Help. Thanks. Wow.

Anne Lamott, or as others call her, St. Anne, claims that the Essential Prayers sound this simple:

I have prayed many, many words over many, many years, but I’m not sure I could come up with a prayer, petition, or praise that wouldn’t fit those three categories: help, thanks, wow.

Other than Tween staying home to vomit all day – and yes, this almost feels normal in a skin-crawling, crazy-making kind of way – today had been a good day: gym time, coffee with a friend, productive meetings; a friend brought her kids over to help Tween with homework (read: play), which meant moms also had time together.

Too much of an almost-good day? Teen locked his jaws on a potential outing to which I’ve said a solid, emphatic “NO!” I know he wants freedom, and I get that I represent his jailer, but I can’t say yes to this one. But ADHD hyper-focus shuts down his compassion and he bites hard, and long, and it’s all I can do to breathe and answer in a whisper so as not to provoke him further.

Interruption: the splash of Tween being violently ill.

Breathe. Pray. Breathe. Pray.

I made dinner and left it on the stove. I mentally went back to work to avoid my life’s chaos. When I thought I’d heard the end of Guy and Teen hashing out the same conversation I’d endured earlier, I cautiously emerged. Also, Tween was feeling better and able to eat.

I ate a few bites. Teen apologized and hugged me harder than ever. Even so, I spied my little eye into the liquor cabinet (Mexican food = margarita, right?) before Guy mentioned he’d chilled chardonnay. And then I noticed the pinkish light through our windows.

I poured two glasses of wine and invited Guy outside. Glasses clinked, we stood silently and watched as blue became grey became pink, peach, plum, dusky purple. The horizon lit orange, fire colors. Hot and intense, casting now yellow, autumnal light. We followed the light from front yard to back, where we sat to watch the colors change through our tree-silhouetted skyline. I thought, “This is what I needed. I am putting myself in the way of beauty (my “word” for 2015). This beauty, this WOW, will help me breathe.”sunset

Help: Help us make it through this abdominal migraine cycle. Help Doctors discover a way out of future cycles. Help Tween persevere through this mountain of work. Help Teachers respond with grace and kindness. Help Teen put his focus on Needs rather than Wants. Help Guy and I to stay on the same page in this whole parenting deal. Help maintain my sanity!

Thanks: Thanks for these three fantastic men you’ve put in my life. Thanks for Friends who surround us – with prayer, moral support, offers to cook and shop and even tutor, pop-in work and play dates, even tangible gifts (Homemade feed corn ice-heat packs? Awesome! Essential oils? Escential!). Thanks for killing our blender just as Guy was in Costco, and Big Thanks for the VitaMix he brought home to replace it. Thanks for holding us safe in Your Great Big Hands.

Wow: Seriously, this gorgeous sunset? WOW! The picture doesn’t do it justice. That these vibrant colors came from smog, sure, but I am wowed that you continually choose to bring beauty from bad, redemption from our rubbage. Tonight, I am wowed that you are an ever-present Help; that you are the source of any good thing for which I can say Thanks; that you are our WOW.

And just in case I sound too precious, Teen demonstrated his love for me – his goofy-kid way of saying sorry yet again – by trusting me with his beauties just as I finished writing (evidence that I’m growing in love for him, too, that I let these two crawl around on my lap).snakes

Let it Be

Last week God gave me a miracle of closure.

Almost a year ago, a long-time friendly acquaintance, a would-be friend had we shared greater proximity in the time we’ve known one another, well, she threw me under the bus.

She observed and entirely misunderstood an encounter I had with someone else. Instead of talking to me, she spoke poorly of me to others. Word got back to me, and I got back to her.

Because I’m better in writing, I wrote her a note and took the high road for the sake of the relationship. I didn’t attempt to explain, simply stated that I thought there had been a misunderstanding. I apologized, even asked for forgiveness, for having unintentionally offended her. I expressed gratitude for our relationship. I never heard back from her.

Which meant that every time I saw her I felt injured and sad. Stung. Rejected.

But I also felt like I’d done what I’d needed to, and the rest was on her. Best I could, I had to let it be.

Last weekend Guy and I attended a local art and wine festival. As we sipped cold beer in the shade, hiding from the blistering sun while we listened to an exceptionally good Beatles cover band, quite suddenly SHE was standing directly in front of me. She was laughing and hugging us both. She introduced us to her husband. She gave us the whole run-down on how she’s doing, how her kids are doing, kids I’ve prayed for, kids who have moved from early adolescence through college graduation in the time I’ve known her.

As if nothing had ever happened. She was exactly the same friendly, happy acquaintance I’ve always known.

We parted ways and eventually found a quiet table. Stunned, I reminded Guy of the situation a year ago; he never knew who the other player had been. She has a job now and can no longer attend our regular gathering. Barring any more spontaneous God-encounters, that may possibly have been the last time I’ll see her.

The band’s song broke through my reflections: “Let it Be.”

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Of course Mary’s situation couldn’t be more different, but her words of wisdom ring true just the same: Let it be. Whatever God intends, let it be. God noticed this one small ache in my heart and orchestrated closure. He asked me to forgive, and when I still couldn’t forget, He brought joy. Let it be.

Those words have stuck with me this week as Tween has caught us up in another cyclone of abdominal migraines. They warned us it could get worse and the variation in this cycle, the night-time vomiting, the not-enough-warning make-a-mess vomiting, yup, they’re worse.

sick QNot to mention the middle school homework piling up. And the silence from his teachers, despite our request for class notes and extra directions necessary to understand the assignments.

The specialist has ordered more tests, and referred us to another doctor who will likely order more tests. Meanwhile, the anti-nausea meds continue to be ineffective.

Panic threatens to drown me, and so I whisper words of wisdom: Let it be.

We didn’t ask for this. We don’t know what causes it or how to stop it. We simply take each hour, each episode, as it comes. Really, what choice do we have?

God cares about the little things, and so I trust that He cares even more about the big things. Keeping life in perspective, there are Much Bigger Things than a week of vomiting. But for now this is our Big Thing, and I will trust that God cares.

Let it be. And as I was reminded again yesterday, let me be still and know that He is God. He will be exalted among the nations. He will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10).

He’s got the nations. He created and sustains the whole earth. He’s certainly got us. Amen.

Summer Reading – Fiction

Yesterday I posted this summer’s non-fiction reads. Today, the fiction. Three just for me and two I shared with Tween, since reading aloud with my kiddo remains one of my all-time favorite activities.

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“What you could be.”
But what we become is an intersection of who we are and the times in which we live.
The unlikeliest characters, a blind girl and an orphan boy with a genius for radio, take center stage in this World War 2 novel. And from their youthful perspective, we see bright light and life worth living in one of the darkest times in history.

License to Thrill (The Genius Files, #5)License to Thrill by Dan Gutman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My least favorite of the five Genius Files books, but the author had to get the family home from their cross-country road trip. This one takes some strange twists, almost like the author ran out of new ideas, and again as he ties up loose ends and reminds us of the journey we’ve been on together. It is tongue-in-cheek funny and I’m glad to get out of the car now that the kids are home safe. However, I will say this is one of the brightest series I’ve read with my young adolescent boys and, although this wasn’t my favorite book, the series itself is worth a good read-aloud.

The Gravity of BirdsThe Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Art, infirmity, the brokenness of families and the possibility of redemption, with just a little bit of mystery…
I almost gave up on this one, but about half-way through it kicked in. The writing was good from the beginning, but I just wasn’t sure I cared enough about the characters. Until I did. True to form, I read the last page after having read about two chapters. It spoiled some things, of course, but not everything. The book still was able to surprise me.

Story Thieves (Story Thieves, #1)Story Thieves by James Riley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tween saw this at Costco and insisted we buy it. Which made it a mandatory read-aloud. The only problem with that is I have longer reading stamina and he’s fine stopping after a couple of chapters. It took us weeks to finish the book, which after all might not be a problem because it drew out the suspense.

I give it 4 stars for Tween (personally I might give it 3, but he insists). It’s a clever story about what might happen if fictional characters ever had the power to enter the real world and thus discover that they are fictional. And what might real people face if they entered books? If you don’t think too hard about the issue of free will (which most kids won’t), it’s a fun read about the power, beauty, and danger of reading.

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman #1)The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even though the title of this book has been popping up here and there and everywhere over the last couple of years, I had no idea what it was about. Surprising, delightful, the characters entranced me and hooked me in to their various “projects.” It’s The Big Bang Theory meets When Harry Met Sally. Loved it!

Summer Reading – Non-fiction

Sustain Summer!

That’s my theme over here. So what if school started Weeks Ago? So what if it’s Raining in Cali today (yippee! SO happy it’s raining, and yet, I still maintain… It. Is. Summertime)?

Fall officially begins September 23rd, which means No Matter What the activity calendars have decided, summer reigns until September 22nd.

And that means my reading still counts as Summer Reading.

I read ten books this summer, five fiction and five non-fiction. Last summer, our Costa Rica sabbatical summer, I read twelve books. HOW is it that I read only two books more? Last summer felt much more leisurely and book-indulgent. Does a heart good to know that I’m just as much a Book Nerd at home.

So here ya go, friends, my non-fiction book-miracle reads of Summer 2015!

Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of GodAwaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God by J. Brent Bill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been my ongoing spiritual retreat all year. As a contemplative, I live most naturally in my head and heart; this book grounds the spiritual experience in the five physical senses. With short essays and exercises to practice, I have looked forward to reading it when I have pockets of time to engage with God on a deeper level. I anticipate coming back to it again and again.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship ExpertThe Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by John M. Gottman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are married, go right now and get this book! Easy to read and practical, including exercises, there is something to help every relationship. I’ve been married 20+ years (and still going strong!) and we had some fantastic discussions using the questions in this book.

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt OutThe Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written 25 years old, this is an Important Book for those who would be Jesus-followers. While most Christians give lip service to grace, too many of us don’t live grace-fully. We act like what we do matters most rather than what God has done and continues to do. We try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, only to discover that we don’t even know what bootstraps are, or at best they’re torn and ineffective. God loves us anyway. He loved us first. His love is the defining characteristic of who we are and who we will become, by His grace.

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life UnarmedCarry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love! Life is *brutiful*, brutal and beautiful in turns not always graceful. But we can be grace-filled, living into and offering grace one to another.

“I’d found my thing: openness. I decided, based on firsthand experience, that it was more fun to say things that made other women feel hopeful about themselves and God than it was to say or omit things to make people feel jealous of me.” Yes! Openness is hard as most of us want people to think the best of us. But we’re not always our best, and pretense keeps people at arm’s length. Let’s drop the curtain, people, and just be real. And kind. Let’s always be kind.

And this: “The more fiercely I believe what Love says and the more boldly I live out her promises, the healthier and stronger and realer I become. So, for me, it’s not a question of better. It’s about a daily choice: the constant battle to listen to Love and silence Fear.” Listen to love and silence Fear. Let’s help one another get there.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern ParenthoodAll Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book after hearing Jennifer Senior on NPR’s TedRadio Hour during an episode on childhood. This fascinating sociological and historical look at parenting, or more accurately, how children affect their parents’ lives, makes so much sense. Page after page I had “aha” moments – “Others experience that, too?” or “Oh, that explains the stress I and my friends feel!” In the end, the act of parenting (“to parent” has only been a verb since the 1970’s) is qualitatively different than the experience of parenting, which explains the book’s title: being a parent creates joy, whereas doing the mundane acts of parenting is not so much fun. My only complaint is that not enough parents in the trenches will have the brainpower or time to read the book.

Thankful Thursday – Sweet Friends

A week ago I was asked: If you could spend one day with someone – celebrity/historical figure/anyone – who could help you grow in your vocation, who would it be?

I write, so my mind easily wandered to writers. But I’m also easily intimidated. I don’t want to spend time with someone too in/famous who would have me too quickly tongue-tied-tripping over myself.

I “enjoyed” two retreats and one seminar with Madeleine L’Engle, perhaps my all-time favorite writer, while she lived. I adore her for countless reasons. But she was harder to adore in person – too staunch, serious, intimidating. On the page she can be funnier, poke fun at herself, even cut-loose. Less so in a group of strangers. [I will say, one of my all-time favorite Time with my Mom memories occurred during a silent retreat with Madeleine at a Santa Barbara monastery (please ask: why does one do a silent retreat with a famous author? Answer: to be near, to soak in the very few words one receives. Il/logic). Mom and I, enduring a covenant of silence, hiked very quietly in the Santa Barbara hills, laughing ourselves silly along the way].

So I thought through my favorite contemporary writers, gals I respect for their honesty, spunk, wit. I admire so many faith-filled writers, and it pained me to sort through them – too ironic, satirical, political, intimidating – to choose among them.

My choice? Jen Hatmaker. Pastor’s wife, raising a brood, loving the world with a big humor-filled heart that recognizes brokenness and our need for grace. SHE is the one who wouldn’t intimidate the crud out of me or kick me to the curb for being just me trying to write this crazy faith-filled life.

Since then I’ve been thinking This Good Question: how can I be the person who would intimidate No One and Invite Everyone? Oh friends, I want you all to know: if you hold any place in my life it’s because I love you. I don’t judge you. Let’s be friends, and let’s get real!

We’ve had a week. some bumps, disappointments, uncomfortable edges meeting the file….So when today I received an email (to follow), let’s just call it Balm for the Soul.friends

We invited Tween’s friend along on Teen’s family-friendly event. He couldn’t come, but in response his mama loved me with her words (more than she knows, but I hope she knows…). Unlike me, she is Korean. Like me, she is faith-full; she serves as mama to two boys; and she blogs – and this is where things get seriously unfair – in Korean. She can read my blog, whereas I can’t read hers.

Tonight she translated her blog for me. Because she wrote about me. And it simultaneously lifts my heart and breaks my heart because we have been too-lately friends – she will move with her family back to Korea in December of this year.

My Dear One writes (her words, edited only to omit names):

I have a friend, a writer, full of belief in God.
It is my big pleasure to read her article. She might not know I am a big fan of her as a writer.
Sometimes sorry to her because she can’t read my blog written in English. It is all about beautiful town, small town story.

The reason I like her articles is that her story is so sincere, frank, touch people. She influence on my way of writing. As a writer, she is my teacher. I think about why I write and for what I am writing like that.

Even though we haven’t met many times, I feel like understand her more. She talks like writing and watches the specific moment, sometimes takes a picture of it but I know she is thinking about the theme of next writing. Just like me.

She is very open to the different worlds and full of curiosity. I can easily guess how adventurous she is and how much she is tring to understand and hug all the other world. And she is very beautiful too!

I am sorry to know her just one year ago. If I know her in Feb 2012, when I came to USA, I am sure we would share friendship more. But good thing is that I can read her articles in my country forever. She ask me to write my story in English but still not enough to write it in English. Thus mail to her would be my first small article for her written in English.

I don’t have enough time living here. Very sad so I try to express my feeling and gratitude to my friends. I think you guys are great my friend who understand my poor English. I was so happy to know you.

Thank you, my writer friend.

Thank YOU, my writer friend, for loving me enough to write your first blog post in English to me. I’m shedding happy tears! I desire your friend-ship so much more than your fan-ship, but I’m humbled, honored, that you read my writing and want to learn from it. I want nothing more than to write sincerely, from my heart, in a way others can relate to and learn from. That you see my life – actions, words spoken and written – and that you notice me taking pictures and anticipate the blog post to follow… YES, that’s right! It all has to flow, each piece from another.

WHY did we not meet earlier? I simply don’t understand. My heart aches that you and your darlings will leave us so soon. Your friendship feels so life-long, so rich and fun-filled, and I don’t want to think past December when you will return to Korea and we will have a gaping hole. It won’t be, can’t be, filled. And, gosh-darnit-all, I can’t read your blog written in Korean!

But I will love you, worlds-away, no matter what.


Meatless Monday – Moroccan Eggplant

eggplantWhen Tween was little we made up a song about eggplant:

Eggplant, eggplant
You’re kinda weird
Eggplant, eggplant
You’ll make me grow a beard!

Tween is a picky eater, and another song had helped to convince him that he, in fact, likes beans:

Beans, beans
The magical fruit
The more you eat
The more you toot!

(False, actually, because if you eat beans regularly your body develops the enzymes necessary to digest them without musical accompaniment).

And so we hoped a funny little ditty might help Tween to eat eggplant. The song made him laugh, but I’m not sure it had great effect on his willingness to consume eggplant. He’ll eat it, but not much.

Which is okay with me because, as I’ve said before, I’m a firm believer in the idea that seventeen bites over time can change your palate. Without realizing it, I think I experienced that truth with this recipe.

My mom made Moroccan Eggplant from time-to-time during my growing up years. It always smelled good – did I even know it contained eggplant? I’m not sure – but I wouldn’t take more than a bite. Especially because she usually served it along side veggies for dipping, and I prefer pita bread.

Yet with each bite, over time, I grew to like this recipe and eggplant in general. Now, if I see a beautiful eggplant in the grocery store, I might find myself craving it. Sure, I like eggplant grilled, roasted, on a loaded veggie sandwich, but this recipe is probably my favorite way to prepare eggplant. It’s a great appetizer for a party (farm to table, anyone?), and makes a delicious lunch sandwich stuffed in a pita pocket.

chopped eggplant and pepper + crushed garlic hop in the pot

chopped eggplant and pepper + crushed garlic hop in the pot

I'm always convinced that this time it's not going to melt down

I’m always convinced that this time it’s not going to cook down…

...and yet it does!

…and yet it does!

The hardest part is the patience to let flavors meld while it chills

The hardest part is the patience to let flavors meld while it chills

And now we enjoy!

And now we enjoy!

Moroccan Eggplant Dip
Makes 3 cups dip

1 large eggplant (about 1 ½ lb.)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 16-oz. can tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 Tbsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cayenne
2 tsp each sugar and salt
¼ c red wine vinegar
¼ c chopped fresh cilantro or 2 Tbsp dried cilantro leaves

Dice eggplant, discarding ends. In a large frying pan or pot, heat oil over medium-high heat; add eggplant, half the tomato sauce, garlic, green pepper, cumin, cayenne, sugar, salt, and vinegar. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 20 minutes; add tomato sauce as necessary if pan seems too dry. Uncover and boil mixture over high heat, stirring, until reduced to about 3 cups. Cover and chill at least 2 hours or until next day. Before serving, stir in cilantro.  Serve with pita or French bread or with raw veggies, such as zucchini, cucumber, or carrots.


The Kids are Okay

We have completed Week 2 of the school year and I can happily report that we are all doing OK! At least mostly. I think.

We’ve only had…
…one lost backpack,
…one slept-through alarm clock,
…one forgotten bike lock combination,
…one forgotten lunch box,
…one “oops, I forgot to turn it in” homework assignment,
…a couple “oops, I forgot to do it” homework assignments,
…one seven-hour homework marathon (A+ for persistence! And Fail-on-Mom not checking on too-long quiet child),
…one minimum day during which Tween and friends went into town for lunch – a tip-toe into independence – where he purchased one authorized half-eaten sandwich and drink and $20 of unauthorized gum and candy (ew!),
…daily rush-to-get-everyone-out-the-door miscommunication,
…and one soccer ball to the face, resulting in smashed glasses, two hours at the eye doctor (all good!), dilated eyes, and a late night of all-hands-on-deck homework.

Dilated crazy eyes!

Dilated crazy eyes!

There have been highlights, too. Like Day 1 of junior year when Teen allowed me to read him the biblegateway verse of the day, a Psalm, and then proceeded to read his favorite Bible verse to me, also a Psalm, including explanation as to why it was his favorite verse, what it meant to him and what it says about who God is – in general and in his life. Miracles like that do this Mama’s heart good!

Also, twice this week Teen has chosen to hang with me, sometimes talking, sometimes not, sometimes showing me videos he thinks are funny, giving me a glimpse into his mind and his world. Okay, so he’s been stalling on bedtime, but he’s also been choosing Connection with Mom on his schedule. Cardinal rule of parenting teens: be available when they’re ready to connect.

And Tween and I have still found time to read aloud together. One day soon he might figure out that he’s “too old” for this and decide that he prefers to read silently and alone, but I hope not. It’s an easy connection place, shared story making for shared experience. Plus, snuggles.welcome-back-to-school-clipart-2

Last night we attended Back to School Night at the middle school. Having done this before – albeit five years ago – sixth grade doesn’t seem so intimidating this go-round. We know our way around the school and many of the teachers are familiar, as are the courses and expectations. And yet… Teen experienced sixth grade as a series of belly flops, fun in the air and painful when you smack down hard. We know Tween, too, will take his share of risks and flops and that the pain will radiate to the whole family. It happens. By design.

And yet… We know Tween’s strengths and limitations. We know his gifts and challenges. We can anticipate where he will excel and which teachers will suggest a conference in the near future.

The temptation to give in to the anxiety can be overwhelming. But I don’t want to live in fear. I want to delight in my children.delight

Glennon Doyle Melton affirms that all children are gifted and talented, their lives containing glittering Christmas gifts, and God decides when they get to unwrap their special gifts. School insists that all children excel in the same ways at the same age, but that simply is not the case. Clearly kids are not all the same, as people are not all the same – and thank God! The world would be so boring, so inoperable, if we all shared the same gifts.

As parents we have a responsibility to regularly, daily, more often than not, communicate to our kids that they are okay. To do that, we have to truly believe it. Deep down in our guts we have to know that, whatever bumps our kids take throughout a day, they are and will be okay.

We each have the opportunity to delight in one other, but so often we should on each other instead. Like this talented mom, who condensed Things Moms Say in 24 hours into a less-than-3 minute song. Funny, and True, but if our kids only hear these things we all miss out.

I am making anew a decision to delight in my kids. I want their first and last glimpse of me during a day to be smiling, loving, delighted. I request that they “Kiss your Mama!” as they depart for the day and arrive home again, a sweet connection to remind them I will always be in their corner. Sometimes it’s forced, but it’s a good habit nonetheless. I want them to know that, Yes, You are Okay!

Of course I want my kids to do their very best. But their best may not always measure up and that has to be okay, too. I will continue to advocate for my kids as only a Mama can, but I will do it in faith that God created them exactly the way He intended them to be, with their own delicious blend of sweets and savories. They may not be to everyone’s taste, but they will always be my favorite not worry

At times it will be a struggle to resist the temptation to fear. To not let their bumps reflect on my ability to parent, or my self-esteem. To be my kids’ rock rather than a puddle of my own worries. To stand strong against this competitive culture and its constant comparisons one to another.

Stand with me and let’s delight together in our children. Their uniqueness can make us laugh, can cause us to think new thoughts, to wonder – with awe – at who they are and who they will become. So much better than worry, don’t you agree? The kids are okay.