Monday 25 February 2013

Another fractured shard

How do you say good-bye?

How do you let go of the one thing that wasn't even on your radar as being uncertain this year? This year, when everything else is one giant question mark, how do you let go of the one thing that was supposed to be a sure thing?

Yes, The News. It's official now: Our church plant is dissolving.

Dissolving. Is that the right word? What do you call it when your fearless leaders decide that it wasn't enough, we weren't enough, it wasn't big enough or growing fast enough or likely to be sustainable soon enough or just ENOUGH ALREADY I don't want to talk about.

How stupidly wrong was I, hey? I feel like such an idiot. It was so unexpected, completely out of nowhere. It's been a month now so my head is no longer spinning, my feelings aren't quite so raw, but it still hurts.

One more fractured shard to add to my church mosaic.

I want to be angry. I am angry. I want to rant about broken assurances and betrayed trust and dashed hopes and giving up too easily and deciding too prematurely and what happened to commitments and community and discussions and options and -

but I can't.

I can't because I know the hearts of our once-leaders, still-friends, and they are good. Truly. If you knew these people...I wish you did. I mean, these are good folk. They love wholeheartedly and live fully and care passionately and how do you stay angry at that?

Which just leaves me feeling

So sad.

We'll check out other church plants together, they say. Find another place to dispose of us, ease their guilt (I'm being unfair and I know it but this is unfair, this is wrong), but I'm So Not Interested. I can't do another church plant, not yet. Too easily begun and too easily abandoned. We wrestled for months over our decision to fully commit to this one, talked and prayed and talked some more, before deciding that yes, we could wholeheartedly give ourselves to this church. Yes, we responded, yes, we could agree to the two year commitment they were asking of their core team. Yes. And now here we are only one year later and forget it. Game over.

Game over.

I am aware, though, more keenly than ever, of the choice I have in how I internalize this. Is this just another reason to be bitter and cynical, to distrust the wider church? Or can I reach the place where I can honestly say that it was worth it for a season? It feels like that's what I'm supposed to say, but I don't mean it, not yet. Maybe after a while I'll be able to look back and say yes, I'm glad it was there for that season, even if it couldn't last, but right now it's just more hurt, more lost relationships, more time pouring myself into something only to have it yanked out from under my feet.

It truly was good while it lasted, though. It was healing. I want to hang on to that, want, wholeheartedly, to choose the latter path of acceptance of what is and appreciation for what was.

But right now I feel like all I can manage is warming a pew in the nearest mainline church, nicely established and not going anywhere, a place where I can lick my wounds and maybe find some fellowship and sustenance. Heck, we've had true community in such a church before; maybe we'll get lucky and stumble into again. I want it, both for myself and my family, my children. I haven't told them yet, by the way. I don't know what to say.

I don't know what else to say now, either. Here today, gone tomorrow, I guess that's everything in life. God, our only sure thing, never-changing and always with us. If anything, I suppose it's good to be reminded of that once in a while.

But God. I'll miss them so damn much. And isn't that the root of it all? I want to be angry, I want to blame, I want to rant and rage because it's easier than feeling the hurt. But it does hurt. We all hurt right now. We'll all miss each other. No one wanted this. And I know that if I'm this sad, it can only be worse for them, the ones who painfully and prayerfully made this decision because they truly believed it was the right decision to make.

And now, a new chapter. Let's see where it takes us.

This is, after all, my year of being Open.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Weekend Reading

When a mother's swear becomes a prayer @ Emily T. Wierenga
I found myself crying a lot, and worrying my oldest son whose heart is as tender as mine, and swearing a lot under my breath, quietly so they couldn't hear, and most often, it was the German word for shit. "Scheisse."

Only, it wasn't just a swear. It was a lifeline. It was a prayer, for this knelt-over mother.

How Gentleness Makes Our Children Great @ (In)courage
I was tired and overwhelmed, and I just wanted compliance. I wanted him to honor me by obeying me; I wanted be biblical in the training of my child. I wanted to raise an obedient child so that one day he would be great.

But my son, with the bright blue eyes, he was sad. Very, very sad.

He thought he was bad; not the bad in the understanding that we are all born with a sinful bent, but the bad as in an “I’m not lovable” bad. And he wasn’t just sad, he was angry. He was angry because he didn’t think he could change. He was angry that he couldn’t help his immaturity. He was angry that we just kept trying to spank the immaturity out of him.

And when he looked at me with wet eyes and said, “God doesn’t love me” I broke.

Spanking, first-time obedience, over and over and over and over, and honor, and love, and sadness and anger, and we both just broke.

There has to be a better way @ A Deeper Family
We say things like, “I’m OK. My parents embarrassed me when I was a kid, and I turned out just fine.”

But are we? Did we?

When we’re in the middle of perpetuating the same cycle of shame with our own children that our parents, our pastors, our teachers, etc. visited on us, can we really say that we’re fine, or is it more likely that we might’ve turned a single verse in proverbs into a theology of discipline that is ultimately about power instead of love. Are we “OK,” or are we failing to see the intrinsic value in the Imago Dei imprinted on each and every one of our precious children, and seeing them instead ultimately as reflections of our own selves?

The Grace to Do Nothing: On Social Justice in the Neighborhood @ Reclaiming the Mission
We were in the middle of a discussion at one of our missional communities. We were talking about the challenges of being a missional community in the neighborhood and the subject turned to finding “what we are supposed to do next.”

After listening for a while, I felt prompted to say “maybe the best thing we can do is do nothing.” I offered that maybe what we are supposed to do is the opposite: Do (emphasis on :”do”) nothing. Instead, our main task is to be “with” people in and around our lives long enough, years maybe, to listen and become friends, partners in life, sufficient to offer who we are and what we have become in Christ in exchange for their friendship and their support and who they are.

Friday 22 February 2013

The perfect meatball

It was the boy who began the whole thing.

Sometimes I like to outsource that one bane of my existence, the dreaded Meal Planning. I mean, really! Three meals a day, seven days a week, month after month after month! I don't care what we eat, just please please please make me stop having to decide.

Anyway. Outsourcing. So I make everyone else choose a meal each week because it cuts the number of meal-based decisions I have to make nearly in half, which is almost enough to keep my sanity intact. And one week, the boy requested spaghetti and meatballs.

I've tried the occasional meatball recipe. Some of them have been passable. Many of them haven't even turned out. ("Oh, you wanted us to stay round? Yeah well TOO BAD.") In short, they have never been part of our regular meal rotation, so it was a bit of an unexpected request. Still, a meal plan is a meal plan and I wrote it down on the week's menu.

Sure, I didn't have to decide what to eat for that one particular meal. I did, however, have to find a decent meatball recipe. I browsed through my cookbooks. I studied all the top ones at All Recipes. I took pieces of this one and bits of that one and somehow it all morphed into something that hey, actually wasn't half bad!

Later that week, the meatballs came up in a discussion with a friend. I don't know how, just one of those things, you get together with your friends and end up discussing what you're all making for dinner that night. More meal ideas, right? So anyway, meatball discussion. My friend offers me some tips she got from her friend. I make mental notes, determined to improve on my "not half bad" meatballs.

The boy requests the same meal next week. Perfect. I can try out these new tips. I vaguely recall something about diced bread and mixing it by hand, but I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting something.

So I text my friend and then turned to my husband.

"I just asked my vegetarian friend about making meatballs. Does that make me a terrible person?"

"Yes. Yes it does."


So there you have it. I'm a terrible person. My sincere apologies to any vegetarians reading this. (Which, actually, probably not a whole lot. This is a post about meatballs, after all.)

Said vegetarian friend texts me back with the tips: Bread (crust removed), eggs, Parmesan, seasoning. Mix, shape, cook in skillet.

I add the bread to my franken-recipe, tweak this, adjust that. These ones actually surpass the stage of "not bad" and enter firmly into Quite Good territory.

Still, I'm not looking for Quite Good. I'm looking for Downright Amazing. Fortunately, the boy has decided that spaghetti and meatballs are his new favourite meal, so I have a lot of opportunities to improve on my recipe. Does it really make a noticeable difference if the crusts are removed? What amounts of Parmesan and milk are ideal? What combination of spices works best? With onions or without? Skillet or oven?

Until finally one night, it happens: Downright Amazing.

These truly are my perfect meatball. Perfect texture. Perfect combination of spices. Perfect ability to maintain their shape without being tough or hard. Perfect taste. Just all-around perfect.

Double the batch and bake half, freeze half. Toss them with your favourite pasta sauce and serve over spaghetti. Use them in place of sausage in Tortellini Sausage Soup. Or simply eat them as is - as soon as these babies come out of the oven, I start popping them like candy. The kids can find their own meal. The meatballs are mine. My preciousessssss.

Perfect Meatballs

1 lb ground beef
1 slice bread, cubed
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup milk
1/4 onion, diced
1 egg
1 Tbsp parsley
2 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt

1. Mix all ingredients by hand in a bowl.
2. Shape into balls the size of walnuts.
3. Bake in oven on parchment-lined baking sheet at 375F for 20-25 minutes.

Yield: Approx. 40 meatballs

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Releasing the Myth of Done

Another thing added to the list. They come so much faster than they get crossed off, all these various to-do's, and it just keeps growing. It feels overwhelming, never-ending, why bother?

A new bit of work to tackle. A new mess that must be cleaned. A new email that deserves a thoughtful reply. A new thought that demands to be written down and fleshed out. Another meal to cook, another load of laundry to do, another dustpan's worth of crumbs under my feet. My head hurts.

It's never going to end! I think. Never!

But that's just it, isn't it? It's never going to end.

Have I been expecting, all this very long time, that the list will ever be empty? That the work will ever be done? The laundry, done, even as we wear clothes that will soon make their way to the hamper? The dishes, done, even as we look forward to our next meal? The work, done, even as we count on its continuance for its meager income? The writing, done, even as words ever rise within us?

It's never going to end - and praises for that!

If I look at these daily tasks as things to accomplish, things to check off, there, done, finished, I will feel endlessly frustrated. Because they are never finished. They will be there again, sometimes days later, sometimes mere hours later.

But if I view them as ways to bless myself, serve my family, and worship my God, they become good things, satisfying things. Not fun, not always, let's be real here. But Good.

These daily tasks nourish me physically. As I write these words, I feel the ache in my arms from an afternoon spent on my hands and knees, scrubbing every bit of tiled floor throughout our home. It's a good ache, a satisfying feeling, evidence of having pushed my body even in this silly small way. All day I lift and bend and scour, and maybe it's not a 5K run but some nights I collapse into bed as though it has been.

These daily tasks nourish me emotionally. They give me time and space to let my thoughts drift, to rest my mind, to let words swirl and form within me. The mindlessness of these duties is blessing in disguise, allowing that which is creative within me to bubble to the surface. Yet too often I spend that time grumbling instead, acting the martyr, silently stewing as I do what must be done. Why do I choose anger over daydreams, complaints over creativity?

These daily tasks nourish me spiritually. They mirror my own inner dailiness of confession and repentance, renewal of mind and heart, pushing back the darkness within as Christ shapes and forms and fills my heart. Always the dust and dirt returns, and always I wash it away it again. Always the mess returns, and always I tidy it again. Pushing back the darkness and the chaos again and again and again, what holy work this is!

I want to say No More to the grumbling and the overwhelm, but I know myself. Perhaps, though, I can remember more often? And then more, and still more? This is blessing. This is good. I am privileged to have these daily moments of mindlessness in which to think and pray and create and worship and bless and serve. Thank you.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Halfway to One

You're six months old today, sweet girl. Half a year now you've been with us, delighting us, and you fit so perfectly in our little family.

You spend your days cooing and babbling, being doted over by each one of us. You roll and squirm and even scoot yourself forward on your belly. One moment you're here and the next you're there and nothing on the floor is safe from you anymore. Thank you, darling, for finally being the impetus that would get your biggest brother to stop leaving his Lego all over the floor every day. My feet and cluttered brain appreciate it very much.

Your brothers have not lost their delight in you one bit - well, there was that one day when you chewed up a set of Lego instructions and little brother said he didn't like you anymore, but not five minutes had passed before he was back to giving you kisses and talking to you in that heart-melting way of his. And your affection for them is already apparent as well; you've begun giving a little holler of annoyance when those boys of yours leave the room before you're done cooing at them. Soon, baby, soon, you'll be following them everywhere.

It's interesting to me that you were my most difficult pregnancy and yet my easiest baby. You are simply Contentedness personified, so at ease with the world around you. I am so curious to see who you will become as your personality continues to emerge. No rush, though. Be my happy baby for a while longer.

I love the way you play with my hair, the way you grasp onto my shirt, the way you go from sucking your thumb to nursing and back to the thumb again, hardly a second in between. I love waking up to your smile and going to bed beside your sleeping face, the last thing I see as I reach over to turn off the lamp. I love that little tongue you have discovered, now perpetually sticking out of your mouth. I love love love how snuggly you are. I thank God for you every day. What a blessing to have you in our lives.

Thank you, baby girl, for growing our hearts and filling our days with even more joy. I love you, my darling.

Friday 15 February 2013

Slimy Snake Brownies

You can blame Pinterest, of course.

I mean, just look at this delectable bit of food porn. These Fudgy Avocado Brownies had to be made. By me. Immediately.

We were driving home from swim class when I announced my plan.

"No," says the boy. Just no, nothing else. No, putting avocados in brownies would not be an acceptable plan.

"Well, yes. I will be making them. You can help if you like. I think you'll like them."

"No," he repeated. "I want to make cookies that I can use cookie cutters on and then decorate." He's big into cookie cutters, like a typical child, I think.

"They have green icing on them. Like slime! How fun is that?" I'm really working hard at selling these things now. Yes, here I am, trying to convince my kids to eat brownies. The irony doesn't hit me until much later. "We could call them Slimy Brownies."

He thinks for a moment. "Yes! I want to make slimy brownies."

Yessssss. I win.

But then the little brother pipes up. "No! Let's call them SNAKE brownies!"

"No, Slimy Brownies!"

"No, Snake Brownies!"

"Mommy said Slimy Brownies!"

I think fast, then interrupt their back-and-forth. "We could call them Slimy Snake Brownies. Would that work?"

A chorus: "Yes!!"

Whew. Another sibling crisis averted. Peace reigns again. Well, for the next few minutes, anyway.

We did indeed make the Slimy Snake Brownies. The icing was indeed slime-green in colour. The brownies were indeed as delicious as they look. Let's call this one a Pinterest win.

What's cooking in your kitchen today?

Tuesday 12 February 2013

When Lent sneaks up on you

Every year, it does it. Sneaks up on me like I can't read a calendar, can't remember that it's coming, it's coming, it's here, so soon after Christmas and yet not soon enough for my mind to have not wandered back into the mundane, away from the great mystery of birth, death, resurrection, Emmanuel.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and Lent begins. We will light the candles each day, spiraling our way towards Easter. This year I will put aside the one thing that consumes too much of my time and spend it more intentionally, deliberately, and fruitfully, the continual desire of this journey I am walking.

Perhaps this season of inward preparation has caught you unawares as well? Busy with the daily and feeling like thinking about one more thing is simply too much right now? If it helps you, let me offer these ten ideas for observing Lent, my small contribution to the many great lists written by others.

1. Fast. Abstain from one thing to practice self-denial, to focus more clearly on the season, and to anticipate the joyous Easter celebration. Meat, sugar, chocolate. Internet, television, social media. Yelling, gossiping, complaining. In determining your one thing, consider whether there are any areas of imbalance in your life that might be helped through a specific sort of fast.

2. Add a spiritual discipline to your daily routine. Take a silent walk, study a book of the Bible, meditate on a portion of Scripture, confess, worship, or spend more time in focused prayer for others and for the world. Consider praying the Daily Office; make it even easier with the iPray Book of Common Prayer app.

3. Read a daily Lent devotional. Excellent options include the book Bread And Wine: Readings For Lent And Easter, the Bible plan Lent for Everyone by N. T. Wright, and the Lent devotional by Ann at A Holy Experience.

4. Include the kids. Follow a Jesus Storybook Bible Easter reading plan. Colour a Lenten calendar. Create an Easter Tree. Grow grass on Calvary Hill.

5. Declutter your physical surroundings. Cluttered physical surroundings can often sap us mentally and spiritually as well. Use these forty days to go through closets, storage spaces, drawers, bookshelves, cupboards, stacks, and cabinets to get rid of what is no longer useful or beautiful to you.

6. Give. Whether giving time (through service and volunteer work) or money, use this season to bless and serve those in need around you. Consider joining the 40 Days of Water campaign to help raise money for clean water in Uganda.

7. Practice gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal open on the counter to jot in throughout the day, or write down three gifts before going to bed each night. Express gratitude to others through words, cards, letters, or little notes.

8. Perform a daily random act of kindness. Pay for someone's meal. Send an unexpected letter. Drop off a plate of cookies. Slip a gift card in the hand of someone who could use it. Need some ideas? Check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

9. Begin with an Ash Wednesday service. Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist churches typically hold an Ash Wednesday service, although the practice is spreading throughout other denominations as well. Mark this first day of Lent with confession and repentance.

10. Reduce Internet and/or computer use, spending the extra time with family, friends, and God instead.

If you feel comfortable sharing, how will you be observing this Lenten season?

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Ordinary moments

It is quiet in the room; that alone is unusual. The boys are playing prince and princess in their bedroom, adorned with all the sparkly finery a five- and three-year-old could want. It's just sweet girl and I enjoying a brief respite from the noise and movement of daily life.

On a whim, I glance up. There we are reflected in the (embarrassingly dirty) screen of the sleeping laptop, mama and baby girl, just sitting there together under the blanket. I have a book in one hand; the other hand rests against her head. The boy's fingerpainting grins at me from the background. I am mesmerized by the simple and ordinary beauty of it all.

How is it that life can feel both so perfect and so very hard at the same time?

Some days I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my life. These three precious children, a safe home to live in, food in the fridge and a husband who loves me. Those are the days I squeeze my kids tightly, inhale their beautiful scent, laugh and play and learn alongside them.

Some days I am overwhelmed by the noise and needs of life. These three young children, a home that needs to be cleaned and tidied, meals to prepare and the challenges of marriage. Those are the days I slip out of the house after the kids are sleeping, leaving their dad to care for them while I drive in the dark and the silence until my heart has slowed and my head has cleared.

There are days, weeks even, when I want to crawl into bed and hide underneath the covers, stay there warm and safe so I don't have to deal with anything. But I can't. I have to get up and get dressed and feed the children and face all these big things and little things and physical things and emotional things and stupid things and all the rest.

And oh, what I'd miss if I didn't get up. Ordinary moments with a cuddly baby and a good book. Hugs from a three year old as he tells me he loves me and I'm precious. These boys of mine side-by-side in a blanket fort, big one reading to little one, laughter and make-believe and friendship. I'd miss watching my babybug roll and squirm all over the floor, grinning and babbling at everyone who catches her eye.

All these gifts, and yet the bad parts take such predominance in my mind some days. Funny how that happens.

Life is good. Even with the tired days, the bad news, the whatever, it's still so good to be here. Just so very worth it.

Just writing along with The EO...

Friday 1 February 2013

What I Am Into - January 2013

What I Am Into :: JANUARY 2013

On My Nightstand:

I'm still (still!) working my way through N. T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church". Again, beautifully hopeful and deeply illuminative. I am also slowly reading Kathleen Norris's The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work", which I adore so far.

The boys and I are currently reading Pippi Longstocking as a read-aloud during the day. We all love it. (Would you believe this is actually my first time reading it? Shameful, I know. I've watched the movie, if that counts for anything!) This particular edition is made even better by illustrations from Lauren Child, creator of Charlie and Lola. We're big Charlie and Lola fans, and now we're all big Pippi fans too.

Want to Read:

N. T. Wright's follow-up book, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, is still waiting for me to get through Surprised by Hope. I'm just too tired to do much reading at night! We used to read for a good hour before turning off the light each night, but now I just can't keep my eyes open for it. I'm going to have to start reading more during the day instead.

On the screen:

I've just completed my nostalgic rewatching of the Boy Meets World series. You know that feeling you get when you finish a really good book series? I felt the same way when the last episode of Boy Meets World ended. Kinda sad, kinda lost, kinda unsure of what to do with myself. The husband and I are on our second round through Doctor Who. Otherwise, not much going on here screen-wise. People are really tempting me with both Downtown Abbey and Parenthood though; any recommendations for one over the other?

In My Kitchen:

You know, it's really been kinda boring in my kitchen lately. Sad but true. I have, however, finally perfected my meatball recipe, but I'm going to give that its own post another day. I dunno why. I'm just in that sort of mood.

In My Ears:

The song Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing has somehow worked its way deep into my heart this month. And then to find Mumford & Sons singing Sufjan Stevens' arrangement of it? Well, it doesn't get much better than that.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, oh take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.

What I'm Looking Forward to in February:

Well, the husband and I will be celebrating our anniversary early in the month. And by "celebrating", I mean "possibly going out for dinner with the kids but not really much else". Such is life with little ones. Then there's Valentine's Day, which always feels a bit redundant following so soon after our anniversary. Otherwise, man, I'm just really not feeling February. January suuuuuucked. I started the month off all "whee, freedom, opportunities, everything is going so very well, happy happy joy joy!". I ended the month more like "uuuuuugh, blaaaaaah, boooooo, suuuuuckage." Big stuff, little stuff, valid stuff, stupid stuff, emotional stuff, physical stuff, I mean January had it all. So February? Whatever. Can't be worse than January, so that's the something. OKAY I TAKE THAT BACK IT COULD BE WORSE PLEASE DON'T LET ANYTHING ELSE BAD HAPPEN. Seriously, life. *whimper*

Well, friends, that is What I've Been Into this past month. What about you?

Linking up to What I'm Into with HopefulLeigh...