Monday, March 28, 2016

Technical difficulties

I went back through all 200 or so blog posts and re-tagged them. It's a project I've been putting off for a while. In theory, it should be easier to search for blog posts in the future. Right now everything looks like a mess. I'm hoping it works itself out soon, by magic. Until that happens, please mind the gap.

I'll be posting a new blog every Friday in April, starting this Friday. Get ready for some Earth Month fun!

One Word

It's New Year's Resolution time (cue sad trombone sound effects). I think it's a valuable thing to look at the past year and make goals for the year about to unfold. Think of all the things you accomplished and learned in 2012! However, it can be unpleasant to see where you fell short.

I decided to go back to the same site I used last year for my kid and adult resolution pages. Mique at Thirty Handmade Days  updated the printable for 2013. Click here to download your own.

The first item of business on the adult resolution paper is to think of one word to describe 2013. This is hard. Almost hard enough for me to give up entirely. I'd been looking at that ugly blank line for a few days before I read a blog post from Emily at Jones Design Company. Here's what Emily said (or read the whole post here):

To embrace means to clasp or hold close with the arms, usually as an expression of affection, as in a hug. It can also mean to include as part of something broader. But my favorite definition {and the one I’ll be working on this year} is to take up willingly or eagerly.

Embrace. Its such an emotionally rich word.

This year, I want to learn to embrace in the physical sense. Touch is something I struggle with, even with people I know and love. I need to embrace my kids more. I should embrace my husband more, too. And I need to learn how to let others embrace me.

Embracing a challenge has never been hard for me. I tend to meet complicated situations with enthusiasm--as long as I have a sense of control. In 2013, I need to learn to embrace all the places God is leading me, even if it means I have to surrender some control.

Even though I may seem like a put-together person on the outside, I am crippled by low self-esteem. Like many other women, I struggle with not feeling strong enough, sexy enough, smart enough, or spiritual enough. But in 2013, I am going to try to embrace myself. Right where I am. I will give myself the same grace I give others. I will remember that I answer to my kind and loving Father in Heaven, not society. It's His approval I will seek.

So Emily's word will become my word as well. I embrace 2013 willingly and eagerly.
What's your word?

(Image taken from Jones Design Company)


The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped. (Proverbs 11:25 MSG)

It seems like all of our random acts of kindness have been returned to us in a special, surprise blessing. The following is an excerpt from a letter Todd and I received recently:

"What I would like to do is send you and Christina (and Madeline and Ava, of course) a bit of extra spending money...maybe go out to eat as a family, or get something you've been needing, or save it up for something special...I'd like you to use it without feeling guilty, because I'm going to send something to you EACH month...

I remember what it was like when I was in seminary, married with 3 children...we refused to use what little I was making for 'frivolous' things...

If this is uncomfortable for you, I hope you can get over that feeling and just accept my wanting to help a bit..."

This letter came out of nowhere. Our benefactor is a retired pastor in the area who was looking for a special way to bless a young ministry family. And my, are we ever being blessed!

I was surprised at the gentleman's generosity, but even more at his ability to know my heart. How did he know that I'd have a hard time accepting such a gift? That I'd carry guilt over this grace?

I'm much more comfortable with being a giver. I give my time, talent, and money easily, even if I have to go out of my way to do so, because I have much to give. But today I'm taking a deep breath and just receiving.

Our patron wrote the check to me this month to use on myself. He wrote in his note that he knows how overlooked a pastor's spouse often is and that wanted to do something special for me. I don't know how he knew, but I really needed to hear that this week. I don't know what to do with my gift yet, but I'm sure I'll come up with something...

What blessings have you received lately?

Celebrating new life in a hurting world

I haven't written in a while. Keep reading, I have an explanation.

This phrase was written on the chalkboard in my kitchen for Lent. I must have walked past it 20+ times a day for 40 days and nights. It was my not-so-silent prayer that God open my heart to where He wants me and to give me the energy to accomplish His work.

Well, it seems God went for a literal "new heart", because, well, this happened:

That's Baby Krost #3, arriving in early November 2013. To say our family is over the moon is an understatement. This new life and the potential it holds is an extraordinary gift.

I wish I could live in a bubble with my joy and anticipation (and nausea) but I can't. Recent events like the Boston Marathon bombing, Newtown, Aurora, and the plant explosion in Texas have made that nearly impossible. Anyone else out there feel like there's nothing we can do to protect our babies? You really should read this.

We can't keep our loved ones safe. But we can't not try. We need to redefine "safe".
(Image taken from Momastery)

As we saw in Boston this week, good always outweighs evil. Bystanders help the injured. Exhausted marathoners run two extra miles to donate blood. Citizens open their homes to stranded travelers. Love wins. God wins.

So what do we tell our kids? And what do we tell ourselves? Be good to each other. Keep praying. Look for the helpers and pitch in where you can. And don't be afraid.

A year in ministry

July marks the end of our first year in ministry as a family. It's been an amazing year of growth, change, new experiences, and new friends.  I think we can call ourselves "settled in" now.

I thought I'd do a photographic look back at some of the highlights of the past year.  Check it out!

We used our best mathematical estimations and went back through our records and memories to compile these numbers.  They are our best approximations.  

(I used the A Beautiful Mess app for the individual frames and compiled them in the 9 frame collage using Diptic). 

What would make the "highlight reel" of your year so far?

Cooking with kids

When I was growing up my mom stayed at home with me and my two brothers.  I don't have many recollections of day-to-day childhood life, since it was soooo long ago, but I do know dinner magically appeared on the table around 6 and we ate as a family more often than not.  OK, so it didn't "magically appear".  Mom cooked, a lot.  But sadly, I have very few memories of helping my mom in the kitchen.  Cue sad trombones.

My mom wanted me to be interested and involved in many things like sports, which I was.  So she didn't push teaching me to do "domestic things" since 
1. They obviously didn't interest me (You should have seen my room growing up).
2. I wasn't around for dinner prep due to sports or school stuff. 
3. Mom had it under control.

Mom took care of everything.  We always had a tidy (but lived-in) home, food in the pantry, and a hot meal on the table.  This was a great thing.  Until I left for college.

My sophomore year I moved into a house on campus with a few friends.  We had to cook for ourselves.  This was a major challenge for me.  I distinctly remember staring blankly at a box of Hamburger Helper trying to figure out what "brown the hamburger" meant.  For real.

Fast forward to the present. I'm a stay at home mom (for now). I try to keep a tidy home, the pantry stocked, and have a meal on the table multiple times a day, just like my mama.  I have come a long way from my Hamburger Helper days and consider myself a pretty good cook now. But there's one major difference about mealtime in my house versus mealtime growing up: My kids are PICKY eaters.  

Growing up we ate what was put in front of us.  Period.  And besides the normal childhood complaints of not liking certain meals or vegetables, we mostly complied.  If not, breakfast was at 7AM.  None of us died. 

You know how they say kids will "eat when they're hungry"?  Mine don't.  Despite their obvious hunger, they'll complain about the menu's taste, temperature, or texture and leave their plates untouched. I have tried everything to get my kids to eat, short of preparing a separate meal for all 4 family members (because ain't nobody got time for that). I hate the stubbornness.  I hate the waste.  I hate the ingratitude.

So this summer I vowed to involve my kids more in food prep and menu planning.  My thinking was that if they had a hand in choosing and preparing a meal, they might actually eat it.

Full disclosure: It did not go well at first.  There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when mommy would sit down on Monday morning to plan the week's menu and create a grocery list. I think the turning point was pulling out some kid-friendly cookbooks we checked out from the library and letting the girls pick out things they wanted to try.  

C is for Cooking, and Royal Recipe Collection are our favorites.

On Monday mornings we browse the cookbooks for something that looks yummy. Then we make a list of what we need from the store.  We try to incorporate items from the garden or farmer's market when possible.  

Each girl has a "night": Maddie's dinner is on Wednesday and Ava's is Tuesday.  Those days may change once school (and dance and tumbling) starts.  The expectation is that on each girl's night, she helps me prepare the meal and set the table.  She also says the blessing.  

It's taken a solid two months, but I think we finally found a happy place this week.  The girls have eagerly planned their meals with me and have shown more interest in helping me cook.  They have also been more willing to try bites of the other meals I prepare throughout the week.  

So, what works about your family mealtime?  What doesn't?  Any good cookbook recommendations?  


I have a confession to make, and it may be a bit controversial. 

I don't like the word "biblical". 

Now, before you get all fired up, hear me out.  I love the Bible.  But I don't like what some have done or said in its name. 

Too often, the word "biblical" is used to keep people (or groups of people) down, to omit, or to rob of the grace freely given by God.  It's used to pick and choose the sins we allow and those we condemn. 

But it's not fair to pick and choose what sins to call out using the excuse that, "Hey, it's biblical." If you've ever studied any of Leviticus, you'll know what I'm talking about. It's full of rules about sexual behavior, dietary laws, guidelines for what makes someone unclean, procedures for proper animal sacrifice, and so on. We do not live in an Old Testament world. No one has to tell us not to sleep with our father's wife, or not to eat road kill, or to perhaps stay away from those who have questionable skin infections.  

Lots of behaviors are "biblical" but have evolved over time. Things once considered out-of-bounds are now seen as culturally acceptable: planting a field with two kinds of seed, or wearing clothes of different fabrics, touching a football, or eating shellfish, just to name a few. 

And choosing to narrowly focus on a few sins while ignoring the overreaching message of love of God and neighbor is missing the point entirely.  

It's like this quote from a recent blog post by Jen Hatmaker:

"If our only response is to speak the truth in love to the exclusion of the hundreds and hundreds of verses that call us toward mercy, peace, kindness, hospitality, and patience while leaving judgment to God, the only One able to judge fairly and correctly (James 4: 11-12), consequently also the only One who transforms and sanctifies, then I insist that you exercise that practice with every single sinner in your life. Every single one. Every single sin. Otherwise that obedience has no integrity. Every. Single. Sin. I want it called out in truth and love, I want it blogged about, I want it argued into legislation, I want it discussed in public forums outside of genuine relationships, I want articles, I want excommunications. I would respect a believer who calls out every sinner and sin around him in equal measure over one who selectively applies Scripture to certain categories. (I would not like that believer, but I would at least respect his consistency.)"

So, if you're going to call out sinners, make sure you call them out equally.  Perhaps start with yourself. 

This all brings me to a review of a book I recently read. Despite the title, I loved Rachel Held Evans' A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  Evans set out to live the biblical virtues laid out in both the old and new testament: gentleness, domesticity, obedience, valor, beauty, modesty, purity, fertility, submission, justice, silence, and grace.  She focused on one virtue each month and choose several tasks to achieve each virtue, such as growing out her hair, calling her husband "master", learning to make her own clothes, covering her head, baking her own bread, rising before dawn, cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit, and remaining ceremonially impure for the duration of her menstrual cycle.  

Evans often felt torn between her evangelical upbringing and the feminist culture in which she grew up. As many other Christian women do, she struggled with balancing her role as a modern woman and lover of scripture.  She had been raised with clear messages about the limitations put on women by certain interpretations of the Bible. 

Much of the frustration and confusion women feel arises over the "woman of noble character" described in Proverbs 31. If you're not familiar with this passage of scripture, I encourage you to read it, then read this and this.

In short, Proverbs 31 is a poem written about the honor and beauty of a woman's work over the course of her life.  It is not a biblical prescription for how women, modern or otherwise, should live. It is not a how-to manual.  It is a blessing, often recited from husband to wife at the sabbath celebration, thanking her for using her creative energy to sustain the family, community, and culture.

This book came into my life at a critical time, and it gave me some peace and perspective.  For most of Maddie and Ava's early years, I was a working mother.  I have a master's degree in education and God-given teaching gifts that I was using in an elementary school setting.  But I was torn, because while I was using my gifts, I felt that "biblically" I was called to be a stay at home mother. I felt that I was somehow not fulfilling my role by working outside of the home.  And I felt that my life was not lining up with how the Bible called women to behave. 

So when the opportunity to stay home with my girls presented itself, I jumped at it.  I thought that finally I'd be living out my "biblical" role and life would be in balance.  But I quickly realized that maybe I wasn't quite cut out for the job.  That maybe I'm a better wife and mother when I have goals, aspirations, and friends outside of the home as well.  

Rachel Held Evans' book helped me to realize that the only woman God wants me to be is God's. God doesn't need me to be "biblical" or perfect, but to lean on the divine for support and guidance. I need to allow God space to work within me because virtues aren't items to collect but lessons to learn over time.  God is much more concerned with my heart than whether or not my head is covered, or if I've baked my own bread, or whether I'm ceremonially unclean.  

So, what words bother you, and why?

Is the Bible freeing you to be the child of God you really are, or is it setting up unrealistic expectations and frustrations?

Read any good books lately?

Be you bravely

This year's Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) theme is "Be You Bravely". Just like last year , MOPS got it just right. It's the perfect message at the perfect time. 

See that message here:

When we left Tiskilwa we left behind friends, a church family we'd grown to love, a beautiful parsonage, the girls' schools, and my beloved MOPS group in Princeton.  

We've been filling in the gaps with new friends, more loving church family, a comfortable home, new schools.  But sadly, there's no new MOPS group for me. And with the kids back to school, I'm really feeling it's absence. It's hard to watch my old friends' Facebook news feeds full of MOPS meeting invitations and events. 

Sometimes I think I'm really good at the brave stuff.  It's the quiet and gentle I'm not so good at.  The waiting is hard. Starting over is hard. 

But I'll be brave.  

I'm praying for my old MOPS group, it's leaders and members, that they have a meaningful year and open themselves to the messages God has for them. And I'm praying for myself, that I can find (or create!) a group of women here in Neoga that I can learn from and journey with.  

What's the bravest thing you've done lately?  

5 matches

Notice anything different about the blog?

Thanks to a new layout from my little blog has a new look.  And a new name.

I was never really attached to the title, "Faithfully Following".  When I created this blog in 2011, I was searching for a way to organize my thoughts through some difficult times.  That was nearly 4 years ago. It's funny, I identified then some of the same struggles I have now: I am bossy (er, I possess leadership skills),  I have difficulty following, and sometimes I need to take a step back to see the big picture so I don't drown in the details.

When I hit publish for the first time four Octobers ago, I figured I'd eventually find a title that fit. Until then I kept hoping I could make it fit my actual life and family.

But we're doing so much more than following now.

So, where did the new title come from?  A few things inspired me.  

See these?  They are sitting above my kitchen cabinets.  In case you're new to the blog, these represent each of the initials of our little party of 5: Todd, Christina, Madeline, Ava, and Harper. I just looked up one day and it hit me. When you move the letters around, you can spell the word MATCH.  

Matches start something.  And we're definitely in a season where we are starting: new churches, schools, friendships.  Todd is always trying to "light a fire" and encourage new activity where there was none.  I'm starting a MOPS group at our church.

We tell our children, "this little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine."  They are matches to their siblings and classmates.

Todd and I know "it only takes a spark to get a fire going".  Our job is to strike the match, then get out of the way as the fire of the Spirit takes the lead.

This title feels a lot better.  More honest, more reflective of the real us.  We're a pretty spirited group.  

What kinds of fires have you been lighting lately?  


Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?
--Job 2:10

I am no longer a nursing mother.

This statement is equal parts joy and sorrow.  Harper is my last baby.  So with her weaning, I've closed a near decade of pregnancy, newborns, and nursing.  

Part of me is doing the happy dance on the way to buy a decent bra for the first time in I-don't-even-know-when.  But another part of me misses the weight of her newborn body in my arms, her satisfied 3AM sighs, her absolute trust that I will nourish her.  

Now I can barely catch her as she stumble-walks down the hall, making a bee line for the dog food bowl or open toilet lid.  

I came across some videos on my phone yesterday, one of Harper shifting around in my heavily pregnant belly, another of her first coos and smiles.  And though it's completely uncharacteristic of me, I started crying (perhaps I'm a tad hormonal?). My tears were not entirely sad, but they weren't from laughter either.  It was a bittersweet moment.

I recently read Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist.  It was an easy read composed of small vignettes of Niequist's daily life, travels, marriage, and mothering. It's encouraging and thought provoking and makes me wonder if Shauna Niequist and I are not so different, except for her being a very successful writer and cook and speaker and me, well, not.

I heavily highlighted the following passage: "...When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow."

Some of my people have had a rough start to 2015--illness, death, difficulty for no good reason at all. So much bitter. But as sure as I know anything, I know that sweet is coming, too.  So we will say thank you, and we will wait.

What is your most memorable bittersweet moment of 2014?  Of 2015?  

Love Stories from {The Root Collective}

I'm not particularly romantic or sentimental, so I think Valentine's Day is kinda meh. The gifts part, though? That I like. 

But I do love a good love story. Like, just a notch above a supermarket romance novel but not quite as fancy as something written by the Brontë sisters. For me watching love unfold on a page is much, much more meaningful than watching a romantic comedy. There's just something honest but mysterious about having to imagine what the characters look or sound like. Sometimes I imagine myself or people I know in different roles in the book. I think it's more personal that way.

My favorite kinds of love stories lately? Ones about mothers and fathers in faraway places doing hard and brave things to better themselves and their families. That's a real love story with real life characters.

Here's one such story. Meet Alma. 
From childhood, Alma was taught that she had no value. Her parents made it clear that she wasn't wanted. By the age of 9, she frequented the streets in Guatemala. By 12, she was going to clubs and began doing drugs. She was pregnant for the first time by the age of 13, though her child died in the womb after a violent beating from her boyfriend. Alma went on to have five children throughout her life, fathered by men who also didn't value her or her children. She was able to attend school through the sixth grade, but the subpar public school system left her unable to find sufficient work to support her children. She ended up joining a gang and thieved to feed her children. Her husband is now in jail. Alma started with the jewelry program with the microfinance portion of Lemonade Internation and has been able to turn her life around. She had the opportunity to change her circumstances and she took it, not just for herself, but to be an example for her children. Her dream is to see her children grow up without need of anything.

Love story. The best.  

And another. Meet Pauline.
A young woman from Kenya, Pauline's story is one of determination. When she was only 16 and in the 6th grade, Pauline learned she was pregnant. She found herself needing to provide not only for herself and her new son, but – since her father had passed – also for her mother and 6 siblings. It was then that she came to the Neema Project in the hopes of learning a trade skill. She not only excelled in the skills she learned, but became a teacher in her own right. She taught the other students beadworking and how to fix and repair their errors. Pauline, now a graduate of the Neema Project, is working to support her family. She is ever hopeful of her future and the opportunities her employment will have for her son.  

Two true love stories with real, relatable characters. And there are so many more. You can read more like them here

The Root Collective partners with artisans trying to make a life for themselves and their children. It is not a charity. The artisans are equipped and trained to use their skills to make and sell their products and succeed in their business. The entire process, from the artisans to the good people at The Root Collective to the consumers who purchase their goods, is a circle of love. It's the best possible type of love story, where no one is rescued from their circumstance by a handsome prince but instead by their own hard work and ingenuity.

Looking for a meaningful or sentimental Valentine's Day gift for you or someone you love? Enter LOVESTORY at checkout for 15% off that my friends at The Root Collective created just for my readers. You can use my affiliate link to shop:  

I'll take these, in a 7.5.

Write your own love story this Valentine's Day by supporting someone else's.  

Dirty Word

If someone called you a feminist, would you take it as a compliment or would you feel the need to defend yourself?

What if someone called you a Jesus feminist? 

Sarah Bessey opens her book Jesus Feminist:An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women with a strong statement: "The word feminist doesn't scare me.  In fact, I'd like to see the church (re)claim it."

It might surprise people that feminism was around way before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Feminism's deep roots are tied up with Christian women's commitments to temperance, suffrage, and abolition. Feminists simply "...champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance--not greater than, but certainly not less than--to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women."  Put more succinctly: "Feminism does not mean feminine. It means equality." 

Jesus Feminism means fighting for equality not just because that is what's right and fair, but because of one's lifelong commitment to Jesus and his Way.  

Sounds easy, right?  I mean, the fact that equality for the sexes (and races and religions) isn't society's default is completely maddening.  Like, that there is an option to exclude and that it is exercised with such prejudice and is often excused as biblical makes me look around and wonder, is this real life?!

Though I was raised Catholic with rigid gender-based job descriptions, my all-girls high school education helped introduce me to strong, intelligent, charismatic women that could pursue any career. Like Bessey, "I grew up without knowing that anyone thought women could not or should not lead or preach or speak of follow the clear calling of God for their life. To us, it was not about your sex; it was about how God had gifted you.  We didn't believe the gifts of the spirit were sex-based." And honestly, I didn't even realize that "feminist" was a dirty word until I entered ministry with my husband in rural Illinois communities. 

In some circles it seems that feminism is not compatible with the quiet and gentle spirit we Bible-reading women are supposed to cultivate.  There is a lot of talk about "women's ministries", which are heavy on the coffee fellowship and craft projects but light on empowerment and leadership.  This leaves many women wondering where they belong in the church.  We wonder if being a church lady only means being able to deliver a casserole to a sick friend on a moment's notice. But can it also mean preaching, or teaching, or leading missions? If the men are supposed to lead, where does that put us?

That's why I loved this book. Jesus Feminist covers Paul's directions to early Christian women (spoiler alert: we've used these verses to oppress instead of empower), mutual submission in marriage, biblical womanhood, women's ministries, orphan care and global missions. It isn't a how-to book for Christian women fighting for a seat at the table. In fact, Bessey urges us to stop lobbying and "be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable, and among even--or maybe especially--the ones rejected by the Table as not worthy enough or right enough."

Ladies, we can lead without being bossy.  We can change the world and change diapers, too (though motherhood isn't required to make you a woman or a feminist).  We know that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Bessey encourages us to wage an "intimate insurgency" to help redeem ourselves, our church, and our broken world.  Sometimes "making space for God behind enemy lines" is equally as hard as running a charity to help stop sex trafficking.  Start small, and start where you are.  There is a place for everyone at the table. We need everyone's gifts.

Women know intuitively that leaning into the pain makes giving birth easier.  And there has been a lot of pain--centuries of it, in fact--inflicted upon women in the name of the Bible.  But maybe that means the world is preparing for a new birth. Sometimes change happens by overturning tables in the temple.  Other times it starts by quietly serving around a table of friends and family. 

So, if the word "feminist" bothers you, go clutch your pearls somewhere else. Call it something different if you must. But I'm happy to call myself a Jesus feminist, and that's not a dirty word.  

Updated family rules and consequences

One of my most read posts (even now!) is about our family rules and consequences, written way back in 2012. That was one kid and three years ago. How precious. The six frames I used to hold the rule cards have since been repurposed and the consequence jar was lost 2 moves ago. Bless it.  

We have this hanging in the living room now instead. It's prettier and fit into a frame I already had. Win-win. Same rules, but a few different bible verses. 

My parenting philosophy hasn't changed, though we've shifted from man-to-man coverage to a zone defense. I still believe that there are some "family rules" unique to our little party of five, but that most rules about our behavior are God's rules, presented and reinforced in scripture. We still use natural consequences when someone has made a poor decision, like writing an apology note (as many times as it takes to get it right) when we've hurt someone. And the classic "go to your room to chill out for a while" happens at least once a week. 

This kind of parenting requires being intentional and present. It favors a calm, conversational tone rather than yelling. So, yeah, it doesn't always go well. 

Because no matter how present and calm I am, part of my attention is always elsewhere. I'm currently employing the "Come at me, bro" style of parenting, where I handle one crisis at a time, following through with the same consequence I threatened to use two weeks ago when we squabbled about it the last time.  

(Image taken from Pinterest)

Don't want to clean your room? OK! We'll bag it all up and give it away! Or maybe I'll pick it up for you, since I need to vacuum the floor, but I'll bill you for the work.  

Not going to eat that thing you just specifically asked me to fix for you? No problem! You can try again when the kitchen reopens for breakfast at 7am. Or better yet, make it and clean it up yourself. 

Not doing well in math? No worries! We'll do nothing else--no TV or devices-- until we've got a better handle on it. It's not a punishment, it's a reallocation of your free time.

These kinds of consequences usually take care of the problem quickly, but they may require "mean-mom face" and lots of consistency.  Natural consequences, I believe, help show on a small scale what happens when we don't prioritize loving God or each other.  And it's these small readjustments that help us avoid major ones as our kids approach teenage years, where the consequences can be much more severe.

In the quiet moments before the girls' bedtime, we pray about the day's events.  Is there something we're struggling with that we need to talk to God about?  Has a situation resolved that we need to give thanks for? Are we unsure of how to proceed and need guidance or direction? When we forget our prayer time, I see and feel a palpable change in the girls, like they're untethered from something. I often pray over them, but more and more they are taking the lead. 

So there it is, an updated version of our family rules and consequences, formed through research, experience, trial, and error. 
Had any "come at me, bro" moments lately?  What's your best parenting strategy? 

I'll go first

A situation came up recently at one of our churches that caused some friction among the members. When things like this happen, and they inevitably will, there are options for addressing conflict: talking to the pastor and/or addressing the committees. At one point, the whole ugly mess was aired on social media. After I was done feeling hurt and angry, I decided, as I often do, to do some reading on the subject.

Our Great Big American God: a Short History of our Ever-Growing Deity by Matthew Paul Turner takes a look black through history, beginning with the Puritans, and examines the fraught relationship America has with God.  It's a fascinating read, and though I find Turner to be a bit snarky regarding evangelical or conservative Christians, he lays out several powerful arguments about how "...we are all molding God to reflect our own personal, American interpretation of Christian faith."

To me, Turner's most important point is this:

"As hard as we try to demand that God be this or declare that God hates that, in the end, our actions often undermine our understandings about the sovereignty of God. The Apostle Paul wrote that if God be for us than who can be against us?, his point being that God is with us and is powerful enough to take care of us. So if that is indeed true, and if we believe it, wouldn't God also be able to take care of himself? The obvious answer is yes. But then why do so many of us feel inclined to protect God against outside elements, both Christian ideas and non-Christian ones? America's Christians are defensive, known far more for what we protect God from than what we believe God able and willing to handle."

So many people leave church because they are unable to reconcile what they feel about God's love and grace and how they see it rationed out by well-meaning (but wrong) grace gatekeepers. 
They see friendly and pious Christians on Sunday at church, but those same folks act differently at the grocery store or their places of employment. They feel that church isn't relevant or authentic because we sing out our praise during worship and proclaim our hearts and minds changed at Sunday School, but we bicker and gossip about what the pastor said/did or how the sanctuary is set up or how the church budget is handled when we're outside the church's doors.  

Rachel Held Evans recently wrote on her blog:

" I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same. Such an approach may repel the masses looking for easy answers from flawless leaders, but I think it might make more disciples of Jesus, and I think it might make healthier, happier pastors. "

I'm not a pastor, but I'm a leader.  So allow me to go first.

I don't have all the answers. What I do have is a personal relationship with God and access to books, blogs, and the Bible to help me stretch my thinking. In my United Methodist context, we call this the Wesleyan Quadrilateral that illustrates how we can use scripture, reason, experience, and tradition to connect with the world around us. We may have had different upbringings and life experiences, and that's OK.  In fact, it's great!  But in my heart I know that if I think that God is telling me to harm, oppress, shame, or slander someone because we have a difference of opinion, that's not coming from God

Grace is for everyone.  If we distributed grace only to those we thought deserved it, would any of us be worthy?  I'm so glad I don't have to be the grace judge--I work really hard to award it equally to my friends and enemies. God isn't "on my side", and he's not on your side either, he is with us. Through all of it.  And he doesn't need us to fight battles for him. He wants us to seek him. 

So I'll go first. I hope you'll follow.  

What is the hardest part about being a Christian?  The most rewarding?  The most isolating?  The most unifying?  

My new job: Faith in Place

I have been praying since last fall about what direction my career would take. It looked increasingly unlikely that a return to elemtary teaching would be possible. Teaching jobs down here are few and far away. Many of these small, rural districts are experiencing catastrophic budget problems or are closing up entirely. 

So I began taking inventory of my skills and strengths in the event that I would be rejoining the workforce in a sector other than education. If I can't teach, I still want a job where what I do makes a difference. 

And I think my prayers have been answered.  

Faith in Place is a non-profit whose mission is to inspire religious people of diverse faiths to care for the Earth through connection, education, and advocacy. Here's a video about who and what Faith In Place is:

I've accepted a part-time position as a Congregational Field Organizer for the Illinois Interfaith Power and Light (Climate and Energy) program. 

My job, funded by a grant from Illinois Science & Energy Innovation Foundation, will be to recruit members of religious congregations to implement strategies for saving energy and money in the context of caring for God's creation. I'll be providing information and increasing awareness about new technologies associated with the "smart grid". I'll conduct outreach events with various congregations looking to become more "green". 

My territory will cover southeastern Illinois. So if your congregation--of any faith or denomination--is interested in learning more about saving money on energy costs, about forming a "green team" to help conserve energy and decrease your carbon footprint, or any of Faith in Place's other programming, please contact me by email at  

I think this will be a good fit for my skills and interests. I'll be making my own schedule. I'll get to meet new people and travel to new places. And I'll get to put on real clothes and have adult conversations more than I have in quite some time. Thank you for your prayers as I transition back into the workforce and begin to work on home/work balance. 

(So, to recap, I have a stylish new short haircut and a job at an environmental non-profit.  I'm like a real life Claire Underwood. Anyone else totally binge watching House of Cards on Netflix?)

Lucky number 13

"Lucky" isn't a term I generally use as a descriptor for my life. I'm a person of faith, so I see God's hand in my small daily interactions as well as in big life-changing situations.

But I've really come to dislike the word "blessed" when describing my life, too. It's overused and often gives evidence of a prosperity theology with which I'm very uncomfortable. For example, seeing a Facebook status with "I just got a new car! #soblessed" makes me cringe. God does not bless us with stuff like some kind of divine lottery, we work hard to earn money to purchase things we want or need. God doesn't love--and therefore bless--you more because you enjoy a higher standard of living here in the U.S. than someone living in, say, Nepal or Nigeria. That's just luck. 

See how that word gets tricky?

Anyway, both Todd and I see strokes of pure luck and God's obvious presence and provision in our nearly 13 years of marriage, which we celebrate this month. 

Here are 13 of those instances in no particular order.

1. A few years ago when we were about to be without a place to live for an undetermined amount of time with two small children to provide for, my family graciously allowed us to live in my recently deceased Grandmother's house until we sorted out our next steps. We helped clean it out and prepare it for sale after we left. During our 14 months there, Todd was appointed to his first church in central Illinois. 

2. I discovered I was pregnant with Ava on the Catholic Feast of the Annunciation, when Mary was visited by the angel and told that she was going to have a baby. I had been praying the rosary for months and was deeply distressed that after losing a pregnancy several months before, perhaps I'd never be able to have another child. And then I was pregnant. Ava is named in Mary's honor (Ava Marie=Ave Maria=Hail, Mary). 

3. The cars almost always need major repairs the same week as our tax refund check arrives every. single. year. This year was no exception.

4. Madeline was born at 4:02 in the afternoon on June 14, 2005. 402 was the number of my Grandfather's ship in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II.

5. Maddie was also baptized a year to the day that we buried that same Grandfather, on September 22, 2005. I was pregnant with Maddie at his funeral, but I didn't yet know. 

6. My parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary the year Todd and I were married. Being able to celebrate with them at our reception is one of my warmest memories of my wedding day. 

7. When we were expecting Harper, we realized that she'd still be tiny at Annual Conference 2014. We joked that it would be funny if we had her baptized at the same ceremony in which Todd was commissioned--just get it all done at once! And then it happened. I still get teary thinking about that special day. 

8. Todd began a job at our church in Michigan while he was starting his classes in seminary, which was also the same week his unemployment benefits ran out.

9. The same week we learned that Todd would be unable to continue the process for ordination in the Michigan conference, we were invited to a meeting that would put him on the path to ordination in the conference he grew up in back in Illinois.  

10. If it hadn't been for the (possibly bad) influence of my suite mate and sorority sister on my 19th birthday, Todd and I would never have met. We met at a bar in Albion, and I hadn't really wanted to go out that night. But I'm glad I did.  

11. Todd had planned to propose to me several weeks before he actually did. But I may have mentioned in a conversation that I maybe wasn't sure I wanted to get married. So he waited a few weeks until we were both sure. My Dad calls this our "false start". 

12. Just before we left Michigan to move to Illinois for Todd's first appointment, we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. We took a picture of the girls on the same bridge we stood on our wedding day. 

13. My career has shifted a lot in the past few years. I've gone from teaching in a classroom to being home full-time with my children to working part-time for a non-profit. And it all feels right. I have the skills to do all of it. My education and life experiences have prepared me for most any work structure, which is good, because in life, luck favors the prepared. 

In what ways are you lucky? Are you celebrating any significant anniversaries this year?  

We are the ravens

Rev. Brian Sauder, executive director of Faith in Place (the non-profit I work for) preached at my church this Sunday. He used 1 Kings 17:1-7 from The Message:

And then this happened: Elijah the Tishbite, from among the settlers of Gilead, confronted Ahab: "As surely as God lives, the God of Israel before whom I stand in obedient service, the next years are going to see a total drought - not a drop of dew or rain unless I say otherwise."
God then told Elijah,
"Get out of here, and fast. Head east and hide out at the Kerith Ravine on the other side of the Jordan River. 
You can drink fresh water from the brook; I've ordered the ravens to feed you.
Elijah obeyed God's orders. He went and camped in the Kerith canyon on the other side of the Jordan.
And sure enough, ravens brought him his meals, both breakfast and supper, and he drank from the brook.
Eventually the brook dried up because of the drought.

We're introduced to two characters here: Ahab and Elijah. Ahab is in a competition with his deceased but equally evil father, King Omri, for the title of Worst King Ever. He doesn't care for his people, worships false gods, and married a foreign queen in order to secure more power for himself. He's part of a long line of really terrible rulers of Israel. 

The other character here is Elijah, which is translated to "the one true God". He's a Tishbite, which to ancient people would have been like saying he was from an "underserved population". 

Can you see the power dynamic at play here?

So Elijah seemingly comes out of nowhere and calls out Ahab, the most powerful man in the land, about his evil-doing. He tells Ahab that there will be a devastating drought unless Ahab begins changing his evil ways. And then Elijah does what I think any of us would do in a similar situation: he hides. 

Our text tells us that God tells Elijah to head to a ravine where there will be some water to sustain him. And then he tells Elijah that the ravens will bring him food--you know, croaking, carrion-eating, creepy ravens.

Elijah does as God says, and he survives. And as God promised, the ravens brought him food. Elijah goes on to do some pretty amazing things. But I want to back up a minute and talk about a point that Rev. Sauder made this weekend about the text that has really stuck with me. Rev. Sauder said that we, the church, are the ravens. And I think it's a pretty solid metaphor: we are called to help support prophets bringing God's message to the masses. We are called to show God's love and grace. But like ravens, we are noisy and dangerous predators (even among our own). Thankfully, like the ravens, we are clever and resourceful.

So I did some research about ravens. Here's the most fascinating thing I read from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: 
"[Ravens] also use their intellect to put together cause and effect. A study in Wyoming discovered that during hunting season, the sound of a gunshot draws ravens in to investigate a presumed carcass, whereas the birds ignore sounds that are just as loud but harmless, such as an airhorn or a car door slamming."

So ravens can distinguish sounds and know how to react to them. Do we, as the church, exercise such good judgment? When we see someone in need, do we react with appropriate compassion or do we jump to conclusions about what poor choices that person must have made to get into such a situation? Do we run toward the hurt knowing there's a person who needs us, or do we stay away because we're uncomfortable? What would the ravens do?

When we see other Christians behaving badly, do we stay silent? Do we jump in and pile on? Do we humbly work to be the hands and feet of Jesus? What would the ravens do?

And when we're faced with the very loud and desperate cries of our hurting planet, do we react appropriately? Do we change our behaviors and try to be better stewards of God's amazing creation or do we instead try to debunk the messengers and the scientists? 

What would the ravens do?

Who are the ravens in your life who help sustain you? How are you a raven for someone else?

Accidental pumpkins: a lesson on limits

See those garbage cans? Those are at the back of my house. See those pumpkin vines growing next to the garbage cans? Those are the fruits (or vegetables?) of my extreme laziness. Last fall, I set our squishy, sad pumpkins next to the garbage cans to dispose of, since apparently opening the garbage can lid was too hard. 

And then this spring, seeds from the discarded pumpkins began to grow from the soil beneath a few inches of landscape rock.

What an unexpected moment when I first saw those wide and unmistakably pumpkin-looking leaves start to grow. I had done nothing to deserve these pumpkins, but I became determined to reap a harvest. Harper and I checked on them several times a week. But honestly, I just let them grow. It's all I could do. 

I attended MomCon, the Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) yearly national conference in Indianapolis this weekend. One of the sessions I attended was led by Emily P. Freeman, author of Simply Tuesday 
and Grace for the Good GirlIn her session, she shared her wisdom on small-moment living in a fast-moving world. One of the most profound things she said was this: celebrate your smallness. The idea that we are small can lead some of us to fear and despair, but it's really a gift. We are small. We are not God, so embrace your limitations, let things grow around you, and be amazed.  

I could barely wait to get back home from MomCon to check on the pumpkins. I knew before I left that they'd probably be ready to pick while I was gone, and I hoped I wouldn't miss my window. Here's the final harvest: 

Six little pumpkins, one for each member of our family (if you include the dog). Since this year's crop was so successful, maybe I'll accidentally-on-purpose dispose of them in better soil this time. 

In what areas of your life do you need to embrace your smallness? Where do you need to just let things grow?

Sweet or Spicy

So you know how much I love Jen Hatmaker. My book study group is doing the For the Love Book Club on Faith Gateway right now and we're having a ball. It's so refreshing to do a book study where the object of the book is to give ourselves and each other grace in a world of unrealistic standards.

There's a chapter in For the Love where Hatmaker talks about two types of families: sweet or spicy. Now, there's a lot of overlap here, but I think she's right--most families trend toward one or the other of these identities. You know the sweet families: matching outfits, smiling faces, nary a raised voice or disobedient child, can sing church hymns in harmony, able to remain still for the duration of a meal. 
And I'm sure you've noticed the spicy ones: visible tattoos, volume and intensity cranked to 11, "personality", moving at lightning speed, love-hard-fight-hard, lots of big feelings.

 Not sure which category this fits into.  

We can probably see a little bit of ourselves in both groups, but here's the kicker: doesn't it always seem like we want our family to be more of the group that we aren't?  Why do we become so insecure about our own family when we see another behaving well? We all know that that family has their own issues when they're behind closed doors, so why do we buy into the lie that they're somehow better than us?

If we were able to watch ourselves on a hidden camera for a day I bet we'd be surprised at what an awesome job we're actually doing--plenty of I love you and physical contact and that's great honey, and let me help you with that and an extra piece of candy snuck in the lunch box and we'll do better tomorrow. But we tend to exaggerate our weaknesses and downplay our strengths. As a general rule, people who think they're doing a terrible job at something are probably doing just fine.

Is your family sweet or spicy? What is one characteristic from the opposite group that you admire? What is one characteristic that you wouldn't give up for anything?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"What we need is here."

Read this, right now, from Parker Palmer:

I have been feeling very fight-or-flight lately. The town we serve in failed to pass a school referendum for the second year in a row, making last year's cuts to our kids' education indefinite: no art, no elementary PE teacher, dismissal at 2PM instead of 3PM, no prep for teachers until after dismissal, and drastically reduced support staff. 

I have been awed by how well the teachers, administrators, and decision-makers in Neoga have worked together to serve our children in spite of the no votes. They are still showing up for our kids every single day, even though they'd be justified in saying that no one is supporting them. 

I'm frustrated. But I'm not alone. 

When I'm confronted by things that make me want to run, I'm reminded that no living situation is perfect and that your problems follow you wherever you go. Sometimes the problem isn't everyone or everything else; sometimes, "the call is coming from inside the house." It's hard to hold up a mirror to your own hurting heart.

I need to remember why I'm here. I'm called to serve alongside my husband in this community. And it's time to get to work. It's time to turn my concerns into action. Because what we need is here, for such a time as this. 

Today is the Jewish observance of Purim, a remembrance of brave Queen Esther who risked her life to save her people, the Hebrews, from certain death at the hands of the Persians. I'm sure Esther was terrified, but she also knew she was in exactly the right place at the right time for God to use her. 

Living in community is hard. Things don't always go smoothly. We convince ourselves that scarcity is real and we run instead of digging deep and connecting with each other. We're so much better, and more powerful, together.

What we need is here. Who we need is here, too. We'll soon celebrate the resurrection and marvel at life coming from death, light emerging from darkness. These symbols become ever more meaningful as I get older. And they inspire me to act, as the apostles did, to make things happen.

So I'm dreaming about how I can serve where I am in this difficult time, taking inspiration from Queen Esther and heartened by Parker Palmer's wise words.

Maybe you are dreaming, too. Let's do this together.

What's good about your community? What isn't? And what can you do to help? 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Take a good, long look.

I was at a Palm Sunday worship service yesterday, and I wanted to share a quick word which might help focus your prayers and thoughts as we begin Holy Week.

The story I'm about to tell was particularly interesting to me, as my family and I got to see a replica of Lincoln's funeral train this past summer.

After Abraham Lincoln's death, his body was transported from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois where he was buried. His casket was transported in a special funeral train car which stopped in many cities along the journey west to Illinois for citizens to pay their respects to their fallen leader.

It is said that as the funeral train passed by in New York, a black woman in the crowd held her son over her head, reaching as high as she could and with all her strength. And she said, "Son, take a good, long look. That man died for you."

This week, we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. The retelling of this story from year to year makes it no easier for me to grasp: Jesus died for me. And Jesus died for you. 

As parents, it's our job to hold our kids up high and point straight to Jesus. This Holy Week, let us try to get a good, long look at the Son of God, who fully understood the pain and suffering required of him and chose it anyway. 

What stories point you to Jesus? Which are your children's favorites? 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

How to change the world in 5 easy steps

Last weekend I was preparing to give the children's sermon at church. I was tasked with tying together Luke 13:6-9 about the barren fig tree and Change the World Sunday. The parable of the fig tree explains that Christians must bear fruit, otherwise we're just taking up space. But sometimes we need a bit of a push to get going: pruning, fertilizer, more water. less sun. Change the World Sunday is a concrete way for Christians to work on producing fruit by serving others in their community.

The Change the World Sunday event was born out of a frustration many pastors feel about a misguided directive to "save" people rather than serve people, to fill pews instead of create and empower disciples. So this event attempts to get folks out into their community and get to know their neighbors and needs. Our church collects money in March to help fund several small service projects in our community on the weekend of May 19-20 like painting rooms at the after school program, planting flowers for our shut-ins, or helping stock the local food pantry.

As the week progressed and I reflected on changing the world, I must admit the political scene developing around me tempered my enthusiasm. The candidacy of Donald Trump, while depressing, is most frightening when you consider the vigor with which his followers support him. Their lack of compassion, empathy, and critical thinking skills do not embody the values they want from the Christian nation they so desire.

What's a Christian to do? How do we fight hate, intolerance, and downright stupidity? Can we even hope to make a difference?

When I feel myself slipping into despair, I remember these 5 easy ways to stop taking up space and start bearing fruit. This is how we change the world:

1. Serve. Does your church have a particular mission focus? Find out. Don't have a church? Start volunteering at your local food pantry, nursing home, homeless shelter, or animal rescue. In my neighborhood, I'd put serving folks with Trump yard signs at the top of my list, which brings me to #2...

2. Listen. Everyone has a reason for why they feel or act a certain way. Some of my most meaningful moments as a parent and spouse have come while asking my loved one to explain his/her thinking in a genuinely loving way. Don't understand someone's political stance? Ask them why they think as they do. Get to know them. HEAR THEM OUT. You have an issue that's important to you, but others do, too, and for good reasons. Listen. Find common ground.

3. Be prepared to change yourself.  Feel like everyone is going mad? Well, is it possible that it's you? One of my favorite sayings from Jen Hatmaker is, "Perhaps the call is coming from inside the house."  Sometimes we notice behaviors of those around us because we're needing to change that same behavior within ourselves. Some folks call it "being convicted". I call it "paying attention".

4. Read. A Lot. Hear something outrageous on TV? Look it up on a different news source. Start with or Politifact. Educate yourself. Think critically. Candidates will often say inflammatory things to stay in the news cycle. Understand how this works. When confused, ask yourself: is this in conflict with what I know about the nature of God? With Jesus' teachings in the gospels? The word of God trumps Trump any day.

5. Guard your gates (This one comes from Sarah Bessey.) You get to decide what comes into your heart and mind. Can't handle debates? Don't watch them. Trust me, you'll be able to find a recap somewhere on TV or social media if you wish. Do not let what's going on in the world make you feel afraid or helpless. But also know your limits. This principle is why I can't watch zombie television shows or romantic comedies--they get in my head and make me feel afraid or make me compare my relationships to fictional ones.  

Above all, do not stay silent. Do not do nothing. Change starts in our own hearts, in our own homes, and ripples out from there. Be empowered by God's love instead of fearful of God's wrath. We can be quiet and gentle and still change the world. Start in your heart, your home, and your community.

What would you add to this list? How are you changing the world?