Are you a believer? In zombies, I mean. In that utterly fascinated, can’t turn away but totally can’t bear to look, peeking out from behind your fingers at the gory, horrifying images kind of believer. My seminary profs labeled it ‘fascination with abomination’ – when the horrors of this life, the frightening, the gory, the abhorred and abhorring, the terrified and the terrifying- capture our attention and we cannot break away, cannot escape its grasp.

Zombies are in the Bible.  Yes, zombies. In the very Bible. You probably didn’t read that story in Sunday School, did you?

Well, maybe they aren’t exactly called zombies, but the Bible has some remarkably similar imagery. I’m not gonna lie, there is some stuff in the Bible that even Stephen King couldn’t have dreamed up. God has a pretty amazing imagination and I’m pretty sure He can imagine anything He wants, zombies or not.  (If you like zombies and horror movies, you can read more about some of the imagery here, in this nifty article by Michael Gilmour). We don’t talk about in church much, but it’s there. Right there, in this Bible of ours.

There is this crazy, horrifying, can’t-turn-away zombie-esque story in the Bible that speaks to me. It hits me in the gut, in hits me in the heart, and leaves a mark on my soul. You might know it from an cliche of a children’s song, but the prophet Ezekiel experienced it as a kind of zombie apocalypse, a frightening, gory, can’t turn away, can’t get away kind of a vision – and it was all God’s idea.

I cannot bear to watch horror movies. I hid under the covers when my husband watched Kujo. I still have nightmares of Freddie, and Sweeney Todd turned my stomach sour in the first five minutes. But this story – this little piece of history that is just one small part of His Story, I cannot break away from. It’s the Valley of Dry Bones.

IMG_7754I love this story because it shows me that God doesn’t always do as He’s told; He doesn’t always fit that mold we made for Him- He is an imaginative cinematographer, a detailed Creator, a hope-instiller. Ezekiel trained His whole life to be a priest so he could serve God. And in that apportionment of history, in that little time-lapsed view we see what an honor this was for Ezekiel and His family. And when he was just about 30 years old, when Ezekiel was just about to step into that honorable position of serving God as a priest, God gave him a new assignment. Ezekiel was to be a prophet instead. Ezekiel kissed his honor goodbye and stepped into the unpopular role God had been designing for him all along. Isn’t that just like God? To do something surprising to us but something  He had planned all along, something beyond our imaginations.

IMG_0201Fast forward a bit, to a time when the nation of Israel felt utterly hopeless. A whole nation of people without hope. Feeling alone. Feeling abandoned and rejected by God.  But God was up to something, and he showed Ezekiel what He was up to through a horrifying, can’t-turn-away zombie kind of a story. God showed Ezekiel a valley of dried up old bones.  Maybe you’ve watched enough horror movies that a valley full of old, sun-bleached, dried up bones wouldn’t make you a bat a pretty little eye. But to Ezekiel, who was taught his whole life that he, a dignified, ceremonially clean priest-to-be, must never come in contact with a dead body, it was the worst. It was stomach-souring, hide under the covers, peek behind his fingers, vomitous stench, kind of awful. And then God told Ezekiel to talk to those bones, to tell them to get up. And then those bones did the unthinkable, the ultimate, silent-screaming-inducing kind of a thing that only an old skeleton could do. Those old dead bones got up.  And they grew muscles. And veins and arteries and tendons and organs and everything else that makes the difference between a skeleton and person. Those dead bones became living, breathing, hoping people. And this entire, horrifying, stomach-souring show was so Ezekiel would know without any kind of question that there was HOPE for his nation, that God was going to bring that dead and deathly ill nation back to life. Ezekiel became far more than just a priest that day, he became a hope-instiller for an entire nation that needed to reconnect with God.

I hate to admit that I have a few dead bones around – dried up dreams, hopes that fell by the wayside. Plans that went wrong, horribly wrong. There’s a few spots in my life that have felt abandoned, rejected, dead. There are skeletons of failures tucked away in a few dusty closets, buried beneath smelly old shoes and lost mittens. But God is the hope-instiller, the breather-of-new-life into dead bones. The resurrector of people and broken plans and dead dreams. And this story is exactly what I needed, this gory, horror movie created by a loving God to show me that nothing is too dead and old for Him to imagebreathe into it new life.

God, the instiller of hope, the imaginative designer of our stories,  is breathing new life into some of my old dead and zombied dreams in surprising ways. What old bones, and dreams, and zombies, and plans, are you hiding away that need new life?

10. Because chicken snuggling is a thing.

 

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9. You can feed them your leftover pumpkins from Halloween.

 

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8. You can drink out of really cool mugs like this one.

 

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7. They will entertain small children for hours.

 

6. They will gladly till and fertilize the garden for you.

 

5. They look quite glamorous in photos.

 

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4. It’s fun to watch them dance.

 

 

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3. They are great watchdogs. I mean, watch chickens.

 

 

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2. Because cuteness.

 

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And because love.

 

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And because cuteness.
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1. And because eggs.

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11 things I’ve learned as a foster parent…

Don’t worry about the things that are out of your control. Like hair cuts. Because those are still controlled by birth parents. And if anything can possibly go wrong, it will happen in the five minutes before the social worker knocks on your door.

Don’t worry about what other people think. As a foster mom, I’ve been accused of a lot. Like that time when the perfect stranger  was convinced I had an affair and asked me. In front of my husband. Or the random church member who called me a bad parent for reasons I am totally unaware of. Or the acquaintance who was pretty sure I was getting a substantial and undeserved payload for these children. And I had to learn to let it go, let it go, and stop worrying about what others think. Except your social worker. You should probably always worry about what she thinks.

Ride the rails.  It didn’t take long to learn what an emotional roller coaster the foster care journey is. And while training helps you prepare for the worst and the best, there really is nothing quite like going through it for real. So you learn to ride the rails, hang on tight, scream a little bit here and there when you get scared, and laugh when it’s fun, and dig your very fingernails into the arms of the person next to you as you cling to them for your ever loving life, but just know that no matter what happens in the ups and downs, it’s not over until it’s over and anything can happen at anytime.

Take it one day at a time.  As a foster parent, you become acutely aware that you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. So you take it just one day at a time, one hour at a time, or a minute at a time if need be. Enjoy each moment while you can because you just don’t know what’s coming next. And sometimes, that’s a good thing.

Get help when you need it. It’s not always all roses, all the time being a foster parent, and sometimes, you just need help. Maybe you need to hire someone to help with the laundry or the cleaning. Or maybe your child needs some help from a therapist. You social worker is always there to assist and will point you in the right direction (and will make sure you get the court’s permission when you need it).

Laugh. “They” say that laughter is the best medicine. I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but experts do agree that laughter increases feel good endorphins and other hormones that help your children feel better, cope better, grow better. So get out those corny jokes, ridiculous charades, and pillow fights and tickle fests and just laugh long and hard.

Rest. When my oldest was born, everyone told me to sleep when the baby slept. The joke was on me because he barely slept! Take it from me, if you get an opportunity for a nap, take it! While you’re at it, eat right, exercise, spend time with your spouse, and do something fun for you. Go ahead. You’ll thank me.

Give grace. And give it freely. To your biological children. To your adopted children. To your children in care. To the birth parents. To your spouse. And especially, to yourself.

Let it go. Make it your mantra. When the potted plant gets dumped for the 3rd time in the last five minutes, let it go. When the window gets broken, let it go. When your child writes his name for the very first time on your favorite Bible in sharpie, just let it go. You’ll be happier for it. And if you need help remembering to let it go, just watch, “Frozen.” It doesn’t disappoint and you’ll never forget to Let it go again.

Pray hard. Prayer works. Prayer is powerful. Stop reading this and go do it.

Love hard. ‘Nough said.

 

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You went to church, yesterday, didn’t you?

On that unbelievable day that we get to celebrate Easter, the day of our risen Savior,  you went to church. And you sang glorious Easter IMG_0592songs, perhaps heard the heart-pumping strains of Hallelujah, rejoiced in the alleluias, adored the chiffon and the bows and the satin on the little tiny tots with their chocolaty mustaches and bunny stuffies and and fist-bumped your way through the greeting and the celebrating and the empty tomb and the awesomeness of the day. And you heard an inspiring sermon about the earth quake and the soldiers scared to death and that Jesus breaking out of that tomb and perhaps a lovely solo or two, and the musicians played their very bestest and the pastors preached their hearts completely out of their chests and it was really really an awesome spiritual holy day. And you were thrilled with your delicious Easter dinner and then when you couldn’t possibly eat another bite you snuck a few chocolate bunnies from the Easter baskets when no one was looking and then you later collapsed in your bed, happy, full, and content with the risen Lord and the Easter bunny and the church service and the happy, happy children and it was still an awesome, maybe even perfect day. And it deserves the very best of celebrating, it needs a give it all you got because it is the most amazing day of the year kind  of a celebration, this Easter day that we celebrate our risen Savior.

And then there was Monday.

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And Monday hits like a dump load of broken up bricks because the festivities are done, and everyone is reeling from their chocolate bunny hangovers and crankily seeking out their sugar fix and you can’t hear that glorious music ringing in your ears anymore and the chocolate bunnies are gone and the leftovers are just left over and the Easter grass is strewn around and the foil wrappers are ground into the carpets and the toys are already breaking and you are so exhausted from all of that fun. And the risen Lord was so so yesterday and His death defiance fades into the background and life hits you really hard right there in the here and the now and the gut. And pretty soon it’s back to work and back to school and back to the drudgery of life and back to our budgets and our dirty dishes and wiping runny noses and everything else that drags us down when the Easter high has gone away. And Easter has come and gone and nothing is really any different or better it’s just dull and dingy in the light of all that celebrating.

But Easter living isn’t one day a year.

Easter living is in the heartbreak, those cold hard days when the emptiness of your arms makes your very bones ache and you cry for your IMG_0606dad or your husband or your favorite grandpa but they aren’t there so you find rest in the only place you can, in those stretched wide arms of your risen Lord with the nail holes and the scars. And Easter living is in the tension of your company, so close to breaking apart that it keeps your eyes open throughout the night but you can find your rest deep in the soft kind eyes of the risen Savior.  And Easter living is in the mounds of laundry that overwhelm your laundry room day after day after every single cotton picking day and you feel like you can’t do one spiritually important thing because laundry. Because work. Because kids. Because grief. Because everyone else’s family Facebook pictures are happier, more perfect, and more than you think yours are. Because chocolate bunny hangovers remind you that there are too many days in the year that aren’t really awesome, maybe even perfect fist-pumping Easter Sundays.

But Easter living isn’t one day a year.

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And in the days of the heartbreak, and the cold, and the laundry, and the grief, and the Facebook pictures and the empty Easter baskets we find the real meaning in the Easter celebrating. Because when the rejoicing has passed and there is nothing left but the chocolate bunny hangover we find that the risen Savior is still just as real, and His welcoming arms are still waiting, still stretched wide with those unmistakable nail holes and those holy scars. And instead of high-fiving those reached out hands for accomplishing that act of death defiance we run straight and hard into them because there is no place left to go and that’s ok because we are still just as welcome right there in those open wide arms. And whether it’s the first place we look or the last place we turn there is still the love of a Savior who was willing give up His very own life even for our daily drudgery with the laundry and the Facebook and the chocolate bunny hangover. Easter living is the promise that the God who defied death is very much alive and the God who defied death is within our grasp and the God who defied death wants us to grasp for Him. And Easter living isn’t just in the resounding trumpet but also the tiny whisper of hope He speaks to our weary souls when we start to let the resurrection break forth into our dingy dull places and our laundry and our Facebook and our grief-stricken places and our chocolate bunny  hangovers.

 


There was that hard time,  when my son was tiny, and frail, and his IMG_0201premature 2 1/2 pounds of life didn’t come with any sort of a lifetime guarantee, and I didn’t know how his desperate lungs could fill themselves with air even just one more time. It was hard to find my hope because I thought my hope was lost. And I needed that nurse who offered me her hope that he was going to be just fine.  She propped me up with all of the hope that was her own so I could be every bit of mommy that his tiny body, heart, lungs, and soul could need to get him through that one very hard day in a series of hard, hard days. Her hope was never false – it was everything I needed to hang on to in that moment, on that one very hard day. And today he is just fine and 8 years strong and smart and full of love and life and a beacon of hope beyond anything we could have ever even hoped for.

IMG_0180And I want to be a hope bearer, too. I want to bring hope to someone else because I’ve been in that place and I know that feeling, that one singular desperate ache, the emptiness, the lonely need, to find someone else who can possibly ever hope on my behalf when I’ve just plum ran out of every bit of hope that I ever thought I had. I know what it is when you try to muster up all the hope that you can find and come up with none to get you through that really hard day in a series of hard, hard days.


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 5:13, NIV 


Sometimes, its easy to see hope in every little place; sometimes, hope is elusive. We know it’s out there, somewhere, but we can’t quite get a grasp of it. And if we catch it by the tailfeathers, maybe we’re afraid to hang on to it for dear life, because, what if that thing we caught is not really a hope at all, but a forgery of falseness that leads us daringly away from our tenuous reality only to dash us on the rocks below.

But I say hope is hope, and if it gives you something to cling to tightly, something to grasp even if it is no more than a handle to pull yourself out of the deepening water, then it cannot possibly be false hope because it is real and it is tangible and it is giving you what you need to make it through that hard moment on that hard day. And I say Jesus doesn’t want you not to hope because the Bible says that our God is the God of hope and He wants you to overflow with hope so that you have enough for you and enough to prop up the person next to you, too. And I want to be that hope-bearer, too.

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And sometimes, sometimes, I hear a tiny chirp of hope in the peeping of the baby chicks nestled safely in my library. And some moments, some days, I watch it grow before my eyes as tiny shoots of kale and broccoli break out of plump little dollops of dirt. And some days, some weeks, I smell a hint of hope in the air as winter’s gasping fades away into the sweet sweet baby breath of spring. My burgeoning homestead shows me there is hope, reminds me when I lose my hope, that Jesus is all of the hope.

It is the possibility of a better, healthier future. It is the summer harvest coming soon, with an unending supply of sun-warmed tomatoes, and delicious zucchinis, and melons snuggled in the dirt. It is the gleam in the eyes of my aging house kitty, invigorated by the joys of spring air seeping in through opened windows. It is the sound of laughter as my children roll haphazardly down the clovered hill, landing willy nilly, belly up, and head over feet trying to find the bottom fastest.

My sweet little baby homestead shows me my hope because it is the footprint of a Creator who came to give us all Hope in the form of a baby, born to suffer, and die, and raise again so He can be our everlasting hope, our one true hope, our greatest, our only Hope. And I have precious little to offer you, friend, but I can walk alongside you on my little patch of dirt and offer you what hope I have. And I can hand you baby chicks to cuddle in your empty arms or playful children needing to be tagged in the warmth of the sun. And I can pass you the freshest eggs, and maybe they will be help you find your hope and show you there is hope so you can remember all of the baby miracles and great big miracles that the God of Hope can do.

But I can do a little better, I can help you plant some seeds in a pot, or a mug, or an old egg carton filled with dirt. And I can introduce you to the One who really is our Hope, and IMG_0209together we can water those teeny tiny seeds of hope and place them in just so, so that as the sun shines on those little seeds and creates a miracle that makes them grow, His love can shine bright right on that broken heart you carry and make a miracle of hope to grow, right there, right here, right when you need it most on this day, this hard day in a series of hard, hard days.

I want to be a hope-bearer, too.


 

“Hope” is the thing with feathersimage

BY EMILY DICKINSON

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

 

Most folks are well-intentioned, merely curious, really good , kind people who simply don’t know all of the foster care lingo that we, on the parenting side, have become quite comfortable with. And after being a foster mom for several years, I think I’ve heard it all from complete strangers, from very sweet, kind comments about my darling babies, to funny, witty, and sometimes even dirty looks and down-right rude remarks that secretly make my blood boil. Usually, though, I’m too busy tending to my bustling brood to actually care what other people think, but sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I had a snappy comeback to pass along with an impish grin and a sticky hug from a quite thoughtful child. So here’s a quick list of some of the funny things I’ve heard – and what I wish I had said in the moment. Enjoy!

  1. You’re a saint for taking in those children.  ME? A saint? You must have me confused with someone else, because I’m just a normal, boring, imageregular, non-perfect, plain old, run-of-mill human being with normal, boring, regular, non-perfect, plain, old, run-of-the-mill problems who happens to be a mom. I’m taking life one day at a time just like everybody else. I make messy mistakes, sneak chocolates when the kids aren’t looking, beg God to let me sleep a little longer each morning, and I long for the peace and quiet of bed time every night. I’d say those children are saints for not complaining when all of the yummy dark chocolate has completely disappeared from their Easter baskets after I accidentally ate it all.  Shhhh don’t tell them I told you…

2. Are you a daycare? Not since the last time I checked.IMG_3428

3. Which one is yours? All of them. They are all mine. Every single one. Some people collect shot glasses, I collect children. Hoard them, as a matter of fact. And no, I won’t trade, sell, or barter any of my precious collection, they are worth far too much, but I’ll gladly help you start your own collection of highly adorable, completely priceless miniature human beings.

4. Is the mom in jail?  Well, I’m the mom and I am definitely NOT in jail. But thanks for asking about how I’m doing… as a matter of fact, I do feel a little trapped by the all the laundry I have to do each week…. How about I bring over a couple of loads of wash for you to fold?

5. What’s wrong with that one? What’s wrong with you?IMG_1655

6. I could never love another person’s child. Wrong. Just wrong. If you’re saying that (out loud even), you’re just trying to convince yourself not to get involved. Here’s how I see it. Any child under my roof is MY CHILD. And I will love him or her for the rest of my life and well into the next. Because that child is lovable and worthy of love. Love is a choice, an action, and I double dog dare you to choose it. You haven’t learned what love can be until you hear that child call you “Mommy” and I promise it will make your little heart burst with joy.

7. They’re lucky to have you.  I don’t believe in luck. I believe in Jesus.IMG_1628

8. Don’t you have enough kids? Nah. There’s always room for one more.

9. Are you going to adopt that one? Which one?

10. Doesn’t the mom want them?  Of course I want them!

11. Did the real mom do drugs? I’m the real mom.

12. You look great for just having a baby, I didn’t even know you were pregnant. Gee, thanks, at least someone thinks I look good!

13. Is the kid safe? Does he ‘have something?”  Well, the last time I checked, IMG_1528there were a couple of rocks in his pocket and he had just picked up a frog, but I’m pretty sure they don’t bite because frogs don’t have any teeth.

14. You must be in it for the money.  Hahahahahahaha.

15. Your husband must make a lot of money. Again. Hahahahahahaha.

16. Is that a drug baby? Nope. “That” is a child. A tiny soul, created by God, to grow and love and live and spend eternity worshipping Him. Why do you ask?

“I know right where you are and I’ll come to you,” echoed my new 1147603_10201900890624407_1866935575_ohusband in my ear. The tow truck driver hollered these words to him to pass on to me. I was stranded on the side of the highway, barely out of the path of cars whizzing by in their rush to get home.

It was frigid and my car was dead. Not even a click when I turned the key. It was so dark no one could  see that I was inside the smokey blue Dodge Colt, stranded and alone. I locked my doors and huddled under an old blanket, shivering in the 10 degree weather. The car shook from the passing traffic and I couldn’t see who might be out there in the darkness. Not a soul, not one, stopped to help. Maybe that was better, safer. I climbed into the passenger side, furthest from the wildness of the traffic, praising God for 1 thing – my very first cell phone, purchased the day before, at the insistence of my groom. The phone I didn’t really want.

557048_4218347977465_104829219_nHe’s coming to me, echoed in my head.  He must have broken the laws of man and nature to get to me so quickly, because the tow truck driver, who I had seen only a few times before in my small town, arrived within a half an hour. He saw me shaking, and with compassion in his eyes helped me into the cab of his truck. “I said I’d be here; let’s get you warm.” And he cranked up the heat and loaded my little car onto his big truck.

He knew right where I was, and he came to me. Yes, the tow truck driver.

Yes, Jesus. Jesus knew right where I was, and He came to me.

I find so much comfort in that statement – he knew right where I was. It5311_10200880558236735_1400010509_n was going to be ok.  Nothing would stop him from getting me home safely. He meets us right where we are. Just like the woman at the well (John 4). Just like Mary and Martha (Luke:10-38-42) Just like Lazarus (John 11:43). And just like the women bewildered by the empty tomb (Matthew 28). He came to us, each one of us, right where we are. He didn’t wait until we knew the answer, or had it all together. Jesus knows us right where are – in the cold, in the dark, afraid, alone, He knows. He knows when we are alone in a car or a tomb or even near the tomb; when we are dying or living, working or not working, Jesus knows just where we are and He comes to us to warm us with His love.

23924_1385760284543_4829787_nDo you remember how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? It’s such a well-known Bible story that we don’t think about it too deeply, do we? But Lazarus was dead. And Jesus came to him, and met his greatest need.

Then there were the women near the empty tomb. Jesus, Savior, Messiah, King, the Word, God, defeated sin and death in this most incredible amazing victory – the event that changed the entire course of the world forever and ever – He could have gone anywhere, or done anything. But He met those women in their greatest need, right where they were. He met them by His tomb. What a stark picture of the life giving Jesus meeting us in our places of death and despair, offering us hope, resurrection, life.

There is never a place where we are too far for Jesus to come us, no place too dark, or cold, or alone. There is no death that can prevent Him from coming to us. There is nothing that will stand in Jesu11990476_10207840579712922_8025513724316635598_ns’ way. He knows where you are and He is coming to you.

This week, this Holy Week, where we remember Jesus’ suffering, and His death, and His ultimate resurrection, we remember how Jesus gave everything because He knew right where we would be. He wasn’t afraid to join us in the cold, in the dark, in the fear, or in the pain, or even in death. Jesus knows right where we are because He’s been where we are. And He is coming to us.

532191_10202661568880888_954482986_nI have a confession to make. Puh-lease, please please pretty please with 
sugar and a giant tasty cherry on top don’t yell, criticize, make fun of me, or- worst of all- tell the healthy police. Because I am not proud of what I did.

Yesterday, I ate an Egg McMuffin.

Seriously, it was a weak moment. I was starved. So starved my ribs might have been sticking out a little (well, ok, maybe that’s just a tiny exaggeration, I haven’t seen my ribs for quite a few years and I really don’t plan on seeing them poke out again). And my kids were having those fluffy, carb-laden, chock-full-of-horrible–gluten, sugary, deliciously made with white flour McD’s pancakes. I couldn’t bear the temptation. I had to have it and I needed it right now. Can you feel my agony? Sympathize with my starvation? Well, at least I mustered the strength and courage to pass on those perfect pancakes and chose an Egg McMuffin instead, because, well, at least it had protein. Right? I mean, I gotta eat healthy, right?

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Gratuitous chick pic

[insert sigh of defeat here]

As soon as I bit into the hot, tasty goodness I knew 2 things: my stomach would suffer later (about 24 hours later) and I had totally derailed the day’s eating. But only 1 of those things turned out to be true. Here’s why.

I am normally an all-in, perfectionist, do it right and do it all the way kind of a person. If I’m going to do something, it’s going to be 110%. Full steam ahead. Jump right in feet first without checking how deep the water is kind of a person It’s sort of my MO to pick a project and give it everything I’ve got until I either fail or get bored and move on to something else. It’s not a very attractive character trait, I believe. It’s kind of how I ended up with 31 pet chickens (who I really do love and adore), a garden so big I couldn’t fill it (but I will this year), and more than a few stints as a direct sales agent (not so good at sales, here, people, I’m not gonna lie). And it’s happened with

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100 percent FitBit

my health and fitness. I’m talking diet plans, exercise plans, gym equipment – been there, done that, and I don’t even have the  t-shirt to go with it. So what normally happens when I start off the day eating poorly, I give up and stuff my face with whatever crap is just laying around the kitchen, especially if it contains sugar, flour, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Please, tell me you can relate. At least humor me here, k?

This time, it’s different. Because I’m making a conscious effort not to be 100%. Is that crazy? Maybe. My goal is to eat paleo friendly fare 80% of the time. And you know what? It’s working.

I give myself permission to snag a goldfish or two from my kiddo’s snack bowl. I give myself permission to eat a half a donut for breakfast, along side some farm fresh eggs or a banana. I give myself permission to indulge in the church pancake fundraiser – once in a while or (ack) hit up fast food when I am exhausted after a long day of schlepping a plethora of kids around. I also give myself permission to mess up – to eat (gulp) pizza during a trip to Chuckee Cheese, or (gasp) indulge in an Egg McMuffin without beating myself up. But I have to stop at 20%. It’s a balancing act, for sure, but it allows me to fail but not derail, indulge but not bulge, treat myself a little and still get healthy, lose weight, and best of all – not feel tired, sick, and disgusted with myself. I’m only 80% in, but it works. I feel healthier, stronger, thinner, and happier than I have in a long time. I pulled a dress out of my closet with the tags still on, because a year ago it was too small. Now it fits like a dream. And even when I’m totally wiped, I can hoist that fully loaded infant carrier up over my head and into my giant passenger van. It’s working, so I’m going to keep going all in 80% in.

Recipe for the weekend: Paleo friendly coffee creamer

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Gratuitous coffee and theology pic

Normally, I like my coffee black. Bitter is better and I love it dark, rich, and very very black. But I came across a coconut oil coffee recipe that I cannot wait to try in my no-longer-black coffee. Coconut oil is said to help you burn fat (apparently, this healthy fat has magical properties) as well as a host of other benefits such as being anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and potentially, anti-aging (we won’t discuss my need for anti-aging, it’s a sore sore subject). So eating 2 tablespoons daily will help the pounds fall off, if that’s your goal. Whether it works or not, I don’t know, but I love coconut oil for all kind of things and this recipe sounds delicious!  Check it out here and let me know if you like it!

Gratuitous workout selfie.
Gratuitous workout selfie.

Healthy Food House Coffee Creamer

And if you need to give your health and weight loss a little boost, try this

system from It Works (yes, I get paid if you buy it. but you know that sales is not my forte and I will never pressure you)

Have a fun, fit, food-filled Friday!

Clutter kills my calm. I cannot stand to work in a cluttered messy environment. In order for me to be my most peaceful, creative, content, joyful self, I need visual order. I need ‘white space’ in my home and work. I need a clean slate when I wake up in the morning so I don’t have to deal with yesterday’s dirtied baggage before I start a brand new day. I need to be able to vacuum, scrub, and put things away quickly and easily. And I need to be able to childproof thoroughly. Very very thoroughly. That means clutter has got to go or I cannot function well. And as a mom of 6, I need to be running on all cylinders, all the time. There is no time for me to misfunction over missing stuff because there is just so much stuff that I can’t find what I need when I need it. It’s amazing how much stress clutter adds to our lives – whether it’s junk mail, email, extraneous stuff that piles up around the house, junk drawers that are too full to even close, and basements full of boxes unopened since the last move. It takes so much time and energy to deal with all of the stuff, and to me, a cluttered home means a cluttered brain. People often comment how clean, picked up, uncluttered my house surprisingly is for being a mom of 6. It’s probably not so much clean as it is uncluttered and picked up. And don’t you dare look in my overfilled cabinets which have to contain food for 8 or especially, my garage, where all the clutter actually hides.

10. Get the kids on board. Have you ever noticed what happens to a child’s playskills when there are too many toys at their disposal? The play area becomes a dumping ground, and the actual playing turns into chaotic game of running around and screeching rather than developing age appropriate play schemes and scenarios. But given just a few flexible toys, the imagination unfolds and amazing worlds and characters develop into delightful play. So get those kids involved in sorting, tossing, organizing, and storing toys. Let them show you their favorites and make some of the decisions.

Throw out anything broken, old, hazardous, junky, or that comes out of a happy meal. No ifs and or buts. You’ll thank me for it in the long run.

Donate anything that is clean and in good condition that isn’t played with on a regular basis. No matter how much you love it, if your kids don’t play with it, send it to someone who will. Hint: If it’s lost in the bottom of the toy box, they probably won’t miss until you show them that you’re getting rid of it.

Put away anything that isn’t age appropriate and save it for the next child or donate it, sell it, pass it on.

Keep it if it is sentimental, the kids play with it a lot, or there is a developmental need for it.

If you can’t possibly bear to part with toys and books, at least put some away for short term toy rotation. Just make sure that they are well-labeled and stored without batteries (trust me, you’ll think you’re going crazy when those plastic bins start talking in the damp basement). After a few weeks, take out the current toys and replace them with the stored toys. Unless your children are very young, try to only keep as many toys in rotation as your children are able to clean up with minimal to no help from you.  You can always add toys back if you see they are able to handle cleaning up after play.

9. Avoid it. If you have an older child, it’s ok to just shut the door. Don’t look at the clutter if they are capable of managing it on their own. My bedroom rule is not that the rooms must be clean but that I must be able to walk to their beds and dressers without tripping, falling, or suffering from lego induced agony to my naked toes. If there is some clutter that you just can’t get rid of (um, bill paying, perhaps?) find a way to hide it, disguise it, or cover it up so you don’t have to look at it when you don’t need to. I keep my vacuum cleaner in the garage because the closets are full of coats and clothes (yup, mom of 6 equals an overflowing coat closet) and I don’t want to see it every single time I enter a room.

9. Home it. Do you remember the old saying, a place for everything and everything in its place? All of your stuff should have a home of it’s own. Shoes go in the shoe cabinet by the front door when you come in the house (plus it helps keep dirt, germs, and chemicals out of your home). Keys and wallet go right in the drawer (the one with the baby locks on it). Have the kids put their backpacks and coats away as you come in the door so there isn’t extra clutter just lying about for people to trip on or little kids to get into.

8. Rehome it. If there isn’t a space for it, rehome it. Give it away. If you have more coffee mugs than can fit in your coffee mug spaces, than find them a new home – either a cabinet that’s bigger or one that belongs to someone else!

7. Eradicate it. Seriously. Be ruthless. How often do you really use the waffle maker? When was the last time you made yourself an espresso? Examine your closet and get rid of anything that doesn’t fit, anything that is worn, broken, out of style, or that you don’t wear on a regular basis. You probably have just a few outfits that you love and wear all the time. Get rid of just about everything else and you’ll spend much less time digging through your closet, your dresser, your laundry bins for the perfect shirt.

6. Erase it. The delete button works wonders! Treat your computer like you would your home – either file it, send it, or delete it.

5. Deal with it.  One of the reasons we have clutter is that we hang on to things in order to deal with them later. For example, we put the stack of mail on the counter to ‘look at later.’ But later gets busy, so the mail piles up and pretty soon, the counter is full, something gets spilled, and the pile of mail, which is mostly just junk, gets sticky and gross. Do yourself a favor – as you bring the mail in the house, deal with it. Toss it, file it, put it with the bills to pay. Same goes for kids’ papers, lunch boxes, toys, and receipts. Procrastination leads to piling. And piles of stuff destroys your calm.

4. Don’t buy it.  Just don’t. Don’t buy pictures, or pretty things, or anything at all unless you absolutely need it. The less tchotchkes the better. It means less things to distract your brain, less things to dust, less things to clean around. Less things to get broken, less things to have to child proof, too.

3. Sell it. If it’s saleable, consider selling it. Make a little cash and get rid of stuff. It’s a win-win.

2. Organize it.  Give it a home, the right home, in the right spot, in the right order, with the right label. And put it away every single time.

  1. Exchange it. The best rule is 1 in, 1 out. Kids got a new toy for their birthday? They get to choose one to donate or toss. Hubby got new underwear or socks? Make sure he remembers to remove the “holy” ones. Got a new purse? Send one packing so you don’t have to store the other.

Yes, yes, I make it a mission to seek and destroy clutter so that I can think clearly, create easily, and clean more quickly. But please please please, just don’t look in my garage..

 

imageLife gets a little too heavy sometimes, when the bills roll in faster than the paychecks do, and the babies aren’t sleeping at night because of stuffed up little noses, and I can’t control the hurt that’s haunting my heart over the pain my loved ones bravely face, and then the laundry mounds up high and it’s just the last straw in an overwhelming pile of straws after staying up late drawing puppies for a 2nd grade diorama, and I stop and wonder, where is God in all of this? Where is He when I can’t keep up with the life that I created and the circumstances that I didn’t? Oh, in my head, I definitely, pridefully, know the answer.  He’s right here. He never left. And He never will. But sometimes it takes my soul a little longer to catch on to when my head once learned all the right answers in Sunday School, so I squirm in my spot and whine about life and finally, finally, seek out ways that help me feel closer to Him.

And I start to remember that all of us here in the northern hemisphere are pretty Vitamin D deficient, which leads to fatigue, and fatigue to overeating, and overeating to a bit of depression when the winter gets deep and dark. And it’s no wonder that all we want to do is sit on our sofas eating cookies and dozing off when the heaviness of life gets a little to weighty to bear and makes me feel far away from God.

So instead of reaching for the choimagecolate I reach for a doorknob and step out into the sunshine so I can look for signs of life in the outdoors, signs of hope, signs of lighter and brighter days. And it is there that I relearn my favorite life lesson that God has revealed Himself through His incredible undeniable creation. And I start to see His hand in a freshly budded leaf, and hear His voice in the delicate song of a robin, and He whispers to me softly through the whispering of the woods and my soul starts to catch on that God is with me and I was simply looking in the wrong place.

cropped-IMG_7754.jpgAnd I remember that when God created this earth, He spoke and made it out of nothing. From nothing, not from dirt or mass or matter or even so much as an atom or electron, from nothing His words brought forth life, the life that now tentatively pokes its way up and out of the frozen ground, and flits about snatching worms out of muddy spots, and shows that winter doesn’t last forever. It’s just a season and if God can create everything we have ever known from absolutely nothing, ex nihilo, nothing at all, than surely He can help fresh, new life poke through my frozen heart and refresh the staleness that has been my spirit in the harshness of the winter days.

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And that is what I love the most about my budding homestead, that every inch of every acre reveals a little bit of God’s unfathomable creativity, His mindfulness of every detail, His penchant for variety, His love of life and newness and spring after the winter and most of all, His love and His nearness for me. And every blistered hand from raking and every aching back from sowing, and every tiny squeal of delight from tiny humans gathering eggs or chasing chickens is an opportunity, a possibility, and the unbelievable ability to work alongside of our Creator to bring forth life where there wasn’t life before; it is the means to tend, and nurture, and experience miracles that are tiny and miracles we’ve never seen before, and a way in which we can learn to love and adore and learn to be loved and adored as we hear His whispers in the woods and feel His nearness in the sun and sense His breath breathe new life into our very souls.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re in the city or the country or in the in between, if you feel like God is far away I can promise you He’s not. I know it in my prideful head from Sunday School but I am daily learning it in my soul that God is close even when I worry that He is not, and we can learn this daily lesson together, one tentative step, one chicken egg, one blooming budding growing stem at a time.

And maybe you don’t have an acre, maybe it’s just a backyard spot, or a sun speckled window with a little room for a bowl or even just a potato where you can plant a seed and call it a homestead of your very own. And as the seed pokes it’s tender stem through the ground of that pot that is your very own homestead you can see and learn and know that the very same God who spoke into life lacey soft petals and stormy weather strong trunks of trees and green and plush blades of grass and singing birds and chicken eggs is the very same God that got down in the dirt of the earth and fashioned you with His very own hand (Genesis 2). And that my friend is hope and joy and love and closeness and may we never forget the holy God who got His hands dirty in the earth- for us.

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

Hebrews 11:6, NLT