Tuesday, November 29, 2016

waiting for Christmas

The gift catalogs are here and Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone. I saw a jewelry store commercial on the TV at the gym yesterday that advertised a free bonus XBox with the purchase of a diamond tennis bracelet. If we don't stay focused, we might forget what Christmas really is.

Christmas is waiting.

This week actually marks the beginning of Advent, and therefore the beginning of the time God's children wade deeper into what it means to wait for God to keep His promise of Love.

We are those who long for Him. We are shepherds on a hill, cowering in the light of heavenly glory. We are a small, powerless girl with a womb growing wide with God's plans, yearning for the moment of delivery. We are the prophets dwelling in the temple, looking at baby after baby, seeking the One that will take away our sin and shame.

There once was a baby who was delivered for our deliverance, and the depth of that can take years to fully sink in.

Advent teaches me the lesson I tell my kids way too often, that we don't get to choose if we wait, but we do get to choose how we wait. The angels give us hope, though, don't they? This is what they told the shepherds, words that chase away the fear that there may not be not enough joy this Christmas:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."

There is good news for those who wait: The advent of joy will chase the fear away.

And, oh, how our longing for God deepens our belonging to God.

Advent is when we remember how far we were from God the Father before He sent His Son to save us. It is when we fill our hearts with the marvelous way He loves us. Advent reminds us to wait patiently for the appearance of the God to whom we belong.

Our family will be reading a beautiful family advent devotional this year to set out hearts above Christmas lists onto the one who has listed our names in the Book of Life.

We will pop open the windows of a Trader Joe's advent calendar every day, then enjoy the sweetness of a tiny chocolate in the midst of the waiting for Christmas morning. We will cherish the knowledge that our God is the One who comes.

This morning I sit with my advent devotional before me, a cup of coffee in my hand, and a stillness in my soul. After all these years, here I am waiting... again.

I am one who longs and waits for His advent all the days of my life. In desperate times, in dark seasons, in happy days of joy, and in days of peace: I want Him most of allThis will be the way my life will go for many, many more years. There is something deeply comforting about that.

Peace is knowing the end before it comes, even if I don't know when or how it will happen. Everything sad will be made right someday, because in the end the fight will be won by the God who promised to show us the way home.

I hope you find your heart full of waiting this Advent season, and that when Christmas morning dawns, you find He has come for you all over again.

Merry Christmas, you guys. I hope you enjoy the sweet depth of the season of waiting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

how to live a holy life

"A priest is a priest no matter where she happens to be. Her job is to recognize the holy in things and hold them up to God. Her job is to speak in a way that helps other people recognize holiness of things, too."
-Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church

I wonder where everybody is today. Are you driving across state lines, heading to Grandma's house or Cousin Jenny's cabin for the holiday? Are you crouched under the weight of deadlines, hoping to wrap that project up before Christmas? Are you juggling kids out of school and relatives headed to your house, while facing the needs of five thousand people with one turkey and a basket of biscuits on Thursday? Or are you wondering where and when you'll eat this proverbial meal of thanks, if you get to eat it all this year?

Wherever you are, God has placed holy things around you, and He longs to draw his purposes from them in order to reveal Himself to you in deeper ways. This fact is a mystery of God and one of the great the beauties of the Christian faith.

"Holy" means set apart for God's express use. In the Old Testament, the furniture in the Temple was holy, and God called the Sabbath holy. A holy life isn't earned by good behavior. When we recognize the set apart-ness in the things around us, we better understand how to live holy lives.

We have to find the things in life that mirror the gospel truths of grace, mercy, justice, sin, and our great need for salvation. 

Yesterday we took our children ice skating for the first time. At first, they looked like Bambi on the ice, all awkward and leggy. After a few times around the rink, clutching the side wall with white knuckles, their ability grew and they started venturing out on their own. They fell and got back up, sometimes they laughed, and a once or twice there were real-deal tears because blisters were forming on their feet. 

Today they have holy bruises all over their knees. 

My kids are so proud of those purple marks. They did something hard, they learned something new, they courageously fell and got back up and tried again. They didn't let the more experienced skaters flying by them, doing turns and flips make them feel insecure. They just fought to make it around without holding on, then they tried to go twice around without falling. Improvement, not perfection was their goal. They would wave at me as they flew past, and I couldn't help but smile and wave back. I was delighted to see them out there, being resilient and brave.

Then, when they were beat up and tired, they stopped. There is a lot to be said for the holiness of setting aside our efforts and resting.

Wherever you are today, I hope you see the holiness in the things around you. I hope that holiness reminds you that God has given you many things to be thankful for, but most of all, He has given you Himself. He has made you His very own set-apart son or daughter.

You are a priest out there, wherever you are. You carry the power and love of God within you in equal amounts. You may look like Bambi on ice a little too often, but that doesn't mean you aren't right where you need to be. Our scars and bruises prove we have fought the good fight. Our joy proves that God has never left us alone in the midst of our struggle. He delights to see us out there, resilient and brave.

Have the best Thanksgiving ever, whatever that means for you in your current situation. Savor the holiness of a meal spent with God's people. Bless the plates that are placed before you. Give thanks for His love that can never be taken from us. Seek the holy, so that you might understand how to live a holy life, set apart for His purposes.

And maybe go ice skating, too. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

(Some of) My Favorite Etsy Shops

Last week I stopped into one of my favorite shops in Austin, Vintage Fresh, and noticed that some of their wooden wall art was made by a company called Hemlock and Heather. I recognized the name because several years ago, Hemlock and Heather was just a little Etsy shop and they made my headboard after our bedroom flooded. Now their art is in West Elm. Go figure.

Etsy is the only place something like that could happen, which is one reason I love Etsy. I think buying from small businesses, supporting regular people, and finding future design geniuses before everyone else knows about them is brilliant. (And all from the comfort of my own sofa.)

I've been shopping on Etsy for YEARS. Once I had kids, I couldn't go to flea markets or shops any longer, and Etsy opened up a whole marketplace full of unique handmade products that I could access in between changing diapers. When the kids were potty-trained (which really is LIBERATION, you guys), I just sort of never left the etsy world. I have bought furniture, vintage homegoods, clothing, jewelry, art, fabric, and more from various Etsy sellers over the years. I even have my own Etsy shop now, which is super fun.

Recently, a friend of mine asked for a list of my favorite Etsy sellers. I decided to make it a whole post, so you could finish all your Christmas shopping today, and enjoy the bliss of the holidays for the next five weeks instead of stressing over what you're going to get your sister-in-law, then run out of time and hand her a Starbucks card. I've organized this list by categories, to make it easier for you.

If you want to see all of my favorite things and sellers on Etsy, you can check out my profile by clicking here. What sellers do you love?

Happy almost Thanksgiving, you guys. Shop small this Christmas if you can!

Remnant Ceramics: This shop belongs to one of the women I actually know and trust most in my life. (Hi, QUINN!) Her porcelain jewelry is really ART, and so beautiful. She donates all of her proceeds to A21 to end human trafficking, too, so you're changing the world when you buy from her. BONUS.

Laurane: I just ordered some earrings from this shop, and I adore them. There are a few more pieces I would like to buy, so don't snatch up all the crystal earrings, mmmkay??

Constant Feathers: This shop  belongs to my friend, Jaime. She named one of her earrings after me, so I am now FAMOUS. These earrings will make you feel all kinds of awesome. She also sells art, because she is incredibly talented in a million ways.

tinahdee: I have loved the stacking rings in this shop since forever. The End.

the carbon crusader: Fun pencils and funny buttons. I can't stop. If anyone wants me, I'll be over here with my Mean Girls Pencils.

scissor mill: This shop has a bunch of personalized gifts. I am loving the cookie cutter right now a LOT. 

sapling press: I have an ironic, dark sense of humor. This shop's products make that part of me feel very safe.

Jane Foster: The designs they sell in this shop are so cute. I want a million Santas and mermaids, don't you???


Mama Bird and Co: I met the owner of this shop at the baseball fields. I love her stuff. I think all the mamas need sleep, don't you?

Kim Kat Design: I love this poncho to the very end.

Surf and the City: I have one dress form this vintage clothing shop, and it is divine. Who needs Anthropologie when you can find clothes like this?

the house of hemp: Winter cowl neck scarves are the best ever.

Top Knot Goods: It's true. There's no rest for the rad. BUY THIS SHIRT, please, to remind us all that the hustle never ends.

Homeland Tees: If anyone can help me figure out if I should have a California Home hat or a Texas Home hat, that'd be supery duper. #whereismyhome
Windy Peak Vintage: Just go buy everything, you guys. Morgan may be getting this jacket for Christmas.

Between You & Me: These signs have my heart. Especially the Velveteen Rabbit one. I lurv it.

Clare Elsaesser: These paintings make me happy.

Gus and Lula: I used some of their prints in the classrooms at our church, and I LOVE them. I could fill my house with their pretty art. Half of all their profits are donated to charities, too. I can't stress how much I love this.

kiki and polly: Really. I can't tell you how much I want an original from this shop.

please be still: Jen Renninger is crazy talented. I've seen her art in lots of places,  I own one of her prints, and would love to have more. So much love!

simply chi: I want the owner of this shop to be my personal shopper. I don't know where she finds all these amazing midcentury pieces, but I'm dead over this green rug. I live in Texas, the land of gratuitous farmhouse chic (thanks so much Joanna Gaines), and I need more modern boho in my life.

Rusty Gold: This shop has a mix of handmade and vintage items. What I really want is this planter. Right now. In my house. With a magical plant that I won't kill, no matter how many times I forget it's a living thing in need of care.

fiber art & design: Macrame is my new obsession. Until I learn to do it myself, I will shop it all day long.

triple seven home: Why do these lights have to be so amazing?

Old New House: All the homegoods in this shop are amazing, but I particularly love their massive selection of pennants.
Vintage Swings: We don't have snow in Austin, so I think my kids need one of these tire swings. (That logic may not make sense, but I don't care.)

Bohma Handmade: My beautiful friend Keishann makes the best stuff. These burpcloths are the so stinking adorable.

ur a star house: These customized families are so cute. And I think this is the best nativity ever for little ones to play with at Christmas.

Imagination Nation: This catapult looks like fun, but the Frodo sword is the one I wish I could get my boys without endangering their lives.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

my election night prayer

It's election night and even though it feels like life as we know it is about to end no matter which candidate wins, I keep telling myself that it's going to be okay.

It just may not feel like it's okay tomorrow. But, eventually we'll get there.

Until then, though, I am leaning HARD into all my favorite things (chocolate, gummy bears, bubble baths, and a good books) and painting Christmas ornaments to sell in my etsy shop. Christmas helps me cope with life.

click here to view my shop

It also helps when I sit in each of my children's beds to say goodnight.

Tonight, while I perched on the edge of a vintage quilt draped across a teal green four poster bed, I whispered to my daughter, "Every time I look at you, my brain just explodes with how much I love you." She asked me if that was still true when I was angry with her. I swept a wisp of hair out of her face and told her I love her forever no matter what. These bedtime talks are the best thing ever in the whole world. I hope she'll let me sit there on the edge of her bed and kiss her forehead like this until infinity.

My sons all wanted to know "the plan" when I went to tell them goodnight. I was interrogated while hanging from the edge of the bunk bed in one room and then flopped on an ancient bedspread in the other room for my second inquisition. I tried not to care if they actually used soap in the shower tonight (they didn't). They were full of questions and way too much energy for that late at night. We should probably consider a kid-friendly 12-step program for sugar addiction due to Halloween candy.

The boys all machine-gunned questions at me, "What's happening tomorrow, when can we play that game, what will we eat, when is our class, where are you going tomorrow night, do I really have to get a shot at the doctor's office?" Tucking in preteen boys is like suddenly finding yourself in the middle of a surprise Saturday Night Live sketch with multiple Chris Farleys. They ask questions and then don't even wait for the answers because they suddenly remember some funny joke, or they have to tell you about a new sign of puberty that is "so weird", or they need to fake-punch themselves in the face to make you laugh. Their behavior begs the questions: Am I even a good mom to these people who have exactly zero sense 90% of the time? I'm not sure there's even a way to access the correct answer to that question. But they still all kiss me goodnight and they tell me I'm the best mom EVER, so I guess I'm not totally blowing it.

I walked downstairs and heard all about Morgan's latest grad school assignment, his thoughts on super important things, and all his plans for the next two weeks. (I was suddenly very exhausted after that.) I lit candles and thought of how thankful I am for the blessings as well as the challenges we face together tonight.

Now I'm just thinking about all my friends out there, who read this blog, and are off living their lives in the middle of this crazy election. In the midst of all the uncertainty our nation faces, we are still all just living our lives like we always have before. There's something comforting about that.

I wish I could sit beside all of you and hear your hearts like I heard my children's tonight. I wish I could tell you that you are loved more than you will ever understand. I want to hear your plans for tomorrow and your funny stories from today, and I'd love to see you fake-punch yourself in the face. Because fake-punches are really pretty funny.

Tonight, I vote for peace on earth, and for the God who sent His Son to be our Immanuel, to bring us all home. I also vote for all of you, for the way you care for your friends and family, and for your dreams of justice and joy everlasting.

I pray that our hearts would grow more certain of our deep need for God when we wake up tomorrow. Let us cling to the same faith that has been saving us from the darkness all these years, as it keeps on saving us, no matter who lives in the White House. May the love that casts our fears away call out freedom over our souls.

Yes, let there be peace on earth, let us give thanks in all things, even the hardest graces that come upon us. This is how faith and hope and love grow in measure within us.

Everything really is going to be okay. Eventually.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

when we watch and pray

Then [Jesus] said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
-Matthew 26:38-41(ESV)

I grew up running.

It’s one of my clearest memories, the day I heard my parents talking in the backyard about signing me up to run on a track team. It was 1984, I was eight years old, sporting a true Farrah Fawcett haircut, and I could hear their voices there in our living room because the windows were  open to let the California breeze in.

I was tall and fast and somehow, running just seemed to become a part of me after that. You would never guess that now, of course, given that I don’t run races anymore. But occasionally at one of my son’s football games, when I stand on the painted lane numbers of a real track, a sleeping part of my soul comes alive. It’s all the result of familiar territory and ancient brain pathways, I suppose.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about running, but not the kind that involves lanes and spikes and batons for the mile relay. I’ve thought about the kind of running that feels like escape. There have been sorrows aplenty in the great, wide world as well as in the lives of several dear friends.

The human soul can only bear so much, you know?

Some days I daydream about running away for a week to Europe or Wyoming or home to California. Others I fantasize about the kind of running that takes you right into the middle of the pain in someone’s life. I long to run into the fire of my friends’ lives and rescue them. But there are some fires that can only be put out by God, and those flames seem to take time to fully submit to His will.

So I keep running in place, praying for all the sad things to come untrue.

What I’m learning is that all this figurative running is taking me somewhere. Buried deep within the struggles of our lives is an abundance of Jesus. I have wasted so many years of my life being afraid of the struggle, wanting to run away from difficulty or ensure that the people I love will never face a dark day. I don’t want to live my life like that ever again. I don’t want a new kind of insurance to lobotomize my fears. I want to stand in the midst of the Garden, to remain here with the people who are hurting.

I want to stay fully awake and watch with Jesus.

When Jesus carried the cross to Calvary, everyone could see He was carrying death, but only He knew He also carried the greatest gift of life on His back. He carried death so He could end its reign on earth, and life so He could lavish it upon the children of God for all the evers that ever will be.

If we look away or fall asleep, we might miss our chance join Him in living for the sake of true Love.

All around us, the world is caught in the Garden, holding its breath and in need of prayer. Blessed are those who mourn. When we lift up the sorrows of the world and press them to our heart to better understand one another, we lift God’s greatest gift of love, too.

The window of heaven is open, and Jesus’s voice outside is floating in on the breeze of the Spirit. It isn’t hard to hear Him asking us to watch and pray.

But we will have to stay awake.