Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Browsing Category Life & Faith

Life & Faith

Growing and Changing

It’s been a while since I’ve written off the cuff; a glimpse into our current everyday. This year has been full of new ideas, new projects, and new challenges. I’ve been surprised at myself, on several fronts.

Kindred Mom has received the lion’s share of my creative attention this year, and with it has come a quiet season for other creative things. I haven’t been taking many photos. I haven’t been sewing or painting or lettering (all things I enjoy), and I haven’t been here on this personal blog capturing bits of our lives as I did for years before. I’m missing this space, and the sweet reflections about life as it happens in real time.

It’s not all bad, though. This year has been one of stretching and growing in unexpected ways. My littlest guy is half a year from his two-year birthday, and I have an eleven year old that is wearing my shoes. Weird stuff, I tell you. The family landscape is changing by the month as everyone grows into their new grades and we’ve experienced some giant developmental shifts into the moody pre-teen zone. My free spirit girl is looking me in the eyes. My nine year old is outsmarting me. My middle boy is learning legit hip hop dance moves (goodbye goofy gangly arm-flinging). My middle girl looks a bit like a miniature fitness instructor; ponytail, spare energy, and bright, overeager face and all. The purple-loving girl is finding her voice among the chaos while she sings Moana’s “standing at the edge of the water” with enough toddler-speak still mixed in to make me feel like she’s still my baby even though she doesn’t look like it. Hank the Tank has graduated out of his crib after learning how to climb (and fall) out of it. That means I have six kids and no one in a crib. Someone hold me.

They’re all growing, and I have been too. The spring brought a wave of grief with the passing of several special women in my life. I have experienced the shift between feeling like life is full of possibilities and wonder, to feeling the sharp pang of loss and the fragility of life. I know its not one or the other–its the tension of both–but it does make me feel a touch more aware that today is a gift, and tomorrow is not a guarantee. It makes me feel like I need to say to you who are reading this–I love you and want you to be well and whole and surrounded by love. I want you to know that whatever you feel about God, He wants you to be well and whole and surrounded by His love, if you’re open to it. That is His heart. Even if Christians or other religious people have made you feel otherwise by their judgmental views and behavior. I’m sorry for the times that has been me, not loving first, but living by fear or guarded because of my own insecurities. We have a finite amount of days, and fear will not rule mine.

I’ve been sorting some things out in my creative life, and having started up the Kindred Mom adventure in February, it has taken me a while to figure out how to tend both spaces–here and there. I’ve thrown everything I have into that mission for the past 6 months, which I do not regret. It’s been a tremendous experience and I’m hoping it will continue to grow and be an encouragement to mamas in the trenches, but I want to be back here too. I’ve been writing in other online spaces for the purpose of promoting Kindred Mom, and I’ll be adding excerpts of those essays here in the near future, but I also want to be here sharing less-crafted snapshots of my own motherhood journey and our family adventures. I want to do my best to capture the stories I hope my children will read as adults and remember what a precious season of life this is. Last year in October, I did a Write 31 Days series on Soulful Simplicity. It was a terrific experience that I hope to repeat this October with a new topic. I’m tentatively calling my new series 31 Days of Redemptive Motherhood, and will be sharing stories and treasures I’ve collected these past 11 years from giving birth to and mothering these remarkable children. They have changed and challenged me. They have blessed me and ballooned my heart. It seems fitting that I’d spend an extended amount of time chronicling these things.

If there is any part of my journey you would be especially interested to know about in that series, I’d love for you to share with me so I can try and touch on those subjects as I write the series. I’m taking the month of September to plan everything out, and then you’ll (hopefully) hear from me every day in October. Maybe.

Sending love to you, wherever you are right now.

“For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” Ephesians 2:18-22

1386. a new spiral bound planner to plan out my writing, 1387. unexpected opportunities, 1388. invitation to a silent retreat…yes please, 1389. eclipse viewing with the kids, 1390. recent visits with family, 1391. calendaring out fall’s adventures, 1392. baby’s fascination with my soft belly–that he caused, 1393. football season back again, 1394. backyard time with the VWs, 1395. wednesday night group bbq, 1396. new fall routines around the bend, 1397. mighty m’s cheek healing up, 1398. worship in the kitchen while doing dishes, 1399. warm, mild summer days, 1400. being back on this blog

Life & Faith / Poetry

The Form of Love

to be young, eager, chase what allures

to be old, wise, long-savor morsels of joy in the bleak

to twirl and sing quiet so nobody hears

to stand, speak strong truth nobody wants

not the achiever, not the laissez-faire

not anyone save the desperate soul

who pines for rescue from boggy mire

 

to be convinced, certain, questions checked outside

to be open, but not wide. well within a boundary

to grip unstable characters ’til sand succumbs to sea

to surrender, to die and not die, surprise gift easily missed

not striving, not despairing

not anyone save the yielded soul

who sees light in the dark, inside itself

 

to be beautiful, slick and debonaire

to be simple, fuss not for temporary promises

to mirror circular pride, the see-more, want-more always

to lift eyes up to hills that rumble value to

not the adequate, not the falsely-humble

not anyone save the honest soul

who reaches wide to take the form of love

*****

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” Philippians 2:5-9

1366. writing time, 1367. stories of God’s faithfulness, 1368. finding my way, 1369. a successful zoo day, 1370. sons working together, 1371. the fall-asleep station (mama’s bed) for two toddlers, 1372. a new dish scrubby, 1373. little daisies, 1374. summer fun with friends, 1375. dreaming big

Life & Faith

Finding My Way By Candlelight

I started college, and I was a bit of a wanderer as it related to matters of the heart. I had no established home, and no safe place to set down my cares (which were many), except in the hands of a nice girl who said hello one day, and became my bosom friend the next. We spent our first hours as friends singing worship songs in the stairwell between our dorm rooms, which although “randomly” assigned, were in the same wing of the same dorm, one floor apart from each other.

She didn’t know when she extended her hand and warm smile that I was in a million pieces on the inside, but within a few days of friendship, I couldn’t keep my brave face on and instead, I sobbed in her lap for the first of many times, heaving out my desperate sorrows for hours on end.

I curled into the fetal position with my head on her lap and cried and cried. It was the first time I allowed myself the deep grief I’d been carrying for years. She stroked my hair and I kept on crying, my hair a tangled mess, and my life about the same. After my childhood family became fractured by divorce, I went to college far away on purpose, so I might find space enough to gather my broken pieces.

She didn’t totally understand why I was so distraught, but she soothed and prayed for me anyway—over and over—drawing from a well of love I didn’t understand at the time either, not until I became acquainted more with her family, and more specifically, her grandmother.

Sometime that first year of friendship, she coaxed me aboard a ferryboat to cross the Puget Sound over to Vashon Island, where her grandmother, Softa, lived in a quaint home, affectionately named A Wee Bit O’ Ireland. A black gate at the entrance bore a sign declaring the name, and my new friend went on and on about how wonderful this grandmother of hers was. I thought for sure, she was just a normal woman with a nice house and a lot of love for her grandchildren. It didn’t take long to discover that she was no ordinary woman—but rather a force of love and beauty and a true matriarch.

We arrived to her home in the dark, and I have a picture in my mind of her opening the door in her nightgown with lipstick on, lifting a candle in a holder where you slip your finger through a ring to carry it around. She was smiling.

It seemed like she was always smiling.

I didn’t know someone could be as endlessly warm, as endlessly kind as she was. I’m not sure I ever saw even a momentary frown on her face. I literally can’t picture her face without a smile on it.

Every time I set foot inside her house, I was loved from all sides.

She offered me tea, and served me a scone or a slice of pie.

She invited me to sit by her fireplace, where I was surrounded by little items and books collected from her world travels; places I have never been and may never go, but tasted a bit of the adventure through her souvenirs and stories.

She made me a royal guest in a bed with fresh sheets that had been ironed, topped with a voluminous down comforter.

She smiled contentedly when I sat at her piano with my sweet college friend and sang out songs we had written together, pleased about the music we filled her home with.

She set her long dining-room table, and extravagantly filled it with delicious food. In that space, my cavernous soul-hunger was filled for a stretch and my brokenness mended a bit with her attentive care and listening ear.

I was loved from all sides—the inside, outside, and many intangible sides as well.

For many months now, I have been personally reflecting on the spiritual implications of a matriarch within a family, and the role a matriarch plays in passing on a spiritual heritage to her descendants.

Beyond the simple Webster definition of a matriarch, I have pondered, and processed, and prayed about this word, and now consider it with more dimension than I ever did before.

In my view, a matriarch is a strong figure within a family, and one that is called to:

  • Sow the word of Truth in her family.
  • Turn her eyes toward heaven for the manna that sustains her and her descendants.
  • Praise and honor the name of the Lord — not only as her personal act of worship, but also as a beacon of light, showing those that follow her the way of love.
  • Mine the Word of God for riches and wisdom.
  • Model generosity, hospitality, and joy.
  • Be a peacemaker.

A matriarch holds up a banner of love over a family, shows the young ones how to love each other, teaches a family how to forgive and receive forgiveness, and models how to build a life on a firm foundation that won’t topple down when the winds blow.

A matriarch loves from all sides and lights the way.

These are all things I aspire to do as I grow into this role myself.

Grandma Marilynn was this prolific type of matriarch.

I still see her candle, lit in the dark, welcoming strangers and friends in from the cold. Her smiling face may no longer be here, but the light she left remains with us.

We can love each other from all sides. We can welcome hurting hearts into our warm homes, and give them our prayers and attention. We can forgive others and receive forgiveness for ourselves. We can build our lives on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ, the Chief Cornerstone, and we will not topple down when the winds blow. We can look to the Bible for wisdom. We can be peacemakers in a broken world.

This is how we carry the light that has been shared with us to those who come after us.

Thank you, Grandma Marilynn, for your expert love and care, and for the example of how to live and love, well. In your absence, we will carry the light with courage and boldly live the love you showed us.

“You visit the earth and cause it to overflow; You greatly enrich it; The stream of God is full of water; You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth.” Psalm 65:9 NASB

1351. the memory of Grandma Marilynn, 1352. the life-saving friendship of Marilynn Song, 1353. new podcast for moms, 1354. the joy of sharing stories, mine and others’, 1355. the new homeschool organization method I’m sorting out, 1356. after-midnight quiet in the midst of sound sleepers, 1357. the fierce hugs of mighty M, 1358. purpose and passion, 1359. sunny seattle days, 1360. backyard time with the VWs, 1361. planned summer adventures, 1362. a little less sugar in my life, 1363. watching Gpa Mac help E make a boat out of wood, 1364. still-blooming orchids, 1365. the last sweet weeks of nursing the baby

Life & Faith / Thoughts

Processing Pain

One photo a week throughout the year. 6/52

My phone vibrates in my pocket and I want to dig it out to see who has sent me a text message. I’m puttering around my over-stuffed kitchen. There is hardly any counter space and there is food and mess and dishes for eight people, which means it pretty much always feels like a disaster, even if I diligently scrape and rinse and stow dishes away after every meal. On one level, I’ve made my peace with it. On another level, it feels like an irritant; a constant reminder of all that I’m not good at. I reason there is not much that can be done. The space is small and there isn’t much storage space.

It’s a problem in more than one area of my life. There are a lot of things floating around that don’t have a permanent place to land. I’m not especially attached to any of it, but dealing with clutter takes a special brand of focus and energy that seems to run in short supply for me. I care far more about connection and creativity to stress about which papers go in the recycle bin and which should be filed away, so all the papers live in piles wherever they might be least likely to be disturbed. I would like to say I know where most of the important things are. I used to be able to keep those kind of details close at hand in my brain until I started having kids. Now, it is possible that I might be holding a pen in one hand while I look around for the location of that same pen on the surfaces around me, frustrated that I can’t find something to write with. I joke with my husband that I sacrificed most of my brain cells to give birth to six beautiful children, and we both laugh because its partly true.

The sink water runs while I dry one hand on the towel near me to retrieve my phone. I read the words.

“I miscarried last week. It has been rough for me. Trying to reach out.”

I flick the faucet handle down and feel instantly powerless to comfort, powerless to help in any meaningful way. My chest tightens up and tears scratch at my eyes and I suddenly forget how to pick up dishes, rinse them and set them in the dishwasher. This isn’t the first pregnancy loss. Or the second, or the third even. With each one, I watch the hope drain out from afar, and it breaks my heart. Truthfully, I don’t know the pain in any first-person way, but I imagine it and feel whatever it is that one feels when wanting to absorb the shock that someone else is feeling in the midst of their sudden emptiness.

What do I say? What can I say?

I can’t land on anything solid.

One of my children dashes through the kitchen and down the stairs to the basement with a younger sibling in hot pursuit of some stolen treasured item that went down the stairs with the former. My guess would be it is a bouncy ball or a flip-open magnifying-glass toy, but I don’t care enough to ask or intervene.

I keep looking at the text and wish I could be instantly there, holding her head in my lap, stroking her hair gently, and praying for God’s comfort to meet her in the sorrowful moments—in this sorrow-filled season of uncertainty—while we both cry about it.

It seems unfair to encounter sorrow after sorrow when the desire of the heart is great. Maybe it is unfair, or maybe it is part of what is knitting us closer together. I have never miscarried, but I have seen other hopes die. I know the pain of loss in other ways and these reminders of it are what keep me tender-hearted and compassionate to others in their own seasons of struggle.

With all my heart, I wish I could find a way to help her around the pain instead of having to watch her go through it, but I’m aware that I don’t have that kind of power.

I fumble with my phone while I dry the other hand and manage a lame text in response. Lame because it accomplishes nothing, fixes nothing, and doesn’t make me feel any better either.

I sit down on the floor of my kitchen, my back against the cupboards under the kitchen sink. The only comfort I have ever found in these moments when my heart is deeply grieved comes from Jesus. It feels simplistic to put it like that, but it is true. When I discovered for myself that He shows up and enters into the wounded, hurting space to set a weeping woman free from lifelong fear, freeing her—or rather me—from the heavy responsibility to hold every last thing together, from the grip of despair, from the anger that drains all the beauty out of life…when I discovered that every last ache will one day be redeemed by the power of His all-consuming love; that was a day that changed everything for me.

I turn my heart inside out and beg for His sweet mercies to land close to the broken heart on the other end of this text thread. I ask Him with fervor to gather up her brokenness and comfort her the way He has comforted me in the lowest moments of my life. Tenderly. In the protective way of a good Father. Lord, in Your mercy, let it be so.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV

1331. new shoes for all the kids — at 70% off, 1332. the beauty and mystery of transformation, 1333. late night dreaming-while-awake, 1334. seeing a vision coming to life, 1335. fabric for a new baby banner for a friend, 1336. engagement party for a girl I knew when she was less than 10 years old, 1337. a lasagna gift, 1338. roozy boozy showing me where her feelings live, 1339. hubba-la-bubba-la baby babble, 1340. purple birthday plans in the works

Life & Faith / Motherhood

Finding My Voice

One photo a week throughout the year. 4/52

From a young age, they tell me I have natural talent. It’s nice for them to say, but I’m a quiet, reserved child, so I’m not sure about that. I like to sing but I don’t like drawing attention to myself, which means I never sing very loud. I wait until the music is turned up a bit or until I’m in my room where I can close the door. I listen to my mother sing harmonies and quietly try to imitate her, tuning my ear to the nuances of the music.

In the middle years, my life is tumultuous. My dad doesn’t live at my house anymore. He took my youngest brother with him, and nothing feels stable or normal. I cope by muscling out perfect grades in every class, unable (or unwilling) to accept less. Anything less than an “A” would expose the reality that I am crumbling on the inside. I am fractured—just like my family—and I sing to keep myself afloat. It is the only art I can make, partly because I don’t really have to work at it that hard, and I am fighting deep depression. Maybe they were right about the natural talent. I like to think it was God’s lifeline to me. He gave me a voice to explore so that I might learn how to explore other things that bring life and joy—little by little, inch by inch.

I go to college and find myself thoroughly deconstructed. I can’t keep up the perfection I managed to muscle in earlier years. Instead I crack open the rawest place and scribble lyrics of my deep brokenness, squeaking out desperate prayers and pleas for God to come and help me find a way out of the dark place, proclaiming a desire to heal long before the healing comes.

God brings me a man that takes me by the hand right out of that mire. We make love and babies and very, very slowly, light begins pouring into me. He disarms me with his humility and opens up the spaces I’ve curled in around. The fears that hold me with fury start losing their grip. Simple times, little faces, and rearranged perspective starts me looking for beauty in new places: the ordinary moments of every day; the miracle I am living.

I find a camera in my hands and start freezing everything beautiful I see. At first I think I’m going to be somebody bigger or better, but I quickly learn that seeing deeply is far more important than the constant pressure to prove myself…to myself. Behind vanity, sometimes there are worthy pursuits. Vanity, however, can set the less mature person in a compromised direction. My subjects smile into my lens and I see the vulnerable moment just before I click when they are asking themselves, do I look ok? Do my faults and fears show? Does my nice outfit and carefully groomed appearance hide my insecurity? No, it doesn’t. It does help me see for myself that I am not the only one that constantly wonders if I am (fill in the blank) enough, and I see a new beauty in humanity that only comes in a shared vulnerable moment.

My sweet neighbor teaches me how to sew. I never wanted to learn, especially when my grandmother wanted to teach me as a child. It took too much time and effort to make things look perfect. I just knew it, even though I never really tried. She shows me the way to embrace things that take time; the value in one step at a time. Now I experience a calm purpose as I wash, dry, iron the fabric, tear the cut edges to square up, measure, cut, align, pin, sew, and turn. The process is beauty to me.

For many years, I carry a cavernous hunger. I am desperate to be filled, even though all the food I devour doesn’t touch it. I eat my feelings, as they say, and love the starch, the carbohydrate, and convenience of things in packages. I don’t want to cook, because I’m terrified of being locked up in a chauvinist marriage. I tell my good man from the beginning, I am not your house maid. I am not your cook. He loves me anyway, and does all those things until I learn on my own that filling the hearts and bellies of the ones I love is one of the greatest joys, and that chopping stuff with a good knife is therapeutic.

I write words in every different place over all the years from the early to the present. Journals, spiral notebooks, and one blog after the next. I don’t call myself a writer because it is scary to own my voice. I avoid. I hide. I agonize. I stretch. I try to write again and again until the dam is compromised enough to fall down completely and bring the rushing water all the way through the previously dry channel. My voice is found, and while I am trepidatious about the power it wields, I know that I can’t rest until I help others find theirs as well.

********

Friends – I am eager to share a new venture with you. It is a project that is very dear to my heart, and I am believing it will be an encouragement to many. I invite you to check out Kindred Mom, a collaborative blog where many different women will be sharing about their motherhood experiences through story-driven essays. I would love your support as Kindred Mom is getting established. You can do any of the following:

> Follow us on Instagram and Twitter
> Join our Kindred Mom Facebook Group
> Submit an essay to Kindred Mom
> Subscribe to our Email List
> Read along as we begin sharing essays and let your mama friends know about the blog

“You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 16:11

1311. my husband’s constant (and sacrificial) support of all my crazy ideas, 1312. roozy boozy’s new haircut, 1313. hank starting to find his confidence with walking, 1314. big buddy’s constant hugs, 1315. riding together as a family (still new and quite exciting), 1316. seeing threads come together, 1317. making some new banners, 1318. met new neighbors, 1319. sermon on the vastness of God’s redemptive power, 1320. friends on the Kindred Mom journey with me

Family / Life & Faith

Nicknames

One photo a week throughout the year. 2/52 

I asked for smiles, and I got mostly smiles. The one on the left looks a little constipated, but he did technically comply with my request. I am in love with the oversized purple hat that swallows up Roozy’s head, and the swagger that Missy Moo carries with her wherever she goes. There is KidWonder in the back, masterfully wielding her big-sister powers to get a smile out of our nearly-toddling little guy. Oh,  and handsome guy on the right, heart-eye emoji’s for you.

As I am looking ahead to a new year of possibilities, I have been thinking about what I want this blog space to be for me going forward. There are some new exciting things on the horizon (I’ll be announcing very soon) that have helped me realize that here on this blog, I want to continue sharing the most genuine thoughts about my years with these sweet kids–about my thoughts for them and my adventures with them–so that one day they might return here and discover new things about what their mama treasured in her heart during their young years.

Many of you know that I don’t share their names on the blog, which has been my small attempt at preserving some online anonymity for them as they grow. One day, they will make choices about how they want to be represented online in connection with their real names, but in the meantime, I feel that it is a small gift to give them the space to be shrouded in at least a little mystery as I tell our family stories.

That said, I have been mildly frustrated by the limitations of writing intentionally about each one without their names, so, I’ve landed on the compromise of sharing their nicknames here instead.

In birth order, I’d like to introduce:

KidWonder – My creative, effervescent oldest daughter who enjoys life to its very fullest and is constantly creating with whatever materials she can get her hands on. She is a quirky, artsy, hilariously random, and unlike any other person I’ve ever met…in a good way. She sees the world in her own way, and in the most pure and innocent sense, does not care what anyone else thinks of her.

Mr. Clean – My oldest son; a sharp and organized guy who will take every word you say literally. If I say we are leaving the house at 1pm and his watch shows 1:01pm, he will playfully heckle me about why we haven’t left yet. This trait is one part annoying, two parts useful. In many ways, he keeps our house on the rails without trying. He loves order, and shows strong leadership ability…both things that challenge me in good ways.

Big Buddy – My middle son who is a little more tender-hearted than his older brother, loves music, and has a quirky and varied musical palette. He loves everything from classical to Michael Jackson to electronic music to indie bands. He often asks me poignant questions about abstract things, and I love that he is curious.

Missy Moo – This girl brings spirit to our house. In a family full of personality, she shines brighter (and talks louder) than anyone else. I suppose that is what it takes to be heard as the fourth-born. She is a sweet singer, has shown significant interest in being a runner, and is an unstoppable force.

Roozy Boozy – This little miss is all about purple these days. She has been self-planning her next (3rd) birthday for the past 8 months, which is set to be a purple extravaganza. She has a stubborn streak like her oldest brother, but she’s also a keen observer of things. She’s a quieter soul (thus far), but has no problem standing up for herself.

Hank the Tank – Somewhere in the first months of life, Daddy started calling this guy Hank the Tank. He was big at birth (10lbs 4oz) and grew quickly from there. He’s a content, strong fella who has a tender heart and bright smile, and has bonded closely with Daddy — more than the other kids at this age. He has never been a cuddler (he actually actively resisted cuddling from the earliest days, which was a surprise to me), but he is a fierce force of love. I’m interested to discover more about him this year as he turns 1 year, begins walking, and joins the ranks of the adventurous (mobile) Allen kids.

1291. our weekly dinner group, 1292. connections with new friends, 1293. group voxer chats, 1294. answered prayers, 1295. beauty found in unexpected places, 1296. re-discovering the tub of special baby clothes I’ve saved for each child, 1297. little creative minds experimenting with physics principles, 1298. friends sharing breakthroughs, 1299. moments I remember to be silly with my kids, 1300. a new van

Life & Faith / Motherhood

Burdens Laid Down

One photo a week throughout the year. 1/52  — Taken January 1, 2017

There are maybe fifteen of us sitting in a circle, some holding babies, some quietly giving thanks that their kids are in the children’s wing of the church, coloring, laughing, and playing with bubbles on the other side of the building. Quiet space to think is not always afforded to moms with little ones. Constant noise and endless needs keep the mind running in high gear, always managing a mini-crisis or preparing for the next one that will undoubtedly arise within the next few hours.

I am the mom quietly giving thanks for an opportunity to think about all that 2016 brought to me.

Each mama in the circle has a pencil and a white sheet of paper with a few reflection questions to consider.

Line one asks me, “What are a few words that encompass your experience in 2016?”

I haven’t really given it a lot of thought until this moment, and I feel a little surprised that I write down: healing, restful, simple.

It wasn’t a dramatic or spectacular year in the ways I’m used to. It may have been dramatic out there in the wide world, but here in our little home, and in my inner-heart space, there was a settling; a breathing-out; a letting-shoulders-relax…a new experience for anxious me.

In February, I gave birth to my sixth child—a 10lb 4oz hunk of love that has delighted all of us throughout the year. The months that followed feel fuzzy in my mind, but I know that while I might have been tender, I was also full to the brim of joy and the reward of little faces greeting me every morning. Our family danced through the delicate transition period after the new arrival with more grace than usual, probably because God heaped it on us with great generosity.

Throughout the summer, I watched my older five play outside in the mild Seattle sun for hours and hours, it’s rays warming me through in a new and unexpected way. I cradled my infant son and felt the weight and beauty of his soul in place of the heavy burdens I’ve carried in years passed. I set down every other thing that I have collected over the years with the intent to prove myself valuable or successful or even just ok in my own skin—and instead took up the practice of breathing slow and looking up through the glittery leaves above me as I pondered the lavish beauty of life that is easily missed by those who are running, chasing, and thoughtlessly squandering what is right in front of them in pursuit of all the not-yet’s…as I have done for years without realizing it.

In October, I wrote all the thoughts I could about simplicity and my pursuit of it; a little surprised that I have begun to cherish the journey I started years ago when I first picked up the book Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster. I’d venture to say that the pursuit of simplicity has been a difficult and humbling experience, but as I begin to discover the rewards of it, I can’t recommend it highly enough. There are cords that hold us captive to things without our knowledge, but simplicity opens the door to a different, and more beautiful reality.

The last months of the year found me up to my ears in gratitude for the fullness of my life and the realization that even though I’ve struggled through years of hard things and hard feelings, sometimes there is a stretch of time where the angst falls away and the lungs are filled with hope that all the lost and broken things will one day be restored.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

1281. little hands that pinch and pat their way through nursing, 1282. the purple girl and all the purple things she loves, 1283. ‘seriously cute’ reminding me often that even when she grows up and moves away, she will visit me, 1284. mr. bubs and his delight that I run my fingers through his handsome hair when he hugs me close, 1285. my diligent guy who quiets my soul by quieting the house clutter, 1286. moments of grace with my growing girl who is learning how to carry herself with dignity as she straddles the line between imaginative child and blossoming teen, 1287. some quiet hours alone for the first time in a while, 1288. new books and new horizons, 1289. warmth of community, 1290. the satisfaction I find in creative collaboration

Life & Faith

Cultivating a Teachable Heart

He really is a stand-out kid; smart, capable, clever, and helpful. He brings me more joy than I could say with his goofy 8-year-old grin, and the thoughtful ways he cares for others. He also knows how to push my buttons with incredible precision.

Whenever I correct his behavior, he resists, pushes back and tries to wrestle me for control…all too often. Many times I can take it in stride—stay the course, and calmly hand down a reasonable consequence—but give me the right recipe of exhaustion, feeling spread thin, and boiling frustration over the fact that we have been around this bush a million times, and you will see my grace for him melt away as hot anger overtakes me.

I think to myself, “If only he wouldn’t contest my authority. If only he would listen to me and understand that his choices have real consequences. If only he could see that what I do is ultimately meant to help him. If only he were a little more teachable, maybe this wouldn’t be such an exhausting experience.”

For all my frustration with my son’s stubborn behavior, I can be exactly the same way.

When a leader or trusted friend points out a sensitive area of in my life that I can’t (or don’t want to) see, I throw up my defenses and try to reason away things that may need to be addressed. When God convicts my heart about a behavior or an issue, my natural tendency is to deflect, compare, or excuse myself from it. Acknowledging weaknesses, mistakes, and straight up sin isn’t comfortable for anyone. In fact, it is something like digging out an infected splinter. It might hurt in the moment, but it is ultimately for the best in the long run.

“My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when He corrects you. For the Lord corrects those He loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom He delights.” Proverbs 3:11-12

To be teachable means that I choose to be humble.

It means I am open, listening, and ready to take action in a new direction, with new perspective when it is given to me—even if dealing with the circumstance is inconvenient or uncomfortable. It means I lay down my pride so that I might receive wisdom from God as a willing student of His grace, acknowledging that His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8). There is a deeper reality than what we often see on the surface.

Sometimes God corrects me, not to humiliate me, but to keep me from harm.

Sometimes God prunes my branches, not to damage me, but to help me bear fruit.

Sometimes God humbles me, not to make me angry but to soften my heart and prepare me to receive His good gifts.

Sometimes God slows me down, not to punish me, but to help me hear His voice in the quiet of my heart.

Sometimes God allows me to feel weak, not to put me in my place, but to show me how mercifully He can heal the deepest hurts as I trust myself to His care.

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

To cultivate a teachable heart means I recognize that sometimes there are things in the picture that I do not see.

Cultivating a teachable heart opens me up to understanding myself and my circumstances from a new perspective. It means that I can move forward, humbly and confidently, after receiving the Lord’s discipline, care, and guidance for whatever challenges lie ahead of me without my pride in the way.

Cultivating a teachable heart is a core part of being a disciple of Jesus. It requires that I acknowledge my dependence on His grace, and invites me to remember that as His child, He delights in me. He corrects me entirely for my benefit, that I might lay hold of abundant life and the peace that passes all understanding.

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

*This post was originally a guest post for Christine Chappell
Life & Faith / Thoughts

Contentment: The Struggle to Find It

We’re only here for whipping cream. I first looked for it at Costco since it is usually in the dairy section there, but this time it was nowhere to be found. I had to make another stop at another store with a parade of kids behind me. While they’re exiting the minivan, I make them stand on the white line that separates the parking spaces. It makes me laugh when they naturally line up in order of height. As we go, I look like a mother duck and her ducklings; quite a sight for the city-dwellers around who can’t seem to hide their incredulous expressions at the length of our line. It is equal parts thrill and chore to get through the aisles of a store with all six in tow for one item. I have to lead the way and simultaneously mind the line so no one strays or knocks merchandise off of shelves as we go by. It’s not the easiest job, but I have learned to be at peace with the work it takes to accomplish anything with a bursting nest…most of the time.

In a few days, we will be in full feasting mode, and the preparations for Thanksgiving Day has me reflecting in the quiet of my heart. I ponder the merits of having not only a thankful heart, but going a little bit further to cultivate full-fledged contentment. It seems like the two ideas could be the same, but in my mind gratitude is a start, and contentment is a deep space where profound peace resides.

A brief look at the differences: Gratitude is a currency—something I offer in response to gifts received—but honestly, I can say thanks all day long and still harbor hidden feelings of envy and bitterness about my life and what I don’t have. I can outwardly feast and inwardly feed dark things in my soul that erode my joy. In contrast, contentment doesn’t allow such an internal conflict to persist, because it is not a currency like gratitude.

Contentment is a posture.

It can be practiced in every kind of circumstance. I can cultivate contentment even when the extremities of my life exist in tension—joys and heartaches intermingled in the same space. I recognize that cultivating contentment is merely embracing the truth of what is in front of me, joys and challenges alike.

For many people the joy of this season is laced with anxiety, loneliness, relational struggles, and heartaches of all different kinds—troubles carefully hidden behind the shiny things, twinkling lights, and warm greetings. I have experienced all of these things over the years, and even though I am currently in a sweet season with my crew, I find that holidays still seem to paw at my tender heart spaces. It’s the pause between the action that gets me; the reminiscing, the longing for restoration in relationships, the acknowledgment that even while everything around me is beautiful, I still find it a challenge to celebrate every moment because some moments are just plain hard.

Contentment means I own what is true in my life and see the value in it, whether the season I am in is full of joy or full of challenges, or an odd mix of the two. It means choose not to waste my energy trying to escape what is before me, but instead engage it and work through it, believing that God has a purpose for allowing each season. I struggle to find contentment when I am looking for something tangible to hold tight in my fingers that makes me feel like I am in control of things I am actually not in control of. Contentment means I lay my heart wide open to receive what God gives, and I remain open to the strength, encouragement, and guidance He supplies daily as I commune with Him, whether or not my daily reality is bright and shiny.

Contentment is an invitation to embrace what I have been given, even if those things are not what that I expected or wanted.  Contentment is seeing the purpose in my present situation. What can I learn? How can I grow? How can I give thanks for even the challenges I have in front of me?

Contentment is being present in this moment. Instead of dwelling in the past and the sorrows of yesterday, I am awake to the opportunities to love today. Instead of looking into the distant future and all the not-yet things, I am tuned in to the blessings that hedge me in. I have a roof over my head. I have warm (albeit well-worn) slippers on my feet. I have the noise of happy children around me as I continue sorting out my journey with the Lord in the humble spaces, doing the unglamorous but faithful things.

Contentment is not static. It is an active, intentional cultivation of gratitude in this moment. Contentment is an open-heartedness that lets beauty in and lets stress, pressure, disappointment, and struggle out.

Contentment means I recognize that the nagging pang of inadequacy, and the need for “more” of whatever I don’t have—is a foe that is deliberately working to undermine my joy and my ability to fulfill the purpose of my life with intention.

We struggle to find contentment because we erroneously believe that to cultivate or embrace contentment is to say something akin to “everything is right in the world”. Certainly everything is not right in the world. However, cultivating contentment is a way of saying that in my small space, and my small life, I recognize that the blessings afforded to me are extravagant in comparison to many people and I am grateful for them—even though I may also still struggle to reconcile other things in my heart.

Contentment doesn’t mean I have no further goals or desires. It doesn’t mean that I feel total peace at every moment. It means that in this moment, I choose to shut out the noise and strong messages coming from everywhere that I need more, more more. It means that I acknowledge that who I am and what I have are enough to find a measurable amount of peace right here and right now.

Contentment means I pause to account for the endless gifts in my life that I can easily overlook when I’m plunged deep into worry.

Contentment is a recognition that the things I don’t have, weight I have not lost, the brokenness in relationships that has not been restored, the emotional, mental, or physical challenges I have faced—do not define my value, do not define my success or failure, and do not change the reality that God’s mercy is new every morning. All of the above things do not preclude me from giving thanks for the smallest things in my life that fill the empty pangs in my soul, even if only momentarily at times. I can struggle and still stretch my heart open to receive from God the good things He gives.

Contentment is a way of celebrating tiny milestones, and if practiced faithfully, contentment is a sure way out of despair, discouragement, and disconnection, just not always in a timeframe that suits my sensibilities.

Instead of looking down at the mud I stand in (sometimes up to my hips), it means turning my face upward to the sky in gratitude for the rain that falls, washing away what is not needed and nourishing my roots that are stretching down deep in the soil, growing stronger all the time.

Today, I invite you to turn your face up and open your arms wide. You might still feel the mud at your feet, but do you also feel the rain?

“For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” 1 Timothy 6:7

1271. the full and good season I’m in, 1272. my ever-faithful husband, 1273. visitors coming, 1274. simplicity, 1275. steadily regaining strength, 1276. toddler conversations, 1277. helpful children, 1278. super deal on a nice dress, 1279. chubby baby hands with a really strong grip, 1280. writing time and new writing friends

Life & Faith / Soulful Simplicity

Soulful Simplicity with Purpose

Welcome friends.

This is day 31 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October, and finishing slightly after the end of October. Real life. The whole series can be found here, and I hope you find it enriching and encouraging. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

*******************

In closing out this series, I wanted to share a few last thoughts with you. First of all, thank you to those of you who have cheered me through this month. I have learned so much during this month or writing intentionally every day, and I would not have been able to make it over a few of the bumps I hit without the encouragement, prayers, and support of so many friends. I decided to do Write 31 Days on a bit of a whim, but in hindsight, I realize that God knew I needed a little space to spread my wings out a little and see that I can do this. I can write as a mom of 6 littles. It might be a little unconventional, and I might have to be creative about things from time to time, but I am encouraged to see that I can do it.

Isn’t it interesting that once you wholeheartedly believe you can do something, you have a lot more wind in your sails to follow through? That’s where I hope some of you have landed at the end of this series. I hope you see the beauty in a soulfully-simplified life and the reality that you can start taking small steps toward freedom, peace, hope, and joy….today. One small step is all it takes to get started.

The point of Soulful Simplicity is not conformity to an ideal. It is not about working harder to achieve a standard (that always feels a bit out of reach), or feeling guilty for your comfortable life. Soulful simplicity is about thoughtfully curating your life in such a way that you can live from the most meaningful place and reap the long-term benefits from the intentional choices you make.

Soulful simplicity is about healing and thriving, with purpose, on purpose.

I have myself been surprised at how deeply writing this series has hit me. I’ve been on a simplicity journey for a long time, but there are layers, friends. Many, many layers. As soon as you think you are at a destination, you might discover—nope there is more to the journey than you anticipated. It is a gift to continue discovering the riches of God’s wisdom in our lives, especially in unexpected ways, which is exactly what I have experienced during this writing challenge. There are new ways I have in mind to simplify my heart and home going forward.

I pray that wherever you are in your journey, you would find clarity for your best next-step toward soulful simplicity, and that you would go forward with courage and boldness.

If there is anything I’ve covered in this series that you are interested to dive into a little more or if you have questions you’d like to ask on the subject of Soulful Simplicity, please be in touch. I’d be so glad to hear from you.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30 NASB

********************

I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!