The Fireplace that Could

When we first walked into this 100-year-old house, complete with leaky roof and sagging floors, we saw lots of work that needed to be done. But when we stepped into the big living room and saw this towering ancient brick fireplace, we swooned. It wasn’t perfect. Maybe that’s what caught my eye. I saw character.

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I saw beauty in the uneven bricks and age-old mortar.
I’ve always been a sucker for antiques, and old places restored and revived.

Here is the listing photo of our living room, before we applied any elbow grease at all, before the clutter disappeared and we ripped out the crooked shelves
(and before we stripped and stained the floors, whitewashed the walls, painted trim, etc.):

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But once we moved in, we discovered that the mortar was INDEED ancient,
and the slightest brushing up against it caused a fine shower of dust to settle to the floor. With four active children bouncing through the house,
we knew we had to figure out a way to seal it in.

Daniel sprayed it with a sealer, and while it was now all holding together quite well, the creamy mortar turned into wet looking clay.
I was mortified. Or mortorfied.

Every time I walked into the living room, I gulped. What had started out as something I loved was now a massive eyesore. This was NOT what I fell in love with.

The old yellow heart pine floors were sanded and re-stained and turned a lovely brown. The outside of the house got new siding and a roof. But this chimney had become the big bad wolf of the living room.
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To make matters worse, there were a few spots where the mortar had fallen out altogether, and invited tiny fingers to keep picking, creating larger and larger crannies. Something HAD to be done.

Then one day it DID get worse- I had a child who decided to go chimney climbing and stood on the corner brick and found it was no longer attached. Or causing it to be no longer attached. When the avalanche was over, there was a child, a chipped brick and lots of mortar power on the floor. No real harm was done, except the that someone’s pride was bruised and we had to stare at a haggle toothed mantle for months.

So I set out on Pinterest and researched every brick treatment option known to man. I didn’t want to paint it since I loved the variation in the brick. But something that would fill in the cracks and lightly cover the color while still letting some show through. I stumbled upon the German Smear idea, and yes, this was before Chip and Joanna launched it on their show.
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I watched every tutorial on Youtube about it, scoured for every blog post or article online till my confidence reached a level of launch-ability. I’ve felt frustrated that are so many projects in this house that I cannot do alone, but this was one I could.

I went to Lowes and got the bag of mortar the guy wearing the vest recommended. But when I got home, it was FAR too gray and corse for the smear I was looking for. It worked great for filling those gaping holes and reattaching the dislodged corner brick, but then I headed back to the store, a little more educated and a bit more self-dependent. Lowes workers have no idea what a decorative German smear is. So I came home with this baby.

I attacked it with a vengeance. Cleaned the dust and cobwebs off (yes, I am that mom who has spiders in her old home. Pardon me. We DO live in harmony, not like my last house with its genuine infestation of Brown Recluse spiders) and mixed it to milk shake consistently.
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It’s pretty simple. Spray the brick to get it damp, smear it on, focusing on the mortar joints, and wipe off areas of excess with your gloved hand and a damp rag. You do want gloves for this, ’cause mortar does nasty stuff to the skin. Don’t ask me how I know (and yes, I did start off with gloves, but they weren’t up for the length of the job. Ahem.)

Wipe off where you want less, and once stuff has dried, use a wire brush to remove any smear from areas where you want more brick showing through. This is where my husband showed up from long hours of study and could be my eyes from afar.  “That dark brick one level up, take a bit more off there…”

Be prepared for dust EVERYWHERE. If you can tape off the area behind plastic, you will thank yourself. If your husband is full of great ideas like mine is, he might even find an old door and create a work platform and dust catcher. Men are amazing creatures.
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All in all, the German smear was the perfect treatment for this chimney. It dramatically brightened up our living room, which oddly enough only has two narrow windows, neither of which ever get direct light, so every bit of natural light needs to be embraced.

The fireplace still isn’t complete; there are gaps between the brick and sheetrock that will soon be filled in, a mantle installed on the ledge (please drop your vote in the comments: white or aged beams?) and also the hearth will be redone.

Like the Nester says,
“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”

I think that is a vital perspective when living in an old house, or living with children, or living on the mission field. Perhaps it applies to all of life, unless you live in the pages of Potterybarn or reside in the folders of Pinterest. For the rest of us, it’s a constant teeter-totter between reaching for what you envision and embracing the mess of now.

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I’m glad I stepped outside of my comfort zone and launched off in this project. Every time I step into my living room now, I’m embraced with the brightness of the white, instead of the tired clay red. It was a great $18 investment.

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Do you enjoy before and after home renovations as much as I do?
I’m excited to share more with you about our 100-year-old farm house.
Like the outside which is sporting a new siding color and roof shape and lovely meandering porch, and the complete gut job and brand new kitchen still slightly in the process.

Now, please loan me your opinion and drop your vote about mantle finishes in the comments below. Bright white or rustic barn beam?

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The Tug of War between Real Life and Simplicity

It was Sunday afternoon, and the children were lost in the world of legos and mini figures and tiny cars downstairs. The top step creaked under my feet as I rounded the corner into our bedroom. Daniel was stretched out on the bed, textbook and computer spread out in front of him. His dedication to school and biology and the mystery of muscles and cells blows me away. The light by the nightstand is often on till the wee hours of the morning before his heavy eyelids win and he snaps the textbook closed.

I paused mid-room. The dresser drawers were shut but contained a hidden evil.
I knew the drawers of little girls clothes were jammed, a hopeless jumble of wadded shirts, leggings, and mismatched socks. Having clothes on their level is both a blessing of ease and a curse of chaos. The widowed sock issue has reached epidemic proportions around here lately. Oh the glory of winter boots, which hide the fact that one tiny foot is wearing a purple sock, while the other sports a hot pink one.
Tell me I am not alone in this secret plight.

I’d had enough. The drawer and all its horror dumped on my floor and I tackled it with a vengeance. “Outgrown, discard,” and “keep” stacks grew around me. Words like “Capsule wardrobe,” “Simplify,” and “Minimal” floated around in my formerly frenzied but now clarifying mind.

Leggings on one side, tops on the other, panties in the middle and the drawer breathes a sigh of relief. I slide the drawer back into the dresser, and even the handles seem to smile back at me, just because I know what’s inside is organized again.

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Children’s clothing is a never-ending process around here, especially since I do it on a budget. Growing children, legs that seem to be adding inches monthly and arms that stretch beyond sleeve cuffs always catch me off guard. While I have loved finding just the thing I need at yard sales, consignment sales or thrift stores, it can get overwhelming.

A good friend told me the other day,
“We love our children better if they are wearing cute clothes.”
It sounds funny, but really, if they are wearing stained clothes or ragged, tired jeans, they look unkempt. But if they are wearing clothes that we picked out with care (yes, it can even be from a yard sale pile of .25 clothes) we will feel happier.
Funny but true.

I have recently been appreciating the idea of clearing out everything that does’t spark joy or have a good purpose… How many items do I have in my home simply because someone gave it to me, or I got it for a really good deal, but silently strongly dislike? Of course, I won’t use it if I hate it. So let’s do the deed and eliminate unwanted stuff in our homes.
Make it a place of beauty and purpose.

I love shopping with my sisters because they are quite gifted at style on a budget.
They have eagle eyes for flaws in used items. They have taught me to ask myself,
“Does it look worn?
Would I pay full price for this?
If I only had six tops in my closet, would this be one of them?”
The goal is in quality, not quantity.
A good deal isn’t always a good deal.

But the break down easily happens in children’s clothes.
When they grow like weeds, and look like the dirt that grows on them after a long afternoon in the yard, they DO need play clothes that allow for grass-stained knees and dirt.
Praise the Lord for a washing machine and yard sales on days like these.

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For some of us, shopping online versus shopping thrift stores is a better option.
Some seasons don’t allow for piling children into the minivan and braving long hours of half-price day thrift shopping or yard sale browsing.
There are seasons for all of us, and there is no right way for everyone.

So cut yourself some slack and embrace your season, your sanity, and realistic opportunities.

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I’ve had some really lovely second-hand finds, like a Gymboree pea coat for .25 or new with tags Carters items for a whopping quarter. I love when the handwritten sign on the yard sale table says “Children’s clothes: .25 or fill a bag for $5.” I carefully sort through and pull out the nearly new ones, even if they are not the right size or gender for my children.

In my garage, they get stowed in a tote marked “Summer Resale” and when warm weather rolls around, I either sell at a consignment sale or my very favorite- selling sized lots on my local Facebook marketplace. Everything is local and no shipping necessary.
Rolling the money I make selling used children’s clothes into the clothing my children DO need has been a fun budget challenge.

Last year I sold enough children’s clothes that it easily covered what I needed to purchase for them. This year I am creating an additional budget category: clothes for me out of what I make on Poshmark (disclaimer: yeah, it’s a referral link. You get $5 when you use it). While certainly a harder, higher dollar market, I’ve enjoyed finding and reselling quality shoes like Clarks and Keens. After all, who doesn’t love finding the very shoes they been searching for, but barely used for a fraction of the resale price?

I’ve also donated to and purchased from Schoola and they often have really good sales going. I love that I can skip walking down long and overwhelming isles in the thrift store and type in exactly what I am looking for. While it can be slightly hit or miss (since I can’t feel the fabric or see exact color hues) I have had some really great scores on here. It’s also nice to be able to donate and mail stuff off to them and not have to bother dripping stuff off at Goodwill.

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It takes constant attention, this thing of clothes on a budget.
But let’s never let it steal our joy, or lure us into the world of comparison.
Childhood memories capture the moments of sheer delight, of the mud puddles and carefree laughter.
Let’s cultivate a home where joy is everywhere, and Mommy is free to enjoy life with them.

I love white. I love Pottery Barn and clean, fresh style.
While I delight in my white bedspread, I currently can’t pull off white couches.
I want my home to be a balance of cleanliness and comfort. I want my children to learn to wash the mud from their feet, but also to feel welcome and comfortable in our home. Our brown leather couches wipe off super well. So much of life is about embracing seasons, recognizing limitations and choosing joy in the midst of it all.

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There are a million things that scream for our attention as mothers.
Even the best of things can distract us from what truly matters. God invites us into a dance, slow and steady, through the muddy footprints and piles of laundry. He asks us to listen to the song He is singing over us as we change diapers and nurse through the night. Seasons and demands change, budgets get breathtakingly tight, and we reanalyze the grocery list must-haves. But He is there, His hand extended and invites us into His presence.
The clothes, the food, and everything else carefully written on our to-do list- just hand it to Him.
He’s got this.  Even the clothes your children wear.

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What are your best tips for dressing on a budget and creating peace in your home?
I would love to hear your tips!

 

 

 

 

Where No Offering is Wasted

It was somewhere between 3 and 4 in the morning, and the bathroom was steamy hot.
I leaned my head against a folded towel and pretended that the tub and toilet were not filled with blood-stained water.

A distant faint hum grew into a loud buzzing in my ears, and I knew I was going to faint. “Daniel!” I said weakly, and immediately I heard him reply and jump out of bed.
Cold air hit my face as he pushed the door open,
“I think I’m gonna faint.”
He said something, but it was lost in the fog.
Next thing I remember I was stretched out on the floor, and he was taking care of me.

“Don’t call 911,” I whispered when I came to.
“I AM 911,” he said, with a hint of a twinkle in his eye.

Oh yeah, he WAS far more qualified to handle this situation than the volunteer firefighters just down the road at our local fire department.
My paramedic husband was just the man for the job. He leans in over a surgery, and carefully observes every move. He caught our last baby when she beat the midwives and was as calm and reassuring as a seasoned midwife would have been.
He’s a keeper, this brave man of mine.

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He got the bed ready, picked me up from the floor, carried me gently to bed and tucked me in. He took my blood pressure and managed to gulp discreetly. I knew it was low, simply by the draped over the bed feeling I had. He got me chlorophyll and grape juice and helped me figure out how to get the placenta to pass and the bleeding to stop.

We had waited a while to even tell the children about this pregnancy because of my history of early miscarriages. I hated to get their hopes up when they had been praying so hard for another baby. But we had ventured to tell them when I nearly hit the 12-week mark, and their eyes shone, and they hugged me tightly. Tirzah even cried herself to sleep, but they were tears of joy. But it was during that night that I saw the first blood.

I put myself on bed rest and researched like crazy. It could be this or that, but I knew under it all that it could just be another lost pregnancy.

And that’s what it was.

It’s over now, and I’ve been cared for and doted on so thoroughly it’s stunning. Daniel took the day off, and arranged for my mom and then his mom to each spend a day here so I could rest and the children be cared for. Friends have stopped by with flowers, food, and coffee.

“But it seems like such a waste!” Tirzah sighed. I nodded, all the weeks of morning sickness, nausea, the exhaustion- over, just like that. I always tell myself that the baby will be worth it, the sacrifice pales in the delight of a newborn clutching my finger.

But what about when the sacrifice is poured out?
Wasted. Gone. Nothing to show for the long weeks of sickness.

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We all love a good redemptive story, where the sweat and blood pays off, and our hero rides off victorious into the sunset. Vengeance is paid, good wins over evil. But when the cancer wins, the coffin is lowered, the dreams crumbled, is God still good?

Lately, my daughters have randomly asked big questions.
“Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers?”
It’s enough to make your mouth run dry; any cliche answer goes stale.
It’s these moments that parenthood undoes you. And you reach for words deeper than your mind. You reach for truth that is unwavering.

As I laid in bed, I kept getting this picture of water, poured out.
Splashed on a dry sandy ground, lost in a second.

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It was hot and dusty. They could feel the grit between their teeth, the chalky grime under their nails. The price of being one of David’s mighty men was high- no comfort, no family, no luxury at all. Everything was rough, from the simple clothes they wore to the grub that kept them alive.

And a sigh escaped David’s lips, “Oh, what would I give for some of that sweet well water from Bethlehem’s gate!” It was out of the question, the enemy line laying squarely between him and the water he longed for.

It was ridiculous. It was a dream of another lifetime.

But these crazy loyal men loved this leader of theirs. They were committed to him, to his cause, and even his smallest desires were deeply personal. They got their heads together and slipped off into the crowd of rowdy and rugged men.

The words fall silent on the pages here, and we have no account of the near calls they faced, the danger they plowed into, except for these:

“Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David.

But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the Lord and said,
“Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this.
Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?”
Therefore he would not drink it.”

I’ve always felt sorry for these incredible men, whose lifeblood was risked for simple water. There it went, their very lives just dumped out on the dry ground.

What a waste. Nothing left to show for their risk. Just a bit of muddy sand at their toes.

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But something strikes me deeply now, as I read these words and let the water sink deep into my own dry heart. David, a man after God’s own heart, paused.
In this crazy moment behind army lines, when he was parched- he stopped.

His rough hands, calloused from taking care of sheep in the wilderness, calloused from playing music to the Lord, calloused from swinging a sword, now held a simple flask of the very water he’d been begging for.

Sometimes the deepest desire of our hearts, in turn, becomes a song of deep offering, of letting go, of choosing to see what God sees.

Instead of seeing water, David saw these men’s valor, their dedication, their absolute loyalty, and he knew he wasn’t deserving of that. He knew this was their very lives, and it was worth far more than water.

I breathe in deep, that shuddering kind of breath that comes after a long hard cry.
When the woman in you crumbles into a small child melted into her daddy’s arms.
It happens.
Life crushes.
Our dreams shatter and slip through our fingers like fine ocean sand.

Clutching does nothing but creates anger, for we stand nose to nose with the fact that we are helpless. We cannot control this.  We are forced to recognize that God is sovereign, even in the moments when all looks wrong.

He pulls us close and invites us to look through His eyes- to see beyond the desolation and waste of it all. To see the investment instead of the robbery. To see beyond just this little life we live.

With tears, we open our hands and this little one flies home.
Yes, we cry, but we smile through the tears.

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Would you be poured out like wine upon the altar for Me?
Would you be broken like bread to feed the hungry?

Would you?

God doesn’t call you in your strongest point.

He reaches in, past your strength, and touches your weakest area.
He meets you in your deficiency and lays it bare.
Your best accomplishments and most perfect presentations are just what he wants, but not to be waved as a trophy, but poured out on the altar of sacrifice.
He sees the water poured out, not as wasted, but as invested, directly into His heart.
He prepares us for abundant fruitfulness, but sometimes that means deep and painful pruning of what we thought were our most promising branches.

Our true joy is not in the bringing but in the giving.
Because there the story changes from the me to Him.
It becomes all about God. And when my life is about God, there is rest.

The dizzying buzz and noise falls silent, and we find we are picked up and carried,
and tucked into his arms. No offering is wasted here.

The lie of mommy guilt

I leaned close to her face and kissed her nose.
Her hair sprawled out on the rug all around her, a halo of chocolate.
She smiled, her face morning soft and her hand stole around my neck.

“You are my chocolate bar,” I whispered, and her eyes sparkled.
She and her blond sister look so different that we tease them about being chocolate and caramel, equally delicious but individual as can be.

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The winter wonderland outside pressed hard on the window panes, but the roaring flames in the fireplace fought back, warm winning in this old farmhouse. I reached for my coffee cup, half drunk. I always take my time, both because I burn my mouth so quickly, and because I love to prolong the warm goodness as long as I can. So long, in fact, my husband shakes his head sadly and hands me his favorite mug, now empty, long before I’m done.

My chocolate girl pulls her beloved blanket up over her face,  entirely hidden except her fingers “cornering” the worn corners out the top. She has bonded with this blanket, found comfort in an addicting sort of way. Skip the pacifier- we’ve hauled this lovely but chunky blanket everywhere we have taken this child; on the road trip from the east coast to the west, in planes and busses in Central America.

When the house is too quiet for too long, I’ll regularly find her sprawled on the floor somewhere, cuddled up to the blanket, her thumb in her mouth and fingers strumming against the corner. And while it is horribly convenient, I’ll be honest- I’ve felt guilty. Somehow this blanket provides the constant comfort and stability that I somehow feel as her mother, I should be doing.  If I were a perfect mother, she wouldn’t find the need to put herself down for a nap in a random room- I’d already have sensed she was exhausted and tucked her in.

I set my coffee cup down on the hearth, and she pulls me close.
“I love you more…”
Her squishy little arms wrap around my neck and pull me in.
“I love you too,” I whisper back, “more than french fries!”
She squirms happily, unaware that this mommy of hers faces a giant taunting lies and hurling insults every day.

I was unprepared for this thing of mommy guilt.
While I soaked in the intoxicating delight of my first baby, I didn’t hear the tidal wave of expectations and “a good mom will…” rising heaven high and ready to crash at my back door. I didn’t even realize they were there, those sinister voices, and dark faces, peering in my windows at night and standing over me in bed, till my little brood grew from one to three. By then, the rows of cloth diapers flapping in organized, color coded lines in the breeze gave way to bulging trash cans of loaded disposable bombs, waiting for trash day. The prepared and pre-thought dinners moved out and quick, thrown together breakfasts for supper moved in.

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It is always wise to listen to those who have moved on from your season of life and glean what they have learned. The gray-headed couple in the grocery store pause as my little parade passes, two in the cart, two trailing behind.
“Awwww, these are the best years of your life,” they nod. Their eyes glitter at the memory of their own wild escapades, and smile encouragingly, “Have fun!”

I’ll take that any day over the negative, “Oh my GOODNESS! You have your hands  FULL!” with the rolling eyes. Folks, I only have four. I grew up in a family of six kids; this is NOTHING. Children are stereotyped into a negative ball of work and sacrifices, how
hard these little beasts make life.

Let’s be honest- these may be the best years of my life, but man alive, they are the hardest. But negative comments? I don’t need to hear them.

Our house is a home, not a battlefield. Our family is filled with precious children and unique individuals who each add a valuable and irreplaceable element to our home. And while I take deep breaths and give myself mental pep talks each day, we don’t need any more loud sighs or pessimistic observations, thank you.

I know it’s not easy, as I kneel next to the heaving figure as they deposit everything they ate yesterday into the toilet bowl. The small shoulders shudder, she gasps for air. “Good job!” I whisper, as if anyone ever throws up well. I offer a warmed washcloth, and she wipes her mouth of the acidic residue. What I really mean to say is, “I’m sorry, honey. I wish I could take this for you. I’m here for you.” Instead I stroke her back, and she glances my way with tear-filled eyes, gratefully.

No one wants to watch someone throw up.
No one wants to strip off the dripping clothes and address the explosion that Huggies couldn’t contain.
No one wants to make supper, and clean it up too.
But we take the fresh smelling baby, and deal with the disaster in the bathroom that comes from bath time. We embrace the giggles, and wink at the hours of an upset stomach.

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As much as the grocer rolled her eyes and whispered words of pity, I wouldn’t trade my life for her quiet one. Her evenings alone in front of the TV have nothing over our afternoons at the park, or evening reading times, little arms laced around my neck.

Even the difficult moments are good, when I look deep in my heart and see how my own anger lashed out and slapped words of anger at my 9-year-old, who is facing the rough waters of child-meets-man.  It’s here that I meet my need for God, again.

Motherhood has stripped me raw and naked, and I stand gasping, seeing my own need for grace. My need for God to fill this person, all too quick to speak and too slow to listen.

Have you ever watched the lady at the park walking her dog, her perfectly exercised body and french manicured nails whispering that her’s is a life as it should be. I look down at the hands pushing the swing and see a body that has carried little ones, has grown people, has held people. I feel insufficient. I feel like I don’t measure up. My own expectation of perfection higher than I will ever be able to reach.

But I’m learning to stop there, and spit back. Spit at the lies, laugh in the face of tomorrow. You see, mothering IS hard. But it is such a special season, a gift, really. Little feet that come running to me first, because my arms offer the safest place on earth.

David wasn’t even a grown man when he stepped out onto that battlefield. Behind him, a row of resentful and mocking brothers was no support. But David gripped the leather strap and fingered the smooth river stones and walked ahead confidently. He had learned to listen to the right voice. To act on truth and not the undermining agenda of the enemy of doubt.

Because David knew his God, he moved from a cowering little child to an offensive, dangerous soldier who could reek havoc on the enemies plans. Instead of tucking tail and running from the conflict, David dropped the all too heavy armor of expectations, and faced the battle in the unique way God had prepared him. All those months in the desert watching the flocks, listening to God and singing back to Him suddenly became the foundational training ground for today.

“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin,
but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts,
the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.
This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand,
and I will strike you down and cut off your head.
And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth,
that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,
and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear.
For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

God is calling us to be powerful mothers.
Women who can stand up to the lies of the enemy and come back with the word of God. Mothers who know their own needs, yet lean hard into the force of grace, and walk in the power of God flowing through them. It is not because of who we are that we pose a serious threat, but because of who we are looking to.

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Your enemies today are not the little children in your home. The laundry and dishes and dirty floors aren’t even the foes. This place is your training ground. Recognize the darts of the enemy.

“You are a failure,” fell silent on Moses’ ears when he followed God’s call back into Egypt, the place from which he had fled.

“You are too inexperienced,” meant nothing to David, the boy shepherd, because he was listening to God, who was reminding him of a dead lion and bear.

“You are just a watchmaker,” slowed to a stop in Corrie Ten Boom’s heart as she leaned into what she knew God was asking her to do, and stowed valuable souls into her bedroom closet.

“You are an angry person.”
“You never had a good relationship with your own mom, how can you be a good one to your kids?”
“Your years of sin and depravity disqualify you from being able to teach your children to walk in truth.”

The lies are endless. And they are powerless if you choose not to listen.
Fill your mind with truth. Arm yourself with weapons that will cut down the enemy.

Jesus’s words to those who had believed him were these:
“If you abide in my word,
you are truly my disciples,
and you will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-36)

Free.
This is what He created us to be.

Free from lies, and free to throw our arms wide and embrace who He says we are.
Free to love lavishly, and pour our lives out with purpose.
Free to be a good mother.

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That’s what happens.
We go from cowering in assumed failure, to standing tall and strong, confident in who God is.
By knowing Him, and letting His word live and breathe in our hearts, the truth of it all sets us free.

When Shadows Die

The evening light dances across the yard, the tired fall colors suddenly glow hues of bright yellow and gold. Leaves that an hour ago were just tired brown are flaming bronze. The air is glittering with lavish beauty.
Long dark tree shadows stagger across the gravel driveway and reach their thin jagged arms into the grass.

Shadows.

You know the kind that seems to reach deep into your heart?
Where the warmth of the sun grows clammy cold?
We were meant to be filled with life and light.

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We gasp suddenly.
The world is plunged into darkness, and our eyes desperately look for even a glimmer. The shock we feel when suddenly the warmth fades, it  leaves us gasping.
A sudden word, a childish squabble, a painful trigger to a long ago wound we thought was healed. The peaceful air in our hearts is shattered with a chilling scream.

This is life.
How do the moments of brilliant joy and then the shocking brokenness reconcile? How can heaven and earth clasp hands, mortality caught in the struggle?

Sometimes those long jagged shadows in our hearts are there because of deep childhood wounds. We whisper silent vows to protect ourselves from ever being hurt again. We’ve watched hypocritical lives say one thing and live another, burying seeds of resentment deep in our hearts. “I will NEVER be like them…”

Through the ages, God has sent many to remind us that that HE is light, and in Him is no darkness at all…

No darkness.
Imagine a world with no shadows, no night, no caves hidden from the sun.
No lies, no moral failure, no cancer or death.
A world untainted by sin. So brilliant my eyes wince in the blinding light.

DSC06581But this world carries heavy shadows.
Sometimes it is the very moments of deepest darkness and desolation that show us how full the light really is. Who could have imagined the irony of finding deeper life and commitment to God at the edge of a cold, unwavering grave? But that truth has changed me forever.

Moses’ life of prestige was tossed aside as he baked under the hot desert sun, his identity being sanded and scoured below anything he ever dreamed. Going from being pharaoh’s son to a nomadic sheep herder must have been dizzying. His soft hands giving way to callused and worn tools of the trade. Gone were the days of pleasant food and ease, now it was a daily fight for subsistence.

I think of Isaac as he lay on that hastily constructed altar, his arms bound and his heart pounding. The warm love between him and his father suddenly cold as the knife blade hovered above him.
Time freezes. This is where we find ourselves.

Where is God in these moments?
Where is God when the sun is ecplised?
When all we held dear slips between our fingers and shatters into a million pieces?

I was speaking with a friend today who is braving some very dark waters.
She is being peeled back layer after layer, and finds herself gasping as her life dismantles before her eyes.
Everything she has ever known or wanted now lies vulnerable and helpless.

But it is there that the miracle comes.
Even in the shadows, He sings over us.
His banner is one of love. Of commitment. Of dedication. He is not daunted by our need. He is not threatened by our questions, our sobs, our moments of un-doneness.

Fall apart in Jesus’s arms.
Pour it all out before him.
You’ve tried so long to do the right thing you’ve locked away the little child that’s terrified. Terrified of failure, of not measuring up.

 

Don’t rush through this. This place is pivotal. It is priceless.
Do not rush to get past the discomfort.

It’s hard. It’s terrifying.
It’s like stepping naked into a bright light.
But it’s only once you’ve stepped out of the closet of shame that you can discover how fully you are loved.
You don’t have to impress God.
You don’t need to BE anything.


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David knew it well-

“The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold  of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
    yet I will be confident.

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
    “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

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Wait for the Lord;

    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!”
(Words from Psalm 27)

It is walking though seasons of hunger and unanswered prayers that teach us that God sustains us. It is in the seeking, in the waiting, that the seeds of faith are sown deep in our hearts, far beyond the clutches of fear and shame.

Soak in the truth of who He is.
It is there that the reality of who we were made to be is discovered.
Even in the moments we cannot see the light, He is there, holding us.

The sun slips beyond the horizon as the hush of evening pulls it’s sleepy self over us. The night is here, but we can face it unafraid.

We know the morning is coming. And God will not forsake us this night.

 

 

 

The Cake of Culinary Hope

Food has never been a strength of mine. Preparing it, that is.
Eating is no problem. I grew up with a mother always humming in the kitchen, effortlessly preparing tasty and attractive meals that I took for granted.

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Then I got married.

My husband had spent months far back in the mountains of rural Honduras and had mastered cooking rice to perfection and unbeatable beans. I remember standing timidly next to him as he gently explained how rice is to be made.

One day he asked, “When you were at home, who did the cooking?”
I smiled sheepishly. “Mom!”
Of course, with five girls in the family, we were all in the kitchen every meal prep time. But that’s just it- I was prepping, not cooking on my own.
I’d do the chopping and toss the onions into Mom’s fragrant pot and then tackle the sink bulging with dishes.
When we sat down to eat, we all dug in gratefully- it HAD been a joint effort.
But as for masterminding a menu and executing the recipes on my own- NADA.

I’m not sure how I did it. I am sure my little sisters would all agree that I coerced them into the hard work with a bribe that they would “get” to massage my feet that night, but that is a story they seem to remember so much better than I. And any bribery that I pitched towards them has more than been paid for in my recent years of mothering.
All years of ease lost in the memories of diapers and dishes and multiplication tables.
All debts have been paid.

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But food never ceases to be a need, and with four growing tummies around me at all times, we have done our share of quesadillas and soups, sandwiches and burritos.
And at the time of my life with it feels I am stretched the thinnest,
the need to learn to cook properly and with love has landed squarely on my shoulders.

My recipe board on Pinterest is a testament to my longing to daily crank out picture-perfect meals. But just because it has 2K likes, does NOT ensure a similar-looking result to be sitting on your plate.

Just the other day, cheddar biscuits to accompany the soup were dubbed “dumplings” and hid with shame under the broth.
Some things are best disguised under a veil of chicken, celery and carrots.

But I AM trying to prepare food that gives life and health and joy.
And even occasionally brave the dark, scary waters of gluten and dairy free, this last year has been a one of discovery.
Lots of failure, but a few great moments in the kitchen too.
The grocery store shelves bulge this time of year with blatant sugar and cancer in a can. And I scratch my head and wonder what I could make that would be festive without such a sinister air.

And so it was that I discovered this ancient twist on a fruitcake recipe.
Now before you slam the computer shut at the words “fruitcake,” I share the sentiment. In fact, the never-ending song- “Please don’t send me fruitcake…” begins it’s eternally long round in my head. But this is no fruitcake with green and red foreign looking wads of “fruit” preserved in a dark cupboard for weeks before it is brought to the light and wrapped with a red bow.

This is the original, long before food coloring was thought up.
At least, I think so.
The only color in this round springform pan is the genuine festivity of cranberry goodness.

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Thankfully, this time of year, cranberries hit .99 a bag, and I’ve learned that in order to meet my nine-year-old’s year-round pleading, I must stow several extra in the freezer. After all, why pay three times the price when you can easily grab four bags at Thanksgiving. Or six. Or ten.

He hinted that he wanted it for his birthday cake the other week. But I think it was just the boy’s way of saying, “Make it SOON.”

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So this afternoon I pulled out the butter (lots of it) and let it get soft, whipped the eggs and sugar for 8 minutes till they are fluffy and tempting. Next, I added the almond and vanilla flavoring and tossed in the needed flour and other odds and ends, and then scraped it into a springform pan with a soft spatula.

When we married, we didn’t have a registry. And I think we got a total of 17 spatulas. So believe me when I tell you which kind is the best. You want the soft tipped ones. Even better, the ones that are fully coated from tip to rump in the soft coating and you will have no wicked crevices that wish to hide batter remnants. THIS is the kind you will want to own. Or give 17 of them as wedding gifts.

Daniel wandered into the kitchen as I was just getting ready to slide these holiday cakes into the oven, and he nodded in approval. He has loved me through the thick and the thin. The thick clumpy oatmeal and the thin gravy. But this cranberry fruit cake makes his eyes sparkle. And of course, I do anything for that sparkle.

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(and of course, who cannot give into those pleading blue eyes just begging to lick the wisk? Everyone should have the delight of mixing and stirring with an eager baby at their elbow)

So here is the delightful recipe, which I found online and tweaked. It originally had a much heavier topping full of almonds, which must have been lovely, but I pulled up the memory of a simple powdered sugar and citrus glaze, and haven’t looked back since. Except to check and make sure the pan is empty. Which, once it is cut into, it never last more than a day or two. If that.

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Here is the recipe as I have tweaked it, with a serious nod of gratitude to Faith Durand  for the original recipe…

Cranberry Cake

Makes one 10-inch springform cake. Alternately: Four 4-cup loaves or 24 to 30 cupcakes.

3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature for 1 hour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract, optional (but really, you NEED it)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups cranberries (12-ounce bag)

Citrus glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
lime, lemon or grapefruit juice,

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan (or a collection of smaller pans. This make 10 to 12 cups of batter.)

Use a stand mixer or hand beaters to beat the eggs and sugar until very smooth and increased in volume. If using a stand mixer, beat on medium speed for 4 to 7 minutes, using the whip attachment. If using hand beaters, beat on high speed for 6 to 8 minutes. The egg and sugar mixture will double in volume and turn very pale yellow, leaving ribbons on top of the batter when you lift the beaters.

Beat in the butter, vanilla, and almond extract, if using. Beat for 2 minutes or until the butter is smoothly incorporated.

Use a spatula to fold in the flour, salt, and cranberries. The batter will be quite thick. Spread gently into the prepared pan.

To prepare the citrus glaze, squeeze enough juice until just the right consistency to dribble on and dry quickly instead of soaking into the cake. You want the thin lines of delight to be visible. 😉

Bake 60 to 80 minutes for the springform. Don’t remove it till the middle is starting to turn a lovely golden. For smaller pans, start checking after 30 minutes, but expect small loaves to take at least 40 minutes.

Cool for 20 minutes then run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and remove the cake. Cool for an hour before serving.

The cake keeps and freezes well. To store, wrap the fully cooled cake tightly in plastic wrap and leave in a dry, cool place for up to 1 week.

To freeze, wrap the fully cooled cake in plastic wrap and then foil. Freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight at room temperature, still wrapped. But at our house, it never lasts long enough to freeze.

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The Redeemer of all things broken..

I still don’t understand how it happened.
Last night one child and I found ourselves facing off over a most unexpected situation.

What was started in jest U-turned into angry words and dead ended into deep sobs.
We both wondered “how on earth could that simple cup of milk end up being the source of a full blown relationship battle?”

But you know what?
It ended up with me sitting on a stool in the kitchen, holding the sobbing child.
Being the comforter when we’d been defaulting to odds all day.
I’ve been praying for a miracle, for deepening, for hope in this relationship.
And we ended up laughing and talking bluntly how we’d felt and what we had meant, not as it was taken. It even went so far as when we were retelling the situation to a concerned Daddy that we explained it from the other’s point of view.

Yes, tears were still wet on the eyelashes and hearts still felt salty raw.
But we looked at each other, this child and I, in deeper love and commitment.

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Today I’m walking in the fresh reality that God can use even a mistake to glue hearts together. And that there is hope when I feel hopeless.
He is the Redeemer of all things broken.