What gingerbread, neighborhood kids, and a messy house taught me this Christmas

I answered the door with my hands still dripping soap suds from sink water.   Who would be out on a day like this?  It was damp and gray and only ten days till Christmas.  I had been elbow deep in my things to do list, all while trying to keep my five kids plus a visiting neighbor's son out of trouble on yet another weekend daddy was working.  Two more kids on my doorstep.  Asking if they could play?  I hesitated just the slightest bit.  Wiped my hands on the back of my shirt.  Kids ran through the back door, tears in their eyes, the puppy was nipping them again and more training, more consistency, more time is needed of me from puppies and kids.  It's not that I'm not accustomed to a full and crazy house.  We have neighborhood kids here most days of the week.   But this was only a week and a half till Christmas.  And my house was a wreck, and our clothes needed folding, and my list was probably a mile long.  

I glanced back at the girls.  I hadn't seen them in a couple months.  They live a few blocks or so away, in a part of my neighborhood where drug deals go down, gunshots go off, and there are regular police chases.  I can't tell them I'm too busy, that I have things to do, a house to clean and I finally got my baby down for a nap so I have to work fast.  Instead, I tell them they are welcome to play in the backyard.  And I figure if I can get all my kids outside in the yard, then maybe I can get something done.  Our yard is small and I can supervise from our kitchen windows.

I plunge my hands back into soapy water, and I feel that stirring in my heart that I've come to recognize.  That still small voice, "Show them My Love.  You never know when you will get another chance to."  I give a resigned sigh and I give up.  I give up on my expectations.  On trying to have everything just so.  And I feel the value of these souls in my home.  I step out on the back porch and I know exactly what we'll do.  "Would you all like to make gingerbread cookies with us?  I was just going to make some gingerbread dough."  There's a chorus of yeses and their eyes are all aglow.  And it feels so very right  to be sharing this, today, with all of them.

I prayed for God to use me and my family to bless someone else this Christmas.  And He brought such an opportunity right to my doorstep.  And I almost missed it.  I almost chose the good over the better, the necessary over the real needs.  My ideas of giving can often become too ritual, too neat and tidy and they don't interrupt my heart and can't possibly  leave a mess.  

I stumbled upon a wonderful message once that I will likely never forget.  It was given about a half century ago by a little old British woman and missionary named Gladys Aylward.  (You can listen to it  here.  The first ten minutes are life changing.) Gladys left the comforts of her home and moved to China to be a missionary when she was a young woman and young women weren't allowed to do anything alone in those days.  But she did.  She paid her own way to China and lived there among the people, facing loneliness and rejection, but eventually earning their respect and taking many into her home.  In her message, she shares a verse from her Chinese Bible, using the Chinese dialect and meaning to breathe new life into a verse we have all heard many times.  "If you will bring into my storehouse the completed tithe..."  So the tenth verse in the third chapter of Malachi begins.  And Gladys challenges us right down through the decades that we are the completed tithe.

Me.  You.  Holding nothing back.  Giving ourselves completely to God.

In that cackney accent of hers, still strong and soul stirring, she says these words,  "Your completed tithe and mine is THIS.  THIS is Gladys Aylward, the completed tithe, Master.  All I posses, all I have, my head, my heart, my feet, my hands.  All that is me.  My complete tithe.  And when God asks us to do something, he doesn't ask for one hand, or one foot, or even one day.  He asks for the complete...You."

That kind of giving takes all we have.  We feel it.  It's getting our hands dirty and our hearts involved.  Every day.  Every minute.

His to live through, love through, break through.

Oh Lord, I'm so far from this kind of living.  But here I am, Lord.  Use me as you will.


the advent adventure

Life truly is an adventure.

And it's found in the season of advent.  The beginning of the greatest adventure our world would ever embark on.

You can't have an adventure without an element of risk.  The very definition of the word is "an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks."   The stakes are high.  We hold our breath.  We dare to hope.  And we wait.  We wait for that part of the word that assures our safe passage through one adventure to the next.  The advent.  The coming into being.  The glorious part of anything worth risking anything for.

Everyday leading up to that morning we remember Who came for the first time and Who is still coming again.  We remember the One Who Risks His All For Us.  The One who counted the high cost and said we were worth it.  We eagerly unwrap an unknown package...the gift of today...and we count down the days remaining until that miraculous first arrival of the One Who Saves Us. 

Counting the gifts.  Anticipating the coming.

This is Advent.

We never stop the counting.  Never stop the hoping.  Never stop the waiting.

Because Christmas is only the first Advent.

The second is coming...


merry and bright and blogging

It's that time of year again when anything's possible...

So naturally I decided to break my six month blogging fast.  Six months!!  My fingers are itching to click and clatter out all my cobwebs.  It's been too long, friends.  Life got heavy and a bit too cumbersome...have you all had seasons like that?  I had prayers pressing hard on me and more than anything else and most importantly instead of anything else--I needed to seek God.  I wish I could say that's how I spent all the time I could have been blogging...but...there's always instagram :)  There will always be distractions.   Always something to steal the best and replace it with the mediocre.  Always a temporal joy to curb my appetite for the eternal.  But God is not so easily distracted (thankfully!) and He's been focusing those immensely loving and intensely merciful eyes of His on the attitudes of my heart.  

He's stirring things up inside me.  Placing his fingers on what's got to go, and breathing new life into old dreams.

I've struggled with joy.  And I've found it's all wrapped up in hope.  

When I can't see past the mountains I'm facing, when I feel like I'm stuck on a dead end road and the realist in me keeps telling the dreamer to take a back seat--joy pretty much flies out the window.

But hope is a thing that has to be resurrected.  And I have a Savior who knows a thing or two about that. 

He's doing more than I could ever ask or imagine...

He's giving me hope.  He's given me himself.


>>---> I'm loving my new blog design by the beautiful and talented Danielle Burkleo!!  It's just the sort of inspiration I needed to jump right back into blogging.  Love that girl!

>>--->  I can't wait to share our advent calendar and our favorite Christmas traditions this week and the next!


revel in this

Mother's Day, 2013.

Thankfulness seeps into my soul, like the slow drip of a hidden spring.
It's thirst that led me to it's Source.  Isn't it always?  I've found a river beneath all the weight of life's topsoil--clean, clear, life-giving water that's fed by tears and purified a thousand times over.  Gratefulness bubbles up from the hard ground, and proves that it's stronger.

Always stronger.

My husband told me a story about the sea, how he walked along the beach in Haiti.  Picking his way through trash and debris on the shores that should be beautiful.  And that's when he saw them.  Thousands of green and blue and aquamarine pieces of glass, smoothed into stones by a pounding surf.  Sea glass.  He brought bags of them home and we couldn't tell they were once cast away bottles, smoothing our hands over their surface, enamored by their muted colors of jade and sky and sea.


Like rushing water, it smooths sharp corners and rough patches, wearing a path through walls of stubborn rock.  It's gratefulness that polishes the dullness right out of life.  Because there's the ordinary day in and day out that a dreamer like me never really learned how to navigate.  The everyday ebb and flow of an ancient tide.  But there's treasure, always treasure to be unearthed by another wave.  

So, I lay back on another mother's quilt made decades ago, head in the clouds, hands in the sand, my baby flinging her arms at the sky beside me.  I hear the voices of my children and their daddy catching crabs amid the sound of a gently lapping surf.  And I want to bottle this immense gratefulness and bring it home to the ordinary.  To spill it out on all those days I need it most.  Making shiny and new all these treasures I hold.

P.S.  Thank you, Joel, and Thaddeus, Boston, Astair, Legend, and Story.  Thank you for filling my days with adventure and my heart with overwhelming gratitude.  Thank you for making me a mother, and thank you, Lord, for teaching me everyday how to be one.


an honest letter to the mom who is weary

Dear you, you Wonderful Mom, you,

Just in case you ever read this blog and thought it looked like I had it all together (which if you know me in real life you certainly don't have any such illusions!) I want to be real with you.  I have wanted to change the name of this blog so many times.  I mean "The Joyeful Journey" is a worthy ambition, it's true, but MOST days I am struggling to find the joy in a house full of messy and loud and demanding and downright draining to-dos.  And while I'm airing out all my closets for you here, you might as well know that I'm often overwhelmed, and sometimes downright depressed.

I have in my mind all these perfect ideals and lofty ambitions for motherhood:  Of dancing through the kitchen with my five children, baby on hip, spatula in hand, whipping up amazing, healthy, to die for meals, all while singing songs of Alleluia and twirling in a blue gingham dress, hair curled fetchingly with ruby lipstick on, children busy doing chores and humming hymns, then feasting with daddy on a lace covered tablecloth and afterward all piling up together in one big snug hug while reading family devotions. 

But it was just last week I served macaroni and cheese four times, ate hot dogs, stayed in clothes wet with baby spit up, barely combed my hair, did devotions with my kids only twice, cried over spilled milk, and contemplated checking into a looney bin for a mini vacation.  It was just this weekend I found out my husband's crazy work hours just got crazier and now he'll be working seven long days a week until God opens another desperately prayed for door.  I feared and fretted and worried myself sick.  I let despair eat away at me.  

And this is what I named The Joyeful Journey?  It is.  And I'll keep it this way for now.  Because it's what I need to be reminded of the most.  There is joy in this.  In their eyes when you whisper secrets in their ears.  In big hugs and the sweetest "I love you"s.  In growing and loving and laughing together.  In feeling God's grace when it covers our weakness.  In giving thanks through the tears, and leaning in close to Jesus when the ground is giving way beneath you.  There is joy.  And it doesn't look like a forced "happy".  It looks more like peace.  I just have to choose it.  Everyday, grab hold of it.  I miss it sometimes.  I fall short of singing.  I fall short of seeing the gifts and thanking the Giver in the midst of the struggle.  But this is a journey, after all.  And it's one I'm learning is full of grace and the goodness of my God.

If you are reading this and you've ever felt like you don't measure up, if you've ever felt like you're drowning in mommy guilt, like you're missing something or should be doing more of something, or wish there was something more, please know you're not alone.  It plagues me, too.  But God is bigger than our feelings and it's the truth that sets us free.  The truth that Jesus is enough.  He covers us.  Pick us up when we've been looking down for too long.  He infuses what we do as wives and moms with kingdom importance, with eternal worth.  

He values your heart, dear mom.  And He is gentle with you, never berating you or demanding more than you can give.

"He tends his flock like a shepherd:  He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young." (Isaiah 40:11)

That verse has been like balm to my soul for so many years.  The gentleness of my God rescuing and redeeming all my failures.

So, hang in there, sweet mama.  God is right here with us.

p.s.  If you've ever left a comment on this blog, I appreciate them so much and I like to reply when I can through e-mail.  If you have a blogger account, you can enable it to receive replies to your comments, otherwise it doesn't allow return correspondence.  (LoveWins, this post is for you, dear!)


Comparison and other C words

She looked smart in her green tweed skirt suit and her five inch high black velvet heels.  

She looked better than smart, she looked fabulous.  My feet were aching just watching her in the checkout line across from mine.  I shifted comfortably in my slip on shoes and my sweatpants, ran a self conscious hand through my half-brushed, no-time-for-fixing-this-mom's-hair, and couldn't help comparing...and feeling fabulously frumpy.

It happened again at home.  A visit to a new blog and she looks perfect, has perfect kids, writes beautifully, tells funny jokes, and God must really love her because everyone else obviously does...and I compare.

I drop something off at a friend's and her house is immaculate, her kids are never dirty, her hair is never out of place...and I compare.

I glance through instagram, and, well, you know where this is going...I compare.

I read about my favorite missionaries and I hear about those that have never heard and I wonder when God will let me go to them, why they are there and I am here...and I compare.

She always has a full calendar: a new speaking engagement, her son's award's ceremonies, meeting with the who's whos and what's whats, a book on the best-seller list...and I compare.

And comparison hurts.  

It hurts our souls and it cripples our love.

Because we were never meant to be compared to each other.  

We were meant to compliment each other. 

Like ice cream and apple pie, peanut butter and jelly, coffee and donuts (but let's move on from the food analogies...)

Like a garden in spring, each flower lending it's own delicate design, it's own hue, it's own subtle fragrance to draw the weary in to rest, to find delight, to recognize The Creator's handiwork.

Like the body of Christ, moving with grace and form and pulsating with a spirit of life and love-- each member of the body no more important than the least important of all.

"You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.

I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.

 But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of.  An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons.  If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher.  If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?
The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything."

                                                                   1 Corinthians 12:12-24 The Message

So, what part are you?  The good digestion or the full bodied hair?!  Gotta love The Message version of these verses!  Older versions are great for studying and memorizing, but The Message is like a fresh devotional read of the Word for me.  This just hit home.  I can stop typing now and call it good.

The fact is, I need you.  

I need you as part of this body of Jesus we all accepted as our own.  And I need you to be successful at what you do.  I need you healthy and whole and bright and beautiful and able to carry weighted hearts and sing songs of healing, and reach out with eager hands to help those that are helpless.  I need you to see in the dark and to run rescue operations, to hear from God and then speak His Words fearlessly.  

And as humbling as it is, I'm needed, too.  Because this mission is bigger than all of us.  Because the world is hurting and hungry and confused and needs the body of Jesus to be more like Jesus and less like "Christians".  Because a body doesn't work if it's members are divided.  It doesn't work if it's parts are in contempt of each other, or jealous, or proud, or judgmental, or trying to be important on their own, or wondering if they have any importance at all.

So, I'm committed to caring for you.  Just as my own body.  I can't compare what we do, or even "who" we are, because we are one body in Christ, with many parts.  But I can and I will compliment what you do.  I'll help you take that tough first step, and I'll cheer you on when you find your voice, and I'll do my part and run in step with you.

And that's what the Church is really all about.

It's not a building, or a program, or even just one person, but it's the flesh and blood body of believers in Christ Jesus working with one common goal.

Is it any surprise then that the very next chapter in Corinthians is the Love Chapter?

*I have edited and revised this post from it's original publication on Beautifully Rooted.


Birthday crowns, a pretty pink bow, superhero, and a batman cake

Note:  I had to edit this post because Blogger was being mean to me last night and didn't save my finished letter to Boston or my letter to Legend :(  It's updated now. 

Good heavens, it's been too long since I've blogged.  But life with five kids takes some adjusting, and I've been more than a little overwhelmed lately by the busyness of it all.  I'm not the most organized person, but now that I have five children, I'm realizing this needs to change.  I have to adapt to this new season.  It's bend or break.  (And I've had more than a few "breaking" moments).  I've bought just about every book out there on managing large families...now I just need to find the time to read them!  Birthdays kind of snuck up on me this year.  Thankfully, gold paint, cardboard, cakes, and homemade party hats make for a good old fashioned celebration.

The twins were born on Leap Day, so we "unofficially" celebrate their birthdays on March 1st.  Then Legend's birthday is right around the corner on March 15th.  It's a party month up in here, ya'all.  And probably the greatest present this year was their Grandma's 10 day visit.  It was so wonderful to have her here with us.  She met Story for the first time and they hit it off.  We cried when she left (I'm still crying).  Thanks for everything, Grandma Chick, we love you.   

I want to remember these moments.  To look back on these faces I hold most dear on the pages of this blog, my personal love letter to my God and my family.  And I want my kids to read my words and view my photos and feel the love God and I have for them deep down in their bones.    

My Dearest and Fairest Astair,

Oh Sweetheart, you are truly a joy to me.  You're like the warm and gentle first rays of sunshine in the morning.  You shine all the time, no matter who's looking or who's not.  I love that about you.  You have this inner strength and confidence, a happy and content spirit.  You are so brave and capable.  You tackle life head on.  You were dressing yourself when you could barely walk and when you decided to learn how to tie your shoes, you practiced and practiced until you got it right.  You taught yourself how to write your letters and spell your name.  You taught yourself how to rollerblade, how to sew, and how to make bows for your hair.  If I try to help you with anything, you throw up your little hands, exasperated, and tell me you can do it all by yourself.  And you can.  And you do.  One day, Thaddeus asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, and your answer was "a mom".  It melted my heart.  You love helping take care of your baby sister and your little brother.  You have such a nurturing spirit. I love watching you entertain Story and hold her in your arms.  You are a precious big sister!  You love to care for others and give people gifts. I love how incredibly artistic and creative you are!  The things you've created have truly amazed me!  God dreams such beautiful dreams for your life.  I am so blessed to know you, and love you, and to call you my daughter.

All my Love,

My Boston Boy,

I think you are one awesome kid.  You've got a heart as big as a gold mine and a personality to match.  I love your funny jokes and the way you smile real big when you're excited about finding lizards or doing tricks on your bike.  Your eyes light up like the sky in July and your enthusiasm for life is infectious.  I've seen glimpses of your compassionate soul that have humbled me. And oh, kiddo, how you love people!  You've never met a stranger.  There was a time when you wanted to save all your money to "give to the poor".  And whenever you see someone sad or hurt, you mourn with them and desire to help them.  You're a tried and true superhero through and through.  It's no wonder you love dressing as one and have so many superhero costumes I can't keep up with them.  I love hearing you sing (and you're always singing), the songs you write are amazing!!!  The words come from a soul wise beyond your years.  Your songs are almost always about wanting to be like Jesus and listening to His voice, about letting him chase away sadness.  They are truly beautiful and inspiring and you sing them with such feeling.  You are my little evangelist--telling everyone about Jesus and talking about him constantly.  "Mom, did you know Jesus is stronger than Superman?" You are determined, strong-willed, and passionate.  God has such unimaginably big plans for your life!  I am so blessed to know you, and love you, and to call you my son.

All my Love,

Legend my Love,

Goodness, but you are one loving boy!!  Your hugs and kisses are the highlight of my days.  And the way you say "Mommy, I love you", with your heart in your big brown eyes, the second before you know you're going to get in trouble.  Every since Story came home, you've showered her with such love and affection, kissing her all day and holding her close.  You coo over her, "It's okay, Story.  It's okay.  I love you."  You are fiercely protective of her.  I love your tender soul!  We all adore you, you're so easy to love.  You have an easy going, entertaining spirit, and you love to make us laugh almost as much as we love to make you laugh.  Your giggles are pure joy to our ears!  One day when you were barely two you prayed over supper, "Jesus, dank you for mommy and daddy, and dis day, and for food, and help me be good, and no more monkeys jumping on da bed".  You were so earnest,and we laughed so hard, which only made you pray harder and say it over and over again.  You love to share, and hug, and hug some more.  One day you found me crying and you wiped my cheeks with your little hands and kissed me and told me "Is okay, Mommy."  And then you'll say something so unbelievably clever and I'll forget for a moment that you're only barely three and then I'll forget what I was so upset about altogether.  You have a gift, my love.  God has such great big plans for your life!  I am so blessed to know you, and love you, and to call you my son!

All my Love,


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