Writing in Pencil

Writing in Pencil

A scene from one of my favorite movies, State Fair:

Mrs. Frake: “I’ve got my whole day planned out.”

Margie: “Don’t you know you can’t plan a whole day? There’s no such thing!” 

I love plans. I plan my outfits, my workouts, when I’m going to wash my hair, and what clothes I need for my girls each season. I’ve dedicated basically all my free time to the hobby of planning what books I’m going to read (and then reading them). I plan my errands and household tasks. I plan around Amy Jane’s eating schedule. I (very loosely) plan our meals. But, as Margie points out, planning your day (or week, or month) is optimistic at best and pointless at worst because there are so many things that are out of our control. (It physically pains me to write that and know it’s true.)

 Hello, puking toddler. 

Hello, flat tire/broken AC/dead battery/plethora of car troubles that have plagued us our entire marriage.  

Hello, hurricane season.

Hello, lost job opportunities. 

Hello, unexpected diagnosis. 


If this year has taught me anything, it’s that the white-knuckle grip I tend to have on my surroundings is a waste of my energy. So many of the plans I’ve made, not just in 2020 but for a long time before that, have needed to be scratched out and rewritten. Backspaced, deleted, whited out. This could be why, although I love to plan, I’m not necessarily a “planner” person, as in one who sits with a physical calendar/planner and fills it out faithfully week to week or month to month. My inability to stick with that particular practice has finally come in handy this year in which lots of more organized people saw their planner-buying dollars go to waste when those plans were wiped out almost in one fell swoop. 

A few months ago, a phrase came to mind when I was thinking about this. Whether it’s for your career, parenthood, education, family, or anything else, I do think we need to make our plans and tell our stories and document our dreams. We can’t just throw in the towel and shake our fists in an ineffectual rage at the forces of the universe keeping us from following through. 

We can plan. We just have to write in pencil. 

I love this idea because you’re still doing the planning. You’re not giving up, giving in, checking out, or going under. You’re planning, dreaming, doing- but it’s not set in stone. It’s not written in pen, which is messy when you try to scribble over it or white it out. Writing in pencil means you have the option, whether by necessity or desire, to flip the pencil over and erase what was there. You know what? I wanted to be a teacher my entire life. Then I taught for three years, had a baby, and now I’m a writer(ish). That plan needed to be written in pencil so I could erase it and start over. 

People change. I showed my mom a picture of us from 2012 today and she said, “That feels like a lifetime ago. I feel like I was a completely different person then.” I stared at my 23-year-old self in the picture and felt the same way. My story of 10 years ago needed to be written in pencil, easily erased so that pieces of it could be changed, moved around, adapted, and upgraded for the person I am becoming. 

Also, the most obvious point to be made about this is that we write in pencil because ultimately we aren’t really holding the pencil or the eraser or the Lisa Frank notebook that these plans go in. God is driving the plot, shaping the narrative, and taking us in directions we never saw coming. Practically nothing about my life, with the exception of being married to Jonathan, is what I thought it would be when I was a young adult making plans for the future. And if I had a journal to look back over from the last 10-15 years, it would be filled with stuff I had to cross out and rewrite as it became clear that those plans were going to change. 

We believe lies about ourselves. We admire or even idolize people who let us down in ways that range from disappointing to devastating. We have imposter syndrome, decision fatigue, and, burn out. We grow and learn and change. We put away childish things and say goodbye to misbegotten dreams. The down-to-the-minute schedule that has us arriving right on time is derailed by a stubborn toddler or spilled coffee. And a lot of these—from the grief of a missed opportunity to a wrongheaded perspective—are written not in pencil but in a big black magic marker on our souls.

Writing in pencil lets us adapt. We don’t have to throw the entire day or month or life away. We erase and start over, dream again, change clothes, talk the toddler down from the meltdown. As Jon Acuff says, we “pivot, don’t panic.” We hold things loosely because what we know is not always what traffic will be like, how an interview will go, that a child will have a developmental delay, or that a gift begins to feel like a burden. 

What we know is this: the God of Heaven is in control. He is sovereign, kind, and always good. With his gentle guidance, I can write the story of my life and the plans for my days knowing that “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” I can give myself grace when I need to erase and also trust that by being fully who I am and who He made me to be, the desires of my heart will lead me in the way He wants me to go because He put them there. I won’t toss my planner, give up on what seems lost, or wave my hand to *gestures vaguely* ALL OF THIS and say “what’s the point?” 

Honestly, I don't know the point right now. But despite the head-spinning changes, the angst, the outrage both sincere and performative, and the genuine confusion that is life in these days, I will write in pencil with strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, knowing that God is not the author of confusion and that the stories He tells are the best ones.

My Save-in-a-Fire Book List

My Save-in-a-Fire Book List

I don’t know why I’d choose this title and set myself up for a nearly impossible task, but I’m going to help myself out by limiting this to books I actually own. (You’d be surprised at how many favorites of mine I don’t own, because that’s what the library is for, but these all made the cut so they’re special by default). 

-A Little Princess by Frances Hogdson Burnett. I own more than one copy, but the hardback one that has my name, age, and address written in it in sparkly green gel pen is obviously the most treasured. (I was very big on writing my name, age, and address inside books. I'm not sure why.) I think I can quote entire passages of this book and it remains a favorite, even though I secretly still prefer (heresy!) the movie ending. Also, I used the passage when Sara first comes to Miss Minchin's to teach my unit on adjectives every year. It's so perfectly written! 

There's just something about holding a book in your hands that you held 20 years ago. To quote Kathleen Kelly, "When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does." It's an irreplaceable feeling.

-My Beverly Cleary box set. So, for many years now, when asked who my favorite author is, I say Beverly Cleary. No caveats about “well, for children’s books, anyway” or whatever. She’s just my favorite. I read and reread the Ramona and Henry Huggins books countless times and one of my most blissful reading memories is finding a 3-book set of her “young adult” novels that my mom got me from Costco when I was thirteen. They were teen romances but the sweetest, most charming stories you can imagine, not the absolute drivel of most YA now. That book was lost at some point which still makes me sad but I do own all three of those on my Kindle. But I’d give a lot for that big heavy set. (Also, I get that it’s kind of contradictory to mention a book I actually lost in a post about books I’d never lose. But I love Beverly Cleary that much.  

-In fact, I love her so much that she gets another mention for a different book. When I was teaching middle and high school English and just rediscovering my love of reading for pleasure (and also beginning to read more widely than I had before, love of Lori Wick notwithstanding), I was with my class at the library and randomly came across a book that became an instant favorite. I wasn’t even aware it existed, but I found her first memoir A Girl from Yamhill. It described, in her delightful way, her childhood in Oregon and the many stories that later inspired her characters, especially Ramona. I think one reason I was drawn to her books is that I was actually reading them as a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest, and I loved all the references to the rain and the mountains that I knew so well. Anyway, her second memoir, My Own Two Feet, picks up as she’s finishing high school (she spent her senior year in California, which inspired another of her books) and goes on to tell about her college days, her early years as a librarian, and the way she met her husband as well her fraught relationship with her mother. SO GOOD. Also, this woman is 104 years old and I will weep real and bitter tears when she is gone. I seriously considered writing my master’s thesis on her work (I didn’t, but only because I chose a different track and didn’t do a thesis #coward) and I’d love write a full biography about her someday. 

I didn’t intend for this post to turn into a love letter to Beverly Cleary and her books but I’m fine with it. She is a treasure and my love for her knows no bounds. 

-My Bush family collection. I have 6-7 of these biographies and autobiographies now and am always on the lookout when I’m in Goodwill or a used bookstore. When I visited the George H.W. Bush Library in the summer of 2018 after Mrs. Bush died (but before her husband did) I sat and watched footage of her funeral again and sobbed like a baby. (People were staring; it was fine.) I just love them. 

-The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. I had heard of this because Janssen, my reading Jedi, mentioned it as a favorite of hers. But when I finally read it, it was magical. Also, I read a lot of books, so the fact that I remember this particular reading experience so vividly means it really was amazing. We were helping my aunt and uncle move and I found this with my cousin's stuff. I grabbed it, read the first few pages, then promptly threw myself across the bed and didn't move for the next two hours (also, I kinda stopped helping unpack. Sorry, guys). I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH. It is my go-to recommendation for pretty much everyone and, as Janssen has said, it's the book I wish I'd written. 

You know that clip at the beginning of the original Miracle on 34th Street that shows the studio trying to find a way to market the movie because it has everything: romance, humor, drama? This book is the Miracle on 34th Street of books in that way. It's absolutely hilarious but also touches on really deep and even dark stories while being just so full of heart and warmth. Ah. I gush. Anyway, you need to read it and if you don't like it please don't tell me because it will actually alter my opinion of you. Love ya, mean it.

-My Harry Potter box set and illustrated versions. So, here's my Harry Potter origin story: I grew up, like so many of us, hearing that these were bad and would make us love the devil (which, you know, seems logical what with the witchcraft and all) but finally I was like, "I'm 25 years old. No one can make me a witch without my knowledge or consent. Let's see what all the fuss is about." I checked these out from the library but this was actually what prompted me to figure out how to borrow Kindle books because it was easier to read them on my phone than to carry them around (and arouse suspicion). I flew through them all in the fall of 2014 and Jonathan bought me the entire set for Christmas that year. 

They're just delightful and last time I checked I'm still not able to do magic, dark or otherwise, which is honestly a bummer because "Accio Chick-fil-A" is basically the only spell I'd really need. The illustrated versions that have been coming out for the last few years are absolutely beautiful and I love displaying them! (And since I am always doing too much when it comes to my pop culture fixations, I'll tell you I'm a Ravenclaw, obviously.)

(P.S. A word on Harry Potter: If you don't let your kids read them, that's totally your choice and I support you, but if you're scared to let your kids read them but haven't read them yourself I'll go ahead and give my endorsement as your friendly neighborhood middle grade fiction connoisseur and say they'll be okay. HOWEVER (I love caveats) I will also say that I read them as an adult and if I'd read them as a kid they probably would have scared me quite a bit because I was a very fearful child (not like now! el oh el) and the last few books especially are fairly dark. But personally I think they teach a number of wonderful lessons and can be enjoyed my your family. The end.) 

-My Puffin in Bloom collection and clothbound Jane Austen and Anne of Green Gables collections. Okay, confession time: I have not actually read the entire Anne series. WHAT? I know. Revoke my library card. I had read the first one as a kid and somehow not the others. Last year I was determined to read the series and was delighted to find that there was an audio version narrated by none other than Megan Follows, THE on-screen Anne who is just perfection. I was a little disappointed that they were abridged, but I figured the immersive experience of having them read to me by the person I think of as Anne anyway would be worth it. Well, turns out that she only narrated the first 3 books and that is where my journey ended. I will read the rest, I know I will. I just need to get Megan Follows on board with recording the rest of the audio versions. 

Anyway, back to these picks. I love them all but they're included here for purely aesthetic reasons: they're beautiful and part of my living room decor. Shallow, I know. But I love decorating with books. 

-Our Little Golden Books. Collecting these has been a process and I still add to our stack frequently! MANY of these are from Goodwill and used bookstores because I always look for them (and that distinctive spine makes it so easy!) but I do spring for one now and then from Amazon or Barnes and Noble because they're only $5 brand new anyway. We have over 50 and have no plans to stop getting more. They're actually divided into Disney and non-Disney because I like having some in a basket in the living and others in the playroom and that seemed like the best way to divide them. Seeing these makes me so happy and Alice loves to get a stack of them for me to read at quiet time. 

-Our BabyLit books. I first heard of these when I was pregnant with Alice and bought quite a few before she was born and we've added steadily to our collection ever since and they're just the best. They are beautiful, durable, and look so pretty all lined up together (I had them displayed in the living room for a long time). Alice's current favorites are the holiday alphabet primers and we just got a new one (T is for Thankful). I have so many memories of reading these to her as a little baby and now that she can actually interact with them it's even better. I know I'll love having them for Amy Jane too. 

-My James Herriot books. We had James Herriot's Treasury for Children growing up but it wasn't until the last year and a half that I read his other books (All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, etc.). I listened to these, narrated by Christopher Timothy who played James Herriot in the BBC series based on the books, and they remain my favorite audiobooks ever. But there's just something about owning the physical copies, if only as a tribute to my love of the stories, so when I found the entire series at Goodwill last year I nearly wept happy tears. They are proudly displayed on my shelf and make me happy every time I see them.

Okay, I just went and looked at the bookshelves in my living room and I could actually add indefinitely to this so I'll just stop myself here. I didn't even include any nonfiction besides my Bush biographies, even though there are many nonfiction books I own and love, and I left off even more novels, but much like the difficulty in choosing a favorite child, it is nearly impossible to choose a favorite book. (Actually, choosing a favorite child is easier since I have two children and only one of them has consistently been waking up before 6 AM and it's not the baby.) These are all books I really love and would be heartbroken to be without (hence my beating of the system by choosing mostly sets).

 I don't have many hobbies--let's be honest, I don't really have any hobbies besides reading and managing my five library accounts (don't worry about it)--so just writing about and acknowledging the very real pleasure that these books bring to me is in itself a joyful experience. If something brings you joy right now (as long as it's legal and ethical, you heathen) then lean into it, my friend. These are troubled times and sometimes you just need to lovingly organize your excessive collection of children's literature. You'll be in  good (if slightly crazy) company with me. 

Amy Jane- 8 Months

Amy Jane- 8 Months

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say something no parent has ever said before: I can't believe how fast my baby is growing! (See? Original.) My orientation to time in the context of her life has been weird from the start since she was born right as Covid shutdowns began, so nothing about her lifespan has been "normal," but I still can't believe that eight whole months have gone by. Eight months of Amy Jane? Magical. Eight months of Covid? Not so much. But she has made it all better. =)

Also, I'm ashamed of myself for not 

I'm obsessed with this child.

Weight/Length: As of a few weeks ago, she was 26.75 inches long, but she's gained weight since then (which I'm so thankful for!) so I'm not 100% sure about her weight. One reason I haven't posted her updates in a few months (aside from my own slothfulness) is that I've been worried about her growth and didn't want to talk about it because that would make it real. (I'm a very rational person; why do you ask?) Basically the doctor has been concerned the last few visits because her length and head growth have been on track but her weight kind of plateaued and then barely inched upward. But now she's eating solids on a regular schedule (guess how fast I googled "high calorie baby foods") and has gobbled up literally everything we've given her so it turns out she just wanted to eat, poor thing. Looking back at some of her fussiness and recognizing that she was probably hangry makes me feel a little bad, but she's okay now and is already filling out her clothes more and chunking up in her cheeks! Hooray! 

Nicknames: Still Bean, Little Bean, Small Bean, Dot (my mom got her a Dot plush toy and the resemblance is remarkable), Baby Yoda, Toodles, Sweet Potato, Muffin (various foods/baked goods), Sisert, Sissy, Amy Janie Baby

Sleep: Like her sister before her, she is an excellent night time sleeper but fights naps with all the will her little body can muster. If I can only have one or the other, of course I'll take the nights, but I'm hoping she gives in to the nap thing soon (although I'm definitely not counting on it).

Eating: Like I said, I was basically starving her (I'm SORRY) but now that she's having solids, we are doing a lot of yogurt, banana, avocado, sweet potato, and bites of little things like scrambled eggs. She has yogurt every morning and then something else in the evening. We'll probably try black beans next!

Clothing: She is still wearing mostly 6 month stuff and some 6-9. I'm buying her Christmas things in 6-9 and 9 months because I know she'll need the length even though they'll probably be a little big. Also it just totally depends on the brand. Carter's 6 month stuff is almost too small but she's swimming in Cat and Jack 6-9s. And because she has such long legs but such a tiny waist, separates are problematic in that the pants will literally fall off. So I'm looking for dresses and one-piece outfits these days.

Mood: HAPPY. She is the smiliest thing. She is fussy when she's wet or hungry (or feels ignored, but who isn't?) but in general she is just so sweet and content to watch her sister carry on like the maniac she is. She's also extremely curious and loves to crawl around and find a shoe to put in her mouth. Baby toys are such a racket. You know they just want whatever is closest to them on the floor (and likely the most dangerous... laptop cords! My heart rate has spiked more than once lately. She's fast!).

Loves: A good shoe to chew on (she's part puppy)

Her daddy

Any time Alice screams "happy birthday" or "surprise!" at her as loudly as possible- she thinks it's hysterical

Bath time

Being tickled


Spitting her paci out

Doesn't Love: Being in the car 

Being wet or hungry

Nap time (why?)

Losing her paci (see the problem?)

What I Want to Remember/Milestones: So many things! She started saying "mama" about a month ago and then said "papa" while my dad was here, which of course he loved. (No "dada" yet. Sorry, Jonathan.) She is getting close to sitting up and is working on her balance. Other than feeding her at night, I don't have a lot of time with just her, so I know I'll remember our our time during Alice's speech appointments. Since Amy Jane hates the car, I always dreaded that wait, but about a month ago I finally got smart and started using those 25-30 minutes to walk with her in the stroller around the edge of the elementary school campus. She loves it and we have a sweet little half hour with just us. Also we went to the pumpkin patch that we've gone to since Alice was 3 weeks old and that was really special!

What I'm Looking Forward To: THE HOLIDAYS! It's her first Thanksgiving and Christmas and I am just so excited. Of course I'm spending way too much time looking for matching Christmas outfits and planning all the things... it's going to be different this year for sure and I'm really sad that we won't get to see (I'm assuming) our favorite Santa and Mrs. Claus at Chick-fil-A this year. But we'll be visiting family and having some of the same traditions at church so all that will be fun. Alice is super stoked about "Amy Jane's holidays" and I'm sure she'll have fun helping her open her presents (aka doing it herself).

Me: Aw, thanks for asking (I say to myself, a crazy person). Despite all the angst of this election season, I've been strangely calm about it. (A friend said to me, "That's not normal for you, is it?" and I was like, "NO, no it is not." GROWTH!) I know the world's a dumpster fire but honestly, outside of voting and staying informed and loving my neighbors, I can't change anything. (I know it's hard. Take it up with Jesus. I've rage-tweeted about my neighbors' loud music enough to have lost the authority to tell anyone else how to treat their neighbor.) 

In terms of motherhood, it's been a pretty hard season with Alice that, if I'm being calm and reasonable (so ALL THE TIME) I can recognize is mostly related to her entire world changing in the last few months between a baby sister being born and not being able to go to the usual places we've gone most of the life, like the Y, and not tied to some deeper issue that's going to manifest itself like the little girl in The Bad Seed (whew, that movie'll give you nightmares).  I'm trying to give her and myself grace while also taking the time to teach her about acceptable behavior (licking the salt shaker? Unacceptable. Sneaking books into her bed? Acceptable). It's hard. You get it. About the worst thing Amy Jane does to me these days is whack my face while I'm feeding her and also grab my hair in her sweaty little hands (why is it always those sensitive ones in the back?) so I guess we're on good terms. 

If you made it this far, I'll treat you to a delicious probiotic-filled full-fat yogurt. Crack that baby open... you deserve it. 

Election Eve

Election Eve

Here’s what I know. There’s a presidential election tomorrow and it feels like the entire world is collectively losing its mind. I’m only 31 so the first presidential election I can actually remember is Bush vs. Gore, but I know in my short history of election awareness that it’s never been this crazy. The hyperbole from all sides is staggering (and doing nothing good for my anxiety, I might add). It is just a breathtaking display of anger, fear-mongering, vitriol, and fighting that I’ve never seen before. 

But today as I ran errands, I interacted with all kinds of people. We smiled (behind our masks), spoke pleasantly to each other, and chatted about my girls. Alice asked for stickers pretty much everywhere we went. Amy Jane got a few new fans. I’ve been struck today (and many other times in the last few years) that as people practically foment online over the political division and strife, the conversations I have with people I see on a regular basis (at least pre-covid) like my librarians, Target/Chick-fil-A employees (yes, these are my people) and Y childcare workers are all based in a friendly and open and genuinely caring place because we are humans who share spaces together and are just trying to do the best we can. There is a huge disconnect, at least here in my Texas town, between the rhetoric online and the real-life sense of general goodwill that seems to permeate the average American community. 

It’s so pervasive in the media that it seems like it must be true: we all hate each other! But then I go out into the world and see that actually, we really don’t. Moms exchange sympathetic glances as one or both of our children have a meltdown. A lady stops to ask me my opinion on which Christmas tree she should buy for her elderly mother. I notice a book a man is considering at Costco and tell him it’s a good one and he should get it. The cashier at the mall jokes about needing her coffee. None of these interactions are really more than surface level, but they are friendly, warm, and rooted in a basic goodness and rightness. The Panera employee and I don’t stop to trade political blows before he hands over my bagel. 

I know that some of this is a low bar and just the way people behave in a civilized society. (Hint: Twitter is not real life!) But that’s the point, isn’t it? All of our social constructs are based on a certain expectation of how civilized humans are supposed to treat one another. I won’t try to enumerate the ways that social media has contributed to a breakdown in these social contracts (there are many excellent books on the subject written by people far smarter than I am) but the fact is, the keyboard warriors of today are wielding a pretty powerful weapon that is finally, over a decade into the use of these apps and platforms, is spilling out into the real world in a disturbing and dangerous manner.

I’m not excited about this election. While I am hoping for a particular outcome for the good of our country in some aspects, I think there will be negative consequences no matter who wins. But as believers, Americans, and humans, we can choose to rise above the nasty comments. We have the ability to disengage with or diffuse hateful words. As one writer friend put it today, “Pass on the invitation to the late debate.” I’m all for exchanging ideas, digging into topics with a lot of nuance and grace, and allowing good and godly influences to help shape our thinking on tough issues. But the anger, the battleground mentality, and the deeply unkind spirit has to go if we’re going to get better. Getting back to that level of common human decency seems like a worthy goal at the moment. As Saunders says in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, "You had plain, decent, everyday common rightness, and this country could use some of that. Yeah, so could the whole cockeyed world."

It’s important in these days to maintain some perspective; division isn’t new here, and never have we been on the brink of it as much as we were just before the Civil War. In his inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln appealed to the goodness of Americans: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every heart and hearth-stone, all over this brand land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, as surely as they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” It seems often (daily… hourly!) As if our “better angels” have taken flight in search of a resting place less fraught with seemingly irreconcilable differences. But if we are truly going to think on (and speak) things that are “true, honest, just pure, lovely… and of good report," then we are going to have to dig deep into the love of God that dwells in us and pour it out to our neighbors this week and beyond. 

I’m not saying that we can’t speak the truth. There are difficult and important topics being discussed and voted on. We can address problems and stand up for what is right. We are called to do that very thing. But we are called to speak the truth in love. Without love, the truth becomes far less palatable, even when it is necessary. And loving those with whom we vehemently disagree does not come naturally, whether our disagreements are political or not. 

Few things offer a dose of cultural and historical perspective like revisiting the Holocaust. In her wonderful book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom describes the Nazi guards who committed atrocities against her, her sister, and the countless other victims during their time in a concentration camp. Knowing that she is speaking of mass murderers (and not simply political or ideological opponents in our modern sense), her words are even more meaningful:

“When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.” 

I’m trying to keep that in mind in these days. I’m not some saint who never gets worked up about issues or rolls my eyes or huffs and puffs at the absolute insanity going on. But these are people, and I am called to love them. God loves them. He loves Donald Trump and he loves Joe Biden. He loves the candidates you love and the candidates you despise. If you bristled when you read that, you’re not alone. I bristled a little writing it. But it’s true. And the good news is that He doesn’t ask us to love others and also summon up the courage and fortitude and emotional margin to do it. He provides the love. He’s just that good. 

Pray. Breathe. Love. And be good. 

When You Feel Stuck

When You Feel Stuck

 I'm not sure what it says about me and my life right now that finding the energy/motivation to write this post has taken me much longer than I care to admit, but here we are. Laziness is the mother of necessity or something, right? (I know that's not what the saying is. Let me live.) 

The last few months have been weird, and I'm not just talking about Covid weirdness (because nothing is weirder than that). I have had two different job opportunities unexpectedly open up and then even more unexpectedly fall through, leaving me with feelings ranging from disappointment to a full-on existential crisis that had me convinced I was a failure at pretty much everything. (To quote Father of the Bride: "Why would I overreact?? NOBODY IN MY FAMILY OVERREACTS!") 

The dizzying ups and downs of considering full-time employment and all that would mean for me and my family, especially with a new baby, back to deciding it would be okay to be home, then considering it again, and then not... ugh, let me off, please. It was basically a two-month long roller coaster and the person running it was one of those carnies that keeps the ride spinning for way too long and laughs maniacally when you pass by looking green (ask me how I know those people exist. Thank you, Cumming Fair). 

So, there was the whole "will they or won't they" situation, which is sometimes charming as a plot device in a sitcom but rarely in a possible career move. Then, in addition to belatedly adjusting to being a stay-at-home mom to two thanks to the pandemic, I have suddenly found myself with not only no prospect of a job but also with the same nagging, low-level anxiety I've felt for months and months... the kind that shows up when I'm not writing. 

Clearly the only person feeling stuck here is Amy Jane. 

Overall, I've just felt stuck in a lot of ways. How do I use my gifts to do more than write an occasional Instagram caption that really connects with someone? How do I take the years of input (all my reading) and figure out a useful way to turn it into output (helping others with these resources)? Most of my "stuck" feeling is work or creativity-related, but any parent who has had both or all of their offspring screaming at them within the space of a few moments has also felt that "I'm about to run away and never come back" mental crisis that, even if it only lasts for a few minutes, has you mentally calculating the cost of a plane ticket to ANYWHERE ELSE. (I know it's not just me.) 

Obviously, I feel guilty about this. I love my girls and at the end of the day, I know I'm supposed to be with them. I've been making plans for homeschool, I'm trying to enjoy Amy Jane's tiny-ness while I can, and overall we have a jolly time. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that over the last few months (as we all have, thanks to quarantine) I haven't felt stuck emotionally, mentally, and even physically (hello, postpartum self).

What to do about this? SURPRISE! There are several books I'm about to share that have helped me and that I have returned to frequently. But the first one I want to talk about contains what I consider the key to the rest of the advice. It's The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi, and here's how it will change your life:

Name what matters

That seems so simple, but it has been profoundly effective for me. I've practically been chanting it about everything under the sun. And not only is it the foundation for all the other principles in Kendra's book (which you need to order immediately) but also it WORKS. Naming what matters forces me to actually dig into why I care (or don't) about something, whether it's meal planning (don't) or reading (do) or preschool or a relationship. It makes me see that I can make space for what actually matters to me (because let's face it, I do have lots of time, screaming children notwithstanding) and I can, as the subtitle says, "ditch what doesn't." 

I love that the book is not a "rock on, girlfriend" kind of woo-woo thing, although I think Kendra would certainly encourage me to rock on. (ha!) It's also not a "I do this so you must also do this." It's so applicable to every life stage and situation and I honestly don't know a woman who couldn't benefit from reading it. (Men too, really.) It is endlessly practical and gives actual actions you can take, which is great for people like me saying (in my best The Kid voice), "But what do I doooo?"

When I'm stuck, naming what matters is really clarifying. FOR EXAMPLE. Today Alice was, um, "challenging my authority." I could feel myself going crazy, and while Alice raged in one room and Amy Jane raged on her play mat (why all the rage, my children? why?) I was for SURE feeling stuck. More like trapped. Like Chilean miner trapped (too much? okay). Anyway. In that moment, even though I don't even think I consciously used the phrase, I named what mattered by reminding myself that what matters to me is to be a calm and kind parent. (I was feeling neither calm nor kind because of all the rage.) But I pulled myself out of that kind of instant "EXCUSE ME?' mode that we can go into when our children are being disrespectful and steam is pouring from our heads like a fog machine. (Again, just me?) 

That sounds like a small thing, and to be honest, it was a fairly brief moment of the day (it felt like an eternity, but that's neither here nor there). The point is, this principle helped pull me out of it. It also helped me get myself in gear and write this post, since what matters to me is to be writing more often and losing the yucky, shame-y feeling I get when that doesn't happen. 

SO. The Lazy Genius Way. In the words of Woody, "If you don't have one, GET ONE." He was talking about moving buddies but truthfully this book would be an excellent buddy for moving through life (see what I did there?) and I can't recommend it enough. 

Here are a few more books to help if you're feeling stuck:

-The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. Fun fact: Emily and Kendra are BFFs in real life! Honestly, consider this book included on every book list of mine forever and ever, amen. (A bonus EPF pick, especially for those who want to create but feel stuck: A Million Little Ways. SO GOOD.)

-Do Over by Jon Acuff. This is definitely one to read if you're wanting to switch careers, start a side hustle, or otherwise shake things up in your career. I'm a long-time fan of Jon Acuff and this is so helpful and practical. 

-Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer. The subtitle is "listening for the voice of vocation" and it has so many good thoughts about your calling and purpose in life. I read it in January and still think about it often.

Rhythms of Renewal by Rebekah Lyons. The four rhythms are Rest, Restore, Connect, and Create, and I still think about what she says about input/output all the time. 

Your Blue Flame by Jennifer Fulwiler. Jen has become one of my favorite authors in the last couple of years. She is a little crazy and truly unique but in such a good way. This is a great book on finding and strengthening your gifts.

Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle. I think so many people could benefit from reading these "reflection on life and art." Plus I find that Madeleine's words have a way of dusting off the cobwebs of my mind somehow. She always offers a new perspective, even from decades ago.

Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson. Goodness gracious, this book! I need to reread it at least once a quarter. =) It is such a powerful reminder that we can take ownership of our lives, find joy in Christ, and truly thrive despite the big and small difficulties of raising children in this crazy world. 

There you go! I hope one or all of these can help you make some progress, feel less weird (by 2020 standards), and name what matters. May we only be as stuck as the current Covid circumstances require us to be! 

Book Review- Modern Parents, Vintage Values

Book Review- Modern Parents, Vintage Values

Nearly every time I ask for topic suggestions for book lists or posts, someone requests "parenting." I've been meaning to put together a list of those for a while, and I've accumulated quite a stack on the subject, but today I want to focus on one book in particular. This is not the first book I have read by these authors, and after becoming familiar with their work over the last year or so (even though they are hardly new to the parenting/counseling scene with decades of experience), I can't recommend them highly enough.

Modern Parents, Vintage Values Sissy Goff and Melissa Trevathan is so helpful, encouraging, and above all, practical. It has three sections: Modern Parents (addressing issues all parents have to address at some point), Vintage Values (the beliefs that never go out of style and ones we want our children to possess), and Timeless Truths (reminders for parents that although this is a hard job, we can do it).

In the first section, Modern Parents, Sissy and Melissa walk through all kinds of problems facing our families: lack of respect, the internet, entitlement, safety with strangers (in person and online), and more. Some of these problems are timeless, but others (like social media and gaming) are of course more recent, and all of them have been exacerbated by the constant use of the internet. The authors do not suggest burying our heads in the sand or unplugging our routers (however tempting that may be) but offer suggestions as to how we can combat these issues in our children and in ourselves. 

In Vintage Values, Sissy and Melissa tackle this list chapter by chapter, providing reasons and reminders as to the importance of values like kindness, compassion, forgiveness, integrity, and responsibility. This section is full of ways to teach your children these values, how to implement them into our home, and how to do it without constantly lecturing. Of course, the best way, the authors suggest, is to model these values ourselves (easier said than done!), as our example to our children is more powerful than any lesson or activity. 

Finally, the Timeless Truths section offers a few reminders about why these things are so important and, more importantly, how we are equipped to handle them. There are four brief chapters--Take Heart, Have Life, Seek Hope, Give Love--and each of these will encourage any parent, no matter how frustrated or hopeless they may feel. 

Sissy and Melissa are not just "armchair" parenting authors. They have worked with children, teens, and families for decades at their counseling center and camps in Nashville, Tennessee. There are dozens of illustrations and stories taken straight from their real-life experiences with real families who have put their biblically sound advice into practice over the years. My favorite thing about this book (which I hinted at before) is that it's so practical. Big-picture, philosophical parenting books have their place, but nearly every parent I know would much rather be given concrete examples and advice to follow, especially when it comes to having hard conversations that we'd rather avoid. (To quote "The Kid," "But what do I DOOO?") Each chapter includes a list of ways to implement that particular topic or value, and each chapter ends with a "Sunday Drive" activity, a way for you and your child to connect over something fun and meaningful. There are so many ideas that you could pick one or two per week and easily plan several months' worth of activities!

I'll be honest: I'm sitting here writing this review while both my girls are napping, and even though we're only halfway through our day, I have already run the gamut from pity party to Dragon Lady. Because of the pandemic, I've only been "flying solo" and adjusting to life with two kids for about a week (even though Amy Jane is five months old). I have not been handling it like I planned to, and more often than not I've felt like a mess. So, as you can imagine, revisiting these words as I looked back over the book just now could not have come at a more perfect time:

"You can't remove yourself and your own story from parenting. As your children stomp around your house, they will inevitably step on your stuff, your pain, your sin, your unhealed wounds from your own childhood. They will remind you of areas in your life where you struggle. They will remind you of things you missed when you were growing up. You will be left discouraged, disheartened, and feeling childish...

Rise... your children are calling out to you. God did not make a mistake when he made you the parent of your children...even with your insecurities, pain, and darkness... Rely on what God has placed inside of you, and there is so much. Take heart. Have courage. Rise. You can do this. Jesus is calling you." 

Goodness! That passage alone has me fired up and ready to face the rest of the day. (I'll have to revisit it to face the rest of the week, but at least it's there waiting for me!) I really love this book, y'all, and I absolutely know it will be a blessing to you. 

More by the authors: 

I received a free copy of this book from B&H Publishing  in exchange for my review. 

Amy Jane- Five Months

Amy Jane- Five Months

Well, everyone. If it feels like I just posted one of these updates, it's because I did... our four month update was almost two weeks late but this month I was determined to post it on time because if I'm learning anything about myself right now it's that I have to have/set deadlines for myself or things will never get done. (This applies to so many things... library books, closet clean outs, exercise. I'm an Obliger and I need accountability.) 

With Alice, I was also so careful to plan ahead and have her monthly pictures and posts done on time or even a day or two early. HA. To quote Michael Scott, "Well, well, well... how the turn tables." But I'm TRYING (Amy Jane, if you're reading this in an apocalyptic future, I really am trying!) so here we are. Five months to the day. Give me all the gold stars.

Weight/Length: She is 25 inches long and a whopping... 12 pounds (and some change). She's a string bean! 

Nicknames: Many variations of Bean (String Bean, Small Bean, Little Bean, Beanie Baby, Baby Bean, etc.) Sisert. Toodles. Toot Sweets. Drooly Scrumptious (clearly a lot of these are Chitty Chitty Bang Bang themed).

Sleep: Still 11ish hours at night (little angel) although this morning she woke up early, apparently ready to seize the day and celebrate the first full day of our girls only club now that her daddy is back at work. She's still a very sporadic napper, as was her sister. We can't have it all. =)

Eating: Every three hours pretty much on the nose. She stretches to four occasionally but not often. I might start trying solids a little sooner than I did with Alice since she could use a little fattening up! =) Also she's starting to spit up a little more (yuck) but thankfully she spits up FAR less than Alice did. I am haunted by that child's amount of spit up.

Clothing: So, we are still in the same boat with these lanky legs... she needs 3-6 or 6 month stuff for the length, but her waist is SO tiny! We are mostly doing rompers and dresses since separates are so tricky. 

Mood: I feel like she's either super happy or super grumpy with not a whole lot in between right now! More happy than grumpy, thank goodness. She doesn't necessarily want to snuggle or be held all the time but she really doesn't like to be left alone or without attention of some kind (much like her mother, she both craves and rejects alone time). 

Loves: Daddy
Rolling around
Her cactus teething toy
Her paci
Chewing her toes (ew)

Doesn't Love: Being cold
Her carseat
Being hot
Being hungry/wet
Looking at the camera at the same time as her sister

What I Want to Remember/Milestones: She is rolling over/scooting around constantly. She's SO strong and can hold her head up for long periods of time. She's also already trying to pull up on all fours (um, no ma'am) and I have a sneaking suspicion she'll be an early crawler. We've gone to the beach twice and she was not a fan (see her dislike of being hot and wet) but did much better in the shade and enjoyed the breeze. When I think about the last few months I'll picture her in the carrier and Alice in the jogging stroller on our long family walks that have become a cornerstone of our quarantine/covid time. She loves riding around in the carrier with her daddy! She's also starting to "talk" a lot more and is very chatty (she's trying to catch up with her mom and sister. We're a talkative household). And she's starting to grab things and get a good grip on her bottle, paci, toys, etc. 

What I'm Looking Forward To: Um... this pandemic to be over? Okay, wishful thinking. I am looking forward to the holidays, Al's birthday, lots more matching outfits, perhaps cutting a feeding soon (fingers crossed), trying some solids, getting into a routine with just the three of us here at home... lots of little things but nothing big in particular other than starting homeschool with Alice in a few weeks! (More on that later, I'm sure.)

Me: Oh man. Speaking of holidays... in the last week I have felt the urge to 1) decorate for fall and 2) listen to Christmas music. (Don't worry... I did not indulge either of these temptations.) But I think personally (and probably everyone, honestly), I've never been more anxious/desperate to rush into the next season of life. Surely covid can't follow us into October and Alice's birthday? What about Christmas?? I know that it will still be a reality by those times, but there is just something magical for me about both autumn and winter (especially the holiday season) that transcends all the fear and anxiety of our current situation. (Oh, and there's an election. Don't mind me, I'll just be burning the internet to the ground.) But I'm really trying to be hopeful and look forward while not wishing away the days I'm in right this minute. My girls will never be this little again. Even though nursing feels eternal right now, it will be over soon. Alice will be FIVE in two months. Amy Jane is still such a tiny baby and I don't want to be so focused on all the dumpster fires in the world and getting past them that I miss out on my own little magic moments with my sweet girls. (Sometimes the dumpster fire is in my own house, but that's neither here nor there.) 

There we go. Amy Jane, your mother loves you. Let the record show I finished this post with two hours to spare. And now I'm off to bed because you and your sister are siphoning my energy like little elfin thieves. 

Book Review: A Way with Words

Book Review: A Way with Words

Every now and then I read a book and think, "Wow! This is exactly what I needed to read right now." And then, even more rarely, I read a book and think, "This is exactly what EVERYONE needs to read right now." That's how I feel about Dan Darling's new book, A Way with Words. It simply couldn't be more timely and needed for the current cultural moment we're in right now, and if I could put a copy in the hands of everyone I know, I absolutely would. Writing (and raving!) about it here is as close as I can get. =)

The subtitle of the book is "Using Our Online Conversations for Good." If you've spent any time on the internet lately, you know that many, many conversations are far from being used for good. Between the virus/lockdown concerns, racial strife, and our hideously divisive political landscape, social media in general often feels like a minefield (or cesspool, or dumpster fire. Take your pick of negative comparisons). Dan's approach to this problem is to use an abundance of Scripture and a call to civility, a return to gentleness and kindness  (fruits of the spirit! imagine!) and a commitment to truth-telling that is rooted in the authority of Christ, not our own flailing opinions.

For me personally, reading this book felt like a light shining right on my soul. The last few years have been incredibly disappointing and disorienting for me as I have watched Christian leaders and "church people" practically come to digital blows over everything from politics to worship songs. (Speaking of "coming to blows," Dan introduced me to a new word in the book, "pugilistic," which is perfectly accurate and more relevant than I wish were necessary.) But reading his words on the way we should interact online-- in fact, the way we are called to communicate with one another as believers-- was refreshing and encouraging. For example:

"Paul, like Peter was no shrinking violet. He was no squish. Both were martyred--put to death in the most inhumane and cruel ways by an unjust government--and yet called God's people to live out civility in every way possible. We, rage-tweeting on the internet, are not tougher or more courageous than the apostles."

Yes! I spent large portions of the book practically pumping my fist in the air in agreement. The chapter on conspiracy theories (is Dan prescient?) was equally timely. The last few months have proven that for whatever reason, Christians far too often abandon truth for lies ("conspiracy, half-truths, and tabloid-style clickbait) that "are harmful to a civil society." More than ever, these words are a needed warning and reminder that believers need to be committed to "the end of our pursuit of knowledge: Jesus, the wisdom of God."

Even though I did get caught up in the personal validation I found in so much of the book, there were many parts that deeply convicted me. Like so many of us, I seek affirmation from my online interactions far too often. This passage spoke to that so well:

"The answer to our fame-seeking is about more than unplugging. It's about recognizing that we are dissatisfied with the real version of who we are. We feel, deeply, the alienation from the One who made us. We know we are broken vessels, we see the mess in the mirror, we feel the weight of the fall. and yet the reality is that God has come down to us in Jesus, to both rescue us in our brokenness and join us to a new community of peers, where we are not measured by our wit or our perfectly crafted images but are approved as sons and daughters of the King."

What a blessing! As we seek God's face in our "real" lives, we are drawn less and less to the performative outrage, self-promotion, and other trappings of online interaction. Dan warns against confirmation bias, division, unkindness, and the variety of ways we fall into ungodliness in our conversations though social media. Finally, though, the most important reminder is his encouragement about our constant state of frenzy regarding, well, everything:

"We may be wringing our hands online about the future of the church, but God is not in heaven wringing his." (We could also insert the future of the country, community, political party, etc.)

Dan Darling is such a needed voice right now. This book is balanced, measured, kind, and truthful. It is undeniable that, for a host of reasons, many Christians have felt justified to lash out in anger, defensiveness, and downright ugliness online, usually in the name of "defending the faith" or "standing for what's right." While standing for right is needed, the way in which we do it is just as important, if not more so. We represent Christ to the world (and world wide web!) and need to use our words accordingly. Thanks to this book, we have a biblically sound blueprint for how to do just that.

I received an advance reader copy of A Way with Words from B&H Publishing. 

Amy Jane- 4 Months

Amy Jane- 4 Months

Well, in a turn of events that is zero percent shocking, I missed writing about Amy Jane at 3 months and am several days late on her four-month post (which should have been done on the 4th. Oops). But I am refusing to let another month pass, especially since I feel like she's changing so much! It's already been a busy summer and we've made a lot of memories (and had the BEST time this past week meeting her name twin, Auntie Amy... come back now, please and thank you), so I want to jot it all down before it escapes to the cobwebby corners of my forgetful brain.

Weight/Length: She is 23.5 inches long and 11.5 pounds (#stringbean) and actually the NP we saw at her last checkup wants her to gain weight so we're doing an extra feeding. Personally, I think she's just going to be tall and skinny like her daddy so I'm pretty sure she's fine. =) Alice was definitely a chunky monkey already at this age so it's funny to have a more petite baby this time around!

Nicknames: Sisert is still going strong (even though Alice has started pronouncing "sister" correctly which breaks my heart). Bean. Little Bean. Beanie Baby/Baby Bean. Toot Sweets. Toodles. And Alice calls her "my baby" which is adorable.

Sleep: still getting a solid 10-11 hours a night (praise) but is an intermittent napper at best. We're working on that. I've never seen such a tiny baby fight sleep so much during the day! I mean, I wouldn't trade her nighttime sleep schedule, but we still need to find a happy medium with her naps. Alice was the exact same way!

Eating: She eats about every 3 hours except for her bedtime feeding which is usually a little under 2 hours from the last one. She's doing great with nursing and bottles as needed (but starting to spit up a little more. Bleh).

Clothing: This poor child... she's so long that her legs need the room in 3-6 or even 6 month clothes (particularly sleepers), but her waist is so tiny that she's still wearing newborn shorts. Alice had the opposite problem of short legs and a long torso, but the issue of sizing in separates remains. Ha!

Mood: Oh, she's the sweetest. She really only cries if she's hungry (or, occasionally, if she's fighting sleep). She is so smiley (reserving her biggest smiles and best giggles for her sister) and her giant eyes get even bigger when she's in a new environment or Alice is acting crazy (guess which thing happens more often). She's also extremely active and is always kicking her legs and trying to stand up straight when we hold her hands. (I've called Jonathan the Energizer Bunny for years... there's a reason he and Amy Jane both burn so many calories, apparently!)

Loves: riding in the carrier with her daddy
any attention from Alice
her paci
being outside

Doesn't Love: being hungry or wet
the pool (she has the grumpiest look the whole time)
being hot (sorry, kid... kinda unavoidable here, and at odds with your desire to be outside)
naps (whose child is this??)
her carseat

What I Want to Remember/Milestones: meeting friends and family in North Carolina last month (my oldest niece holding my baby, the youngest grandchild? I die. Same with the picture of her and my 90-year-old Mamaw. Priceless). Lots and lots of family walks. Rolling over. Grabbing her toes. The way she dramatically covers her eyes with her arm as if the weight of the world is just too much. My sister meeting her namesake this week (all the feels). How happy she is when she wakes up. How happy we all are to have her around.

What I'm Looking Forward To: hmmm, can I change this section to what I'm dreading?? (jk but serious.) I am NOT looking forward to Jonathan going back to work (whatever that's going to look like) and disturbing the idyllic little setup I've got going here (as in having both of us home 24/7 since the day she was born). I will be the first to say I've been incredibly spoiled and as difficult as all this Covid stuff has been, I've benefited from it in a big way in terms of our home situation. So, we'll see how this fall goes, but I'm fully planning on savoring these last few weeks of all four of us at home!

Me: I spent most of the month of June and parts of July in a pretty big funk, honestly. I've had some totally unexpected professional opportunities come up (and then mysteriously disappear) and the roller coaster of those experiences has left me with a bit of mental and emotional whiplash that I certainly didn't go looking for (who does?). I'm in a different place with this baby than I was with Alice in that I am looking for employment (rather passively, but still) but the responsibilities and concerns of a baby (and 4-year-old) don't change just because I need to find a job. Addition, not subtraction. Actually, multiplication. I think. (I am not a mathematically-minded person which I'm sure comes as a surprise to no one.) Anyway, I just feel like I'm in a weird transition phase and that the ground is kind of shifting beneath me, which is not my preferred state of being on any level. But if there's anything I've learned over the last few months it's that we might as well commit to being flexible because it's really all we can do. (Again, this is not my preferred mantra. Does this mean I'm growing? =)

There you go, everyone. The four-month update on my second child, the content you are HERE FOR. Honestly, though, I get that this is mainly for my own memories and I'm okay with that. But if you did happen to slog through to the end of this glorified baby book/journal entry, I thank you. Stay safe, everybody!

A Pollyanna Lesson

A Pollyanna Lesson

I've put off writing this post for over a month, mainly because it seems like every time I try to write it I think of an entirely separate situation that it could apply to or another way it might offend someone or I'm just reminded that there is a near-deafening roar of information and opinion here on the world wide web at the moment. But when I truly can't get away from something, there's usually a good reason. Please know up front that I say all of this in love and that I've certainly not achieved any of it 100% by any means. I'm just trying.

The last few months have been, to use a word that has really had its moment lately, unprecedented. First there was (and is) the global pandemic, the result of a virus that has killed thousands and infected--body, soul, and spirit--millions more. There have been some really amazing moments that have transcended class, politics, or geography (see just a few compiled here).

But whether the angst is concerning the source of the virus, the response to it, the politicization of it, or just the decision for or against wearing masks to fight it, the tension online has been at an all-time high. Extended quarantine/lockdown, business closures, and social distancing/isolation have all taken a toll as we have sought to quiet (or stir up) our fears by turning on each other, usually by way of comment sections.

I get it. I am an Enneagram 6 (we tend to peddle in Worst Case Scenarios) and even I with my long list of Scary Things did not see any of this coming, nor have I handled well the idea that such a deadly virus is still largely a mystery. And when we're afraid (of much more than being sick... lost jobs, depression, anxiety, loss of access to other medical care, lack of support/community, etc.), we lash out at those around and latch onto whatever we think will make us safe. Since we have different opinions on that, things can (and did) get ugly.

Then over the last month, there has been a massive national response to the murders of three different black people in a brief time period (Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd). While some responses to their deaths have turned violent and destructive (which no serious person I know is condoning), the positive effects of this outpouring of concern and empathy from people all over the country, particularly white Christians, have been monumental. I'm not here to debate that... any movement away from racism and toward racial justice/reconciliation that is done within the framework of the gospel is a good thing. But, as always, these conversations and events have sparked fierce debates on what those changes should look like and have caused some irate reactions from some who do not want to be confronted with the truth of our nation's racial history and current reality.

On top of all of this, it is an election year. Hooray! Let's take the most divided and polarized time in recent history and throw in a literal "us versus them" contest. Perfect.

Okay, I'm not here to talk about politics. Honestly, I'd rather chew off my arm. =) But I think it's worth mentioning that some of the comments and posts we've all seen over the last few months have been just plain ugly about a variety of topics besides this election. And I'm not even talking about conversations between strangers (even though that's still the norm). I'm talking about people being hateful to people they KNOW and apparently have the guts to chew out on Facebook when they know they won't be seeing them at church because it's online. Yikes. Masks on, gloves off.

So, as election season descends upon us and things ramp up even beyond the fever pitch they've already seemed to reach, I want to encourage you to check out a few resources that will help guide our thinking when it comes to another round of "If You Don't Agree with Me, You Must Hate My Guts." Or something catchier. Then we'll get to the "lesson" part of the post.= )

Them by Ben Sasse- Written by a U.S. Senator who explains, as the subtitle says, "Why we hate each other and how to heal." Senator Sasse is a Christian and a good man. This is well worth your time.

Political Tribes by Amy Chua- this book explains "group instinct and the fate of nations": basically, what political tribalism really is and why it harms rather than helps the groups that cling to it most fiercely.

You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy- man, what a timely book, whose subtitle says, "what you're missing and why it matters." When the MO of most online interaction is to devolve into virtual screaming matches, this book is more relevant than ever before. I genuinely want everyone I know to read it.

Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke- this is a short little book that teaches us how to "treasure Christ in the media age." We are constantly inundated with information nearly every moment of the day and we desperately need discernment in how we process and respond to it. Reinke provides a biblical framework for how to do that.

The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King- this is a biography of Fred Rogers and boy, do we need more Fred Rogers in the world. If I could personally assign every American some homework it would be to watch an episode of Mr. Rogers at least once a week. Maybe some of his kindness would rub off.

Humility by Andrew Murray- probably the hardest one to implement but the most valuable one to read. Murray's short little book on humility is something we need to return to again and again. We are never more Christlike than when we are seeking humility and never less like Christ than when we reject it in favor of pride and self-importance. This is a great book.

Coming soon: A Way with Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good by Daniel Darling and
Divided We Fall by David French

Finally, I'll leave you with this scene from Pollyanna (I didn't forget the title of this post... it just took me a while to get here). If you haven't read the book or seen the movie (which you should totally do), Pollyanna is a little orphan girl who's come to live with her rich aunt, who is fairly grumpy and basically runs the town. Pollyanna comes across the pastor of the local church practicing his very fire-and-brimstone sermon and innocently suggests the "glad passages" her own father used to preach from. Throughout the movie, she encourages the pastor and others to play the "glad game" with her: always looking for the good in everything and everyone around them, even when it becomes almost impossible.

In this particular scene, though, she shows the pastor her necklace that is inscribed with these words: "When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." (Watch the scene here.) That's where we are, isn't it? We look for the bad and are pretty much never disappointed!

It's a great movie and that's a great little game, but it could be revolutionary if we actually put "looking for the good" into practice. I'm not talking about ignoring sin or injustice or being "okay with" things that are objectively wrong. But I think if we are honest with ourselves, we can see that there's a whole lot of space between acknowledging that someone else has a different viewpoint (or is even completely biblically off-base) and choosing to belittle or dehumanize that person. We have been reduced to memes of ourselves and each other and it seems like the biggest victim of "cancel culture" has been the Golden Rule itself.

It would be quite a day in this country if we would recognize and understand that there is not a single person that Jesus did not die for. There is no one across any political aisle from me that Jesus loves less than he loves me. I am not more highly favored to God because I believe a certain way about anything. I base what I believe on what He says in Scripture and try to live that out, but He doesn't love me more because of it. Every single person, no matter what their stance is on any single issue, is created in the image of Christ, is fully loved and known by Him, and is eligible for His saving grace.

"Even if...?" Yep, even then. That is God's creation you're talking and posting  and commenting about. Even them. If loving our enemies is good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.

I read an amazing article from the guys over at Rambling Ever On (please read the whole thing), who shared this quote:

 Few things communicate genuine love like listening to a person. And a most sacrificial form of this can be when we listen and observe and try to learn from people who dress differently than us, act differently than us and think differently than us. My brand of cultural Christianity often thinks you have to have answers and that revealing ignorance is shameful. But exposure to other cultures teaches me that there is so much I don’t know–about God, about people, about the world.

I think it is incredibly easy to assign motives we can't fully understand, intentions we'll never really know, and malice that may be present but may also be projected. Again, I know there are issues that we can and should stand for. I'm also saying that the way we stand is just as if not more important than the fact that we are standing. Imagine if a driver gave you the finger and then you noticed they had a certain church's bumper sticker on their car. Maybe it was even the pastor! That might affect your opinion of them and their church a little. Well, it seems like over the last few months we have collectively flipped the bird (sorry, but it's true- have you BEEN on Facebook??) to each other, to kindness, to civility, and to empathy, and goodness gracious, do we need to beg God to help us get them back.

Join with me, friends. Tensions are high, misinformation is rampant, anger is rising, and fear is flowing. But we can stop it. Not in our own strength, but in His. I know it's confusing and exhausting to be a person right now. There is so much injustice, so much hate, so much wickedness. We want to do better but it's hard to know how. We want to stand for right and against wrong but it feels nearly impossible to separate light and darkness sometimes. We want to be kind but that post we scroll by just gets us so riled up and our keyboard warrior fingers begin to fly. If we stay silent, are we complicit? If we speak up, are we causing more division? It is just plain hard to navigate these days.

Still... the tides are turning; in some ways it feels very much like we are on the verge of something. I'd love for it to be revival, wouldn't you? Aslan is on the move.

Please look into some of these resources. Check information you find against the Bible. Use discernment and discretion before you jump onto something just because it "sounds right." Listen. Care. Look for the good, and find it.

A Few Books on Race

A Few Books on Race

Source: Oh Happy Dani

I share a lot about books so it only makes sense to me to share several titles that have helped me have a deeper understanding and clearer perspective on racial issues and the history of racism in America. This is not even remotely an exhaustive list, but it includes books for almost all ages and covers multiple eras.

This is so important. We cannot even begin to do the work that needs to be done for reconciliation if there is not a knowledge and context for what has already taken place. Today’s weariness and outrage is not tied to isolated events. A long history of injustice and evil has perpetuated these feelings.

I’m praying for the courage to listen and learn and let those who have experienced injustice lead toward the light of Christ’s redemptive power and saving grace. ❤️

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson https://amzn.to/2XFnlL7

Blood at the Root by Patrick Phillips https://amzn.to/3gz3Psj

Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson https://amzn.to/3dnW9Hm

Buried in the Bitter Waters by Elliot G. Jaspin https://amzn.to/2X97Ufl

I Never Had It Made by Jackie Robinson https://amzn.to/3dbC6w3

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (and the rest of the series- these are middle grade fiction) https://amzn.to/3gxeQKV

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson https://amzn.to/2X9uuo1