Dangerous Daydreams

daydreamFor as long as I can remember, “imagination” has had a good rep.  And I have had a good supply of it.  As a kid I didn’t just “wrap Christmas presents”—I performed surgery on anxious patients with nothing but pink safety scissors and a roll of Scotch tape.  I didn’t “iron clothes” for my mother—I hosted a televised special on how to get wrinkles out of an Oxford.  Imagination, I quickly learned, was a great way to pass the time.  And the sorrow.

If I didn’t make the team, I imagined I was the star player.  If the cute boy didn’t like me, I imagined that he did.  And if the cute boy turned out to be a real jerk, well that was the beauty of imagination!  In five seconds flat I could turn him into the man of my dreams.  I always assumed I’d quit daydreaming once some of these dreams were actually realized.  After all, when I had the amazing job, and the exciting life, and the man of my dreams I wouldn’t need to daydream, right?

Unless I didn’t have those things.  Unless somewhere along the way I had created dreams so lofty no reality could compete with them.  No man fulfill them.  No set of circumstances live up to them.   I was probably in my twenties when I finally realized daydreaming could be dangerous.  That it could pave a fast track to discontentment.

I think a lot about it now as I raise two young girls—girls who have already fallen in love with the notion of princesses and fairytales.  On the one hand, I’m a major advocate for imagination.  If I were a fictitious character I’d be Anne of Green Gables, scarcely able to fathom the dreariness of a world without imagination.  But as a woman who’s a smidgen wiser than I used to be, I sidle up to it warily.  Imagine we’re in a fort cooking dinner out of pine cones?  I’m all about it!  Imagine we’re digging for dinosaur bones?  Let’s do it!  Imagine one day every fairy tale wish will come true and life will be perfect?  Don’t do it.  Oh, my sweet little girls, don’t do it.

Because the truth is, you and I were never made for the fairytale.  We weren’t made to live comfortable, easy lives that always make us feel good.  We were made to live one real life, with a real God, who offers real hope in a real and broken world.  My previous post has opened up a floodgate of real Moms sharing their real stories.  It has made me cry, and pray, and rejoice that I am not alone.  I am not journeying with Cinderella and Snow White.  I am journeying with real people—overcomers in Christ with real testimonies.  And I believe that’s exactly the way God intended it to be.  Shortly before leaving His disciples, Jesus warned them that suffering was coming.  He said He was preparing them for it so that in HIM they may have peace.  And then He made this promise: “In this world, you will have prince charming, perfect kids, great hair, loads of free time trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

The answer to the reality of pain—the reason we can stand up under it—has always been and always will be found in Jesus.  That’s the mistake I made so many years ago–when I didn’t make the team, when the cute boy didn’t like me.  I didn’t run to Jesus to remind me that my worth is securely kept in Him.  I didn’t let Jesus satisfy my longing to be known and loved.  Instead I crafted a really puny version of fulfillment and daydreamed about it.  And as soon as the daydream was over, so was the satisfaction.

If there’s one thing I’m realizing the more I blog, it’s that I don’t know your story.  I don’t know whether you love to daydream, or haven’t done it since you were five years old.  I don’t know if the life you’re living right now fills you with joy and peace, or if it leaves you empty and longing for more.  The only thing I know, with wholehearted certainty, is that Jesus is passionate about you.  He is passionate not only to rescue you (John 3:16; Romans 6:23), but to give you an abundant life in Him (John 10:10).  Don’t settle for the daydreams, the way I did for so long, foolishly believing they’re as good as it gets.  They are just a shadow of joy and fulfillment.  Jesus is the real thing.

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Mom vs. Mom: The War I Didn’t See Coming

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Before I ever had a single child, I knew that one day I would wage war with an enemy who sought their hearts and souls.  I anticipated battles ahead, knowing my children would test and defy me.  But I never anticipated the Mommy wars.  I think I watched part of an Oprah episode years ago on competitive moms, but that was about it.  I didn’t give it a second thought.  Not until I joined the club.

Let me begin by saying, the Mommy Club is a beautiful place.  The moment you join, you find within your heart this unexpectedly raw capacity for love.  All at once, you are a protector, a nurturer, a defender of innocence, a storyteller, an imagination factory, a kisser of boo-boos, and a cheerleader forever.  Even on the scrape-me-off-the-floor-with-a-spatula days, you are being sanctified and learning to see God’s grace in a brand new light.  It is a special club, one I’m humbled and grateful to be part of.

But I’ll be honest, there’s one aspect of membership I don’t like to talk about.  It’s the insecurity that bloomed inside of me somewhere along the journey.  I felt it the first time I didn’t know how to soothe my own baby.  The first time I couldn’t get her to eat her green bean goo.  The first time she wandered out of my sight in public.  I don’t know exactly when the quiet voice began to whisper, do you even know what you’re doing?  But I do know that initial thought was just a stone’s throw away from this one: That mom sure looks like she knows what she’s doing.  And then there was the really quiet thought that always buried itself in a place I would never share with anyone: Maybe she’s a better mom than you.  

Here’s my humble opinion: I think that thought is the deceptive heartbeat behind all the mommy wars.  I think deep down many of us are just a little bit afraid that someone else is doing a better job at this whole thing than we are.  We see All-Natural-Organic Mom who tills her own grains in the backyard, and Educational-Crafty Mom whose newborn knows sign language, and Just-Stepped-Out-of-a-Magazine Mom with super cute clothes and baby Gap model babies…and we cannot help but notice all the ways we fall short.  So we resort to one of two measures, the first being imitation.

Maybe if I can just be like Super-Fit-and-Sporty Mom with16% body fat and color-coordinated Nike outfits, or Ultra-Organized Mom, or Über-Sweet-and-Godly Mom…  The problem is we quickly realize we cannot be all of them all the time.  The moment we pop on All-Natural-Organic Mom’s hat, we bump into Crafty Mom whose kids have sculpted a miniature Parthenon over the weekend, and we realize our kids have watched twenty hours of television so we could make Larabars from scratch.  And even if by some miracle we can get Healthy Mom jiving with Educational Mom, when we drop off our kids at preschool we’ll immediately notice that Just-Stepped-Out-of-a-Magazine Mom isn’t sporting a crumpled T-shirt with craft glue in her hair.  (And don’t even get me started on what Coupon Mom might think if she saw how much we spent on groceries last week!)

Once we realize we can’t be all of them, we resort to option number two: judgment.  Of course, this is rarely blatant.  I don’t tell Sporty Mom I think she spends too much time at the gym, I tell myself Sporty Mom spends too much time at the gym.  I tell myself it’s okay my abs don’t look like hers because she’s probably not nearly as godly as I am.  I tell myself it’s okay I don’t look as put together as Just-Stepped-Out-of-a-Magazine Mom because she probably spends too much money on clothes anyway.  On and on, I tell myself whatever I think I need to hear to stanch the fear that I don’t measure up.

A few times I’ve seen the mommy wars go viral.  Moms screaming at each other on television.  A Facebook feed that erupts.  A hateful gossip fest.  Here is my theory: I picture the hearts of moms across the world like a really dry forest, the kind that people warn you not to strike a match in.  They are dry because they’re insecure and aching.  They are exhausted and spent.  They are longing to hear that they’re doing a good job, and what’s more to feel like they’re doing a good job.  But because rest and truth and hope can be so hard won, these dry hearts are hazardous.  Flick a spark in their direction and the whole forest can go up in flames.

But what if the hearts of moms were watered.  Not sprinkled every now and then, but watered all the way down to their roots.  What if we knew in the core of our being, that we don’t have to measure up?  What if we knew that Jesus Christ loves and accepts us just as we are?  That He is passionate about our children and will walk beside us, in all our shortcomings, to make us the kind of mom we need to be.  What if we could quit judging Skinny Mom or Healthy Mom or Crafty Mom and instead see them as Real-Human Mom in need of love and encouragement just like us?  Then maybe the next time someone suggests you try her organic Ak-Mak crackers or mentions that she just finished a triathalon, you can smile genuinely because you may have no idea what an Ak-Mak cracker is, but you know who you are.  Accepted.  Redeemed.  Treasured.  One who has been born again to a living hope and an imperishable inheritance.

What do you say, Mom?  How would you like to be Imperfect-Completely-Loved-Free-in-Jesus Mom?  How would you like to be Don’t-Need-to-Play-the-Games Mom?  Capable-of-Genuinely-Loving-Others Mom?  Guess what?  That is exactly what Jesus died to offer you.  Initially when I started thinking about this topic, I wanted to encourage you by telling you all the things I myself long to hear–that you’re doing a great job, you’re the best mom ever, everything’s going to be awesome for you.  But instead, I want to encourage you by telling you something far better: Whether you’re doing a great job or not, Jesus loves you.  You don’t have to be the best mom ever, Jesus accepts you.  And when everything’s not awesome, you always have hope in Jesus.

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On Leaving a Legacy

I ate an energy bar tonight thinking it was a granola bar, and two hours later I’m still wide awake.  The house is unusually quiet, and for some reason my mind has drifted back to an old friend, one I find myself thinking about often.

199944_4308977105_6032_nWhen I was in Bible college there was this unbelievably beautiful girl in my education classes who one day slid her lunch tray beside mine and struck up a conversation.  You know the kind of friend who grows on you slowly?  Aimee wasn’t like that.  She was more like a diamond you find at a gas station–an extraordinary treasure in a completely ordinary world.  She spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese, had dreams the size of Antarctica, zero pretenses, and a heart as genuinely alive as her bright blue eyes.  That day we talked and laughed at the lunch table until every last scrap was cleared up and put away.  And from then on, I loved Aimee Powell.

We would go out to eat, order something loaded with carbs and talk about all the things college girls love to talk about–class, and boys, and friends, and Jesus, and all we hoped to do and be.  I saw her giddy, and I saw her heartbroken.  And I never once doubted that Aimee would lead a very grand life.

Then three years after graduating from college, on a boring January morning Aimee was killed in a car accident.  And just like that, in two seconds flat, I learned that she was gone.  You want to know the truth?  Part of me still can’t believe it.  Three years later I still cry when I think about her.  I cry for myself because I miss her.  I cry for the future I imagined she would have.  I cry for her family because I know that if in four years she brought such joy to my life, she must’ve been sunshine in theirs.

But amid all the tears, I have a profound sense of peace when I think of Aimee.  On the one hand, it seems maddeningly unfair.  She never got to marry the dashingly handsome man I just knew she was destined for, never got to raise a house full of children or become famous and change the world.  But as I watched the newscast about the accident, I listened to an anchor woman who didn’t even know Aimee testify about Aimee’s life–the students who loved her, the mission trips she took, the Facebook page that shared her passionate love for Jesus.  And like lightning it struck me, Aimee did it.  She ran the race all the way to the very end, and she crossed the finish line, faithful.  

She hadn’t led the extraordinary life I always imagined she would lead.  Instead she’d led one ordinary life, with extraordinary faithfulness.  You know what?  I think that is more inspiring than marrying a dashingly handsome man and changing the world.

Tonight I am proud of my friend.  I am grateful to have been part of her beautiful life.  And I am encouraged to follow her example and live this one, ordinary life of mine with all the extraordinary faithfulness only Jesus can supply, so that one day I, too, will cross the finish line victorious.  This one’s for you, my beautiful friend.  Wish you were here with me tonight.

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The Woman I Wish I Could Be

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Do you ever feel like there’s a gigantic gap between the woman you are and the one you want to be?  I do.  The woman I want to be lives in my mind, somewhere between the endless to-do lists and the names of all the Sesame Street muppets.  She is innately patient.  Fearlessly radical.  She believes that God is faithful, even when it feels like He’s forgotten her.  She always chooses the better thing–to feed her soul instead of her flesh, to submit instead of defy, to rejoice instead of complain.  She never snaps at her children or nags her husband.

In fact, the only person she ever irritates is me.  She eludes me and haunts me at the same time.  She is the woman I think about five seconds after I say the thing I shouldn’t have said.   The woman I think about when my kids are in bed and I’m wishing I hadn’t been so impatient with them.  I think about her when I meet someone really sunny who never seems to doubt God.  And I think about her on the really cloudy days when I feel guilty for not climbing out of my own discouragement.

I used to think I could bridge the gap between her and me in one giant leap.  Maybe a Beth Moore conference?  A weekend prayer retreat?  But I never could make the leap.  At times I thought I had, and then inevitably I would disappoint myself.  Struggle with the same old sin.  Fail in the same old way.

Sometime this summer it finally clicked with me.  The journey from me to her is a small step journey.  It is not made up of grandiose conferences or life-altering experiences.  It is made up of millions upon millions of tiny moments.  Paul David Tripp taught me this when he wrote, “the character and quality of our life is forged in little moments.  We tend to back away from the significance of these little moments because they are little moments.  [But] these are the moments that make up our lives.”

In context, he was writing about all the little thoughts, words, and choices that shape a marriage and set the stage for the future.  But I am finding this “small-moment approach” is a great way to live all of life.  I have come to pray a very simple prayer throughout the day.  Whether I’m believing a lie, battling idols, or itching to erupt, in the heat of the moment all I pray is, “God, help me win this small-moment battle!”  That’s all I focus on.  I don’t think about overcoming every battle, or making a personal sanctification plan, or donning a cape and painting supermom across my forehead.  I just focus on the one small battle before me, and by God’s power with Christ’s help, I fight to win.  Then, ten minutes later, when the baby dumps a bowl of spaghetti onto my mother-in-law’s carpet, I pray, “God, help me win this small-moment battle!”  And so it goes.

You build a house one brick at a time, write a book one word at a time, and live a life one moment at a time.  You and I don’t have to become the Proverbs 31 woman tomorrow.  We just have to throw ourselves upon the grace and power of Christ to live faithfully today.  To make the wise choice.  To say the kind thing.  To reject the awful thought.  To repent and get back up again.  And one day we will look back and realize that over a lifetime–over a million small moments–God grew us.  

Mother Theresa, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther, Jessica Simpson–they all have one thing in common.  They became who they are one small moment at a time.  And so will we.

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Salmon with Peachy Quinoa

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I spent a little time with Cooking channel’s Brigitte Nguyen this weekend, and after tasting her Chocolate Coconut Rum Cake, I contemplated erasing the entire cooking category from this blog since, let’s be honest, it’s hardly my forte.  But besides wowing me with her culinary skills, Brigitte’s passion for food reminded me that cooking is one beautiful way to take care of a family–regardless of how gifted {or challenged} the cook may be!  In that vein, I thought I’d share one of my new favorite summer recipes, courtesy of Parents magazine.

I first bought quinoa because I kept seeing references to it being the “Supergrain of the Future” and among the “World’s Healthiest Foods.”  Turns out this protein-packed grain contains all nine essential amino acids, twice the fiber of most other grains, and impressive quantities of iron, magnesium, manganese, riboflavin, and lysine. Unfortunately, my kids haven’t been terribly impressed.  But throw in chunks of sweet summer peaches and a tangy homemade vinaigrette and suddenly quinoa’s got a fighting chance!

Uncooked, quinoa is a very small grain and requires a fine mesh sieve for rinsing.
Uncooked, quinoa is a very small grain and requires a fine mesh sieve for rinsing.

Ingredients:
½ cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 Tbs. lime juice
1 Tbs. minced shallot (I left this out to make it a little more kid-friendly)
1 ½ tsp. honey
¾ tsp. grated fresh ginger
¼ tsp. salt
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 peach, peeled, pitted, and chopped (I used 2 peaches)
½ cup green bell pepper, finely chopped (I used red because it’s sweeter)
4 (4oz) fresh salmon fillets, about 1 inch thick

Method:
1). In a saucepan, combine quinoa and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Place quinoa in a medium bowl; let cool slightly.
2). Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the lime juice, shallot, honey, ginger, and salt. Whisk in olive oil. Set aside 1 Tbs. of the mixture in a shallow dish. Then stir the peach, bell pepper, and remaining lime-shallot vinaigrette into the quinoa.
3). Coat the salmon with vinaigrette mixture in a dish. (If I were you, I’d marinade it overnight in the vinaigrette). Grill the salmon on a greased grill rack, or in a heavy nonstick skillet, over medium heat for 8-12 minutes or until the fish begins to flake when tested with a fork. Be sure to turn over halfway through grilling. Serve salmon with the fruity quinoa pilaf.

Nutrition per serving:
328 calories, 26 g protein, 15g fat (2 g saturated fat), 21g carbs, 2g fiber, 6g sugar, 30 mg calcium, 2 mg iron, 198 mg sodium

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The Marriage Conversation You Ought to Have

leaning heads finalHere is a true confession: whenever I think about “working on my marriage” I think of Clint’s shortcomings before I think of my own.  I picture myself sitting down beside him (perhaps with a neatly organized list) and talking through all my complaints, beginning with the petty irritations and working my way to the really irritating irritations.  Surely if we could iron those out, we’d be on the fast track to eternal bliss.

Do you want to know how the best marriage conversation I’ve ever had with Clint started?  Completely opposite.  I had been reading about confession in a marriage book when I came across this statement: “It is a sign of God’s grace when our consciences are sensitive and our hearts are grieved, not at what the other person is doing, but at what we have become.” 

“What we have become”—it felt like a slap in the face because the minute I read it, I knew that I was not proud of what I had become in my marriage.  But it had been such a long time since I looked deeply and honestly into my own heart.  After all, it was much easier to shine the flashlight on Clint than on myself.  But that day, sitting on the sofa, the veil came off.

I asked Clint to come sit beside me, and I confessed.  I’m not talking about those little “I ate the last brownie” confessions.  I mean I really confessed.  I confessed my secret fighting strategies for making myself look better than him.  I confessed the awful habits that had made me become a wife I never wanted to become.  I confessed the sins I normally excused away, on the grounds of “cutting myself a little slack.”  I confessed as honestly as I could, until I could think of nothing left to confess.  As I confessed, I cried.  And as I cried, he held me.

You know how as women we always want men to connect with us?  We want that moment when he’s totally engaged—when all his emotions are tuned in and he just gets us.  Here’s the thing—I always thought I could force that sort of connection by getting him to recognize his shortcomings.  Not by confessing mine.  But that day on the sofa was the most connected I had felt to Clint in a long time.  He didn’t hug me like he was heading out the door late for work.  He hugged me like he loved me with all his heart.  And guess what else?  He began to confess.  That day we tasted grace, and it tasted just like the gospel—humble, forgiving, and celebratory.

One thing that surprised me at the end of our discussion was how strangely vulnerable I felt.  I think sometimes people who’ve been married for a while assume that the vulnerability fades between them because they’ve grown so close.  After all, there are no secrets, nothing off-limits…no more vulnerability, right?  But actually, the vulnerability might have faded not because they’re so close but because they’ve allowed themselves to grow so distant.  The surest way to kill the vulnerability in a marriage is to build up defenses and reinforce them regularly.  Choose to win instead of love.  Choose to take instead of give.  Choose to blame instead of confess.  And one day you will realize you don’t feel the least bit vulnearble with the man beside you.  It won’t be because you’re close.  It’ll be because you’re tough as a rock.

That’s the scary thing about marriage.  It can drift apart quietly without you even noticing.  It’s not like a teenager you can send off to college with a credit card.  It’s like a newborn baby you have to nurture every single day.  In other words, leave it to itself and it will die.  That’s what nobody ever told me about marriage.

BUT…invest in it, sacrifice for it, regularly choose it over yourself, and just like a newborn baby, it can become the delight of your life.  Even on the poopy days.  Even when the battles are hard won.  It’s never perfect–but it can be a steady foundation, a safe refuge, a joyful allegiance.

Today as I type on my computer, I have no idea what state your marriage is in.  But I do know this–I gave you a vulnerable glimpse into mine because I believe marriage is worth fighting for.  I wouldn’t understand how marriages drift if I didn’t have firsthand experience.  I couldn’t write about pride unless I knew exactly how it tastes.  So if you (like me) have ever tallied up your spouse’s shortcomings, or been reluctant to shine the light on yourself, maybe it’s time for a conversation on the sofa.  I cannot guarantee the way your spouse will respond, but this I can guarantee–Christ will go with you, empower you, and reward your faithfulness.  His shed blood is the reason you and I can humbly confess and wholeheartedly forgive.

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10 Reasons Family Vacations are Worth the $$$

10. Because everyone needs a break from the ordinary.
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9. Because one day this…
P1060145…won’t be nearly so much fun.

8. Because nothing tastes better than food you don’t have to cook.
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7. Because blowing up this…                                 …is worth moments like this.
beachball


6. Because kids can play in the sand FOR HOURS.
kidsinsand


5. Because everybody should have a picture in sunglasses.
sunglasses

4. Because a week with Daddy is worth a smaller paycheck.
daddyatbeach


3. Because we could all spend more time playing with friends.
friends2


2. Because what goes up must come down.

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1. And because one day, when you show your kid a picture like this…
MEMO0048…she’ll remember the day it was taken.

Sanibel Island 2012 and Hilton Head 2013

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