About Milagro Mama

A Bay Area 40-something, married 20-something years to the love of my life, with two sons (Teen and Tween); Jesus-follower, artistic-type, passionate about time with my guys and with friends, Bible study, stories of most types, cooking, and other creative endeavors.

When One Word Won’t Cut It

My One Word for 2015 was a phrase: Put yourself in the way of beauty. It required action on my part (put) and a goal (beauty).

In 2016, I chose Create, which led to a series of connections and blog posts on creativity from various creative friends, many of whom stretched to embrace the creativity I recognized in them.

In 2017, I decided I wasn’t done with Create, so I circled re:create recess, focusing on the connection between creativity and play. Unintentionally, I happened on the reality that recreation often involves taking things apart, stripping down before putting back together, and that can be (was) painful.

That led me to Connect in 2018, a word I hoped would restore some joy to my life and yet, at the end of 2018 I felt less connected than ever. At least, differently connected.

Two discouraging years in a row had me carefully pondering the word I’d choose to guide me through 2019.

Yes and… has been a helpful motivator to get beyond my comfort zone. This year, along with Connect, it led me to an eye-opening and life-giving retreat I might not otherwise have attended. But boundaries are important, and I suspect I will continue to need to practice saying No this year, so Yes and…//No has been a contender.

Yonder caught my imagination right at the 2018/2019 transition, that I can’t move forward if I keep looking backward. Or Forward, but Yonder holds more appeal as an unusual term.

I’m still drawn to Beauty and Create, and to their interplay. Play could be fun, as could Happiness, but neither hits the right note on their own. Hope and Delight have shown up, too, reminding me of the optimist I have been and would like to rediscover. And Brave. Yesterday I heard myself say, “I braved up and…” I know that’s not correct usage, yet that’s the joy of language; it felt good to make it a verb for something I’d done that felt intimidating but turned out well.

So I’ve decided to take on a few words, to play with as I need them. I suspect Create will be their ringleader as I Create Happiness (January’s focus) or Create Connection (February?), for example. And I’m looking forward to seeing which words crystallize something I haven’t yet discovered. Hmm, come to think of it, Discover or Adventure might need to be on the list as well!

Halt!

I marched into 2019 ready to shake things up. We spent the first few days in SoCal, helping my mom and sis prepare to move. Mom sold our childhood home, and there were 42 years and 4 generations of stuff to sort, entangled in oh so many emotions. We built in some fun (San Diego Zoo and Disneyland) because balance.

Home again, I hit the ground running–between two jobs, there was lots of activity, not to mention unpacking, laundry, all the regular routines.

I hustled myself smack dab into a brick wall. Cue one sleepless night, coughing so hard I couldn’t breathe.

I don’t get sick often. When I do, I can usually positive think my way past it. I might take a nap, or even take a day, but by Day 2 I’m back at it. This time, though, I sensed that pushing through would make things worse. I needed to honor my body and give it rest.

This week has been a long, boring blur of hydration, magazines, naps, TV, and intermittent attempts to focus my incoherent brain on work.

Meanwhile, my friend and creative companion has posted images on Instagram from our recent joint project, 31 Bible to-do cards featuring a word for each card, beautifully designed and hand-lettered by her, and a Bible verse (chosen) and prayer (written) by me.

On Sunday, my first sick day, she posted:

Come

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Lord, my body and soul are heavy. I’m coming to rest in your loving arms. Amen.

What a great reminder that Jesus invites us to rest in Him! Rather than trying to shoulder through on my own strength, I surrendered to His embrace.

A couple days later she posted:

Rest

This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. Exodus 16:23

Lord, teach me to trust you as I obey your command to rest. Amen.

Another reminder, this time that I need to trust God when He tells me to rest. Here I am, at home, with time on my hands and a bazillion things that need doing, and I have exactly zero ounces of energy to do anything. Oh well, the family can step up or step around, stuff’ll get done eventually.

Rest is God’s gift, even when it comes as a necessary result from chance encounter with bad buggies. We tend to fight rest like willful children fight bedtime. This week, I’m learning to appreciate the gift.

Yonder

The familiar carol rings:

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn

A thrill of hope…yet some days hope feels like a discipline, something to hang on to for dear life as we toss, washed and worn, by the cosmic spin cycle.

Still, I think of children on Christmas Eve, hoping for the gifts that will be under the tree when they awake. They rightly hope, because they know they are loved and that their loved ones will make sure there will indeed be gifts, however so humble. Those children, they thrill with hope. Beyond the annual Christmas joy-filled celebration, their hope makes the family Christmas services hum with anticipation.

the weary world rejoices. The weary soul rejoices. Has my soul become too weary to thrill, to rejoice? How many of us slog through the burn-out day after day, attempting to drown out the noise, self-caring and self-medicating by turns, never feeling fully refreshed? When even rejoicing feels like a forced discipline, how do we rest our weary souls?

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Yonder: over there, in the distance. At least, tomorrow, after we go to sleep on Christmas Eve to awake to the sure knowledge that Jesus Christ has been born. Or, at least, New Year’s Day with a whole new year stretching before us.

We’ve had a rough go for the, oh, last couple years. For various reasons–political, professional, and personal–each of us (and yes, me me me) has had to work hard to hope, to thrill, to rejoice, to refresh, to wait for the yonder. I’m hoping we can let go of the past and move with increased joy into the yonder of 2019.

I have no idea what that might look like. I’m not one for resolutions, just for taking the next right step as firmly as I can and resetting when that step falters as steps occasionally do. However, I received some end-of-year encouragement from my daily Bible reading:

Sing to the Lord a new song.
    Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.

Psalm 149:1 (NLT)

Sing a new song now to the Creator and Sustainer who in the end will make all things new again (Colossians 1:15-17, Revelation 21:5).

Even better:

…she laughs without fear of the future.

Proverbs 31:25b

For now, trepidation comes more easily than laughter. And so I will keep at hope, rejoicing, singing, and laughing, intentionally injecting each day with prayer and love and moments of happiness.

Reading: Nov-Dec 2018

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 44 books this year, same as last. Misleading, because there are at least 3 DNF’s and a short story or two. Still, it averages to about 4/month, and of course you have to sift through ordinary stones to find the gems. First, the latest round up, and then my 5-Stars of 2018…

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book feels intensely personal, each character so carefully enfleshed that I could recognize them walking down the street. The primary conflict, lived out in multiple story lines, revolves around the clean-cut, well-planned suburban lifestyle versus the creative and/or unconventional lifestyle. How many of us wonder about life might have been like on the road less traveled? Also, what does/should family look like, and more particularly, what does it mean to be a mother?

“Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare–a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug–and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.” (249)

“Sometimes, must when you think everything’s gone, you find a way….Like after a prairie fire. I saw one, years ago, when we were in Nebraska. It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow….People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.” (295)

The Gospel of Trees: A MemoirThe Gospel of Trees: A Memoir by Apricot Irving
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF.

I wanted to like this book. The author is just a few years younger than me, and I wanted to learn first-hand what it was like to grow up in a missionary family serving in Haiti. I wanted to hear about whatever intentional or accidental impact they had, and that the Haitians had on them. I wanted to know how the experience affected their family and their faith.

Irving’s writing is passable, occasionally better than, but also humid-heat-dreamlike to such an extent that, more than once, I had trouble following her. I kept thinking that yes, she did have a story to tell, but that she needed a far better editor.

The library wanted their book back, and I couldn’t imagine picking back up where I’d left off. So I won’t.

The WifeThe Wife by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At only seven chapters and 218 pages, this short novel packs an epic wallop! I picked it up after learning that the movie (which I haven’t yet seen) was based on a book, written by the incredible Meg Wolitzer. I would love to hear her speak about what this writing process was like, a woman writing about a woman hiding her fierce talent behind a man’s ego.

You sound bitter, Bone would say.
That’s because I am, I would tell him.
Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend, they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites picking up the slightest scrape of dissatisfaction. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else.
“Listen,” we say. “Everything will be okay.”
And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is. (184)

Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1)Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend bought me the Gregor series when she discovered I liked The Hunger Games but hadn’t read Collins’s earlier books. These are fun, imaginative books. Engaging enough to keep my interest and great for a quick, entertaining read.

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (Underland Chronicles, #2)Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

 

ElevationElevation by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not a horror fan. In fact, I stay well clear of that genre altogether, in books and movies. But having seen and appreciated the movie versions of King’s books Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile, I thought I’d give this one a chance.

I’m glad I did. The book invites readers to consider: What would change in your life if you actively anticipated the day of your death and, instead of feeling sick, you felt better than ever? How would you prepare for the end, and how could you help make the world a slightly better place before you depart?

Decluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with StuffDecluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with Stuff by Dana K. White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Skimmed.

I read a lot of these books and my house is still way too cluttered. But this one had new light to shed on the piles.

Three take-aways:
Start with the visible-to-others areas (and in so doing I now have a decluttered kitchen bookshelf – win!)
Containers – not as in “I need more” but “the containers you already have limit what you keep.” As in, my house should have space to contain my life, not just my stuff. And my closet should contain my clothes; if it doesn’t, I have too many wearable items. Or (ouch), my bookshelf should contain my books (and a few knickknacks, like framed photos, etc); if my books don’t fit my shelving, I don’t need more shelving but fewer books.
What you reach for first is your fav. Before you put away the clean dishes or laundry, get rid of something still in the cupboard or drawer, since clearly the thing you used and cleaned is the thing you prefer.

The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or WhateverThe Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been following Jamie’s Facebook page, and occasionally her blog, for years. She had left Costa Rica before I discovered her, and I was about to leave with my family for a three-month sabbatical. We both have a thing for Jesus, so we also share that in common. I knew what I might expect in this book, but I didn’t know I’d crack the cover in the morning and finish reading the book before dinner.

This is a good memoir, but it’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone. People inclined to dislike Jesus-followers, the Christian church, and missionaries probably shouldn’t bother. People inclined to defend the Church and the way missions have been done over centuries without question also shouldn’t bother.

But those who want a fresh take on all of the above–and who have an open mind (and aren’t overly bothered by sarcasm and swearing)–might truly appreciate this book. In fact, I am hoping others I know will read it so we can have a conversation about it.

“If our calling is who we are, not what we do, and our equipping is our practical capacity to serve others, then, based on who God created me to be and how He equipped me throughout my life, I think maybe I was drawn to Costa Rica for the express purpose of seeing how naivete and brokenness like my own have affected global missions and humanitarian aid, and then inviting whoever would listen into a difficult but necessary conversation about setting things right.” 183

My 5-Star Ratings for 2018:

The Wife, Meg Wolitzer
Blood, Water, Paint, Joy McCullough
Connect the Stars, Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
Monterey Bay, Lindsay Hatton
Educated, Tara Westover
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner
Refugee, Alan Gratz
The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivy
Tell Me More, Kelly Corrigan

Advent 2018 Wk4 – Worship

Too often we think Worship = Going to Church. We hustle-bustle out the door. We sit, stand, sing, shake hands in the pews, listen. We greet our neighbors and head home, worship-job done.

That’s too narrow. Worship = recognizing and reflecting back to God His incredible worth, to love Him and love our neighbor with all our heart, soul, and strength, Sundays and all through the week.

I love Jesus, and I believe God ordained the Church to be a unique witness of His love for humanity.

However, more than ever, I am accurately aware that Church isn’t doing it for a lot of people. That many have been allowed, even encouraged, to substitute Church for Jesus in worship. That what should be safe sanctuary has been instead a place of pain. This place, this people, that should witness to God’s love hasn’t been doing a great job.

Not to vilify all churches in all places and times, not at all. Some churches are doing a beautiful job living God’s story. Yet I hear repeating refrains from many directions that they haven’t found those places.

I am also reminded of how desperately we need God. I met a couple this weekend who told me they have lost five young men to suicide in the last five months, friends and sons or brothers of friends. Their story oozes the aches of living in a fallen world. I cling to hope for the Church to be a place that eases the pain, that gives comfort and courage to face each day, that offers light and love and joy.

The Magi encourage me. They actively sought the coming King and were open to seeing signs of His arrival directing them to the most unlikely place. They left their business (and theology) as usual and endured a trying journey to fall down before Him in worship. They worked hard to seek and find the One True King.

Maybe the most worshipful thing you can do today is go to church. Or try a new church. Or, maybe Church looks like quietly listening for His still small voice through His Word. Or heading outdoors to take a walk with Him. Maybe it looks like loving your family, friends, and neighbors, the people He put in your life for you to love as He does. Or loving yourself, making self-care a priority.

Whatever your practice, keep Jesus the focus of worship. Keep your eyes open to see Him in the expected and unexpected places. And be aware of His unending grace and overwhelming love raining down on you as you journey to wherever you have to go to fall down before Him in worship.

Come, Lord Jesus, and give us eyes to see you and love to offer the world.

Week 4 – The Magi’s Worship

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light four candles: We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope, joy and faith, and to inspire our worship.

Read Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12

Read: The Magi had open eyes. They actively searched for signs of the King’s arrival and, when they spotted the star, they took a long journey to joyfully worship Him face-to-face. Herod, however, had his eyes and ears shut tight to the good news of Jesus’ birth. May we be constantly on the lookout for signs of God’s presence with us and respond to Him in joyful worship.

Pray: King Jesus, we joyfully bow down in worship before you. In your name we pray, Jesus. Amen.

“Next time a sunrise steals your breath, or a meadow of flowers leaves you speechless, remain that way. Say nothing and listen as heaven whispers, ‘Do you like it? I did it just for you.’” –Max Lucado, The Great House of God

Thankful Thursday – Wassailing

Last night, for the first time, we attended our high school’s holiday concert called The Wassail. When I asked Q14 if he’d like to attend, he asked about the unfamiliar word.

I sang the first line or two of the carol, enough to jog his memory, and explained that wassail is also a drink similar to mulled wine. So wassailing is caroling and drinking and celebrating the season.

In our town, Wassail is a tremendous holiday concert. Now that we’ve experienced it firsthand, I anticipate we’ll make attending it an annual tradition.

Up to 120 high school singers, plus instrumentalists for a few numbers, made unbelievable music like I’ve never heard. During one piece, as vocalists encircled the audience and literally surrounded us with song, I closed my eyes and nearly wept for sheer beauty.

And Christmas arrived. Not the actual day, that’s still next week, but the spirit of Christmas. I always pay attention for that moment when I feel Christmas. Some years it never comes, or comes after Christmas has ended. These talented young people ushered the Christmas spirit into my heart.

When I looked up wassailing, I read that the tradition has pagan roots, that men would put cider-soaked cakes under apple trees while banging pots and pans and singing in order to ward off bad spirits and exhort the trees to healthy production in the next year.

With all the Christmas and end-of-year activities, I’ve been feeling tired. I see it on others’ faces, too: the joy and the weariness. I am still tired today, but last night’s Wassail sure chased away some Grinchy bad spirits. Hearing those young people sing so beautifully, having invested so much of their time and heart into rehearsal, it reminded me that there is hope. We have hope.

This morning I met a friend for coffee. As we waited for our drinks, a man sporting one of those obnoxiously funny Christmas suits held open the front door as 20+ preschool children filed in. They lined up near the counter and started singing Jingle Bells. People got up from their seats to better see and hear them as they continued to sing three songs in all. One couldn’t help but silly-smile at so much cuteness.

Buddy the Elf was right: The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear.

Advent 2018 Wk3 – Faith

The year C20 had his first birthday, Guy and I both turned 30 a few weeks before and after. Our birthdays span November to January so Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s got wrapped up in the fun. We created a list of small celebrations we could enjoy each day during those eight weeks, simple activities like sweetening a mug of hot chocolate with a candy cane, going for a walk together, or watching an animated Christmas movie. We celebrated our lives and the holidays with flair.

As I spent this last week reflecting on joy, I realized that I might be doing Advent wrong. Or, at least, wrong for me at this time.

Other than chomping the daily chocolates in our Advent calendar, I didn’t grow up with an Advent tradition. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was simply Christmastime, when we listened to Christmas music and shopped and wrapped and enjoyed the season.

I appreciate Advent for its thematic focus, its intentionality, its lens on waiting for Jesus. But over the years, our church has adopted a fuller Advent tradition, limiting Christmas music to Christmas Eve and the following Sunday (and the annual Christmas concert, the one exception to the rule) in favor of Advent hymns. And since there are only two popular Advent hymnsCome, Thou Long Expected Jesus and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel–the music sounds like the rest of the year. So even though I used to start listening to Christmas music in October while I planned the church Christmas materials, I have mostly stopped listening to Christmas music before Christmas.

And I’m missing it. I’m missing the joy. I’ve employed the discipline without reaping the benefit, and I’m sorrier for it. I feel dry and dour.

Perhaps traditional Advent observance might also necessitate the observance of the Twelve Days of Christmas–Christmas celebrations commencing on Christmas and lasting until King’s Day on January 6. But I’m not there; when Christmas is over, it’s over. And since so much of life necessarily involves waiting for Jesus, I want to enjoy Him now. I want to celebrate Him today. I don’t want to wait any longer.

Besides, there is way too much good Christmas music to limit it to a day.

Those of us who follow Jesus live in tension between the already and not yet. Jesus has come, and He will come again. We have the joy of salvation now, but we won’t experience the fullness of life in His Kingdom until the second coming. So we wait.

But why in the world am I intentionally limiting the joy of celebrating His birth? Sure, His birthday is next week, but He’s already here. This year the discipline feels a little absurd, like not talking to my son for the month before his birthday just because his birthday hadn’t yet happened… What sense would that make?

This week’s focus is faith, that God will direct our paths even (especially) when the way seems foggy. I’m staring intently down some foggy paths of my own, and I do believe that Jesus will show up, that He will hold my hand and walk gently with me. And I’m going to celebrate that reality today, with some Christmas music, even as I wait for His eventual arrival.

Week 3 – Joseph’s Faith 

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light three candles (two purple, one pink): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope, joy and faith.

Read Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

Read: A good man, Joseph found himself in what looked like a bad situation. While he quietly planned a way out, an angel assured him that he had no reason for fear: what seemed like bad news would be good news for everyone. Mary’s baby wasn’t just any baby—this would be God’s baby, Immanuel, God with us! When we accept God’s plan, God turns our fear to faith and our faith to joy.

Pray: Holy Spirit, where we feel fear, plant your seed of faith. Grow our faith into joy in your presence. In the name of Jesus, we wait and pray. Amen.

Monday Deuteronomy 7:8-9 How does God’s faithfulness inspire your faithfulness to Him?
Tuesday Psalm 93:1 How do you hang on in faith that God is in control?
Wednesday Isaiah 26:3-4, 12 What worries do you need to put in God’s hands?
Thursday John 14:27 Let go of your troubles and receive Jesus’ peace.
Friday Colossians 1:3-4 Who can you thank God for as an example of faith in Christ?
Saturday Hebrews 11:1 How do you define faith?

Suggested Activities
Make a list of things in which you put your faith, for example, that your alarm will go off in the morning or that the lights will come on when you flick the switch. Try to count as least ten. Then ask: Is it (or, why is it) sometimes easier to trust in these mundane things than to trust in the God who sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior?

Incorporate silence into your daily routine and use it as a chance to talk with God. Drive with the radio off. Go for a quiet hike. Sit in silence with your morning cup of coffee. Read your Bible, and let God share with you His perspective on what you’re facing each day.

Journal
When have you seen God show up in your unexpected or unwanted circumstances? Where do you need to experience His presence currently?

“It is faith that what happens to me matters to God as well as to me that gives me joy, that promises me that I am eternally the subject of God’s compassion, and that assures me that the compassion was manifested most brilliantly when God came to us in a stable in Bethlehem.” –Madeleine L’Engle, Glimpses of Grace