Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Letters to My Daughters: Ten Things

Earlier this week I was searching for something in some of my old posts, and I happened to come across a post I wrote in November of 2009 titled "Ten Things." I read it through and realized that it would be perfect as a "Letters to My Daughters" post (something I've been trying to resurrect recently due to some very kind comments from some of you). I've edited the original just a bit to fit our circumstances now, but most of it remains the same.


Dear Daughters,

A long time ago, either before you were born or when Kate was just a baby, I attended a writer’s conference. The keynote speaker was a relatively unknown Christian writer who had an idea that he floated to us during one of his talks. Something about the rapture, the antichrist, and the end times.

You might have heard of him? Jerry Jenkins?

Before Jerry Jenkins ever wrote the Left Behind series, he had already written several books, including the book that I purchased called 12 Things I Want My Kids to Remember Forever. I actually stood in line to have him autograph my book (the only time I've ever done that!) because, as I told him, I bought that book (and not one of his 25 other books on the table) for the title of one chapter: “Women Work Harder than Men.”

Think about that for just a second.

I have loved that little book over the years. It’s the book I wish I could write for you. It's kind of what spurred me to write this "Letters to My Daughters" series. 

You are, all three, in the process of leaving home. In just a few years our house will be empty, our walls will echo with memories, and my head will suddenly remember all the things I wish I had told you but forgot.

So, a list. Just so I don't forget to tell you. 

1. I have to say this first because it really is the most important thing: Know Jesus. Really know Him. Love Him with all your heart. Take Him with you wherever you go.

When you were little I always made you hold my hand when we crossed the street. When you got a little older you started to get embarrassed about that, and you shrugged me off. Very soon I won’t be there to hold your hand all the time. Hold on to His. And not just when you’re crossing the street; hold on all the time.

2. Marry a man who loves Jesus more than he loves you. Because in doing that, he will love you best. After that, make sure your husband makes you laugh every day. Because, believe me, laughter can get you through some tough days.

3. Be kind to the outsider. We all know how it feels to be the person on the outside looking in, so try to include others. Bring people in. Be warm. Be welcoming. Be hospitable.

4. It’s not about you. Ever. I know this phrase has turned into a bit of a cliché, but it is so true. This life, this world, is so much bigger than you. Don't be afraid of it; just dig in and see what you can do to help.

5. Debt is NOT your friend. It will suffocate you like a blanket and, once under that blanket, it’s really, really hard to get out from under it. Debt removes options from your life, and I want you to have options. Stay far, far away from the allure of debt, and the best way to do that is to live below your means.

6. Some stuff that people say matters really doesn’t matter at all. But then, there is some stuff that some people don’t care about that matters a lot. Life is often about having the right perspective.

7. Learn how to make a couple of dishes really well. Make them your signature dishes. That way, when you have company over you’ll have a recipe or two that you can make really well and you won’t have any disasters like the double-charred, hard-as-a-rock ribs I made for friends one time when your dad and I were first married.

8. Find a church and commit to it. This is your body, so do everything within your power to help make your body healthy and strong. Serve. Confront. Help. Unless there is heresy being preached, try to stick with it. You will be blessed so much if you do this.

9. Don’t complain. Now, I realize that I spend my fair share of time complaining about the weather, but I know I shouldn’t. There’s nothing I can do about the weather. But this is bigger than the weather. Nobody likes to be around a person who complains all the time. Instead of complaining, try to make the world a better place.

10. Finally, always remember that you are so special. Each one of you is so very gifted, and by that I don’t mean just intellectually. Each one of you is so beautiful, inside and out. You love well. You give a lot. You are good friends. You have taught me so much. Never, ever forget how special you are because there will be some days when you won't feel special. You'll think that you have nothing to offer this world or the people in it. You'll wonder what you can do to make a difference. Believe me, just because you're here the world is a better place.

I know I said I’d give you ten things I want you to remember, but there’s one more thing. . . .

Never forget that I have loved you with more love than my heart can hold. It overflows. It spills over into everything I have done. And there’s more there. Always more. You are the work of my life, and I’m so very proud of what I’ve accomplished.


So how about you, dear readers? What would you add to this list?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Just One

You guys know I'm all about education, right?

Education has been my work for a long time.

And girls?

Three precious ones of my own and countless others who have impressed and inspired me.

Yep, education and girls--I kind of have a thing for them both.

Bring the two together in one inspiring story and I'll be a puddle of tears.

And that's just what I am this week over this one story.

Kristen is one mom. One blogger. Who took one trip and met one woman. She heard one Voice calling her to one task. And she obeyed.

Just one. With open hands and an open heart.

A mom who said yes.

Mercy House is the task that God has called Kristen to, and it's a task that is just too big for one person. So over the next few weeks, Kristen is asking for a community of moms to come alongside her in her task.

Mercy House is one ministry that is doing a whole lot of good in Kenya. Women are being healed, lives are being restored, and babies are being saved. All because Kristen said yes to God.

This week, Mercy House is trying to raise enough money to provide a classroom for the young women who are being rescued. These are women who were previously living in one of the largest slums in the world, raped or being sold as sex slaves, who find themselves pregnant and without hope. Mercy House provides shelter, nourishment, community, and education for these desperate women.

Their babies are being saved.

Please, won't you learn more by clicking right here and watching the incredible video about Mercy House? And then, won't you go one step further by giving a gift to this ministry which will provide an education that will help free these women to do amazing things with their lives?

I get it--I see it every day--the difference that an education can make for a young woman. And I want to help pass that gift along to others.

Won't you join me?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Of Dick Van Dyke and Dreaming

Last night, after coming home from a soccer game, B and I sat down together on the couch and flipped on the T.V.

News flash: not much is on on a Friday night.

We ended up watching an old episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show

(Seriously. There’s nothing on on Friday nights!) 

B and I laughed about how we felt we knew every square inch of Rob and Laura Petry’s house, including their bedroom with twin beds (!), and I noted how prim and put-together Laura looked in her starched blouse and well-sprayed hairdo. A far cry from how I look most days in my yoga pants and sweatshirt.

In this episode, Rob, who worked as a screenwriter for a T.V. show, confessed to Laura that he felt like a failure because he had started writing a novel and had never finished it. He said that he never felt like a real writer because he had never written a book.

Apparently, writing a book is what makes you a real writer.

Laura spent the rest of the episode encouraging Rob to finish his book, even going so far as to arrange for him to spend a few days in a friend’s cabin, alone, so he could concentrate and write.

But poor Rob was suffering from writer’s block. He got busy sharpening pencils, stacking paper, and getting out his typewriter in order for the scene to be just perfect so that he could finally write. But as soon as everything was set, he just sat there, looking around, eventually getting distracted by a paddleball game. Rob spent three days just pounding that ball against the paddle, trying to beat his high score.

In the end, Laura and Rob both had a moment of clarity: they realized that Rob just wasn’t ready to write his book. One day he might be ready, but this wasn’t it.

Rob summed it up this way: “I know one thing, when I’m ready to be a novelist I won’t need a cabin to write it. I’ll be able to write it on the subway during rush hour.”

Here’s what I want to know. Did Rob give up?

We read so much these days about dreaming big dreams for our lives, which, in my mind, means do bigger things than you’re doing right now.

But what if what we’re doing right now is exactly what God wants us to be doing?

For the past two weeks I haven’t written a word. I’ve been busy teaching, grading papers, talking to students and friends, and generally living my life.

Oh, I think about writing. I think about my blog and what I’d like to see happen here, but it just isn’t happening for me right now. Call it writer’s block. Call it a busy life. Call it different priorities.

Whatever you call it, writing isn’t happening for me right now, and, in a way, that’s frustrating to me.

I dream.

Oh yes, I dream a lot.

And yet, here I am in the everyday, trying to find the adventure right here.

And I wonder: am I doing this right as I live in the tension of the everyday and the some day? More importantly, I wonder: what if my dreams for myself aren’t God’s dreams for me? What if He has something else that is not necessarily bigger, but definitely better, than I can see?

I’d like to explore these questions a little further. Will you explore with me?

Over the next couple of weeks, just because I’m kind of like Rob Petry and can’t seem to find my writing mojo, I’d like to give myself a little task. To write about dreams and see where this gets me.

Now tell me, what do you dream about? What do you think about dreaming big dreams for your life? Where have your dreams led you? How would you respond to the questions I’ve posted above?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Great Townhouse Project of 2013 - Before and After

"How was your summer?"

The question everybody asks when school starts again. Usually I can just say, "Great! Really fun!" but this year I had to hesitate.

Great? Sort of.

Fun? Um . . .

Yes, I got to take a truly amazing trip with my mom and sisters--that was the highlight, for sure.

But to be perfectly honest, this past summer was a hard one for me. It was full of hard work--physically hard work--which can be gratifying, but also exhausting. 

It was also a lonely summer for me. Sure, I had helpers occasionally, but a lot of the time I worked alone. Just me and Pandora.

Toward the end, I wondered if the project would ever get finished. I wondered if we'd run out of money. I wondered if the guys at Home Depot knew my name yet. And I wondered what every other person I knew was doing, because for sure they were having more fun than me.

Yes, I got whiney. Hey, I was tired! The project definitely took its toll on me, and I was happy to be finished with it.

I think my favorite day was the day we took the final set of pictures (some of which I'm showing you here). My word, the house looked beautiful! (Of course, it's full of college girls now, so who knows what it looks like, but I'm sure it's in good hands.)

So, because so many of you have asked, here are some final pictures of the Great Townhouse Project of 2013. 

Let's start in the basement. It's hard to see how nasty it was before because it's basically one big, open room, but here's the before photo. 

See those tiny wooden slats on the ceiling? I painted each and every one of those suckers. That's right.

And here's the finished product (a few furniture pieces were added after we took this photo): 

I know this doesn't thrill you much, but I have to include some pictures of the utility room. Early in the summer, B took on the utility room as his own personal project. On the first day, he moved the washer and dryer to clean behind them and found not one . . . not two . . . but THREE thongs . . . in which, it seems, some mice had made a very nice, if not thin, nest. 

Thankfully the mice were nowhere to be seen this summer, once we removed their *ahem* bed.

Here was the utility room before (note the cans of paint and paint thinner tucked back behind the furnace. That's right! We nearly had a heart attack.):

And the utility room after (notice the brand new water heater. My pride and joy.):

OK, moving upstairs. Remember the half bath on the main floor? Seriously disturbing sponge painting in a funky green and gold. Still gives me shivers to think of that.

And the filth! Ugh. All over the house. I just couldn't capture it with my camera (these are the times when an infrared camera would have been helpful).

Anyway, here's the downstairs bathroom now:

Sadly, this picture doesn't capture the gleaming grout on the floor, but let's just say that hours on my hands and knees with a bottle of Soft Scrub (twice!) really did the trick. 

Moving on to one of my biggest projects of the summer, the kitchen. Remember the ugly green walls (what was WITH the previous owners and ugly green?)? The hideous checkered/appled wallpaper border?

Also before (note, again, the filthy grout):

When the water heater blew, we decided that replacing the kitchen floor would have to wait for another year or so. So, once again, I grabbed the Soft Scrub and went to town on the grout. (Thinking over that now, I probably should have sealed the grout when I was finished. Next summer.)

Here's the kitchen now:

Don't you love the indoor/outdoor rug that I bought from a friend for $20? It covers a multitude of sins cracks.

Here's another angle, looking back the other way:

I know you can't tell from this picture, but, trust me, that grout is CLEAN.

Moving into the living room. Here's where the biggest transformation took place, I think.

Before (sorry it's a blurry picture, but I wanted you to see the old dining room chandelier and the opening into the kitchen:

And one more from before (take a good look at the floor):

And here's the living room now:

I absolutely LOVE the new floor we had installed. It took a big chunk of our budget, but it was so worth it. (And I have to stop and say that Empire--yes, that Empire--was fantastic to work with. Who knew?!)

Moving upstairs. On the first day, Julia and I were immediately grossed out by this:

We never knew what that was dripping all over the wall, but this was the state of the stairway going upstairs. 

Here is the stairway (headed upstairs) today (sorry, the sun was shining very brightly that morning):

No drips. No splatters. No hair or lint covering the carpet. Just a nice, clean stairway. Ahhhhh.

The bedroom at the top of the stairs used to be bright yellow.

Now it's a soothing color of grayish/periwinkle (B thinks it's purple. No.).

Be prepared because a seriously nasty picture is coming your way. Remember the hall bathroom? The one with the shower and the hideously filthy floor? 


(I warned you!)

Soooo much better now. I might even use it.

Quickly now, let's head to the master bedroom (I only call it that because the bathroom is attached, or en suite, as they call it in Europe.). This is the room that was totally tan--even the ceiling. It was so dark in there, I don't know how anybody could stand it.

Here it is now:

And from another angle:

Here's the totally tan bathroom before:

And after:

I know, I know, it's not that much of a change, but I think the lighter color really makes everything look bigger, don't you?

So there you go. My summer project is complete, and I hope I never have to do that much work on a house in eight weeks again. 

Until next time. . . .

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Mama Story

Tell the story, they say. Just tell the story.

About how you are a spoiled mama because your girls go to college eight blocks from home and how you know you’re spoiled and you don’t take it for granted. Tell about how you know that they will leave at some point and that’s OK.

Even though you may not like it, it’s still OK.

Tell the story about how Kate needed to go for a while. How we all agreed that she needed to do this, as hard as it might be.

Tell the story about how she decided in the last week, at the very last minute that she didn’t really want to go but that what she really wanted to do was to stay here with her friends for her senior year. And how she sat you down on the Monday before she was supposed to leave on Thursday and how she looked you in the eye and said, “I don’t want to go.”

Tell the story about how that crushed your soul. How everything in you wanted to keep her here—who needs to fly away anyway?—but how everything in you knew that the best thing for her would be to get out of her hometown for a little while. So you sat with her, listened, and then said, “You do not have a compelling reason to stay home. You don’t have a dad who is sick. Your family is not in crisis. You just don’t have a good reason.”

And then, how you said, “But you do have one compelling reason to go.”

“What’s that?” she said through arms tightly crossed over her chest and a slight sneer on her face.

“Because you signed up. You told them you were coming. You said you’d be there; people are counting on you. And God has things to teach you there.”

You signed up.

Tell the story about how you went to visit your girl last weekend and how much fun it was to be with her, how easy, and how much you wanted to pack her in your suitcase and take her right back home with you, but you didn’t. Instead you bravely hugged her and tried not to cry and said, “I’ll see you at Thanksgiving.”

While inside you were thinking, “Thanksgiving is so stinking far away.”

You signed up, mama.

You signed up for a lifetime of heart-tugs and breath-catches. You signed up for a lifelong battle with your own will that wants to protect your girl and shower her with stuff and make her feel good about herself when you know in your heart that the best thing for her is to let her go and not provide every blessed thing she might want and to sometimes tell the truth about who she is.

Tell the story about how you got on that homeward bound plane with a sinking, sad feeling inside and tears ready to spill. How you didn’t want to let go of her or leave her there or wait three long months before you stroked her beautiful, long, brown hair again.

Tell the story about how not a minute goes by that you're not thinking about your girls—all three—and praying that they are OK.

The story of motherhood is fraught with longing and tears and wonder. It’s a story that’s hard to tell, with emotions so deep they cannot be spoken. It’s a journey that wears you out with frustration and regret and love.

But it’s also fraught with high-fives from little victories and loud laughter and knowing that you both have done the right thing.

Not the easy thing, for the easy thing would keep her right here, tucked safely beneath your wing.

You didn't sign up for the easy thing. You signed up for the right thing the moment you became a mother.

The right thing. Because right is always better in the end.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Good Reads

Happy long weekend!

Here are a few links that I've enjoyed this week (or last). Maybe they will fill a few quiet moments as you enjoy some time off.

5 Ways We're Making Parenting Harder :: Amen and amen! Would everyone just settle down already?

Saying Goodbye to My Child, the Youngster :: by Michael Gerson. For those of you sending kids off to college or those of you who might someday send you kid off to college. Get the kleenex handy!

And then, speaking of parenting, there's Miley. Obviously you don't have to click on these links, but just in case you're interested in what I think are some good perspectives on the situation. . . .

Dear daughter, let Miley Cyrus be a lesson to you :: Roadkill Goldfish. "Dear Daughter, I am going to fight or die trying to keep you from being like Miley Cyrus."

And then this for the sons:

Dear son, don't let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you :: The Matt Walsh blog. Such a great perspective.

That's it for this week. Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Kicking the Bucket List in Europe: Part 3

When last I left you, we were just finishing up the cruise portion of our trip. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to my sister, Jodi, when we docked in Basel, our last stop (actually, she left in the middle of the night, so I'm not sure we properly said goodbye to her at all!). Jodi has a baby (have I mentioned that?) who needed to see her mama. Or maybe it was the other way around.

At any rate, Jodi had planned to stay for a week, then head home.

Sorry, Jodi. You'll have to save Switzerland for another time.


So, yes, Switzerland.

If it weren't so danged expensive, I would live here. Truly. It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

And I've been to a few places.

As I said, we docked in Basel, sorted out the luggage situation between those who were staying with the group (like us) and those who were heading elsewhere (I honestly don't know how they do that), and boarded a bus to take us into the Old Town.

Here's where I have to stop and say that our guide was lovely, the town was, I think, lovely as well, but I didn't take many pictures because a) I was getting tired and b) it was so. blasted. HOT.

(Are you sensing a theme here?)

Truth be told, we kind of dragged ourselves around Basel, as any good been-on-a-ship-for-a-week-and-we're-getting-a-little-tired-of-arranged-tours kind of tourists would do. Once the tour finished, we sat at an outdoor cafe for as long as we dared and basically just waited until we could get onto our air conditioned bus again.

Lame, I know.

Here's what I got out of Basel.

They have a beautiful medieval church.

In the summer, the church square is used as a huge outdoor movie theatre. I would have actually liked to stay and check that out at night--it looked very cool.

And, as in many places in Europe, nannies drag children around on leashes. On cobblestone streets.

Aren't these some of the most adorable children you've ever seen? That face!

And that's pretty much what I got out of Basel.

Except for Swiss Francs which I got out of the ATM.

After a half a day in Basel, we finally got on to our air conditioned(!) bus to drive about two hours to Lucerne.

Ahhhh, Lucerne.

I had never been there before, but I am fairly certain I will be back. What a beautiful town. Smaller than Zurich, easily walkable, and truly, truly gorgeous.

The famous wooden bridge--lots of history there. Mom, Jenn, and I walked the length of it one night after dinner.

Speaking of dinner . . . this is the restaurant where we ate, Pfistern. Historic and touristy--just how we like 'em! But the food was really good, AND we got to sit right on the water. So fun!

So many of the facades of the old buildings were painted--even the fascia! I was astounded by the Old Town as street after street looked just as they probably looked hundreds of years ago with cobblestone streets and painted buildings.

I really need to go spend more time here.

On Saturdays there is a wonderful outdoor market right along the river, filled with every kind of delicacy you can imagine--from flowers and fruits to fresh vegetables and cheeses. I am convinced that Heaven will have some sort of market like this for us to wander around.

On our second day in Switzerland we took a trip up Mt. Pilatus on the world's oldest and steepest cog wheel train. Just think about that for a minute. Me, who is terrified of heights, stepping on to, not only the steepest climb on a train that you can take, but also in the oldest train cars. Yeah, I was a little scared.

But not as scared as one guy in our group who decided just to hoof it back to Lucerne as fast as he could.

His loss.

Because here is the reward we received when we got to the top.

No, it's not a postcard, even though it looks like one. Truly breathtaking.

Especially at 8,000 feet. (Get it?!)

Three of the most beautiful women to ever grace the top of Mt. Pilatus. :)

Finally, I could not stop taking pictures of this tiny, tiny church sitting up on top of a nearby mountain peak. How I would love to be able to hike there and spend a day worshiping there.

Can you see the cross at the top of the peak?

The next day we boarded a little boat which would take us from one corner of Lake Lucerne to the other. I tried to take some pictures, but they really didn't do it justice.

And, besides, it was just too hot to take pictures. (Good grief! You'd think we were in Death Valley, not Switzerland, by the way I keep talking about how hot it was, but that's how it felt, y'all. It was so surprising and so unusual for Switzerland.)

Once we reached the shore, we boarded busses which would take us on a very memorable drive through the mountains and villages of Switzerland until we reached our final destination, Zurich. On our drive we rode past the Victorinox factory where Swiss Army knives are made--cool!--and the area which inspired Johanna Spyri to write the famous book, Heidi.

You can just imagine how gorgeous that was.

The last stop on our wonderful, amazing trip was Zurich. I had been to Zurich before--for about four hours on a Sunday night before catching a flight out the next morning--and knew how beautiful this city was. It was a special treat to be able to spend a little more time here.

Sadly, and probably because I had been here before, I didn't take many pictures here. It was pouring rain on the day of our tour, so the camera had to stay hidden underneath my jacket. And once the rain stopped, I was just too tired to even bring it out.

Suffice it to say that Zurich is definitely a place you want to put on your bucket list. It is beautiful. What more can I say?

I absolutely fell in love with the way they decorate with herbs and green plants there. Isn't that cool?!

Plus, they have fondue. Which is delicious. And made with my favorite food. I could eat it every day.

Go to Zurich. See it. Experience it. Walk your socks off and eat it up. Zurich is wonderful.

Finally, reluctantly, we got on a plane and headed home.

When I say it was the trip of a lifetime, I really mean it. Never again will I be able to experience just this trip with these special people whom I love and meet the new friends we met and see the exact things we saw. It was absolutely magical, and I'll never forget it.

Thanks, Mom, from the bottom of my heart.


Kicking the Bucket List in Europe: Part 1
Kicking the Bucket List in Europe: Part 2