Love That Won’t Leave

I knew we were going to have issues the minute I put her in the SAMS Club cart. She wanted to walk. I wanted to shop without her running away, touching everything and breaking things. One of us was going to be disappointed, and it wasn’t going to be me.

She handled it the way two year olds know how to handle things, a lot of crying, whining and yelling. I pushed the cart and precious cargo ahead into the cool building anyways. We had a short list, and she knows that she doesn’t get what she wants when she acts this way.

Unfortunately, it began to escalate. Josie looked confused. Peter had his fingers in his ears. That’s how you know it’s bad. We hadn’t even hit the apple sauce aisle, and I knew Leanor wasn’t going to calm down. I pulled the cart over and bent over to have one of those “Come-to-Jesus” kind of conversations with her. I was handling it.

Then he said it. I know he meant it as a joke, an offhanded remark as he and his wife rolled past us. But in the heat of the moment, I didn’t even know what to say. I just smiled slightly and returned my attention to my agitated child. It wasn’t until later that I could fully process the older gentleman’s comment.

He said, “Betcha wish you’d only had two.”

I’m so glad my little girl is too young to understand what he was saying. The last thing I want her to feel from me is that her behavior has any influence on how I feel about her existence. Even on her worst days where I’m counting down the minutes until bed time, I recognize that my daughter is one of God’s sweetest gifts in my life. Just thinking about a life without Leanor makes me want to curl up and cry.

Even in an untimely joke, we can see an underlying worldview. We live in a culture where conditional love is the norm. Even in relationships where love is supposed to be forever, we reserve an escape route if the other person isn’t doing what they’re supposed to do. Marriage covenants are broken because of “unreconcilable differences.” Parents and children despise one another because of unmet expectations. Friendships are cut off without any effort to repair damage. Sin corrupts love, even the best love we can muster.

I’m so glad God’s love isn’t like that. His love does not discriminate, waver or leave. It just exists permanently, a love so constant we can’t fully understand it. His love doesn’t depend on how hard we work, how many mistakes we make, how many victories we celebrate. It depends on His own perfect holiness.

It depends on the sacrifice He made of His Son. Sometimes we expect Him to dump us when we blow it. We expect Him to get annoyed when we make a scene, like He’s a grumpy man in a grocery store. We say to God, “Betcha wish You didn’t give up your only kid for this.”

If we ever have felt this way, we only have to turn to Romans 5 to find God’s response. Paul echoes how ludicrous it is from a human perspective that Jesus would die for sinners:

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. (v. 7)

and then the best “but” in all of history:

BUT God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (v. 8)

It doesn’t matter what it is: a selfish meltdown in SAMS Club or the darkest evil deed we can fathom. He still loved us enough to sacrifice His Son. We would never want to give up our children for anything or anyone. He does what we cannot comprehend doing because of love. May it always astound us that this kind of love exists and is ours for the asking!

More on the Book Club

I know you all have been so concerned about the status of our book club, Books & Beans. So I thought I’d update you, so your anxiety would be alleviated. I can just hear the collective sighs of relief. 😂

On Reaching 50

We will read our 50th book together in October. I use the word “together” loosely, because members have come and gone. And if we are really truly honest, not everyone has read all the books. There have been a few that we’ve wanted to light on fire (I’m looking at you “Elegance of a Hedgehog”), but there have also been some that we’ve deeply enjoyed. Pretty much all of us have a fascination with the macabre, which has drastically helped with book selection. There’s a lot of true crime and psychological thrillers on our list. The only downside is having to drag our sleep deprived bodies out of bed in the morning, after staying up all night to finish it and then being too scared to fall asleep. At least we get to complain about it together.

We still read one book a month (or two months if it’s longer or we are all crazy busy). We rotate who picks each month, and on every third month, we attempt to meet. Our next meeting is in October, and I’m trying to decide how to celebrate our 50th book: a smorgasbord of baked goods or all of us dressing up like our favorite literary characters. Probably both.

Our Token Male

After a year or so of meeting with just girls, we realized that Books & Beans was getting a reputation. We were like the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and the “Finer Things Club” all rolled up into one resplendent crew. At the time, it was just me, Emily, Alex, & Jocelyn…reading books & being exclusive. This elitist mindset infuriated Cameron, Alex’s husband. He even threatened to start a rival club called “Nick & Nuggets” (where the members watch Nicholas Cage movies & consume chicken nuggets. Terrifying). The odds were finally tipped in his favor when we mentioned “Pride and Prejudice” in passing, and he had no idea what we were talking about. There is automatic admittance to any poor soul who has no idea who Jane Austen is.

His first pick was a self published fantasy novel to the page count of almost 400. We considered kicking him out after that misstep, but he’s made himself invaluable to us with his clever use of gifs in the group text. He also set up a shared note on our phones that has our upcoming books highlighted in different fonts. There is something about an organized chart that wins its way into all the nerd girls’ hearts.

There is apparently a sequel to the “fantasy novel which will not be named“, but we are all praying that our visceral reaction to the first one will be enough to keep him from choosing it like he’s threatened. Vindictive, that one is. Just kidding, Cameron, just. kidding. 😊

Reading On

Even before Cameron joined, the group has always been pretty fluid. We said goodbye to Brittany when she moved away a year and a half ago. We also welcomed Paige to stand in solidarity with our other nursing student member, Alex. Jocelyn moved away last year but has continued to join us remotely…and even more remotely in a month, when she gets married & moves to Canada. And Emily & I remain Old Faithful Founding Members.

Books & Beans is still my favorite check mark on my ever expanding Bucket List. It’s been a fun way to connect with people as we live our separate lives. It’s pushed me to read things I never would have picked to read. It’s also helped me think deeper about what I’m consuming as a reader “just for fun.” That’s what a community does, even one as small and silly as Book & Beans. It promotes connection and growth in an increasingly disconnected and disinterested world.

So cheers to us, Beanies. Let’s read a few more together.

4 Tips for When Quiet Time is Not So Quiet

I’m beginning to believe that calling personal time spent with God “quiet time” is a bit of a misnomer. Life is rarely quiet at our house, and I often find myself frustrated when “quiet time” is really a cacophony of interruptions from my three favorite little ones. Maybe the problem is with my expectations. Maybe the problem is with the name. It’s probably a little of both.

The issue with calling it “quiet time” is that we often spend more time concerned about the quiet than we actually should. If it doesn’t fall below a certain decibel or if we aren’t sitting in our comfy chair with blanket & coffee, then we feel that we aren’t meeting with the Lord properly.

People can become really particular about what “quiet time” should be. As a young mom, it can be very discouraging to hear from bloggers or women in different seasons that you need to rise hours before dawn in order to spend time in the Word. I begin to feel terrible if I can’t drag myself out of bed, and that God is displeased because I chose to sleep. Grace goes out the window, and instead I’m bogged down with guilt.

There is another way. It involves more interruptions. And in some ways, it’s a temporary seasonal approach to “quiet time.” But these tips have helped me reframe my expectations & embrace freedom from “Mom Guilt” when spending time with God.

1) Be Visible.

Instead of separating & secluding ourselves, we can let our kids see us battling to be in the Word. This means not getting frustrated by interruptions because we will absolutely be interrupted. This means expecting to get distracted, because we will absolutely get distracted. They learn from not just what we teach them, but also what we model for them. We need to respond to these interruptions with grace, even sometimes reminding them that what they need can wait for a moment while we finish reading what God has to say. If it’s a more pressing need, we can meet it & then come back to the table. Pausing to refill a juice cup is worth it for our kids to see us spending time with Jesus.

2) Read a Physical Bible.

Having an iPad is wonderful for reading because everything is so compact & convenient. With the swipe of a screen, we are at the right app, chapter & verse. But there is something special about a physical Bible. I remember seeing my parents’ & grandparents’ Bibles. They were underlined, annotated, spine bent & worn. They were loved. With the technology today, our kids don’t know if we are reading the Bible or scrolling through Pinterest. We need to let them see us wear our Bibles out. We need to let them see us scribble in the margins and highlight important passages. It might be less convenient, but it’s a visual reminder to our children of what we value & Who we love most.

3) Read for Comprehension.

We often fall into two different extremes when we read Scripture. The one extreme is that we go deep & long. And this is wonderful! However, most young moms can’t sit down and spend hours every day reading, journaling & praying. It’s not for lack of desire; it’s a practical & logistical problem. There are too many interruptions & outside responsibilities. What ends up happening is that because we feel that this is what we HAVE to do, we try to do it. And then we fail. And when we fail, we can sometimes fall to the other extreme: devotional reading. We go short & sweet with a quick verse & a few paragraphs from a well meaning author. While this is far more manageable & certainly encouraging, if this is all we do we can begin to wear away our ability to go deeper.

There is a happy medium here, and it may seem simplistic. It’s this: READ THE BIBLE. There will be seasons where we can go deeper, ask every question of the text, and glean multiple applications of every concept presented. But this busy and exhausting season may not be the best season to do this kind of studying well. But for some reason, we think that God demands this of us. Suddenly our method of study becomes more important than the content of our study. There are no Biblically mandated methods of Bible study. God just wants us to know Him through His Word. We can do that in a variety of ways in different seasons of life.

If the method of reading is hindering you being faithful, we should read for comprehension instead of going to the other extreme. Sustained devotional reading will kill Biblical Literacy in our lives. We miss context when we read this way, and we begin to become dependent on human explanations & summaries of the Word of God.

We have to read it! We need to let the Spirit draw us into this love letter & bring conviction as we approach the text. When we ask, He is faithful to do it! When the time comes to go deeper, we will have a solid foundation of familiarity with the text because we’ve been reading it regularly.

4) Start out any time with the Lord with prayer.

It is the Lord who uses His Word to change us. There will be distractions. There will be methods that work better in different seasons. But we need the Lord to help focus our hearts & minds no matter what we do. We need to start off our time with the Lord by asking Him to help us see what He wants us to see in His Word. We need to ask Him to help us be able to push through interruptions & grow from our time with Him. He meets us in the quiet, and He meets us in the chaos. Invite Him to speak louder than all of it.

The Unanswered Why

Recently, with any direction I give my son or any comment I make about anything, my ears are met with a familiar refrain. Seriously, I think Peter’s new favorite word is “why?” Like a good mother, I always meet his barrage of questions with thoughtful patient responses. Ha. Ha. Ha. I wish. There is something about that particular question that frays my composure.

The other day, he informed me that he was planning on getting married. I asked him who he had chosen to make such a sacred commitment to at the ripe age of four. He replied, “Leanor!” When I tried to explain that he can’t marry his sister, he seemed shocked & confused. “WHHYY?” He cried, “She is my LIFE!”

Dramatic much? 😂 Peter especially gets upset when I don’t have a ready response for his endless quest for answers. But sometimes his questions are tricky. And almost every time “because I said so” isn’t the answer Peter is wanting.

I’ve realized something recently. My heart’s response to a lot of my own circumstances isn’t far from Pete’s. I want to know the “why” too. If I’m going to struggle, I at least want God to give me a reason.

The reading plan I’m working through right now is taking me through the book of Judges. I heard a similar voice in Gideon in chapter 6 this week. God calls Gideon to free His people from their oppression. Before he agrees to anything, Gideon wants to know why they were oppressed in the first place. “O my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” (v.13)

God could have explained it to him. He could’ve reminded Gideon of the covenant the people had broken, that this wasn’t the first time Israel had rebelled. He could’ve defended Himself and pointed the finger at the nation’s forgetfulness. Instead, God’s response is,”Go in your strength & deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?” (v.14) This isn’t an answer; it’s a call to action!

Sometimes God is more concerned with us following Him by faith than with fully explaining Himself. It’s normal to want answers; but in the crisis, we can often become consumed with trying to understand instead of being consumed with God Himself. It’s hard to trust God’s promises when we are questioning His motives. The hard truth is this: we were never promised answers when tough times come. We were promised that tough times will come, and that God will always be with us.

When those unanswered “why’s” threaten our peace of mind, we must remember that the focus of our faith is a good God. We can follow Him, even when we don’t fully understand Him or what He is doing. It’s like that old Spurgeon quote/turned song preaches, “God is too good to be unkind, and He is too wise to be mistaken. When we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”

Rest for the Weary Mom

I never used to think about sleep before becoming a parent. Now I think about it all the time. Pretty please tell me I’m not the only Mom who does this. 🙏🏼

Sleep Stress is a real thing. Around 6 or 7PM, my mind starts to swirl with questions about what the evening will hold. How long will it take for the kids to fall asleep? How many times will I get woken up? How will their nap/lack of nap affect how the night goes? Should I go to bed early to counteract any potential interruptions? How will I function tomorrow if I don’t get adequate rest?

My children have picked up on this nervous energy of mine. Since having them, we’ve made a habit of praying with them every night before bed. I’ve realized now that I’ve become too consistent with my verbiage in these prayers, because Peter prays that he’ll sleep “all through the night” at every meal. Oops.

Our youngest, Josie, has had a very difficult time sleeping through the night. I’ve tried every method I can think of to help her sleep better. Nothing has stuck; and I’m still up with her one to three times a night. That’s almost 10 months straight of not once sleeping through the night.

Lack of sleep does something funny to me. I start to feel a little crazy and desperate. I’m physically weak, my mind is slower, and I’m more impatient. With three kids, it’s harder to compensate with afternoon naps. I often get ready for bed feeling like I was hit by a bus, and then the bus backed up and ran over me again.

A sleepless child is not a thorn in the flesh. But sometimes it feels that way. I was reminded of my own weakness this morning when Josie woke up at 3:30 & decided that day had begun. We are visiting my parents in Alaska, where the sun barely sets in the summer. As I watched the sun rise over the mountains at 4AM, I was reminded that God is not absent in these moments of powerlessness & exhaustion. He uses them to remind me that His sustaining grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In this sleepless season, I have a choice to make. I can either stress about the details and get frustrated that nothing is working the way I want. Or I can trust that my God has a bigger plan for my patterns of rest, that He will provide sleep in His time; and when I have nothing left, He will sustain me. Resting in Him is the sweetest rest I know; and His new mercies rise with me at dawn.

Four Favorite Recent Reads

Can you believe we are over halfway through the year? I’m in denial.

As many of you know, I love to read, and I’m ever chasing that elusive goal of 52 books in a year. I came close once a few years ago, but every year since it has eluded me. Someday…

This year, my Goodreads reading goal is 35, and I’m definitely on track. I’ve read 23 so far. Let me tell you, 2018 has been a good reading year so far. There have been so many enjoyable reads in a lot of different genres. Here are a few of my favorites:

FICTION: Where the Heart Is, Billie Letts

I picked this book up at Goodwill a few years ago, only vaguely remembering that I enjoyed the movie based on it. But life happened, and it’s just been sitting on the shelf. Plus, I’ve realized recently that I prefer to read fiction on my Kindle; so I checked the digital library & I could check this one out right away. After reading it, I loved it enough that I’m going to keep the hard copy. It follows the story of a pregnant young woman abandoned by her boyfriend at a Walmart in the middle of nowhere, USA. She makes her life in that town, surrounded by vivid memorable characters. It’s got the feel-good vibe that small town stories often have, but it doesn’t shy away from dealing with difficult issues. I had to rent the movie again as soon as I finished it. The book is definitely better, but I love a good Natalie Portman flick.

MEMOIR: I Was Told to Come Alone, Souad Mekhennet

This book is written by a Muslim journalist, the only journalist able to interview jihadists during the aftermath of 9/11. Raised in Germany, she was able to walk the line between being raised in the West and understanding the language & culture of Muslims. She shares her experience & investigations with fairness, riding out the tension between her Middle Eastern heritage & Western upbringing. Plus, she has the added challenge of being a woman in a culture that tends to be misogynistic & in a field heavily dominated by men. This book had its thrilling moments with a near kidnapping, fascinating interviews & one nail biting incarceration. There were heartbreaking moments as it deals with the cruel realities of war. It was an eye opening read & challenged some of my preconceived notions about the West’s involvement in the Middle East.

BIOGRAPHY: The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom

I’ve read so much WWII fiction and nonfiction. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read “The Hiding Place.” It is so good! Corrie Ten Boom gives the pulse of what it was like to live in Europe during Hitler’s rise to power. She also gives first hand knowledge about the horrors of the concentration camps. What struck me more than even the history in the book was her family’s unbelievable faith. Faced with certain imprisonment, they took unbelievable risks & trusted that God would protect. And so many times, the only explanation for how they didn’t get caught was divine intervention. It’s beautifully written, inspiring & heartbreaking; but totally worth it!!

NONFICTION: Sacred Privilege, Kay Warren

For all the ministry wives out there, this one is for you. I’d seen it popping up all over my Instagram feed, and I knew I had to get my hands on it. Honestly, this book made me cry a few times. Kay Warren has been in ministry with her husband for over 3 decades, and her words on marriage & parenting in the hubbub of ministry were so encouraging. I especially appreciated the chapter on recognizing the seasons of ministry that you go through. It spoke to me right where I am. Kay Warren helps lead a church of thousands, but she doesn’t hide behind platitudes. She is honest up front about her struggles with sin, her feelings of inadequacy, and her deepest hurts in ministry. She does all this with humility & humor. Reading this book was like having coffee with a friend & mentor.

That’s all I’ve got for now! What books have you been loving recently?

By Her Grave

A lot of people think my husband looks just like his dad. But that’s because they haven’t seen pictures of his mom, Pam. While his build is similar to my father in law’s, his face is all his mom. The contour of her cheeks, her color of her eyes, and the shape of her lips are all mirrored in my husband’s face. It was surprising to me when I first saw pictures.

This last week, we had the opportunity to visit Ohio where my father-in-law was raised. Though much of our time was spent eating ice cream & spending quality time with family, we were able to visit Pam’s grave one morning.

It was a surreal experience. I was seeing the grave of a person so unknown to me, yet so connected to the people I love. I was seeing her grandson innocently touch her headstone. I was moved by all of it, more than I expected to be.

I think it was moving because I’m a mother now, and I’ve had the daily joy of seeing my children grow & develop over the last four and a half years. I get to know and be known by the people I carried in my womb. She never got that. All the information my husband has about his mother is from the letters she wrote to him before he was born and pictures & stories from his dad. This side of heaven, that is the only kind relationship he will have with her. She is his legend. And after hearing about her over the past seven years that we’ve been married, Pam has become almost mythic to me.

That’s why being there was so moving. I just think seeing a physical grave brought her a little closer, made her a little more tangible. That stone made her really real, a physical being that once lived & loved. All of those photos & memories were given more meaning, standing there above her body.

We all got in our cars afterwards & pulled off the gravel path to pavement, our minds turning towards lunch and (let’s be honest) more ice cream. I held Jame’s hand in the car & a few tears fell. I hope she knows just how amazing her baby turned out to be. I think she would be proud.