Thursday, 23 June 2016

When you can't find the perfect gift . . . ask!

JellyTelly recently published a little reflection I wrote about Father's Day and the challenge I normally face in trying to select the perfect card or gift for my Pops.  Perhaps you can relate to this feeling - I call it "gift anxiety."  Finding the best gift for those that mean so much to us can be quite the challenge.  So, I tried something a little different this year and wanted to invite you to join in on the fun!  

Below is an excerpt:
I recently exchanged emails with a friend whose father passed away not too long ago.  The last line of his email struck me; “Continue to appreciate your dad.  Time on this earth is short.”  For many, Father’s Day is a painful reminder of just how short time on this earth is.  For others, it is an encouragement to be intentional, as we still have time together to show our dads and our husbands how thankful we remain for their guidance and love.

We all have different ways of showing our gratitude.  On holidays, such as Father’s Day, we often exchange cards or gifts.  But, if you are anything like me, you find yourself in the card aisle year after year wondering if your words really are enough.

To appreciate something means to grasp its worth, value, or significance, and finding the right gift or words to do so can feel futile at times.  This year, while I did purchase a small gift and cheesy card for my dad, I decided to try something a little different.

“What if,” I thought to myself, “I give my dad the gift of questions?”
CLICK HERE to read the rest of the blog. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

Thieves and the Double Victory

The events that have unfolded over the past couple of weeks have been hard to believe and difficult to reconcile.  When I awoke to the news last week of the terrible shooting in Orlando, my heart sank.  I felt sad, angry, scared, and afraid.  “What is to come of the world my daughters are growing up in?” I thought.  This tragedy did not happen directly to me, and I certainly will not pretend to know what the survivors and loved ones of those lost are experiencing.  However, there was this little part of me that felt violated.  How can someone knowingly and willfully end, in the matter of moments, the stories that were unfolding in the lives of so many people? 

On that same Sunday morning, my husband and I noticed quite a few police cars in our neighborhood.  A neighbor’s car had been stolen in the early hours of Sunday, and most other cars in the neighborhood had been broken into.  Our glove box was open, and we had a few minor things missing.  Violated . . . again, I felt violated.  Why did the perpetrator find it acceptable to open my car door and take what rightfully belonged to me? 

Amidst the confusion of the morning, our oldest daughter became noticeably unsettled.  As she began to cry, I held her and asked her where her tears were coming from.  “Momma,” she said, “Was there a robber at our house last night?  Will the robber come again tonight and take me?”  I could feel the violation my daughter was expressing in her questions.  Again, my heart sank.  We were in this tension together – trying to hold onto hope while recognizing our own inability to preserve our felt-safety. 

As I’ve continued to reflect on these events, I keep coming back to this crossroads, of sorts.  I am supposed to keep these little ones safe, I want to keep myself safe, but how do I do this in an environment that isn’t so safe anymore?  As a Christian, I’m compelled to look at the life and teachings of Jesus for insight.  During his earthly ministry, Jesus consistently offered a message wherein hardship and hope find themselves intertwined. 

“In the world, you will have tribulation, but take heart: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

In the context of grief and tragedy, I have often quoted, albeit glibly, the words of John 10:10 to vilify Satan.  “Of course,” I’ve thought, “That is Satan’s whole gig – he takes every swipe and stab at humanity while he can, knowing that ultimately, he’s the mortally-wounded foe.”  This verse has continued to surface over the past couple of weeks.  Perhaps you can, therefore, imagine my surprise in discovering upon further exploration of the text, that “thief” in this context is not a direct reference to Satan.  Appearing in the middle of a monologue wherein Jesus self-identifies as the long-expected messiah, “thief” seems to be anything or anyone offering fraudulent avenues of salvation.  Bogus attempts at restoring God’s created order of shalom – perfect reconciliation within ourselves, with God, and with others – are false avenues of salvation and will, according to Jesus, lead to loss, death, and destruction. 

All too often, we look to what we’ve been led to believe is “our own power,” couched in our ideologies, nationalities, or parties to usher in kingdoms of peace.  I fear we may have been misled.  As a Christian, I must ask myself, “If I believe Jesus is the Savior, what is the way of Jesus, in which I am to follow?” 

The way of Jesus is the cross: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). 

Self-sacrifice in a world circumnavigating self-preservation emerges as the way of salvation from and amidst loss, death, and destruction.  Any way in which sin has ever, currently is, or will ever violate God’s created state (shalom) are absorbed into the crucified Savior.  A new power is at play – the subversive power of love . . . even in the face of death (Revelation 12:11). 

Do you feel this piercing tension?  The calling we receive as Christians - to lay down our lives for one another – seems nearly offensive to this desire to protect our own.  I don’t know how to ease this tension.  It seems too idealistic; I feel only to be a dreamer.  Maybe you can, alongside of me, find comfort in the following words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“We must in strength and humility meet hate with love.  Of course, this is not practical.  Maybe in some distant Utopia, you say, that idea will work, but not in the hard, cold world in which we live.  My friends. We have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos.  For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way . . . To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you.  But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.  One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves.  We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be double victory.’” (Strength to Love)

In following another way, the way of the cross, I fear a scary world might feel even scarier.  What will be demanded of me, over and over again, is a response opposite than my social programming.  I will have to fight my own flesh to arrive at love.  But, the other powers aren’t working.  Perhaps love has something to say – the subversive power inherent within may just win over our own hearts, and doing so, those that seek to violate us.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Raising Littles In A Technological Milieu

Hello there, friends!  I am excited to share with you my newest blog featured today on JellyTelly. This blog explores the difficulties I am finding in raising kiddos in a world wherein technology and "smart devices" have become so pervasive.  Below is a preview of the blog, followed by a link at the bottom of this post if you are interested in reading more.  I hope you all enjoy and find encouragement in these words. Many blessings! 

I often refer to my oldest daughter, Eiley, as my “tiny theologian.”  Her eagerness to learn is evident in her incessant inquiry.  Recently, I noticed my tendency to respond to her questions in nearly a programmatic manner: “Wow, Eiley!  That is a really great question.  I’ll have to think about that.” The problem is, I rarely have such “thinking time,” and I often forget to circle back and offer her answers. 

I want to change that.  Having an easily-accessible answer to all of Eiley’s questions, from “What are we having for dinner?” to “Can God understand my sister’s prayer when we don’t know what she is saying?” isn’t just my aim.  I want my children to be heard and to know that their questions are valued.  My children’s questions are forming me – those moments consciously and sub-consciously challenge my own faith to seek, ask, and knock on a door that is promised to, indeed, “open.”  Their innocent inquiries serve as insights into the paradoxical and simple profundities fundamental to a “childlike faith;” and ultimately remind me of the wonderful mystery inherent within the God we serve.  The questions my children ask are worth what it demands of me to offer them genuine responses. 

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the blog! 

Friday, 3 June 2016

What I Learned From My Mom's Instagram

Tanner and I had the opportunity to take a few days vacation this week with our girlies.  We headed up to Kentucky Lake and had a wonderful time.  We enjoyed Pontoon boat rides, discovered a secret cove with our “very own beach,” had great family game nights, and even learned a lesson, albeit unwelcomed, about gardener snakes.  My Mom, Dad, and sisters have also been vacationing this week, in Hawaii, in conjunction with some work for my Dad.  We have an on-going Chapman family group text message, and while they have been sending photos of the crystal blue ocean water, the Richards were proud to send our photos of the opaque brown lake water.  Ok, ok, ok . . . I’m not really that jealous.  At the end of the day, I am thankful to be making memories with my girlies, and am thankful they are making memories with theirs. 

I posted a few pictures on Instagram of our time at the lake.  I wanted to post a photo of all of us together, to look back on and remember what family vacations were like when the girls were tiny.  But, the only photos I took of the five of us were on “our secret beach,” and I was in my swimsuit.  I debated with myself as to whether or not I should post a swimsuit pic.  I thought, “I don’t want the world seeing what I try to look past in the mirror everyday.”  The lies started creeping in, “You’re not cute.  You’re too big.”  Heck, I’ve got one life to live . . . and I have one family vacation to document when my girls are 4, 2, and 10 months old.  And, in hitting that wee “publish” button, I felt a little bit like I was sticking it to the man – to the industry that says I should be little, itty bitty, and killin’ it in a florescent pink bikini.

Later that evening, my Mom posted a picture to Instagram from Hawaii.  Perhaps you guys saw it?  First of all, it is pretty hilarious as they are posing with a random beached seal they found in Hawaii (we didn’t discover any of those at Kentucky Lake, and my girls were confused as clearly we, too, were at a beach).  My Mom is in her swimsuit.  I know my Mom well enough – I guarantee she analyzed that photo for a minute, or two, probably more like an entire afternoon, before posting it.  But, do you know what I felt in that moment as a daughter – PRIDE.  Sure, I love how much fun my parents have together and the awe and humor they find in seeing a seal.  But more so than anything, I thought, “More power to ya, Momma C!”  My Mom is cute as can be in that swimsuit and I am proud of her for having the self-confidence to post this particular picture.  Her decision helped encourage me to be at home in the skin God has given me.  These moments are fleeting - the laughter and adventure of today, will be tomorrow’s memories.  I don’t want to be caught up in this little, self-destructive narrative of how bad I think I look in my swimsuit, that I miss the moment.  My girls are only little once, you only see beached seals once . . . so snap the photo.

To all of you who may be dreading swimsuit season – get on out there, smile in those photos, and know that you are the only one who is ever going to walk this earth in the body God gave you. I was with a friend recently who reminded me that there are only two kingdoms at play in this world: the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.  Those voices telling you that you aren’t good enough, they only come from one place - the kingdom of darkness.  And so, if and when those thoughts come as you slip on your bathing suit, or try to get that perfect angle for your swimsuit selfie, join with me in sending those thoughts right back to where they came from!  You, yes you, and I, yes me, are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Let’s believe that together this summer. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Being in those little teachable moments

About one month ago, I had a really exciting conversation . . . one of those chats where you leave and feel a little extra pep in your step.  It revolved around the topic of creating inspiring and helpful resources for parents raising their children in the Christian tradition in the 21st century.  Transmitting our faith to our children seems a daunting task, but I suspect our parents probably thought that same thing, and our grandparents before them.  And so, we begin with one step at a time, with one prayer at a time.  

As a result of that exciting conversation a little over a month ago, I was honored and asked to begin guest blogging for JellyTelly - a Christian parenting resource.  I am so grateful for this opportunity, and today my first post went live with JellyTelly.  

Here's a little preview: 
I don’t know about you, but so many times I find myself overwhelmed at all that parenting entails. Not only am I in charge of meeting my three children’s most basic needs, but my husband and I are responsible for their emotional and spiritual development. I often feel like I am too young to be making all these “grown up decisions.”

The spiritual formation of our children is a profound gift and responsibility with which we, as parents, have been entrusted. We are given the opportunity to introduce our children to the gospel narrative - to watch it take root, transform, and inspire their own lives. But to be honest with you, a lot of the time I feel like I am blowing it.
Are you liking it so far?  I hope so!  Click Here if you are interested to read more. 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

What's In A Name?

As I step into this new adventure of blogging and processing life through written word, I've been deeply moved and encouraged that my Mother's Day post (April Showers Bring . . .) resonated with so many of you.  I have read your comments and am carrying you all close to my heart in prayer.  Prior to publishing that post, I hesitated, allowing insecurity and self-doubt to creep in.  "Will anyone even want to read this little post?" I wondered.  So, please hear me say a BIG THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart to all of you who read, commented, and/or shared.

Upon returning to the "blogosphere," I thought it appropriate to give this blog a new name, and I wanted to share with you all the meaning behind the name.  I don't know about you, but for me, naming something is a real struggle. I feel the heaviness of bestowing an identity on something or someone before really knowing what or who they will become.  As long as you pinky promise to withhold all judgement, I will confess to you that our third child remained nameless for nearly one week.  I just wanted her name to be perfect, and it took my husband and I forever to choose.  And so, when it came time to consider a name for this blog, I panicked.  "Should the name be funny or cute?  Maybe I need to go the intellectual route."  In the end, I gave this blog a name for what I want it to be about.

Finding Thin.  

No.  This is not a weight-loss blog.  While I may contend that my post-birthing-three-baby-body could use a little help along its path toward thin, the good Lord knows I'm doing everything I can to just keep clean laundry in our drawers at this point.  Can I get an amen?  However my trousers may fit, I am endeavoring to find thin in other areas of my life.

What do I mean by that?  My husband, Tanner, and I spent three years living abroad (2009-2012) as students at a small bible college in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  It didn't take us long to fall in love with Ireland - the place, the people, the culture, and the rich history.  The title of this blog is inspired by a prayer said over our daughter on our final Sunday in Belfast.  Friends, many of whom had become like family, gathered and prayed that our Eiley would forever be marked by her time in Ireland, that she would be a woman of the “thin places."  Celtic Saints of old often wrote about thin places - these moments in time and locations wherein earth and eternity seemed to collide.  "Heaven and earth," as the Celtic saying goes, "are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter."   I believe that these moments are happening in our daily lives; in the obvious, and the subtle; in the triumphs, and the crash landings.  It is our joy, in the truest sense, to work alongside the Holy Spirit to foster within ourselves a greater awareness of these moments.  It often feels that the greatest blockade in keeping me doing so is the sheer busyness of life.

And so, for me and for you, I hope that this little "blogspot" is an intentional space.  It has purpose - I hope to use this platform as a way of identifying, celebrating, and reflecting upon "thin moments" in my own life, and in doing so, encourage you to do the same.

So, here's to finding thin together. 

Sunday, 8 May 2016

April showers bring . . .

Memory is a weird thing . . . so are emotions.  The saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers.”  But, when May rolls around every year, I kind of feel that April showers don’t bring May flowers . . . they bring May mud (I know it doesn’t quite rhyme, but mercy abounds for those of us who are not poets).  May is the month my family and I remember my sister Maria, as it holds both her birthday, the day she left earth for eternity . . . and today, Mother’s Day.

I woke up today to the noise of my tiniest ready for breakfast, and as I rolled over to hop out of bed, I found my oldest snuggled up next to me.  I guess I was so tired last night that I didn’t even notice her sneak into our bed in the middle of the night.  I started my day with a heart and home full; however, there was a little unsettled part in my heart knowing that many women dread the silence they awaken to on Mother’s Day.  My own mother’s home will be full of laughter today as we all gather to celebrate her, but she will feel the uneasiness one senses when waiting for the last of the party to arrive before commencing a celebration.  Today, for so many, is like a megaphone to the silence; a spotlight on the empty spaces.  If you find yourself there today, bracing for all the smiling photos that will flood your Instagram feed, prayers for peace and grace abound. 

I had an experience the other day in which my own uneasy feelings about the month of May and God’s goodness collided.  My preschool aged daughter, Eiley, thoroughly enjoys school days.  She’s a social butterfly and quite keen on learning.  I am convinced, however, that her affinity for school has something to do with wardrobe, as she is allowed to wear one of her “fancy dresses” reserved normally for school or church.  This past week, she pulled a polka dot dress off a hanger and brought it to me.  It’s a dress that has been hanging in her closet for sometime, but until this week, it’s always been too big.  I’ve never really wanted it to fit her anyway.  It is a dress that belonged to Maria.    

I can’t quite put into words what I felt seeing my daughter in that dress.  I was uneasy at first – could I really feel happy looking at that dress?  But with the smile beaming across my daughter’s face, how could I not be full of joy?  And yet, she was in a dress that represented such a deep sadness for me.  All of these emotions were colliding, but somehow in that moment, a little bit of peace enveloped me.  “God,” I thought, “You even breathe new life into little polka dot dresses.” 

My mind knows that newness of life is at work in roots buried deep underground, but my heart feels the messiness of the topsoil.  There’s a piece of me, the “I want to fix it” part, that tends to rush past the mud to celebrate spring’s new bulbs.  But, my heart tells me there’s something for me, and for you, that can only be found in the mud.  I suspect May will always be a “muddy month” of sorts for me.  Maybe you feel that Mother’s Day will always be "Muddy Day" for you.  We’re all traversing the human journey together, and I don’t think muddy should be avoided (or necessarily can be, for that matter).  This month feels messy, but it serves as a prophetic reminder of the kingdom coming in which God will make all things new.  The month of May reminds me of my own vulnerability, of my own mortality, and compels me to journey with others - broken by sin but enfolded in God’s great mercy - toward heaven’s eternal shore. 

Will you join me?