Friday, November 20, 2015

Fabulous Friday Food :: Butternut Squash Soup

Is it just me, or did Thanksgiving creep up behind us, tap us on the shoulder, and surprise the heck out of us? I felt bowled over on Monday when Julia told me this was her last week of school before Thanksgiving.

What?!

Of course, Thanksgiving is easy to miss since Christmas decorations have already been up since before Halloween. Again, is it just me? Or is this just WAY TOO EARLY?!

I hate to roll my eyes at Christmas--it's not Christmas's fault--but Thanksgiving is pretty special in my book. So, if it's all the same to you, I'm going to relish this last week before all the crazy. I'm going to plan my Thanksgiving menu and linger over time with my family this week. I'm going to eat every single traditional food in my repertoire and binge on carbs.

And for one more week (hopefully more), I'm going to focus on what I'm thankful for without the loud music and shiny decorations and irritated shoppers getting in my way.

See, this is why I love Thanksgiving. It's quiet. It's reflective. It's delicious (!). It's family time.

Minus all the hoopla.

So let's talk about the Thanksgiving meal. I usually do all the traditional foods--turkey, stuffing (my mom's recipe with sage, apples, and raisins), mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, cranberries, pumpkin AND pecan pies . . . and anything else I feel like making.

This year there will be something new on our table. It's a little recipe I've been working on this fall, and I think I've finally gotten it where I want it.

(A little back story. A couple of months ago B and I went into the city to see a play, and we had dinner at a little Italian place near the theater. That night I had the most delicious butternut squash soup that made me so happy, and I realized that I could probably go home and replicate it. I read a bunch of recipes--who knew there were so many ways to make one kind of soup?--and put together the elements that I liked best to come up with this. So that's my inspiration for this recipe.)

So here we go with Butternut Squash Soup for your (and my!) Thanksgiving meal.


Start with a good sized butternut squash. (If you get the pre-cubed squash from the grocery store, buy two packages because you'll need a lot.) Cut it into cubes and set aside.


Now chop an onion and an apple. That's right--an apple. Any old apple will do, as long as you take the skin off first.

Melt three tablespoons of butter (you could substitute olive oil if you want) in the bottom of a dutch oven, then add the squash, onion, and apple.

(OK, sorry about the low-quality pictures. I was in a hurry and grabbed my phone. Grrr.)

Spend about 10 minutes caramelizing the vegetables. (I KNOW an apple is a fruit. It's just easier to say one thing instead of two).

Once you have a nice, golden brown color on everything, pour 3-4 cups of chicken broth over, just until you reach the top of the mixture. (Don't go any higher or your soup will be runny. Trust me on this one. You can add more broth later if you think you need it.) Throw in a couple sprigs of thyme.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Allow the vegetables to simmer in the broth for 30-45 minutes until the squash is very tender.

(True confessions: In this batch I used a little too much broth and the soup turned out a little thin. In the next batch I just covered the vegetables and it turned out thicker. Learn from my mistakes, people.)

When all the veggies are cooked, turn off the heat and get out your handy-dandy immersion blender that your sweet daughter gave you for Christmas last year (I love this tool!). You could also use a regular blender, but it's a little messier process. Anyway, blend everything together until it's very smooth.

Now add the nutmeg, paprika, salt and pepper, cream, and butter. Mmmmmm.

Stir over low heat for another few minutes and you're done!


I like to sprinkle a few toasted pumpkin seeds over the top, but you could also use some homemade croutons, which would be yummy.

This will be on my Thanksgiving table this year. How about yours?

Leave me a comment and let me know what your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is. I'd love to hear from you!

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

****
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Also, check out my Recipes page for lots more family-friendly, easy to make meal ideas. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Talking to Your Kids About Paris at Mothers of Daughters


Hi there!

Today I'm writing over at the Mothers of Daughters blog about something really important: talking to your kids about Paris. Here's the beginning of the article, but hop on over to Mothers of Daughters to read the rest.

*****
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was busy getting my three girls ready for the day. Two were in elementary school; my youngest was only three. My husband called to tell me that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, and suddenly I was faced with a huge parenting dilemma.
How do I begin to explain this to my girls?
I’m sure some of you have daughters (and sons) who are at a vulnerable age—old enough to hear the news and to know some of what happened in Paris over the weekend, yet young enough to not quite understand terrorism or the implications of the weekend’s events.
It’s tricky, being a parent sometimes. We want to shield our kids from the ugliness of the world, and yet we know we can’t. How, as believers, do we handle the gruesome reality of our day? How do we instill hope in our kids in a world that seems hopeless?
In all honesty, I don’t know all of the answers. I just don’t. I don’t know how to handle difficult situations perfectly. And that’s why I need Jesus so much. I need His help and His guidance every day as I raise my daughters.
Click here to read four tips to help talk to your kids about Paris.

*****
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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Letter to My Daughters :: On Red Cups, Enemies, and Taking Offense



Dear Daughters,

I’ve been out of town for a few days, as you know. And, as you also know, when I’m out of town I don’t always keep up with the current trends in culture or in the news. So when I resurfaced from my trip yesterday I started reading all kinds of posts about red cups and how somebody, supposedly a Christian, got offended by them because they don’t say “Merry Christmas” or something like that and how somehow because something was left off of a red cup all of a sudden it’s an affront to Christians everywhere.

That was one thing.

But what I saw more than that were posts—lots of them—from other Christians bashing these supposed ticked off Christians for getting offended about the red cups.

And, after resurfacing from a few days away and trying to piece this story together, I felt a sudden and pronounced disconnect: how could I not find anything from this supposed “bad guy” whom everyone assumed got upset over a red cup? And how could I be reading more and more posts from the self-acclaimed “good guys” who were offended by the “bad guy” being offended?

I didn’t get it. I felt like I was missing something.

Girls, I mean this with all sincerity: don’t get involved in stuff like that. Don’t be a part of the problem, pointing fingers at other Christians for what they may or may not have done. Don’t get embroiled in name-calling. Don’t get so easily offended, especially by other believers.

Because here’s what I know: The world is not our enemy. The world is lost. That’s all. The world loves darkness more than it loves the light, and in scripture, Jesus took pity on people like that. He wasn’t afraid of them—He just loved them because they didn’t know the truth.

Here’s another thing I know: Other Christians are not our enemy either. Oh, we see lots of backbiting and fighting among Christians today. It’s like we’ve lost sight of the true battle, the real enemy. This is nothing new—even in the Bible the Pharisees and the disciples argued among each other (a lot!), but Jesus told them to just stop it (see John 6:43).

What I also know is this: The enemy is our enemy. And right now I see the enemy working overtime to get Christians to destroy each other. All he has to do is sit back and watch, laughing at our harsh words, daggers, thrown at each other over something so trivial, so inane, that the rest of the world shakes its head and walks away. The enemy wants us to eat each other up (or, in this case, drink each other down) over semantics and rumors and flat out lies so that the world will have just one more excuse to not see Jesus.

This isn’t about red cups or coffee or even Christmas. It’s not about who got offended by what or by whom. Truthfully, this whole ridiculous thing that will be gone in a week makes my head hurt.

And that’s partly my point.

Getting caught up in name calling, especially in name calling against other believers, is a tactic that the enemy uses over and over again. It makes Christians look small, like we have nothing better to talk about (or fight over).

But you and I know the truth—there are so many more important things to talk about. Like children sniffing glue underneath a highway in Sao Paulo. Or Christians being beheaded in orange jumpsuits on a beach in Egypt. Or children being abandoned right here in our very own city.

Bad stuff happens every day. Big stuff. Important stuff that is worth our time and attention.

Stuff that is an affront to our Lord and should be an affront to us.

Yet another difficult truth is this: we can’t solve all of the big problems in the world It’s all too much, too big. In John 6, the disciples told Jesus that they really wanted to follow Him, but they thought they had to DO something, to FIX something, to FEED someone. They thought that following Him meant work.

But Jesus answered them with words that make me stop every time I read them. He said, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). That’s it. Just believe.

Because when we truly believe, everything else falls into place. We know our calling, we know our job, and, most importantly, we know our enemy.

Red cups? Enemies? Taking offense? You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with you.

Here’s what I want you to hear today, dear daughters: there are so many things in this world that you could choose to get upset about. Getting your feelings hurt isn’t one of them.

Keep believing.

Love,

Mom

Thursday, October 29, 2015

#blessed




Monday was a surprise.

Just a normal Monday. Nothing on the calendar (except, of course, "The Voice").

Nothing much for dinner (except for homemade Butternut Squash Soup and some salad).

Really, nothing going on at all (except for the usual homework/laundry/Monday stuff).

Until Daughter #1 bursts through my front door all smiles (as usual) and a huge, “Hello!”

Suddenly my day was no longer just . . . usual.

She plops down on a stool at the counter and begins to recount her really terrible, awful, horrible, no good, very bad day. (It really was.)

This kid. Even though her day had cost her some serious money (hello, new brakes!) and a doctor visit, she still burst through the door as she always does—with an effervescent “Hello!”

She reminds me that I am blessed.

Daughter #1 leaves for a dinner appointment, and daughter #2 calls: “I’m coming for dinner.”

Yes you are, sweet girl. Even though it’s just soup and salad and an ordinary Monday night, you are always welcome to drop in and eat with us.

Suddenly my day is getting even better.

I quickly shout to Daughter #3 who's upstairs: “Hey, Caroline’s coming for dinner and it’s her half birthday today! Would you please run to the store to get a cake?”

All hands on deck now. Julia whisks away with her keys and my debit card.

Suddenly we’re having a party.

B comes home, the girls walk in, and just as the four of us are making our way to the table, Kate glides back in the door having just finished her appointment.

Suddenly, the five of us are standing around the kitchen island, each one talking over the other (I swear we should have been Greek, or at the very least Italian) and I have an out-of-body moment. Everyone is shouting to be heard, the noise level is just about at peak capacity--even the dog is excited!--and I realize that we are here

Together. 

All five of us. 

Completely unexpected.

And I smile because I know, in that brief moment, how very blessed I am.

*****

We have a joke in our house about the #blessed thing on Instagram. We’re nothing if not a little bit snarky and the “blessed” hashtag really brings out the full-on snark sometimes.

Got an A on a paper? #blessed

No traffic today? #blessed

Hey! Some mom on Facebook got her kid to use the big potty! #blessed

My Christmas shopping is done before Halloween! #blessed

(And also? #ihateyou)

Sometimes I feel like telling people like the guy in The Princess Bride did: “Idonotthinkthatmeanswhatyouthinkitmeans.”

But these people standing around my kitchen island all talking over each other, competing for each other’s attention, telling about our days?

That’s a stop-in-mid-sentence-and-hover-over-this-one-for-a-while moment.

I know I am blessed in so many ways, but I don’t equate blessing with material goods or my behavior or even the behavior of my kids. In fact, the idea of #blessing is sometimes confusing to me, elusive even. I’m not sure I fully get it.

I know I don’t always see it. (My sarcasm assures me of that.)

But every once in a while I am able to step out of myself and realize the greatest blessings are right in front of me—a wonderfully impromptu family gathering on a random and very usual Monday night with the four most important people in the world to me.

It makes me want to cry I am so #blessed.

*****

Here’s something else I thought about later that night after all of my people had gone back to their respective homes and bedrooms: you mamas who don’t feel so #blessed right now.

Those of you who are scrambling to come up with Halloween costumes two days before the event. (Just one of the 1,656 reasons I hate Halloween.)

Those of you who just cannot get your three-year-old to use that big potty.

Those of you whose husbands put in long hours at work and come home tired and maybe a little bit cranky and who just might need a night off from putting the kids to bed so you step in and try your best to be cheerful about it.

Those of you who tried to scrape together something resembling “dinner” when you are two days away from payday and not much left in the pantry or in the bank account.

I get it all.

How many mamas are going to bed worn out, depleted, wondering if anyone will ever notice all the work you do or if these kids will always be so draining or if you’ll ever get a good night’s sleep?

Can I just whisper some encouragement in your ear?

They do notice, whether they tell you or not.

They won’t always drain you. In fact, some day they will thank you.

You will sleep again.

And one day, when you least expect it, on a random Monday night, your beloved ones (who are, by now, potty trained) will light up your kitchen and you’ll have an out of body experience and you’ll realize that your entire life has been one very huge, totally amazing, incredibly undeserved #blessing.

*****

I love sharing stories and I love that you read them. I'd so appreciate it if you'd sign up for email updates (you can do that on the right hand side over there), follow me on Facebook or Instagram, or leave me a comment below. I'm so glad you're here! 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I'm Telling Stories at Mothers of Daughters Today!


We’ve had trouble with trees.
When my middle daughter was just four years old, she, her older sister, and I got caught in a tornado. As we ran for shelter, Caroline was nearly crushed underneath a huge maple tree that uprooted itself just three seconds after she ran past it. (I’m not even exaggerating!)
God spared her life right in front of my eyes.
Then, just three summers ago, another huge storm caught my husband by surprise as he drove home from church one Sunday morning. He pulled into our driveway and suddenly a tree came crashing through his windshield, just barely missing his head. As glass shattered around him and the storm raged outside, my husband was trapped inside his car.
But he was safe. Not a scratch on him!
Both of these instances have caused our family some consternation, but also a lot of rejoicing because they have made us aware of God’s protection over our family.
* * * * *
Both of those stories are true! I'm over at Mothers of Daughters today talking about how our family stories shape us. Won't you join me there for the rest of the story

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fab Friday Food: The BEST Grilled Cheese

Never thought you'd see another food post, right? Well, it's fall, and it's the time of year when I feel like cooking and sharing great recipes. I don't know why, but something about fall motivates me. I love the crisp days and cool nights, the leaves turning red and orange and yellow, the pumpkins. All of it.

Fall is my jam.

So today, because it's fall (or autumn, depending on where you live), I decided to dust off the Fabulous Friday Food series here on the old blog and tell you about the very best grilled cheese sandwich I've ever had.

Settle in. This may take a while.


*****

A few weeks ago my friend Kim and I headed into the city to meet our daughters for lunch. Kim's daughter is a couple of months away from having her first baby--woot!--and it was fun to catch up with her. Kate, of course, lives in the city and has repeatedly told me about this spot called The Allis where she sometimes goes to work or to meet friends.


I've been wanting to try The Allis, which is located in the Soho House Chicago, so that's where we decided to meet for lunch.


Let me just say right now that I'm surprised that they didn't just shoo us out the door the minute we walked in because that place is WAY TOO COOL for the likes of me. With its industrial decor and hipster vibe, I felt slightly out of place . . . but not enough to make me run. (I'm always up for a challenge.)

Besides, I LOVED the atmosphere, and as long as they didn't mind us old ladies sitting in their lobby munching on lunch (we did, after all, have our very cool daughters with us), I didn't mind the hipsters walking back and forth carrying their portfolios and working on their laptops.

We sat on an overstuffed sofa and soft, retro armchairs around an antique glass coffee table. Chic. We ordered lunch, and very soon I forgot about feeling out of place because suddenly I was in heaven. I had ordered the short rib grilled cheese sandwich (because I like to watch my calories, you know), and I was transported into another realm. The realm of the divine grilled cheese.


This was, without a doubt, the most innovative and delicious grilled cheese sandwich I had ever tasted. And I've tasted a few.

When I got home I could not stop thinking about that silly sandwich. It was a mix of amazing cheeses, caramelized onions, and short rib meat. All on brioche bread.

Divine.

About a week later I made a pot roast (I used Ree's recipe, I think) and had a little left over in the fridge. The next day my mind started to wander back to the amazing grilled cheese from The Allis and it hit me--leftover pot roast is similar to short rib meat, so I could recreate that sandwich right in my own kitchen.

Of course, we'd have to eat it at home rather than at the hipster joint known as the Soho House, but we put on our thick glasses and knit caps and did our best to recreate the experience.

Anyway, here's how I did it.

I took a beautiful loaf of brioche bread and cut it into thick slices.


Then I caramelized some onions slowly in a little olive oil and butter with about a teaspoon of fresh thyme. (There's just something about adding fresh thyme to caramelized onions. Thank you, Ina for that hint!)

I shredded some of the pot roast with two forks and warmed it just briefly in the microwave to take the edge off the coldness from the fridge.

I shredded some cheese--white cheddar and gruyere, I think. Fontina might also be a nice addition.


Then I assembled.

Bread (buttered, of course).


Onions.


Cheese. Lots.


Meat.


And then I pressed the whole thing in a panini press until it was golden brown and melty.

Oh my!


You know what? A fancy grilled cheese, even though it's easy to make, feels like such an indulgence on a chilly evening. Serve it with some soup and you've got a great meal.

Go ahead, give it a try! You won't regret it at all.

So tell me, what are you cooking this weekend? Leave me a comment and let's talk food!

*****
I love sharing stories and I love that you read them. I'd so appreciate it if you'd sign up for email updates (you can do that on the right hand side over there), follow me on Facebook or Instagram, or leave me a comment below. I'm so glad you're here! 

You also know that I have a Recipes page, right? Just click on "Recipes" above and you'll find lots of inspiration for the week ahead. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Why I'm Hosting an IF:Local


I sat in the darkened theater surrounded by 2,498 strangers. I knew only one person in the room—my friend, Rebecca, with whom I had traveled to Austin, TX.

I fidgeted in my seat, self-conscious and nervous as I always am in a large group of women (I have issues), waiting for the event to begin. Lights dimmed. Sparse stage. Heightened sense of anticipation.

The music began and 2,500 women rose to their feet in worship.

And suddenly I was among friends.

Twenty-five hundred friends all asking the same question: “If God is real, then what?”

In other words, what kind of difference can we make in our world if we truly believed that God is real, that He is FOR us, and that He has good work for us to do for Him?

Important questions in this day and age. Questions of life and death, really.

Over the past year I have thought often of the words I wrote down in my notebook last February.

“We are at war and the prize is faith, and we let Satan have it all. the. time.”

“The story is not about us. It is about a God who can do anything.”

“In every transition in life, Satan will bring a spirit of fear.” 

“You cannot hold on to the past and take hold of the future. It’s time to move on.”

“Jesus is very precious about his church.”

“God has put purpose and potential within you, but it is all for His kingdom. You have to lay down your life.”

The IF:Gathering changed me. It challenged me. It caused me to look at things in my life in a new way and to be renewed in my calling to pursue Christ and the work He has for me.

When the weekend was over, Rebecca and I looked at each other and said, “We need to bring this home.” We returned to our little tree-lined neighborhood excited about IF and wanted to share that excitement with women right here in our own community.

Over the past several months I have prayed about what God would have me do with all of this. I’ve had conversations with my husband, with friends, with pastors. And I’ve prayed some more.

In the end, I’ve felt led to bring an IF:Local gathering here, to Wheaton. I’m taking small steps of faith and obedience in this every day. I have no idea how God is going to pull this off—it feels kind of big—but I know without a doubt that He will show up in a big way and that women who come to the event will leave changed.

A small group of amazing women who share this vision have come alongside me and we’re making strides and decisions and we’re dreaming big dreams for our community.

So if you’re in Wheaton, IL on February 5 and 6, 2016, you are more than welcome to join us. We’ll make sure we have plenty of room.

And if you’re in the area and interested in being involved, please let me know. (You can find my email address on my “About” page or you can just leave me a comment below.) Even better, if you attend an area church and want to help spread the word—everyone’s invited!—please let me know that as well.

This isn't about a church or a person or a movement. It's about women who want more--more of this abundant life that Jesus promises to us. More of HIM.

God has big plans for us, friends. I know this. He wants to be involved in our lives. He wants us to be brave. He wants us to live to the glory of His name.

Won’t you join me?

*****

You can find out more about the IF:Gathering here. Registration for both the Austin and Local gatherings opens next week, so get ready!


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Most Beautiful View


This summer I had the incredible opportunity to spend a day in one of the most beautiful places on earth—the island of Capri, just off the Amalfi Coast in Italy. This tiny island is both rugged and sophisticated at the same time. Its beauty is utterly captivating.

B and I, along with our daughter, Kate, had just come off what was, for me, a harrowing chair lift experience (long story that you can find on Instagram) and decided it was time to find some lunch, so we stopped in the first restaurant we found. Turns out, it was a good choice—the pizza was amazing and the views of the Mediterranean Sea were spectacular.


We were seated in the middle of the room because all of the tables next to the windows were taken by tourists enjoying the view. Everyone, that is, except for the table next to ours, which was occupied by an American family—Mom, Dad, and two teenage-ish daughters.

On their phones.

All four of them.

Heads down. Thumbs scrolling.

I watched them, stunned that this was even happening. (Don’t worry. There was no chance that they’d even notice me staring at them.)

Did they not realize that the spectacularly blue Mediterranean Sea was about a thousand feet straight below them? Did they not see the picturesque whitewashed houses with their bougainvillea vines blossoming red? Did they not appreciate the stunning atmosphere of Capritown with its cobblestone streets and ritzy shops that smelled of expensive leather?



What on Facebook could be so important that this family would barely even glance out the window?

Their food came and I thought surely they would put the phones away—doesn’t everybody do that? But nope, there they sat, eating and scrolling and not talking.

(Except for one sister to say to the other, “Oh, hey, did you hear that Tiffany bought a prom dress already?”)

I seriously wanted to send all four of them packing! They didn’t deserve to be there, in the most beautiful place on Earth eating some of the freshest tomatoes on the most delicious homemade pasta they will ever taste.

If it hadn’t been for my daughter kicking me under the table, I probably would have leaned over and said something to them.

More than being annoyed (although I was this, too), I felt sorry for them. Here was a family that had probably long ago given up trying to talk to each other. Here were parents who were relieved that their daughters had found something to do. Here were girls who were glad to not have to interact. It was all kind of sad to me.

Recently a friend mentioned that in their house they have “No Phone Zones,” and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that. This friend said that the kitchen table was one of their most sacred No Phone Zones because that is where all the important work got done. The family work. The work of talking to and learning from each other. The work of acceptance. The work of communication.


Sacred work.

The view at the kitchen table is a holy view—the eyes of children and parents looking into one another’s and finding love and restoration. Here is where we look past the blue and green and brown to look into the hurts or joys of the day. Here is where we check in to see if everything is all right.

Here is where we look deeply, intently, purposefully at the most beautiful view on Earth.

Do me a favor today, will you? Establish your table as a No Phone Zone. Take a few minutes to look one another in the eye, for this is where love begins and ends. Spend a few minutes checking in, taking account of each other’s day.

And then spend a few more minutes, lingering over the view.

*****
I love telling stories and I love that you read them. I'd so appreciate it if you'd sign up for email updates (you can do that on the right hand side over there), follow me on Facebook or Instagram, or leave me a comment below. I'm so glad you're here!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

When the President's Struggles Look Very Much Like Mine




Earlier this summer the New York Times ran an article about President Obama’s recent show of emotion in which he admitted to unexpected tears over his soon-to-be empty nest.

The Times reported, “Mr. Obama has admitted that he has been blindsided recently by fits of sadness, many of them prompted by the thought of his daughters — 14-year-old Sasha, who graduated this month from middle school, and 16-year-old Malia, who will go to college next year — growing up.”

I get it, Mr. Obama. I really get it. Funny how they do that, isn’t it? Grow up?

And how we parents have no say in the matter. It’s really unfair.

And yet . . . our kids will grow up and leave us one of these days. It’s just a simple fact of life that not only they, but we also, have to get used to. Even the President isn't pardoned from this one.

It seems that in my stage of life many of my friends are going through the same thing. We’re bracing ourselves for the inevitable, almost like bracing yourself for a head-on collision or a plane crash, which is exactly what this feels like sometimes. We’re just holding on for dear life.

I received an email recently from a friend who is struggling with many of the same emotions that President Obama has confessed. Her oldest left for college a few weeks ago, and she realized that her family would not look the same again, not even be under the same roof again, for a long time.

My friend said that she’s just not sure how she’s going to do it, how she’s going to be O.K. amidst all the change going on in her family, because, as she honestly admitted, “I don’t feel O.K. right now.”

Oh boy, do I ever get that. I really do.

***

Sometime about halfway through my motherhood journey I recognized this little habit I had developed. I realized that periodically throughout each day I did a mental check of where each of my children were, physically. I’m a visual person anyway, and picturing where each of them was at any given moment gave me a sense of stability, like the ground underneath me was still firm.

It was much easier to conduct my mental geographical checks when the girls were younger. Their elementary school was right around the corner from our home; I even knew where they sat in each classroom. Middle school and high school got a little trickier because I didn’t know where, specifically, they were throughout the day, but at least I knew the halls they were roaming.

In college, the mental checks became even more difficult—I knew they were at school and not somewhere else in the country—but the geographical checking in started to loosen its hold on me, even though my kids were never far from my thoughts.

The fact of the matter is I don't know where my kids are all the time. I can't possibly. 

I fool myself into thinking that by mentally checking in I have some small bit of control. The truth is, I don’t have any control. None. And I never really have.

And that’s exactly when the ground shifts beneath our feet, doesn't it? When we realize we don’t know exactly where our kids are every minute of the day. Or when we begin to recognize that they have formed opinions different from our own. Or when we send them off to foreign countries and they choose to stay.

We glance around at our family landscape and we see that this tribe that we have grown, watered, and nourished for the past 18 years will never look exactly the same again. It’s like the ground was never really firm beneath us, only made of sand that is now wet and slowly moving underneath our feet, morphing into a new shape.

Our kids grow up. They grow out. They grow away.

My job is to prepare, to love, and to loosen my grip.


***

I've read lots and lots of posts lately from sad parents sending their kids off to college. Some, especially the first timers, sound almost despairing:

I just dropped my baby off at college and cried for the entire 15 hour drive home.

What will my life be without my child here?

Who will I become if I don't have to do his laundry?

Come home, little bird! Come home!

I will never say it is easy, this letting go. Plenty of moments I have to stop, take a deep breath, and give myself a little pep talk that goes something like this: “You’ve done well. Your kids are prepared. This is what you’ve raised them for, so step back and watch them fly.” 

(And a whole lot of other back and forth that I won’t go into now lest you think I am a complete lunatic.)

Sometimes the pep talk works; sometimes it doesn’t.

When the pep talk fails, I go back to playing the "where are they?" game. Ridiculous.

Parents, our grown up kids don't need us to keep track of them every minute of the day. They don't need us to visit them at school during the first month (hear me, mama?). They really don't need us to call them every day (I once had a student whose mom called him five times a day!). And they certainly don't need us to show up and do their laundry (they should know how to do that by now).

You know what our kids really need? More than anything, our kids need our prayers. Because here's what I know, what is more sure than my daughters' location on this earth, more comforting that thinking I have done anything to keep them "safe." God hears me. He hears every mournful sigh I breathe. He hears every plea on their behalf. And he answers. I've seen it.

Another thing I know, more certain than the sun coming up each morning: He knows my kids. He knows their dreams. He knows what they yearn for. He knows what their strengths are. And He loves them so much more than I ever could, so I can be confident He will do what's best for them. 

To President Obama and my dear friend, here’s what I would tell you about your kids: You have loved them well. They are prepared. This is what you’ve raised them for. Now step back, let go, and watch them fly.

They are going to be just fine.

And so are you.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What I Learned at an Alan Jackson Concert

My husband and I went to a concert with some friends last night. For us, the evening meant the last concert of the summer and a chance to enjoy a perfect night, a yummy picnic, and Alan Jackson.

Yes, we do still live in the ‘80s.

(Here’s how old we are: AJ didn’t have his first hit until we had been married five years. Yikes!)

Anyway, after our picnic we headed to our seats, anticipating all sorts of toe-tapping and two-stepping.

(Well, maybe not the two-stepping. B isn’t much for dancing.)

We settled in. Great seats. Happy campers.

Until a guy sat down in front of B. A very tall guy with even taller hair, and my husband, who isn’t short himself and doesn’t usually have trouble seeing over the tops of people’s heads, leaned over and said, “I can’t see a thing.”

Sorry, honey, I’m not trading seats with you because the woman in front of me was probably about four feet tall, I’m not even exaggerating.

I looked at the guy in front of us, and the first thing I noticed was that he and his wife were smiling. Huge. They were laughing like kids and saying things like, “These are really good seats!” and “I’m so excited! This is going to be great!” They seemed almost giddy to be there.

I took notice because who is really like that?

The concert started and that’s when the fun really began. You would think this guy had won the lottery for life. He was clapping, jumping up out of his seat, nodding his head, sometimes lost in his own little world of music. And his wife was the same—pure, unadulterated joy at being at just that place at just that time.

They got up and danced—a lot—which then made us get out of our seats and do something that sort of looked like moving to the rhythm but might not be called dancing. Only because B couldn’t see through the guy and if you can’t beat ‘em (or see over them) you might as well join ‘em.

But you know what? That made the concert more fun. And soon all the people around us were dancing and singing to lyrics we haven’t sung in YEARS.

And it made me realize that pure, unadulterated joy is missing from my life. Oh sure, I am joyful. I’ve got the joy, joy, joy.

But that childlike bliss. That’s something different.

It’s like the kind you used to feel when you were a kid and your mom let you go outside on a rainy day and splash in the puddles in your pajamas and rain boots with no umbrella. You’d jump and jump and make all kinds of ruckus just because you could. And finally you’d be wet to the skin, laughing so hard because you just did that wonderful thing in your pajamas with the rain coming down.


That kind of joy.

I sensed that this guy, whoever he was, lived like this every day. That every day is a new experience to be had. That every experience was an opportunity for wonder. That every moment a chance to be filled with a glorious expression of awe at even being able to be a part of it all.

This man’s sense of joy and wonder was contagious. His friends seemed genuinely happy to be there. We actually got up out of our seats and danced. The people around us did too.

All because this guy—a grownup, adult man—was just. so. happy.

Can you imagine how he approaches his work each day? Yea! I get to go sit in a cubicle and crunch numbers for eight hours without talking to another human being. But I get to take a 15 minute break and a 30 minute lunch, which will be awesome. I will get to solve problems and handle difficult employees, too. And then tomorrow I get to do it all over again! What a fantastic life!

And, of course, it got me to thinking. What if I lived like that? What if I approached my day with that kind of attitude? Like, this is going to be so awesome, man!

I wonder if it would make the bigger obstacles seem just a little smaller and the small problems seems tiny. I wonder if every negative thought could be reduced by even a small percentage just because I approached life with a sense of wonder, awe, excitement even.

Because here’s the thing: as Christians, we have everything to be amazed about, everything to be thrilled about, everything to be downright giddy about. We are free to get up and dance and to live these lives we’ve been given with unabashed glee. Of all people, we should be rockin’ that jukebox (sorry, Alan) and throwing caution to the wind.

So today (and hopefully longer) I’ll be thinking about the Alan Jackson-loving man, giddy with excitement and thrilled to be in the moment.

And maybe, just a little more often, I’ll try to live my life like I’m jumping the heck out of the puddles.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

When You're Trying to Remember Who God Is


“Remind me who God is.”

These words keep ringing in my ears, a mandate from a grieving friend.

“Remind me who God is.”

She was desperate, hungry, despairing as we stood near the casket of her 26-year-old son. We hugged hard and she grabbed my shoulders, looking me square in the eyes and repeated her edict.

“Remind me who God is.”

That was two weeks ago, and her words keep ringing in my ears, my mind, my heart.

They say nobody should have to bury their child, but as I learned at a very young age the “shoulds” don’t mean much when reality is your only experience. Sure, nobody should have to bury their child, but they do. All the time. My friends just did, and my parents did too.

I’ve been short on words these past couple of weeks. My knees have felt weak. I haven’t slept well. I just keep thinking about the nightmare that our friends are living right now.

And I'm trying so hard to remember for myself who God really is.

Who is God when reality sets in? When real life comes knocking with a blow so forceful that you can’t stand against it? Who is God when everything you’ve planned for and dreamed of is altered, not just slightly but forever?

Death. Divorce. Illness.

Life has changed; it will never look, feel, taste the same as it did before.

And who is God through it all?

It’s OK to wonder—I know this. It’s OK to question and to doubt—examples abound throughout the Bible of people who really wondered about God. I mean, where would we be if we didn’t actually wonder about God? We’d be lemmings running for the edge of a cliff.

Wonder is OK. Wonder may even be good for us.

This morning I came as close as I could to feeling my way toward an answer. An answer that I can live with for now. And it may not even say as much about God as it does about me.

I read the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel. These were Daniel’s buddies who refused to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue. The story in Daniel 3 tells us that the king gives them one more chance to “do the right thing” and bow before his shiny likeness, but still the three refuse.

Here’s their rationale: “The God whom we serve is able to save us.”

That’s it. They believe that their God can do anything, even rescue them from a blazing furnace. It’s simple. It’s direct. It’s pure faith.

“The God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.”

But that’s not even the end of it. They go on: “But even if he doesn’t we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

“But even if he doesn’t . . .”

These words, strangely, give me so much hope. They have strengthened my faith in the past and they help today as I process the death of a too-young man.

You see, these words tell me that God can do anything—ANYTHING—but he also sometimes doesn’t intervene. This has to be OK because He is God. A powerful, mighty, all-knowing God who sometimes allows his children to suffer. 

What it also tells me is that we don’t always know why. Sometimes we can’t know, and sometimes we won’t know until a long way down the road, but God always knows His purposes. And while I don’t get it just now, I can trust that He’s got this.

The other good thing I know from this story in Daniel 3 is that God will never take us through that suffering alone. Remember the rest of the story? King N. throws Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace—he’s cruel that way—but he watches from a distance (also cruel if not creepy). What he sees when he looks into the fire is not three men walking around, but four.

He is certain he only threw three men into the fire, so why are there four men walking around unharmed? Because God had provided a rescuer. Some believe that Jesus himself walked through the fire with the three men; others believe it’s an angel. Whatever or Whoever it is, the point is that God did not leave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He provided a comforter, a rescuer, a way out.

Here’s the thing about grief: it sometimes feels like there will never be a way out of it. Sometimes it feels like a furnace, an actual blazing furnace, and that you will indeed die before you see the other side of it. It feels never-ending.

But here’s what I know about God: He has not left your side. He is there, walking right beside you, weeping with you, feeling the intensity of your pain, mourning your loss. He grieves with you. He does. Because He loves you.

“Remind me who God is.” Words I’ll be pondering for a long time.

Today I’m just beginning to remember.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Guest Posting at (in)Courage Today: Meeting God at the Post Office


The line in front of me was three deep, and only one man was working behind the counter.
Ugh. Why is it always like this at the post office? I glanced at my watch and wondered how long this would take.
It seems like I’m always in a hurry, and this day was no exception. My errand at the post office was an invitation to irritation because what I needed was so small — just a little additional postage for a square envelope that needed to be mailed that day. It should have taken only a few seconds, except for that line in front of me.
I heaved a sigh and took my place at the end of the line. Be patient, Shelly. Just slow down and be patient.
I glanced at the man behind the counter, chatting it up with his customer, a woman with a stroller. They seemed to be having a good time, laughing about this and that. Finally, she finished and the next woman stepped up to the counter. Same thing. Lively banter. Lots of smiles. Their cheerful conversation took maybe an extra minute or two.
Next up, the older gentleman in front of me. Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought. He probably won’t be much for small talk. . . .
****
Today I am honored to be guest posting at (in)Courage. Join me over there to read the rest of the story.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tuesday Giveaway: Rest and Repine

**Congratulations to Carolyn who won the beautiful French rolling pin from Rest and Repine! Thanks, everyone, for your interest!**

[Editor's note: Please take care to COME BACK HERE and leave a comment AFTER you have "Liked" Chad's FB or IG feeds in order to be signed up for the giveaway. Thanks!]



I love this quote because it reminds me that even what I do as a writer is not simply telling about things as they appear, but it's about digging beneath the surface to reveal an inner beauty, a deeper meaning, that "inward significance" that Aristotle called it.

Dinner becomes more than just four or five people sitting around a table consuming food. It is a celebration among family and friends; it is a sharing of experiences; it is giving thanks. The stories we share are not merely journalism--a reporting of facts--but rather an exploration into lives well lived or sorrows endured or laughter shared.

True art does not merely represent, it tells a story.

Today I want to tell you a story about a friend I met several years ago. I think he was among the first group of college kids that Kate brought home her freshman year, and over their four years at Wheaton College, Chad remained part of that large group who attended countless meals, parties, and gatherings at our house.

What always impressed me about Chad was his joyful smile and his curiosity about others. I noticed that he often would take time to talk to a friend one-on-one as others were loudly joking in a group. I appreciated the way he took time to talk to B and me, asking questions and looking us in the eye, something unique among most college-aged kids. Chad is a kind, thoughtful people-person who has never met a stranger.

What Chad didn't know as he studied at Wheaton was that he was also an artist. Not until he graduated and a friend's uncle offered to teach him woodworking did Chad realize that he had a gift for taking a piece of wood and making it into something useful and special.

1

Chad learned the craft of woodworking quickly and began taking orders for small pieces of furniture, even outfitting the patio of one of my favorite local restaurants with tables. Local designers began to take notice of his work and started asking him to create pieces for their clients.

2

And Chad's business, Rest and Repine, was born.

3

Now Chad is launching his business as a full-time venture, hoping to create art that will last for decades. He envisions his furniture as pieces that will tell stories, hand-crafted works of art that can be passed down for generations.

For the past year as things have taken off, Chad has been borrowing his friend's equipment, but now he would like to purchase his own. In order to do that, Chad has launched a kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise $15,000. When you contribute, you will receive a piece of Chad's art as a thank you.

4

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Looking for something a little bigger or more custom? Chad can do that! Just give him a call and he will work with you to design just the right piece for your family.

6

Good news! This week I am hosting a special giveaway of one of Chad's French rolling pins. This is a beautifully finished hardwood rolling pin that will last forever. I love it so much, but it will be yours if you win because you are my special readers.

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Here's all you have to do to be entered: "Like" Rest and Repine on Facebook or Instagram, then come back and leave a comment here telling me you've done that. If you visit Chad's website or his Indigogo campaign page, you can tell me that in another comment as well.

I will leave the giveaway open through Sunday night and announce the winner on Monday.

Will you help spread the word? It only takes a second to share this on your own Facebook or Instagram page. I know a recent college grad would really appreciate the support.

(And if you'd like to follow me on Facebook or Instagram, or if you'd sign up for email updates, I'd appreciate it too.)

Thanks, friends!

Photo credits: 1|2|3|6 - Rest and Repine; 4|5|7 - mine

Friday, August 7, 2015

Trip Report: A Celebration of 30

A very good year!

Good morning, friends! 

I've been struggling all week trying to decide whether I should write about our most recent trip or not. With the events of this summer swirling around in my brain (racial tensions, elections, and abortion videos), it seems rather inconsequential to share happy pictures of far-away places with you. 

And, to be honest, there's always the "oh, you got to go to ______" comment that makes me more than uncomfortable. (To think that anyone would harbor one ounce of jealousy for my life makes me both uncomfortable and sad. Each of our lives are amazing--we must know that.)

But in the end, here I am. I've decided to post a few pictures for you in hopes that you will celebrate with me, because that's what this trip was about. 

In June, B and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. As we drove to dinner that night (June 1, just in case you're interested), B looked at me and simply said, "Thirty years!" We laughed heartily and agreed that thirty years felt like an accomplishment--that it WAS an accomplishment--and that the years of hard work and commitment deserved to be celebrated. 

We've celebrated big anniversaries before, but this was the biggest (and longest) celebration so far. It wasn't a trip we took lightly; we planned and planned for HOURS before we left. We incorporated meaningful events into the trip. And we traveled with people we love. 

I've written about travel quite a bit in this space, probably, first, because I inherited the "wanderlust" gene from my grandfather. But second, and more importantly, I write about travel because every time I travel I learn something about God. He opens my eyes in new ways that I wouldn't see if I didn't experience it for myself.

And this trip was no exception.

So, for the celebration element and the what-I-learned-about-God element, I've decided to share our trip. Please don't think I take any of this for granted or that I feel somehow entitled to trips like this. It's simply in my DNA to want to wander around this great big globe and see how other people live.

*****
Our trip took almost 2 1/2 weeks and consisted of several parts.

Part 1: St. Andrews, Scotland

Our family is a golfing family, not so much in that we play it much (I haven't picked up a club in YEARS) but in that we love to watch it. And we have a couple of pretty good players in our family as well (shout out to my dad who plays his age and to my niece who is playing in an LPGA qualifying event this weekend). So, because we love golf and because we love St. Andrews and because we've done this a couple of times before, we simply had to start at the British Open.

B and me at the birthplace of golf.

My sister, Jenn, and her husband, Tom, got married the same year we did. We always travel with them for anniversaries.

Sorry about the fuzzy picture, but this helps explain what happened: 
For only the 2nd time in 144 years, the British Open did not end on Sunday. 
We missed the final round. :(

Part 2: Lucca, Italy

We wanted to spend some time in Tuscany, so we made our home base an apartment in Lucca. From there we took day trips to Cinque Terre, Florence, and the Chianti region. 

Lucca. We could not get enough of the quaintness and beauty of this town.

Corniglia, one of the five villages of the Cinque Terre.

Lovely Florence.


One of our best days was when we hired a driver to take us to three wineries in the Chianti region. This was the third and final stop of our day and, believe it or not, the most special. 
Yes, this is a winery. It is small. It is humble. But it produces some of the best Chianti wines around. 

This is Fernando who runs the Montefiorelli winery with his son. After our wonderful tasting in his vineyard, he grabbed two bottles of wine to give to each of us, then signed them in remembrance and celebration of our anniversaries. I'll never forget that day.

Part 3: Rome

We had to spend a few days in Rome, right? Let me just say that the history of the Romans is fascinating. And to walk in the same places that Peter or Paul may have walked was just mind-blowing to me. 

The Pantheon

The Coliseum. I was blown away by its grandeur.

Inside the Coliseum

Kate at the Roman Forum

This is Leonardo who is a church planter in Rome as well as a theologian, a seminary professor, and the head of the evangelical church in Italy. This sweet man took a day (his birthday, no less!) to show us some sights and to explain a bit about the Christian church in Rome. 

Kate flew in to meet us in Rome and to spend the second week with us. After a couple of days of overlap, Jenn and Tom flew home. Sad to say goodbye to them.

Part 4: Positano

First stop, Pompeii (with Mt. Vesuvio in the background). Such an interesting place!

This was the part of the trip when we rested up from the earlier part of the trip. We had been going non-stop for ten days and we were tired. The Amalfi Coast was the perfect place to rest. So beautiful.

Positano

Capri

*****
So you might be wondering what I learned about God on this trip, since I said every trip teaches me something. 

This time I was so struck by the history of Rome and Pompeii, and I was reminded over and over again that even 2,000 years ago at the very start of the Christian church, there were people alive who lived in these places and who met together to discuss their faith. I could just picture the small house churches where the early Christians met together. I could almost taste their fear of persecution. And, despite all of the difficulties, I could sense their joy.

And it made me so grateful that these people did not give up believing, because here I am today, 2,000 years later, a beneficiary of their faith.

It struck me so much that God is in all of it. He was there in early Rome, in Pompeii, giving people His Holy Spirit so that they would believe in what had happened just across the sea a few years earlier. It struck me that God was there in ancient times, leading people to believe in Jesus, just as He is today.

We in America don't have the corner on Christianity--this is what I see whenever I travel. God has His people scattered all over the globe, and we will ultimately celebrate with every believer one day. This makes me excited for Heaven, for the day when all will be well--poverty will be eliminated, babies kept safe, and all of us looking to Jesus as our ultimate reward.