Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Two Of My Favorite Things

If you've been reading this blog, a.k.a. my heart, for very long you know I have lots of favorite things. We all do I imagine.

I clocked another birthday of a non-remarkable, albeit still shocking, number this past Sunday. On Friday a dear, sweet, thoughtful, funny friend showed up at my door with her husband, a cake (my favorite kind), a pastry to be saved for my actual birthday morning, a sentimental card with some spending money and a gift of two brand new books. She announced, "We are only staying as long as it takes to order pizza for dinner and eat it with you."

You can imagine my delight. What love! My favorite part? Well, I savored every detail, but of course - the books! This woman has bought me books before and always hits a homerun. She introduced me to Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts a few years ago and it changed my life. Which basically means for any future selections, I pay attention.

Favorite #1 - when someone who knows me presents me with a book specially chosen for me because it reminds her of me. (I totally despise that sentence because it says 'me' four times. Please forgive me. Ugh, there I go again.)

Favorite #2 - when I pick up a new book, begin reading and immediately identify with the author and the content. Like put the book down and have an ugly cry kind of identifying. In other words, I feel like it was written solely for me (narcissist much?) or it's so similar to my current situation that I could have written it myself.

I love when either of those things happen. Both of these favorites collided this weekend and it is glorious. I know God was behind it.
I just have to share a few morsels with you. Get it? Morsels? Bittersweet? Chocolate? Haha - sometimes I crack myself up.

Yeah, I know, don't quit your day job.

First of all, were you able to make out the subtitle? "Thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way." That's more bitter than sweet. After reading the title, I lifted my eyes to meet hers which were still on me and she said, "I got myself a copy also because I think I need it too." Oh man, I love her. Took the sting right out. This is grace.

Just the prologue alone was so rich I had to read it twice. I wonder if it will resonate with you.

"Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the callouses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, earthy."

Rotten teeth. Check. (Hereditary from my Dad and possibly a lifetime of chocolate sweetness.) Lines on face. Check. (I don't want to talk about it.) Callouses on hands. (Well, do warts count? I have two.) So, check. Still, this smells like purpose to me. And I love purpose.

"This is what I've come to believe about change: it's good, in a way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good and failure is good. By that I mean that it's incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you into the palm of God's hand, which is where you wanted to be all along, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be."

Please tell me that last sentence made you shiver too. If not, go back and read it again. I'll wait for you. Talk about a bittersweet sentence. Be sure and note the beauty in it. Friend, sometimes the truth hurts, but we need to hear it.

With Easter just a stone's throw behind us, resurrection and new life have very much been on my mind lately. Specifically the end of Winter and the newness of Spring. It feels like Scott and I have been in winter figuratively for almost three years now. We ache for new life, new beginnings, new growth.
I often refer to a favorite Bible passage that has been real and relevant to so many areas and seasons of my life. God speaking:

Remember not the former things, 
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. Isa. 43:18-19

Wilderness? Desert? New thing. Springs forth. Keep talking, Lord.

Then this:

"I believe that God is making all things new. I believe that Christ overcame death and that pattern is apparent all through life and history: life from death, water from a stone, redemption from failure, connection from alienation. I believe that suffering is part of the narrative, and that nothing really good gets built when everything's easy. I believe that loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom."

Are you still with me? How do you feel about change? Are you fighting a change you didn't want in the first place or waiting for a long awaited change? Me too.

"...change is one of God's greatest gifts and one of His most useful tools.  ...change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we've become, in the worst of ways, and also in the best of ways. ...change is not a function of life's cruelty but instead a function of God's graciousness.

If you dig in and fight the changes, they will smash you to bits. They'll hold you under, drag you across the rough sand, scare and confuse you. But if you can find it within yourself, in the wildest of seasons, just for a moment to trust in the goodness of God, who makes it all and holds it all together, you'll find yourself drawn along to a whole new place, and there's truly nothing sweeter. Unclench your fists, unlock your knees and also the door to your heart, take a deep breath, and begin to swim. Begin to let the waves do their work in you."

And that's just the first chapter.

I so get how real the feelings of fear and confusion can be. You probably do too. Why not let's together take this author's advice and trust in the goodness of God, who makes it all and holds it all together, including our lives and hearts? Don't you want to let the waves do their work in you? Remake you? Bring out something new? Oh I do. I do. Pick me!!

I truly believe with all my heart God will eventually reveal that He was up to something good the whole time. Believe that with me.

Keep your eyes open all around you for new growth. After all, the long winter is over - it's Spring - the season for new life. Again the verse above... "Remember not the former things or consider the things of old." New life is in front of us. Hope is in front of us. Keep moving forward. No more looking for it back there behind us. It's not there any more than Jesus is still in the tomb.

Do you not perceive it?

All bold quotes from Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist
italics mine

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Best News For Every Woman

I've mentioned a few times here that I love reading the Gospels in readiness for Easter. I never, ever get tired of how Jesus treated and spoke to women. I know there are some out there who resist church because somewhere along the way they believed the lie that God is harsh, impossible to please and elevates males over females. Perhaps because they've been treated by men as less than.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, back in Bible times, many men believed that too and disrespected women as such. But then. Jesus.

I picked up a new book a few weeks ago because, well, look at that cover. 
I finished it yesterday. The last chapter blew me away. I can't possibly keep it to myself and it's why I write today. Here is some of it:

"In an ancient world, where many disregarded the testimony of women, Jesus' high regard for them bordered on scandalous. (Oh, don't you love that word?!) Remember, God saw fit that the first eyes to behold the risen Jesus were those of a woman - all during an era where a woman's testimony had no credibility in a court of law.

Women, therefore, were the first evangelists.

The only way a man can discover how to treat a woman is by looking at how Jesus interacted with them. Your Lord was the defender of women.

He stepped in to save a broken, scandalized woman from the murderous plot of a group of self-righteous men. He lifted the weight of her shame, writing a new destiny for her in the dirt.

He saw value in an "unclean" Samaritan woman who was disregarded, despised, and viewed as damaged goods.

He honored a prostitute in the house of a Pharisee.

He healed a pariah woman whose flow of blood excommunicated her.

He exalted a woman who anointed Him for burial by commissioning her story to be rehearsed wherever the gospel message was heard.

He never talked down to a woman, but made them heroes in His parables.

And that for which Jesus came to die was a woman...His woman, the very bride of Christ.

Put simply, your Lord is in the business of loving, honoring and defending women. And God chose the womb of a woman to enter this world.

Whether you are a woman or a man, Jesus Christ is the greatest lover in the universe. And He wishes to love, defend, honor, and cherish you."
I mean, wow.  Obviously I recommend this book. I recommend Jesus.

Please allow me to take a minute and address the few brave men who read this blog (including my sons). I hope you follow Jesus' example in how you treat all the women in your life. All of them. No matter what.

As for all you girlfriends, if you haven't yet, I hope you will accept the above quote as complete truth - and receive it like it is for you. Read the Bible and see for yourself. It's all in there. You will find no greater love on Earth than what God the Father and Jesus His Son feel for you. So much that Jesus came, suffered, died and rose again so that you can know it.

Makes Easter take on a deeper significance, doesn't it? He loves you so, so much. Don't minimize or forget it.

Quotes from The Day I Met Jesus by Frank Viola and Mary DeMuth pgs.183-185
(bold and parenthesis mine)

Monday, March 23, 2015

There Will Come a Day

....when you don't mind your children interrupting.

Almost two weeks ago we had one night, one single meal together with all of our kids at home. Hasn't happened since Christmas Day and no one knows when it will again. That's the thing about children growing up and starting to lead their own lives. These gatherings can become fewer and farther between. You take what you can get whenever you can get it.

We had some time to prepare. I created a menu and did the grocery shopping. I set the table, changed sheets on all the beds and set out clean towels in anticipation of their arrival. (This is my happy place!) Most importantly, Scott and I discussed what we wanted to talk about at dinner.
Sound kind of nerdy, Type A, controlfreakish? It probably is but dinnertime has always been our preferred window to "talk about important things" with everyone at the same time.

When they were young this was a challenge as they eagerly (and constantly as I recall) interrupted any coherent thoughts we were trying to string together. I wondered if the day would ever come when Drew, Ben and Ally would simply fold their hands and listen, gazing adoringly and intently at their loving, albeit long-winded parents.

Ahem. Oh sorry, I was daydreaming there for a minute.

Once they became teenagers, the interruptions did decrease some, but there was enough eye rolling to make even a strong-willed parent give up. When we would ask questions, answers were brief and sometimes awkward.

Let me put it this way, it wasn't their favorite thing to do. They poked fun and accused us of preaching, perhaps somewhat dreading what they called "sermon time".

We pressed on. What we know now is that they were indeed listening.

Back to our one night. After we had eaten, they had sufficiently made fun of us, we exhausted the nonsense topics (like sports) and caught up with the details of our day to day lives, I quietly got up and got my Bible. A few of the whippersnappers encouraged the others to get comfortable. I ignored them. Scott began to talk. Good stuff about life, their future and what the Bible says they can expect as Jesus-following adults.
Before I could get to my two cents (or 50 give or take), Drew stood and fetched his Bible declaring, "I've got something I want to say". He proceeded to basically teach us the lesson he taught his kids in youth group the previous Sunday.

Next Scott turned to Drew, "Let me see your Bible" and began bouncing more off what Drew shared. Ping pong at the table.

Finally, they let me get my words in. Before I could declare dinner over and release them from the table, the greatest thing in all of Burtis history happened.

Drew grabbed his Bible back from Scott, "Wait, I'm not done. Uh-oh! Looks like I'm turning into Mom". He then flashed me the grin I can't resist. I know he meant it as a diss and to get an Amen or sigh from his brother and sister (which he did) but I loved it. Since he's nearly a 100% clone of his father, I'll take any maternal  likeness he will admit to.
I don't know how much more time passed. I didn't care! Ben talked about how God has amazingly provided funds from anonymous givers for his upcoming mission trip to Poland. The girls could hardly get a word in but I think we all left the table with more than just full stomachs.

In the quiet of our room after we turned the lights off a few hours later, Scott and I looked at each other and grinned with tears in our eyes. This is what it's all about. All those years of talking, sharing, preaching, whatever you want to call it, is bearing fruit. It has sunk in. We thanked God for letting us raise these people.

Even though we have all frustrated and disappointed each other in this family often enough, I think most of the time our kids want to please Scott and me. I also know they like hearing we are proud of them especially in regards to their spiritual character.

Our house has since emptied back to three - soon to dwindle to the original two - and I sit in my chair remembering that night with a deep down happiness. As Easter approaches I continue to read through the Gospels. Daily reminded how Jesus invites anyone who will listen to experience the love of God, His Father. Now my Father too. An a-ha moment overwhelms me.

If I, a mere sinful, flawed but loved woman experience this much joy when my children follow the path we have marked for them and make even the slightest turn toward God in their lives, surely God feels the same way when I make that same effort.

He is the perfect parent after all. He loves His children with a pure, unselfish love, something I certainly can't offer mine. When we choose Him, He is proud of us. I think He smiles and even high-fives Jesus and the Holy Spirit every time we are more enamored with Him than the world of temptations around us. When we read His Word, obey it and let it change us. When we share it with others.

When we live our lives with our full attention facing in His direction, I believe His chest puffs up with pride. 

Just the thought of that makes me happy. And motivated.

Often when moms of children younger than mine ask for parenting advice, I point them to several Bible passages that gave (and give) us focus and direction. My first and favorite is Deuteronomy 6:6-7. Here Moses is giving the children of Israel the Ten Commandments and advising them how to raise their young.

 "These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

Dinnertime sermons. I can't overstress the importance of these regularly scheduled conversations. They are opportunities to train and pour into our kids in non-conflict moments.

If they groan, roll their eyes and their body language makes the experience miserable for everyone (like ours sometimes did), do it anyway. And keep doing it. Even though they selfishly interrupt to distract you in hopes of making the time go faster, take heart, they are listening.

Later when they are grown, they may not only interrupt, but hijack the whole conversation and you will welcome it, sit back and be amazed at what God has done in their hearts.

PS. They still relentlessly make fun of us. Make that me. One of them took this shot while I was simply trying to get a good pic of everyone. I think it's obvious who the guilty party is. A spanking is not out of the question.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Idle Time = Random Thoughts

Spent a few days away this week accompanying a friend who had business out of town. Because we are hip and cool (or cheap and afraid of finding parking places) we took the bus. I know, you're jealous. Public transportation is where it's at! I wasn't going to make a big deal about this brief trip until the ride home. Let me back up.

My travel buddy was worried that I would be bored just be sitting around waiting for her as she was busy with her stuff. I told her, "I can amuse myself for hours. Don't worry about me." I brought plenty to keep me occupied. I packed two books, a journal, my Bible, a half-knitted sock and a brand spanking new skein because I'm an overacheiver. Can you imagine I was worried I would finish all that and panic for nothing to do? I laugh in the face of this. Yeah. Did not happen.

What I quickly learned is this thing called people watching can eat up a lot of time. It really crushed all my Type A ambitions. Mostly I just sat and stared. For hours.

Back to the bus ride home. Based on the fact that the first leg of our trip took three hours station to station, we expected the same travel time for the journey home. Give or take a little wiggle room because there was this measely winter storm warning in effect. Psh. We know how accurate those can be.

The bus pulled out of the station on time. The traffic was impressive and it was snowing. I figured it was just leaving-the-city traffic and we would pull away from the pack soon enough, pick up normal speed and be on our way. Not so much. Actually, I couldn't have been more wrong. The road conditions worsened. As the minutes slowly ticked away and we barely moved, I began to feel claustrophobic. Our 8:00pm arrival was not going to happen. Not by a long shot. I talked myself out of a panic attack as the cars around also barely moving closed in and seemed to multiply.

As daylight disappeared I considered options. My friend wasn't feeling so great and needed to sleep. I couldn't see anything, so I was left with nothing to do. Idle time can leave room for some random thoughts.

Over the next 7 1/2 hours I replayed the last two days in my head. Yes, you heard me. Seven and a half hours to travel a three hour distance. This is sort of how it went.

Why did I fritter away two days merely staring? I accomplished almost nothing I brought with me.

Why didn't I pack a book light or head lamp so I could read and knit in the dark? Amateur.

90% of the people in big cities wear black coats. I guess black is still the new black.

Subway travel is faster than walking. I'm glad we did both.

The best thing about Facebook is when you open it up and find pictures that other people post of your kids who are not home anymore. Also when someone else sees them first and tells you to check them out. ("Pssst..new pics of our Ben are up.")

35 degrees and sunny feels like 50 degrees after the February we just endured. It was good to be outside again. A hat still would have been a good idea.

Taylor Swift grew up on a Christmas Tree Farm. How cool is that? See what you learn reading waiting room magazines. I particularly enjoyed these two paragraphs here. Kind of endeared me.
That last sentence. I chuckled, applauded TS to myself, and then sent this pic in a family text. Must highlight a good example when I see it.

Why are there tvs every three rows on this bus and NONE OF THEM WORK?

The best pastries can be expensive. Four little tiny samples cost $11. Normally, I won't even spend $11 on a full-sized dessert on any given day. Why is it ok in a big city? Oh and eating them all by yourself destroys evidence. If only I could have eaten the receipt Scott will be looking for soon.

Speaking of food, what goes on in the mind of a crazy person who never eats anything (except popcorn one night a week) after 7pm, but when the bus makes a stop at 10:30pm she buys a bag of salt and pepper kettle chips and a peppermint patty and soothes herself by gorging out on them? Entitlement? Reward for quietly enduring inconvenience and not freaking out in public? Probably something like that.
The Google maps blue dot indicates my location and moves along with me. Technology take me away! One way to make endlss time go by faster is by taking screen shots every 20 minutes and sending them to my husband so he can see how I am not progressing and hopefully feel sorry for me. I think he enjoyed it too.

When the bus driver says we are making a ten minute stop, it really means we will get back on the road in thirty. But who's counting?

Happiness is when your son calls you in the middle of his day for no particular reason and talks for 29 minutes. I don't care if he was bored - he called his mama!

Then this prayer happened. God, you've been giving me a crash course in the discipline of waiting for more than two years now. Is this a test? Based on this current situation, am I getting any closer to mastering it? Or can I assume I've still got a long way to go?

When I could feel complaints rising up to take over, I shook myself by the shoulders and said, "Pull yourself together! Where are the gifts?"

Once again I am reminded that even on a snowy winter night on a dark Greyhound bus that isn't transporting me back to my comfort zone as fast as I'd like, there is always something to be thankful for.

I am thankful I am not trapped on an airplane sitting on the tarmac - not moving - for hours. We were at least crawling toward home.

I am thankful I don't have to throw up. Being sick away from home is so unpleasant.

I am thankful for the margin in my life necessary to drop everything and be with my friend.

I am thankful for my sweet daughter's goodnight message, "I will see you in the morning, Mommy. I love you."

I am thankful for all the cool hip places we visited, food I consumed (sort of) and how we rode the subway and walked blocks and blocks with our luggage in tow like it was our job. Imposters.

I am thankful I don't live in a big city. Fun to visit. But large crowds and constant hurrying are not for me.

I am thankful for a friend who kept me company through text and sent me cute pics of her and her kids for awhile to get my mind off the neverending bus ride.

I am thankful for my husband who doesn't mind staying up until 12:30am and coming out in the freezing cold to pick me at the bus station. Even though he was late as I stood in the snow tapping my impatient foot. I would soon find out why. He had warmed up two corn bags before he left that were in the bed waiting for this weary traveller. I don't deserve him.

And about the idle time...I guess I can be thankful for that too. Sitting and staring and even being held captive could make one a better listener. 

Most of all...I am thankful God is my constant companion. He loves me. He is with me. I can talk to Him anytime, anywhere and about anything. Without this, I would be the most lonely woman alive. I am not.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


So the other night I was sitting in the auditorium at Maine Endwell high school watching the Pops concert. Some of you just rolled your eyes. I used to do that too, until we moved to this school district. They don't just take football seriously, but the music program is excellent too.

We were amazed at how many students are involved - over 250 - and this is one of the smallest districts in our area. Many of these musicians overlapped into several groups - Mixed Chorus, Women's Chorus, Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band and more. Yes, I said more. They go hard.

Because we go to many school events, we know many of these kids are involved in multiple other activities at school. The crossover is worth noting. Some play an instrument, sing in chorus and participate in several sports too - year round. Not to mention taking a heavy academic load that requires much homework.  Did I mention travel teams, dance lessons, karate? The list goes on and on. Do they ever get tired?

I wondered when they have down time or if they ever take a season off to do...well nothing.

There has been much talk and many books published these days about margin, slowing down, and simplifying our lives. About not being too busy. I think when we hear it, we let out a loud exhale and think, "that would be nice", but how many actually put it into practice?

When our kids were younger I always knew we had become too busy when the moment we were home for more than one consecutive evening someone would ask, "What are we doing today? What are we doing tonight? What are we doing tomorrow? How about tomorrow night?".

My answer was often, "We are going to stay home and enjoy being together. And play with the toys you wanted for Christmas that you never have time to play with. We may even read books." They would smile and exclaim, "Thank you, Mother!" Right. In my dreams.

As the kids got older and were tempted to overload their free time full of social activities, I knew it was time to ask ourselves some hard questions. Would they become busy adults who fill every available minute and end up with no time to rest? Or God forbid, no time to hang out with their parents? What are we teaching them about how best to spend time? About what's important? Kids do tend to follow in their parents' footsteps.

The music kids reminded me about the well-intentioned notion that most parents have heard and some believe. Do you remember it - that kids need to be "well-rounded" a.k.a. good at everything, to get into college or be successful? Me too. Consequently, we move mountains to give them every available opportunity to succeed at many things.

But let's get real. How much time does it take to master so many things? Pretty much all of it, I think. Hence the addiction to busyness and endless activity. Running daily from event to event with little downtime at home can be a real family buster.

We are as guilty as our kids I think. As we are busy with many activities ourselves we might eventually find we've become a jack of all trades but master of none. At some point we should consider how much time is left over for the things that really matter. Like relationships. Like enjoying margin - room for the spontaneous. Like being preoccupied or just available to meet someone else's needs.

Are our kids watching us operate a break neck speed, saying yes to everything? What will they remember about their time living in our homes, the pace we kept and subjected them to?

Recently, a friend who I may or may not mention my upcoming empty nest (which is 4 short months away if you've lost track) to every time I see her gave me a book to read called "Just 18 Summers". Yeah, I know.

I still haven't gotten past the title. We have 18 summers with our kids. Me? I have none left. Kind of puts things in perspective though, doesn't it?

The time goes so fast. My head is spinning as I write. One day Scott and I decided we wanted to start a family and in a few months the in-our-home-everyday part of parenting will end and it will just be the two of us again.

May I give you younger parents some advice?

Guard your family time. Quality time does not trump quantity time. Every child needs both. Extracurricular activities have some benefit, but kids will learn even more about life, God and themselves from spending time with mom and dad.

Just because your kids want to do everything, doesn't mean that's what is best for them. Feel free to say no to some things without guilt. You get to decide that because you are the grownups. You see the big picture and you are for them.

Limit the time they are influenced by their friends. Make sure you are pouring more into them than the world is.

If you're too tired, stressed or busy to go to church on Sunday, give something up.

When they are teenagers, make youth group a priority. This will be easier if you lay the foundation of loving church when they are younger.

Don't let the culture (what everyone else is doing) dictate your family goals and priorities.

Eat more dinners together at the table each week than you don't.

Watch less tv and play more games.

Talk about everything. Ask millions of questions. Know their world.

Teach them that being bored is not the worst thing. Here we learn to be still and to listen - very important spiritual virtues that we all need in order to hear God and follow Him.

You probably noticed that all those things take time. Yes, they do. I promise it will be the best time you will spend in these child-rearing years. Be all in for all of these 18 years. This kind of parental involvement will produce well-rounded kids. And when the end of your daily influence arrives, you might just have fewer regrets.

Whatever stage you're at in parenting, take some time to evaluate.

Consider that you might be inadvertently teaching that the best life is about them excelling at many things. Things which will make them a better individual for sure, but may leave little if any time to serve others, which is the essence of the Gospel, the way we pass it down.

As Christ-following parents we have been given one main job - passing down God's faithfulness and the Gospel to the next generation - starting with our own kids. It's our responsibility to show our kids that there is nothing more fulfilling. NOTHING.

I like to envision handing each of our kids the baton and saying, "It's your turn now. You're ready. Go get your generation."

You guessed it - it takes time to get them there - we've got 18 years.

Two of my all time favorite go-to parenting verses are Romans 12:1-2

"So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."

Best advice ever for us - and our kids.

Like God, I want to bring out the best in my kids too. I bet you do too.

Decide what you want your kids to look like when they leave your nest and with God's help, focus your time and energy getting them there.

You can do this!  The next generation will benefit from your effort.