Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Year of the Avocado

self portrait
There are a lot of reasons why year 37 has been a turning point for me.  I'm calling it "The Year of the Avocado" mostly because I want to give it a catchy name so that I always remember it and what I learned from it. Avocado, because most mornings I smear a piece of toast with avocado and top it with sea salt and it seems to be the most perfect thing for me.  I know what I like now.  I've learned a lot about who I am and who I'm not and my unique calling in Christ.  During this season of my life- and mostly during this time away in the Dominican Republic with my husband where I've had the luxury of space and time to think and pray and rest without distraction- I've had time to re-start and to go back home with a more focused attempt at living the life that God intended me to live.

The Year of the Avocado is when I panicked (slightly) about saying goodbye to my youth but then remembered that I'm still strong and as young as my mind allows.  It's when I decided very firmly in my mind and more than ever that comparison, like expectations, are killer and have no place in my mind or heart.  It's when I was doing too much and then decided that I can't do everything so I'll be more intentional to do or not do things.  It's when I stopped striving so much.  It's when I walked on the beach with my husband and talked things over.  Big picture things, the most important things.  It's when my life went from good to much better not because circumstances changed but because the attitude of my heart did. 

I have a lot of this to owe to what I firmly believe was the Holy Spirit leading me to Shauna Niequist's book, Bittersweet.  I loved her other books- Cold Tangerines and Bread and Wine- both are amazing books I highly recommend and I of course feel like Shauna and I are great friends and I at least look forward to spending time in eternity with her, but Bittersweet hit so very close to home that it had me weeping on the plane ride here and I started and finished it all in one day.  Miscarriages, houses that won't sell, friends who move away, family funerals... it was all there.  It's one thing to use examples of similar struggles and trials, it's another to identify EXACTLY with EVERY ONE.  Of course, even if your struggles and trials are different and varied, you'll still gain great insight through this book.  It is such a gift.  But still, it's amazing when God hits the nail on the head and it's all there in black and white- exactly, exactly what you needed to hear.  For example:

"My friend Sarah, when her house in Grand Rapids was for sale, prayed every day for the family that would buy their home, for their health and safety, for any children who would be born in that home.  She prayed for the exact right family, to bring light and hope and significant connections in the neighborhood.  I thought this was very nice of her.

Meanwhile, my prayers sounded more like this:  Dear God, please let somebody buy our house.  Please let it be someone who's pre-approved.  I don't care if they bulldoze or start raising livestock in the yard.  I don't care if they're into midnight drum circles in the driveway or if they launder money in the basement.  Just let them have good credit.

There is, however, a moral to this story.  Sarah's house sold, and mine has not, and so now I have begun to pray for more than just solid financing.  I pray for the things that will happen in that home, for the new family that will, someday, make their lives there.  I pray for children who might be born in that home, remembering the moment we brought Henry home from the hospital to that very house.  I pray for the way a new family will add to the lives of our neighbors, for Becky and Claudia and Katie and their families.  I even try to find a reason that it's taken this long- maybe they're not ready to move, this family I'm praying for.   Maybe there's something I can't see.  And that's the core of prayer:  admitting that just maybe, there's something going on that we can't see.  So when I'm afraid, I pray, and I ask for God's help, that I will be able to see something I wasn't able to see before, or at least trust him to do the seeing." 
If you are on my home team and keep up with the life and times of Candace Chaney, you know this is SPOT ON.

But then there is also the list.  I'm usually a type B anti-list maker, but I thought Shauna's list of "Things I Don't Do" was exactly more of what the Year of the Avocado is all about.  Her thoughts on pairing things down and figuring things out made me put my list in writing and I feel so much more free, lighter.  She explains that she had come to a point in life that she felt like she needed to "do everything better" and then explained that "the three together, DO EVERYTHING BETTER, are a super-charged triple threat, capturing in three words the mania of modern life, the anti-spirit, anti-spiritual, soul-shriviling garbage that infects and compromises our life."  Her list looks a lot like mine but there I go again.... comparing.  Comparing is something I want to put on the list of things I don't do.  My list looks different from your list and for posterity and maybe for accountability, I want to share my list of Things I Don't Do.

Things I Don't Do:
1.  Bake (Except for special occasions- Christmas bread or birthdays and even then I'm not afraid to buy cupcakes and call it a day)
2.  Perfect  (I don't do perfect.  Pinterest worthy Valentine's Day treats fall into this category, for example.  And making homemade cheese crackers or 100% organic lasagna)
3.  Garden  (I admire my friends who can, but I can't and don't have time to learn.  At least not now.)
4.  Comparison
5.  Taking care of People Who Aren't My People  (Tough one, Shauna, but I got this from you and thank you for reminding me that I am not and can't be everyone's everything.)
6.  Family financials (Thank you, Jack)
7.  Shower everyday (Sorry, not sorry)
8.  Shopping for gifts (Jack does our Christmas shopping, I make it by on the skin of our teeth for close friend's birthday parties, and if you receive a gift from me it's because I saw something and thought of you.  Gift giving is really hard for me and takes lots of mental space and I'm sorry.  Please forgive me.)

My list of Things I Do is more than twice as long at least and  I won't bore you with it, but trust me- it is more than enough to fill my 24/7.  But I'm glad I wrote that down, too. I will venture to do those things with all that I have and on purpose. 

The list of Things I Don't Do is a great challenge, like she says:

"It's brutal, making the list of Things I Don't Do," especially for someone like me, who refuses most of the time to acknowledge that there is, in fact, a limit to her personal ability to get things done.  But I've discovered that the list sets me free.  I have it written in black and white, sitting on my desk, and when I'm tempted to go rogue and bake muffins because all the other moms do, I come back to both lists and I remind myself about the important things:  that time is finite, as is energy.  And that one day I'll stand before God and account for what I did with my life.  There is work that is only mine to do: a child that is ours to raise, stories that are mine to tell, friends that are mine to walk with.  The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be.  It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being." 

But anything that's worth its salt is at least a little hard, right?  Even a holiday on the beach- a big gorgeous, soul-refreshing Sabbath- takes time and planning and money.  Everything good costs something be it time or money or energy.

I'll continue to work on my Things I Do because that's what God made me to do and it won't be easy all the time, but it will be worth it and I'll know that it's all worth it because I've thought it over and this is what I'm supposed to be doing anyway.

So thank you, faithful and loving Creator God who clothes me with Himself and thank you my friend Shauna.

With every slice of avocado toast, I'll remember that things are coming together in my mind and heart and I *think* I just might be ready to meet three little ones head on and do this thing for as long as I have until the Lord calls me Home where the toast will taste even better and my heart will be even more free.

Amen. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

my kayaking pep talk from God

Do you follow Humans of New York on Facebook?  If you don't, you should- it's a fascinating collection of stories where a people are asked poignant questions resulting in a photo and a quote.  People say the weirdest and most interesting things. 
I'm starting to think that I dreamed it because I can't find this guy's quote from the other day, but it has stuck with me, rattling around in my head, catalyzing a collection of thoughts and a conversation with God.  It was an older gentleman who was asked, "If you could give one piece of advice to a large number of people, what would it be?"  His answer was to try not to medicate yourself.  He said something about feelings being just feelings and if you give it enough time, it will pass and you don't need to medicate with shopping or food or entertainment or drugs.  He said he understood because he was addicted to heroine for 10 years so he knows the temptation well.  But that was his one piece of advice and I thought it was brilliant and wise.  Don't we all tend to medicate?*

So then I found myself in the ocean, kayaking all alone- just me and God and me singing songs to Him and I feel like he whispered the answer and isn't it handy dandy that it rhymes?

Instead of medication, try meditation.

So often we medicate and try to skip over the pain and the hunger and the hurt and the sheer frustration of this fallen world and instead of feeling it and letting it pass, we medicate.  We eat one more handful of chocolate covered almonds, one more glass of wine. We buy the pair of shoes we really don't need, we check our Facebook again.   We would be better off to gain some self-awareness and call the feeling what it is and choose a phrase to pray, find a way to connect with God, speak what is true, find that breadcrumb trail to him in whatever situation we find ourselves.

"The child became a man and the man became a preacher whose sermons were full of commonplace things:  seeds and nets, coins and fishes, lilies of the field, and birds of the air.  Wherever he was, he had a knack for looking around him and weaving what he saw into his sermons, whether it was sparrows for sale in the marketplace, laborers lining up for their pay, or a woman glimpsed through a doorway kneading her family's bread... 'The kingdom of heaven is like this,' he said over and over  again, comparing things they knew about with something they knew nothing about and all of the sudden what they knew had cracks in it, cracks they had never noticed before, through which they glimpsed bright and sometimes frightening new realities... Every created thing was fraught with divine possibility; wasn't that what he was telling them?  Every ho-hum detail of their days was a bread crumb leading them into the presence of God, if they would just pick up the trail and follow."  Barbara Brown Taylor

Of course, it's easy for me to meditate on the love of God on vacation in the Carribean:  the love of God is vast and ineffable and beautiful like the ocean I'm floating on and it's wild like the waves but it will support me if I trust it enough to lay back and float.  Idealic circumstances beget easy meditation.  But it's back there at home, too, where things break and the sameness and the mundane and the endless mess-making creates places in my heart that are much more bleak.  But of course, God is always good and he's left a trail for me and I can find it if I would only open my eyes and choose meditation over medication more and more every day.

*For the record, I absolutely 100% endorse prescriptions by wise health care professionals for people whose brain chemistry is dysfunctional.  For the record.  That's a different story. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

a smorgasbord of love


This past week has been a smorgasbord of love.

It started with cinnamon toast and coffee with Jennifer, then Chipotle with Meg and little Kit.

It was bacon wrapped dates and cheeses and fig jelly for Katie's birthday.


 (Happy birthday, sweet friend! 27!)





Then it was rainbow trout and bluegrass with Nicole, Jim, Neelima and Himanshu.

Sunday lunch came together nicely- a mini garden turkey loaf meal-  with Otis and Anna.

Aaron came that night and we ate Canes and leftovers and smiled over good news.  


My mom and I sat beside tall glass windows filtering in the clearest, most beautiful day in East Texas and ate lentils and black beans, our brown eyes meeting for lunch on Monday.   

Barbara served us up her chicken tetrazzini on that same night and we celebrated her new kitchen and Anna Grace's teeth, straight and braces-free.

Wednesday I brought a chicken biscuit and waited with Ben and Meg while she labored and delivered the most beautiful red headed baby boy and we'll celebrate tonight over some chicken enchiladas.

Yesterday it was at Cush's grocery and Market where Amye and I were served shrimp salad in an avocado and we prayed for her mom, for a miracle and for healing, and our hearts and words poured out like the iced tea.

Last night it was Korrie's famous spaghetti and meatballs and talk around the table that kept us out a little too much past the kids' bed time, but it was worth it.

It's all worth it.

It's always worth it.

More and more I'm convinced that coming to the table and looking at each other in the eye balls is one of the holiest things that we can do with our time.

So call your friend who is struggling and bring food to her if she can't meet you out.  Eat it together.  Ask her how she's doing.  Call your mom and share what's on your heart and let love flow and heal. Share a laugh with your kids over some pizza. Give thanks together.  Be honest and vulnerable and toast the good news or cry into your coffee.  Accept dinner invitations and extend them whenever you can.  Serve willingly and be willing to be served.  Make this eating-together thing a top priority.

Your smorgasbord awaits.

"...I'm coming to see that the table is about food, and it's also about time.  It's about showing up in person, a whole and present person, instead of a fragmented, frantic person, phone in one hand and to-do list in the other.  Put them down, both of them, twin symbols of the modern age, and pick up a knife and fork.  The table is where time stops.  It's where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite."  Shauna Niequist, Bread and Wine

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

full throttle


Easter Sunday at church
 This quote so perfectly encapsulates life with my full throttle toe head, I just had to share it again:

 "To be fair, the intangible benefits of parenting are hidden between this scary facade. When I didn't have kids, I didn't get it, and I shouldn't have. I had never fought in the Vietnam War and had dinner in Paris on the same day. I had no context to understand the casualties or the romance a parent feels on the same day." Jim Gaffigan from his new book Dad is Fat

If you have kids, I'm sure you can relate to the extreme glory and substantial suffering all wrapped up into the singular experience that is parenting. 

Easter Sunday at the beach
Love you and your wild and free and full spirited self, Asher! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

even then

my Easter babies- for these three, I'm thankful
"This is what I've come to believe about change:  it's good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good.  By that I mean that it's incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God's hand, which is where you wanted to be all along, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be... So this is the work I'm doing now, and the work I invite you into:  when life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate.  And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow."  Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

It's true for change and it may also be true for things that don't change- things you just have to plow through day after day when you can see no end in sight.  But maybe that's the point.  It's not about what we see, it's about trusting in what we can't see.  Whether He's nudging us forward or holding us still, we must trust that He loves us and He knows best.

He is good.  All the time.

Even when the sewer backs up into your house.  Again.

Even then.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

love in Luling

my chunky monkey nephew, Jackson, 6 months
 I have a million pictures to catch up on... our spring break was full of all kinds of wonderful time with people we love! 
Anna Grace, the doting junior babysitter



no love lost between these cousins

nephew William, almost eight!

Alexander (the great), four years old

These are a few from our brief New Orleans stint with the birthday girl, my little sister.  She's the kind of girl who cuts perfect lines in her perfectly formed pancakes (her kitchen organization puts all other kitchen organization to shame), sings the paint off the walls at a funeral on her birthday, laughs a lot with a little higher pitched chuckle at the end, and loves her boys with her unending devotion.  I think there's always a little protective instinct you feel for your younger siblings and it's no different with KK.  She has a community of sisters in her corner of the swamp to throw her baby showers and keep her kids and make her laugh and for that I am grateful.  I adore my little sis. 

have read, reading, will read

my cover art for a book I imagine entitled "Unlikely Grace" 



some good books I have read recently:

1.  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - Hauntingly beautiful and a sobering account of life during WWII, this book has stayed with me well after I read (or heard, rather, as I listened on Audible.com) the last sentence.  I want to read it again. 

2.  This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett - A collection of this award-winning author's articles serves as sort of an autobiography.  Pages turned quickly and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

3.  "Who Could That Be at This Hour?" (All the Wrong Questions) by Lemony Snickett - I read this one to the boys and wow- it did a number on the old vocabulary front.  My four-year-old can now tell you without hesitation what "bombinating" means.  I think I enjoyed this book a little bit more than the kids did, even, but then again, I adore Lemony Snickett and if I'm going to read to the kids, I cannot bear writing that's not up to snuff.  Lemony NAILS it.

4.  The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis - Anna Grace read this one and then asked me to read it because she knew I would love it and she was right.  Heartwarming and inspiring.

books I'm currently reading:

1. Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan - hilarious and completely on point

2.  The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate - for the boys again, so far so great

some books I will read (they're on my shelf and waiting!):

1.  Bittersweet by Shauna Niequest

2.  Wearing God by Lauren F. Winner

I'd love to know what you're reading and what you recommend!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

New Orleans City Park



"City Park is as magical and unique as the city of New Orleans.  The 1,300-acre outdoor oasis has enchanted New Orleanians since 1854, making it one of the nation's oldest urban parks.  Each year, millions of visitors stroll under the same historic oaks and picturesque moss canopies that served as the backdrop for dances, concerts and even gentlemanly duels or 'affaires d'honneur' for generations." www.neworleanscitypark.com

City Park is as magical and unique as the city of New Orleans. The 1,300-acre outdoor oasis has enchanted New Orleanians since 1854, making it one of the nation’s oldest urban parks. Each year, millions of visitors stroll under the same historic oaks and picturesque moss canopies that served as the backdrop for dances, concerts and even gentlemanly duels or “affaires d’honneur” for generations.
- See more at: http://neworleanscitypark.com/about#sthash.rxcWDN2P.dpuf
City Park is as magical and unique as the city of New Orleans. The 1,300-acre outdoor oasis has enchanted New Orleanians since 1854, making it one of the nation’s oldest urban parks. Each year, millions of visitors stroll under the same historic oaks and picturesque moss canopies that served as the backdrop for dances, concerts and even gentlemanly duels or “affaires d’honneur” for generations.
- See more at: http://neworleanscitypark.com/about#sthash.rxcWDN2P.dpuf
City Park is as magical and unique as the city of New Orleans. The 1,300-acre outdoor oasis has enchanted New Orleanians since 1854, making it one of the nation’s oldest urban parks. Each year, millions of visitors stroll under the same historic oaks and picturesque moss canopies that served as the backdrop for dances, concerts and even gentlemanly duels or “affaires d’honneur” for generations.
- See more at: http://neworleanscitypark.com/about#sthash.rxcWDN2P.dpuf


City Park is as magical and unique as the city of New Orleans. The 1,300-acre outdoor oasis has enchanted New Orleanians since 1854, making it one of the nation’s oldest urban parks. Each year, millions of visitors stroll under the same historic oaks and picturesque moss canopies that served as the backdrop for dances, concerts and even gentlemanly duels or “affaires d’honneur” for generations.
- See more at: http://neworleanscitypark.com/about#sthash.rxcWDN2P.dpuf














Of course, my writer-girl immediately said she'd like to write a story about it.  And it seemed as though the air itself was thick with stories.  I wouldn't hate spending a whole day under one of these great-grandmother trees with their arms reaching down like they want to pick you up. 

Magical indeed.