Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Be Still and Know

On Tuesdays I've been Practicing Pauses - last week, I wrote about the concept of practice in contrast with mastery; this week, being still.

Our church's women's ministry just finished reading through Francis Chan's book Forgotten God. After we read the last chapter, we were given space to pray and ask the Spirit for guidance, and if there was anything we needed to be doing (or way we needed to be being) differently. Everyone at my table was industriously jotting lines of notes, some accompanied by tears, and while I am usually all about journaling and note-taking, this time there was nothing. After what seemed like a long time, a line from a Christmas carol earwormed itself into my mind. Hush your noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing. Not sure what to do with that, I wrote it down and kept thinking about it over the next week.

As part of Sabbath and practicing pauses, I've been observing Tuesdays - setting that day aside as a Sabbath of sorts, making an effort to journal and pray and embrace the extraordinary ordinary. I started back at the beginning of Hope*ologie and I've been doing Emily Freeman's journaling exercises that she posts each month, along with slowly reading Breathing Room and Finding Spiritual Whitespace. Last week's Quiet*ologie practice (from last August) was simply "be still."

Most of us, I think, are probably familiar with the verse that begins "Be still and know that I am God" - it's certainly on enough journal covers and coffee cups. It's a comforting little mantra for when we're overwhelmed by things. But there's more to the verse. The whole thing is Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (That's Psalm 46:10). That alters the meaning a little. How much of my striving is for my own exaltation? He is God. Yes, He cares for me and my (ultimately) trivial troubles. But most importantly, He is the main character of His own story, the one that we're all a part of, and He is the one who gets the glory in the end (and the middle, and the beginning).

Hush your noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.

Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

I waste so much of the energy He's given me, trying to make some sort of difference. And I do believe that we've all got a purpose, and that our primary purpose is to represent Him, building the Kingdom now while we wait for the Kingdom not-yet. But sometimes I take that responsibility on myself, pressuring myself as though I alone, in my own power, hold the key to His Kingdom coming.

The Story has already been written - we already know how it ends. And sometimes I need to pause - not just to quietly do something restful, like reading or praying or journaling, but a true full stop - and realize that the earth won't stop spinning when I do. The angels are singing, and the world is on His shoulders, not mine.

When was the last time you stopped being busy (even being busy doing good things) and simply marveled?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Branching Out

It's been a very 'venturesome week. We spent more time than usual out and about (mostly to stay out of the way of the maintenance guy), but on the whole it was good.

Tobin is starting to be able to sit up, if well propped - he likes it. And the last time I laid him on the Boppy pillow for tummy time, I came back from changing Brooklyn's diaper to find him several feet away from it, happily gnawing on one of her toys which he had clutched in his little fist. He digs his toes and knees into the carpet and shoves himself forward - or skootches along like an adorable, chubby inchworm.

Brooklyn has started "reading" books to herself - reciting the phrases that stand out to her, and singing along with her favorite bedtime toy (a stuffed dog that plays a few lullabies). She's also quite insistent that we count the stairs every time we go up or down, and sometimes just randomly counts things on her own (usually starting with 6 and going through 11 or 12 - if I start her at 1, she can generally hit all of them in order). The past few days, she's been wanting to sing the alphabet song, requesting "ACDC?" (Really now, who came up with an alphabet in which half of the letter names sound the same?)

She's such a big little girl - bent on trying to help with anything she can, and determinedly imitating us as best she can. She also loves having company - sometimes our door will shift from someone else closing theirs too hard, and she'll ask about Adam's brother (he stayed with us a few times), and she was excited about a pair of my sandals that she found that are like a pair that my mum has, until I told her that Mimi was in Fayetteville. A friend from Fayetteville came for a concert last week (Adam's Valentine gift to me - a pair of tickets and coordinating a friend to go with) and Brooklyn was highly interested in her. The morning after she left, Brooklyn went to check the bedroom, hopefully inquiring "Car'lyn?"

She stayed home with Adam, since the concert didn't start until 7 and wouldn't have been her idea of a good time anyway, but Tobin joined us, cozily tucked into a Boba carrier. We were right behind the sound board so the noise level was good, and he did amazingly - he watched Rend Collective over the edge of the Boba with his eyebrows raised (they were loud and decidedly Irish, and warranted observation), fell asleep during Tenth Avenue North (I'm saying they were both his and Brooklyn's first concert, since I was 7 months pregnant with her at one of their concerts and she has a noticeable preference for their music), and then he woke up mad during the quiet between bands. I walked him around in the lobby for Chris Tomlin's first few songs and then came back for the rest of it. It was great getting to spend some time with a friend I hadn't seen in awhile, and to be out late doing something fun - and Tobin's bravery through it all emboldened me to think that further adventures may be nearer in the future than I was originally thinking (also, figuring out how to let him nurse while in the Boba was very freeing).

He's continuing to grow at a ridiculous rate (at least, compared to Brooklyn - it's probably normal, but she's all I have to go off of, for experience) - at his four month wellness check this afternoon he had grown two inches in length and gained almost two pounds in the 5 weeks since our last visit (putting him at 13 pounds, nearing triple his birth weight). At this rate he'll pass Brooklyn, at least in weight (she's a slender little fairy-girl). As long as they're both happy and healthy, though, I'm not worried about them being different than each other.

We've got a fairly typical week ahead (as typical a week as we ever do...), with Walk for the Waiting to look forward to on Saturday (we haven't quite raised our goal amount, if you'd like to further the cause - three Arkansas-local adoption/fostering organizations). Hopefully we can spend some time at the park, maybe paint on the back porch a little... and approach every day as a corner around which some new adventure may be lurking.

Friday, April 24, 2015


This week's gifts...
1510. A balcony, so that Brooklyn can be outside-but-contained on nice days
1511. An actual handwritten letter in the mail (we've been getting a lot of ads and flyers lately)
1512. A few hours between Tobin going to bed and Adam getting home in which to finish my to do list
1513. Walking at the park with Brooklyn and Tobin 
1514. Painting the back porch (with a cup of water and a couple of cheap paintbrushes)
1515. Greening my sprouts - they're destined for a sandwich tomorrow!
1516. Flowers and a photo booth adventure at Whole Foods
1517. Walking around the air base, looking at planes, before it started raining
1518. Dinner out, all-four-together
1519. Brooklyn identifying the animals painted down her hall at church 
1520. Free writing 
1521. An hour of solitude at Starbucks
1522. Someone to walk with, randomly on a Monday, who brought their dog (Brooklyn was happy to walk with a Cairn terrier)
1523. Time to make muffins to take to a potluck Gathering, and getting them there intact
1524. Adam secretly folding Brooklyn's laundry and leaving it, with a note, for me to find 
1525. Brooklyn's absolute delight over new doorknobs that she can work
1526. A delicious box of fancy tea, on clearance for half off
1527. The last Hobbit movie, Redboxed
1528. Spending all morning out, without major incident 
1529. The Emergency Backup Onesie
1530. Remembering Brooklyn's birthday Toys R Us gift card - she's pumped about the new ball and bottle of bubbles that we got
1531. Rend Collective, Tenth Avenue North, and Chris Tomlin
1532. A visit from a friend in Fayetteville
1533. Tobin being either content or asleep for [most of] a concert

This week has been a Week. A month's worth of catastrophic diaper malfunctions packed into three days, maintenance spending two days updating everything (fans, light fixtures, cabinet knobs, door knobs...) which meant keeping out from underfoot/away from sharp things and choking hazards and Brooklyn being woken up from a nap because they were standing in her room conferring about something (it all looks great, and further fuels my preference for apartment dwelling, but the in-progress period was a little rough), Adam having a couple of late nights which resulted in us spending practically no time together, and the slow realization that those periodic moments of breathless, nauseous, lightheadedness that leave me utterly drained afterwards are actually suppressed anxiety attacks (because who has time for that?), all on the heels of a not-very-refreshing weekend left me unusually pessimistic and unhopeful. (Uplifting things happened, too - see numbered list above.)

For Valentine's Day, Adam gave me a pair of tickets for Chris Tomlin's Love Ran Red tour's stop in Little Rock, and arranged for a friend to go with me while he stayed with Brooklyn. He was excited - I was cautious, since Tobin was going to have to stay with me, and there were so very many ways that that could go wrong.

But April 23rd arrived, and with it conviction about my consistent habit of resenting God for apparently not providing me with the rest and space I feel entitled to combined with second-guessing everything that might turn into the rest I so desperately seek (because surely it must be too good to be true).

My friend from Fayetteville arrived safely and in time. Adam sweetly made dinner. We got to the concert venue in plenty of time, and Tobin happily sat in my lap and smiled at people while we waited for it to start. I took him out for a diaper change just before Rend Collective made their appearance, but made it back in time for two of the three songs they did - their energy was infectious and it reminded me of the Celtic music I've stopped listening to because no one else likes it. Tenth Avenue North (my favorite lyric band, I think) offered grace and conviction at the same time, and brought to mind a past realization that I had forgotten. The seats that Adam had so carefully chosen were right behind the sound booth, in the quietest part of the arena, and Tobin snuggled contentedly in the Boba carrier, shielded from the noise and lights, alternately nursing and napping, for almost the entire evening (a brief bout of evening fussies occurred during the set change between Tenth Avenue North and Chris Tomlin). And after several hours of excellent and mostly familiar songs, Chris Tomlin ended the concert by calling the other two bands back on stage to finish by singing Ten Thousand Reasons all together - the first song I sang to Tobin (he is our little God is good, after all).

Far too often I try to control the circumstances, things, and people around me, and when I can't then I try to put God into my own little box and assume in my arrogance that if I can't do it, well... how can He? Not a deliberate thought, but no better for being unconscious. But our God is greater | our God is stronger | God, You are higher than any other | our God is healer, awesome in power | and if our God is for us, then who can ever stop us | and if our God is with us, then what can stand against?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Journey

On Tuesday we've been Practicing Pauses - last week I wrote about planning ahead. This week, why "practice" is important.

It is my tendency to pursue perfection. Once I become interested in something, I want to know everything there is to know about it, and become an expert. If I try something and it becomes quickly obvious that it doesn't play to my natural talents, I promptly abandon it because I can't stand the idea of being merely mediocre at something.

This is not necessarily a positive attribute, since when I'm faced with something that cannot be mastered (coughraisingchildrencough), I end up frustrated. Enter the concept of practice.

Mastery is a destination. Practice is a journey. On some level I already understood that - I'm teaching Brooklyn to "practice patience" because as an adult I recognize that patience isn't something you can be (at least not without some serious help from the Holy Spirit) and we also "practice peace" when we get overloaded (since peace is something that, while attainable, is also oddly easy to abandon).

Even at that, and even with my desire to succeed at things, I've never been fond of practicing for practicing's sake. It's taken a long time for me to reach a point in knitting where I can cast on and work a few rows, to be pulled out later, simply to show someone else how - to be able to say "every stitch is practice" without gritting my teeth as I unravel row after row of wrongly knitted fabric - to see that the Navajo, Amish, and Persian belief that every piece should include an error because only God is perfect doesn't mean deliberately messing up, it means not compulsively going back to correct every mistake as you go.

But if I'm truly honest with myself, I know that I'll never be able to master anything on my own - especially nothing of the love-joy-peace-patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness-gentleness-self control ilk. So I pursue pauses instead, seeking to spend time in the presence of my Master and only hope.

Do you relish the journey, or set your heart on a destination?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Art and Exploration

A week of exploration and conversation - Tobin has increased his amount of talking back when you talk to him, making sweet little noises in his throat and waving his hands excitedly.

He loves tummy time, and enjoys watching Brooklyn doing her thing. He desperately wants to join in - sometimes he attempts (by kicking vigorously) to get over to where she is, but he usually ends up going backwards, instead.

It must be hard to be surrounded by people who can move of their own volition, while you yourself are totally dependent on their whim as to when they'll help you move. Brooklyn has been exercising her ability to walk a lot of late, and is beginning to master stairs (she goes up them sideways, holding onto the railing and half-pulling herself up).

I got her an inexpensive set of paintbrushes and we've been "painting" the back porch with water in the afternoons. We're on the east side of the building, so after-nap the sun has moved to the other side of building but the pavement is warm enough that it dries quickly. We've been practicing numbers and letters (I paint, she identifies) and she's been perfecting her dots and stripes. By the end, it almost always devolves into just pouring water onto each other. I've been amazed at how freeing it is to paint something that will almost instantly disappear - not having to worry about messing something up or "wasting" paper actually produces better work, I'm finding.

It rained quite a bit last week, but we were able to go to the park a few times. Whenever we pass the swings, Brooklyn asks to stop and swing for awhile - it's a nice break for both of us, after she's been sitting in the stroller examining whatever bits of nature I've handed her to look at, and I've been pushing her up hill and down dale while wearing Tobin.

We're in the depths of a season of family dates, all-four-together, each of us attending to a little one and not spending much time looking into each other's eyes... of parking in the shade after a nap-inducing drive in order to Get Things Done... but it's such a delight to watch them growing and developing each into their own unique person.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Unlucky but Loved

The weekly reckoning...
1489. Surviving the day - sometimes I just need a sleep-reset, and sometimes I have to keep going without one 
1490. Tobin enjoying tummy time on the Boppy
1491. A stormy night - perfect sleeping weather
1492. Tobin sleeping for 10 hours straight
1493. Mum coming for a visit 
1494. Fresh raspberries, and getting all of the grocery shopping done in one day
1495. A flock of cedar waxwings in the Target parking lot 
1496. Questing a food truck, then eating our lunch at a random park
1497. Mum staying to help Brooklyn with her dinner so that I could also eat
1498. Hanging out on the balcony with Brooklyn while the muffins for breakfast baked
1499. The answer to a question
1500. That Tobin seems to have begun sleeping through the night 
1501. An overcast morning, so we could prop the back door open and go in and out
1502. Whoever donated a bunch of wipes to church - we needed some
1503. That Tobin is starting to be able to hold onto things - he was fairly content with a set of chewie keys during my meeting
1504. Everyone sleeping in until 9:30 (!!!)
1505. Nothing frying when Brooklyn knocked over a mug of tea on my desk
1506. Leaving the back door propped open all day - glorious!
1507. An unexpected art print from (in)courage, and a highly anticipated package from Fair Trade Friday
1508. Two days in a row with the door open - the overhang is deep enough that it was still possible, even though it rained
1509. Extraordinary clouds on a brilliant blue backdrop after the rain

On the days that I struggle to think of three things to write down that don't include the word "only" (Brooklyn only lost her freedom three times today)...

on the days that I can't, so I skip it and go back later...

on the days that I feel utterly unlucky...

I'm grateful that fate is not the ruler of my days - that God is. That all things are working together toward a better end, even if I can't see the end of the tunnel and it just seems to be getting darker instead of lighter. And that even in the middle of my mess, I am loved by Love Himself.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Your Future Self

On Tuesdays we've been Practicing Pauses - exploring moments of rest, why they're important, and how we can better find them. Last week I wrote about little things that bring me a moment of joy - this week, little things that are more lastingly beneficial.

In the same Hope*ologie podcast in which the Nester mentioned that the things you use should be beautiful, the concept of "treating your future self" arose. Pre-Adam, I never had a problem with buying myself flowers (ok, I still do that), taking myself (and a book) to dinner, or even seeing a movie by myself if there was no one to see it with, but the word future thrown in there threw me.

But after they explained it, I realized that it's already something that I do. "Treating your future self" simply means doing something that will continue to do you good beyond the present moment. For example: a couple of months ago, Kristen Welch announced that Fair Trade Friday had a new option - in addition to the beautiful boxes that you can subscribe to (those are a bit more than I can afford, and filled with things that are, while lovely, not things that I need), they were offering a just-earrings option. For less than $15 a month, a pair of earrings made by a fairly-paid woman somewhere in the world, tucked into a lovely little bag, arrives in your mailbox. Yes, please! Realizing that I probably won't be over the moon for every pair, I've already resolved to use this as a way to get ahead on Christmas gifts, while also augmenting my own curated collection.

Another way of doing that is to predict and prepare for possible future frustrations. I keep a notebook with me at all times, so that if I end up having time in a parking lot with sleeping babies in the back, or Tobin decides on a pre-bedtime marathon nursing session, I can redeem the time. However, I write best when I have a visual for inspiration, and that isn't something that's always within reach. So I made a little matchbook album of photo prompts* and tucked it into the pocket in the back of my notebook. It was quick and easy to make - once these twelve pictures cease to spark creative genius, I can make a new one.

image from She Reads Truth

Honestly, study and memorization of anything that inspires you, but especially Scripture, could also fall into the category of "treating your future self," by providing your mind with ready encouragement that can be recalled in a time of need (also, when sitting up in the dark with a teething toddler, near-verbatim memorization of the story of Esther and of The Hobbit can come in handy for outloud story-telling).

Who you are right now determines who you will be in the future. So if I'm worn out and stressed right now, that's going to affect me tomorrow, and next week, and five years from now. But if I begin the practice of pauses - of being still - of disconnecting from distractions and reconnecting with God - then the positive effect will be exponential.

*specs, if you'd like to make your own: the matchbook is a strip of patterned paper 2.25" wide and 5.75" high, and the bottom tab is folded up one half inch. The inserts are 2" by 2" with an extra half inch of white space at the bottom where they'll be stapled - I made a template in Publisher with margins and layout guides adjusted to create the size I wanted so I wouldn't have to measure each picture and so they would all fit on one page, then cut out my pictures, tucked them into the bottom fold, stapled them, then folded the top of my matchbook down, tucked it into the bottom fold, and creased.

What can you do today that will benefit you in the future? A class, index cards with memory verses written on them, a subscription, a jar of bath salt (purchased or homemade), a planned date, frozen cookie dough balls, a new yoga mat... there is no thing too simple or silly - if it helps you, that's what matters!