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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

8 Ways to Encourage A Friend

I have a toddler at home, which means that even though I have two school-aged children who can care for themselves, pack their own lunches, and remember their ballet and basketball practices without being reminded, my brain is still fully occupied with potty training, remembering all the character's names from Paw Patrol and their functions, and waking up three times a night because someone needs a granola bar or their favorite spatula fell out of the bed. So when one of my friends is struggling, it's tempting to just avoid them, not because I don't care, but because I'm so tired that I don't feel like I have anything to offer. That being said, I am very much an extrovert who needs my friends. I love the solid friendships I have intentionally sought out, nurtured, and treasured! I don't take my friendships for granted, having been through some deep periods of loneliness at different times in my life. I want to give encouragement back, but how? If any of these sounds like you, raise your hand: Just moved away from home for college, or just home after college? Just moved to a new city, state, or country? Joined a new church? Had a baby before any of your other friends? Had a baby after all of your friends were finished having babies? in the fog of just driving kids to school and activities, wondering when you will ever feel like yourself and not just a chauffeur? Whatever it is, you may feel like you don't have much to give others. Life is just taking it out of you right now. You, sweet one, are not alone. And God still wants hope, support, and friendship for you, even in this place; you were not designed to do it alone. So when you finally do reach out to friends, how can you give anything back? Here are some practical overtures of friendship you can offer even when you have nothing to give! 1) Invite a friend over for dinner when your husband is on the night shift. Even if it is PB and J sandwiches. Eating a meal together and chatting, even while kids play, always reminds me how much I love my friends! 2) Pray with your friends and for them. I pray for my friends as I do my everyday tasks, just as they come to mind. If you are my friend, I have prayed for you as I folded laundry, made dinner, swept floors, or waited for kids after school. And if you ask me to pray for you in general, I've probably just grabbed your hands right there and prayed. That's because I have a toddler. If I don't do it now, I'll forget. The people in the grocery store probably don't care. 3) Offer to watch their kids. Your kids get a playdate out of it, or at least babysitting practice. You get to offer a friend some much-needed peace and quiet, or a date night with her husband, or just getting groceries by herself (moms, you all know that's practically a vacation!). And maybe, just maybe, she'll offer to watch yours sometime, too! But that's beside the point. 4) Invite your friend to bring her kids over. Eat together, or just play. My friend and I recently got together to eat dinner at her house and I brought a quilt I was working on to sew. She got out some sewing, too, and we just talked forever. It was lovely, and our kids had a great time, too! 5) Bring your friend a treat. Maybe a few cookies from a batch you made, or a little candy bar or a new flavor of tea with a little note on it saying you were thinking of her! Something small or homemade doesn't take much from you but is just perfect for saying "I'm thinking of you." It goes along with "You are not alone!" and "I'm praying for you!" 6) Write your friend a note of encouragement. Not a long one, but one that communicates any of the above messages. My secret sister at work wrote me some very sweet little notes, and I kept them all, because they made me feel so special, noticed, and loved! Make that difference to someone you care for! A text works, too! I love the texts I get from friends that are accompanied by funny memes or encouraging images with Scripture verses. 7) Give hand-me-downs! Some people don't do this, but I love giving and getting bags of clothes and toys from friends! If I can pass something on that still has a good life left to someone who will enjoy it, I feel much better about that than throwing it away, and I have received some very cute things for my kids and I to wear, play with, and enjoy. Also, the people you give to and the people who give to you are rarely the same, so you can keep the chain of sharing and blessing going! 8) Do a low/no cost ladies' night at your house for your friends. That way they can get to know and enjoy each other! Have a movie/ popcorn party, a grown-up coloring book night, a yoga night, or just a dinner where everyone brings a part. Don't worry about the house being spotless, and please don't worry about decorations or fancy treats. You are reaching out because you are friendship-starved! Save the fancy stuff for a different season in life, and for now let the friends be the focus! Encouragement is about hope. Take time to fill your friends with hope in any little way you can, and you will certainly be encouraged yourself. My hope for you, right now, is that someone comes to your mind who you are in the perfect position to encourage, and that you find some way to bring them hope this week.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Where I See Mess, She Sees Love

My almost-twelve-year-old daughter, poetry in her soul just like her mama, was orbiting me with her dinner dishes as I cleaned up the kitchen. I asked her to put them in the dishwasher, saying totally unnecessarily and a little short tempered at the end of the day, "Can you see how I am trying to clean up the kitchen?" She paused mid-ballet-twirl and actually looked around the kitchen for a moment. The following observations, a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Emily Bronte, nearly brought me to tears at this girl-nearly-woman who once told me I smelled like "makeup and pretty mama." "This kitchen is pretty neat, Mom. The iced tea glass, the stack of old family cookbooks from Great Grandma, and the little plant show that you are a sweet kind of lady. All of the kid art shows that you love your family. The baseball cap on the counter shows that we have a fun dad who likes sports. All the pictures on the fridge and the big empty Pyrex bowls show that we have lots of friends, because those dishes were full of food and now they have to go back to the friends who made treats for us. There are lots of dishes in the sink, which means a big family lives here. The pots on the stove show that we ate a yummy dinner together, at home. The empty milk jug means there are growing kids. The high school picture of you and daddy shows that you have stayed together. The rubber bands and beads show that you do fun crafts with your kids. This is a lovely kitchen, Mom. There is lots of love in here." Oh my goodness, how did I miss what is so easy for her to see? Mess means life. Mess means we were together today, at least long enough to make some dirty dishes. I'm sorry I don't see the blessings through the mess often enough. But I am so deeply thankful that my kids see the love.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Prayer for the Grieving Wife

For the grieving woman whose husband fell in the line of duty in the county next to mine, this is my prayer. And for so many others, promises for the future cut short in one moment, and now having to go forward alone with a folded flag and a broken heart, this is for you, too. I cannot imagine how you hurt, but I am crying out to God on your behalf. God of all comfort, wrap your arms around this sweet woman, find her in the middle of her pain and hold her, comfort her with your incredible peace. Help her to get the sleep she needs tonight, the rest she needs for her body to get up and go on with life even as her soul rages against the hurt. Help her to know she is not alone, that you never abandon her and that she can lean into you for all she needs. Place so many brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and dear friends around her that although her best friend on earth has been taken, she can go on and live knowing that she is loved. Meet her immediate needs for finances, for sorting through the necessary paperwork and benefits, for clarity and wisdom in understanding the steps that need to be taken. Guard her heart and mind against fear and anxiety, and protect her from being overwhelmed by the future. Help her to see you are her strong tower, her refuge,and the strength she needs to stand in the days to come. For her family, the little boys who are now without their earthly dad, place people around them to be your hands and feet, Jesus. Place strong men in their lives who will wrestle, run, and chase with them, who will show them what it means to be godly, upright, faithful men, and may they always know you are with them and never leave them alone. Lord, may your love pour out on this dear woman so that she may look back on this time and see your grace and mercy in every moment; in every tear she sheds, in every meal brought and every hug received, may she feel your presence. Lord, restore her joy, and redeem her pain. Let her not suffer for nothing, but let the experience of loss make her even more compassionate and a comforter to others, as one who knows that you can heal broken hearts, and may it deepen the beauty she already possesses as your precious daughter. "But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy." Proverbs 5:11. It seems unthinkable that this grieving wife could sing joyful songs again, but you are a God who restores what is broken, and you promise that after pain, joy will come. Help her heart to cling to your promises even through her hurt, her anger, and her deep sadness. Help her rejoice in your love and faithfulness once again. In the name of Jesus, Amen

Monday, January 15, 2018

Cultivating Hope

I couldn't take it one more day. Each time I looked out onto the back patio, the dead, rotting leaves, slimy brown witch-hair-looking grasses and fallen tree branches from the winter's storms reminded me that I have been so caught up with my new teaching job that I have left certain areas of my life to fall into disrepair. My family still gets my love, but some days it's all I can do to just get dinner on the table, snuggle on the couch for a few minutes, and then fall unconscious into my bed to do it all again the next day. The dust bunnies are collecting out of reach under the tables and couch, reminding me of how long it's been since I really deep-cleaned when I fish out a toy car or ball out along with a wad of dust and lint so big we should name it and feed it. I used to be better at this, I tell myself. This is a busy season of learning a new job, researching, lesson planning, wanting to be good at what I do. It's okay, it will get better. But sometimes I need to make a difference I can see right away; today it was that atrocious back patio garden. I grabbed my gloves, a huge plastic tub, and worship music on my headphones, and hit it. The slimy mess I was suddenly in up to my elbows had the smell of moldy vegetables and looked even worse. I pulled out handful after smelly handful of rotting grasses, growing surer by the minute that I was probably going to need to dig out the offending plant and start over in the spring with something new. However, when I had removed the dead mass of stringy, rotting leaves, underneath and just barely peeking out of the winter soil were the fresh new shoots that were just waiting to get a little light and air. The immediate correlation to my tired, winter-weary body and tangled-up mind was so clear and sweet, and coincided perfectly with the song resounding in my head from the earbuds: "Come alive, come alive." My eyes, ears, and heart came together to wrap me in this perfect sense of wholeness, of beauty in my story and what God is doing in my life. He is ready to strip away the weariness, the anxiety of not being good enough, the wondering what will be next. He is pulling out the dead and tired and faded pieces of me and reviving the joy, the passion, the excitement in fulfilling a purpose. He is doing a new thing in my heart. He is not interested in throwing me away and starting again with something new; He is making me new. Like many of you, I am choosing a word that will be my theme for the year in my Bible studies and prayer, and I believe I have settled on "cultivate." I am ready to allow God to cultivate in me the fruit of His Spirit, like love, joy, peace, and patience. I am ready to cultivate an attitude of worship in my daily life, and habits that support that, like reading (or listening, thanks to my Bible app) my Bible daily, and listening to praise music on my way home from work to put me in a better frame of mind to care for my family. My hope for you this year is that you will allow God to work in the garden of your heart, to cultivate something beautiful out of whatever tangled mess, like mine, that you have to start with. He is ready to renew and restore you to your intended beauty, as his beloved. "Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." John 15:4 "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Not Too Busy: A Girls' Night How-To

We are a month into the graveyard shift, a time which can be intensely lonely. Some days I don't see my love at all, aside from the silhouette that comes into our room in the dark early morning and starts ripping apart velcro and tossing boots against the wall in his exhaustion and hurry to get to sleep himself. I have a default setting of "hunker down" during this time- with a toddler and two elementary kids, just going to get groceries sucks the life out of me, so thinking up fun outings to do without my parental backup seems like insanity. But we all need some fun, some friendship, something bright and happy to look forward to during the week, all of us, so before this shift change, I laid out a plan. I called it "Not Too Busy," because that is what I need to be. Not too busy with work, school, kids' activities to set aside some friend time. Not too busy to reach out to other possibly lonely women I know. Not too busy to shove the laundry in the bedroom, wipe down bathrooms, and invite friends into my real home, not a magazine page home that looks like no one lives there. I wanted to create a group of friends who were able to share more than texts or posts, who were ready for real human contact, snacks, advice, and the kind of relationships that we are all missing in our miles-wide-but-inches-deep social media-saturated culture. I need real friends. Maybe you are longing for real friends, too. Maybe you are missing friends who hug you, who know what kind of snacks you like, who can share what it's like to be tired but still needing some friend time, and who will take you just as you are. In case you want to create your own Not To Busy group, here's how I went about it: (1) I set my expectations very low. I don't intend to accomplish anything during this time like a craft or movie. It's for talking, but if you bring something to do with your hands, great! Some of us are crafty; some are not. No problem. Dishes still in the sink from dinner? Such is life. Toddler needs to go to bed early? I excuse myself to put him to bed and them come back. I feed the kids an early dinner and then set them loose in the playroom with movies, snacks, all their toys and games, and permission to come out and eat some of the grownup snacks for a few minutes during out two-hour time frame. I am a perfectionist who needed to give myself permission to let my house be less than perfect for friends to see it, or I could not get up the energy to do this every week. I do always clean bathrooms, though! (2) I open my house every week on the same day, at the same time. If my husband happens to be off, he gets to go out with his friends- their wives are at my house anyway. We all get friend time, in that case. This also means that if someone can't make it, they have another chance the following week. (3) I made a contract for my friends to sign. It basically says that whether you are late or on time, bring a snack to share or not, are younger or older, married or single, in jammies or dressed nicely, etc, you are welcome. We are going to be friends who accept each other just as we are. No judgements. We are here to build each other up and to help each other to feel like we belong. Everyone signed it and put email addresses down so I could send out info about our night later. (4) I invited friends from all parts of my life. My school friends, church friends, work friends, police department friends, all of them are mixing together and getting to know each other. Also, only about 25% of my list of people are available on any given night, so I invite 20 and get 5. When school gets out, maybe I'll get a few more at a time. But it seems to have worked out fine each week. (5) Whatever the result, I'm telling myself that whoever needs to be here will come. It's been three weeks, and there were 5 of us the first week, then 2 of us, then 4 of us. But I had so much fun each week with whoever was able to make it! I'm growing closer to these lovely ladies, and developing just the kind of friendships I've been craving. I'm doing life with friends, not just hunkering down and waiting for life to get easier. I can't tell you how many times in three weeks I have heard a friend say, "I thought I was the only one!" You are not the only one, Dear One. You just need to open your house, whatever that looks like, and invite others into your life, just as it is. Then together, we can see that we are not alone. You are not too busy for real friendship.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Learning to Wait Well

I wanted to title this post, "How to Wait Beautifully," but my friends and family read my posts, and at the risk of causing someone to choke or spit coffee out of their nose, I settled on the more humble title you see before you. I want to wait beautifully. I want to be such a patient, beautiful, graceful lady as I wait for things that I could actually title an article "How to Wait Beautifully," but until that day, we are going to wade through the miry, difficult, so-muddy-it-sucks-your-shoe-off, frustrating times of waiting in life together, just as we are, and try to do it better each time. Have you been in a time of waiting like this before? Where you are straining forward with every sinew and fiber, and yet you cannot seem to move to the point where you get to hear the reason, the result, the answer, or even the next step of the plan in front of you? Where you feel unsettled and churned up, tense and tightly strung, and you are desperately trying not to snap as you care for your family with only a tiny pie slice of your brain, the rest consumed with big questions? Whether you are caring for a loved one in the hospital or at home gripped by illness, or waiting on scary lab results, or on a job offer, or buying a home, or expecting a baby, waiting is difficult. It can be exciting, but I'm talking about the painful waiting. How can you wait beautifully when it's hard? When we were waiting to hear about my husband's court case several years ago that resulted from a critical incident, and on which it seemed that our whole future hinged, I kept on thinking to myself, "Don't act in a way you will be embarrassed about later." What would that look like? Maybe being overly emotional with my friends, letting it consume me in every conversation, pouting, being moody everywhere I went, not being a support to my husband in a difficult time. I tell my kids now, "Who we are when we don't get what we want shows who we really are." Am I proud of how I have acted every day of those difficult months? Nope. But overall, the theme of my heart was that God is faithful to me and my family. He is our provider. So my actions, words, things I chose to emphasize when I spoke to others hopefully were glorifying to God, not complaining or whining or causing others to wish they hadn't asked. Now I'm in another season of waiting in my job and my husband's job, and we know, deep down, it will all work out. So what are some ways in which we can make the effort to wait well, so that we are glorifying to God in our waiting? (1) Put the focus on what character traits you want to display instead of whining or getting angry. Patience? Trust? So when you think about your situation, you can come back to "but I trust you, God, and I will wait patiently." (2) Pray constantly. This is part of #1. When I pray right now, I keep praying, "God, do your will in my life. Don't let me get in the way with trying to run my own show. I will trust you, and I will wait patiently." (3) Display what patience looks and sounds like for your family. I have been whining, and it gives my family license to whine. If I do my best to be positive, like when I say, "I'm not sure what is going to happen, but God cares for us and He will give us just what we need," it shows my kids how to wait patiently and trust. (4) Surround yourself with an atmosphere of praise. I write Bible verses on my mirror with dry erase markers, I tape them to my desk, I have post-its on the dash in my car with song lyrics to worship songs, I keep praise music on in the car and at home while I clean or make dinner. My mood is instantly lifted when I start singing along to "When you don't move the mountains I needed you to move.." or "I'll praise you in the storm, and I will lift my hands..." (5) When you talk to friends, what you spend the most time talking about is what you are glorifying. Is it the problem, or is it God? I have a long way to go in learning to wait beautifully, but I'm hoping that in each experience of waiting, God is not just allowing change in my life but changing and growing me through my waiting. I suppose the maker of the world knows what waiting feels like... "Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." Colossians 3:12 NLT. "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love." Romans 5:3-5 NLT.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dinner Is Their Love Language

I have determined what my family's love language is, all of them, and it is dinner. That one wasn't on the list in that book I read, but it should be. My kids wake up in the morning asking what is for dinner, and my husband calls home from work to see what is for dinner. The toddler eats two dinners, one while I'm cooking and then another one when he sees what we are all eating. It's the one job I do for my family that garners the most criticism and also the highest accolades. It's the one everyone notices isn't done when I'm sick, or when it's Nutcracker season for my little ballerina, or in our last head lice epidemic, during which I was too busy washing sheets, vacuuming furniture, and combing heads with that horrible, scalp-removing-but-incredibly-effective metal comb to make anything more than frozen ravioli and chicken nuggets. There have been seasons in my life where it was all I could do to just get any kind of edible food on the table and call it good, and seasons where I was excited to try new recipes and make delicious, made-from-scratch crowd-pleasing meals. I am not a gourmet chef of any kind, and my husband has been known to call my food "consistently edible," which he thinks is a great complement. But I have noticed this in all seasons of my 14 year career of cooking family dinners: it is like an anchor for my family throughout their day to know what we will be having for dinner. Even if it is frozen pizza and carrot sticks, they just can get through the day better with that knowledge. So here are my 5 tips for all the families out there whose love language is dinner: 1) Come up with a simple menu for the week and post it where your family can see it. Even if you write "Kid's Choice" or "Frozen Ravioli and Carrots" or "Corn Dogs and Fruit" it gives them something concrete to look forward to. Now, if it's "BBQ Chicken Pizza with Caesar Salad," my family is in a better mood all day, and that's what I strive for. I just use a little whiteboard on the fridge, but you could probably make something cute to display your menu, or even just write it on your calendar on the wall. The important thing is that your family can see it! 2) Make a list of your ingredients for the week, and shop for all those things in one trip. That way, if you need to switch nights because tacos are faster than broccoli beef and you have a busy day ahead, you still have what you need, and you don't end up stopping for fast food. Planning ahead for meals and looking forward to something yummy for dinner (that we all saw on the menu that morning) has kept my family driving past the drive-thru many times. And probably saved us quite a bit of money, too! 3)Plan your time wisely. If you know you only have two hours to be home and have dinner before someone has to be at a game, lesson, activity or work, pick something simple. Or use that amazing Godsend of an invention, the crock pot! Pulled pork sandwiches are a family favorite in our house, and require nothing more than a pork loin and a bottle of sauce sitting in the crock pot for six hours, some buns, and some veggies or a salad. A store-bought pizza crust, some grated cheese, pepperoni, and pizza sauce baked in the oven for 8-10 minutes and served with a bagged salad has everyone eating and happy in less than 20 minutes. But if you have more time, you can make that amazing Chicken Parmesan recipe you have been eying on Pinterest forever. Planning ahead is the key. 4) Know your family's dinner style. We joke that we are raising our kids on bar food. But seriously, when I make some amazing nachos or homemade pizza, or we grill brats on the grill, they cannot be happier. We also make a ton of Mexican food, since we are Southern CA transplants living in the Pacific Northwest, on a continual quest for decent guacamole and carne asada. My brother's family has been raised on curried crab, quinoa meatloaf, and organic fruits and vegetables. I have several friends with dairy and gluten allergies who have to get creative to feed their family. But if you have a pizza and cheeseburger family like I have, don't try to change them into a quinoa meatloaf family. If dinner is their love language, speak love to them. And substitute ground turkey for beef whenever possible. Also, if you eat around the table, or the coffee table, or on a blanket on the floor, as long as you are together and talking, you will have a better shot at enjoying dinnertime with your family. Confession: My husband is so tired when he gets home from his shift that in this season of our lives, we often just circle around the coffee table to eat together with some kind of family movie or baking championship show on the TV. The toddler (I kid you not) sits on a metal tin that popcorn came in many years ago, but it is the perfect height for him to eat at the coffee table as if it is a normal table. I have given up the struggle of trying to always eat at the dinner table like I did growing up, and my family is together, sharing about their day and enjoying their food on actual dishes, with actual cups and silverware. A table is a table. Or a blanket, as the case may be. But we are facing each other, and that's what matters. 5) Spend time looking for meals your family will love. It is not a waste of your time to relax on the couch with a cup of coffee, a new cookbook, and some post-it-notes. Or a magazine. Or even Pinterest, but try to stay focused on your purpose! I love The Pioneer Woman because she cooks food my family will actually eat and enjoy, and her recipes aren't too difficult or time-consuming for this busy working mama of 3. I have a full Pinterest page that I named "Food!", but I do try to print out any recipes that got applause at the table and put them into my cookbook binder. My reason for not relying on my phone or computer to manage all my recipes is this: I want to be able to pass my recipes on to my daughters and son. When they are grown, and they ask, "Where is the recipe for that amazing broccoli beef with noodles that you and Dad used to make?", I don't want to say, "It was on Pinterest, but it's not there anymore," or "there is no more Pinterest." Who knows? But I make several favorite recipes now that were passed down to me, like my Grandma's chocolate chip cookies, and my mom's chicken curry, and I would have missed not having them! So if you can, take some time to collect recipes that look good, that are within your abilities as a cook, and that your family would really love, and actually make them. Be inspired by the pictures, remember that planning what to feed your family is meaningful and important, and you get to put off tackling that mountain of dirty clothes for half an hour! You love your family, I know you do, and planning and cooking meals that will make them feel loved and cared for is just one beautiful way to show them. To get you started, I going to give you two of my fast, favorite, anyone-can-cook recipes that never leave leftovers (sad, because I would love to eat them again at work tomorrow!). Each serves a family of 4-5. Shredded Chicken Pasta (Not a great name; if you come up with a better one, let me know.) You need: 4 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded, 1 24 oz. jar marinara sauce, 1 15 oz. jar alfredo sauce, 1 8 oz. jar basil pesto sauce, and 1-2 boxes pasta, cooked according to the directions (any shape is fine, but we prefer bowtie). 2 boxes make this recipe stretch to feed 8 or so people without making extra sauce. You just serve a little less sauce on each serving of noodles. In a large pan, combine shredded chicken and all three sauces. Stir to combine. You can add a little garlic powder, salt, oregano, or pepper, but it isn't really necessary. Heat until just bubbly. Serve over cooked noodles with a side of garlic bread, salad, or both if you're really feeling fancy. Ranch Tacos You need: 1 package ground turkey, 1 can black beans, 1/2 of a chopped onion (optional), 1 package ranch seasoning, 1 package chicken taco seasoning, 1 box of 12 crunchy taco shells, and taco fixings: grated cheese, sour cream, shredded lettuce, hot sauce, cilantro, etc. In a large pan, brown turkey and onion, if using. Add beans, both seasoning packets, and 1/2 a cup of water. Cook for a few more minutes until beans are hot. Bake taco shells according to directions, usually at 350 for 8 minutes. Serve meat mixture in shells and top with whatever toppings you like. Serve with sides of rice and corn. Enjoy loving your family at dinnertime, and let me know how you like our family's favorite foods! Or share a fast favorite of your own!