Dear Santa, I’m just not that into you

I don’t think it phases my children AT ALL when I tenderly tell them Santa Claus isn’t real.  I can’t imagine why they ignore me on this (sarcasm font in case you’re missing it).  Hmmm…perhaps it is because he is actually at the mall, sitting on an actual over sized green velvet armchair welcoming small children to come sit on his actual lap and feel his actual fluffy white beard.

So yeah it’s true, I’m the meanie, scroogey mom that encourages her wide-eyed sugar plum fairies NOT to “believe”.  #sorrynotsorry

Yet, somehow we found ourselves in the line at the mall yesterday waiting to see the jolly ole’ fellow so my children could tell him what they want for Christmas presents (A puppy, in case you are wondering.  My daughter wants a puppy.  And a crossbow for my son, thank you very much). It was all so very Miracle on 34th Street, what with their eager gift requests and me trying not to roll my eyes in front of the other kids. 

I don’t hate Santa.   I hate the mall.  I loathe the mall.  But I don’t hate Santa.  Promise!

I’m just not that into him.

I love Christmas and the holidays.

I love tradition.  I refuse to abandon my grandmother’s orange ice cream jello for family holidays, multicolored lights on the tree or watching my favorite Christmas movies every year.

I love wild imagination and wild wonder in children, especially my own.

I love the music (although admittedly I am more Vienna Boys Choir than Jingle Bells and Frosty)

So I admit drawing lines can be hard.  We all, whether for ourselves or for our children, have to make decisions about where to draw those lines in life.  Santa Claus, even with his jolly Ho Ho HO and giant sack of presents, doesn’t make it any easier.  But the stark contrast between Christ and Claus (at least how we celebrate Old Saint Nick today) are just too, too great.

The squishy, luxurious, velvet chair at the mall feels out of place and almost offensive next to a simple manger in a cold barn.

The flying reindeer and elves are lots of fun and flash, but cheap and shallow and false compared to the poor shepherds’ awe, the magnificent angels singing and the beauty and faith of Mary – all of whom are centered around the miracle of God himself putting on flesh in the most vulnerable and humble way.

I get that these aren’t huge dilemmas, I mean I have a Christmas Tree and bake gingerbread houses every year, things that obviously have absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.  But, like I said, everyone gets to draw their own lines.

Yesterday afternoon, when we had returned from our Santa encounter, the kids were out playing in the backyard, when I saw my son doing something he knew he was not supposed to do.  I went out back and barely even had to put on my stern mommy face for him to burst into tears.  I was glad he was showing remorse, but then through sobs he wailed out “Santa isn’t going to bring me any presents!”.

He obviously knew enough about the old man to have heard the whole naughty and nice shtick.  While I will admit I am not above bribing my children, there was an important teaching opportunity here I did not want to miss.

Mommy:   “So what is the consequence from Santa Claus when you are naughty?”

Zachary:  (through more tears) “No presents”

Mommy:  “That’s right.  No presents.  Now what is the consequence from God, when we are naughty?”

Zachary:  “He forgives us”

Mommy:  (by this point my preaching voice is in FULL effect…)  “That’s right babe.  I am so thankful Santa isn’t real, and that he isn’t the one deciding things because we would probably not get any presents!  But God is different.  God gives us presents even though we are naughty.  He gives us presents BECAUSE we are naughty.  He gave us Jesus on Christmas.  I am so thankful for that.  Mommy and daddy will give you presents because we love you, just as God loves us.”

They still love Santa.  They still want to watch The Polar Express and sing Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer and that’s fine.

But I am hoping as they grow up in the world, their hearts will not be of this world.  I am hoping that while they are free to enjoy and be entertained by the fun things of the holidays, they will  be singing like the angels, pondering like Mary and bowing down like the Magi – entirely swept up with the gift of Emmanuel.  God with us.  

What it’s worth

These are my kids.

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I’m hoping you’ll be so very overcome by how cute they that you’ll completely overlook our less than stellar landscaping.

I’d like to draw your attention to the AT AT walker in our backyard (pretend your 4, and you’ll see it…maybe…)  In case you are not a Star Wars Geek, married to a Star Wars Geek, or the parent of a Star Wars Geek, here are what actual AT AT Walkers look like:

 

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The imagination of a child is an impressive force, oh so delightful when kids are at play; but down-right ridiculous and formidable when a fight breaks out.  My children have been known to fight over who gets to decorate THE IMAGINARY COOKIES they baked.  Try and tell them they can just bake more, because THEY ARE IMAGINARY and they look at you as if  you’re the one whose gone round the bend.

So when the two of them broke out in a fight over who gets to drive this AT AT Walker in the back yard, I had the NERVE to suggest that they simply build a second one.  It was communicated to me at that point, not so much in words but in glares, that my rational ideas were not welcome, and the fight continued.

As you can see from the picture, this was not some fancy-schmancy new toy , it was a Fisher Price basketball hoop, minus the backboard, and a cracked plastic chair.  That’s it!  However, Just like the imaginary cookies they fought over, it wasn’t really about what the object was.    Believe it or not, it wasn’t even about whether or not it was something real or pretend.

It was entirely about the power they had assigned to this object.   

As I stood at my kitchen sink, watching them through the window as they fought (and rolling my eyes at their inability to solve this problem rationally), I was so strongly convicted.

How many times have I been stressed-out, discouraged, fearful, anxiety-ridden, or brokenhearted simply because I had given power and significance to something – imaginary or real – that did not warrant such authority?  How many times have I been the one irrationally outraged that I didn’t get to decorate the imaginary cookie?  How many times. Lord? 

Jesus summarizes this nicely for us,

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

When I, for whatever reason, decide that something has value, my heart sure does follow.  I see this penetrating at every level of my life and being.

In some superficial ways…

        My weight.

         My outfit.

         A Pinterest-perfect themed birthday party for the kids.

And some deeper ways…

        The number of people who show up to a bible study I lead

         The number on the bank statement.

…and deeper still..

Who needs me.

   Who loves me.

Ideologies.

Theologies.

Identity.

How I look, or what I wear, or what the scale says are really just some cheap plastic chairs and a child’s basketball hoop.  Unless I say otherwise.

And I have.

The numbers, the decorations, and even, ahem, the backyard landscaping are just that – numbers, decorations and landscaping  Unless I say otherwise. 

And I have. 

We are not given a life free of problems, sickness, death, unemployment or relational conflict.  But it’s entirely possible that a lot of the problems I have are ones that I have created for myself.

What others think of me hold power because I have given that power over. Where my treasure is, there my heart goes, too.  And sometimes my treasures look a little too much like pictures on the internet, or pictures in my mind, or arguments won or praise received or being everyone’s favorite or health and wealth or even my own well being…and not enough like Jesus and His Kingdom.

And the result of course is plain as day.  I see it in my kids.  Temper tantrums over imaginary cookies.  Stressed-out, discouraged, fearful, anxiety-ridden, and brokenhearted.  Simply because I proclaimed that   _______________________ was the most important and valuable thing.

 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This treasure, that the Father gives, is trustworthy, and worth everything.   As my heart follows, it finds those very things that it longs for most, things that make a downright MOCKERY of all that anxiety and fear and sadness and stress.

Today I’d like to remember to seek the best Treasure and let that treasure change my heart with the power to delight me, fulfill me, encourage me, empower me and save me. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Childrens Book Review

Can I just say I am SUPER proud of myself for having stuck with my Lean In reviews for FIVE CHAPTERS so far!  I played teacher with myself and self-assigned this writing project and it has been hard and good.  Buuuuuut….Christmas Break is just about here so I might just take a hiatus with that until 2015 unless some serious inspiration kicks in while decorating Ginger Bread houses or something.

Just like I have ALL THE THOUGHTS about women and work, I also seem to be overly opinionated about The Holidays.  This particular post is the Children’s Book version of that. 

First off, can I just say that one of the best parts of my parenting gig is the books.

Sitting on our beat up maroon sofa with a little girl on my left and a little boy on my right, reading a delightful story with beautiful illustrations can’t be beat.  I am loving some of our Christmas library picks so far this year and I thought I would share them here.

Full disclosure #1:  we don’t ‘do Santa’ with our kids.  They have learned about Saint Nicholas, and have fun with the character of Santa Claus since he is EVERYWHERE, but that is about it, and so I purposefully avoid checking out books that are all about Santa and reindeer and stuff.

Alright, so here we go…

1. The Crippled Lamb

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Please read this book.  Not only can I not get through reading this book without the waterworks coming on, I can’t even explain the plot to my husband without tearing up.  (Full DIsclosure #2 – if a book makes me cry it earns extra points).  I won’t give the synopsis here because I don’t have a box of tissues nearby so just trust me, go check this one out.

2. The Little Drummer Boy

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Full Disclosure # 3:  I have never really liked this song.

However, this book takes the lyrics to the song and accompanies them with vivid pictures of a little boy tagging along with the Magi to visit Jesus in the manger.  It is fun to read with my kids because I will sing the main line, and then they sing the “pa rum pum pum pum” bit.

But why this one is making the cut is pretty much because of the illustration that goes with the line “I played my best for him”, which is also the illustration on the front cover shown above.  As this poor boy plays his heart out for Jesus, the angel wings drawn in the background capture perfectly that mystery and miracle of our simple songs being transformed into a beautiful and holy offering received by King Jesus, just as he would receive worship from the Heavenly Hosts.   Absolutely amazing.

3. Probity Jones and the Fear Not Angel

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During a season where I constantly tell my children that these really fun things like Santa and Elves don’t actually exist, to be able to boldly proclaim that YES! angels are real, feels good to me.

This book is longer, but Evangeline is at an age where she will sit through a lot of narrative if it is holding her attention.  While this precious little protagonist misses out on being a part of her church’s Christmas pageant due to a fever, an angel appears and brings her back to the birth of Jesus, where she gets to proclaim the Good News to the Shepherds with The Fear Not Angel who is guiding her.

It’s beautiful and sad and full of hope.

4. The All I’ll Ever Want Christmas Doll. 

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Man, my kids can fight over toys.  This sweet story shows a lesson I REALLY REALLY REALLY want my kids to learn – how relationships and community, especially sibling relationships, are more valuable than toys and getting their own way.  Plus, we don’t spend very much in the way of Christmas presents and keep things pretty minimal so a book that shows other families not rolling in cash or having mountains of toys under the tree is important to me.

5.  Tonight You Are My Baby

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Full disclosure #4:  This book isn’t for the kids.  It is for me.

The refrain “Tomorrow you will be King, but tonight you are my baby” is repeated throughout this poetic and gorgeously illustrated book.  Lines like “This star will bring the others and I will start to share.  But tonight you are mine – to give my tender care” make me love Jesus and Mary even more.  It is a perfect read during the this season to contemplate the Virgin Mary and her thoughts, actions and role in the Christmas Story.  It is also a perfect read for any mother as they realize, or realized, the moments of holding their newborn are precious and few.  Waaahhhhhh! 

As a mom it is easy to make Christmas all about our children and miss out on God speaking to our hearts.  I look over to our stack of ‘grown up’ books and see my advent reading and prayer book, knowing full well how little I will get through this season.  So I am thankful for the simplicity of children’s books such as these and others that pierce my heart and allow me to worship and connect and be moved.

 

Lean In, Chapter One: The Leadership Ambition Gap

I am pretty sure I have the best husband around.  I could go on and on about what a catch he is, his outstanding character, and how well he treats me.  One of the little things is that he tells me that I am beautiful a lot.  (We could go down a rabbit’s trail about WHY I need to be told this so often, but that is fodder for another blog.)  I, like most women, have days where I feel fabulous and days where I feel fat and frumpy and days in between and maybe I am just vain but I like hearing that I am beautiful.  It feels good.  It doesn’t always feel true, but I am glad my husband sees me that way.

A couple of weeks ago my husband sent me a text affirming once again that that he thinks I am beautiful but in that same text message he also called me intelligent.

Intelligent.

And that got me, right in the gut, in a deep and important way.  Being told I am beautiful feels good, and I am always thankful for those words -possibly because it is demanded and expected of me as a woman..ahh!  sorry! rabbit trail! – but being told I am intelligent really meant something.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s opening chapter of Lean In she sets up her case about how… SPOILER ALERT..men and women are treated differently, and she shares some interesting statistical and anecdotal evidence, including a story about a popular children’s clothing store selling onesies to baby boys proclaiming “Smart like Daddy” and onesies to baby girls proclaiming “Pretty like Mommy”.

After getting that text from Jon let me tell you I wanted to zoom over to Hobby Lobby for some puffy paint and make my daughter a shirt loudly proclaiming “Smart like Mommy!”

When questioning why women, who are beautiful and competent and SMART! don’t pursue their careers and callings in the same way as men, Sandberg acknowledges that it is not due to a lack of internal ambition or even inherent biological gender differences, but rather it is fear.

Fear that is only perpetuated and bolstered by society in both:

Blatant ways like sweet tiny baby onesies, pay inequality, poor childcare options, and poor maternity leave options.

and more subtle ways as well.  One that I never considered before was how working women are stereotyped in the media by these two extremes: the soul-less robot in pumps who can’t prioritize a personal life – she gives the example of Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, contrasted with a frazzled, guilt-laden woman letting everyone down – giving the example of Sarah Jessica Parker in the movie I Don’t Know How She Does It.

While I don’t completely agree with society-perpetuated fear being the only factor, as I do think that women and men are…SPOILER ALERT…different, it is true that fear absolutely clobbers women from both sides – from the side of ‘having it all’ and from the side of ‘losing it all’.   Sandberg words it like this:

Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face.  Fear of not being liked.  Fear of making the wrong choice.  Fear of drawing negative attention.  Fear of overreaching.  Fear of being judged.  Fear of failure.  And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.

Naturally as I was reading this chapter, which was excellent and covered many great points, I filtered it through my own experiences and my own biblical worldview, which obviously differs from that of a non-Christian woman in the business world.

I don’t aspire to work 40 hours a week (at this point in my life).  I don’t aspire to wear a power suit and heels.  I don’t aspire to climb the corporate ladder.  But one of the (many!) ambitions I have is to attend seminary.  There I said it!  But as soon as the words are typed here on the screen, wouldn’t you know it, that fear creeps in.

Fear of not being liked.  Fear of making the wrong choice.  Fear of drawing negative attention.  Fear of overreaching.  Fear of being judged.  Fear of failure.  And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.

The fear is present.  The ambition is present.  Society is present. The Bible is present.  My heart is present.  So many factors and layers in how we live our lives!  Here are some of my thoughts:

The first is this:   We can be free from fear as we make decisions, as we seek God’s will with wisdom, humility and love.  God will shape us as we give ourselves more and more to Him.  Growing up I had neither the ambition to attend grad school, seminary, nor the ambition to be a stay at home mom.  God has changed me, a little bit here and there, each time I said ‘yes’ to Him.  But I also screw up a lot and still have many values in my heart that push against Kingdom Values.  What our hours look like from day to day can vary, and how I spend those hours will have good and bad consequences – but hopefully as I grow in Christ my fears of what others think and what ‘might happen’ will diminish.

The second is that I seek to Glorify God and serve others first.  Sometimes even though I want to sit and write a blog,  I end up folding the laundry because it really serves my husband when he doesn’t have to go on a scavenger hunt just to find a clean under shirt.   Although my family supports me and my ambitions, I am not accountable only to myself.  The best decision for us might be for me to work more, or work less or go back to school – but although they are MY ambitions and MY dreams and MY work – I am not queen of my own island, and I am definitely not God, and believe it or not I need to be reminded of that, frequently and gently.

Lean In gets into some nitty gritty with marriage and family dynamics, pay equity, career moves and the myth of “having it all” in the chapters that follow, but this initial part simply asks the broad but important question,

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Have you read this chapter?  What are your thoughts?

Deserved

My family and I are leaving for a Florida vacation in a few short days.  The Magic Kingdom, airplanes, Mickey Mouse, the ocean – the whole enchilada.

It’s a pretty big deal and my excitement over escaping the hot Tucson dirt for some ocean breezes might even surpass my daughter’s excitement over getting to have dinner with a bunch of Disney Princesses.

But let me tell you (just in case you haven’t been fortunate enough to hear these words in a real life conversation yet) what is happening EVERY SINGLE TIME I share with someone about this upcoming vacation.  I, almost mandatorily, interject that my parents are paying for it.  Because they are.  My parents have generously planned for and paid for this amazing adventure – plane tickets, Disney World tickets, meals with princesses and a beautiful beach house.  The whole enchilada.  

I am beyond grateful, truly.  But seriously, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

It’s like I can’t just say “We’re taking a vacation!”…

…because we want to.

… because that is what American families do.

…because we work a lot and need a break and an ocean breeze on our faces.

…because Cinderella and It’s a Small World and Sand Castles!!!!

…because…we deserve it?

I don’t force this detail of my parents’  generosity upon people to give mom and dad credit.  I do it because I am worried what people will think.  I am worried we don’t actually deserve it.

I am worried that what you are really thinking when I tell you we are headed to Florida for fun and sun is “Wow, aren’t they supposed to be missionaries?”  or “Wow, maybe that is a bit too extravagant for them”  “Wow, is THAT where my $50/month is going?”  (apparently I think people say “wow” a lot in their internal monologues…)

We are a family in ministry.  We raise (okay fine, Jon raises…) our salary and benefits from individual ministry partners (i.e. your money).  Somewhere, somehow, the idea has entered my belief system that because we are in ministry, because we are acostumed to a certain lifestyle of financial restraint, because of how we get a paycheck- we don’t deserve a vacation.  At least not one that involves airfare and Disney and beaches.

For some reason that’s okay for other people, but not for us.

Money, since realizing I married a man who is committed to ministry and since realizing I follow a Jesus who means what he says about all those dollar bills – has become a really big deal in my life.  I think about it a lot.  I do without it a lot.  When we have extra of it, I spend it irresponsibly a lot and hence feel guilty about it a lot.  It’s a big deal.  I’ve written on money here before because time after time it finds it’s way into my heart.

I have COMPLICATED feelings about my money and other peoples’ money.

But right now I mainly just feel like I don’t deserve a sweet vacation.

Like what we Phillips Family should have is a summer in the hot dusty desert and just grin and bear it.

So, when you ask me if I have plans for the summer, and I awkwardly rattle off how we are going to Disney World and The Most Awesome Beach House  but it’sokaybecausemyparentsarepayingforitnotus…

…it’s my shame talking (certainly nothing anyone has ever said to me!)

It’s shame over the many moments when I feel like we don’t have enough.

It’s shame over the many moments when I feel sick over my extreme wealth.

It’s shame, simple as that.

I’m not sure if I “deserve” an awesome vacation.  But I have one coming to me and I would like to enjoy it, I would like for my kids to enjoy it.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t deserve a kind and gentle Savior, but I got one and I like to enjoy him, too.  I got Him, plus the Holy Spirit, plus a lot of really cool things like spiritual gifts and family and love and joy and peace.  The whole enchilada.  

So if in the next few days I instead of just telling you what our month of June looks like, I give you an itemized bill and show you what exactly we paid for all this, please just be patient with me.

Oh, and thanks Mom and Dad!

Sometimes life here in the Kingdom of God can look a lot like hot, dusty Tucson and grin and bear it.

But, this summer the Kingdom of God looks like having the whole enchilada and eating it too, with some ocean breezes and – hopefully for the sake of my four year old daughter – a picture with Elsa and Anna.

Thorn of Crowns

This is about as crafty as I get, friends.  A foam ring and some tooth picks.

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I saw this idea on another site and thought we would try it.  Beginning at Lent, every night at dinner, Evangeline would remind us to get out our “Thorn of Crowns” and then we would proceed to go around the table and each stick a single toothpick in to symbolize a sin from that day.

Remembering and Confessing.

Sometimes they came to mind quite quickly and I probably could have used a good 5-10 toothpicks, other days I had to rack my brain (or get friendly reminders from my family).

Even with skipping a few nights, it didn’t take long for this crown to be difficult to handle.

If you grabbed for it the wrong way you would get pricked, and the closer to Easter we got the more dangerous the crown became and we actually had to keep it up away, out of the kids’ reach, lest a lenten stabbing occur.

Sharp, prickly, dangerous, damaging.  Our sin. 

But the toothpicks just kept accumulating.  More and more. Our sin. 

We placed our final toothpick in on that Good Friday night and remembered.

When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”  As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

Our sin. 

This morning, Easter morning, the kids woke up to something new on the crown.

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 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!

Today has been a bummer of an Easter.  Fevers have kept us from church and family.  Spiffy spring dresses lost out to pajamas.  Tylenol and VaporRub bring more comfort than brunch and none of us can stop coughing long enough to get through a hymn.

But while Christ wore a Crown of Thorns, we wear forgiveness.

Toothpicks have been thrown in the trash, New Life has come.

Although sickness plagues our home, death has lost it’s sting.

And, I feel like supermom for actually starting and finishing a project with my kids.  That’s worth something, right?

Happy Easter!

Home

Home.  These four solid walls of burnt adobe in southern Arizona.  Right here on a Saturday morning, all of us still in our pajamas, the house smelling of bacon, while I sip my coffee in a way I just can’t do on a Monday morning and I listen to giggles and the washing machine turning.

Home. Those four solid walls of creamy yellow.  Right there, lying on my mom’s couch while she cooks pot roast and does my laundry and Evangeline across the room on Grandpa’s lap.

Home. No walls at all as I sit at the park on a clear Tucson morning, gabbing with friends while our little ones play and grow up before our very eyes.

Home. Four walls of blue-ish gray, in the quiet of my bedroom, all by myself, the door closed, re-reading Harry Potter for the 5th time through.

It’s intimate, it’s deeply personal.  It’s where the heart is, after all.

Yet, there it is too, in the vast farmlands of Illinois y las playas de Chile and the Wide Open Spaces of Arizona.

It’s inviting me in, to stay, to live.  It’s sending me out to go, to love.

It has witnessed it all, the good the bad and the ugly because my life is comprised of good and bad and ugly.

Its where I am the most comfortable but where the biggest messes happen.

Home is slavery back in Egypt. Where I have made all the wrong decisions and cried all the tears and received all the wounds.

Home is the Promised Land full of milk and honey. Where I have loved and been loved in return, and held babies and said vows and snuggled and laughed and worshipped and danced.

It’s across the country and it’s right here, in my arms.

It’s in the sanctuary where I learn and sing.

It’s solid. I can touch it’s face and hold it’s hand and carry it to bed and slow dance with it and hear it crying and breathing.

And yet, it can’t be contained.  It’s an ache, a yearning, a fulfillment, a moment, a memory, joy and peace and love.

Home is with you.

Home is with You.

It envelopes me and nurtures me and shelters me and asks me to do the same for others.

Casa y Hogar.

My house.  My home.

The Matriarchs

You know the ones.

That woman in church you have seen, but never spoken to.  That woman who raised you.  That woman who taught you.  That woman who blessed you. That woman who organized.  That woman who prayed.  That woman who showed up. That woman who sings. That woman who leads.

They are everywhere.

Some have gray hair, some don’t.

Some wear funky jewelry, others show up in comfortable shoes.

Some are waving good-bye to sons and daughters flying from the nest.  Some are glowing as they hold their grandchildren.

Some sit next to me in church, others are a plane ride away.

They are all lovely. 

Their strength is tried and true.  So are their recipes.

They have been praying and serving and rolling up their sleeves for longer than I have been alive.

They are clan leaders.  They are mothers.  They are pillars.  They are oak trees.

The Matriarchs. 

They have gone before me and lead me and teach me.

Firm.  Planted.  Unwavering.  Dedicated.  Wise.

Yet, their years have given to them a softness, an understanding, a confidence and a quietness that allows them to move with ease.

And they allow me to lead.

They give me a place.

They let me try my own recipes in the kitchen, happy to assist.

They throw me a knowing smile when my children misbehave in church.

They listen patiently.

They answer my phone calls.

They invite me over.

They share their lives, open books still being written, and I hang on with rapt attention to every word.

When I am amongst them, I am amongst giants.

As I parent, as I lead, as I pray, as I live, as I timidly put one foot in front of the other, unsure if the next step is the right one, they surround me.

Tension. No wait, TENSION.

See this?

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I picked those leaves from my parents’ yard in northern Illinois.

Once back in the dusty desert I got out my Tub-o-Mod Podge and made my very own candle holder with those beautiful red leaves.

Then I made another one with some burlap.

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I had a problem, obviously, and just couldn’t stop.  I bought a pumpkin and some ears of corn and re-purposed a mirror that was in our bedroom and POOF!

Kirsten had decorated for autumn.

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This is big people

HUGE, actually.

There was a time in my life, not too long ago (like, last week) during which I was convinced that decorating for seasons (other than Christmas, duh.) was for a certain kind of person that involved wearing mom jeans and reading Good Housekeeping and being boring.

Well, I guess I have arrived because this fall my house smells like  spiced apple cider and my fire place mantle looks AHHHMAZING.

And I love it.  It truly brings me joy to sit here enjoying a bit of autumn (while the a/c is on, obviously, because you know it is like 93 degrees out right now…).  So maybe not like ‘profound spiritual’ joy but certainly ‘life is good‘ joy.

Bit by bit I have found myself doing strange things like this.

For example, last Christmas I paid like $20 for a wreath from Micheal’s that had gold spray-painted pine cones plastered to it. (It’s tacky, not gonna lie)

You can kinda see it in this picture…

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Now that I have figured out how to use Pinterest it is getting even worse and I am absolutely stuck in the TENSION of it all.

You might be surprised that there can be TENSION in Mod Podge and fall foliage, but there is in my life.

Actually, I am a firm believer that for all the Peace we get in Jesus, the actual day to day of following Him is full of this TENSION.

For example, I want to celebrate the beautiful gift of changing seasons and create a warm and loving home for my family and drink gallons of pumpkin spiced EVERYTHING and visit and plan and host and bake and apple pick and craft and decorate because it is FALL and YAY!

But – people are literally starving.  Here in Tucson. People don’t give a you-know-what that I have glued some leaves to an old jar because they can’t afford pumpkins or pumpkin spiced lattes and they are drowning in sorrows and bills and family drama and drug abuse and lies and abuse and unemployment so what the you-know-what am I doing spending time and money decorating my mantle and buying gaudy wreathes?

And, am I less of a good Christian woman if I can’t afford to, or choose not to, have a home strait out of a magazine?  (Alright, let’s be clear – for all my mocking, I am quite certain my mantle wouldn’t make the cut to appear in Good Housekeeping in a million years…)

Am I less of a good Christian woman if I can afford to, and I do choose to?

TENSION.

It’s all over the place in my life.

I am so, so, so pleased that my children have a mommy who teaches and leads and works and serves yet I want to prioritize raising them well – so how much is too much time away from them?

I value deep scripture study and prayer and spiritual care and fellowship and I value outreach and service- how does this all fit into an hour and a half small group meeting I lead?

I value being wise with my finances and future, but I also take Jesus seriously when he says not to build storehouses of wealth here on earth and give away my possessions.

I am constantly resisting with every fiber of my being against the pulls of materialism and ‘fat and happy’ Christianity in my life, yet I also value celebration and thankfulness and joy in my home – so exactly how much time and money should I put into making my house adorable?

Is abundance found in pumpkin spiced lattes and beautifully decorated homes, or is abundance found in giving sacrificially of my resources?

Or, is it found in both?

I think it is both, but it feels tricky to navigate sometimes.

I believe joy and abundance are found in a mommy who serves inside the home and outside of the home.

I believe joy and abundance are found on my knees and reaching out to my co-workers.

I believe joy and abundance are found filling myself full at God’s table and letting dinner get a bit cold while I find someone to share it with.

So there is TENSION.

Questions of how much and how often come up daily.

Calls to be radical and extreme encounter and sometimes clash with calls to rest and feast. 

I wish I could neatly tie this blog post with an answer.  An answer of what percentage is okay to spend on seasonal decor.  An answer of when I need to say ‘no’ to others and just get on the floor and play with my kids.  An answer of which nights it is perfectly acceptable to veg in front of the TV and which nights I need to open up my bible (I will probably decide that one based on Gray’s Anatomy…).

Sometimes a gold Christmas wreath is just what I need to celebrate the season, and sometimes I need to JUST STOP FOR THE LOVE after decorating the mantle and quit before the centerpiece because my time is better spent elsewhere.

Jesus is not about guilt and shame and I don’t have time for that.  So when He says care for others I try to do that.  When He says chill out and rest and get out that glue gun to rejoice in the beauty of autumn I try to do that, too.

Being firmly passionate in God’s purposes for the world, and allowing HIS story to be the foundation to my life, actually allows me freedom in making these choices, but no matter how you slice it, self-reflection, accountability and self-control just aren’t always easy.

What TENSIONS of the Christian life do you deal with?

Hangin’ under a fig tree

At my most recent women’s bible study we played Pictionary as a way to share something about us that no one else in the room knows.  This wasn’t intended to be a spill your guts activity, it was an icebreaker, but the prospect of sharing something even superficial about myself elevated my heart rate.

Panic. Panic. Panic.

What should I share?  I suddenly couldn’t think of ANYTHING remotely interesting about myself and I DESPERATELY wanted to share the one detail about my life that would show the other ladies how fabulous and mysterious and intelligent and sophisticated and brilliant and perfect I am.

But…nothing.

I have two kids?  No, that wouldn’t work they all saw me walk in with them.

I’m from Illinois?  Who Cares!

I like to read? So does everyone else.

I have a cat?

Hmmm, I thought to myself, maybe I should share something real and deep.

Panic Panic Panic

Nevermind!  Ahhh, it’s almost my turn!

I broke Amanda’s princess wand at my 6th grade Halloween Party???  How would I draw that?

Is there NOTHING interesting I can share with these people??!!

I ended up drawing something totally lame.  TOTALLY LAME.  Not even gonna mention it here.  I’m just gonna move on to the sappy spiritual stuff I usually write.

I desperately want to share myself with those around me yet I panic when the time comes to actually live out that vulnerability and I end up trying to put forth what I think might make me look the best.

That’s exhausting, let me tell you.

But it’s better than the alternative.

Rejection, dislike, disapproval.  No thanks. 

I fear that the people I am exposing myself to, whether in a silly game or in a deep conversation, will not see me, just the thing that I choose to share.

There is such a deep desire in me to be known and affirmed and accepted.  I think we can easily point a finger at social media for making us a bunch of narcissists, there is certainly some truth in that, but really Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr and Twitter (and whatever else is out there that all those young kids these days are using) are at their core a women’s bible study game of Pictionary, just a means to let others know HEY YOU!  THIS IS ME!

LOVE ME!

KNOW ME!

I’m funny, I’m passionate, I’m smart, I’m silly, I’m kind!  KNOW ME!

And also,

I’m broken and I break other peoples’ things and I am undeniably boring at times. KNOW ME!

Jesus happens to be REALLY good, the best actually, at knowing not just the persona I put forward, but the real me.  The me that longs for validation.

 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus acknowledges this is in fact a great guy- an Isrealite in whom there is no deceit – and I think he knows that this is EXACTLY how Nathanael wants to be known. 

Just like I want to be known in a certain way.

And Nathanael, at seeing how this Rabbi is so impressed with him, is all like, “yep that’s me!  How did you know how awesome I was?  Word must get around!”

But I know Jesus, and I know his power and precision in choosing words, and I know his ability and desire to cut through flattery when dealing with grown-ups, especially those he wants to disciple, and move right to the true heart residing within.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

 

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

What I want to know is WHAT WAS NATHANAEL DOING UNDER THE FIG TREE???!!!

This has always bothered me.  What was he thinking?  What was he feeling?  What was he doing?  Was he sinning?  Was he mourning?  Was he repenting?  Was he lamenting? Was he perhaps not acting the part of a man “in whom there is no deceit”?

I don’t think Nathanael is impressed that Jesus knew his geographic location.  I think something significant, good or bad, was going on over there.

Whatever it was, it caused Nathanael to move passed being impressed that this Jesus of Nazareth had heard of his upstanding reputation, to shout out  “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!”

Any old fool can know our name, can know our reputation, can be impressed (or not) with the random things we share in ice breaker activities.

Only the Son of God sees me under the fig tree. 

So often I try to tell God what I think he wants to hear.  I put forward to Jesus a persona that I think I am, that I want others to believe, that I genuninely want to be.

Supermom and saint is usually how it goes…

And I want a reaction.  I want impressed.  I want validation.  I want acknowledgement.

But Jesus doesn’t give me what I want.

He gives me what I need.

He validates and acknowledges and sees and loves and affirms and SAVES what’s underneath the Pictionary drawing.

I saw you under the fig tree…

I saw you weeping.

I saw you sinning.

I saw you lonely.

I saw you hiding.

I saw you loving.

I saw you praying.

I saw you ashamed.

I saw YOU.

And if you want to be supermom and saint to everyone else that’s fine.  But I see you.

I don’t love supermom, but I do love you.

And daughter through my grace, and my grace only, I will make you a saint.