Monday, August 6

Lessons From My Garden, Part 1

      They're looming large and tall from the confines of the raised bed garden at the edge of our yard-- three 8-foot sunflowers, reaching up towards the sky, with their yellow and brown heads finally unfurling towards the sun. We've been watching them grow for weeks-- those crazy tall flowers, with their strong stems and big leaves, climbing higher and higher into the air each day.

"They're like something from "Jack and the Beanstalk," Ava said earlier this week.

Ella nodded enthusiastically, "Yes! Totally!"

Their conversation made me made me remember the days when I was not quite grown myself and life, in general, seemed more magical and like a lot more fun. "You're absolutely right babe! They do look like something from "Jack and the Beanstalk."

We all  looked up towards the top of the flowers, momentarily imagining what it might be like to climb those strong stalks all the way up to the clouds where we might find a new adventure and a hopefully friendlier giant than the one in the original story!

As beautiful as they are, the flowers almost look out of place in our little back yard. We have what some might call a "postage stamp" of a yard-- it's fenced in, and hosts a now weathered  swing-set, a stamped concrete patio,  and even a trampoline, but there isn't much room to spread out beyond that.  We often wish it were bigger-- we wish there were more space to run, to put a pool in, or play a game of soccer or bocce if the mood were to strike. But this is where our family has grown and while we often dream of bigger places and spaces we feel content here for now.

Sunflowers though...they strike me as seeming most at home in open and rolling fields where their natural, rough, and wild beauty seem to make more sense.

Our manicured, suburban lawn yard is certainly no wide open space, but the sunflowers don't seem to mind-- they seem quite happy being squeezed in next to the tomatoes, the yellow squash, the beets, green beans and marigolds.  They seem to be saying, "We are happy to grow right where we were planted, thank you very much."

The funniest thing about those sunflowers, the tallest plants in my garden, the ones every neighbor can see, is that I never intended to plant them in the garden this year.

Nope. Not one. Certainly not three. Not at all.

Friends, I've been planting vegetable gardens for 12 years...While I still have a lot to learn, I know my plants and seeds pretty well. I swear. The mistake originated when the small sprouted green plants were brought home from a community garden that I have do some volunteering with. I was told that they were green bean plants and thought they certainly looked like green beans-- so we dug three holes, stuck them in the dirt, and waited for them to grow!

Around mid-June we started realizing that those were the tallest darned green bean plants we ever did see...and then they got taller, and taller, and taller!

"Those aren't green beans," I confidently declared one June evening, "They're sunflowers girls!"

Everyday I walk out into my yard and laugh at the folly of it all, but honestly can't help thinking that  God knew all along what I was bringing home in that black plastic tray full of dirt and seedlings. 

God KNEW I was planting big, crazy sunflowers, three of them to be exact-- one to remind me of each of my three sweet girls. He knew, at this season of my life, I needed a big, bright, cheery, daily reminder that there is beauty in the unexpected. That I needed a reminder to take that cliched sentiment to heart-- to grow where I'm planted, even while wishing more space (physical and mental) were an option at this season of life.

God knows that for the last few years Scott and I have both felt, more often than not, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of demands, details, noise, busyness and level of responsibility necessary to run a house and raise children. He knows that at times we both feel like our capacity to do this adult, parenting thing  feels smaller than we'd like it to feel-- kind of like the long wooden boxes that my vegetables are planted in-- confining and limiting.

He knows that we feel like we're squeezing more into this little space of life than we ever thought possible, and sometimes we're not so sure about it all.

Don't we need more capacity to do this well, Lord? More space? Don't we need more energy, more patience, maybe some more sleep (please!). Don't we need more wisdom, knowledge, and know-how? 

Nope, God seems to be saying. I've given you everything you need, and provide in every place you feel like you're lacking. Just be content. Trust me. Keep growing where I've planted you. 

 Our girls, with their bright personalities, ideas, dreams, compassion and love shared with others, their ingenuity and uniqueness-- they're all sprouting up before us, right in front of our eyes. It's wild and crazy and beautiful, and even though much of it is unexpected (I mean, who really knows what they're getting themselves into when they sign up for this parenting gig?!), it all somehow seems just as is should be. We're all growing  as a family, right where we were planted. We're growing upwards, with roots stretched downwards right into the soil of life.

So, as I continue to watch those sunflowers grow taller towards the sky, with giant green leaves stretched out as if they're singing praises to heaven, I find myself reminded to grow right where I'm planted and to relish in the glory and blessing of it all. That it's ok to shake my head in wonder at the wildness of it at times, but with a smile on my face I realize that sometimes the unexpected is just what God intended.

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Monday, July 9

40 Things I'm Grateful For!

         Since we've been the midst of long and unstructured summer days, which often don't leave me much time for writing (because I'm either trying to be intentional with the girls, cleaning up the hurricane mess that seems to sweep through the house every day, or putting out fights between my dear, sweet children (who sure like to bicker!), I thought I'd keep this post simple...

        Honestly, I don't think we spend enough time considering all that we have to be grateful for-- all of the incredible gifts God has given us--from relationships, to the glory that abounds in nature, to the overabundance of 1st world luxuries that we tend to take for granted--air-conditioning, clean water, the ease of electricity, massive grocery stores filled to the brim with more options than most of us know what to do with...the list goes on and on.
       So, over the course of this last week, I kept a list by my desk...just a lined piece of notebook paper, numbered 1-40, and I started to jot things down.

      At first, I wondered, will I be able to fill those 40 lines? I knew I should be able to, but what if I couldn't? I read Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts several years ago now-- I admired her ability to capture moments as simple as the glimmer of soap bubbles in her kitchen sink, to the grandeur of a breathtaking moonlit sky, and everything in between.
      But, would I be able to be still enough to notice even just 40 things in my life? I sure hoped so.

     As it turns out, it was easy to come up with a list of 40 things. So easy I wanted to keep going (maybe I'll make myself another list this week!). It was so easy that I would suggest that you give it a try-- the truth is gratitude begets gratitude. The more I wrote down, the easier the process became.

      So many of us have SO much to be thankful for. We are blessed beyond measure, and it wold do us all a whole lot of good to be intentional about remembering the blessings we have, and turning that praise back to God-- the creator of every good and perfect gift.

     So, without further adieu, here is a list of 40 things I'm grateful for: 

1. My Bible, and the God breathed inspiration and wisdom that it fills my soul with daily. I know this might sound cliche, but when your faith permeates everything you do, it's ALWAYS the first thing you're abundantly grateful for, and it's one "cliche" I'll NEVER apologize for! 

2. Friendships, new and old, and the sweet blessings they bring.

3. Air-conditioning. I didn't grow up with it, know it's a luxury, and am over the moon thankful for it!

4. Our home, and everything in it.

5. Our minivan (I NEVER thought I'd say this, but I LOVE our minivan!).

6. Our vegetable garden; beets, tomatoes, green beans, radishes, swiss chard, yellow squash,  the sunflowers,  and herbs, all growing big and lush and green! 

7. Local running races, and the menagerie of people (the slice of life) that comes together for such events.

8. A cool breeze on hot days.

9. A clear, starry night anywhere, but particularly from a lake or the mountains! 

10. Strong legs for running (it's the best natural antidepressant in the world!).

11. Rain, especially when it means I don't have to water the garden! 

12. Hydrangeas, peonies, daises (I could probably crate a 40 item list for the pieces of God's natural creation that I love!), but I'll just start with a few flowers. 

13. Farmer's Markets

14. Family Vacations (well, for the most part!).

15. Crafts with my kids.

16. The freedom to go to church each week.

17. The friendships and supportive fellowship cultivated through our church relationships and small group.

18. My marriage (that Scott puts up with me! Lol!).

19. Blueberry picking, and the blueberry pie a la mode afterwards. 

20. Good counselors, the kind you pay for and the kind that comes through friendship and fellowship.

21. Art Museums

22. Mountains, and hiking in them.

23. Fruit! (Cheeries, pineapple, blueberries, mango...the list goes on and on!).

24. Words, phrases and jokes made up by my children and the laughter that ensues.

25. Good movies.

26. Vacuum cleaners. I mean really, when you have kids, they're kind of miraculous and necessary! 

27. Ava

28. Ella

29. Aubrey

30. Coffee (need I say more?!).

31. Natural Bliss Vanilla Coffee Creamer 

32. Lots and lots and LOTS of ice cream cones with my kids during the summer.

33. Good Books

34. PaperMate colored flair markers for journaling! 

35. Blank Journals in all different shapes, colors, textures and sizes.

36. Office supply stores and the billion ways they promise to keep all of my ideas organized!

37. My I-phone.  

Did I really just say that? 

Honestly, I'm not the most tech-y person in the world, and could probably do without it (if I really, really had to), but truly, it makes a LOT of things super convenient! From GPS, to grocery lists, to the timer, the little flashlight and being able to call my husband from the grocery store to tell him I forgot my credit card! 

38. Campfires in the summer.

39. A good Broadway play that inspires and leave me in tears all at the same time.

40. Skiing in the winter...and, while I don't like snow in March, I do like the first snowfall and white Christmases (: 

I could go on and on, but for simplicity sake I'll stop there for this week. 
I encourage you to take up this challenge for yourself. Pull out a piece of loose leaf paper, pick a number (using your age is an easy way to start!), and start jotting down your own gratitude list. I promise it will lift your spirits and change your perspective. 

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Monday, July 2

Embracing Celebration!

My sweet husband threw me a 40th birthday party on Friday night, and what an event it was.

I'm still reeling from the emotion of it...the gratitude for the time and energy that went into planning and pulling it off-- Scott, my sister (who gets an MVP award for helping Scott!), my dear friend Jessie, my mother-in-law and even our sweet girls all worked SOOOOOO hard to make the evening special and memorable. Then there was the clean-up crew, those who ended up at the house later than the rest, helping to wash pans, clean off tables and consolidate some of the after party mess (Thank you Mom, Dad , Nick, Eleni, Jeff and Teresa, in addition to my mother-in-law who should earn a special crown for the hours she put in on Friday!).

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!

From the festive white tent that we squeezed into our small-ish backyard, to the floral centerpieces carefully crafted, to the oodles of photos and 40th party decorations-- our yard was magically transformed into a party venue. We ended up with enough food to feed the entire neighborhood, and God blessed us with the most perfect weather.

It was a gorgeous evening, from top to bottom. An evening that brimmed with sweet conversation with people that I love. It was an evening of memories that I will treasure for years to come. 

After all was said and done-- after the tent was picked and we ate leftovers for dinner on Saturday (and, again on Sunday!), after I read through all of the heartfelt cards, and looked through the photo album my sister put together, I felt so very thankful to everyone, and for every ounce of effort generously poured out on my behalf.


I couldn't have asked for a sweeter way to march into this next decade of life.

But, because we are complex human beings, especially us women (haha!), my feelings didn't end with simple gratitude...that would have been easy. I wish emotion were that easy.

The truth is, I went to bed that night a little overwhelmed from the busy nature of throwing a party at your house (even your own!), re-playing the details and the conversations from the previous six hours, thinking about the people, the cakes, the food-- ALL of the details. Smack dab in the middle of all that thinking I started to feel......guilty.

Yes, guilty.  After a birthday party!

I know it sounds ridiculous, which is why I'm sharing it with you. In case you ever find yourself feeling guilty for some ridiculous reason as well.

That was a lot of time, energy and effort to spend on just one person, I thought. It was so sweet of everyone, but they really shouldn't have. They didn't need to do that for me. 

As a woman who has struggled to define joy in her own life, fully embrace celebration, and receive love from others on occasion,  I wasn't sure how to accept such big gestures of love.

However, after thinking about it a while longer,  I realized,  that they didn't have to do any of it...

Scott didn't have to pour his heart into planning, friends and family didn't need to step up the way that they did, my sister wasn't required to spend over a dozen hours putting together a scrapbook of pictures together spanning my entire life.

No one had to go out of their way to buy cards, find babysitters, and show up to our house. They did because that's what we's part of doing life together. It's part of the way we love each other.

Ultimately, I realized God had a few things to say about my feelings as well. He wanted to deconstruct the lies that were making me feel guilty for moments that were meant to be enjoyed. He had one sweet 40th Birthday message for me. "I love you, Lisa. These people love you. They're part of my plan for your life.

I was reminded of the scripture that says, "Taste and see that the LORD is good; Oh the joys of those who take refuge in him!"  I was reminded that celebration is good. That gathering is good. That loving one another in all sorts of ways, big and small, is so very good, and that we should praise Him for it all. 

So, in praise of celebration, here are three takeaways that this 40 year old woman finally came to after years of uncertainty about how to joyfully experience life to the fullest!

1. Celebration is GOOD! 

When you grow up in a home where money is tight, you develop a sensibility about life that is about preserving resources, not spending them. You don't throw big parties or celebrate in extravagant ways...and that's not bad, it's just the way it is. But, in the process you develop a feeling deep down that celebration is  lavish and unnecessary...that maybe it' a little frivolous.

I also think that as Christians, we sometimes let our thinking get a little too serious. I can often forget to embrace the good...the fun, the joys, the parties in life! But, the good is just as much a part of God's plan for life as anything else! It was actually His intention from the beginning.

This 40th birthday party inspired me to want to be more intentional in celebrating life and my blessings, in all sorts of ways. It reminded me about how I want to be more purposeful in my relationships, and to be ok kicking up my heels to have some more fun.  

So friends, I give you permission (myself as well). Celebrate life. Enjoy. Be grateful for the good.

2. Celebration is About Thankfulness and Gratitude

In an attempt to solidify my feelings on "celebration" and understand what it means in my life,  I looked up a definition  in the dictionary:

 "The action of marking one's pleasure at an important event or occasion by engaging in enjoyable, typically social activity."

Well...ok, but that doesn't feel like the whole story to me. You?

I'm proposing a new definition, after my recent 40th celebration, here it is:

 "The act of being  grateful for the many blessings and milestones in your life, and finding intentional ways to joyfully commemorate those blessings."

My sweet husband threw this party because he is grateful for me, and our marriage, for our family and friends. He wanted me to feel special and loved. In return, I am SOOO grateful for him, to him, and was reminded how lucky I am to have so many wonderful people in my life.

We celebrate to remind ourselves that gratitude and joy should color our perspective far more often than they do. Celebration pulls us out of the fray of the constant "to-do" list, and forces us to "be" be present, and joyful, and grateful.

Ultimately, celebration is a way of embracing the beauty that God has brought into our lives...which brings me to my last party take-away...

3. The Act of Celebration Ultimately Honors God

The true art of celebration (not the worldly kind) comes back to praising God, and taking moments to consider all of the ways that He loves us. To "taste and see" the beauty that He has created around us. The scriptures are FULL of reminders about the goodness of God, and to praise Him for all He has done...

Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
    tell of his wonderful acts.
Glory to his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always.   (Psalm 104: 1-4)

This might be the most important piece of my perspective shift...

I don't like to be the center of attention, and I'm not usually a "Birthday party" kind of girl, BUT Scott and I decided to intentionally embrace this 40th decade. Why? Because God has blessed me with SOOO much, and I'm finally beginning to embrace how He's created me, who He has made me to be, and all of the blessing He has graciously bestowed.

This party, if you ask me, wasn't about was about Him! His goodness, His faithfulness in creating me and our family, in this life of ours and the story He is weaving. It's a story full of people who come alongside us with love and fellowship-- not always in big ways (though parties are fun for that!), but in a bazillion little ways that I am grateful for.

I realized, on a deeper level, how I want to be part of that blessing in the lives of others as well-- by celebrating them and with them. Who they are in my story, but more importantly, who they are in God's story! 

While I don't always agree with Oprah, she got it right  (well, close to right) when she said this, "The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."

It's a good sentiment, but  missing a key component.  It's not about praising and celebrating my life, but God who is working in my life. So,  since I started by re-writing the dictionary, I'll finish by re-writing Oprah...

"The more you praise God, and celebrate His blessings in your life, the more there is in life to celebrate!" 

Here's to turning 40. Here's to celebrating life!

My sister and I. 

One of the many photo displays my sister and good friend put together. 

My girls and I. 

My littlest gave thumbs up for a great part the day after.
She was sad to see the tent go. 

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Monday, June 25

On Turning 40...

I've been thinking about this moment for months-- the morning that I wake up and am no longer part of the 30's club, but have been ushered into a new decade, seemingly against my will.

     It feels like I'm falling forward into forty without permission-- my permission. Hey, wait a minute,  I want to shout. I didn't approve of this. I didn't approve this passing of time that has happened so quickly that I'm not even sure how I got here! Wasn't I just 28, and then 32, and then 35?

     I honestly think I skipped some birthdays in the middle 30's were a blur. Seriously.

     Plenty of women have promised me that this new club will be good--the 40's club-- they have said that it's fun, that you feel more self-confident, that you feel compelled to embrace your days with more intentionality and a sense of purpose. You do this because you are now acutely aware of the passing of time,  how fast it goes, how the clock ticks relentlessly whether you like it or not.

     I think I believe them. I think I believe that this will be one of my best decades yet!  It's certainly better than the women who have said, "Enjoy the 40's, because 50...well, that's a whole other story!"

     I'm not sure what to say to that...except that I better keep drinking my green smoothies and jogging 3 times a week!

     I do have a LOT of ideas, and oodles of hope and excitement for what this next decade will bring! There are house projects, writing projects, places I want to see, people I want to connect on a deeper  level with, vacations I want to take with my kids so that we can revel in the glory of God's creation!  There are ministries I'd like to get involved in, and groups of people I want to serve.  There are LOTS of ways I want to be more intentional in my parenting and in my marriage. I'm curious and excited to see what God has next for my life...for our life as a family.

     So, on this day, this week...these last few weeks...I've been thinking a LOT about how I got here...the mom in my 40's with my baby heading off to kindergarten in two short months. I've been thinking a lot about what that means, and how to make the most of it all. Here are a few of my random thoughts:

     I've thought about my 20's...a decade of transition and change. 

     It was a time of romance, and marriage and naiveté, of celebrations and graduations from undergrad and a master's degree. A time of new jobs, and new houses, and learning how not to just be a girlfriend, but a wife. It was a time of learning, in lots of big and little ways, that your time is not your own-- that you make commitments to companies, and to people and to your family, and you need to learn how to wisely discern which priorities to spend time on and what to let go of.

     Scott and I met, fell in love, moved to Boston, traveled to places like England, and Switzerland and Italy, and learned what it meant to come back "home"--how it felt to be back in familiar places and spaces when you have been in the unfamiliar, if even only for a short period of time. We got pregnant the first time, and cried over a miscarriage. We got pregnant again, and had our beautiful first daughter nine months later.

     I struggled with bouts of anxiety in my 20's, and postpartum anxiety after Ava. That struggle with anxiety and realizing it had deeper roots-- childhood roots-- ushered me into my 30's and stayed with me until I learned how to reckon with it...until I let God reckon with it. That, my friends, is a whole other story all together. One that I might consider sharing someday.

     I've thought about my 30's...a decade of deep lessons, spiritual growth, and learning to establish a new family legacy. 

     Honestly, my 30's feel like a blur, but I know they are full of blessing. I have to look back at photos, read through old journals, think about each of my girls at their various ages and stages...and then like a dot-to-dot that has 1,000 points to connect, the totality of my motherhood, and our days together starts to re-formulate in my mind into a recognizable picture of a somewhat intentional life. It's a beautiful picture. It's an unexpected picture in many ways. It's God's picture, and He's still working on it.

     I've realized that the newness of our 20's-- new homes, new babies, new marriages, new jobs-- it had to make way for rhythms and repetition in our 30's; work, house management, meal planning and preparation, many-many-MANY sleepless nights. There were rhythms with babies and then toddlers that were perpetually changing, and rhythms in our marriage and relationship that needed to be adjusted, and readjusted. We had to find ways to make room for each other, for ourselves, and constantly reevaluate what was and wasn't working.

      In her book "A Circle of Quiet" Madeline L'Engle quotes from a book that she read during her 30's called The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. "What I remember from that book," she says, "is it's reference to the 'tired thirties'.  I was always tired. So was Hugh. During the decade between thirty and forty, most couples are raising small children and we were no exception. Hugh was struggling to support his growing family...and there was I, absolutely stuck in bucology, with the washing machine freezing at least once a week, the kitchen never above 55 when the wind blew...and not able to write until my little ones were in bed, by which time I was so tired that I often quite literally fell asleep with my head on the typewriter."

     Yes. Yes. Yes. To all of that...

      Sometimes it can feel like you're losing yourself along the way, but I've learned that you're simply becoming a new version of yourself--one that with lots of prayer, and grace, and yielding to God's wisdom, is hopefully a better version anyways (though, and I know a lot of you would agree, the process is not always pretty).

    And so here I stand at the beginning of a new decade, a new chapter, and I'm not really sure what to make of it.

    What will 40 bring?

     A continuation of what we've begun for our marriage, in our family, and with our children.

      In addition to raising these sweet girls, Scott and I are looking forward to re-connecting with some of our personal passions-- with our littlest one heading off to kindergarten in the fall I'm looking forward to investing more time into writing projects I've been thinking about for years. Scott is looking forward to re-focusing in his job and career, to playing more guitar and golf, and hopefully doing some rock climbing again.

       I'm also asking God what He has in store! My prayer is that I would open to His leading and to the possibilities and opportunities that He puts before me. 

       I have decided that in honor of turning 40, that I am committing to writing 40 blog posts this year-- on life, on re-discovering who I am and how God wired me, on anything that feels relevant to this season of transition, to this season of growth!

      I'm not sure what my posting schedule will be...I had considered once a week, on Sunday nights-- but 40 weeks sounds like a l-o-n-g time! I will commit to always posting on Sunday nights, but, when I have more time, I'll  post a couple times during the week as well. If you're a planner, just check in once a week (on Sunday evenings) and you can catch up on my posts that way.

     Here's to being 40! To growing up. To raising a family. To embracing the chaos and passing of time, and the memories being made. Here's to looking forward, with great hope, to what the next decade will hold.

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