have spent years living frugally, not because it is wise to do so, but because I was afraid of not having what I might need.

What I was not taught is that I have a Heavenly Father who is intimately aware of my every need.  Truly, all that I have is His and He has every intention of taking good care of me.  (Phil. 4:19)  So, although there are mountains of things that I learned from my parents that I intend to pass on to my children, their understanding of money and God’s promise to provide is not one of them.

For so many reasons, my husband has proven himself to be the perfect match for me, not the least of which is the way he views money.  He has always been faithful in tithing (which I never even did previous to being married to him), and is completely secure in his belief that God will provide what we need, when we need it.  (He has been right every time!)  I am so thankful for the many ways he has brought me into a closer faith walk in the years we have been married.  Every day, I see in my husband more and more godly character traits that I hope to develop and I am thankful for his example to me.  Over our almost 14 years of marriage, money has become less of a source of anxiety for me and more of a marker of God’s faithfulness to us.

So, I’ve decided that now is the time to begin teaching my sweet girls that God is truly the provider (and owner) of all that we have.  For Christmas, each of my girls received a piggy bank of sorts.  It is shaped like a little town, showing a store, a church and a bank.  Each building façade has a little slot in the top where you can insert money, some for saving, some for giving and some for spending.  Each girl is given a dollar bill and 4 quarters every Monday.  The dollar bill goes into the store, two quarters go into the bank and two quarters go into the church.  OK, I realize that tithing means giving 10%, but the truth is, my girls don’t understand percents yet and somehow 2 quarters in each slot just feels nice and simple to me.  So, for now, they will tithe and save 25% of what they are given.  They are really excited about having a little bit of money to spend, too, and are already talking about what they will buy each other for their birthdays (score one for our understanding of being generous!).  The other day, at Safeway, Miss 5 year old wanted me to buy her a fruit roll-up.  That was not in my grocery plan so I told her that I would buy it for her and she could give me 50 cents when we got home.  She was just fine with this arrangement and I was so happy to put this money decision in her court.  They are both excited to have something to contribute to the offering basket each week at church, too.  We’ve discussed how that money is used by the church and they are beginning to understand how God’s provisions for us can become our gifts back to Him.

My prayer for my girls in this new piece of parenting is that they will learn that God is, indeed, more than able to provide all that they need and that money is not to be feared, but to be used wisely and given generously.  As I gave them their allowances today, each girl was thrilled to be getting closer to their goals in the spending portion of their banks.  The surprise in the conversation was that neither is saving for herself, but to buy for the other their desired gift.  I pray that I will find such joy in using God’s finances entrusted to me to bless others and to honor Him!

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470940_10150960717365572_1188722786_oKrista is a Bay Area native and stay-at-home mom, who finds it rare to ever have a full day of staying at home.  After a career as a symphony musician, she enjoys teaching music from her home, affording her a short commute down the hall from the kitchen to the music room.  After 20 years of friendship, she married her best friend at the ripe old age of 27.  She and her husband, Bill, are having a blast raising their two daughters. 

One Good Phrase: “God Loves You And So Do I”

Micha Boyett is the writer behind the blog, Mama :: Monk, where she is currently hosting a series every Wednesday called “One Good Phrase“.  Guest contributors share phrases that have become mantras in their homes, said over and over again, finding meaning.   The entire series—similar to her blog—has been very meaningful and inspiring to me and I feel so blessed to have been asked to write in that space.

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During my first few years of teaching, I happened upon a little book called Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year.  Among many good tips, Esmé shared a ritual that she did with her students each day before excusing them.  It was a “call and response” format where the kids filled in the blanks and went like this:

“See you in the __________  [MORNING!]”

“Watch out for __________ [CARS!]”

Whispered, “Don’t say _____________ [‘shut up’]”

“I love _________ [YOU!]”

 As the newbie teacher I read about this idea and realized I had happened upon a little trick of the trade I could start using right away.  It was a little daunting to introduce it the first day.  Non-failingly, before the peer pressure had subdued the squirrely ten years olds, one kid would scream ‘shut up’ instead of whispering it.  Eventually though, it became a marker, a mantra for Room 18 and later, Room 29.  Hundreds of fourth graders reciting in unison the lines together everyday at 3:05pm.  My favorite realization was how a daily practice began to change their behavior and thinking.  If “shut up” was uttered in a moment of frustration during math, the class became dead silent as if a cuss word had been released.  Someone would insert the preverbal “OOOOOHHHH, you’re gonna be in TROOOUUUBLE!” and everyone would look at me as to how I’d respond.  Even if we’d had a hard day together, despite small group communication trouble or disappointing multiplication timed test results, we always joined together, as a class, and ended our day with “I love…YOU!”  Many afternoons, I gritted my teeth through that chant and I’m sure there were students who sarcastically uttered, “I love you”. No matter what, every day for 180 days, August to June, we shared those phrases.

When I first became a parent in 2007, I don’t think I had a clue how my teaching & professional life would impact my parenting.

{Read the rest over at Micha’s blog….}

St. Nicholas Day: Santa, Mystery and Small Family Ritual

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 This post is the seventh installment of a series on children’s faith development called Vision from the Frontlines:  Voices, Experiences & Practices of Faith Development.  For more information about this series, click here.  I am a little “star struck” today to welcome Micha Boyett.  Micha blogs at Patheos and for the last year, she has been a huge source of inspiration to me as a mom.  Asking her to share in this space during this blog series felt very risky and far-fetched, but ask I did.  And she said yes!  Today, Micha is sharing about St Nicholas Day and I hope you find her reflections and suggestions helpful as you think about marking the day (either today or this weekend).  Thank you again, Micha, for giving up your precious kid-free time during naps to put together these thoughts.  

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I talk about ritual a lot: Ritual and beauty. Grace. And how I want my kids to remember that we made their lives at home into a liturgy of sorts. When they’re grown, I long for them to say we made all of it beautiful.

I’m a writer. So I put that on paper. I say it to strangers. But when we’re in the middle of settling into our home, two months out from a cross-country move, the liturgy of our life together looks a lot more like frantic doing. And “No, I can’t play right now, baby. I have to blah blah blah blah.” (Blah includes: cleaning, organizing, buying Christmas presents, building shelves, finding a dresser on craigslist and on and on.) But that’s why we practice ritual in the first place, right? We set up our lives so that there is space in our dailyness for celebration and teaching and loving the least of these.

Last year I was given the chance to know a dear woman named Christine, a friend whose commitment to prayerful tradition in her home is awe-inspiring. After hearing her talk about how she practices ritual with her kids throughout the Advent and Christmas season, I felt totally overwhelmed. How could I follow her example? Where could begin? So I took one of her many beautiful ideas and shaped it to our family.

My oldest son is four and he’s completely obsessed with the idea of Santa. Now, I’m one of those Christians who likes Santa Claus. I think he’s fun. And mysterious. I think Christmas should always be fun and mysterious. But I still sometimes worry about is my son’s obsession with gifts. I worry that Santa will overshadow in his four-year-old spirit what’s most true of Christmas: the God who incarnated himself, who came to us and lived with us.

Enter St. Nicholas Day, which officially occurs on December 6, but which our little family celebrates on one of the Saturdays surrounding it, right in the middle of all the demands of holiday parties and gift buying and card sending. It’s a day we stop and make choices as a family to walk in St. Nicholas’ footsteps: to give, not of obligation or pity, but out of gratitude.

Here’s how we do it:

Leading up to our family celebration, we read a book about St. Nicholas (I recommend this one half-heartedly. It’s a bit intense so I tend to skip some parts.) And we watch the Veggie Tails version of the saint (which I recommend wholeheartedly). And we talk about what it means: That Santa’s first name was Nicholas, how he loved Jesus so much that he dedicated his life to taking care of the people who needed help. He gave them food and money and clothes because Jesus taught us to do so. Nicholas is an example for all us.

We can do that too! We say. So we wake up Saturday morning shouting, “Happy St. Nicholas Day!” The boys will find some chocolate coins in their shoes. We’ll read the story of the saint as a family. We’ll read a verse from the Bible about taking care of people in need. Then we’ll set to work.

At this point in my little family’s life—my oldest is 4 and my baby is 20 months—serving those in need looks different that it might look when we’re all old enough to head to the soup kitchen together or sing carols with folks at a nursing home. Right now we keep it simple: Help them learn to give. Help them learn to sacrifice their material security and practice simplicity. Help them make room in their toy boxes. So, as a family we’ll sort through the toys I’ve already set aside to give away. We’ll work to help the four-year-old understand (as much as possible) that even though giving toys away is hard, it’s good. He’ll approve (a little sadly, I’m sure) of our gifts and I’ll give him the chance to choose one thing more, something he feels ready to offer to another child.

Then we’ll talk about the two children we sponsor through Compassion International. We’ll look at our map of the world and we’ll look at how they live. (We may read a book checked out of the library or look up the country online.) The boys will make them pictures. My husband and I will write them letters. And we’ll put stamps on those letters.

I’ve already got a pile of clothes to give away stacked in the hallway. When we leave the house for our adventure, we’ll have the toys, the boxes of clothes, and the stamped letters ready to go.

First, we’ll stop at Goodwill, then at the women and children’s shelter with our used toys, then the post office. By that point, if every one in the car hasn’t succumbed to tears, we’ll stop at the grocery store and fill up our cart with non perishables. The boys get to pick their favorite brand of mac n’ cheese, of course. And the grown-ups grab the practical stuff. Our last stop is the Food Bank.

We’ll probably pray in there somewhere. We’ll pray for our boys to have hearts of compassion. We’ll pray that they always remember how God longs for the poor and broken to be cared for, to be noticed and loved. We’ll pray that they’ll never love things more than people. We’ll pray they will have a heart like St. Nicolas.

And whenever they think of Santa shimmying down the chimney with the Lightning McQueen toy they’re most dreaming of, we’ll pray they’ll remember that, amazingly, the best gifts are usually the ones we give, not those we receive.

I pray they’ll love the mystery of Santa. What kid doesn’t? But I hope they’ll love him most for his heart, his kindness, his willingness to love back because of the Savior who rescued his life.

I pray they’ll look back at this little family ritual—this brief day in the midst so many normals—as beautiful, as miraculous, as a way their tired parents taught them to love.

dsc_6468 (1) (1)Micha Boyett is a youth minister turned stay at home mom trying to make sense of vocation and season and place in the midst of her third cross-country move in three years. She is mama to two blonde boys and wife to a very tall Philadelphian. She is tinkering away on her memoir The Mama Monk and practicing prayer with her eyes open and her arms deep in sticky dishes. She blogs at Patheos about motherhood, monasticism, and the sacred in the everyday.

photo is courtesy of Erin Molloy Photography