Saturday, July 1

Minivans, Meditation and Marshmallows: Retreating to the Blue Ridge Mountains



It’s hard to believe that it was already a week ago that we loaded into the Toyota Sienna and barreled down to Virginia with another school year behind us, and an adventure before us. 

I usually like to give the kids a couple of days to acclimate to summer vacation before taking off, but we had a destination and a deadline and after one full day out of school we were off to begin leg one of what would amount to about 1,300 miles in the car— and way more hours than any of us would probably like to count. 

We left last Friday morning at the not so early hour of 10:15, almost two hours later than I had “planned” to get on the road. The minivan was packed to the gills with pillows, stuffed animals, my arsenal of books and notebooks, coolers, a tent, sleeping bags, camping chairs, bug spray, snacks, coloring books, I-pads, granola bars and small plastic toys. 

“Lis, are you serious?” Scott asked. “We need ALL of this stuff? This is ridiculous!” he bellowed, while trying to strategically stuff the minivan like a game of Tetris.

“Babe, we have girls. I don’t know what to tell you.”  

We thought the first leg of our trip from Buffalo to Radiant, VA would take 6 1/2 hours…we’re still trying to figure out how we miscalculated that one, but alas, we wound up in the car for close to 10 hours (8 1/2 hours of driving + 1 1/2 hours worth of  stops).  About halfway there I had a fleeting moment, when Ella looked like she was about to throw up, that I wondered if it would be easier to turn around and head back home. But, we persevered and while we intended to show up at the writing retreat between 2 p.m.- 5 p.m. (the scheduled check-in time before dinner), we wound up crackling down the stone dirt driveway that led up to the farmhouse and barn at 8:15 p.m., smack dab in the middle of a quiet open mic session.

“Girls, please be quiet when we get out of the car. This is a writing retreat and we needed to be respectful,”  I said in a whispered tone because our minivan windows were open. 

     “But I need to go to the bathroom!!” Aubrey bellowed. 

I found myself within moments of pulling in, asking a woman I had only met online  (the farm owner and retreat coordinator) if there was somewhere I could take Aubrey to pee without interrupting  the event in the barn. 

      "Of course," she warmly said, "You can take her right into our house." 

      And, that’s about how life goes when you integrate family life and your personal passions— it’s a great big mix of making plans, being flexible when they start to fall apart, and finding a place for your toddler to pee in the midst of a quiet literary event. The important part was that we made it just in time to roast a marshmallow, set up our tent before dark, and kick off conversation with some incredibly kind folks. 

All in all the Writer's Retreat on God's Whisper Farm, hosted by Andi Cumbo-Floyd, Kelly Chripczuk, and Shawn Smucker, turned out to be a sweet and encouraging event. I had toyed with the idea of attending several larger writing conferences this year, but felt God nudging me towards something less stressful, more peaceful, and all together just as significant in my growth as a writer. 

“Show me where you want me to go this year God…in all things, but particularly this writing journey,” became my prayer. 

In the midst of praying that prayer for several weeks, God had also been teaching me about how he speaks to us in quiet places, in still small voices, in ways that we will miss if our lives are too full, boisterous, and noisy.

Listen to the whispers, He had been saying. 

And so one night, when I randomly stumbled upon Andi Cumbo Lloyd's website and saw that her farm was called “God’s Whisper Farm” and that she was hosting her 4th annual retreat, there was no question that I needed to be there. The only hang-up; the retreat was being held June 23-25, right after the girls got out of school and right over Scott’s birthday. 

I knew I couldn’t ditch everyone at the beginning of summer vacation and didn’t want to leave Scott alone on his birthday. 

“Babe, the website says we can pitch a tent right on site. What do you think?” 

Scott loves to pitch a tent and we had yet to attempt sleeping in one as a family--I wasn’t so sure up until this moment that it was something that sounded like a whole lot of fun with 3 children--but since my attending the retreat seemed to be hanging on the line, I was willing to see if this crazy idea could work. 

Andi agreed to having the whole family come and to let our big, boisterous crew camp right on the 15-acre property. It turned out to be a fantastic idea after all. 

It would take me many paragraphs to tell you about all of the ways that God spoke to me throughout the weekend, but the summary is that we all had a ton of fun, the girls asked if they could come back next year, and Aubrey now consider’s Andi’s husband Phillip to be one of her very best friends in the  whole wide world (such a cute story!). The girls have already asked if we can go back next year, we got to see a part of the country neither Scott or I have ever seen before, the weather was gorgeous, the entire family made new friends with a whole bunch of wonderful people and my spirit was filled with many things I wasn’t expecting, but realized I needed.


Over the last ten years, in my life as a mother, I’ve pulled, wrestled, cajoled, cried, kicked, tried, embraced, moved towards, moved away from, and done circles around this idea of cultivating a writing life in the midst of stay at home motherhood. I’ve emotionally embraced the chaos of it all and set my heels in at times. I’ve thrown my hands up in the air at others. At times I have been tired of trying to make time for them both, when they often felt like such separate entities. 

In the last few months I have felt my spirit and my body growing weary…just plain old tired from the daily demands and trying to make everything, and everyone’s schedules “work”. I sensed that my spirit needed to be renewed in some way, but I wasn’t sure how to do that. This past week, even though many moments have been hectic and harried, my spirit has quieted down a bit. After we left the retreat last Sunday, we drove to Shenandoah National Park, and stood in awe for three days of the majestic views that surrounded us. The pace is slower in the mountains. You do things like just look at trees and stop to watch sunsets even when your logic tells you it’s time to get the kids to bed. 

 On Monday morning, I sat on the porch in the brisk mountain air, opened my Bible to the Psalms and read a verse about the settling, comforting, restorative impact of God’s creation on our souls, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters He restores my soul.” 


While I had read those words countless times, it felt far more personal to be reading them right next to literal green pastures, besides still waters, and in the midst of soul restoration. 

I’m no dummy— I know what I’m heading back into when we get home in a few days (we’re in Ohio now). 

The house is a dusty, littered mess from packing up for a 10 day trip at the end of a busy school year. I will have 3 children home, bored, asking me what to do and I will need to don my referee hat and whistle to interject reason into the fights that are sure to break out. I'm sure to feel tired and weary at some point, maybe many times in the next few months. But, David, the psalmist, wasn’t going to be sitting by still waters forever either. He had nations to lead, and battles to fight and land to defend. But, he reminds us that our restoration doesn’t happen in spite of those things, it often happens in a few quiet moments right in the midst of them.

Here's to hoping you find a quiet place and space for soul restoration sometime this summer.  








Friday, June 30

Book Review: Stepping on Cheerios


"I had expected ordinary, and I got extraordinary. Isn't that just like God? You may not know what's coming in life, but it wouldn't be any fun if you did. Plus, you might refuse to participate because what if you got hurt or couldn't control most of life, which you can't." 
(quote from: Stepping on Cheerios)





     After having triplet boys at the age of 47 Betsy Singleton Snyder found herself at home, with four little boys (she had one son already, when the triplets arrived), trying to figure out how to manage life, count her blessings (all of them!), and continue to connect with God in the middle of the chaos.

     Betsy's book, Stepping on Cheerios, is all about leading and embracing an unconventional life--even if you didn't intend to! The book is an honest reflection of the joys, challenges and questions that arise when we jump into the deep end of raising children. It's about  learning to embrace our uniqueness, our children's uniqueness,  and who we become as a family-- all different, individual and unique, but called to work together as one (kind of like the body of Christ!).

     I found Stepping on Cheerios to be hilarious, truthful and authentic, with a good dose of encouragement and reminders to continually look for God in the middle of "it all".  

     The casual and witty tone with which Betsy talks about everything, including faith and Jesus, might feel irreverent to some readers. While there were moments that it pushed the envelope for me, I was willing to come along for the ride and embrace the candor because I found much of the sarcasm about our culture to be spot on (we Americans have some pretty crazy pop-cutlure, so why not be flagrantly honest about it, right?!).

     I really enjoyed Chapter 5: Whoever The Kids Are, They Are God's, where she talks about embracing  her kid's interests, and letting go of our ideas for them in the process. Her boys, for example, all decided to try ice-skating and really liked it. "Its ok if your boys like ice skating or dancing, and it's OK if your girls like building things and playing with trucks. Dang. I always wanted a slot car racetrack," she says.

     Lesson learned: let your kids be who they are. More importantly, let them be who God designed them to be! Snyder points out that Jesus wasn't a follower of cultural norms himself.

       "Let's be honest," she says, "Jesus hung out with anybody, like anybody...Jesus would literally eat with anyone, and it goes him in trouble with certain religious authorities, and it might get us in trouble. I'm pretty sure that Jesus would get some haters on Facebook with all his jazzed-up coloring outside the lines...I'm love Jesus precisely because his ministry startles our comfortable settled lives."

     Can you really say "haters on Facebook" in a sentence about Jesus? It wouldn't have crossed my mind, but I do love that Snyder pushes the boundaries here! It's truth, isn't it?


Among other significant points, Snyder  also reminds us why parenthood is an important part of re-shaping our stodgy adult thinking: 

"We grown-ups sometimes forget how much childhood matters," she goes on to say,  "It's filled with the sacred and it is not to be missed when it comes around again during parenthood. And parenthood is the time of spirit formation in which we don't realize until later that everything kid-drenched around us was and is a gift."

     I have found this to be true in my own parenting over and over again...the irony, that God makes us parents just around the time that we have forgotten what it's like to be a child. To jump into pools with total abandon, to let a dog lick your face without pulling away, to see the beauty of a dandelion without calling it a 'weed'...and so much more.

     Stepping on Cheerios is a light and witty read reminding us to continue to appreciate these wild and crazy moments. It's a book that reminds moms that Jesus isn't too busy for our sippy cup and goldfish cracker lives-- "Isn't it just like God to show up where you're working your tail off? Jesus met people in their workplaces and in their homes. Jesus came to Peter, James, and John, who were busy fishermen, trying to mend their nets. Jesus met a Samaritan woman who was trying to get water for her home. Jesus met Matthew in his little tax booth...God is a very involved parent, so don't ever think you've got to line those rubber duckies up in a neat row before God is swimming with you." 

     This is a fun book for any mother in the "thick of things" who wants something light-hearted to remind her that she is doing a great job. But, it also serves to compel moms (or, parents in general) to re-look at some of the things we deem as normal,  and to think about how we are pointing our kids, and everyone we meet in the process of raising them, towards Jesus.











Betsy Singleton Snyder, author of "Stepping on Cheerios," is a pastor, a former missionary to the arts community, writer, and blogger. She and her husband, Dr. Vic Snyder who formerly served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years, live in Arkansas with their four sons, Penn (10), and triplets Wyatt, Sullivan, and Aubrey (8).

You can read more about Betsy at https://www.womenadestand.com. 









Tuesday, June 20

Celebrating and Reminiscing a Decade of Motherhood!



I turn 39 today. I know, way to close to 40, right?!

Ava turned 10 two weeks ago. My baby, the one who made me a mother, turning the double digits and almost as tall as me to boot! We keep telling her to stop growing...she just won't listen.

What does that all mean? Well, it means I've been a mother for approximately 3,650 days, give or take a few. 

It means that I've learned, grown, stretched, been challenged, tested and inspired in many more ways than I can count in those 3,650 days. It means I've been more tired than I ever thought possible, more befuddled by parenthood than I ever dreamed imaginable, more inspired by watching my children grow than I could have ever understood. 

It means I am still the same woman, but a completely different woman than I was ten years ago. 

It means that I have been a mother for a decade. 

I delivered Ava on June 4th, 2007 at the early morning hour of 12:24 a.m., thus ushering me into this new adventure, this whole new world, this crazy life called motherhood.

The sweet little blond-haired, blue-eyed girl, who clung to my leg every time I dropped her off in the nursery, who taught herself how to ride her bike, tie her shoes, and braid her Barbie's hair, who loved Curious George but hated The Little Mermaid because it was too scary...That little girl is growing up right before our eyes.  

How did it happen so fast?! How did we get here already. We all ask that question so many times throughout this journey. I will continue to ask it at all of the different "here's" that are still to come.

She's changed, we've changed, Ella and Aubrey joined the party 8 and 4 years ago respectively-- they've changed changed too! I supposed if there is one tried and true thing to say about family life, or perhaps life in general, it's that there is perpetual change: always!

We are constantly evolving as individuals, and as a family...sometimes that feels good, other days it feels hard, sometimes it's plain old messy. But then someone will do something extraordinary (paint a picture, learn to ride a bike, make a really good cake, run a race, plant a garden, make a new friend, dance in a recital, learn a new song on the guitar) in the middle of our crazy  family life and we all smile and celebrate together.

It's in those moments that everything feels just as it should be.  Crazy. Messy. Blessed.

I laugh at times because I can't remember anything else I've done for an entire decade (besides being being a wife, but that's another story entirely!). After  college, I worked in several jobs that I enjoyed-- one in publishing, another in fundraising at Christian school in Massachusetts, and then as a high-school English teacher for what amounted to about a year and a half.

In each of those positions I'd jump right in whole-heartedly, only to meet the inevitable challenges and frustrations of the job, and eventually decide that maybe it was time to look for something new. I'm  embarrassed to admit this, but I was a bit of a job jumper in my 20's-- always looking for the "right fit".  I won't offer reasons or excuses, though I've learned a LOT about myself in the last 10 years and could give a pretty good synopsis if you asked.  The reality is that I never stayed in one place long enough to really, really, grow as a person.

That has been the delightfully funny and hilariously ironic lesson in motherhood-- no matter how hard it gets, you can't back out. When you get that inkling that maybe you and this motherhood thing aren't  'quite the right fit', well, you better figure it out because you can't send your resume elsewhere.

When you start to feel unqualified, and oh boy have I ever, there is no where to go...

But, actually, there is.

If Lesson #1 is Things are Always Changing...Lesson #2 is You Can't Do This Alone. Along the way, over the last 10 years, I have realized that I cannot be the mom I want to be without God's guidance and wisdom on a daily basis. I'd be a mess without God's grace by my side. I might still be a mess somedays with Him by my side, but I like to think I'm less of a mess!

I'm thankful for His presence. I thankful for His wisdom. Motherhood has taught me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what dependency on God means. Big, whole-hearted, daily dependence on God to equip and guide this often unclear, unmapped, journey. 

Years ago, in one of my mom's groups, I received a book called Tender Mercy for a Mother's Soul by Angela Thomas. I remember the book resonating so deeply with my experience as the mother of a 3 and a 1-year old at the time. I was tired, overwhelmed, and astonished at how demanding the daily responsibilities of a stay at home mother were. Here are a few of Thomas' words about a mother's identity:

I did not know that being a mother would change me forever. In motherhood, I don't even recognize myself anymore; I am some new version of who I used to be. I kind of resemble me, and sometimes I sound like me, but his new person has lost all sense of fashion and vocabulary...No one ever told me that mothering would require more than I posses, the at the same time it would be energizing and draining. Mothering has strengthened me as a person and yet challenged me right to my core. Loving my children can fill me up, but some days, it will completely empty my soul. To raise children means you are constantly giving-- all of your energies, all of your emotion, all of your time. Often I realize that my well is empty, my mind is numb, and my heart is heavy. There is nothing left for anyone. 
Ultimately, the book is about nurturing your soul in the middle of these years of pouring out. Thomas goes on to give us hope in the process,

As a woman of God, I must care for the condition of my soul. As a mother, I must set my eyes on the Author and Perfecter of my faith, committing above all things, even the precious gifts of my husband and my children, that my Jesus will come first. I must do whatever it takes to maintain the wellness of my soul- pursuing God with great passion.  
His mercies to be will be new every morning, strengthening me for every task and frustration, teaching me how to celebrate life, and caring for my soul. And from that place of grace and intimate fellowship with Jesus, I will be the mother God intended.

I have been a mom for 10 long-ish/short-ish, years and have been irrevocably changed by the journey. Depending on the day it has felt like an eternity and a millisecond all at the same time.

It's hard to put your finger on how motherhood changes you because the changes feel so monumental, and yet they happen so slowly-you can't always see exactly what's happening. In some ways, we grow right along with our kids. Just as we don't actually see them grow that extra inch over night, it happens in the quiet moments.  Suddenly, one morning, they are taller and you are hopefully a little bit of a better parent than you were when you first started out.

I'm thankful for the growth. I'm thankful for the journey. I love my kids like crazy and am awed by the privilege of getting to do life alongside of them.

Since a list of all the ways I've changed would be far too long, I decided to have a little fun and put together a list of 10 Ways Motherhood Has Changed Me in honor of this 10 year celebration!


10.  I'm more tired and I have a lot more gray hair (yes, that's 2! But, they feel like they go together!)

9. . I have far less time to make meals that look the ones on the cover of the magazines, even though I salivate over those very covers every time I'm in the checkout line.

8.  I pay far more library fees than I ever thought I would.

7.  I find myself saying things I never thought I would. Things like, "Please don't lay on the bathroom floor in the Target stall. That's the most disgusting thing I've seen all day! All year! In my entire life!!"

6.  I rarely read entire books anymore. I think I have 4, or 7, or maybe 14 unfinished books sitting on my shelf right now...with another several dozen I've ordered on Amazon because I really, really LOVE books and fantasize about reading them when I'm passively browsing Amazon late at night. Maybe I should turn off the computer and open on of those books, huh?

5. I just started driving...gasp...a gray Toyota minivan. I felt like I joined some sort of undercover mom mob society when we first got it two months ago- I never noticed just how many of them were on the road, but there are a LOT!!! It sort of feels like a part of my mom uniform that was a long time coming.

4. I can be gloriously proud and feel completely blessed by one of my children one moment, and yelling at someone moments later. It's a roller coaster ride that seems to go up and down all day long. Summer vacation is notoriously full of these days!

3. My house feels like a perpetual cycle of disorganization, attempts at organization, like it's almost organized/cleaned up, and then it falls apart all over again. Quite honestly, at this stage, I'm not even sure what the word "organization" means anymore. Does it mean there are piles ALL over your house, but when someone asks you where the new toothpaste is you know just where to find it. If that's the case, I'm doing well!

2. I have learned to "let go" in a bazillion more ways than I ever thought possible-- that's a whole blog post in and of itself--all the things you have to "let go" of as a mom. It took me a l-o-n-g time to be peaceful about the letting go of some things, and I'm still in the process of letting go of others, but that saying, "let go and let God"...mamas, it's the only way.

1. Like the Grinch whose heart started in one place, but was slowly changed by his experience as the story goes on-- my heart has grown 32 sizes (maybe more!) in the last 10 years. 


In addition to my top 10, I am a more resilient woman than I was 10 years ago. The words perseverance and endurance have more meaning to me now than they ever have before.  I've learned to take the long-term view on life because there are too many things in my immediate view that serve as nothing more than distractions (like the 63 unmatched socks on my living room floor).

I am also more patient...though I don't always feel more patient! My logical explanation is that while God has stretched my patience barometer by light-years, He continues to stretch it even more...I'm not sure if you ever fully "arrive" at this one, but I'm hopeful.

And, at the end of the day, I've come to appreciate the "stretching"...perhaps that's Life Lesson #3, Sit Back and Embrace the Stretch...It's An Important Part of the Journey. 

After all, the experts all say that stretching is good for you, so here's to embracing the stretch!


If you have a moment, leave a note to say "hello" or tell me one way that motherhood has changed you the most.





Friday, April 28

Chasing Famous: Living the Life You've Always Auditioned For (A Book Review)



Chasing Famous: Living the Life you’ve Always Auditioned For  is a book that encourages readers to take a look at their lives and consider how they can use their “story”, “gifts” and “every day moments” for the glory of God. It’s a book about not running after fame, accolades, or the admiration of others for the purpose of trying to fill yourself up, or reach some worldly standard of success, but to make God famous by embracing your God-given call and inviting other’s into His story.

Lisa Lloyd creatively uses her own story and experience as an actress as a clever way to organize the chapters of the book.  Each chapter title is a term or idea from “the business”, as she puts it.  Chapters like “Find Your Light” (about discovering your gifts and using them to serve others and glorify God),  “Waiting for Your Cue” (waiting on God’s timing),  “Love Scene” (how your marriage can honor God), and “Booking the Job” (listening to God’s call in our lives) all point to the bigger, overarching theme that God has deliberately crafted every detail of our lives to reflect and glorify Him.

The chapters tend to start out with an explanation of the title or topic, move into honest,  personal narrative,  and then offer Biblical story or scripture to support that topic or idea. The chapters end with some personal application suggestions and several well-crafted questions that prompt you to think about your own life in terms of the topic.

For example, I loved how in Chapter 10 “Booking the Job”, Lloyd takes us back to the life of Moses and the moment when God is calling Him to free the Israelites from slavery. Quite frankly, Moses wasn’t so sure he was up for the task!


(Excerpt from Chapter 10)
“As we will see, God loves to use ordinary people to fulfill His plan and glorify His name. For His fame, not ours. 
Moses asked,  “Who am I?” 
So God replied to Moses, “But I will be with you”. Why didn’t God answer Moses’s question? Come on, now. Moses didn’t ask, “Who’s coming with me? Moses asked, “Who am I?”

The answer Moses received was not, by any stretch of the imagination, an assurance of who he was. Moses didn’t get an “I’ll tell you who you are, Moses. You are perfect. You are called. You are talented. You are adequate. You got this, buddy.”

But here, who Moses is, is not the question God wants to answer. But rather, Who is with Moses to get the job done.

Moses asked, “Who am I?” implying his complete inadequacy. God replied, “I will be with you” implying His completely adequacy.


I love that! 

And, I found it speaking right to my own full of inadequacy heart.

So, while I wasn’t sure I would connect with the  actor/actress framework when I first received my copy of Chasing Famous, I have to say that Lisa Lloyd won me over by the end of the book. Her honesty, conviction, passion for God, and desire to see herself and others walking into their God given purposes as women, no matter how timid or “less than” we may feel, was refreshing and encouraging.


This book would be great for college aged women and up who are trying to discern their path and calling. That said, it was just as relevant for me as a stay at home mom who sometimes feels like part of my calling (besides the mom piece!) is buried beneath dishes and laundry somewhere.   I can assure you that you'll walk away feeling refreshed and with a little more confidence to lean  into what you feel God may be calling you to do with the pieces of your own life. 


[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review]



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Lloyd is a charismatic speaker and writer, dedicated to helping women break
free of the lies that convince us we don’t have a purpose, when in fact God has created us to herald His fame. She reminds women of who we are in Christ, and no matter what the world tells us, God wants to use our past mistakes, our current talents, and our future choices for His glory. Each year, Lloyd is the keynote at women’s conferences and mom’s groups across the country, being uniquely vulnerable in her communication, vision casting through stories, and bringing her listeners continuously back to the truths of Scripture.
Lloyd graduated from Southern Methodist University with a BFA in theater. She met her husband, Markus, when they were performing on stage together at Dallas Theater Center in the musical, Guys and Dolls. A few of her acting credits include What Would You Do?Prison BreakThe Young and the Restless, and The Bold and the Beautiful. She has performed for many theaters. You might see her on current commercials or on billboards in the Dallas area.  
The Lloyds live in McKinney, TX, and have two sons. 

Keep up with Lisa Lloyd’s speaking schedule, read her blog, and more by visiting www.lisalloyd.org, following her on Facebook (LisaJLloyd), or via Twitter (@LisaJLloyd).