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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!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How To Avoid A Political Argument

"The gospel doesn't need a soapbox; it needs a table." My pastor has been saying this every week this month, and I love it, because it feels like every other person has a soapbox to stand on today. I can't go anywhere without someone trying to lure me into some kind of political argument, and I am pretty much done with it. I did my battling with a pen and a ballot, and now I would like to move on. But so many are not ready to move on, and they want to continue to wage war with everyone they meet, whether it is in the school parking lot, the grocery store, the ballet studio, or the coffee shop. People who I want to enjoy time with, and talk about other aspects of life with, are stuck in an angry place. It's true that we can't speak into someone's life without a basis of relationship, so if you are in a friendship with someone or just stuck in line with them, and you are not in agreement politically, hopefully the following will help everybody move forward and we can again enjoy the art of conversation. Maybe even rediscover friendly banter. 1) Arguing is foolish. You aren't going to change anyone's mind by loudly disagreeing with them, interrupting, or getting red in the face. Save that behavior for the hockey rink, and find some civility. 2 Timothy 2:14 says "Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels." 2) Twice is enough. If you persist in bringing up a topic that causes an argument, you are now nagging, hounding, irritating, and otherwise causing problems. If you have tried a couple of times to change a friend's mind about something, it's time to drop it if you want to stay friends. Proverbs 26:21 says "As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife." I would rather fuel a friendship than a fire with my words. 3) Know what is sacred. When you have a good friend (and want to keep them), know what hill they are willing to die on, and stay away from it. Friends do not need to agree on everything, and while you should be able to talk about what is meaningful to you, if you notice that they get heated whenever you bring up something in particular, don't bring it up. If they ask you, which implies that they are open to your opinion, by all means, go there, but only if invited. This is also a huge sign of respect, when they know you don't agree but you are willing to set the issue aside in favor of the relationship. Proverbs 17:14 says "Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out." 4) Use gentle words. If you just don't want to get sucked into an argument, you can gently and kindly say, "I'd rather not talk about this. It seems like we just need to agree to disagree." Or, "I can see that you feel really strongly about this. I think we should probably talk about something else." And then change the subject. Hopefully they will be willing to move on. Proverbs 17:27 says "The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered." I'd love to be known as a woman who is wise, understanding, and even-tempered. I feel that I probably have a long way to go, but at least there is a road map laid out for me to follow in God's Word, and if I don't refer to it, I'll soon be lost. I'll end with my favorite verse about words, and one of the earliest ones I taught to my girls when they were just old enough to talk: "Pleasant words are a honeycomb; sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." Proverbs 16:24. May your words be sweet and full of wisdom today, drawing others to the table!

Friday, January 27, 2017

10 Signs That You Are Raising Police Children

You know you are raising children in a police family when... 1. The toddler only has six small toy cars, and five of them are police vehicles. The other car is referred to by the older children as "the bad guy." 2. The kids tiptoe around the house after school and ask "When will Daddy wake up?" When you remind them that he has just switched to day shift, they commence playing basketball indoors and banging on the piano. 3. They tell their friends the difference between jail and prison. 4. They tell their friends "My dad doesn't put people in jail. They put themselves there!" 5. When other kids say, "My dad is stronger than your dad," they just chuckle. 6. The toddler's vocabulary includes badge, radio, gun-we-don't-touch, and American Flag. 7. When we pass other patrol cars on the road, the kids ask, "Who was it?" 8. They can sit at a table with all of their closest friends and eat huge pieces of cake in absolute silence, because it is a swearing-in and not a birthday party, and they all know the difference. 9. They can accept without tears that Dad can't make it to their awards ceremony at school, but they are over-the-moon excited in the rare event that he can. 10. They are incredibly protective and incredibly proud of their dad and what he does. Anyone who thinks otherwise is just not thinking clearly.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

When Facing the Future

This month marks four years since my grandpa left this world to be with Jesus. He was an incredible man of faith, and as I sat in church this morning singing the words to a song he never knew but fully lived out, I felt the powerful emotions of missing him tug my heart up into my throat. I hate crying in in front of other people, but the older I get, the more it just happens. I thought, "I hate this choking feeling, and I don't want to cry right now, or miss my grandpa this much, but I know what happens to me next." That's when I felt God's loving but firm presence in my heart say, "I am Next." And then it hit me, like God speaking out of the burning bush to Moses, that He is always what is next. What about what will happen next in my husband's job? God says "I am next." What if I can't afford for my kids to continue at their amazing private school, even though we have worked so hard to keep them there? God says "I am next." All the questions I have about my family's future, what my kids will do when they grow up, if my husband will be safe as he does his job, each has the same answer from my Heavenly Father: "I am Next. Don't worry about tomorrow. I am always what is next for you. All you have to do is trust me." In my study Bible I have underlined the passage that my Grandma continually quoted during my Grandpa's last week on this earth, 2 Corinthians 5:1-7. As the doctors helped her make arrangements for Grandpa's body, she would say, "It's his earthly tent. I know he won't be in it anymore; he won't need it. You do what you need to do. He's going home to Jesus." She knew that what was next for Grandpa was to be home with Jesus, not to be confined to an expired body. I have a glorious future in Christ, better than what I could plan out, organize, and prepare for myself. Something beautiful and exciting is always what is next for me, as his dearly loved daughter. "For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life. Now it is God who made us for this very purpose and has given his Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight" -2 Corinthians 5:4-7.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Having a Big Picture View

I was over at a friend's new house, putting together a crib for her daughter to sleep in that night, and realizing the need for The Big Picture. When a metaphor for my life comes to me, it often smacks me in the face like the falling side of a crib which I failed to fully screw together. There I was, with pretty good directions in at least three languages, and I still managed somehow to screw not just one piece together wrong, but two different sections on both sides of the crib. All my work of an hour, all wrong, because in reading only the step by step directions, I did not turn back to the first page, the big picture of the fully assembled crib. If I had, I would have seen that the sides curved outward, not inward, and had several holes for the mattress base to screw into, holes which were nowhere to be seen on my incorrectly assembled sides. I fought the impulse to scream some non-PG words, took a few deep breaths, and picked up the screwdriver to start over. Then a crib rail fell onto my foot. Then I really started over, but I made sure to check the picture repeatedly, and the crib finally was ready for Baby Bailey to sleep in that night in her new house. But I do this all the time in my life, proceeding with a bit of a plan of how to correct my kids' behavior, or bad attitudes, and what I'm really providing is just a behavioral band-aid. "Say you are sorry." Five minutes later, "say you are sorry" again. "This time, you have to clean the toys up yourself and say you are sorry." "Now you get to just go to bed." And what did anybody learn? That if we aren't nice, we repeat the same apology until mom gets really mad and sends us to bed? Where is the big picture for this? I'm following the steps but it's just getting messier! The big picture is God, and his plan for my family is love, and joy, and peace, and patience, and all the other fruit that somehow seems to be hanging on the tree just out of our reach. How do we arrive at a loving, peaceful family without all the screws coming loose, the side rails coming off, and painful bruises from where we collide with each other? 1. Read what the Bible has to say about families, and children, and discipline. Do a search of the word "child" or "children" in Proverbs and read everything that comes up! 2. The big picture is a family that loves each other and that loves others like Jesus loves. All training should have this in mind, then, like finding ways to serve others when selfishness is the problem, or like finding ways to encourage when hurtful words are the problem. 3. Pray as a family, to ask God to help you be more loving and kind. It's a new year, a great time for new habits. If you don't pray together at meals or bedtime, you can start now to do that. "What are you thankful for today?" is a great question to start off a family prayer time. 4. Be consistent about discipline and just as consistent about praise. Be loving with your family, and they will be more loving with each other. My kids mirror what I do and say. It begins with me. 5. Keep moving forward. We are going to make mistakes. If we have a terrible day, tomorrow is a new day to try again with God's help. God's mercies are new every morning, and his grace is enough for each day. The big picture is a loving family who treats each other with kindness, and we can accomplish it!