Wednesday, April 30, 2014

of Sparkly Green Earrings, and grace for recovering perfectionists

Photo credit: William Broughton, age 6

I hate nits.  

I’ve had them one time, and that was one time too many.  

So, just now, I shuddered appreciatively and indulged in an empathetic skin-crawl while reading the chapter called “Nitpicking” in Melanie Shankle’s honest, hilarious book on motherhood, Sparkly Green Earrings.  

Yesterday at nap time I raced through the first 10 chapters, foregoing my doze to gobble up just one more - and then one more - hilarious anecdote about sleep deprivation, potty training, and projectile vomiting.

But in Chapter 17, I found the gem of the book, for me.  The nugget of truth worth the price of the book.  The pearl of wisdom which made me stop in my tracks, switch off my Kindle, lay it on the bedside table, close my eyes, snuggle deep under my blanket, and pray, 

Lord, this is me.  This is SO me.  Help!

Here’s how Melanie ends Chapter 17:

“I think I’d been living under the illusion that I could give Caroline a perfect childhood.  But perfect doesn’t exist in our world. (Oh, how I wish it did!) 

“I can give her love, I can give her laughter, I can instill values and morals in her, I can teach her about Jesus and how he loves her more than she knows, and I can hopefully give her more good memories than bad.

“And I can pick the nits out of her hair, one little larva at a time.

“But I can’t give her perfection, because I’m fresh out. 

“That’s where the grace of God enters, and I exit quietly through the back door, allowing him to fill in the gaps.”

That’s Melanie.  Straight up.  No beating around the bush.  Gut level.  

“I can’t give her perfection, because I’m fresh out.” 


Reading those words felt like a punch in the stomach, and also at the same time like a burden lifting off.  

Yes.  That is totally true of me, I thoughtBravely, I might add.  (For a recovering perfectionist, that’s a big admission.) 

I am fresh out of perfection, much as I try desperately to pretend otherwise every. single. day.  

Whew!  Who needs to try anymore?  I’m done.  I’m done pretending to be perfect, because everyone - including me - knows it’s a big sham.  

And then that beautiful image, the one that had me crawling under my blanket with my eyes closed to savor the comfort:

That’s where the grace of God enters and I exit quietly through the back door, allowing him to fill in the gaps.”



The relief of that picture, an invitation to let go of my striving to be the perfect mother, and just quietly slip out the back door. 

The delightful, dependable ability of God to fill in all the gaps - everything I’ve left undone, all my mistakes, all the things I agonize over not being able to give my children.  

So thank you, Melanie, for putting it all out there, and for expressing truths we all feel but sometimes can’t quite wrap words around.  

And Lord…

Please give me grace, every day, to accept the reality of my limitations.  Help me learn how to rejoice in them, even though right now they make me cringe!

Free me from pride and the desperate need to measure up, so I can live joyfully in your strength, not mine.  

And please fill in all the gaps for my kids, so they learn how to rely on you, too.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

listening static-free {April: one word: listen}

{Each month this year I'm posting on my one word for 2014: listen.  Here are April's thoughts... To read the rest of the posts in this series, click here.}

I’ve been thinking a lot about tuning in.  How to be like a dial on the radio finding that sweet spot without any static, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons suddenly piercing sweetly into the room.  

In the mornings, in the quiet, I can hear Jesus’ voice clearly.  A whisper in my heart, a quiet nudging as I read His Word.  Think about this.  This is you.  You need this today.  Pay attention.  I’m aware, attentive.  My heart is quiet.  I’m listening.

But in the swish and rush of the day - school-time, lunch-time, errand-time, talking, organizing, accomplishing - my tuner starts to wobble.  The static of worry, distractions, and self-induced stress creeps in and I start swirling from one thing to another.  My heart rate mounts, my voice gets louder, my awareness of Him starts to disintegrate.  Soon the static muffles His voice altogether, and then I’m flailing wildly.  In those moments, not much I do is “what I see the Father doing” - mostly, I’m just trying to survive on my own, and I make everyone miserable.  

When I let the static overwhelm, when I tune out His still, small voice, I stumble and flail.  

When I’m tuned in, I can move softly, deliberately.  I can balance.  I can speak gently.  I can wait.  I can love.  I can serve.  I can keep my arms, ears, heart open for what the day brings.  

So, the big question is, how do I tune in?

I like Ann’s words for this: “I can slow the torrent [of time] by being all here.  I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment.  And when I’m always looking for the next glimpse of glory, I slow and enter.” (One Thousand Gifts, 68)

When I’m listening for the next whisper of His voice, I slow down and enter this moment.  I open my ears, and listen. The static fades away as I tune in…  

Fries sizzle in oil.  The oven ticks, baking hot dog buns.

A door slams.  Small feet pound the hall.  Ben, in all his 4-year-old urgency, bursting in to get water for himself, his brother, and a friend.  “Mom!  I need-ta get drinks RIGHT NOW!”  Water trickles into plastic cups.  He’s serving.  See?  He’s getting it.  

My daughter’s voice in the doorway.  I focus, like a camera zooming.  Her face, her dimple, sand all over her mouth, round pot belly under striped shirt, covered in dirt.  “‘Meah.  ‘Meah.”  She’s imperious, one little hand beckoning.  Come here.  Come to me.  Be with me.  See what I’m seeing.  Be all here.

I let dinner take care of itself for a minute.  Tune in.  Hear His voice.  Fall into the moment.  And the moment is static-free, sweet grace.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

of carpets and broken hearts {a Good Friday story}

Today I heard a story that broke my heart.  

We were outside washing carpets, my new helper and I.  With overturned tea bowls, we scrubbed circles in soapy lather, shoving the warp and woof this way and that, collecting clots of hair and fuzz.  Brown water and soapsuds ran in rivulets down the driveway.  

This was her first week of work; the neighbor who’s been helping me for two years recently found out she’s pregnant with their fourth baby.  This new girl, Mikayla, the wife of one of James’ workers, is kind, cheerful, energetic - a perfect and timely answer to prayer.  She arrived just in time for spring cleaning, and we had been waiting all week for a warm day to tackle the carpets.  
We squatted on our haunches in the driveway, scrubbing away, our backs warmed by the spring sunshine, and she told me her story.  
I knew she had a two-year-old son at home, so I asked, innocently, if they wanted to have any more.  

“Not yet,” she said, sprinkling more soap on the carpet.  
“The doctor told us we should wait two years, and then we can try again.”  There was something I wasn’t understanding.  

“When my son was a year old, I got pregnant again,” she explained.  They underwent the usual three ultrasounds throughout the pregnancy, but it wasn’t until the last one that the doctor noticed anything unusual.  

“The doctor told us the baby’s head was too big,” she said. She pushed the broom in long strokes across the carpet, squeezing off excess water.  “He told us it would be born deformed.  That it would be very hard on us, and on the baby.  He said we should consider aborting.” 

When I finally understood this last sentence, I stopped scrubbing and jerked my head up to look at her, my eyes widening.  

“Really?  He said that?”

She nodded, still scrubbing.  

“What did you do?”

“I cried, and said, ‘No, no, I won’t do it, I’ll have the baby, I want to keep it.”  Her arm moved in rhythmic circles.  “But then I went home, and my mom talked with me, and she said it would be really hard on me later and that I should do it, and my husband wanted to do it too… what choice did I have?”  

“You were eight months pregnant already.”  She nodded.  I’m in disbelief.  I’ve never heard of a doctor recommending an abortion that late.  I want to ask whether they had tests done, whether they got a second opinion… 

“So what happened?”  I already know I don’t want to hear the answer.

“They gave me some medicine.  And then - the baby stopped - moving.”  There are queer little stops in her voice.  She manages to get the sentence out, but only just.  There’s a long, heavy pause.  A huge hand is squeezing my heart.  “I was in the hospital for ten days, and I cried every day.”

I’m crying now, too, my face crumpled up, the tears running down.  Around and around go the tea bowls, upside down, all these rivulets of dirty water running off.  I’m silently screaming at God. This is upside down!  This is backwards!  This should never happen!  Why, God?  Why?

People here don’t like to display emotion, and my tears are embarrassing her, but she doesn’t say anything, and I wonder if they are validating her too. 

Out loud, I say, vehemently, “That doctor put himself in the place of God.  He decided your baby shouldn’t have the chance to live.  That is God’s decision, not a person’s.”  

“Yes. I know.”  She agrees.  She scrubs another minute in silence.  “But what could I do?  Everyone was telling me it was the only thing to do, and I believed them.”  

There’s a long pause.  She stands up and reaches for the hose to flood the dirty water off the carpet.  I want a hose that will flood her bleeding heart with grace.

“So… did you have the baby?”  I almost can’t bring myself to ask.

“Yes.  They wanted to give me a caesarean but my mom went to bat for me and convinced them to let me deliver naturally.  It only took me 4 hours.”  

And then?  And then what?  I simply cannot imagine the pain of knowingly delivering a dead child.  “And then… you… said goodbye?”  Now I’m the one who can hardly get the words out.  It’s hard enough just to breathe.

She nods, silently.  Water pours from the hose, washing away all the grime.

“I’m sorry,” I say, vigorously wiping my eyes on my sleeve.  “You probably don’t want to think about this or talk about it… I’m sorry.” 

“Yeah, you don’t want to think about it, but of course, you do…”

A minute later, I find a way to encourage her, even just a little.  “At least you know he’s in heaven, with God, and he’s perfect.  He’s playing, and laughing, and happy…”

She nods again, meeting my eyes.  “I had a dream that my grandmother, who’s dead, came and patted me on the shoulder one night while I was crying, and said, ‘It’s ok, he’s with me, we’re looking after him.’”

Internally I’m having all sorts of theological difficulties (I have no idea whether her grandmother was a believer or not), but I don’t mention any of them… I just nod, and sniff.  

“We’re going to give his one-year nazir (memorial service) this year…. 

“A way to remember him,” I say.


We’re almost done with the last two carpets.  I take Ruby inside to change her wet clothes.  I pay Mikayla her first week’s wages, wishing I could give her the Gift without price that will soothe and save her wounded soul.  Please, Lord, I beg.  Please, one day soon.

I see our Easter mountain in the kitchen window, the cross tilting lopsidedly on the top.  Good Friday floods over me afresh.  It had slipped my mind while we were outside scrubbing. 

Into my mind floods a vivid memory of walking through the Good Friday story this morning with the kids, and how Ben had to get the hammer so I could tap the nails through Jesus’ pierced wrist into the little apple-twig cross.  The boys went perfectly quiet while I did it, except for Ben saying mournfully, “I don’t like this part, Mommy.”  Will’s eyes were wet.

My stomach twists, remembering. What you had to go through for us, Jesus!  The brokenness you endured, so you could heal ours.

The empty cross is dark against the window.  The women are weeping as they leave the tomb. 

It’s Good Friday.  And my heart is breaking.

But.  Sunday is coming.  There is hope.  Hope for all the brokenness.  

And suddenly, I’m flooded with a rush of gratefulness: that we ourselves were broken, but are being healed.  And that we get to live here, in this broken place, next to broken people, with Sunday’s healing hope inside our broken hearts.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

for when you run out of food coloring... {Easter eggs au naturel}

Last year we dyed our Easter eggs this way, having run out of food coloring... they came out so well, my son asked if we could do those "onion-eggs" again this year!  Click here and here for more recipes and ideas...

Easter Eggs Au Naturel

1. First, fill a mesh bag with onion skins

(These sprouting beauties had been living under our kitchen sink the whole 7 months we were away in New Zealand last year having our daughter!)

2. Put the bag in a stainless steel pot with 4-5 inches of water, and add several tablespoons of vinegar (a blog I read said vinegar helps the dye take to the eggs).  

3. Bring the water to a boil and simmer the whole concoction for about 20 minutes, until the water turns bright red.

4, While the skins are boiling, go outside with your kids and collect several different kinds of interesting leaves.  

5. Cut lengths from an old pair of stockings, and tie a knot at one end of each length.  
6. Let your kids choose a leaf, and lay it flat on an egg (white eggs work better than brown).  Here's the only tricky part: Holding the leaf in place with your fingers, stretch the stocking carefully over both egg and leaf, and tie a second knot at the other end.

7. Put all the eggs in the bottom of the pot with the red water and cook everything together for another 15-20 minutes. 

When we fished our eggs out, they looked like this:

And when we snipped the stockings and peeled off the soggy leaves, 
they looked like this:

I read that you can use things like beets and ground turmeric to make even more colors!  

P.S. My favorite part is that instead of cooking eggs first and then spending hours dipping them in bowls of food-coloring water with spoons, you just throw everything in a pot together and boil it up, and presto - pretty eggs!  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

a spring story in photos: hope

Last fall we planted tulip bulbs, in celebration of receiving our one-year visa, and the gift of a little bit of continuity.  Six-year-old William was our photographer for planting, and this spring, after all the snow had melted, he went out to the front garden to check on the progress.  Here is his photo essay - all except the last shot, which Mommy took. :)


For me last fall, after an incredibly stressful year of traveling, waiting and visa dramas,

planting these tulips symbolized hope: 

my desire and commitment to contribute beauty to this place 

(in every way - outside, inside, and on a soul-level) 

no matter how long our sojourn here might be...

Friday, April 11, 2014

It's time to make the mountain!

Each year on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, when apricot blossoms are popping and tulip bulbs are poking up out of the ground, we make an “Easter mountain” at our house.  For my six-year-old, this will be the fifth Palm Sunday “Jesus" gets to ride up the hill on his donkey with all his disciples hopping along behind, waving blades of new spring grass for "palm branches".

In case you want to make an Easter mountain to help your little ones enter into the Easter story in a hands-on way, here’s our family's version (concept adapted from Noel Piper’s rich book Treasuring God in Our Traditions):

Make an Easter Mountain

Play Dough

8 cups flour {Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life!"}
3 cups salt {Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth!"} 
3 cups water {Jesus said, "I am the Living Water!"}
2 Tbs oil {Ps: 23 ”You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows!"}

Mix ingredients and knead.  Add small amounts of water as needed until the texture is moldable but not too soft.


  • two backyard sticks, about 1/2” diameter
  • twine or string
  • soup can
  • rock about the same size as the soup can mouth
  • toothpicks or a fork
1. Bind the two sticks together with twine to make a cross about 5-6 inches tall.

2. Using the soup can for the “tomb”, shape the whole lump of play dough into a mountain over the soup can, leaving the opening clear. 

3. Press the rock that will cover the tomb against the opening, to shape a better fit.  Set the stone aside.

4. Press the cross into the top of the mountain to form a hole deep enough to stand the cross in.  Make the hole a bit larger than the actual circumference of the stick because the hole will get smaller as the mountain bakes.  Set the cross aside.

5. Twist toothpicks into the dough or press fork tines randomly around on the hill to make “footholds” for pipe cleaner characters (I photocopied pages from our Bible Story Book, cut out the characters I wanted and taped toothpicks on the back).  

6. We poked two or three larger stick-holes to hold live twigs for “trees” in the Garden of Gethsemane, over our “tomb”.

7. Bake at 250 F (140 C) for 5-6 hours.  When cooled, color as desired with paint or markers. (We make our mountain in the morning after breakfast, let it bake all day, and paint it after naps.)

I hope these photos and ideas have inspired you to come up with some creative ways to make the story of Easter come alive for your kids.  Let me know in the comments if you tried making your own Easter mountain, and how your kids responded!  

I've created a document with the way we break down the Easter Story to use with our mountain each day of Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday.  Email me at for a free copy to use with your family!

{Easter mountain idea adapted from Noel Piper’s wonderful book Treasuring God in Our Traditions}

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

for days when you need a little hope... {guest post for Velvet Ashes}

Photo credit: William Broughton, age 6
Have you walked through a season - maybe right now - where you feel like your creativity is bottled up inside of you, waiting for a chance to come out?  Since I’m in the throes of early motherhood, that’s me, most of the time!  But every once in a while, despite my crazy, interruption-filled days and miles-long to-do list, something creative leaks out and finds room to breathe.  And that feels hopeful to me.

I write songs for all sorts of reasons: to tuck Scripture inside my heart.  To express myself to Jesus.  To capture a quote I love.  To revitalize an old hymn text.  

Mostly, I write music because it gives me hope.  

There’s definitely something creative in spreading peanut butter on apple slices for my kids (in between writing these sentences).  But then there’s the specific “art you were made to live”, which Emily Freeman describes in her hope-filled book A Million Little Ways.  Something deep inside me starts to wither if I don’t intentionally exercise my creativity beyond cooking meals, playing with my kids, and trying to keep my house relatively dirt-free and attractive.  

When I feel a song rising in me, it gives me hope that my creativity is still alive despite the fog of fatigue and swirl of mundane tasks.  So I pay attention, and try to write in the little cracks of time I can find.  It isn’t perfect, or as much as I’d like, but it keeps hope alive.  

For me, music is a bridge between the seasons of my life. 

Rewind ten years to my first stint overseas, fresh out of college....

I'm over at Velvet Ashes today, sharing my story of creativity and hope... come read more and be encouraged! 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

what listening is not {One Word: listen}

{Each month this year I'm posting on my One Word for 2014: listen.  Here's my latest epiphany, from the month of March... To read the rest of the posts in this series, click here.}

have, happily, discovered something listening is not.

Listening is not just keeping quiet. 

For a long time, I thought to be a good listener meant I had to sit through the whole conversation and bite my tongue, and not say all of the (to me) immensely interesting things popping into my head, which is incredibly hard for me to do.  I love talking, and I’m far too fascinated by myself and my own thoughts, so for me to hold back all the nuggets of wisdom and personal anecdotes which clamor to be shared feels like torture.

But actually, to be a good listener I am allowed to speak: in fact, if I don’t say anything, the other person won’t actually feel heard!  It’s what I say, though, that’s important.  If I truly want to listen, and to have the other person feel I am listening, my responses must:
be about them, not me;

reflect back to them the feelings I am hearing.  

One of the most valuable things a good listener can do for a person is to validate their feelings.  Not just pat them on the head and say, “Yes, yes, dear, I understand”, but really and truly enter into their world and feel with them, and then let them know it.  Let them know you care deeply about how they are feeling, they aren’t crazy for feeling that way, they are a normal, red-blooded human being, and that you would feel the same way if you were in their shoes.

If I manage to convey this, the person I am listening to will feel heard, and not just heard - validated.  Loved.  Accepted.  Comforted.  Immensely relieved.  Just knowing another human being is standing with you in whatever it is you are going through is tremendously comforting.  And sometimes - most of the time, actually - just the standing-with is enough.  

Answers aren’t even needed.