Find Center

If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been a Jesus-lover since forever. I have spent most of my professional life working in churches, and I am also married to a pastor. And I (mostly) love the church in all its beauty and brokenness.

All of this can lead to a flurry of activity: worship attendance, so many groups of various sizes and kinds for study and prayer and community, volunteer service, special events, even cookie baking.

So many things on the calendar threatening to crowd out the heart behind them. In fact, truly meaningless without the heart behind them.

Lately, I’ve had four words cycling through my head: Love God. Love Others.

That’s it, folks. It all boils down to love.

Because you can do all the things, but if you don’t do them for the love of God and others, why do them at all?

Jesus blasted some harsh words at the folks in His day who did all the things, were very proud of themselves for doing all the things, but had completely missed the point of all their activity: loving God and others. He called them “white-washed tombs.” Eww…I don’t want to hold the dead things. No sirree, I want Life!

Lately as I’ve practiced yoga, my intention has been along the lines of gratitude (hello, Thanksgiving!) or strength (because, exercise). Today my word was “center,” and as soon as it landed it struck every nerve in my being in the best way.

In so many ways yoga is all about center, core, balance. As a Jesus-follower, GOD is the center of my being. Or, that should be true, but I don’t always live it. When I don’t, I’m off-balance, toppling this way and that, and life doesn’t work nearly so well.

Throughout my practice this morning, I mentally and physically returned to my center, my God whose love and gentleness and goodness overflows my life in ways I don’t always recognize.

When engaged in a balance challenge, it helps oh so much to set your gaze on a stable point directly in front of you, whether that’s straight down on your mat or two feet in front of you. Holding your gaze steady helps to strengthen your center and steady your balance.

A yoga newbie, I am way wiggly, but I’m working on it. As a long-time pursuer of Jesus, I should be less wiggly. It all depends on where I put my gaze: on me, my challenges or obstacles, my fear or anxiety? Or on the immovable God who created me, knows the plans He has for me, and promises to give me strength to meet anything He puts before me? Let’s see, which makes more stabilizing sense?

They tell me that no matter how long you’ve practiced yoga, sometimes one side will be tighter than the other. I’ve found that true already, that some days I can stretch deeper or balance with more stability on one side than the other.

Same goes for loving God and others. I venture most of us find it easiest to engage in loving others, flesh-and-blood, visible right before our eyes. But then some of us tend toward contemplative introversion, so loving God can feel more natural than engaging with actual humans.

Still, with our gaze set on God, His love flows through us back to Him and out to others. It’s always a both-and.

So that’s where I’m at as we enter one of the busiest seasons of the year, Advent, in which we anticipate Christ’s birth and second-coming. The decorations are coming out today to be ready for the first Sunday of Advent tomorrow. The calendar is filling up. I’m praying God will keep my gaze centered on Him. Then all the activities can filter through the two sides of the fulcrum: does this help me love God? Does this help me love others?

The Most Amazing Gift

This Create Challenge began as a challenge to myself – and to all of us – to think outside the box on what it means to create, to be creators, to engage in creative activity. Because Life = creative activity. Because miracles abound in the mundane, the sacred infuses the secular, play does a happy dance at work. So I absolutely adore that my friend Jessie challenged her own traditional thinking to recognize the Creativity inherent in the everyday moments of full days with energetic littles. Jessie has long been one of my favorite people to laugh and talk with, and I’m so excited to share her story with you.

Create Challenge #8 – Jessie Colburn

I used to think of myself as a creative person. Now I think of myself as a stay-at-home mom for these two young girls:JCbabies

Most days, I’m just aiming to make it through. Forget creativity. To quote Sweet May Brown: Ain’t nobody got time for that. Forget plans. Forget recipes. Forget anything that makes me feel like I’m in control of my own life. I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m literally making stuff up as I go.

This is the honest-to-God formula for my time with my little people:

Three-ish square meals + snacks + not too much TV + not dying = success  

My life feels a lot like this picture: blurry, messy but smiling, and at the same time— fighting with my 4-year-old over who gets to push the button.JCblur

Not exactly the stuff creativity awards are made of.

But here’s the thing: I feel as though God has given me the most amazing gift. Motherhood, He whispered, is the most creative thing you’ve ever done. You are made for this…this selfless, extraordinary, boundless love.

My response? Motherhood (Parenthood) as a creative process? That’s insane.

I mean, being creative means you create artistic things! And I absolutely LOVE people who create artistic things. I am, in fact, a lover of those artistic things they create! But I’m not one of them.

My friend is a crafty genius. She takes simple things like fabric, or yarn, or unmilled flour, and makes something entirely new out of them. (Julie, you are fantastic). Not only is the end result beautiful, but she legitimately enjoys the process. If you consider yourself creative, then you know that one of the most important ingredients you invest is your precious time. These things my friend makes from scratch do not happen overnight. That’s part of what makes them so valuable: they take time, and effort, and attention, and care.

I realized that I had been working with a very literal interpretation of the word “CREATE.” Per Webster’s Dictionary, I understood it to mean: “to produce through imaginative skill.” Like a painting, or a book, or some other tangible form of art.

I told myself that being a mom doesn’t flex those same muscles. I told myself that 24-year-old Jessie should have written this blog post. She was a budding actress! She took creative writing classes; she attended improvisational workshops; she went to see lots of live theatre…

She also:
* slept in
* had morning sex with her husband
* ate dinner after 6pm
* did not dress like a homeless person
* watched adult TV during the day (not adult as in “porn”; adult as in “created for people over age five.” Just wanted to clear that up.)

The life she had…well, some days I really miss it. Now, I “create” things like PBJ sandwiches. I “make” rules like “Sometimes Mom gets to poop with the door closed.” Why? “Because sometimes Mommy needs a minute.” I no longer produce through imaginative skill.

But then… I do.

Motherhood is, absolutely, an ongoing creative act. It is an ever-present process. It takes time, and effort, and attention, and care. Whether intentionally or subliminally, mothers constantly create—schedules, traditions, memories. These little acts during long days will eventually lead to one full life. We do create.

The end result of my subtle creative acts might not hang in a museum. But I’m absolutely a creative person:
* I create meals to feed my family.
* I make space for my little girls to play.
* I carve out time for adventures.
* I force them (lovingly) to eat their vegetables.
* I draw baths.
* I paint tiny fingers and toes.
* I teach them when something is not OK.
* I sing songs.
* I say prayers.
* I tell stories and read books.

Added together, these are not small things. Mothers CREATE a childhood.JCtrail

The parenting stakes are high. The weight of so much responsibility tempts me to totally lose my mind. What if I screw it all up, creating a sociopath, serial killer, or mean girl? The self-doubt is so palpable and, at times, all-consuming. Because, shoot. This mothering thing is HARD. So many days I think: I’m doing this wrong. Or I’m just not good at this. Or worse: My kids might be better off with a different mother.

For all the good I create, my very real fear is that I also create not-so-good things:
* I make mistakes.
* I create excuses for the kids’ bad behavior and mine.
* I lose my temper and yell at my babies.
* I let them eat terrible things.
* I give into unreasonable requests (who has energy to fight every battle?).
* I tune them out.
* I choose my phone over giving them my presence.
* I park them in front of the TV so I can shower, or cook, or just close my eyes for 20 minutes.
* I go back on promises.
* I do what is easy instead of what is right.

Sigh. That list makes me die a little bit inside. But moms are human. We will never be perfect. Our job as parents is not to create magical childhoods that result in well-adjusted adults. We don’t actually have much control over that. Our job as parents is to love our kids extravagantly.

We contort and concoct and misinterpret this role so profoundly. And truth be told, I think it breaks our Creator’s heart. He did not create us to be perfect. He created us with the knowledge that we would fail so epically that we’d need to be rescued.

So why do we look at mothering through this lens of unattainable perfection? I’ve been a mom for almost five years (a relative newbie, I grant you), but I’ve been deeply saddened by how negatively most mothers view themselves.

Thankfully, there is an upside. Because with God, there always is.

This creative, beautiful God who made us—who made our kids—made us for community. We were not meant to do this job (or live this life) by ourselves. Community sustains us and empowers us. It nourishes our soul and gives us the strength to keep going. It gives us a healthier voice to counteract the negative self-talk that swirls around in our minds.

One of the intensely powerful blessings I’ve discovered is the community of other moms. They are the voices of women who cut through the noise and, instead, deliver grace and love. And for me, they come from all over: from church, from work, from my kids’ preschool, from my own family (Grandparents, here’s looking at you). Sometimes they’re from blogs or books of people I don’t know in “real life” but capture my sentiments exactly—Bunmi Laditan, for example, is my spirit animal. Jen Hatmaker, the hilarious genius behind For the Love, I assume wrote that book for me personally (Thanks, Jen. That was really nice of you).

The point: there are people on this planet who help me in this intensely creative quest.

These women validate my experience. They confirm that my kids will turn out OK; they affirm that I’m doing my best; they remind me that God is in charge; they let me cry when I feel guilty; they laugh with me when my offspring does something entirely preposterous; they love my kids when I find them to be a bit too much; they are a source of encouragement, wisdom, and advice; they remind me to breathe between the waves in this sea of baby vomit and dirty diapers and toddler meltdowns.

Most importantly, they remind me I’m not alone.

I do, actually, LOVE being a mom. My daughters light up my heart. They are so funny. And they are good kids. We have fun together and I genuinely love being with them. No question, they are my absolute favorite people.JCpink

But they exhaust and overwhelm me, too. And it’s OK.

Speaking from my limited experience, what I do know is this: This mothering thing is an insanely creative process that takes a lifetime to learn. You know how the song goes: He wrote the notes on your heart before it took its first beat. The melody won’t be perfect, and at times you won’t recognize the sound—but let yourself sing it. You are producing through imaginative skill. You are creating something beautiful.

Well done, mama.

JCbio

Jessie Colburn is wife to Chris, mom to Kate & Charlotte, and a general lover of books, friends, family, and wine (not necessarily in that order). You can usually find her on a hike with her kids, in her kitchen preparing a meal, or near the teen fiction section at her local independent book store. While most of her time is spent raising her babies, she’s also a freelance children’s book editor. Her favorite activities include laughing, eating, reading, and talking.

What’s Your Dance Party?

I’ve been thinking about “YES!”yes

This word, “create,” requires saying Yes to life, to invitations, to play, and, sometimes worse, to those things that intimidate or downright scare me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for saying “NO!” as necessary. I believe in it. Oh baby, YES, we have to say NO! from time to time. My everyday hero, Jen Hatmaker, says: “People will take as much as you will give them, not because they are terrible humans, but because they only want this one slice of you. Plus, you’re probably good at their pet thing. But they don’t observe the scope of your life and all the other tricks on your beam. You can say no, and no one will die. God wants this freedom for us.” Sometimes we have to say No in order to say Yes to something more important. I’ve been thinking on that a lot lately, too.

But, YesGetting out of our comfort zone to live a full, exuberant, energetic, creative life, that requires Yes answers where No might be our instinct.

i-dare-me-clubI’ve been reading a book, I Dare Me!, about a middle-aged wowza-successful gal who felt stuck. To un-stick herself she created a list, with lots of help, of Firsts she could do every day of the year. She began with one of her biggest fears, swimming in the ocean, and so she took a New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. I’m not afraid of the ocean, and still, Yikes! Some were way more do-able, like taking a new class at the gym, trying a new recipe and/or restaurant, even going without make-up for a day (and yet, she’s an on-air news anchor, so…). It’s inspirational. I don’t want to do many of the things she did, but I’m asking the big question: What could I do? It’s a Yes to life!

Yes is about letting go of what others think, of what you think, of who you should be or what you should do. It’s embracing the whole range, from silly to ridiculous to meaningful.

Today I said Yes, if only just for a few seconds.

At our moms’ group, a sweet gal shared her story of birthing three babies in rapid succession, and in that time two household moves, of post-partum depression that lasted too long, and from all of that, to Zumba. You read that right, Zumba!zumba-in-the-circuit-logo-2

Previously, I had only ever Zumba’d in the privacy of my own home, not-jiving to a library DVD. I tried a few days in a row, working on steps and rhythm, before I decided I have neither steps nor rhythm (my gals will attest: after a few late-night glasses of wine, I might be convinced otherwise, but we keep that to ourselves).

Zumba was the thing God used to heal this sweet mama. She loves to dance, and so when her youngest began sleeping through the night she first took one class, which led to three, which became a dare from her husband to become an instructor. And so she did! Through Zumba she left depression behind. She grew lighter and brighter and, along with her, so did her family. And today, so did 150 or so women at our church as she led us in a simple, just-for-us routine.

The friend behind me had dressed the part: yoga pants and tennis skirt. Me, not so much. I confessed (uh, she was standing behind me, it wasn’t gonna take long…): “I don’t dance.” Thank God, she replied (surprisingly!) in kind.Andy-Grammer-Keep-Your-Head-Up

The song was Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up.”

You gotta keep your head up, oh
And you can let your hair down…

Step side-to-side, I got it (sort of). Add hands and body, I began to lose it. I thought, No Way am I gonna shake my tush in this room, with windows to my side, friends and co-workers nearby, What Are We Doing???

Then I looked around. One hundred-plus women shimmied around the room, each with her own size, shape, and style. Our group founder, about five gals in front of me and about as close to 90 as I am to 50, wiggled and giggled with glee. The smile stretching across her face, the obvious joy-filled un-self-consciousness she was experiencing, it moved me.

I remembered to Dare Myself. To Say Yes (also one of the rules of improv – always say “Yes, and…” – which also means you are fully present in the moment, Not Overthinking).

I let go. I shook my hands, my hair, and my rear. It could not have been pretty, but it was free. I reveled in the beauty of the story we’d heard, of how one gal found her way back to herself through dance and movement.

I believe we were made to move, and we all move to a different beat. And I believe we all have a passion, each different from the others, something that brings us to life and energizes those nearby. The dance-mama found her jive in Zumba. Mine is writing – I get bright-eyed and energetic thinking about what I will write next. It’s not all joy; some of it is excruciating hard work, but it’s still worth it. It’s my passion.

What’s yours?

End of 2015 Reading

As a result of my last reading post and the reading crisis within which I found myself, a generous friend gifted me a book: Me Before You. An avowed Read-Page 1-To the End reader, whereas I am a Read-the Last Page-About a Chapter In reader, she swore me to uphold End Page Secrecy. I did, and I’m glad. I couldn’t possibly have understood the last page before its time.

And then I have these ambitious friends who have posted on Facebook their tremendous accomplishments of having read 60 or so books in 2015. Egads, people! You must read at Light Speed. And yet, they inspire me.

So I looked at my Goodreads account a few weeks ago and gauged a realistic number: I could reach 30 books by 2015’s end. The last one is a bit of a cheat, a book of “cat poetry” I read aloud with Tween, accompanied by his hilarious cat-howl laughter. It was fun, not at all serious together-time, and worthy for those very reasons.

So here are my last few books of 2015. Happy reading in 2016!

Me Before You (Me Before You, #1)Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In desperate need of a new story to whisk me away, a friend gave me this book. Indeed it whisked me away. I fell in love with two worlds-apart characters who meet up over extraordinary-ordinary reasons: need and money. Without beating me over the head, this story had me think deeply and want to live bigger, and with more love. And it broke my heart in the best way.

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seemingly ordinary yet terribly broken characters crash their lives into one another, telling lies and believing whatever seems most convenient, until tragedy befalls each one. Not a perfect book, but a quick and suspenseful read.

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible StandardsFor the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book of essays made me laugh and cry and think and feel. As a 40-something pastor’s wife/writer with kids at home, Jen and I share so much in common that occasionally I wanted to beat the book on my head and ask, “Why didn’t I write this?” But she is much, much funnier than I am, and I will read whatever she writes. I preferred Seven, but I’m sure I will return to the essays in this book from time to time.

Three Times Lucky (Tupelo Landing, #1)Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great read-aloud to share with my Tween – original characters, entrancing writing, fast-paced and engaging story. I would guess the only reason this Newbery Honor Award book didn’t win the Newbery itself is because of tough competition in 2013 (winner: The One and Only Ivan, also a delight).

A Northern LightA Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A coming of age story set in 1906 Adirondacks, this book gives a fascinating view into another time and place, centered on Mattie, a poor, smart farm girl raising her siblings after her mother’s death from cancer. She longs for a life of the mind while struggling against the harsh physical realities of her days. Mattie’s life juxtaposes Grace’s unfortunate and untimely death, one who can change her fate and the other eternally trapped. Not a perfect book, as the jumping back and forth in time make it confusing at times, especially for a YA book.

A Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer LifeA Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life by Jared Brock
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is fairly well-written, entertaining, thoughtful and funny in turns, and a complete mess. I have marked sections I want to remember and wish I could excise whole chapters. Brock is smart, energetic, and wants to change the world in Jesus’ name. To do so, he knows he needs to learn how to pray. But some of the stops along his journey seem intended to shock more than educate – Westboro Baptist, really? Benny Hinn? Even Tony Robbins (and coal walking)? He knew before he went in that those folks were not going to teach him what he wanted to learn about how to sincerely pray in Jesus’ name. He did learn a few things about prayer throughout the year, and he  gleaned truth to share, I just wish the book had been more carefully orchestrated and edited so as not to poke fun at those who have enough trouble already and to be more genuinely helpful without the distractions.

I Could Pee on This And Other Poems by CatsI Could Pee on This And Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Recommended by cat-loving friends with kids, we bought this for our cat-loving Tween. He giggled throughout, and the giggles themselves were worth the purchase price.