Almost Go Time. {how to pray}

My bags are packed. (And teetering dangerously close to my 50 pound limit.)

My visa is signed, sealed, and delivered.  (And good for five years.  Boom.)

And one of my children just vomited all over the place and all over the people at my Mexican send-off dinner.  Par for the course.  (Oh my gosh.  Pray for us.)

Speaking of which.  Prayer.  I have had a number of y’all ask how you could be praying while I’m in West Africa over the next ten days.  THANK YOU.  I believe with everything within me that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).  Not because we’re anything awesome.  Or because our prayers are anything special.  But because our God is completely holy and wholly righteous.  That He hears and He sees and He cares.

So, with that in mind, let’s pray y’all.  Specifically…

  • For hearts softened to the good news of Jesus.  We’ll be working in a country that’s almost entirely Muslim and in a region where many have never heard the gospel.  Pray that we would have opportunities to clearly articulate the extravagance of Christ’s love for us.  Pray that it would be well-received.

  • For safety.  With any travel comes risk.  Pray for safe travel and good health.

  • For productivity as we work to build and prep an operating room– the first and only OR for many, many miles– in the small, rural village where we will be staying.  THIS IS SO HUGE, you guys.  Having a local operating room (coupled with, Lord-willing, a local surgeon) would save countless lives.  Near and dear to my heart is the fact that it would prevent so many maternal deaths- and, consequently, so many orphans- through the availability of C-sections.

  • For wisdom as we see and treat patients in the clinic.  I, for one, feel overwhelmed at the thought of providing medical care with so few drugs and treatments even available to offer patients.

  • That we, as a short-term medical missions team, would be quick to listen and slow to speak.  That we would show utmost respect to the culture in which we will be living and working.  That, while we may arrive feeling like we have so much knowledge to impart, that we would first and foremost come as learners, recognizing that the local villagers were there first and will be there long after we leave.

  • That we would be a source of encouragement to the local church and missionaries there.  That they would be refreshed and encouraged by our presence.

  •  For team unity.  Because, let’s face it- we’re all still practically strangers at this stage in the game.  Pray that God would bind us together quickly as a team and that we would work as one body.  That we would “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

  • For the families we leave behind for the week and a half.  For husbands, wives, and children whose routines are going to be thrown off.  If you think of it, I would love prayers specifically for Elizabeth, as separation can be very, very hard for her little heart.  We’re already seeing some of this manifesting itself in recent days- just pray that “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3) would be so near and that she would trust that I’m coming back to her.

I am just so grateful for your prayers.  You have no idea.

And I’m off.

(But, first, to get my kid to stop puking.  Because motherhood.)

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Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room. (And Then, Buckle Up. Because Things are ‘Bout to Get Real.)

Perhaps this is an unconventional confession for a church-going, Jesus-loving, pastor’s wife, but it’s a true statement all the same: Some days, I just want to throw in the towel and live for myself.  Sometimes, I grow weary of the surrender.

Case in point: in exactly three weeks, I will be flying out to a remote region of Africa for a medical missions trip.  We’ll be bringing life-saving medicine and the life-giving message of Christ to people who desperately need it.  And yet.   Shortly after opening my eyes yesterday morning, one of the first sentiments that escaped from my lips was, “Why did I even say yes?”

You see, my friends, here’s the deal.  Leaving the country, the kids, the husband, and the (very new) job for ten days- at the height of the holiday season, no less- is beginning to feel increasingly CA-RA-ZY to me.  The unknowns feel overwhelming.  And my flesh cries out, “Oh, God.  This is way too hard.”

If my flesh is good at one thing, it’s precisely this- doing things MY way.  And, if you’re wondering, my way is efficient and smooth and logical.  It’s easy and tidy.  Void of hardship or sacrifice.

However, it’s Christmas time.  And every Christmas card I read and every carol that I hear reminds me that Jesus did not exactly share in this way of thinking.

While I long for comfort, Jesus was born in a barn.

While I cling to my strength and ability, God came to earth as a helpless baby boy.

While I strive for control, Jesus surrendered Himself to the cross.

While my sights are often cast inward, Jesus lived- and died- for everyone else.

Jesus’ life was anything but my idealistic fantasy of a neat and tidy, smooth and easy life.  Every iota of His existence modeled humility and sacrificial love.

You guys, it has been quite the year.  It’s been a year replete with “I don’t wanna”s followed by “fine, God. I’m scared, but I’ll go.”  It’s been a year of speaking when I preferred to stay silent and of going when I preferred to stay.  It’s been a year of saying “no” when a “no” seemed outlandish and saying “yes” when I just wanted to quit.  Submission and open hands and, even more than any of that, a year of digging deep, so deep, into the character of God.  Desperately leaning into His strength and sufficiency when I had none of my own to offer.

But isn’t that what it’s always about?

Just yesterday- after my brief and admittedly melodramatic meltdown over my pre-Christmas, pre-Africa to-do list- I overheard the words of Joy to the World ringing out through my iPhone.  “Let every heart prepare Him room,” it sang.  And those words- they’ve been bouncing around in my head ever since.

Prepare Him room.  

Sounds pretty benign, right?  Or not.  Because when we truly begin to see God for who He says He is and for all He’s come to do, we start to understand this phrase to mean something a whole heck of a lot more radical.

We prepare Him room, understanding that this God of whom we speak doesn’t just want a chunk of space in our hearts and lives.  He wants all. of. it.  All of us. We’re talking complete and total surrender.  An open-handed proclamation of, “Hey God, I’m yours.”

Prepare Him room, but be forewarned.  He’s bound to jack a few things up in our lives.  Because this God who humbled Himself to human flesh born in a barn isn’t particularly concerned with our comfort.  Safety isn’t the highest priority for the Great King who obeyed until He hung on a cross.  Worldly success is of little import to the One who flipped everything on its head when he taught that “the first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:31)

Prepare Him room because THIS.  This is the One who came.

The One who is anything but safe and tame.  Who may get all up in your business and who may completely mess with your notion of comfort and stability.

The One who is not just some meek and mild Sunday-morning-only Jesus.  The One who is strong and mighty.  The One who is a good, good Father, yes.  But the One who is also a Warrior King.

This is the One.

So, as we prepare Him room, let us sing with a deeply-rooted conviction that He does indeed rule the world with truth and grace.  May our eyes be opened wide to the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love, and may our surrender flow from that space.  From a first-hand knowledge of who He is.

We prepare Him room, knowing that the Immanuel has already come.  That He’s here.  In the hard and the joyous and the stressful and smooth.  In the extraordinary and in the mundane.  He is here and will continue to be.  And man, if that’s not something worth celebrating.

Yes, the Lord has come.  The Savior reigns indeed.  So, go.  Prepare Him room.  Clear out and make space for Him to move, work, break down, restore, keep, send, and be.

But things might just be about to get real and get real fast.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I know from experience.

And you know what else I know from experience?  He’s so worth it.

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On Giving Thanks When Thanksgiving is Hard

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This week, all around our nation, families will gather.  They’ll gather around perfectly adorned tables set with fine china and finer wine.  Others will gather in living rooms, squeezing close on couches, paper plates on laps.

For some, Thanksgiving- with all of its family, food, and football- is as good as it gets.  The best of the best.  Words of thanks spill out of lips effortlessly.  Because maybe it’s been a banner year.  Maybe the pregnancy test was positive, the wedding bells rang, the kids were on honor roll, and your wallet remains fat.

Still others will wake on Thanksgiving morning with an air of trepidation, hearts heavy with hurts and misgivings rather than joy and thanks-giving.  Maybe family represents heartache, and there’s no feast to be had.  Perhaps the pain is still too raw, the fear too heavy, the reality too… real… to want to celebrate.  Maybe the notion of giving thanks this year just seems ludicrous.

This Thanksgiving, we’ll gather.  And, whether we intend to or not, we’ll bring our stories, our experiences, our present and past realities- we’ll bring it all to the table.  With all of our turkey and casseroles and baggage and triumph, we’ll gather.

So, what can we do if thanks-giving doesn’t come easily this year?  What if we fall in the camp of heel-dragging, feast-lacking, “What are you thankful for this year?”-question-dreading people?

We give thanks anyway.

Not in a Pollyannaish, blind-eye-to-suffering way.  Or a fake smile, “I’m fine, it’s fine, we’re ALL FINE” kind of way.  But in a “I know that my Redeemer lives” kind of way.

What if all of us- those of us teeming with thanks along with those who are empty and dry- what if our gratitude and joy could flow from something more steady, predictable, and sure?  What if we could gather around the table, the living room, and the backyard this week confessing, “I don’t know what your year has held, but I know who has held me.”

Whether you’re limping to the table this year, wounded and weary, or skipping lighthearted and baggage-free, we can all unite under the truths that our God is the same.  Trophies or baggage, tears or laughter, we can always, always give thanks.  Because if all we have left is God Himself, then that’s all we’ll ever need after all.  And if His unchanging character is the only object of gratitude on our tongues this Thanksgiving, then I can think of no sweeter words to speak.

So, friends.  If all feels lost, and you have nothing left- I pray that you would cling to one truth this Thanksgiving: that, while rulers and friends and careers and money and prestige and family may come and go, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

We can give thanks that He is wholly just, even in the face of unspeakable injustice.

We can give thanks that God IS LOVE, even when vitriol and hate seem to be dominating.

We can give thanks that He is the good Father, even when we grow weary in our own parenting.

We can give thanks that God is the masterful Creator of everything, even when creation seems to be unraveling at an alarming pace.

We can give thanks that God is sovereign, even when life seems to be careening out of control.

We can give thanks that God’s strength is magnified in our weakness.

We can give thanks that our God is the Good Shepherd who pursues the one lost sheep when we feel like we’re too far gone for saving.

We can give thanks when we feel unseen and invisible because He numbers the hairs on our head and keeps watch over the sparrow.

We can give thanks when we look death and disease in the eye, knowing that our God heals and restores.

We can give thanks that God is always merciful even when our own compassion wanes.

We can give thanks that God is all-knowing and supremely wise when we just don’t know how to proceed.

We can give thanks that we don’t have to strive and hustle for grace because Jesus sat down after His work of salvation.

We can give thanks when we feel abandoned because Jesus- our Emmanuel– came.

We can give thanks that God has already won.  That death and Hell have been defeated.  That, yes, we can lament, but we need not wallow in despair and defeat.

Friends, we can give thanks this Thanksgiving because our God is unmovable and unchanging, steady and sure.  So, go right ahead and get to your Thanksgiving table.  Get to your people.  Whether you go limping or go dancing, may your steps land on these truths. And may you go giving thanks.

Trump won. Now what do we do, Church?

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This morning, much of the nation is waking up bleary-eyed and still in a state of shock.  “What. Just. Happened?  How?  Why?  What??”

I know my mind is reeling.  It has been all night.

The nation has spoken, and the verdict begs the question, “Where do we even go from here?”

Church, I believe the answer starts with us.  A few thoughts to consider on this morning-after:

1. It’s okay to have feelings.

It is no secret that this election cycle was bizarre on so many levels.  Hillary muddled through her fair share of controversy.  And Trump?  By this point, we’re all quite aware of Trump’s propensity to offend.  And offend.  And offend.

I remember a conversation with a dear friend months ago- a friend who happens to represent one of the minority groups that has been on the receiving end of far too many mean-spirited remarks from our now president-to-be.  “It’s scary, Catherine,” she said, speaking to the prospect of a Trump presidency.  “I’m so scared, and my family is scared.  I just can’t believe that he might actually be our next president.”

It was in that moment that I was struck by my privilege.  Sure, I can disagree with policy and disapprove of a person’s character.  But I’m a white, able-bodied, American-born woman; Trump has never once made threats against me.  And yet, others are not afforded that privilege.  They’re waking up this morning feeling deeply hurt.  They’re terrified, sad, and angry.  They feel threatened.

This is not some emotionally-charged jargon.  This is truth.  This is reality for many.  I know this because I’ve heard these words from the mouths of real people.

So, what?  What do we do about it?  Well, we need to be mindful of how our friends and neighbors are doing.  How they’re processing all of this.

Check on your people.  Approach them with the blessed hope that our God is still sovereign- that He is still on His throne- but, first, before you get to that, hear them out.  Listen to their stories and their misgivings and their fears.  Be okay with people not being okay today.

2. Let’s discipline our tongues and watch our speech.

So, it’s okay to have feelings.  And it’s okay to vehemently disagree with a particular leader.  But, at the end of the day, Donald Trump is our president-elect.  A person.  Made in the image of our almighty God.  And, as Christ-followers, we’re called to respect and honor our leaders.

One lesson (of so. many. lessons.) this election drove home was the importance of learning to disagree civilly.  We certainly didn’t see this modeled from the debate podiums, nor did my Facebook feed display any semblance of disciplined-speech.  But is that the final word and example we want to leave for our children? That “free speech” equals freedom to hate?  That real leaders yell and bicker and name-call until they can eke out a victory?

Friends, let us not respond to bullying with bullying.  Hate with hate.  This is not a call to some passive doormat existence.  Rather, this is a call to the existence of one whose identity is deeply rooted in the unchangeable character of a loving Savior.

When we consider the unfathomable grace and mercy God has heaped upon us, we can be freed up to heed Michelle Obama’s eloquent words: “When they go low, we go high.”

Let’s hold tight to our convictions.  Let’s defend the defenseless.  And, my goodness, let’s speak up.  But let’s go high and let’s do so with an undercurrent of respect and honor.  Let’s do this thing civilly.

3. Feelings are good, and so are words.  But, church, let’s get a move on and DO something.

Yesterday, our nation elected a president that has built his following on a promise to build a wall.  Who has called Latino immigrants “criminals” and “rapists.”  Who said he’d “absolutely” implement a registry for Muslims in our country.  Who openly mocked a disabled journalist.  Who has made horrific comments about women which he quickly dismissed as “locker room talk.” Whose rhetoric and plans are wildly supported by the Ku Klux Klan.

The people have truly spoken.  The state of the union is clear.  Our nation is broken.

So, as Christians, what do we do?

We run to the brokenness.

We run to our Latino and Muslim neighbors, we run to local communities of immigrants and refugees, we run to our African American colleagues and friends.  We run to them and cry, “We see you.  WE SEE YOU!  And we’ve got your backs.  Even if the government betrays you and others mock you, we will be your people.”

And, then?  Then, we follow through and actually BECOME their people.

We dive into organizations like World Relief and start serving and loving local refugees as they get settled and back on their feet.

We do more than just pay lip service to the whole notion of being pro-life.  We support lives in the womb, absolutely.  But we also support lives post-birth.  We walk alongside the mom experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and become her biggest advocate and loudest cheerleader.  We foster.  We get background checked so that we can babysit for foster parents.

We help our friends search for employment when their husbands- and the primary breadwinners of the family- are deported without warning.

We walk with women who have been the victims of sexual assault and abuse, helping them find safety and healing.

We stand alongside our black brothers and sisters and affirm again and again that black lives do indeed matter.

We show kindness.  We speak truth in love.  We exemplify mercy and grace.

We point back to Jesus with our words AND our actions.

4. Let’s hold tight to the hope that God IS still sovereign.

Emotions are understandably high.  We can be disappointed and we can be shocked and we can feel all of the feelings, but let’s not land there.  Let’s land on truth.

Let’s land on the truth that God sent Jesus to die for all of us.  For our sin.  For our brokenness.  Because our sin is just as heinous as that of Clinton and Trump, we are equally in need of a Savior.

Let’s land on the hope that Jesus didn’t stay dead.  That he broke the curse of sin and defeated death itself.  There is no ruler that will ever match that kind of power and authority.  Jesus has already won.  He is still in control.  And his love has never, not ever, faltered.

Church, what if God has handed us over to this kind of election- this brand of president- for such a time as this?

What if NOW is our time to show the world that we are people who show up?

That we are people who run to the margins.

That we are people whose speech is grace-filled.

That we are people who honor and pray for our leaders even when we disagree.

That we are people who can forgive.

That we are gospel-people.  People who know that God’s love for us is secure.  People who are convinced that there’s nothing we can do to make Him love us more, and there’s nothing we can do to make Him love us less.  People who are so radically changed by this truth that they can’t help but give this kind of love away to others.

The people have spoken.  This is our reality.  So, let’s get to it.

Friday Favorites

Alright.  The election is days away.  Headlines are cray. And there are a whole heckofalot of worrisome things we could chat about today.

Sure, we could do that.  But it’s Friday!  So, let’s pretend to be naive and blissfully unaware for a hot sec and talk about some favorite things, shall we?

This is Us

img_1839If you’re living under a rock and have yet to hear of this show, I’m going to need you to remedy that situation.  Stat.  Oh my goodness, it’s fantastic.  When I initially learned that much of the storyline would revolve around transracial adoption, I was nervously holding my breath as I waited to see how it would be handled.  Y’all, it’s been beautiful.  Real and raw and hard-hitting and justgowatchitnow.

No, really.

Now.

Our Venus Flytrap

img_1972People.  This $4 plant- effectively the newest member of our family- has brought our crew an inordinate amount of entertainment over the past week.  I’ve been found scouring dark corners of our house and mossy patches of our yard in attempts to find tiny crawling creatures for our plant.  My kids have stood quietly for whole MINUTES at a time (a notable feat indeed), watching and waiting for the plant to eat unsuspecting insects.  Coolest.  Ever.  (Says the self-proclaimed science nerd.)

There’s no telling how long this lil guy will survive because this self-proclaimed science nerd also happens to be a self-proclaimed plant murderer.  But we’ll enjoy him while he lasts.

Lip gloss

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As a 33 year old woman, I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I have never- not ever– not on my wedding day or any other day of my existence- worn lipstick.  In fact, it was not long ago that I retired my multi-pack-of-Lipsmackers buying habit.  Because, the way I see it, if I have the choice between my lips tasting like Dr. Pepper and my lips tasting like… lips… I choose Dr. Pepper.

But I’m a grown-up now.  And, thanks to a recentish gift from my sister, I have now graduated to this fancy-sounding “rose salve.”  It claims to be “all-purpose,” but that makes me a little nervous, so I just use it on my lips.  And love it a lot.  Because if you can’t smell/taste like Dr. Pepper, then I suppose roses are another acceptable option.

Salsa

If you have ever been a dinner guest at our home, there’s a very high likelihood that we’ve fed you Mexican.  And, if we’ve ever fed you Mexican in our home, there’s a 100% chance that we’ve served you this salsa.  It’s cheap, easy, and a staple in our fridge.

Listen, I know when you hear the name “Pioneer Woman,” your brain doesn’t necessarily doesn’t necessarily jump to “authentic Mexican food”, but I’ve served this to my Mexican friends on a number of occasions (because, again, if you come over, just go ‘head and expect tacos), and they approve.

Chatbooks

There are people in this world who make meticulous scrapbooks to document the lives of their children.  People who make the effort to design beautiful yearly photo books.  And people who… don’t.  People like me.  People like this lady.  Oh my gosh, I feel so validated by this lady.

Anyway, Chatbooks are, hands down, the easiest solution to bridge my “wanna have my pictures printed/organized/beautified” desire and my “but just CAN’T GET MY JUNK TOGETHER” reality.  It’s just EIGHT BUCKS for a 60-page photo book, and there’s next-to-zero effort required on your part.  You should totally check them out.  And, if you want to use my fancy Chatbooks link, I wouldn’t hate it.  You’d get your first book free, and I’d get credits toward free books.  Either way, though.  Trust me on this one.img_2031

Happy Friday, friends!!

In our content and celebrity-driven culture, in whom will you trust?

I don’t know about you, but my world has felt so noisy recently.  And I’m not just talking about the kids that run wildly through our house, literally scaling the walls.  I’m talking about all of the voices.  On all of the platforms.  All the time.  The steady stream of clickbait and content has turned into a constant static in my ears and on my phone, and, quite frankly, it has grown tiresome.  So exhausting that I have felt uncharacteristically unmotivated to write on here.

Usually, this space provides freedom for me as my fingers type out the words I’ve been itching to process.  But lately?  Lately, I’ve felt the need to be still.  To go small.  To process quietly, just me and God.  (And Matt.  And a small handful of other dear friends who have the distinct privilege of hearing me process ALL OF MY THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS.  Bless their hearts.)

As I’ve quieted myself over the past weeks, months even, I have felt my heart returning again and again to this question: “Catherine, in this world of unceasing noise and content, to whom do you run and in whom do you trust?”

And the questions kept coming…

Who has the greatest platform and loudest voice in my life?  Today’s hottest celebrity in Christian subculture?  Or the holy and sovereign God?

Why am I so shaken when a well-known pastor, author, speaker, or well-respected Christian “falls” (whatever that means) or takes a stance with which I disagree?  Have I been functionally placing my faith and trust in the gospel of some Christian celebrity rather than in Christ Jesus alone?

To whom am I turning for truth?  As a follower of Jesus, how do I reconcile my faith with headlines and culture?  Is my knee-jerk to turn to my Facebook feed for the latest soundbyte from whoever my American-Christian-Idol might be at that moment?  Or to hustle to my blog to place my own stake in the ground?  Or do I instinctively turn to God and His Word as my source of truth?

Am I surrounded by other believers with whom I can hash out the hard things in life?  People who I trust to challenge me, push me, and set me straight when needed?  People with whom I can hold culture up to scripture and say, “Now what?”

Do I know God’s word?  Am I in scripture daily?  I’m not talking about reading a hand-lettered verse on Instagram, checking off a box, and calling it a day.  I’m talking about reading God’s word in context.  Interacting with it, wrestling with it, studying it, memorizing it.  And, oh yes, living it out.  Do I spend more time TALKING about doing this or actually doing it?

Do I have a spirit of humility?  I’m a fallen, sinful human who gets things wrong.  Often.  So, when I’m called out, do I respond on the defense, or is my heart teachable?  Am I willing to learn?  To be broken?  For my ideas and frameworks to be broken apart and reworked?

You guys.  We’re kind of pioneers here.  This world of 24 hour news and social media and insta-everything is unlike anything the generations before us had to navigate.  The voices are louder.  The platforms larger.  And I don’t know, the stakes just seem higher.

I believe all of this begs a few final questions:

Are we stewarding this responsibility well?

Are we placing Jesus at the center of it all, or are we squeezing Him in along the fringes?

Church, I think we have some work to do.  Good and holy and hard work.

Work that will ultimately shift our eyes away from the stages and the spotlights and back to the Creator and Sustainer of it all.  Work that will prompt our aching hearts to know Him more.  Because it’s only then- when we know Him and His truth- that we’ll be prepared to sort though the noise and listen to the voices.

Perhaps this should go without saying, but if I’ve had to learn this the hard way, then I have to assume that I’m not alone: if our goal is to see the world through a Christ-centered lens, then we have to first know Christ.  Not a cursory “oh yeah, I’ve heard about that Jesus guy” sort of knowing.  But an intimate, authentic-relationship kind of knowing.

The “oh my gosh, I feel like we’re best friends” brand of knowing that we feel toward so many of our favorite authors, bloggers, and speakers.  Except God?  He knows us back.  And loves us fully.

As we go searching for answers in these confusing and sometimes ridiculously difficult days, let’s thank God for the wise voices out there.  And let’s pray for those on the big platforms because that, my friends, is an enormous responsibility.  But may we also remember that they, like us, are people.  Just people.  Finite.  Human.  Fallen.  No match at all to our high and mighty God.

And may we always, always start and end with Truth.  Because this world may be noisy and loud.  Culture seems to be forever shifting.  But, as we read in Isaiah 40:7-8, “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field…The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

It’s noisy out there y’all, and so much of this “noise” is pure and Christ-centered and good.  But, at the end of the day, may our hope be found in the One- the only One- who endures forever and who will never, ever fail.

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The Greatest Birthday Party on Earth

A few weeks ago, we celebrated this girl’s seventh birthday.  But, never fear.  Because it was her PARTY YEAR*, the celebrations didn’t stop with this Pinterest-worthy (I jest SO HARD) dirt/fish/worm cake.  No, my friends.  We still had The Greatest Birthday Party on Earth to come.

img_1547*Now, regarding the Party Year bit.  Early on, we established a doable birthday party rhythm in our family.  Essentially, our kids get a “big party” every OTHER year.  Because, let’s be real, I know my strengths, and that’s just what I have the capacity for, mkay?  This has worked beautifully for us, but if you just looove throwing big kid parties, you. do. you.

img_1600So, The Greatest Birthday Party on Earth.  Months and months ago, Mary Grace attended a party at a local skating rink.  This skating rink is as old school as they come.  Like, I’m pretty sure the only thing they’ve altered since 1987 are the songs flowing from the DJ booth.  Yes, DJ booth.  It’s as amazing as you’re imagining.

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Old School Skating Rink happens to advertise that they offer the Greatest! Birthday! Party! on Earth!! So, naturally, it took one teeny glance at this slogan for Mary Grace to decide that this was it.  Because, for a kid who likes to live life BIG, it makes zero sense to do average when you can do THE GREATEST ON EARTH.

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For months, she’s been talking about skating!  Games!  The DJ booth!  There was so much build up that I was moderately concerned that her own birthday experience would never live up to the hype.  And it almost didn’t.  Because, oh yeah, there was a tiny thing that swept through North Carolina called Hurricane Matthew, thrusting our city onto Weather Channel headlines.  On her birthday party day.  Fantastic.

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But people came.  People skated.  People ate.  People partied like it was 1987.  All the while, the hurricane was picking up, streets and businesses of the city were being flooded, and we were NONE THE WISER.  It was awesome.

img_1575But was it the Greatest Birthday Party on Earth?  I meeeean.  It was pretty stinkin fun.

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So fun that, as we packed everything up that day, I told Matt that I may have to schedule MYSELF a party there.  Because some people go big for the big 3-0.  Or, sure, for their 40th.  But I’ll be 34 in a few short months, and 34 gets no love.  I’m pretty sure the big 3-4 calls for a lil Mariah, a lotta Debbie Gibson, and the ever-romantic Couples Skate.  Greatest on Earth, y’all.  Who’s in?

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The Work of Rest

Frantic.  That’s the only way to describe my brain these days.  Utterly, exhaustingly frantic.

It’s strange, actually.  Here I am in this supposed “restful” season of life, this newfound territory of school-aged kids, and yet my life feels noisier than ever.

Just last week, Matt found me sitting outside.  In the dark.  Rain drizzling down.  Quiet and still.  Visibly confused, he asked if I was okay.  Because, you see, some people are still, quiet, sitting-under-the-drizzly-moonlight kind of people.  I am not those people.

For better or for worse (typically for worse), I’m an up and down, always doing, rarely still kind of person.  I’m a content-devouring kind of person, flying through books, journals, podcasts, and blogs like it’s my job.  I’m a time-filling, multi-tasking kind of person.  Still and quiet makes me feel nervous.  Antsy.  Still and quiet makes me feel like I’m somehow failing.  Like I’m missing something.  Like I’m less-than.

Because, the unfortunate truth is that my identity has always been directly tied to my productivity.  To my accomplishments.  To my tidy house and well-mannered kids and crossed-off to-do lists.  To the feeling that what I do matters.  That I matter.

For years, I’ve spun my wheels and busted my tail to carefully craft this identity.

This identity of the Strong One who needs no one and no thing.  The one who’s GOT THIS, thankyouverymuch.

The identity of the Omniscient One who can dish up the right answers.  The one who is more apt to turn to Google than Jesus in times of angst and uncertainty.  Because, let’s face it.  Sometimes it’s just easier to get insta-answers via Siri than waiting on the wisdom of the Lord.

I breathlessly flit and fly around in an attempt to be viewed as the Omnipresent One who can meet all needs and be in all places at once.  To simultaneously be present for my church and friends and school and kids and husband even if it kills me.

And, God knows how I want to be the Righteous One.  The good girl who dutifully, restlessly, does all the right things in the right order at the right time.

Anyone would feel frantic when attempting to assume the identity of the Almighty God.  Anyone would crumble under the weight of this delusion, this sin.

And that’s where I found myself last week.  After another day of attempting God-likeness, I was done.  Exhausted.  On the verge of crumbling.  Frantic and overwhelmed and tired of playing God.  Desperate to hand the reins back over.

You see, sometimes the most loving thing our Good Father can do for us is to cause our carefully constructed identities and plans to crumble into pieces.  Sometimes, it’s that very wreckage that reminds us that we’re not divine beings after all.  That we’re desperately in need of a Savior.

And you know what I love so much about my God?  He doesn’t just leave me wallowing in my mess.  He steps into the wreckage with me and pulls me out.  He looks to me with kind eyes and a merciful heart and shifts my focus back to His character.  His goodness and grace and all-encompassing-sufficiency.

Because God knows.  He knows that’s where it should have been all along.  That’s where true rest can be found.

But here’s the deal: all of this Jesus-following business actually takes legit discipline.  Rest takes work.  Training.  I have to DISCIPLINE my heart to rest, my thoughts to linger on God’s faithfulness.  And that night, as I sat under the dark, drizzly night sky, this is precisely what I was doing.  Training my racing brain and frantic heart to take pause and rest in God’s unchanging nature.  To sit in the quiet.  To be okay with the still.  To reassume the posture of a mere mortal, confessing that my attempts to be anything greater were nothing short of blasphemy.

So, here’s the plan.  If I’m gonna hustle, I’m gonna hustle my way right off of that throne I’ve been desperately attempting to occupy.  And if I’m gonna work, I’m going to work to point back its rightful occupant.  If I’m gonna spin my wheels, those wheels better be spinning right back to Jesus.  And if I’m gonna strive, I’m gonna strive to remember that He has already done the work that really matters. And in Him alone can I find true rest.

So can rest really take work?  Yeah, maybe.  If you’re anything like me, that is.  But if the reward of my work are eyes laser focused on the crucified and risen Christ- the only omniscient, omnipresent, truly strong, and wholly righteous one- than you better believe every ounce of effort is worth it.

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seven.

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Mary Grace,

Seven.  SEVEN?  So what if you’ve spent the past 364 days compulsively talking about your birthday; I’m still confused by this new reality.

I’ve spent some time this week reading through your previous birthday posts, and perhaps I should just say “please reference birthday posts from year one through five” and leave it at that. Because you, my girl, are holding pretty steady.

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At one, I summed you up as “feisty”.  At two, I wrote, “You’re very verbal. Let’s rephrase that. You never shut your mouth.”  On your third birthday, I spoke to your hilarity and volume: “You have us rolling in laughter all day.  You love to entertain and bring laughter… The louder the better is your motto.”  At four, I wrote about your creativity, imagination, and confidence- how “you will not be forced into a mold”.  At five, you loved to “draw and create.”  And last year, I marveled, “I continue to be amazed at how comfortable you are in your own skin.  Without looking to the left and the right, you keep staying your course.”

ALL OF THIS IS STILL SO TRUE.  With every passing year, you just keep doing you.  And you’re pretty stinkin great.

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A few new developments in the life of SEVEN! YEAR! OLD! Mary Grace:

You have developed a recent fascination with the presidency and recently orchestrated an elaborate presidential campaign and election.  We’re talking campaign posters, voting booth, speeches, the works.  You now consider yourself president of our home which has proved problematic from time to time.  We’re working on it.

You’re kind of “ehh” about school but are developing a love for reading.  You devour all things Stink Moody and Critter Club and will read any book about fierce animals that you can get your hands on.  You’re also legitimately obsessed with school cafeteria food.  And have created more playground “clubs” than I can keep track of.  So.  Maybe you’re not so “ehh” about school after all.

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You’re a night owl.  Most evenings, you stay awake LONG (for the love, way too long) after your supposed bedtime.  BUT!  You no longer bang your head on the floor to fall asleep!  Because, earrings!!  When you got your ears pierced this summer, I may have convinced you that banging your head would surely RUIN YOUR PIERCINGS.  And, behold.  It worked. Small victories.  And no more forehead perma-bruises.

You, my child, are not a follower.  You’re constantly leading, directing, creating, teaching, and scheming.  Every single room in our house bears witness to your creativity, half-baked business ventures, and fully-baked mess.

Your best friend is Elizabeth.  Your favorite show is Cupcake Wars.  Your favorite food is hummus.  And your favorite song is Taio Cruz’s Dynamite.  Because of course it is.

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You have a lightning fast wit, a fiery spirit, and a generous heart.  When you believe in something, Mary Grace, you don’t. back. down.  I pray that God channels all of this for good.  For Him.  Because, when that happens… girl.  This world just won’t be the same.

Happy birthday, you big seven year old, you!  Love you to pieces!

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Friday Favorites: Kid Edition

Once upon a time (as in, ONE TIME), I decided to get all fancy and jump on the Friday Favorites bandwagon.  Well, I’m back.  Because friends let friends know things.  And I have some things you should know about:

THE water bottle.  

Specifically, the Avex Kids Autoseal Freeride Water Bottle.  For years, I have been on the prowl for the perfect kid water bottle.  One that doesn’t have extraneous pieces, is completely leak-proof, holds plenty of water, and is durable.  I thought I’d spend my life searching in vain until I discovered this brand.  We’ve had these over a year, and they have quickly outperformed our beloved Nalgenes and Contigos.  You’re welcome.

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The PediaCast podcast.  

Okay.  I could get on my “Oh my gosh, you guys!  I know your Facebook mom groups can diagnose allllll of the ailments, but you know another person who may be able to help you out?  Oh, that’s right!  Your pediatrician!” soapbox.  That’s a soapbox I have REALLY BIG FEELINGS about.  But I’ll restrain myself.  Instead, I’ll send you onto this fantastic podcast that I’ve been loving for a while now.  It’s all evidence-based insight into some of the big issues and questions in the realm of pediatrics.  Check ’em all out, but I especially appreciated two of the most recent episodes on vaccinations.  (Spoiler alert: THERE IS NO CONSPIRACY.  We- your friendly pediatric healthcare providers- are actually not involved in some covert operation to get rich off of your kid’s shots.  I know this may come as a surprise for some, but we do indeed believe in science.  We value modern medicine.  Know that vaccines save lives.  And want your kid and others to stay healthy.  That’s all.  The end.)  (I really tried to restrain myself.  Really really tried.  xoxo.)

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Jen Wilkin teaching me how to parent.  

Alright.  So, you took my advice and listened to PediaCast.  You heard the evidence.  You got your kid vaccinated.  You’re feeling pretty good about yourself.  And then, suddenly your kid turns two and becomes a crazyperson and you don’t even know WHAT TO DO.  No worries.  Gotcha covered.  One of my favorites, Jen Wilkin, led a parenting class along with her husband a few years ago.  And y’all, it’s SO good.  Super practical and Christ-centered.  You can listen to the sessions here.  My only regret is that I didn’t get my hands on these years ago.

Target’s Cat & Jack line.  

Confession: one of my (many) great flaws in life is my love for overpriced kid clothes.  Interestingly, I hate to shop for myself.  Hate. It.  But, put me in a room filled with smocking and appliques and monograms?  The struggle is real.  So, when I can find kids’ clothes that are SO CHEAP that my kids and I both love, it’s a victory.  Enter Cat & Jack, Target’s new kid’s line.  They even make little girl’s jeans that are so soft and comfy that Mary Grace is willing to wear them.  And that says a heckofalot coming from the kid who won’t let anything “not comfy” come near her body.  Clearly, I just needed a little more fuel for my Target Love Affair.  Clearly.

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I Am: 40 Reasons to Trust God.

After a friend mentioned this book a while back, I hopped on Amazon right away to order one for our family.  We’re always on the lookout for solid resources that can help us teach our kids the Bible, and this is a good one.  There are PLENTY of books out there that kindly inform my darling children that they are precious.  Wonderfully made.  Loved by God.  We have tons of ’em.  But what I love about this particular book is that Diane Stortz shifts the focus away from US and back to GOD.  She hits on 40 names and attributes of the Lord while teaching through scripture.  We read this on a daily(ish) basis- typically once my kids are already restrained in their seatbelts in the mornings.  Because, y’all.  These kids may be precious and wonderfully made, but having a kid belted into a seat can be a beautiful thing.

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