Monday, January 12, 2015

2015: here we go

"Let's fight a good fight, train our eyes to find the Light and make this year the best one yet
Starting right here... Happy New Year"
-JJ Heller

January can feel like such a relief, with the hectic of December making way for the slow and snowed-in days that come after the calendar changes. But January can also feel daunting and overwhelming, at least for me. In one moment I can sigh in relaxation as I realize that there is very little on the calendar this week, but then I think "There's very little on the calendar this week! What am I going to do with the hours? I need to accomplish things, right? I need to prove that I'm not just sitting on the couch eating bon-bons, right? I need a 'to do' list - stat! And 100 New Year's Resolutions, 99 of which I will fail at miserably." It can spiral out of control pretty quickly.

So, there are no grandiose resolutions for me this year. Just a few nuggets of wisdom that I'm looking to as I navigate these crisp (sometimes too crisp!), fresh days of 2015. I stumbled across this list of things to STOP doing in 2015 after the New Year hit and have been trying to keep these things in the back of my mind as I go throughout my days. I particularly like
#2: Stop comparing yourself to others; 
#3: Stop worrying about what others think of you and 
#9: Stop feeling guilty. 
I would add a number 16: Stop living in regret. I waste far too much energy thinking about my mistakes, or even about circumstances that are out of my control and I cannot change. I need to stop it. I want to be a woman of freedom- someone who loves boldly and doesn't get in her own way in the process. With my self-doubt, incessant comparison (which leads to incessant self-deprecation), and my tendency to dwell on things I can't change, I truly am my own worst enemy, cliche as that may be. In 2015 I want to work at putting an end to those negative thought patterns and instead focusing on who Jesus says I am, and then loving others in light of that. I'm not sure what that looks like, and I've already failed on this I think every one of these twelve days that have passed so far, but that's okay. Part of this is also learning how to give myself grace.

I also love this "grace plan" for the new year by Ann Voskamp. It's a reminder for me to keep counting gifts and to adopt some daily habits to keep me focused and joyful in daily life. Laughter and music are essential, but so are the less-snazzy disciplines of cleaning, and of reading, praying and memorizing, of learning to say 'no' and unplugging more often. Kathryn, our pastor's wife, has been saying this for years, and Ann says it here, too: Just do the next right thing. I repeat this to myself time and again, both when I feel aimless in my days or when I feel overwhelmed. Just do the next right thing. I've shared this song before, Sara Groves' "Setting Up the Pins", but it's one I keep coming back to over and over again. It's actually a common saying in our house. Noelle got her shirt all dirty right after I changed her? Setting up the pins. She pulled all of her toys out of the bucket after we just put them away? Setting up the pins. I just finished the dishes from lunch in time for a new batch after dinner? Setting up the pins. But there's a beauty to those daily tasks, and embracing that beauty can make the difference between a dull day and a delightful one."Sing for the beauty that's to be found in setting up the pins for knocking them down..."

The other post that I'm still chewing on is this piece by Shauna Niequist called "Burn the Candles". It's a simple concept: don't wait for special occasions to enjoy the gifts that people give you (or that you give yourself). "Burn the candles. Not just when people come over. For you, because someone gave them to you. Open the wine and have a glass tonight while you fold laundry. Wear the perfume, the pretty scarf, the whatever that you have tucked in a box, too fancy for you." I saw these words as a sort of invitation to be more intentional about savoring the little things in life. To be better about paying attention to the details, and enjoying what God has given. "This year, brew the good coffee, wear the sparkly jewelry, crack open that fresh journal. Gifts are to be loved, to be burned, to be eaten and used up completely, reminders that someone loves us, that someone thought of us."

Noelle in the owl hat Staci Mae made her for her birthday.

Ann with Noelle and me in the "hipster cowls" she made us for Christmas.

Like I said, no grandiose resolutions for me this year. These are just some things I'm thinking about as I start this year. I do have some small resolutions, like to spend less time on Facebook (see above "resolution" about trying not to compare myself to others) and more time reading (any recommendations? what's one book you read last year that had an impact on you?). Oh, and to give myself more grace (okay, that's a big one, not a small one!). Oh, the beauty of grace. Last week started so rough, and I felt so discouraged. I felt I'd failed straight out of the gate. But I'm so thankful that Jesus is bigger than New Year's resolutions, and that His mercies are new every morning. That, and I'm thankful for this fun video, "Here We Go" by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. Last week it just put a smile on my face and an extra spring in my step on the dreary days. I just want to share it here in closing, in case you're in need of a Monday smile as well. 

"Music, it makes you feel good... feel understood... like you're not alone... 
not the only one on the road..."

And just for fun, here are some of my favorite things from 2014 (thanks, Liz, for the idea!):
Album: Ellie Holcomb's As Sure as the Sun... but I also loved Jill Phillips' Mortar & Stone, Colony House's When I Was Younger, and Melanie Penn's Hope Tonight
Movie: About Time
Book: Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist
TV Show: Parks & Recreation (okay, I am years late with getting on this bandwagon! I'd heard the show was funny, but I had no idea just how happy it would make me. These characters are kind to each other - for the most part - and aren't cynical. It's refreshing given most other TV shows these days. And it just makes me giggle.)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

marvelous light

Usually in December I can't get enough Christmas music. I start playing it as soon as Thanksgiving is over, and I keep it going all month long. Last year, though, was different. Last year, I started December very pregnant, and the impending arrival of our baby almost completely overshadowed all of the usual pre-Christmas hustle and bustle, including my customary Christmas playlist. What I was listening to instead, almost non-stop, was the music of Ellie Holcomb. In retrospect, I can't believe it's taken me almost a full year for me to mention her on this blog, because her songs have been filling our house constantly all year long. I first heard her last summer, but December was when her songs really started taking root deep in my heart. The songs on her two EPs, Magnolia and With You Now are so full of Scripture and Truth, and they were an anchor for me in the final weeks of my pregnancy, when I was full of all of that fear, anticipation, excitement and apprehension.

Ellie's songs were a lifeline to me. I had them on a CD in my car, one in Matt's car, and playing on shuffle in my house almost all day long. Ellie was the special guest last year on Andrew Peterson's Christmas tour, and that's when I first heard the song "Marvelous Light". Around the same time, we received an early release MP3 of the song for supporting Ellie's full album As Sure As the Sun (which released this February) on Kickstarter. So, that song got added to the rotation as well. My labor playlist included a lot of Ellie's music, but when the time came for the final stretch, I asked Matt to just play her songs only. So, Ellie's music was what cheered me on during delivery, and was the first music Noelle heard on this side of the womb.

As Sure As the Sun has been a staple on our stereo all year long. I heard it described as a balm to the soul, and that's been true for me. If I'm having a grumpy day, it helps cheer me up. Her music just fills me with so much joy. And it cheers Noelle up, too. It has happened on more than one occasion that Noelle has been fussing in the car for whatever reason, and playing "Marvelous Light" will calm her down. I'm not exaggerating- this has happened at least 5 times. It's not just music in general, either; other songs may have been playing but once we get to this track, she's quiet. She smiles when I play it at home, and just the other day was kinda singing along with me to the "la la la" part.

Back in August, Ellie submitted a call for videos to be used in her official music video for this song, so Matt, Noelle and I went down to Quail Creek and filmed our own submission. A couple of weeks ago, the video was released, and Noelle and I are in it! You can see us somewhere around the 2:40ish mark (video linked below)! I just love that we got to be a part of this song that has meant so much to our family this year. I hope it brings some hope and joy to your hearts as well.

"Mercy called my name and made a way to fly out of the darkness and into the Light".

You can read Ellie's thoughts on the song here. She has some beautiful things to say about what it is to be fully known - shame and dirt and all - and fully loved by Jesus anyway. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

tuesday tune: the night sky

"Nothing humbles or shows you your worth like the night sky..."

I really enjoy car trips. I enjoy simply sitting and looking out the window for hours on end. On family trips I would usually sit in the very back seat of the van with my Walkman/Discman/iPod and headphones and just watch the world go by. I love looking at towns and neighborhoods and houses and thinking about all of the stories. I remember one particular trip through the outskirts of Indianapolis that filled me with such wonder at the big-ness and small-ness of the world that I still feel a sense of awe when I think about it. Yes, Indianapolis. Who knew? That was just it- the scenery wasn't anything necessarily noteworthy in and of itself, but as we drove past neighborhoods and parks and even strip malls and railroad tracks, I felt like mine was a window to a whole big world with so much life and movement and story and relationship. There is so much story. Everywhere. I remember I was listening to Nichole Nordeman's album This Mystery, and I indeed was feeling alive to the mystery of life. In one song she sings "Oh, great God, be small enough to hear me now," and I just felt so aware of that dichotomy - little me in such a small corner of a big world, under the eyes of a big God who holds all the little stories in his hands. It was a humbling moment for me, on the interstate outside of Indianapolis. I've felt that way since in places both large and small, grandiose (Paris!) and comparatively mundane (Council Bluffs, this past Sunday!).

I'm reading Shauna Niequist's Cold Tangerines right now and I love how she talks about travel: "I've become, since that trip, an equal-opportunity solo traveler. I love Pittsburgh and Hamburg and Pismo Beach. I love Ann Arbor and Austin and Evanston. I love the tacos at La Superica on Milpas in Santa Barbara and the smell of waffle cones on Water Street in Saugatuck... It felt like being at a fancy hotel's breakfast buffet, where you're so overwhelmed by the options, you almost want to give up, but more than overwhelmed, you are delighted, and you want to taste every single bite, and just waking up to the stack of plates makes you feel like something great is happening to you. That's how it feels to be alone in a city, like something great is always about to happen to you."

Reading this made me think of that day riding in my parents' minivan outside of Indianapolis, and of the night a decade ago that I flew into the Twin Cities at sunset and was captivated by those Minnesota lakes interspersed through countless neighborhoods beneath me. I thought of the train rides Matthew and I took all over Europe three years ago, and of countless winter days driving with my family around suburban Cleveland visiting relatives.

Sunday evening, I was on such a road trip with Matthew and Noelle. We were headed west from my hometown in Iowa to our home in Nebraska. The sky was changing as we wound our way through the Iowa fields and the display was stunningly beautiful in its simplicity. I've seen bigger, brighter, more colorful sunsets before, but the sky on Sunday just captivated me for reasons of its own. The clouds were dark, rich with blues and grays. They weren't ominous, but definitely serious, holding the weight of glory. There was a narrow bright ribbon of orange hovering just above the horizon, and the light hit the fields in just the right way that made the greens and golds shine.

Matthew and I were listening to Andrew Peterson's "Don't You Want to Thank Someone?" on repeat and I was simply in awe as we drove. I've traveled that path countless times over the past ten years, and often don't pay much attention. But Sunday... I felt humbled and deeply loved under that twilight sky. Maybe it's a selfish thought, but I felt like the sky was made just for us that night. Most probably didn't really find it all that special, really, but it was to me. I think about what Ann Voskamp says in One Thousand Gifts when she talks about being utterly surprised by the joy of the moon in her backyard: "I pay tribute to God by paying attention." I really felt the blessing of God as we made our way home that evening, and was simply thankful. I think the secret to joy really is just looking out the window from time to time, paying attention to all that he has made, and knowing that it is good.

(Back in June, we heard Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves and Andy Gullahorn perform in Lincoln, and Sara played a new song that she and Andy wrote together called "The Night Sky" and I can't think of a better way to end this post than with these lyrics:)

Woke to a bird song lucid and wild
hallelujah, from mother and child
Nothing welcomes the sun to the sky
like a bird song, like a bird song

Rolling river, drawn to the deep
going under and coming up clean
Nothing calls out a longing, a dream
like a river, like a river

Laying on my back in the tall grass
watch the sun pass and slowly disappear
This whole scene is so extravagant
and I'm the only one here

Oh, the night sky, blankets the earth
sweet harbinger of holiest birth
Nothing humbles or shows you your worth
like the night sky, like the night sky

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

tuesday tune: don't lose heart

Last Thursday night, my life group gals gathered at my place over apple crisp and ice cream to catch up about life. It had been awhile, and it was so good to reconnect. I shared the struggle I've been having lately with fearing the Big Fat World. The woes of the world can be overwhelming at times. I can feel so powerless and so small. I'm such an empathetic person, and following the news at all can leave me so brokenhearted and defeated, with this jarring feeling hitting me in the pit of my stomach. This has only intensified since I became a mother. It's a fight sometimes to choose hope, joy and peace. But those things, though sometimes so hard to grasp, are real. And they are worth fighting for.

My life group sisters were so encouraging to me in helping me sort through these feelings, and I ended the night feeling such a supernatural peace just remembering the power and goodness of God, and the value of doing what I can, where I am, with what I have. Sometimes it just doesn't feel like enough. But choosing hope, and choosing to persevere in the here and now, in my little corner of the world, can make a bigger difference than I realize.

On Saturday morning, Charlotte and Morgan invited me to a women's event that their church was hosting. Different women in different stages of life were sharing about the joys and challenges that come with each of those stages. There was a young mom who shared about her struggle with fear after her daughter was born. She said she would just hold her and weep, so scared of the big, scary world. And she said she felt the Lord remind her of some things that He's told me, too: My daughter is not mine to keep; ultimately, she is His. Matthew and I are just stewards of this blessing. And God's plan for her life is better than anything I could plan for her myself. Ever since He reinforced that to me this weekend I've been feeling so much more peaceful than I have in quite awhile.

Andrew Osenga's "Don't Lose Heart", written to his daughters, sums up my feelings much more beautifully than I could ever hope to communicate myself:

I went walking through the mountains, taking photos for you, girls
I stumbled on a Coke can, we're not worthy of this world
Cigarettes and wrappers scatter on the ancient stone
and the sky as clear as your eyes on the day that you were born

This place is broken, and you're going to find out
and it's going to hurt so bad
but don't try to stop it
for where you are human you will be healed at last

Don't lose heart
don't lose heart
don't surrender to the fear
we're so glad you're here
darling, don't lose heart

Hate the lies but not the liar
watch the flame but fear no fire
you'll find only mercy in the eyes above
You are strong, you are brave, you are lovely, darling, trust me
Don't settle and don't give up on love

No. We've got to fight the easy life
There's too much going on out there to stay wrapped up inside
Find the things you care about and go on a crusade
Clean your little corner up and see what starts to change

Thursday, May 22, 2014

the wonder

I have lived in this house just shy of four years now, and until recently I've never really noticed the beauty of our backyard ash tree. I don't know if I'm noticing it more now that I'm home in the afternoon, and I see it as the pre-twilight sun hits it just right and it nearly glows, or if it's because I'm spending a lot more time standing in my kitchen, washing dishes at the sink, than I ever used to before, but this tree just captivates me these days.

And so I'm left wondering: what other daily treasures am I completely oblivious to? What am I missing in favor of my smart phone or the TV or even my daily, necessary (and often good!) hustle and bustle?

Noelle is over five months old now, and is growing more and more curious every day. I love watching her watch the world. It's awe-inspiring to me to watch the awe in my little girl's eyes. It's crazy to think about all the treats of the world that she hasn't yet experienced. Sunsets! Ice cream! Swimming (if her fondness for splashing in the bathtub is any indication, she's going to love swimming)! I'm so excited to be with her as she discovers it all. It makes me think of this wonderful Kid President video, his "letter to a person on their first day here":

I love what he says about taking it all in. When I pray for my daughter, I pray that she will have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to know Him, that she'll be in tune to the story of His Kingdom around us. I pray that her spirit will be sensitive to His, and that she will have a sense of wonder that will continue beyond her years of childhood innocence. And right now, in her world, this starts with a cat. Noelle is rolling and scooching all over the place, chasing toys, tags, and even her own cute little toes. But when she crawls for the first time, I'm guessing she'll be chasing after Olive The Cat's tail. She's already so fascinated, and grabs a handful of cat hair whenever she gets close enough.

And I know the cat's tail is only the beginning. She'll be chasing things all her life- some good, some bad. But no matter her journey, I really do just pray that she'll be tuned in to the wonder of the world along the way. I pray that for myself as well. This pursuit of trying to be intentional about noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary, the divine in the daily, is what's taken me to #4095 in my gift-counting journal. Some days my vision is narrow and my heart is dull, but the habit of keeping this journal doesn't let me stay in complacency too long. To paraphrase Sara Groves' "Precious Again", the journal is a promise to me that when my love starts to grow cold, He makes it precious again, if I only open my eyes, my ears, my heart with child-like wonder.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

this is not the end (thoughts on Easter)

A couple of weeks ago, Matthew and I and some friends went to hear the band Gungor play at a Benson coffee bar. I think Melissa described the show best by saying the music was "stunningly beautiful". They put on an amazing live show, and I was swept away by the beauty of the evening. Going in to the show, though, there was one song that I kind of dreaded that they'd play, but also hoped with all my heart that they would.

First, some back story. The summer of 2012, Matthew and I went on a vacation to New Hampshire and Maine. Days before we left, we found out I was pregnant. My first miscarriage that spring was still very raw in my heart, so the news of this second pregnancy was laced with trepidation. So I went in to the doctor and had my blood drawn before we left. And we prayed and prayed and prayed and hoped and hoped and hoped... "Please, God. Please let things go better this time." And we flew to New Hampshire and tried to enjoy our vacation anyway, even with hearts full of fear and anxiety. I'm not saying we were right to feel that way, but I'm going to be honest and say that we were oh so nervous. And there I stood on the street in picturesque Portsmouth, listening to that voicemail from my nurse practitioner, "Your numbers aren't where we want them to be"... and then instructions for filling a prescription, and a follow-up appointment, blah blah blah... All I heard was bad news. I fought back tears all during our fish and lobster dinner along the river. We passed a shop window full of onesies and other cute baby paraphernalia on our drive back to our hotel and I lost it. "Not again, God! Not again!" In our hotel room we prayed and cried and tried to hope... The news didn't for sure mean that we were going to lose this baby. So we made a choice. We decided to hope. It was so hard, but we were going to choose to enjoy our vacation and hope anyway.

The next morning, we got in the car and somehow our smart phone managed to automatically sync with our rental car's audio system, and the song that came on, "randomly", was Gungor's "This is Not the End". Whether I should've or not, I took the song as a sign. The baby was going to be okay. This wasn't the end of the story. Everything was going to be okay. And so we prayed and hoped while walking the streets of Portland, Maine, while riding on a lobster boat, while taking in the Portland Head Lighthouse. We fought to hold on to hope while exploring the breathtaking beauty of Acadia National Park, while playing mini golf at Pirate's Cove in Bar Harbor, while eating fish and lobster in countless little restaurants. And the trip was absolutely beautiful in every way. The refrain of my heart throughout was "this is not the end."

But the hard truth of it was that it was the end, at least in the physical sense. That pregnancy didn't have the happy ending we were hoping and praying for. We got back from our trip and went in to the doctor and the baby was okay. But then two weeks later, he wasn't, and we were absolutely devastated. I was angry and felt betrayed.

I struggled with my faith a lot during that season. I just couldn't make sense of why things had to end the way they had when I had felt so sure that God was telling me in the midst of it all that it was going to be okay. Not just in that song, but in so many other ways as well, I repeatedly heard "it's going to be okay". I was angry and confused, and couldn't listen to that song without crying.

This season of grief was so hard. But I look back at it now and see it as one of the most spiritually rich seasons in my life. You see, over time, God showed me that the promise of "this is not the end" hadn't been broken at all. True, the promise didn't mean what I'd wanted it to mean. We lost the baby. But God's promise of redemption? That still stands. And I'm not talking about Noelle. Sure, the birth of our sweet little girl has brought a lot of healing to this mother's once-broken heart. But that's not what this is about. The redemption I'm talking about here, the happy ending even buried under layers of painful circumstances, is Easter.

The Resurrection is always the end to the story for those who believe. No matter how scarring the loss, how tumultuous the trial, how confusing the doubt, that empty tomb brings hope, healing, and redemption. I cried tears of joy at that concert on that rainy night in Benson. Yes, part of the joy was in thinking about my little girl, but even more so was the joy that I'll see my other babies again some day, too. The Resurrection joy is so much more than once-a-year Easter. No matter what the circumstances, the Jesus followers can sing and rejoice every day that this - this broken heart, this broken world, whatever "this" might be for you - is not the end.

This is not the end
This is not the end of this
We will open our eyes wide, wider

This is not our last
This is not our last breath
We will open our mouths wide, wider

And you know you'll be alright
Oh and you know you'll be alright

This is not the end
This is not the end of us
We will shine like the stars bright, brighter

(sunrise over Acadia National Park, July 2012)

Friday, March 21, 2014

when He speaks

I know that change doesn't always happen completely and I know it doesn't always happen automatically, but here I sit at the end of a hard week, thinking - with some longing - about the last time I wrote on this blog. I had so much joy and confidence and freedom that particular day. And those things have stuck around in part since then, but I've also wavered plenty. I've believed lies again. I've compared myself to others again. I've struggled to fight for joy since then. I've been self-focused and self-critical. I've fretted and fussed and have forgotten Truth.

My morning was hard. My daughter was fussy and just wouldn't calm down (she's done this a lot this week- today it was particularly hard because we were away from home). I felt frustrated and inadequate. But then this afternoon this song, Audrey Assad's "You Speak", came on my iPod and was simply refreshing to my soul- exactly what I needed to hear.

You liberate me from my own noise and my own chaos
from the chains of a lesser law You set me free
You liberate me from my own noise and my own chaos
from the chains of a lesser law You set me free

In the silence of the heart You speak
In the silence of the heart You speak
and it is there that I will know You
and You will know me
in the silence of the heart 
You speak, You speak

You satisfy me till I am quiet and confident
in the work of the Spirit I cannot see
You satisfy me till I am quiet and confident
in the work of the Spirit I cannot see

In the silence of the heart You speak

What particularly got to me was the line "You satisfy me till I am quiet and confident in the work of the Spirit I cannot see". It reminded me that if I look for confidence within myself I am always going to come up empty. If I look to Him for my confidence, however, I know that He will turn my weaknesses (which are oh so many) into strength. I've been thinking a lot about this verse this week: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) If I was a natural rock star of a mama, I might not think I need Jesus as much. But knowing that this job does not come naturally to me at all, I know that it is only by God's grace that I can stand. I need Him now more than ever, and I know He will continue to be faithful to give me what I need when I need it. I need to pray daily that He will satisfy me until I am confident in Him and therefore more confident in who He made me to be, weaknesses and all.

Side note: For a limited time, you can get Audrey's live album "O Happy Fault", which includes this song, for FREE on NoiseTrade:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

remembering who i am

I'm not gonna lie - adjusting to motherhood has been rough. Despite all the wisdom I'd received prior to having this baby about how I needed to be prepared to not believe the lies, I've found myself believing them anyway: lies that I'm not cut out for this, lies that I'm going to fail (overall, not just here and there), lies that I'm completely inept at Life in General, and therefore have no business caring for another little person's Life in General... I've heard them all in my spirit, and have believed them more times than not. I'm an extremely insecure person, and nothing has brought these insecurities to the surface more than having this sweet baby in my care. Am I doing this right? Is she eating enough? Is she sleeping too much during the day? Should we be on a schedule by now? Is this amount of spit up normal? How will I get this house cleaned, dinner made, laundry folded? It can be dizzying, and has left me in a mess of tears on a fairly regular basis.

And then Saturday happened. My church life group women - Stacy, Jenn, Michelle, Sara and I - met at Panera for a glorious hour of Truth and coffee. We all shared our struggles - many of which were centered in motherhood - and out of that communion I found a lot of reassurance, joy, and freedom from the lies. I was reminded that everyone doubts themselves - especially in parenting; that God made each of us unique, and therefore asks different things from each of us in terms of how we parent, how we manage our homes, and how we commune with Him; and I was reminded how important it is to just do what I can with what I have, where I am (thank you, Teddy Roosevelt!).

I think what's most daunting about having a daughter is knowing that if I want Noelle to grow up to be confident of who she is in Jesus, to not be so self-focused, to not be weighed down by her weaknesses and insecurities, I know that I have to be the one to set that example for her. I don't want her to grow up watching her mom always second-guess herself, always be so hard on herself, always fret about every little thing. I want her to see a mom who has courage to live life fully even in weakness, and is a woman of joy, even when she messes up (and I will. A lot). And this is more than just putting on a happy face for her sake. I know the only way I can truly change these things in me is to stand up against the lies and stand firmly in the truth of who I am:

Forgiven, beloved
Hidden in Christ
Made in the image of the Giver of life
Righteous and holy
Reborn and remade
Accepted and worthy, this is our new name
(Jason Gray's 'I Am New')

Part of the challenge of living in this freedom is learning to focus on the important things and to not worry about everything else. I'm reading Shauna Niequist's Bittersweet right now, and last night read the chapter "Things I Don't Do". A friend tells Shauna "it's not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What's hard.... is figuring out what you're willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about." Before hearing those words, Shauna, a habitual list-keeper, once wrote "DO EVERYTHING BETTER" on her to-do list, only to let the weight of such a lofty goal suck her spirit dry. In light of her friend's words about priorities, she instead wrote two lists. Her "Things I Do" list includes big things like keeping faith in Christ at the center of her life, making her marriage a deeply connected partnership, giving the best of her day to raise her son, etc. But more interesting to read about was her list of "Things I Don't Do", like gardening, changing out of yoga pants just to leave the house, making the bed, and baking. Her explanations of why she doesn't do those things was really quite profound, and I think can be summed up by saying that you have to go with your gifts. A person can't force an interest, a gift, or a calling. Yes, it's good to try new things. But there are only so many hours of the day and too many phantom expectations bombarding sanity in those fleeting hours.

I haven't fully thought through my two lists yet as I'm still processing the concept (if I ever sit down and spell them out, I'll be sure to share them in a later post), but just the idea of realizing there are things that I just don't have to do in my new life as a stay-at-home-mom (and be okay with not doing them!) gives me a renewed sense of freedom. But that freedom is not without responsibility - I also realize that I need to think more seriously about the gifts that God has given me, and what He's calling me to do with them. And those things need to be my priorities in my day-to-day life. Again, I'm not completely sure what they are yet, but I'm excited to think about them a little more intentionally. 

After reading that chapter last night, the title of one of my morning's daily devotionals was "Finding Your Sweet Spot". This author also talks about what she is and isn't gifted with, and issues us a challenge to do the same: "How has God formed and fashioned you? If it's hospitality and making a home beautiful, then there are people who will be touched by that gift. If it's humor and laughter, then someone needs to find that joy, too. If it's teaching, teach. If it's dancing in the living room with your babies, then dance away. And then, together, let's use those sweet spots to draw people to a God who loves them and is waiting to reveal their gifting, too."

I plan to dance in my living room with my baby a lot. I already have, actually. I'm a terrible dancer - rhythm is not part of my gifting - but I don't care. I want to embrace joy. Not carelessly to the point that I shirk my responsibilities, but recklessly in a way that makes those responsibilities feel lighter and fuller at the same time. 

The joy that was last Saturday culminated in a Jason Gray concert. The host church has a crying room, so we were able to take Noelle with us. Hearing Jason perform last March was one of the most joyful experiences of recent years (you can read the story here), and last Saturday my heart was full as I felt the Spirit move through the stories and the songs, with my husband by my side and my daughter on my lap. 

The last song of the night was the perfect end to that day - a day of vowing to let go of the junk and to instead cling to the truth of who - and more importantly whose - I am:

When I lose my way
and I forget my name
Remind me who I am
In the mirror all I see
is who I don't want to be
Remind me who I am
In the loneliest places,
when I can't remember what grace is

Tell me once again who I am to You
who I am to You
Tell me lest I forget who I am to You,
that I belong to You

Monday, January 6, 2014

the perfect end to our "new year"

Last New Year's Day, I remember sitting on the couch, listening to Eric Peters' Birds of Relocation for the first time, crying tears of release and tentative hope. I sat there in that reflective state that New Year's Day tends to put me in, saying "ha! ha! to the old year" and vowing to usher in 2013 on boughs of hope instead of old despair.

This year, New Year's Day hardly even registered with me. It was lost in a dizzying string of days of diapers and nursing and onesies and everything in between. We stayed up until midnight New Year's Eve, but not by choice. But the new year didn't arrive completely unnoticed. I stopped long enough to think about all the hope and fear that I had in my heart one year ago, and how it's been replaced by a whole different kind of hope (and fear!) as I sat with my beautiful baby girl in my arms. 

December started out as a season of waiting. I had finished my job the week before Thanksgiving, which then left me with what turned out to be three weeks at home, very pregnant and very antsy for Baby to arrive. Advent took on a whole new meaning as I reflected on the coming of another baby, and all the blessed hope that arrival brings. We went to the annual Andrew Peterson Christmas concert, waiting. We read our Advent devotional every day, waiting. I even welcomed a new niece, Lyla, who arrived 8 days before her due date. And I waited. I wrapped presents and watched Christmas movies. Matthew and I decorated our tree and made cookies for our neighbors. It was a beautiful season, really, even though it was hard. As my due date came and went, I faced a daily battle for patience and against anxiety. And then finally, 8 days after my due date, she somehow arrived. Our quivering, beautiful, miracle of a baby girl, Noelle Helen, was here. 

From that moment on, I forgot it was Christmas. It's a good thing the gifts had all been bought and wrapped and the decorations up, because by December 13 everything else in life was gone, it seemed, except for this little baby. We went in to hibernation mode, recovery mode, survival mode, trying to figure all of this out. Frankly, we're still there. 

But there have been moments when we've been able to come up for air just long enough for God to show us some beautiful things. We were able to travel to Iowa for Christmas to celebrate with both of our families, and it was a joy to be together and to introduce everyone to our little Christmas baby. Even though I was sleep deprived and an emotional wreck, I'm so glad to have the memories - of Noelle and Lyla side by side under my parents' Christmas tree, of all of our nieces gushing over their new cousin at Matthew's parents' house, of holding my daughter in my arms as we opened up gifts of cute little dresses and stuffed animals and "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments. Even though she won't remember a thing, her mommy will always remember Christmas 2013 with fondness.

And Christmas Eve itself... beautiful. Our friend Laura goes to the church in Elkhorn where we often go to a lot of concerts (AP's Christmas show among them)... The church was looking for newborns to play Jesus in their various Christmas Eve services, and Laura thought of us. In addition, Laura actually works long distance for Eric Peters, and invited him to town for Christmas Eve to be a part of the services. Thinking about how much his music meant to me this year, I still can't get over how special it was to talk with Eric, to have him meet Noelle, to share the stage with him at the end of this, our "new year". 

We were backstage for most of the service, picking up bits and pieces over the speakers while getting in to our Mary and Joseph garb and getting Noelle "milk drunk" so she'd sleep the whole time she was on stage (and she did!). We were chit chatting with people when I heard a woman singing a song that sounded familiar but took awhile to place. Once I finally recognized it, I stopped and started to cry. It was what I call a "first trimester song", Plumb's "Need You Now". Back in April and May, when I was crazy-fearful at the start of this pregnancy, I had made a mixed CD that I played in my car and my iPod constantly. This CD was a mix of songs about hope and how God is always at work even in the hard times. Kristine had texted me during this time to tell me that she heard "Need You Now" on the radio and thought I needed to hear it too. So I bought it and added it to the mix. I would listen to it on repeat in the kitchen, singing and crying in desperate prayer as I fought to hold on to God in the midst of the fear and the waiting of that first trimester. "How many times have You heard me cry out 'God, please take this'? And how many times have You given me strength to just keep breathing? Oh, I need You, God I need You now." Hearing this song as part of the Christmas Eve service was so unexpected and so personal. I'll never forget it. It made a special night all the more beautiful. 

The time came to take the stage. We knew nothing about the context of the skit we were a part of, nor of the music that was planned. All we knew was that a woman would be holding Noelle for awhile during "the song". We did not know that "the song" was going to be "Behold the Lamb of God", the title track from AP's Christmas album. If I hadn't been on stage, I would've wept during the whole thing. I was in awe as Eric and the others sang the song around us, as I watched my beautiful little girl while also reflecting on the glory of the magnitude of the Christmas story. I was humbled and amazed, my heart full of wonder and praise at the goodness and grace of God. Here's a video that Laura took for us:

And... I really don't know how to end this. To be honest, it's a wonder I was able to write anything relatively coherent in the first place. So, instead of words, I'll leave you with this:

Happy New Year from Matthew, Nicole, Noelle and Olive the cat!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

i just want to thank someone for this

I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around 'December' this afternoon. I've been waiting for December ever since April when I first saw those two little pink lines that spring morning. I was thinking about December all spring in between bouts of all-day sickness, all summer as my belly started to grow, and all fall as the winter seemed so close I could almost touch it yet so very far away.

And now it's here, but it doesn't feel like December. I put on some Christmas music this afternoon in hopes that it would get me in the mood to decorate for Christmas. It sort of worked, but with the sun shining and Matthew outside without a coat raking up leaves, December still feels a long ways off. We are days from our due date, weeks from Christmas with family, and today it feels like it's the beginning of October with nothing but waiting stretched out ahead of us.

Matthew and I had a very nice Thanksgiving, just the two of us. This was the first time, and quite possibly the last time for 20 years, that we celebrated with just us two (well, 2.975). Matthew cooked a delicious turkey and we made all the fixin's. We watched movies and played games and just enjoyed the day - the whole weekend, actually. We know everything's about to change, so we're trying to savor all we can of our "normal life" before our normal changes.

And now Thanksgiving is over. I've put my pumpkin spice candles away in favor of cranberries and peppermint, the big leaf bowl on the center of the kitchen island has been swapped for the snowman bowl from my mother-in-law, and the Christmas tree is up next to the fireplace waiting to be decorated.

And we wait. Advent has some added significance this year. Our hearts wait to celebrate the Incarnation, and Matthew and I wait to welcome our child into this world, any day now.

Below is probably one of my top 5 favorite songs ever, "Don't You Want to Thank Someone" by Andrew Peterson. It haunts me and blesses me and fills me with wonder in thinking about the Story, and how God continually reveals more and more of it in the sorrows and in the joys. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and happy Advent. He is coming soon...

'Cause I can hear the voice of one
He's crying in the wilderness
"Make ready for the Kingdom Come"
Don't you want to thank someone for this?