Friday, September 16, 2016

How is My Listening?

"Are you a good listener?"  We have people ask us when they want to tell us something.  Something soul pressing, something personally sacred, or something secret. 
If you are like me you ask yourself a lot, "Am I a good listener?"

I've found myself for years listening to people.  Trying to be a better listener.  It's an art. Listening.  
I enjoy knowing people.  I'm very relationally oriented.  I really do care and want to know peoples stories. I get a lot of satisfaction from relating to people.

But I'm not the best listener.  I think we all have work to do because we are all inherently selfish.  Selfishness pushes against listening.  Listening if it's true and pure is for the benefit of another and so listening is a way to practice selflessness.  If even for just a handful of moments. 
If you aren't the best listener there's hope for you and me!
Listening is something we can always learn and improve upon.  

Here's a few things I've noticed lately about listening...
1.  Make sure you should be listening.
I've had many people just open up to me. Easily. That I didn't expect. Because I do enjoy listening I've entered into a confidante relationship with them. Adults of all ages,teenagers, and kids.   This is well and good and my motives were pure, but it can be a storm center of trouble if you shouldn't be listening.  Ask God if you should be the listener.  Especially if it is someone that you wouldn't normally be listening to.  Something I read recently talked about "treasure."  You know the Bible passage that talks about wherever your treasure is your heart will be?  
They applied this to treasures of your inner heart too.
If you tell people your treasure, your heart will follow them.  You have now given them pieces of your heart. Even if you don't intend it or realize it.  If people know our treasure or the inner workings of our inner person, our heart will follow them.
It made so much sense to me. It's so true.  
So be careful whom you tell things to.  If it is important and sacred to you, your heart will follow. An attachment will grow. A bond.
Also, be careful whom you allow to tell you these things. 
The attachment works both ways. 
This could be healthy, good, and healing, but also disastrous.  
Just because you are a good listener doesn't mean it's your turn to listen.  Like a pastor told me this year, "Your strengths are your biggest opportunities  for weakness too." 
I nodded big.  He was so right 
Listening involves the opening up of two hearts, and that means your guard is down.  The Bible tells us above all else to guard our hearts.  So be careful when listening that your heart is safe.  And by safe I don't mean simply that the party is trustworthy or that you are trustworthy. By safe, I mean that your listening is within healthy boundaries of God's Word.  That you are safe to listen to them.  We are all unsafe people if we step outside of God's boundaries to help people.  If we do this, even if it starts with good and loving intentions we become unsafe people to them and we place our selves in unsafe territory.  
Really think about that.  If you want to show love to someone always do so within the boundaries of biblical love.  Otherwise you will in fact turn into something of a curse, not a blessing.  Something you never intended.  
Listening is an invitation into relational intimacy so take this act seriously.  Your heart follows.  

2.  Listening involves selflessness.
If you are the listening ear for a dear friend, child, parent, spouse, or even the elderly person you meet at the grocery store you need to be "all in" for those moments.
People always pick up on this.  And it wastes time.    
My oldest girl knows if you aren't listening.  If she is telling me some animated story or plan and I don't say much she cuts through my distraction quickly and says,"You aren't listening!" And she stops.  
I miss that precious time because I am not snapping out of my moments to give them to her.  
Give people eye contact and focused attention. We listen so much with body language.  And we listen with time.  It shows we don't really care when we can't carve out time to listen.
And many times we don't care.  
That's why listening is a practice in selflessness. 
So engage what people are saying.
Ask questions. 
Make sure to try to really get what they are saying.  To see the heart behind whatever is hurting or the back story they aren't saying.  Really care.
Many times we get to hear stories we have heard over and over again.  Especially if someone is walking through tumultuous times.  It gets old.  However, determine to give a few focused minutes of time.  Put a  parentheses around it.  A time to listen and then a time to move on from the conversation.  A starting and ending point.  But when you are in it, be in it.  Don't be distracted.  Ask God to help you to really care, even if you don't honestly care.  
Listening communicates to people that they matter.  And while the issue they are discussing may not personally matter to you, just listening communicates that the person is of great value.  It also is a great reminder to us that the world is much bigger than our personal lives and problems.  Everyone's life and personal struggles matter.  

3.  Be quick to listen in an argument.  

James 1:19 admonishes this, " Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry..."
I'm sure this principle applies in most social settings, but it definitely does in times of conflict.  If someone is upset with you make sure that you really listen to the why. We know this helps diffuse an argument rather than bulldozing our way through to express our opposing opinion.  Really digest "the why" someone is angry. Don't simply react to what their emotions might stir up within you in that moment.  Listening invites you to perspective.  It is like a fence creating  a boundary.  You stand outside and really view what is happening until you decide to cross over and explain your side, your perspective.  Listening lets you glimpse the root of an issue.  The talker is inviting you to see what lies beneath the surface.  And that takes courage.  

4.  Be quick to listen in times of trouble and slow to speak.  
Recently I have walked through a dark time with my sister.  She experienced a great trauma.  One I have never been through.  
I have been through some deep things over the years. And most recently this year.  But never this thing.  I've listened to her like I always do, but recently I've learned something valuable.  When we listen to hurting people don't project your pain onto them.  Sometimes we try to empathize by telling people we know how they feel. But we don't.  We want to help, but this doesn't. 
Because really our pain isn't the same as any one person's. I've seen that so much in the past year.  We can go through similar situations and deal with things much differently.  Pain is individual.  
So just listen.  
Job's friends were really okay for the days they sat with him in solidarity and just listened to his laments.  They ran into trouble when they opened their mouths.  


5.  If someone close to you is walking a rough terrain. Make sure your show up.  Even if it is ugly.  If you are a part of the circle of close friends and you don't show up to listen it communicates more than anything that you don't care.  Of course we all have done this because generally we don't know what to say.  So just show up and don't say anything, just hold hands or hearts. 

What do you think are the greatest qualities of a good listener?
Who has been that for you? 

Monday, September 12, 2016

To Do and Don't Lists

The other day before school my oldest sat marker and notebook in hand.  I was trying to urge her on before she would be late.  "Come on to the table," I nudged. I glanced down, "What are you doing?"
She smiled back shyly, "I'm making a list.  A list of things I have to do in the morning."  Only it was morning.  Right now.  She skipped off to do more of the things on the list.  
I smiled.
A to do list.  And she's eight. 
I like the pictures :) 
It's a pretty basic list.  
Clothes on. Check.
Shoes on. Check.
Teeth Brushed. Check.
A bowl of cereal. (Apparently overflowing) Check.
I haven't figured out the last two pictures and they were left unchecked... 

A few days passed and I read the emailed, Happiness Dare of the Day I had subscribed to from Jennifer Dukes Lee.
The dare of the day included putting extra things on your to do list you know you can mark off.  Even if they seem silly.  It's in the being able to check them off that increases your happiness.
I laughed. 
But I decided to try it. 
It's been years since I really did this.  To do lists of practical daily tasks.  
When I had worked an office job before baby number two,  I enjoyed checking off the things I had done and moving on to the next. I would form a list of what I had to accomplish and checks littered the page.  
A quiet simple satisfaction.  

After being a mother and leaving public work I kind of gave up on to do lists.  
They became a source of frustration.  
I would make one, start something and then surprise, an interruption.  Interruptions salt and peppering my day.  Every day. 
A to do list kind of stood and mocked me.  A reminder of many half done tasks or seemingly simple things put away for a different day. A day with less interruptions. 

Thats the thing with being a mom, not too difficult or intricate things.  Just things that take some time and perhaps a few moments of unbroken attention.  Simple things only made complicated with little people and the dynamic they bring.  
I read once that motherhood is the ministry of interruption.  I laughed.  I get it now.
Wonderful and beautiful interruptions too, but interruptions many times nonetheless. Kind of like stop and go traffic.  You make progress but constantly find yourself sitting behind a new task or obstacle not feeling as if you have progressed. 
Another comparison would be a computer screen with too many tabs opened.  Navigating from one to the next.  
(I remember different times in my life after kids that I actually loved doing some big projects just because I had to arrange child care and had moments of unbroken focus. You know it felt kind of weird actually getting things done and not stopping and restarting. ) 
Last week i got out a simple black college ruled notebook and scratched out a humble non impressive list of things to do.  
As I wrote down the practical things I had to do I smiled.  
There were no big things. 
Would checking them off really make me feel happy?
I went through the day checking them off consciously.
If I  was interrupted and had to revisit the list and restart tasks but  the list helped me refocus.  At the end of the day they were almost done.
Jennifer Dukes Lee was right.  It did make me happy.  A simple happy.  
This reminded me of some thoughts on lists I have read this year.  
Crystal Paine talks about making lists whenever trying to accomplish any personal goal.  It's your road map to get there.
In her book Say Goodbye Survival Mode she talks about writing down goals that seem insignificant or small.  How they all add up and they foster a sense of confidence and accomplishment.
She talks about breaking down goals into bite sized pieces.  
After reading through her suggestions I decided to scratch down other goals.  Not just a list of mundane errands, bill pay, school activities, and household projects to finish.  A list of goals.  For me.  It's something I've long lost.  

My dad frequently prods me when we talk, "What's your dream?  You still have them right, Somer?" 
I used to feel my face flush and my mouth curve up when I considered his questions. 
It seemed ridiculous.  For me.
Dreams?  I was a simple little housewife washing dishes and sweeping floors.  
It felt like a game to play along with.  
But as of this year I have decided to play.  
He will send me a, "Whats your D.O.D.?" Affectionately abbreviating the Dream of the Day...
I reply back, "My dream of the day is...." 
It doesn't have to make sense or be something that actually seems plausible.  It just has to be something I'd like to do.  
We exchange the dream. Mine and his. 
They have been varied. 
Last week I said and meant it, "I really want to go to Norway.  I just do." 
He laughed, but still played along.  Then I decided I would check out books on Norway and figure out why I wanted to go.  Or maybe and most likely i'll just learn about Norway.  
This game of dreams is a list that keeps running. We talk about possibilities and things we want to see, do, and experience.  And while the list is long and some things undoable it's the making of this list of dreams that's half the fun.  It makes for good conversation. 

I've made many lists in my life. But they weren't necessarily to do lists.  
As a very tightly bound child I made a heavy lists of my sins and kept it going.  I recently found my prayer journals from high school and middle school.  After reading through them and reading the way I mentally beat myself up all of the time I felt sick. It was filled with self loathing and shame.  Shame for nothing.  I tossed every one of them in the trash.  
I now actually have nasty ugly sins that I could scrawl onto a sin list, but something has changed.  In me.  I finally see that God sees that ledger of my own sin under the lens of His grace.  Even if no one else does.  I needed to get that.  That His lens of righteousness trumps my list of sin.  That though it's deep and dark, His grace is deeper still.  I never really got that before.  I had to completely blow my list out of the water to experience His grace.  I was a person that always tried to keep the rules, but did I ever strike out.  But grace could catch me. And it did.  I actually understand what grace is.  Now.  And now I can give it.  Grace is something that is best experienced personally.  And I really hadn't known it before.  Oh, I had spoken of it, but I had never known what it was to be the needy recipient of so much of it.  From man.  I had always been nothing but needy for it in the eyes of God.  

I've made other lists in my twenties.   I penned  lists of gratitude.  I did this for several years.  It was my therapy.  It was a way out of a time of deep loneliness in my life.  I kept refusing to be sad by combatting the sad with all the things I saw in a day that were reasons to take joy. 
I filled notebooks...I have no clue how many it tallied.  It keeps going. 
I scrawled down memories.  Things this baby did, things my oldest girl said.  I form the words on paper so my heart remembers.  
I love these lists. 
I keep lists of gifts to give at Christmas, thank you cards to write.  Books to read.  Things I should eat and things I shouldn't...
So many lists....  

But this list of things significant to my person or any person kept coming up.  The lists that guide a life.
Shauna Niequist talks about these more crucial lists in her book Bittersweet.  The lists that are skeleton of a life.  
She talks about her affinity for trying to do everything.  Like a to do list that keeps morphing, growing, and expanding.  She decided to make a list of things she does and then a larger list of things she doesn't do. 
She speaks of the list called Things I don't Do, "It's brutal, making the list of Things I Don't Do, especially for someone like me, who refuses most of the time to acknowledge that there is, in fact, a limit to her personal ability to get things done. But I've discovered that the list sets me free.  I have it written in black and white, sitting on my desk, and when I'm tempted to go rouge and bake muffins because all of the other moms do, I come back to the lists, and I remind myself about the important things: that time is finite, as is energy.  And that one day I'll stand before God and account for what I did with my life.  There is work that is only mine to do...The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be.  It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being."  (pg. 60)
After reading this I thought about my two lists.  Things I do.  And things I don't do.  What they look like and what they need to look like.  That I need to sit down and form them physically.  Those lists that mean the most.  Those are the ones many times we don't write down.  Like our personal vision for our life, for our family.  Those are the most important lists. The lists of where we are going ultimately and how it is we are going to try to get there.
Many times The Things I don't Do whittles room away for the Things I Do.

So now I'm back to making some lists.  Housewife or not.
Lists of goals.  Even goals that seem silly or trite and some that seem serious. Personal and familial. All sorts of goals.
I'm making lists.  Not rigidly because I don't lock myself into rigidity. But more regularly.
I'm trying to plan things out.  Even simple things like sticking to my grocery list instead of free styling my way through the store trying to make it out with four kids intact.
I'm keeping running streams of dreams.  Dreams that come true and dreams that just lift your chin up to hope. It's fun...
And I'm trying to make lists of the real things of life that I want to do. That I want my life to be about. That's what needs to comprise the lists of Things I do.   Things I want to do and are right for me. Somer's list.  Her game plan.  Her compass.
I have yet to scratch out the list physically of things I don't do, but I am starting to see them rise to the top of my life. They can easily be skimmed off when I know they only impede the lists of what I really want my life to be about.
I've said no to things lately that I know need to be on the list of Things I don't do.  Even though they were good things.  It just didn't make the list. And I forever have learned unwise things that also have landed on the list.

My lists don't include check boxes or sharpie art like my oldest girls, but they bring quiet satisfaction and a sense of direction and accomplishment.
Finally, I must keep making the thankful lists.
The times I have stopped, I become foggy, disoriented, and I lose my way.
I always go back to the list.  It is the perspective giver.  The to do list gives a vision, the things I don't do list gives boundaries, but the thankful list gives perspective.
The other day I felt defeat sneaking into my thoughts.  A negative list.  A list of all that isn't.
Before I let it take my all the way down I decided I would go through my house and start thanking God for all that was physically in front of me.  Simple things.  Like our water hose and running water.  And wood floors, and dishes and then specific people and special memories.  The things that were, that didn't have to be.  It is amazing the perspective that the gratitude list gives.  It makes you think I don't have to have anything. I'm blessed to have any of it.  Any at all.
When all the  other lists seem to crumble, shatter, or evaporate it's the lists of gratitude for all of this life and all of God's goodness that keeps us able to once again form a list of vision again.  It keeps us coming back.
And it's the list of all God's promises that gives us the hope to be thankful.  The endurance to keep saying, "Thank you for this" in the face of things that don't add up.  To fight to be positive and not negative.  The hope that this list of God's goodness here in this life pales in comparison to the eternal lists of unending joy awaiting us there.  In Heaven.   When we begin our realest lives.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Last Days of Summer

We usually end our summers with vacations or trips.
It's been a thing.  
I think its because we like to save the best for last.
Do you?
June signals schools out and people are restless to break free, to escape, and to head somewhere.
But we wait...
We always have.
It started years ago when our summers were packed tight with things one after the other.
August or September our summer slows, right before its gone. Kind of like the sunsetting on a long summer's day, brightest at the end. 
I like it this way.  I like ending with something memorable.  
I've always been that way.  I like to have something to look forward to rather than rush through and have nothing to anticipate in a season.   
This year was the first time we had been back to see the ocean all together as a family in at least four years.
This year we added two to our crew and made our way to Florida.
It's been a decade since I've been to Florida.  
Do you love to go to new places? 
I do.  
If you were blessed to go on family trips did your family go to the same place like an anchor of so many family memories or did they mix it up and try to see many places?
My dad did that.  We always had to go to a different beach, try something new.  Explore.
This beach was new to us.  Same deep blue endless Atlantic, but a new town.  
St. Augustine. 
It was beautiful and intensely hot.  
There were many humorous moments of this trip. 
I drove being one.  
I'm not normally the main driver, but I did this time.  That led to a mix up halfway through and regrouping and map questing, but we made it.
My sister and I manned the car with all the kids and my husband and his buddy drove down separately.  I'm sure they were glad to not be listening to Charlottes Web and The Trumpeter of the Swan as we drove late into the night with all of the southern miles racing under our wheels.
My sister and I tried to unravel all the knots of the nightmare she's had to live through this summer.  As babies slept through South Carolina and Georgia we tried to make sense of the senseless.  
We listened to a wonderful book about fighting for joy and we let the comforting words of the author settle into us deeply as Florida humidity steamed up our windows for the last leg of our trip.  

Vacations are about building memories. 
My husband has always maintained that they are important and I agree. My parents thought so too.  
It's a place of respite and focus on nothing but the people with you.  Reconnecting with them again and yes, having fun.  
This year it was a bit difficult too.  It's been a difficult year for every adult who came.  We've all went through deep waters of our own and the break was needed.  To get out of town and step away from everyone.  To leave the familiar and try to see our lives clearly again.
We danced through some awkward moments, shed some tears, and had difficult conversations but we were together.  
And more than anything we got to watch three little girls play their hearts out all week. 
There's nothing like lifting your spirits than watching children play.  They can forget it all and get lost in the moment.  
When you have four kids at a beach and one is almost a one year old, you are quite tired.  There are no endless hours spent lying on beach towels but rather lots of chasing a crawling baby around sand and making sure he doesn't fall flat in sea foam.  There are endless sunscreen applications and vigilant pool watching, lots of meals to make and sand to scrub out of hair...
But its worth it....

It was worth it to watch three girls delighting in saltwater, sitting in tide pools, and  and playing tag with waves

It was worth it to see baby eyes round big at something so powerful and so beyond his understanding. 
It was worth it to be there for another big first.  A first he never will remember, but we will.  

It was worth it to have a sister to be with, to just listen to, to talk through it, to sort it out with, to be safe places for each other..
to have an aunt to hold hands with, to be held by, and to reign the girls in when they got too wild

It was worth it to see and do new things...

Like catching sharks in the dark...

Watching a full moon rise over the water, like a bright beam spilling a path of gold across the waves.  In all my life I've never seen that happen at the beach.  My girls and sister are silhouetted against the darkness, dancing under the moon's spotlight.  I got to walk a ways holding my baby just being in wonder of a full moon shining.  My baby went to sleep with the gentle lapping of the waves.  We laid down in the sand while little girls squealed at the shark their daddy and his buddy caught. 
 It was a beautiful night. 

It was worth it to feel small again.  To feel the reverence that always falls on you in a holy hush when you stand next to the vast ocean.  

It was worth it to watch girls chase gulls and feed them so many snacks.  Baby boy's eyes so big as he watched the gulls descend.  

It was worth it to do nothing but let waves rush in and stress and angst rush out...just be here and nowhere else.

It was worth it to watch sand castles constructed and invest afternoons in nothing but pool floating 

It was worth it to see a new corner of the earth,  Spanish architecture, beautiful flowers, and eat rich meals.  

We came back tired, sun kissed, with hearts laid out on the table and yet still holding together. 
We left in need of a break from everything and everyone and came back with a week of smiling children and the grace of being in God's vibrant natural beauty.  We came back with a few more things settled than when we left.  We came back still sifting through issues, but with some shifted perspectives.  
I like what Shauna Niequist says of travel in her book Bittersweet,
"That's why travel is so important, among other reasons: to get far enough away from our everyday lives to see those lives with new clarity.  When you're literally on the other side of the world, when you're under the silent sea, watching a bright, silent world of fish and coral, when you're staring up at a sky so bright and dense with stars it makes you gasp, it's in those moments that you begin to see the fullness of your life, the possibility that still prevails, that always prevails."  (pg.79).

While we weren't on a boat or gazing at coral we were under the light of a low and brilliantly full moon streaming over the depths of salty black water.  We were the same old us, yet in a new place.  We experienced a bit of what she speaks of.  Of stepping away to see possibility.  I had been aching long to get away from everything but as the weeks inched by slowly I began worrying over the trip. Would it be good for us? 
Yes, yes it was.  
Laying in the moonlit sand with my sleeping baby boy watching gleeful children and men wrestling a shark off the line I felt a bit of hope breathe deeply over me.
This endless ocean that had been eroding the shore and pulling its seashells out and then surging them back up with the surf hour upon hour year after year...this endless ocean was familiar.  It felt like a rock.  A symbol of the eternal promises of my Jesus.  The promise that though things had been shaken out and unfamiliar there was life abundantly happening all around me.  I just needed to go somewhere new to see it again.  
I remember saying to someone this year, "It feels like I'm on a shore with waves pounding me over and over again.  From different directions." 
Later though and even more as I sat in the water that week I was startled by a new imagery of waves. The waves of God's goodness that had continued to wash over me.  His bottomless grace that had hurled my sin to the bottom of the sea and that richly covered me.  The unending goodness of people like so many tides of mercy He had sent me.  The fact that His waves of love had also washed over me.  Had cleaned out years of hurt and though it stung had helped me experiencing healing in ways I wouldn't have imagined.  
Yes sitting next to the shore, memories flooded back of many times I had sat at the foot of the waves and that just like this ancient shoreline God was still here and still working and wasting nothing.  That life, and even my life was much more than this present season.  That our God was so big and so beautiful and I needed to be reminded of the sacred moments of the past and swell with hope like the deep swells of the sea.  
There truly is nothing like the sea to bring you to a place of seeing God again.  

So we said so long to summer St. Augustine style....

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Summer we came back home

Kids are back in school and summer is fast wrapping up.
It's still hard-to-breathe hot, but August is saying it's goodbye.
I love summer.
It's still my favorite.
This summer we moved back to our old house. The house that didn't sell.  And God knows why because He foresaw the future and knew what we most needed.
It's quite old, but it's now "new" to us.
We needed to move back home.  To rekindle our family in the space we grew in.  The place where almost all of our little families' memories were hatched, nurtured.
The old house with windows in desperate need of replacing, but that have been plastered with so many fingerprints.
It's a tiny house, and we have added another baby to love; however, we reconfigured some spaces and we all now fit.  And comfortably.

I remember one of the first days I came home, back to the "new old" house and I felt comfortable. Like I could breathe again. Finally.  Back in familiar walls, where so much good had happened.  Back when things were happier. Almost like despair had been lifted.

I remember the first time I set my baby in the almost empty house as we moved boxes in. He scampered quickly crawling all over the old hardwoods.  He was giggling.  Bars of late afternoon gold slanted across the old creaky floors and he delighted in his new home.  The home all the other littles grew up in.

We spent the summer filling the new old house with memories.
We had people over, steaks sizzled again on our back deck.
Girls rain danced in the giant puddles that always form in the front sidewalk in flash thunderstorms.
Literally, dancing until soaking wet and then oldest girl stretching out in the summer rain and laughing contagiously.
We visited parks we used to go to frequently. Feet dangling wildly under monkey bars.  Legs longer now that dragged in the mulch.
We spent afternoons in the library we used to visit. Piling books on tables and deliberating on movies to check out.
We invested in two kiddie pools that were filled with our kids, and neighborhood kids. Swirling around in floats and running across the yard to crash kiddie pool landings.
We had water balloon fights in the front lawn, neon latex balloon shrapnel littering the sidewalks, followed up by so many popsicles.
We heard the ice cream man come to the neighborhood again and the girls sprinted to find me.  They begged for at least one more over priced ice cream cone.
We even got a puppy, (and this time it wasn't a nightmare like it had been previously.  She fits us.)
We had drop in visitors like we used to; only now they didn't seem to aggravate.  It was nice to open up the door and see their smiling familiar faces. To have old friends and family circle up in the living room and chat.
We talked to neighbors as we carried recycling out to trash cans or brought groceries in from the store.  
It even kind of felt like a treat going into the grocery store that I used to always shop at.  I remember when I saw the old cashier that always used to ring up my late night purchases I could hardly contain my smile.  I know she had no clue why I was smiling, but I did . Buying miscellaneous necessities at 10:30 pm and seeing this lady's wrinkled worn mouth curve up in her simple smile felt like home.

This summer had its definite rough patches as we try to regroup and rekindle but homecoming was sweet and felt like fresh air, fresh perspectives, and kind of a fresh start on 'us'.

Have you ever left something only to come back later and realize how good it was?  Have you ever went through something difficult, arduous and went back to a familiar place that tangibly comforted you of better times?  That brought you home? A sense of home that propelled you to once again hope?

Things that I noticed before don't bother me so much.  The mouse I heard scurry over my head in the basement ceiling.  The loud cars driving fast by.  Even the small closet sized bathroom. I didn't compile a running list of home improvements to be made.  I just wanted to be here.
No problems.

I know my friend Ellen said to me recently the old adage about staying in love, how one has to be able to look with fresh eyes over and over again at the old.  To see what has become a mainstay, the usual as new and breath taking all over again.  We don't do that.  We forget that.  We lose that.
We forget to actually study and find the good in what we have.  We so do. It becomes commonplace.  The wounds we receive while in the day to day, wear.  They wear us down and blind us to the beauty that is.  
Sometimes it takes the losing of some of that to refocus us.  To be an even better us than we were before.  Because the us that came back home to the new old house now knows things we didn't before.  We have lived out lessons, we didn't want to, but we aren't taking things for granted or holding life so loosely.  We are being more real.  Authentic.
It's not just true of romantic love, its true of all of those that we love.  We forget how truly breathtaking the people that stand beside us and live right with us are.  We forget to notice them, and they do the same for us.
We forget to nurture us.
We need a reminder, literally and tangibly or something strong symbolically to reel us back in.
That's what coming back to the tiny house was.
This summer we came home and started over. This summer I did old familiar things with a new perspective. This summer I was more appreciative of this tiny house than I have quite possibly ever been.  It could have been a veritable palace and it wouldn't have been any better to me.  It was a symbol of hope, for what was once, and for what will be new to come.  A new that comes even better, stronger, and wiser than before.  A new old.

Prayers for Brave
Early on Madelyn was my spunky girl that always spoke her mind.
She believed and then she said it, rather announced it.  I will never forget when she was a two year old leaning across the breakfast table telling her sister and I, "Satan is the Father of Lies!"
Emphatically. I remember nodding at her serious deep blue toddler eyes.
"You're right," I chuckled.
Then there was the winter she decided to dash the dreams of her cousins and her friends by insisting to them that Santa wasn't real.
She had lots of reasons.
"You know that a man that fat can't climb down a chimney." She said looking up out of her eyes and nodding her head seriously. "No one would fly around the whole world in one night."

She's always been very vocal about her opinions and beliefs.

As a four year old Madelyn decided she was brave enough to sing with her dad.  She has always loved to sing songs and she does have a sweet voice.
After just turning four Madelyn sang her first duet with her daddy.
I remember the way she softly sang into her microphone, but then ended the song strongly by herself.
She was brave.  Bold for one so little.
Madelyn's first time

She didn't do a repeat performance.  We switched churches and I never could quite convince her to sing for a new congregation.  She listened to songs and quickly knew them.  Singing them with passion at home or in the back of the car as we drove a long.

Almost three years have passed and this summer seemed to be a season of bravery for my oldest girls.
Both girls decided to be baptized after attending Vacation Bible School.  They both accepted Christ when they were four, totally initiated on their own. We knew they were serious. No doubts there.

Madelyn decided to go ahead with it first (of course), but about six weeks later our oldest followed.
Their daddy treasured those moments.  He got the privilege of baptizing his daughters as followers and now sisters in Christ.

I pray different prayers for my kids.  I have tried to pray blessings or mantras for my kids that seem to  fit their unique personality and gifts.
For my oldest girl I have prayed Psalm 90:17
"May the favor of the Lord our God rest on Meredith; establish the work of her hands for her- yes, establish the work of her hands."
(of course I insert their names)
For Madelyn I have prayed this prayer many times,
"May this be true of Madelyn. May Madelyn be able to say...
'I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; before the 'gods' I will sing your praise.  I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name...When I called you answered me; you greatly emboldened me.'" (Psalm 138)
Of course we all pray many different prayers over the course of our children's lives, but I have been drawn to a few different passages to pray over them individually.

Madelyn  decided to take the stage with her dad again.  Sing one of her favorite songs.
Ironically the song was, "You Make Me Brave" by Bethel Music.
 I smiled when she sang out the chorus,

As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in

You make me brave

You call me out beyond the shore into the waves

You make me brave

You make me brave

No fear can hinder now the promises you made

I know my Madelyn is brave.  She always has been.  That's something I've never been.  Ever.  But I know God wants to build that character within me.I've asked God to build it within Madelyn, to grow what already seems to be a core part of her character. I want her to always speak what she really thinks and not back down  

After reading Praying Circles Around your Children by Mark Batterson I was inspired to pick a few specific passages to pray.  
Batterson writes, 
"Prayer is your highest privilege as a parent. There is nothing you can do that will have a higher return on investment.  In fact, the dividends are eternal.  Prayer turns ordinary parents into prophets who shape the destinies of their children, grandchildren, and every generation that follows...Our prayers never die.They live on in the lives of those we prayed for. " 
He goes on to suggest picking out a mantra or a prayer for your children's specific life.  A theme if you will.  He speaks of praying specific words for His daughter, "Those framed words started to frame her.  She started to see herself in the light of her God-ordained identity and destiny."  
I finished this book inspired to thoughtfully pray for people in a deeper and more powerful way letting scripture play a significant part.

What do you pray for your kids?  Do you see specific prayers come true in the lives of your kids?
Do you pray these prayers with them? (Batterson suggests you do so regularly to make them central to the lives of your kids)
Did someone pray for things in your life?  Things you know came true, that you are walking living proof of.
I know its true of my dad's prayers. I've seen so many of them directly answered in the life of my family and in my personal life.

I've always seen glimmers of Madelyn's strong and brave heart and it keeps growing.  Expanding. I'm going to keep asking God for more of it.  For more courage for her.  That He would greatly embolden her.  Hearing her soft voice strongly sing out the lyrics of that song felt like gentle, steady answers...

Madelyn led the way this summer...

Meredith shortly after
Having daddy baptize them is so special 
"You Make Me Brave"

One of our favorite family songs..

Happy Place

It's what we deeply wish for ourselves or even more deeply for people we love.
When I think of the word happy I think of my little third girl with the chocolate eyes and honey colored hair. She is like sunshine.  She loves yellow. 
I always think of bright yellow or tangerine orange.
I think of brilliant sunshine, and always warm weather.
I think of familiar eyes of people I've long loved.
I think of book stores.
I think of my parents front porch.
I think of tiger lilies.
I think of a bouquet of hot pink roses.
I think of the ocean.
I think of deeply green grass.
I think of road trips. 
I also think of You Are My Sunshine.  That simple song we sing to kids.  
I used to sing it to my oldest girl every night.  One night lying beside her with her dark blonde hair spread out on her pillow she stopped me, "Please don't sing that song.  Please.  I don't want to go away.  I don't want to go away." 
She knew that I meant that she was my sunshine and that refrain, "Please don't take my sunshine away" really bothered her.
She started to cry.  So we stopped that song.  
That melted my heart a bit, to think she so didn't want to leave.  
Fast forward a few years and she's still my sentimental one.  
Her last week of summer we had to do something just two of us. As she would say, "Mommy and Meredith" time. 
I've always found that my girls blossom in the weight of my full undivided attention.  Even if it isn't long.  I also realize that usually that's best accomplished out and about.  Just the two of us. 
It was after nine.  My husband got home late, but I knew tonight was our night.  Before the hustle of school work to finish, hair to dry, and lunches to pack. When she could still sleep in the next day and we wouldn't have to rush.
After everyone else was ready for bed we said good bye and dashed out the door.
She wanted to go shopping.
Not too many stores are open at nine thirty. 
It didn't matter. We traipsed all over WalMart picking out her hypothetical Christmas, Mother's and Father's Day gifts and birthday gifts for people.  
As it neared 10:45 we pulled into Krispy Kreme for our late night treat.  
Holding her pillow of hot glazed goodness and wearing a slight milk mustache we talked about whatever it was she thought was important.  
The conversation consisted of some little kid humor with a side of angelology. "Do angels exist? Are they girls or boys?  What angels do we know about it?..."
Somewhere in that discussion she decided to talk about Heaven and how it is the most happy place. How once you arrive in Heaven you never want to come back here.  No, never.  
As we got back in the car she stuck her chin out and put her head on my stomach. 
"You're still my sunshine.  You make me happy." I smiled down at her.
She laughed, "Do you remember that I didn't like that song?  I didn't want to go away?"  Her freckle splattered nose crinkled and her green-gold eyes danced.
"Yes" I nodded.  
Those are the sweetest happiest moments within a relationship.  The ones when we are all there and all in.  Where its just two people really talking.  Nothing to distract. 
The pocket full of moments ended with our car ride, but the link in our chain of love was lengthened, deepened.
I know that's how God wants it too.  That we have simple, quiet concentrated moments to savor knowing Him and being loved by Him.  To pause and see Him, today.  To sit silently and watch the sky and notice Him.  We all blossom in the light of His undivided attention and love.  That's why I think He wants us to stop and pray. To slow down ourselves that we might hear Him, love Him.  
I also think that just like I have to purposefully make time to focus all of my attention on my Meredith to really zero in on her and make sure there won't be any distractions, I have to do that many times to effectively spend meaningful time with God.  I have to pull away and have all of me there.  And it can be so simple.
In relationships it can be so much about what we do for each other, what we are producing...but that's not the whole.  Everyone wants to know that they aren't just doing things for each other, turning out productivity, but rather that we hold each other's heart and treasure the soul of the other.
I've often noted that when my kids are trying to tell me something but I'm too busy doing something for them to listen. The irony of it.
That many times its better to be with someone, side by side.  Rather than generating so much activity.  It's simple.  It's happy.
Where's your happy place?