Archives for category: Life in general
chef tre

Christina and me with Chef Tre Wilcox

Ok, so it wasn’t actually “Chopped” and I was simply one part of a winning team, but the Sprouts Food Challenge at Tre Wilcox’s Cooking Concepts kitchen made me feel pretty awesome. The whole experience fueled this curious, creative part of me that doesn’t get a lot of attention being a full-time parent.

I started learning this lesson after Cortland was born 3 years ago. I had 3-year-old Harper and a newborn. I was a full time stay at home mom. Admittedly, a little bit of a hermit hiding out indoors from, you know, germs and anything else that would threaten our infant’s life. I was seriously lacking some sort of creative expression. Around Christmas, I decided to make a set of Advent lesson cards and activities for our family to do together. Not only did the family thoroughly enjoy the daily activities, but I realized I had been seriously neglecting a part of me that needs to be alive and well. That said, I’ve been cognizant to make sure I keep some sort of creative outlet open. It makes for a happier life.

cooking concepts, chef tre wilcox, chopped

Our team with Chef Tre Wilcox of Cooking Concepts at the Sprouts Food Challenge.

That said, my night out at Cooking Concepts was sort of like the pinnacle of creative expression. Sprouts hosted the outing and supplied a wide array of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, as well all kinds of high-quality meats and seafood – not to mention a pantry full of odds and ends. We numbered off randomly into teams and were given the task of creating two different dishes, each using these four required ingredients: black beans, marinara, matzo crackers and balsamic vinegar. We were given 40 minutes to make a game plan and execute. It was a blast. If you live anywhere in the Dallas area, get your spouse or a group of friends together and check out Cooking Concepts.

After the competition, we were treated to a delicious meal made by Chef Wilcox and his team. While we dined on salmon, steak, and perfectly prepared comfort food side dishes, a dietitian from Sprouts enlightened us on summer cooking trends and ways to keep ourselves and our kids hydrated during the hot, Texas summer months. Isn’t Sprouts just the best? They’re a regular grocery stop for our family.

Listen, just because you’re a grown up or a parent or have a real job that pays the bills doesn’t mean that you have to stifle the creative spark you have. Find something that ignites it and then invest yourself. Music, art, cooking, dancing, writing – whatever it is. You’ll find yourself alive again in ways that you thought were only meant for childhood and simpler times.

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I don’t like asking for favors. Even small ones. For example: asking a neighbor to get our mail when we’re out of town. Getting the mail is a super easy job. The required amount of activity, deductive reasoning skill and manual labor is quite trivial, but I profusely apologize like I’ve just asked Senora Aurora (next door neighbor) to be the surrogate mother of our next child (that analogy is strictly to illustrate a point! Plus she’s definitely past child-bearing years). Then, when we return and I walk next door to retrieve the collected mail, I am sure to bring four different quick breads, fresh out of the oven, to thank her for the major inconvenience I caused her.

Now, when neighbors ask me to collect their mail? Really, truly no big deal. It is zero percent a hassle. In fact, it’s sometimes nice to have a reason to take a little stroll down the street. I’ve tried to internalize the fact that (hopefully!) my neighbors really, truly feel just as unbothered by little favors as I do so that I can not be afraid to become real friends with them. Because real friendship is built through real life and not just niceties, right? And when I humble myself to be put in a position of debt to my neighbor or friend or family member, usually I am rewarded by their willingness to be equally as vulnerable. Just ask my super awesome neighbor Becky. She fed and watered Frankie the rabbit every day and (in the pouring rain) checked in our chickens multiple times while we were gone over Thanksgiving. She’s one of the sweetest, easy-to-be-friends-with women I know. Now get this. She’s 9 months pregnant. I know. I can see you all shaking your heads. What monster asks their dear neighbor who’s about to pop a baby out to feed their livestock for a week? ME. I’m that monster. I owe her big time and at least 10 quick breads.

Superstar neighbor Miss Becky

Superstar neighbor Miss Becky

My mom and my dad. In my 32 years, I have already drawn out SO many favors from them. Before I ever really realized how much I was taking and even now when I do realize it. When it comes to their willingness to give or extend favor to me, the supply never seems to dry up. Although I know how generous they’ve been with me through my life, I am still never afraid to ask for help. They may be the only two people on this earth whose well of favor I’m not afraid to keep drawing from. Even with my husband Matt, I sometimes still think in terms like this when there’s something I want to ask of him: Ok, when was the last time he went out to play basketball with his friends because there’s a Noonday party I want to go to with my friends. It’s like we think that kindness and generosity are measurable units that we can trade, stockpile, or deplete. And that very well could be true with most humans because many of us are keeping score. NOT GOD. My eyes well up just resting on that truth because He gives and gives and gives generously to all without finding fault.

I stop and pray every time I see a prayer request come through Facebook. This afternoon, there were several prayer requests in a row for major health concerns. By the third or fourth prayer request, I found myself forgetting that God is not keeping score of how many favors I’ve asked of Him. Praying like this: God, I know I’ve just asked for three other miracles, so…well…okay yeah, since I’m overloading You, I’ll be back to pray for this tomorrow when the favor-meter has been recharged. His favor, his love for us, his desire to do good in our lives does not dry up. You can’t ask too many times for too many favors. He can do all that and infinitely more. If I believe (and I do) that He gladly receives my request of Him to heal three people in a row, then why not ask healing for the fourth? I take my own insecurities and misguided conclusions about myself and other people, then I apply them to a God who is just not like me. Praise you, Lord!

I hope I can mature to a place with my people, and surely with my God, where kindness, good, generosity, neighborliness, love, and favor is so abundant in our lives that it passes freely between us, no tabs kept. I pray that we can desire those things with so much fervor that our communities are not so fragmented, fractured, and broken. Thank you to all of you who, like my parents, have let me take more than I have given back without being offended; when you do that, God’s likeness is tangible and precious in your living, breathing example of endless favor.

Matt and I used to watch Storage Wars every once and awhile. I was struck by how much stuff is packed into those units. Then how many units are on any one storage facility’s property. Then how many storage facilities there are per city, per state, per country, you get the idea. So much stuff. I don’t rent a storage unit but, for all intent and purpose, that’s exactly what our garage is. I’m sure I don’t know half of what’s in there at this point. Boxes that sit untouched for literally years. We recently opened a letter from one of our Compassion kids and read that she sleeps in a hammock in their hut with dirt floors. I thought about what it would be like to try and explain the concept of storage units to little Napthali. The imagined conversation was embarrassing and convicting.

When Christ taught us how to pray he included, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Then of course there’s the Israelites wandering in the desert, eating manna from heaven. Such an interesting story. God commanded them to gather only what they needed for that day, no more. If anyone gathered more than they needed, it would rot by morning. Was God teaching Israel how to need Him? Do we EVER purposely try to need Him? To depend solely on His mercies. To look heavenward and pray that the bread will keep falling. Needing God is really something we only do when we feel we have no other choice. What if I actively pursued being needy with God?

For the Israelites then or for me now, what would that kind of dependency do for my relationship with the Provider? It would keep me from settling too deep into my comfort. It would keep me healthy – just the right amount of full. It would keep me humble for sure. And keep me honest. Keep me from rotting. If I could keep my spirit right, I might even not complain too much about eating the same meal every day for 40 years straight.

I’m finding that I’m in a season of life where I feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, so to speak. Too much going on. I know I’m over-doing it because I’m routinely forgetting things, being irritable with my kids, feeling like I’m a step behind, and being resentful about some of the things I’ve committed to. It made me think that perhaps I’ve taken too much manna in my scheduling and when manna is taken in excess, it spoils and sours.

Embracing our need to need God seems to be the goal. Train ourselves to run full speed at life more abundantly in Christ and not even worry about a plan B. We’re America and we believe that being needy is not becoming on us. Actually, while I’m at it, let’s broaden that sweeping generalization to include all of mankind. So we collect things and pad our existence with comfort. Probably it’s our natural instinct…we don’t like to impose on others. Burden them with our pains, be it physical, emotional, spiritual. We like favors owed, a variety of resources at our disposal, and good back-up plans. We value self-sufficiency, promote independence, and applaud individual successes.

All of those are not bad things in themselves. Even with Israel, their sin was not simply having the extra manna. It was the disobedience in gathering more than God told them they could. It seems that we tend to really believe we need the extra manna. To save for a rainy day. Or we just want it because stockpiling feels a little like insurance. We hope we don’t need to use it, but it feels nice to have it there. So how can I resist the excess? Honestly, I don’t know that I’m spiritually mature enough at this point to really answer that. But logic tells me to start with the places where I hoard. That’s different for everyone – those spots could be literal or figurative. Clean it all out, man. Cut stuff out. Get rid of it. Give it away. Free ourselves. Travel lightly through this life. Stop rotting from the inside. And then fill those spaces back up with my need to need God and God alone. Let Him be enough for me and trust that the Spirit does indeed fill all my empty voids, real or imagined.

I’ll start with my schedule: taking on only what’s healthy for me. Some superwomen might be out there doing my life times ten, but I just want to be happy and content while I go about my business, you know? I’m going to take some time to figure out where my limits are and practice the art of saying No. Material things, emotional baggage, social engagements, activities and affiliations, cold hard cash…where do you take on too much instead of letting Christ be enough? Oh, and my garage? I won’t consider that place a war zone until I cannot make my way from one end to the other…

This picture has nothing to do with this post, but I shot it tonight and just think she's so stinkin' cute! I had to share.

This picture has nothing to do with this post, but I shot it tonight and just think she’s so stinkin’ cute! I had to share.

Just one more...

Just one more…

Why stop now? People seem to like this format. Since my blog as of late has turned into a diary of sorts with which I confess the most selfish parts of me, let’s rip off another band-aid, shall we?

I’ve set out to really work on changing something about my character. It’s a fundamental flaw of mine – something so deeply embedded into my way of thinking that I only realize I’m doing it every once in a while. Maybe you struggle with this, as well, even if just in your subconsciousness. Here it is: I, for most of my life, only begrudgingly celebrate the successes of others. Sometimes I have a hard time even acknowledging when someone I know and/or love does something great. The center of this problem is my struggle with pride, which you can read about here.

Why do I do this? Honestly, I think the reason is that I misguidedly believe that if I acknowledge or celebrate the success or talent of someone else, it somehow diminishes my own talent or success. Which is ridiculous. But, for me, it really sometimes feels like admitting defeat if someone else’s garden is producing more fruit than mine. Or a friend’s photography or craft or baking business is really taking off and those things are really still just hobbies for me. Or – get this – someone I love and/or admire offers me insightful, intelligent, spiritual advice that I hadn’t come to on my own. Those are all real life examples of things I’ve not wanted to celebrate in other people because I have this problem where I think I need to be better. Man, that hurts me to say out loud.

The reason this is heartbreaking is because, often, what I’m really rejecting is a God-given gift, ability, or trait that someone is choosing to use for His glory! How could my response be anything but celebratory? Does it somehow make me MORE successful or talented to ignore the achievements of others? Of course not! And I really, really want my love for Christ and for others to be so great that a win for my friends really feels like a win for me, too. I want my people to know that I’m rooting for them and I really want to be a source of encouragement for people who are using their gifts!

I will say, there are some gifts people have that I have no problem giving a Standing O for. Singing is one of them. I am NOT a good singer. Not at all. I try and I dream and I pray for an angelic voice but, well, that request remains a prayer list staple… My sister is an incredibly talented singer. Since I know I’m not competitive in the singing race, it’s easy for me to give her praise and not feel a pang of jealousy. She’s better than me and that’s all there is to it. In fact, I cry happy tears when she sings because her talent is so wrapped up in the heart of God that I can hear him through her voice. Sometimes awesome graffiti makes me cry. Sometimes it’s a youtube video of a world class ballerina or a street drummer in New York. I can’t do any of those things well and they are using their gifts so beautifully that I am awestruck and grateful to the God who made them and gave them such talent.

But from now on, I want to be someone who applauds my “competition” instead of toeing the line with jealousy at their achievement. That said, I’m going to start calling out my friends and family for the things they do that are grand, be it a delishly prepared apple pie or the gentlest, most thoughtful encouragement, or a blow-my-mind expert parenting move. I want to celebrate you people because you are worth celebrating. You are inspiring and smart and beautiful and all kinds of talented. Thank you for embracing your gifts and sharing them with me!

Well, I got rather depressing news a couple months ago. Some back story first. When you think of the people in your life – when their image is conjured up by someone mentioning their name – do you have a go-to mental picture for each of them? Let me explain this better. My Grandma Swanson: She’s at her kitchen counter at their old house in Lincoln, bent over something delicious. Maybe homemade bread, possibly rhubarb pie, often heart-shaped sugar cookies, or it could be her own canned jams. Well, she’s either in the kitchen or beating us all in a card game. My sister Caitlin is on a stage being beautiful, singing her heart out and charming everyone within earshot. One Jenna is eating JuJuBees and wearing red sweat pants while the other Jenna dips honey wheat pretzels in oily natural peanut butter – we’re laughing and telling stories. I’m cruising O with Whitney in either her or my station wagon, drinking Lemonberry Slushes – it’s summer and we have not a single care in the world. My mom is sewing or scrapbooking or baking or packaging a gift for someone – she’s doing a lot of different things and none of them require sitting for any length of time! Whether these images have been stamped on my memory due to repetition or due to isolated events that simply made a big impression on me or due to the good feelings that those moments created, they are important because they are lasting.

So, I posed this question to Harper awhile back, “Harper, close your eyes and think of Mama. What am I doing?”

She responded quickly, “You’re working.”

“What kind of work?” (Hoping she’d say gardening or laundry or cleaning – at least something truly productive)

“On your computer.”

Ouch. If you know me and how I feel about technology and social media, this was truly a punch in the gut. And you should know I’m rarely ever doing actual “work” on the computer – I’m typically just making the rounds on Facebook or the blogs. I have a love/hate relationship with screens and have made a conscious effort to limit my time online over the past four months or so. Therefore, I am inclined to defend myself. To tell you about how often we bake or garden or play at the park together. I FEEL like we are constantly logging those quality hours and I FEEL like I’ve drastically cut back on my own screentime. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what I FEEL or even how much quality time I actually spend with them if what they perceive is that I’m hooked to a screen. Perception is reality, yes?

So, to combat my inclination to get lost in scrolling, I moved my entire computer desk to a place where I rarely go during the day – our bedroom. I only recently upgraded to a smartphone a month ago, but I have made myself accountable to my husband to not download apps that devour my precious time without adding any real benefit to my life (for me, no social media at all). I understand that these years are fleeting and I want to be present for them. What’s more, I want to set the precedent in my household of how we hope and expect our daughters to act with technology when they’re old enough to have screens. I’m hoping that, given a few more months of my intentional self-discipline to not be consumed by technology, I will be able to get a different answer from my oldest daughter.

You see, for my children, I desperately don’t want their go-to mental image of me to be hunched over a screen. They deserve my eyes and my undivided attention. I don’t want them to look over and see the top of my head when my smile is how I want them to think of me. When I’m not with them, I want them to remember me and feel happy because my general presence in their lives is inviting and warm, not cold, closed off and consumed by a device. Another thing, I don’t want them to picture me with my phone constantly aimed at their faces, snapping away psychotically until I get a shot worthy of Instagram. If they see me bowing to something, I want to be bowing in prayer and not to a stupid phone. If they think I can’t get enough of something, my unquenchable thirst better be for God’s life-giving Word and not the life-sucking internet.

Harper’s honest answer, although painful and a bit embarrassing, was a challenge. A reminder. A reprimand. A gut-check. But ultimately an opportunity to reroute and start doing things differently. To start creating a mental-image in their memories that I can be proud of and a pattern of behavior that I can live with. If you struggle with this, too, just start with maybe trying to make sure the people around you don’t see the top of your head very often. Eyes are a much better view. If you’re not sure what your people are perceiving about you, then ask them. You are painting your own self-portrait – better make sure your legacy is looking the way you hoped it would.

 

 

One of the worst things you can be in America 2015 is someone who judges the actions or decisions or lifestyles of your fellow man. I am a person with conservative beliefs. But I go online and read some articles or blogs, what have you, and second guess myself because our culture hates intolerance more than murder or adultery. In our New Age era where we’re supposed to follow our hearts and accept everything, I am afraid to even own up to my dissenting opinions. And yet, I have this thing inside of me that pushes back and I realize: I have been grossly neglecting and underutilizing my most powerful spiritual weapon: the Holy Spirit living in me. I read comments by LOTR actor John Rhys-Davies yesterday about how we’ve lost our moral compass and what it means for Christianity. I had the bulk of this blog post sitting in my drafts folder, but that interview inspired me to finish collecting my thoughts on the necessity of judging.

In reality, not only do I pass a steady stream of judgments throughout my day, good judgment is essential to my health and safety. I stop at red lights. I look before crossing the street. I don’t eat roadkill squirrels in the gutter. I decide to wear clothes. And beyond myself, I actively instruct our children to make all these same judgments. To consciously weigh the benefits and consequences of the actions, thoughts, and words that fill their days. Of course, whether or not I walk into oncoming traffic is a matter of life and death – not a moral judgment. But if I saw a person walk into oncoming traffic, I would surely say that he is either blind, mentally ill, confused, or suicidal. Can’t the same logic translate over to our spiritual lives? I think it can and should. All around me, people are walking into oncoming traffic in their moral and spiritual lives, not believing – some not knowing – that they have put themselves at serious risk. They may be blind, sick, confused or depraved, but they’re there. In the middle of the road. Consequences manifest themselves physically and emotionally, of course, but the spiritual self is the part of the person most at risk…especially when those who DO know better are not warning about the oncoming traffic.  I get it, though. It’s hard to speak out when you know that your words could cost you. It can cost real money. See: the privately owned businesses who were court ordered to fork over thousands and thousands of dollars after refusing business to gay couples. It can cost real relationships. It can cost real comfort. From Jesus: “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” John 15.18. Sometimes when the world hates you, you’re on to something.

There’s a big flipside, though. Scripture is also clear about the dangers of judging each other. Matthew 7: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ “…and Luke 6: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 

Then there’s this really interesting little verse in John 7 (v24): “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”  I really like the NLT version: “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” So, apparently there is a right way to judge, but also a wrong way. Instead of rejecting the popular notion that judging is wrong altogether, maybe we need to simply examine the way we use judgment. Are we doing it the correct way or the way that gets us into spiritual trouble?

The difference reminds me of a concept I learned while taking a parenting class called “Growing Kids God’s Way”. The lesson was about kids tattling/telling on each other. Bottom line: where is the heart of the tattler? Is he tattling on his sister because he wants to see her get into trouble? Because he wants to elevate himself as the better child? Because he thinks tattling will earn him some sort of reward? Because he wants her to feel guilty and ashamed? All of those are, of course, wrong reasons and our kids get punished for tattling. The class taught that the only good reason a child would “tell” to his parents was because he feared for the health and safety of his sibling. Example: he saw his sister about to walk into oncoming traffic and ran to his father for help. That’s the good kind of “telling” and comes from a heart of love and genuine concern.

Adult application. Bottom line: where is your heart when you judge? Do you judge someone because you’d like to see them “get what they deserve”? Because you feel better about yourself when you can look down on someone else? Because you think judging will earn you some sort of reward or points? Or maybe because you want someone else to feel guilty and ashamed? All of those are, of course, wrong reasons. Is gossip involved? Is slander involved? If so, wrong kind of judging. Is prayer involved? Is getting to know someone intimately (“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly”) part of it? Do you feel compassion for your brother or sister? Then proceed with caution.

God gave me the Holy Spirit, who is my judgment-helper, to get me through life. All facets of life. Good judgment stops me from licking doorknobs. Good judgment keeps me from over-investing in relationships that drain me. Good judgment grounds me from throwing the towel in on parenting in the middle of super hard days. And if you’re someone who knows the truth and hears the Spirit prodding you, you need to speak up in private, heartfelt conversations with the people who you have love and concern for – the ones who are standing in the middle of the road, somehow thinking it’s safe there.

My kids were being pretty annoying in the car last week. Cortland has figured out Harper’s annoyance triggers, not that Harper hides them super well, but, in no time at all, Cort has become an expert in exploiting her sister’s weaknesses. Here is how it went: We were driving home from gymnastics and Cortland started saying, “I’m five! I’m five!”. Harper, who actually is five, became quickly agitated and started yelling, “You’re not five! You’re TWO! YOU’RE TWO!!” As any other parent can attest, Harper’s tantrum reaction only served to encourage Cortland’s insistence of being five. “MOM! Are you listening to her? She’s saying she’s five! She’s NOT five! She’s NOT! She’s two! She’s saying she’s FIVE!” Tears. Balled up fists. Screaming. Kicking my seat in frustration.

That's right. These angels.   Photo by Brighten Photography

That’s right. These angels.
Photo by Brighten Photography

I could not believe how ridiculous the scene had become. I talked Harper down eventually and somehow was able to reason with her. We talked about how I am the final authority on how old Cortland is. I was there when she started being a person. She wouldn’t be here without me. Just because Cortland says she’s five doesn’t make her five. She is completely, totally, and helplessly obligated to the same system of time and counting and aging that we are all tied to. She doesn’t get to skip ahead or fall behind. Maybe she wants to be five, but she is two. Maybe she says she is five, but she is two. Maybe she even really believes she is five. Know what? She’s still two. I am the final authority on this topic. I know the real truth, despite what anybody says. So, Harper, trust that what is truth will continue to be.

The whole conversation stuck in my thoughts later for quite some time. I noted that her behavior is not far from lots of adults I know, at times even me. We throw (super annoying) adult sized tantrums (typically on social media) when our feathers get ruffled over something another mere man says or decides. We who are in Christ should know by now that God is our final authority. He knows the truth. He was there when this all started and we wouldn’t be here without him. A man saying he’s a woman does not make him a woman. Legislation going into effect governs the law of the land; it does not govern the law written on our hearts. We look ridiculous with balled up fists, screaming, red-faced, kicking the back of God’s seat, “Did you hear that?! Do you hear what they’re saying?? It’s not true! It’s NOT TRUE!”

Maybe you’re not a tantrum thrower (and thank you), but you feel anxiety mounting when you hear unsettling news, whether it’s national news or a disagreeable set of views from someone close to you. Don’t stop after the first verse of John 14, but that’s what I’ll include right here. From Jesus: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me.” I have to include verses 16 and 17 because they’re so interesting: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.” My takeaway here? If I’m getting all up in arms or letting worry nag at me and trouble my heart, I’m showing a lack of faith in God’s sovereignty and a fundamental distrust that Jesus is who he says he is.

Once more: We who are in Christ should know by now that God is our final authority. Not the President. Not the Courts. Not strangers, not friends, not family, not even our emotions with all their twists and turns. If you don’t know what’s real and what’s not, ask the One who is Truth to reveal it to you. You will waste a lot of time finding out the Truth if you’re sifting through talk shows and blogs and articles and newsfeeds. Just go straight to the source. God knows the real truth, despite what anybody else says. So, friends, trust that what has always been truth, is yet truth, and will continue to be.