Keeping my eyes open to glimpses of God

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

So Much Waiting

Our family is growing by two feet in May!
In case you missed our big announcement on Facebook and Twitter, Jim and I are expecting our first child this May. As I approach the halfway mark of my pregnancy this week, I realize pregnancy hasn't been exactly what I expected. First of all, the first trimester was pretty rough. I felt sick 24 hours a day and had trouble eating anything—which made trying to act normal at work very difficult. I had to cut way back on get togethers and parties and dinners out (and even writing on this blog), simply because I was so sick and tired I couldn’t handle it.

And while I thought I'd be busy thinking about what kind of parent I'll be and how we'll take care of this new, squirming little person, those thoughts have rarely crossed my mind. Instead, I've wondered whether it's possible to still be me and a mom. I've rolled my eyes at the countless toys and onesies that perpetuate terrible gender clich├ęs and wondered how my son or daughter will manage these messages—and how he or she will fight to change them.

As I've focused on Advent these last few weeks, my mind has turned to all the waiting involved in pregnancy. The waiting seems especially fitting for the season of Advent, and more than a few times I've compared the two.

After all, as a first-time mom, I'm waiting for something that will change everything, something that will turn my world upside down, something that requires me to prepare . . . and yet I really don't know much about what I'm preparing for.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Learning to Be Fully Present

Something about coffee out on the patio
always helps me focus and be present
Monday was a hectic day. First of all, my foot was throbbing from an injury from vacation (not the kind of souvenir I wanted). Then there were a few stressful moments with coworkers. On top of it all, the missional event my women’s small group had planned for that night seemed to be unraveling before my eyes.

Every couple of months, my Monday night women's group serves together by heading to a local residential ministry for homeless women. We make dinner and play games with the women and children. It’s always a bit chaotic but really fun, and the women really appreciate it.

But Monday I was really wondering if we’d pull it off. I wasn’t sure if we’d have enough food. And then someone unexpectedly had to back out. Another person in our group hadn’t responded to the group messages, so I wasn’t sure if she’d be there. I didn’t want the event to be a bust.

Monday, June 17, 2013

New Hair

Long hair when I actually styled it :)
Almost two weeks ago, I cut about five inches off my hair.

Five inches.

I know that may not seem dramatic, but it certainly feels dramatic. Especially when I wash my hair and realize there’s so much missing.

The truth is, I was just tired of the length. How it blew in the breeze and got stuck in my lip gloss, got caught in the car door, and took forever to dry.

I did like braiding it. And when I did dry and straighten it, it looked pretty great. It felt young and sexy, to be honest. And I felt I’d accomplished a feat of some sort because it was the longest my hair had ever been.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Messy Monday Tears and Laughter

Monday nights are great because I have a women’s group at my house. We were all strangers when we started meeting in September. We’ve added a few since then, and a few have moved on to other groups. But we’ve grown together. One night we’re discussing a broken relationship, and there are tears in our eyes. Another night we’re laughing hysterically at Minute to Win It games. Another, we’re having an in-depth conversation on baptism after reading John 3.

The thing that makes it so refreshing is that we’re all living authentically, sharing our good and bad sides. They get to see my messy house, dog toys strewn about. They get to see my scattered brain at the end of a crazy Monday at work. They also see my tears. And my struggles. And my heart for God’s Word. And how much I love to laugh. And it seems like that’s what matters.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Vacation and Rest

Lounging on the beach in Key West
Aaaaaah . . . vacation. :)

This year my husband and I decided to take an entire week off from everything and explore Key West. It’s been a while since we took such a long vacation. In fact, the last time we took an entire week and flew somewhere was our honeymoon nearly six years ago. So, it was long overdue.

Now I’m content to lay on the beach all day every day for a week’s vacation, but Jim . . . not so much. First of all, he doesn’t like sand. He doesn’t like to feel dirty, and the salt water can have that effect when it dries on your skin in the sun, leaving microscopic granules of salt everywhere. He doesn’t like how the sand seems to follow you off the beach—in your shoes, on your clothes, in your hair, and the strange bit you can’t get off your ankle.

But the worst part of a beach vacation for him is simply lying on the beach, doing nothing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Magic Under Paper Lanterns

A taste of our dinner party
This past weekend we hosted an outdoor dinner party, a garden party if you will. It was a beautiful night of feasting on tangy hoisin pork, crunchy Asian slaw, fresh Israeli salad, still-warm bread, and more. Our guests showed up in festive summer clothes, happy to be in airy dresses rather than thick sweaters after a seemingly unending winter. We sipped wine from the other side of the world and danced under paper lanterns to a playlist made just for the occasion. It was all so beautiful.

A few times during the evening I found my eyes tearing up, my throat tightening in utter thankfulness in the midst of a perfect night with amazing friends. We laughed and joked and sang and swatted mosquitoes. We smiled appreciatively, knowing the hard week so many of us had faced. It was truly joyous, and I could feel the fleeting nature of it all, even as we sat enjoying spoonfuls of avocado mousse.

As we all took to instagramming the evening, I knew others felt it too. This was a rare, beautiful event, and we all wanted to drink it in as deeply as we could, to capture it somehow in pictures.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

When We Forget Who We Are

A meaningful passage from my Lent devotional
by N.T. Wright

Sometimes, when we’re hurt and tired and fearful and fed up, we forget who we are. We forget our identity and who God created us to be, who he calls us to be. In the midst of our humanness, we forget we are God’s children.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls his followers to claim their rightful identity—the identity God chose for us when he created us. He calls us to be people who are different from the societies in which we live, different than the fearful, cut-throat cultures we know. He calls us to be loving, peaceful, gentle, forgiving, humble, merciful. But he doesn’t just say to do the right things, to act the right way. Instead, he tells his followers, he tells us, about identity—who we are as his followers.

We’re salt and light. We’re not from here; we’re from heaven. We are valuable to God. We are God’s children.

It’s in light of this identity that Jesus lays out the way we’re to live—a lifestyle that reflects who we are.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fair-Trade, Fair-Wage, Upcycled . . . and Taking Risks

Our small group throwing a
birthday party for our new friend, Allan
There was a fascinating article posted yesterday by This Is Our City called, “You Can’t Buy Your Way to Social Justice.” It’s an article written to my generation of American Christians who are focused on saving the world by buying fair-trade coffee, fair-wage clothing, and upcycled accessories. The author, Rachel Pieh Jones, not only speaks to my generation—she speaks directly to me.

I am conscious with my shopping. I care about buying organic cotton to protect the farmers in developing countries. I avoid certain stores and brands because of their mistreatment of workers. I prefer fair-trade coffee and go out of my way to purchase it. And I do it in the name of Christ.

I do it to love my neighbors far away—even in a small way. Because I believe that in a free market country, in a world where money speaks louder than anything else, the choices I make with my money matter.

But that said, Jones makes some excellent points, namely that these actions alone don’t count as living a life of social justice.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cooking, Cleaning, and Praising God

Fresh Homemade Challah Bread
Today was a good day. I woke up early to bake bread and an egg dish for Mother’s Day brunch. I shuffled around the kitchen in my pjs, making a mess of flour and egg. I spent a few leisurely hours in front of the TV with my husband waiting for the bread to rise.

And then we spent several hours eating and laughing and chatting over the kitchen table with my parents, my sister, and her boyfriend. It was glorious. And simple. And filling—for both our stomachs and our hearts.

I spent most of the remainder of the day cleaning up around the house, doing laundry, and organizing my craft room.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Living Out My Passion

A fun night at small group: cup towers!
Sometimes I forget just how passionate I am about small groups.

I mean, I work for, so I literally think about small groups every day. How can I forget about this passion? But alas, I do. It's easy to begin thinking that this is how everyone feels about small groups, that everyone knows the benefits and the reasons to join a small group. But that's simply not true. Actually, a lot of people don't.

But tonight I finished a freelance assignment on starting your own Bible study, and as the words came fast and furious, I was reminded that God truly has placed this passion within me.

It reminded me of just how thankful I am to be able to work somewhere that directly relates to one of my biggest passions.

It reminded me that all the waiting for this job was worth it.

It also reminded me that God's had this plan all along. I mean, I have a degree in English education, a Master's in Christian Formation and Ministry, and four years of experience working at a church--how else does that work together so perfectly?

It reminded me to have extra grace for people who don't quite get it, who don't see small groups as completely amazing and worthwhile things . . . yet.

Lastly, it reminds me that being able to live out my passion is a blessing, and I want to empower and encourage others to do the same.

What passions has God given you? How are you living out your passions? Please share!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

No Women Allowed

I want my friend's daughter to live in a world that
encourages her to obey God in whatever way she's called.
Tears welled in my eyes as I read the recent Her.meneutics post "Hey John Piper, Is My Femininity Showing?"

It seems God has had a lot to tell me about women in leadership recently, and I've been soaking it up. But all that soaking has left my heart full of anguish. As I consider the future of the Church, the future of our world, I can't believe how much we're missing--simply because women aren't allowed.

I've recently been keenly aware of how women are often mistreated in the workplace, especially in Christian workplaces. From being inflexible in the schedule for a new mother to a double standard for women when they are assertive, determined, and goal-oriented (qualities that are, by the way, actually desired in men). From not promoting women because superiors want to keep them in their "rightful place" to coworkers looking down on women for working and being a mother.

And the sad part is that we have grown up with these mixed messages. "Go after a career," "be independent," "grow intellectually," and "find your calling," are mixed with "your husband's job is more important than yours," "good mothers never leave their child's side," "likeable girls aren't too smart," and "you're calling can't be anything in leadership--especially not in the church." We internalize these wishy-washy messages, and we begin censoring ourselves--even from elementary school. We play dumb so that we're liked. We look for career paths that suit us while holding out for a man whose calling we can support instead. We uphold women's right to work, but we feel guilt about leaving our own children. And this is just a small taste of how these cultural messages negatively affect women.

I've had the honor of learning from women who transcend this conflict, women who are firm in their calling and are devoted to God, first and foremost. Women who actually empower others to do the same. Their stories inspire me and encourage me on the most difficult days. Days like yesterday when I read John Piper's words referred to in that Her.meneutics post.

Monday, April 29, 2013

"I Do" to More Than You Think

Singing Katy Perry at church

Marriage isn't what I thought it would be. It's wonderful in a number of ways, but there are a million other things that no one prepares you for. Things that no one talks about.

I was reminded this weekend that when you're married, you're inextricably linked to your husband, more profoundly than you realize. No one told me that his sin would affect me. That his struggles would become my struggles. No one told me that I wouldn't only be dealing with my fallenness, but also his.

No one told me I'd lose sleep or cry in worship or walk through a day zombie-like with a heavy heart . . . as I dealt with his struggle.

But when you say "I do" you take it all on--the best and worst of him. And thankfully, he takes on yours as well. There are two of you to multiply the joy of the good times. But there are also two of you to multiply the pain in the hard times. The pain is felt twice: once in your own being, and again as you see the pain weighing down your spouse.

Marriage is beautiful and mysterious and double the joy. And it is also hard. Really, really hard. It's hard enough to deal with your own sinful condition, let alone that of another.

The 30+ one another passages in the New Testament are commands for a reason. They remind us how we must relate to one another because we are tied together--through good and bad. We are interconnected, all leaning on one another, one person's actions affecting all the rest. We are responsible to one another, and it's this responsibility that makes working on self make any sense at all.

I'm reminded today of that deep connectedness, even more mysterious in marriage. And I'm reminded of how desperate we are for Jesus. My heart aches as I see my husband in pain. My soul thirsts for the day when all sin's effects will be banished. My mind wishes for easy answers to give my husband, a hidden escape route no one's seen before.

But there is nothing but prayer and love and hope.

And with Jesus, that is enough.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Leaning Into 'Lean In'

Graduating with my M.A.

I've been listening to the audiobook version of Lean In, which is simultaneously empowering and infuriating. It is empowering because she gives clear ideas on how women can succeed in the workplace and in life in general. Infuriating because it's making clear to me the unfair realities of our culture's gender stereotypes--cultural norms that really hold down women in conscious and unconscious ways.

The author, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has a lot of wisdom to share. But the thing that strikes me most as I listen to this book, is that she writes with authority that she feels she's been given. She writes--even without knowing her faith--as though Galatians 3:26-29 were really true: "There is no longer . . . male or female."

She continuously writes about how women operate, respond, and carry themselves differently. She is also clear that women--even doing the exact same thing as a man--are often perceived differently. But she never stops to prove that women should be just as welcomed in the work place as men. She doesn't go on about how our differences make us better suited for certain jobs or roles. Instead, she assumes that women are called, capable, gifted, and qualified to work, lead, and serve in many ways. In fact, she reminds readers that more undergraduate and graduate degrees  are earned by women than men, so women may actually be more qualified in many cases. That said, she makes clear that our cultural stereotypes hold women down and make us feel as though we have few or no options, especially when it comes to working while starting a family.

Her words, based on scientific data, have opened my eyes to dynamics that I'd never noticed before. She's even made me aware of my own biases. And I've learned a few things about living up to my calling in a way that works with cultural norms rather than against them.

I'm excited to read the rest of the book and discover more. But I'm even more excited to discover what God will do in and through me as a result of this empowerment.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Celebrating Earth Day

Wind turbines off Rt. 47 in central Illinois
As I drove down to my alma mater, Eastern Illinois University, a few weeks ago, I noticed hundreds more wind turbines than we saw the previous year. I was in awe at these spinning giants spotting the horizon, impressed at this amazing source of green energy--and the fact that people in central Illinois are putting the technology to use.

The fact is that I'm a greenie, and I have been for a long time. In high school, though, when I started following Christ, green living took on a new purpose and urgency. Reducing, reusing, and recycling were no longer just nice things to do--they were part of loving God, the creator of everything.

Green living is part of following Christ for two reasons: 1) We know the Creator and He has called us to care for his creation and 2) We are called to love our neighbor, and green living seeks to ensure that our consumption of natural resources doesn't negatively affect our worldwide neighbors.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Baking Bread

Fresh Baked Pretzel Rolls
As I am wont to do, I'm on a new wave of obsession: making bread. Unlike most of my obsessions, though, this hobby requires little money and produces something that my husband enjoys just as much as I do. So that's good.

I've also been learning a lot about patience in the process. Because I'm not sure whether you're aware of this, but making bread requires time. Like, hours. It's not something you throw together for a 30-minute dinner after work. You love on it for two, three, sometimes four hours before you get to enjoy it. So, of course, I find myself eating the raw dough while I'm waiting. I think through ways to make it rise faster and how I can multi-task by pre-heating the oven while it's rising. But the hard truth is that the bread just does it's thing, and there's little you can do to speed up the process. And while that can be troublesome while you're waiting for it to rise and bake, it's all worth it when you take that first bite of fresh-from-the-oven bread. It is so good. If you haven't tasted it, you must make some now. For real. Go.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lessons of Less Clothes

Well, I did it. I finished my fast that limited my clothing. And Easter morning I was more excited to pick out my clothes than I've ever been before. But I didn't post along the way as I'd intended. That's because I slept more. I read more. I spent time with my husband. Oh yeah, and the rest of life's repsonsibilities didn't stop just because I only had 15 items of clothing to wear.

But I want to recap what happened during that time. Because it was good.

You see, every spring I think a lot about spring cleaning. Visions of closets filled with neatly organized bins in trendy designs dance in my mind. I picture my desk completely cleaned off with only a few tidy, colored-coordinated piles. I even smile thinking about wiping down the miles of wood baseboards in our 1920s home.

But thinking about it is as far as it goes. At the end of the day, the task is just too daunting because I have way too much stuff. I have a room full of crafting supplies, a closet filled with an embarrassing number of clothes, and boxes of books that never got unpacked after our last move.

Enter my fast: for all 46 days of Lent, I limited myself to wearing those 15 items of clothing. To choose which ones, I pulled out all my clothes and went through them, first narrowing them down to 30 can't-live-without items; then 18. Cutting those last three items hurt, but as I stared at the tiny pile of clothing, I felt a strange sense of relief. Turning to see the pile of my leftover clothes, was overwhelming. I am too embarrassed to admit the number of items that were left. Knowing they'd be a temptation to me, I packed them up and put them in the attic.

I realized during my fast that the message of most spring cleaning articles is that it doesn't matter how much stuff you have as long as it's organized in beautiful bins and boxes and shelving units, because simplicity comes from organization. But it seems God's way of spring cleaning involves having a lot less stuff to begin with.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Starting a New Fasting Journey

Lent began this week, and I'm embarking on another fast of sorts. I did a spending fast based on Seven from Jen Hatmaker in August and it was great. Not super fun, but I grew a lot. So I'm trying out another fast inspired by Hatmaker.

For 40 days, I'm limiting my clothes.

In her book, Hatmaker limits herself to 7 articles of clothing. That's just too few for me, though. I work in an office and can't wear a single pair of jeans every day. Plus, I live in Illinois . . . and it's February. So I've limited myself to 15 pieces. And while this is still a lot of clothes, I'm embarrassed by how many clothes aren't part of this number. Really embarrassed.

I've realized lately how much mental space I devote to making decisions--lots and lots of decisions each and every day. And with important things that actually need that  mental space, I need to cut out the clutter. I need to rediscover a simpler way of living. And I figured a great way to do that was by limiting my clothing.

I'll post about my progress along the way, but in the meantime I came across this excellent Christianity Today article about how we can become imprisoned by too many choices, and I can't help but recommend it. Enjoy!