What I’m Into (february 2014 edition)

Another month is drawing to a close, so I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for a shiny new edition of This is What I’m Into.

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Month in Very Brief Review: We got back from Florida and it was snowing, the house was wrapped in yarn, literally, see above. Soon we got the go ahead to buy a house on the NE side of Grand Rapids, but we couldn’t find one we liked… yet. Then it snowed and snowed some more and we had GF heart pizzas for Valentines day. Then it briefly melted but proceeded to cream us with the coldest weather yet. Cold Cold Cold.

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On My (and my kid’s) Nightstand(s)
Three Wishes, Liane Moriarty- This is a novel about three triplets with huge personalities and even bigger life crises. I love Moriarty as a novelist, reading her books is like going back to a pan of brownies. Have I used that metaphor before? Crap, feels like i have… This is one of her earlier books and it shows, but it’s still a great read. 

Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld– Set in a high brow prep school, this is a novel of teenage angst and self-involvement. You know how you spent large chunks of high school worrying about what other people thought of you? This book captures this flawlessly, almost painfully. I liked this book more after it was done than I did while I was reading it, after reading of two Curtis Sittenfeld’s I’m wondering if I’ll pick up another…

This is where I leave you, Jonathan Tropper– (Very rated R) A highly HIGHLY dysfunctional family gets together to sit shiva to honor the death of their father. It’s well written and nuanced, I enjoyed it in the end but there were certainly some cringeworthy scenes. I’m curious as to how it will play out as a film. It was MADE For Jason Bateman to be sure.

Extraordinary Jane: If you haven’t purchased a copy of my beautiful friend Hannah Harrison’s gorgeous new children’s book, go now!

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I also spent the month picking through Launch, Contagious and It Starts with Food, but I didn’t finish… as my reading list always reflects, I suck a reading non fiction.

On the Small Screen- This hasn’t been a big TV or movie month for us, I’m all caught up on HIMYM and Big Bang Theory, very ready for Grey’s Anatomy and Parenthood to start back up and ALMOST done with Dexter. The last season is weird and I’m ready to be done with the series.

Blog Love
My friend Jill Burden nailed it with this post on infertility and surrendering to God’s plan. The best thing I’ve read in so long. “Life is about what God is doing, but it’s not about what God is doing for me.”

I’ve been reading and rereading “What my Mother Taught Me” from last October by Shauna Niequist: Because these days I need the reminder.  Everyone benefits when women tap into the passions and use the gifts that God has given them.

And I’m really excited about this new Lent Series coming up by my friend Megan of Sorta Crunchy. “I look forward to this season with an anticipation that is bigger than I know what to do with most years”

Also, I found this post by Hollywood Housewife on work at home Mom outfits really helpful. “I’ve put together a few things for the creative, frazzled, beautiful, work-at-home mom.”

Best of (this) Blog Here’s what you might have missed.

What Mental Health isntdon’t assume that your big feelings and inconvenient emotions mean that you’re sick, feel what you need to feel, go to counseling, get to the bottom of it.

How Naming Our Church Taught me that my Dream Will Stay Exactly That: And in the end I learned a hard lesson that needed to be learned early: This is not going to be my dream church. It’s going to the church that God wants us to plant for the people who need more of Him

Oh, and yesterday I started telling the story of how Kel and I met… on the internet. Don’t miss this, it’s kind of insanely fun and romantic… and stuff.

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Randomly- I’ve been a little bit stalking this movie setwhere Jason Segel is filming “The End of the Tour” 100 yards from my Aunt and Uncle’s front door. Because when does Hollywood come to Hudsonville?!?! Never, that’s when. So. Fascinating.

They’re making a biopic covering the life of David Foster Wallace, whose work I’ve shamefully never read, but need to.

In my Earbuds
Have you seen the Lego Movie with your kids? Well Kel did and now we listen to “Everything is Awesome” at least 27 times a day.

I had a conversation with our facebook group about helping me find workout songs and how I sort of don’t love Mandisa… and you all helped me figure out what to listen to while I work out.

I have all my music accessible on Spotify so click here to tune in

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A candid demonstration of homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Hint: I don’t measure a thing.

Best Bites
We are in the beginning stages of a Whole 30, more on this later, but for now I shall tell you about food that was not Whole 30 compliant. 

My friend Lisa came over and made this homemade recipe for bang bang shrimp, which wasn’t as crunchy as the original but still amazing.

Okay I lied, this Paleo pot roast is amazing. So are these carrots.

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Cooking club Fare, Feb 2014. This month’s theme? Belated Valentines Day.

Non-Verbal Creativity- There has been very little in this department but I did remake this scarf again this month. It’s my favorite scarf pattern BY FAR. Pin it, it now!

Okay, that’s my February. What about you? Read anything good? Eat anything unforgettable? 

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How to meet and marry an Okie (on the internet) part 1

I get this question a least twice a week, in real life and on the internet: Did’t you just move from Oklahoma? Yes. How did you end up in Oklahoma? My husband, Kel is from Oklahoma so we went there because he had good job offers in his home base.

Follow up question: How did you meet and marry an Okie?

Well, sit back and read on: and give grace in the moments where you find yourself wanting to travel back in time and smack 22 year old Leanne across the face.

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As we cranked out that Friday night’s pies we realized that we had a thousand things in common from the same car to the same middle name.

It was kismet and the start of a beautiful friendship, in which she encouraged me to start a xanga weblog.

What’s a xanga weblog? It was blogging, but it was a site comprised of blogs where you could associate and get to know other bloggers by common interests etc…

I was game, so start one I did. I was recently single for the first time since High School and determined to stay so for a while, so I took up new things, like guitar. Because it’s SO ORIGINAL to take up guitar in your early twenties… 

And since I was an accomplished guitar player after two weeks of lessons I joined a “blog-ring” called “Christian Guitar Players. If the shoe fits… 

Then one night after a late night at the pizza parlor I started clicking through the other xanga-folk who were accomplished, Jesus-loving guitar players such as myself.

Click… Read a post… leave a comment…repeat….

Then I came across this guy from Oklahoma, he seemed cool. The deep sort of cool… he’d written a post about church and his Dad’s battle with brain cancer, so I left him a comment:

“Hi, I got your weblog through a random click of the mouse.. I completely agree with your thoughts about what church is and isn’t… blessings to your family.”

He wrote back the next day via a comment on my blog: “Hey, I just started reading your xanga… you seem like a person that I could really get to know and converse with… I’ll be keeping up with you… ~laterz~”

And those are the first exchanges of our relationship.

Then we didn’t talk for months because in those six months he was offline and burying his Father after a heart-wrenching battle with brain cancer.

Honestly I forgot about him, it was one comment after all!

Then the following fall he was back and commenting on nearly everything I wrote. I had to go back and check… “is that the guy from June?”

Yep. It was that guy.

So we started commenting on each other’s posts, a lot.
Then we starting chatting on AIM (including a definition of AIM & feeling old)
Then we started emailing each other at our yahoo email addresses.

Then one night he typed something along the lines of “I bet you have an accent.”
I informed him strongly that I was a blank canvas, I had the lack of an accent.
Gauntlets were thrown and a phone call was made.
Me: “Hey, this is Leanne…” (dear God what was I thinking, calling a crazy internet boy?!)
Kel: “I know, you have an accent.”

Insert my laughing, protesting and generally feeling giggly and awkward before hanging up a few minutes later.

Weeks passed full of emailing and time spent on AIM.

Then one night I was up late watching a movie, a romantic comedy where everyone was screwing each other over on purpose and I started to cry. No one really loves each other anymore! They’re just in it for what they can get! This love thing is pointless, I may was well give up.  It was Intolerable Cruelty, I think.  

I went to check the computer, in that day I was using the shared family computer. No smart phones, no laptops, just me hogging the computer late at night, probably with ice cream.

Kellasatou, that was his handle, was online so I told him I was feeling bummed out and about to go to bed.

He asked if I wanted to talk about it, one the phone, I said sure but it was no big deal.

Then he told me I’d have to wait twenty minutes while he drove to work to get his cell phone, where he’d left it.

I told him no way was he fussing over my emotional evening and to stay put at home and chat on AIM or let me go to bed.

He signed off with a wink and a “call you in a few.”

I don’t like people fussing over me, except deep down I love it. Anyone else feel this way? 

But he wanted to fuss. Over me. Which hadn’t happened in a while. He wanted me to know that he cared enough about my bad night to drive to work, dig his cell phone out of a couch, and spend some time talking, making time.

I wouldn’t say this is when “I knew,” but he certainly had my attention.

(to be continued, because it takes a while to tell this sort of story)
Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, user ciranob

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Love Showed Up: Best Friends Know Better

Leigh Kramer is a longtime blog-friend. Her writing, compassion and zest for life never cease to astound me any time we cross (digital) paths. I hope you enjoy and resonate with her story today, that it ignites gratitude and bittersweet memories in your heart as it did mine. 7023751359

I don’t remember if she picked me up or if we met at the restaurant. I do remember putting up a fuss at first. I wanted to stay in my cave. It was cozy, didn’t require energy, and my tears could arrive as they pleased.

But best friends often know better than we do. Erin told me we were going out for dinner, which is how I found myself sitting on the patio of one of my favorite Mexican restaurants a couple of weeks after my grandmother died.

I see us there perfectly but I have no idea what we talked about or whether I had a margarita that night. Grief’s blur covers almost all my memories from that time. I know we went to dinner. I know it was good for me. I know I never would have realized that apart from Erin’s insistence.

I had lost other loved ones, throughout my life really. Losing Grandma the summer of 2007 rocked me to my core. We were close and I was involved in her care during her last weeks. Our family changed dramatically in the course of four months. Or a little less than a year, depending on where we start the story. My great-aunt was on hospice for about 10 months. Grandma was a valiant caregiver but family had to step up more and more as her own health troubles began. In the week after my great-aunt died, Grandma received her own terminal diagnosis. She started on hospice and died almost two months later to the day.

I worked for that same hospice as a social worker. I picked the team for these two women I held dear. I walked alongside and pitched in as much as I could, ever mindful I was a great-niece, a granddaughter. After they died, I tried to resume the old routines but found I couldn’t.

There was no escaping my grief at work. I would do my best to make it through each day, stuffing down tears as families walked down the same path I’d just traveled. When the work day ended, I’d collapse on to the couch in my living room and crack open a book. Book after book after book. Not even good books. I turned to Christian fiction. While I insist good Christian fiction exists (it does!), it is not always easy to find and the series I turned toward in those days would not qualify as “good.” Now it wasn’t Amish fiction or the drivel I had regularly sold while working at The Christian Bookstore- I still had some standards- but it was sure to have easily solvable crises and happy endings. I needed predictability in the midst of my fallen world.

Before this loss, I was the quintessential social butterfly. Afterward, I stopped planning parties and turned down invitations. The energy that had powered me through the last few months deflated suddenly and quickly. I had nothing left to give and I didn’t know how to receive. Books required little of me. I could lose myself in the pages.

Erin let me be. At first. But when Erin decides something, it’s going to happen. We were going to dinner. She ignored my excuses. She told me to decide when and where.

It was a bright moment of normalcy. I’m sure the conversation meandered through all manner of topics because that’s how our conversations go. I’m sure she asked how I was doing- how I was really doing- because Erin is compassionate and caring. I’m sure she also let me decide how much I wanted to talk about the loss, for the same reasons.

I needed to stow the books away for one night. I could return to my grief cave the next day. The dinner was a line in the sand, not forcing me to change but opening my eyes to life again. In the weeks and months that followed, I’d start picking better books and re-engaging with my closest friends. The loss changed me more than I realized possible and set down a map for how I would navigate future loss.

Erin showed up in ways big and small during that time, as did other friends and colleagues. I didn’t need listening ears per se but I needed people to draw near when I didn’t have the strength to reach out. When I didn’t have words for what I needed.

Thank God they showed up.

Bio picture Bio: Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee with only fried pickles for comfort, quit steady job as a social worker to chase that dream of writing at last, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. She is a contributor at A Deeper Story. Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at LeighKramer.com and on Twitter at @hopefulleigh.

 

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The Melt

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2014 has been an epic winter for the midwest and for us here in West Michigan 5 foot snow piles are a normal part of the scenery.

We have had snow cover on the ground since before Thanksgiving with very little days above freezing and always additional accumulation raising the level of snow in the front yard.

“Alright winter, you’ve proved your point. Enough already. Go home.”

The cloud cover has been endless and it seems as though weeks have passed without a shred of blue sky or sunshine.

But this week? We hit 40 degrees and the sun hit the snow and turned it into fields of translucent glitter.

The kids and I headed out in the warm sunshine to build a snowman from the wet snow in our front yard. It promptly fell over from the warmth of the day.

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What Mental Health Isn’t

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In my life “Mental Health” has been an elusive thing.

Until just this past year every doctor I’ve seen has said something to the effect of: “Have you considered… <insert trendy new pill here>”

Just this past year I had a doctor tell me: “With your case history and the way your mom passed I don’t ever see you off an anti-depressant. If we had a pill to cure breast cancer and your mom had died of that, wouldn’t you take it?”

Sure, but it’s not really the same, is it? My mom didn’t just die because she was sick, it was this messy cluster of pain and problems.

Like losing my dad to a heart attack and losing parts of her daughter in a car/train accident while struggling with depression.

And this is the point at which mental health becomes really hard to figure out. Am I struggling because I’m sick or am I struggling because this is hard, because Life. Is. Hard?

I would never dream of deciding that for another person. Ever.

It is never my place to say “Here is where your life issues and baggage stop and your chemical imbalance begins so this is what you should or should not do.”

I can’t even figure that out for myself.

But I have figured out one thing in this past year of counseling and life and delving deep into past to discover some foundation core beliefs that are throwing me off.

I have figured out what Mental Health is not.

I always thought that mentally healthy people, people upon whom doctors would never dream of handing a Rx for antidepressants must ooze sanity, logical thought and even keeled temperaments.

But that’s not mental health… and that’s not humanity.

Here is what mental health isn’t, what it doesn’t mean:

It doesn’t mean you never yell at your spouse.
It doesn’t mean you don’t need to make lists to get things done.
It doesn’t mean you never sob for no particular reason over the state of things.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like hiding when the world feels too big.
It doesn’t mean you never get overwhelmed when life feels unstable.
It doesn’t mean you never need to call a friend, right now just to unload and vent.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like walking around with an L on your forehead because you feel like such a mess you may as well proclaim it.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like finding the bottom of a tub of ice cream

These things are not signs of mental illness, they’re just part of being human. Yet for so long I thought that they were things that were categorizing me as “not quite right” when they were normal, human reactions to the big feels of life.

I’ve come to realize that my old idea of what mental health looks like involved two things

1) Not really needing people.
2) Not feeling big feelings out loud.

This is not mental health, this is not human. 

Mental health involves healthy coping skills and healthy coping involves living well in community and feeling your feelings even when they’re really inconvenient.

And they’re going to be inconvenient.

It would be so nice if grief, jealousy, insecurity, sadness, fear, anger and frustration would only come out at the appropriate times but that’s not life, at least it’s not my experience of life on pills or otherwise.

Life happens at messy and inopportune moments and so does it’s corresponding feelings.

If I could share one thing on this topic, it would be this: It is good to feel your feelings. It is healthy, needed and natural…. normal even.

Life is a roller coaster of big feelings and we are meant to be stretched and grown and stressed and sad and thrilled. It’s terribly inconvenient but it’s really important to feel these and go there and know what’s really going on inside us.

We learn how to identify and express emotions in preschool and then sometimes it feels like we try to undo all that as grown-ups.

When your feelings get to a point where you can’t cope or where they are having a negative impact on those around you, then it may be time to seek help, but don’t feel all wrong just for having them.

It’s not my place to speak to anything you’ve discussed with your doctor. You will only ever find me supportive of your choices in that respect.

The only thing I really have to say is don’t assume that your big feelings and inconvenient emotions mean that you’re sick, feel what you need to feel, go to counseling, get to the bottom of it.

The journey to understand your feelings and negative beliefs about yourself, the world and God is worth every moment and penny you invest in it.

It’s the most worthwhile time and money I’ve invested in years and I suspect I will continue to invest in my mental health so I can be the big feels, slightly unpredictable wife, mother, writer and human person God created me to be.

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Just last month I went to a doctor who has seen me for the better part of my life and she told me this: “If you feel like the anxiety is too much, then call me and we will talk through it and figure out the best plan. But you seem to be really self-aware and stable,you’re doing really well.”

As I drove home, I sobbed, because in the journey of living my life and not following in my mother’s footsteps, those were some of the most beautiful words anyone has ever said to me.

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Love Showed Up: Leave Room for Yes

Amanda Williams and I have been connecting online for what seems like forever. We actually got to have a date a few weeks ago after which I fell asleep with a full heart because the gift of deep connection and an evening of “me too” doesn’t happen every ol’ day. Today she is sharing some of that lovely heart with you and I hope you’ll walk away with that very same deep, full, “me too” feeling. 

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“We’re coming up. We leave tomorrow.”

I tried to object but ended up crying and didn’t bother trying again. The truth was I was relieved. So. Very. Relieved. The truth was I needed exactly what they were offering. Not a task to be done, not a meal in the crockpot, not another sincere I’m Sorry. I needed all of it at once. I needed them.

They were two of my very best life-friends and they still lived in the town where we went to college. They would leave their families the next morning to drive six hours north on a day’s notice to do nothing other than carry my burdens. They were coming there to be me. 

The 18 months prior had been tremendously hard, and I’d never before been more aware of the separate and distinct life roles we each hold, the way they overlap and bump into each other in the course of everyday life. But the day before this phone call – the day my daddy’s struggle ended and he went Home for good – on that day the roles collided hard, loud and jarring like an interstate pileup. He was gone, really gone, and all four of me – the daughter, the sister, the wife, the mother – we all needed our room to grieve.

And so they arrived just as they said they would. They appeared at our door when the kids needed watching and disappeared when it was time to sleep. They’d made arrangements to stay with a friend in town so we wouldn’t have to entertain, and they brought sandwiches to my mom’s house on that awkward day in the middle, when the myriad of planning is done and all that’s left is to say goodbye. They thought of everything and did it so quietly, so effortlessly that it hardly allowed me any space for guilt, one of my go-to feelings in helpless situations.

There was a magic about this, come to think of it. They gracefully toed the line between asking and doing, not waiting for my permission yet allowing room my yeses.

My two friends gave so much in those four days it still fills my eyes with tears. They fed my little people and changed my twin boys’ diapers. They swept my dusty floors and did my piled up laundry. I’d not prepared for them at all, of course – cleaning house was not on the priority list in those last months – but they entered our mess as if they didn’t notice, picking up where I left off and doing whatever needed to be done. They bought me feminine products, for crying out loud. They did it all just so I wouldn’t have to.

It was love in action, love with no hope of payback.

When we decided it best not to take the littlest two to the burial – an overnight trip to East Tennessee – they made phone calls. They called their own husbands and checked in on their own small children – 4 between the 2 of them – and they stayed another night so we could go without worry.

For four days they filled in for me as Mom so I could be fully present as Daughter. It was an invaluable, unspeakable gift, and I will never forget.

People always ask what you need when you’re grieving, but it’s such an impossible question to answer. You need nothing and everything, you need companionship and space, you need room to feel all the joy and the anger and the sorrow and the stillness all at once. It is an impossible question to answer.

Sometimes, in the worst times, you just need someone to be you so you can just be. 

In the weeks that followed we sent out the thank you notes the funeral home gave us, the ones with Dad’s name embossed on the front. I procrastinated sending theirs because, well, procrastination is what I do. But also, how do you say thank you for a blessing flung that wide? I finally found some “Up a creek… That’s where I’d be without you” cards – because inserting humor into tense situations is also what I do – and I sent them with a movie gift card tucked inside. It was lame, but it was something. And I had to do something.

They entered the rawness of my grief and tackled the enormity of my need, and I sent them to the movies. It was a Lloyd Dobler moment (“I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.”), but I knew they’d understand.

Friends like those always understand.

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Amanda Williams lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and three busy children — twin 4 year old boys and spunky 6 year old girl. She is a writer, a procrastinator (just ask Leanne) and a lover of coffee, grace and wine. Amanda shares stories of imperfect motherhood, faith and writing on her blog, Life. Edited., and is Editorial Director of the online devotional community She Reads Truth.

 

Interested in contributing to this series? I’d love to hear your story. Shoot me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com and we’ll have a cup of virtual coffee over it. 

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How a motorcycle picture made me cry because the church nailed it.

Today I want to talk about those moments where church felt like The Church, like everything it was supposed to be and nothing it wasn’t.

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It was every mother’s worst nightmare.

Okay not their WORST nightmare but still, it was a nightmare.

My children and I arrived for church on time, got our bagels and coffee and headed to their children’s church rooms only to discover that children’s church was on a holiday that Sunday.

And I hadn’t a crayon or matchbox car or board book on my person.
And I was meeting friends for “big church.”
And I wanted to sit down and cry because without children’s church it’s very hard for me to meet up with God in big church.

Yet we carried on and made our way to the usual row of plastic chairs while I gave my kids a pep talk: “Okay guys, we can do this! It’s good to be still and AFTER the singing you can take turns with my iPhone and coloring on this bulletin with a golf pencil. I understand that you’re sad about your church being closed, me too, but we’re in this together, okay?”

Okay. Here goes nothing. I can do this… No I can’t let’s just go home… no… teachable moment! teachable moment! 

We sang, the teaching started and my kids took turns playing Angry Birds and scribbling with the golf pencil.

My dear friend Alyssa shared pens with Noelle and allowed her to kiss her as many times as she wanted, which with Noelle is always at least a couple dozen. She’s a kisser, should this worry me? 

They got noisy any time it was “their turn” to surrender the iPhone.

They fidgeted and switched positions

Then suddenly I looked over at the chair my son was sitting on and realized he was holding a drawing of a jeep.

What the what?

I looked around and soon I’d figured it out, the gentleman sitting in the row behind us, a father of older boys, was drawing pictures. For my kids. He looked up from his next creation and shrugged with a smile.

As I gave him my “You sir are a saint” look his wife passed Caedmon a colorful pen he could use to color in the jeep.

A few moments passed when I realized that Caedmon now had a drawing of a motorcycle AND a jeep. I turned around with another grateful look while the lady behind me mouthed “been there” and smiled.

I was able to focus on the sermon for a while and before long I looked over and saw Noelle holding a drawing of a horse. And these were good drawings people, like art quality sketches.

At this point I cried happy tears from some place deep, some place that identified with what Christ wanted his church to be for each other and the world.

As my friend helped Noelle with her Pony and Caedmon zoomed his motorcycle paper it hit me.

This is church, This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s never really been about the music or the bulletins or the teaching style… that’s all good but THIS IS CHURCH! 

This is two or three gathered in his name and actively making that name known to each other.

It’s not a crowd of people rolling their eyes at the woman with the noisy preschoolers. It’s drawing motorcycles and receiving kisses and above all else fostering the idea that we really are in this together.

And don’t we all need those moments where the church nails it to keep going? To keep showing up?

I don’t always have to be on the receiving end of things, I don’t believe in being a church consumer, I just need to regularly break down in tears over the obvious love of Jesus coming to life around me.

I do. I need to cry about it.

Or else I will forget what we’re really doing and get lost in church budgets and ministry plans and mission statements.

Then I’ll get cynical. And when I’m cynical I’m not compassionate and when I’m not compassionate I can’t hear what the Spirit needs me to be doing.

Then I start thinking about only myself and rationalizing a whole bunch of selfish things and throwing out a whole slew of judgements at those around me.

I need the healing of tears, weekly if not daily.

My prayer for us this this week is that we are all brought to tears because the love of Jesus showed up, because the Church nails it.

Not the buildings, Not the committees, The people. The Church.

I pray that every person who reads this plays a part in warming up our cold, gray world with a love that says “here I want to lift you up and I’m willing to give up something up to get us there, because you matter, your life, your struggles are not annoying me… in fact I want to share them.”

I’m willing to draw a motorcycle so that you can get a bit more sermon in your ears.
I’m willing to give up some fun money so you have money for gas and food.
I’m willing to give up time so your marriage has a fighting chance.
I’m willing to get there late so you don’t have to spend another second stuck in a snowbank.

Because you matter and if I’m thriving and you’re struggling then I’m doing it all wrong.

So as we plant a church, I’m setting a goal to cry more, to stay tender, to bear witness to more moments when we the Church… nail it.

Had the (big c) church brought you to joyful tears lately?
If you’re still cynical is there a ray of hope? 

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The Romance of Zooming out

It was at a busy Christmas party when my Grandpa handed me the white envelope containing their Christmas card. I opened it the following morning over coffee and lost my breath. I still do when I see it on the fridge.

It’s two pictures, nestled side by side, one labeled 1949 and taken after their wedding, and one taken in 2013 taken on a wooden chair in their condo.

63 years of marriage… and counting.

GrandpaGrandma

In the first picture they’re all black and white smiles, arms around in each other in long dark dress coats. My Grandmother is wearing a sort of pillbox hat with a pearl pin cheated slightly to the right.

In the second picture they’re sitting on a chair in the corner, her on his lap, both clad in Calvin College sweatshirts, likely on their way to my cousin’s basketball game.

I’m not sure I own anything else that brings as much perspective as this Christmas card.

63 years, 5 children, 14 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren with one on the way.

All of us

These days I fly around the house upset over messes, worried about taxes, obsessing over buying a new house and ranting over the scarcity of time. Wishing that different things defined my day.

Zoom Out

My grandparents have 56 years of marriage on Kel and my 7.

In 56 years I surely won’t even remember this tax season and if I don’t get my act together it’s likely I’ll regret my bad attitude toward mess and time. Maybe I’ll even see it mirrored in the lives of my own children.

In 56 years 2014 will likely be reduced to just a few memories, flashes and photographs that managed to survive the years and somehow get off my iphone.

In 56 years (I pray) it will be Kel and I in sweatshirts reflecting on a lifetime of memories that may likely be trying to escape around the edges of our eighty-eight year old minds.

Whatever we’re doing this year is building a legacy, it does matter, it is seeds that will surely blossom into fruit we won’t see this side of heaven.

Yet then again, it’s just taxes.
It’s just laundry.
It’s just writing.
It’s just a car repair.
It’s just a new house, a place to do the good work of living well and on purpose.

When you zoom out suddenly you realize that there is a lot more romance in the sweet right now. Because at a distance you’re not in the fray of minutia, you’re on an epic journey, you’re dancing a dance that means so much more than anything that could possibly be getting you down in the moment.

There is deep romance form this perspective, you’re in-between photographs weaving a tapestry that will not leave the world unchanged with it’s richness.

There are markers in life that change the trajectory of things, there are defining moments… but so often it’s just life, it’s the small sustaining stuff, the pixels that compose a bigger picture.

So often those pixels seem like all there is but if you can breathe the romantic practice of zooming out, of remembering who you are and what’s really going on.

Then suddenly you become not the woman freaking out about taxes, but the maybe-someday matriarch doing the good and true work of building a family, sustaining a generation.

Giving life to something that will sustain deep familial love… always and forever inviting the world in.

“Come see, Come share, Come acquaint yourself with the source of love and sustainer of life.”

Zoom out

Remember who you are and what you’re doing. You’re the bride and you’re the matriarch in the middle of the story, a romance that is composed of small things that will not leave the world unchanged, guaranteed.

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Life lessons on frustration and forgiveness from Dishwashers, Taxes and Friggin Gogurts

Do you know what frustration is? It’s the conflict between expectation and reality.

I’ll give it to you in a kitchen metaphor: When I open my dishwasher and pull out the racks, I expect them to slide out and give me access to clean dishes. But they don’t, they always catch on each other.

So every time I have to snake in my hand to figure out what the issue is. Sometimes I skin my cuticles and knuckles doing this.

I expect to be able to open my dishwasher. The reality is that I usually can’t. This is frustrating and I want to take a bat to the dishwasher and then give my lovely landlords a check for a new one that is cool with the simple act of washing normal sized plates.

Right now frustration and I have been spending a lot of time together. Tons really. 

Each morning I make a list, say my prayers and get after my day of finding socks, unloading the dishwasher, packing bags, making breakfast, bundling children against another day of bitter cold Michigan winter.

Each evening I fall asleep frustrated, without an ounce of personal satisfaction for a job well done.

Each night my expectations and my reality are miles apart and I have no idea what needs to move but I feel frustrated to the point of anger.

Yesterday I depleted my resources of “go get em” and my storehouses of patience and kindness which, to be honest were running low to begin with.

mercies

It culminated while I was on the phone, trying to make an appointment with our tax person.

Just before I dialed I gave each of the kids Gogurts and just as the tax office picked up my son started wailing about how he didn’t want the Gogurt I’d given him, he wanted a different one.

I cannot stress this enough: They are all the same. Exactly. The. Same flavor, shape, packaging. The. Same.

So I walked away from him and locked myself in the bathroom to have some serious fun figuring out our taxes at which point he proceeded to kick the door and wail “MOOOOM!!!!” for the entirety of my phone call.

I had to choke back sobs during the entire call (“Thanks, one o’clock it is…whimper…. thank you!”) I was frustrated to tears that my expectation of a 3 minute phone call was going unmet.

This is when my dark side took over and I grabbed his hand while he was in the middle of kicking the door, took him to his bed and administered three swift spanks on his bottom.

Then we both cried and held each other. Because I don’t really spank. I hate it. ANd on top of everything I’d done it out of sheer anger over the collision of our strong wills, taxes and friggin gogurts.

As I held him I uttered one of the most ironic things I’ve ever said: “You can’t treat other people so awfully just because life isn’t going the way you want it buddy.”

No sooner had I uttered those words than my breath caught in my throat and I cried some more because I was preaching to myself.

Wherever the roots of my frustration stem from I don’t have the right to take it out on other people.

And when I do it’s on me to make amends, to admit my ugliness and beg forgiveness. Which is the least fun imaginable in the midst of mountains of frustration and anger.

As I laid my head on my pillow last night I felt like a whimpering puddle deserving the love and mercy of no one. Yet somehow I felt myself getting swept up, quite undeservingly, into the arms of a God who’s mercies are new every morning.

Every. Morning. New Mercies

Another sunrise, another battle with the dishwasher, another moment to crawl into his lap, apologize and try again.

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Love Showed Up: Guitar and Cupcakes

You are blessed today, because today you get to hear a word from my friend Esther Emery. I remember the first few times I came across Esther’s writing, the time her brave voice made me cry in a video, the time I stalked every picture on her blog about living off the grid in a  yurt, the time I realized this is friend who would encourage me, challenge me and make me feel like a braver woman by proxy and prose. Someday soon I will hug this woman in real life, but for today her beautiful words will do nicely.  

The best thing I ever did with grief was feel it. And I’ve done grief wrong. My mother died when I was 25. I don’t know whose fault it was, but the key just didn’t turn in the lock. Maybe it wasn’t anybody’s fault, not even my own. But I simply didn’t grieve. I didn’t feel at all. And that was a wrongness that hovered in my life for years afterward. Six years later, I still felt the numb place in myself like a disease.

But this story is a story of people who help. This is a story of people who do the right thing in a time when everything feels wrong. This story is about my husband’s family, and second chances.

It was six years after my mother’s death that my husband’s mother got her diagnosis. I still felt young. I was thirty-one years old and not done bearing children. My mother-in-law was the only mother figure I had left, and my oldest child was two years old. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like, to go on without her.

But this is a story about people who help. This is a story of moving forward, past what you can imagine is possible. And this is a story about my husband’s family.

What can you do?

Well. First, there was a welcome. The dying woman was taken in, not pushed out to the sterile places or to the experts, but taken in, right to the center of her son’s home. And we were welcomed, too. I can’t remember whose idea it was, for us to come. I think none of us were completely sure what were doing. But my husband and I packed up our two small children and flew from Boston to Boise, Idaho, at a moment’s notice and on a leave of undetermined length. The dying woman moved into the center of her son’s home, and we moved in with her. We all lived there for weeks.

First there was a welcome. Secondly, there was a party. In my memory (memories are not known for their accuracy) it was a nonstop party. We celebrated her birthday. We celebrated Mother’s Day. We celebrated my baby daughter’s birthday. (Two busy weeks in May…!) We blew up balloons and had the kids draw pictures. We ate a lot of cupcakes and played songs on the guitar.

flickr.com/xlibber

flickr.com/xlibber

My husband and I sat on the floor in the living room and played and sang Neil Young, with something less than skill and more than enthusiasm. The dying woman clapped her hands for us, with the extra energy one might have under the influence of heavy painkillers, and we laughed real laughter, and the whole world seemed sharp and in focus. My husband made cake after cake and learned to play his mother’s favorite song.

First there was a welcome. Secondly, there was a party. And thirdly, for me, there was the gift of grief, unleashed.

My grief became my prize – how deeply I had loved and had been loved. First I felt it in the simpler and less ambivalent relationship with my mother-in-law, but it travelled, too, gently and gradually, into the diseased place where I had failed to grieve my own mother. I began to heal.

None of this could have been forced. Or even encouraged. I’m sure someone said to me, after my mother died, “You have to take the time to grieve.” I’m sure someone said, “You need to feel what you are feeling.” But it doesn’t matter what was said. I couldn’t feel it then. I didn’t yet know how.

I was helped years later by the chance of being welcomed into a generous and open-hearted family. I was helped years later by a rabbit hole, a magic space and a celebration of another woman’s life.

First there was a welcome, then there was a party. For me, there was the gift of second chances: the chance to really feel a loss, and grieve it well.

estheremerywriter Esther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. These days she is pretty much a runaway, living off grid in a yurt and tending to three acres of near wilderness in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at www.estheremery.com, and is also the author of the free, inspirational ebook Unleash Your Wild. Connect with her on Twitter @EstherEmery.

If you’re interested in guest posting for the “Love Showed Up” series, I’d love to hear more.  Get in touch with me via email, I’m leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com.

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