Monday, December 31, 2012

What If Time Never Started Over?

Today I de-cluttered, just a little. It wasn't by choice. It was forced upon me when John dragged out a drawer from my nightstand and began to gut its contents. I guess this was his forceful way of saying, "Mom, do you really need all this?"

As I took two bags of "unnecessary stuff" out to the trash, I wondered to myself why I tolerate so much clutter, especially for a self-proclaimed stuff-purger. The sock that's had no mate for years. The paperwork, teaching CDs and welcome manuals that only collect dust in piles in corners. I guess I keep it because I think, if I ever get myself together, I'm really going to need these

And maybe the biggest deception of all: if I keep this one lonely sock long enough, its renegade partner is sure to return. 

It occurred to me at one point that today is New Year's Eve, and I am de-cluttering, if even just a little, and by accident. Tis the season for starting over. 

But what if we never started over? 

What if we there were no New Year's celebrations, no birthdays, no holidays to mark an end to one era and the start of another? 

What if all our stuff and our days just kept collecting, heaping up on themselves? 

What would that be like? Maybe something like this. 

   -734,867.91.  That's the number of days since the year 0 AD/CE. Approximately, taking into account leap years and a Gregorian calendar change in about 1500. (See more about time here.)

  -11,415.51347. As of today, that's the number of days I have lived. (Same rule about time applies.) 

Can you imagine that? 

So you meet me, and I'm like, "Hi, I'm Sarah. I'm a social worker, wife and mom, and I'm 11, 415."

Gah! Besides sounding terrifically old - and I'm not - it's depressing. So many days. It's like counting days of imprisonment. 

The weight of it all, just stacking and stacking up. All my poor decisions, the miscalculations, the moments of pride and selfishness and myopic thinking, the lies and stretches of truth, the college majors I started on a whim, the unhealthy relationships, the nights of drinking too much. The grief of loss and death. Just piling on me. Piling on us all. 

What would that feel like, to never start over?

Without an end and a beginning, life would feel like this. []

The need for starting over is innate in human nature. We get tangled and unraveled over trivial things, we take on more than we can carry, and the days and years of life beat us up. Sometimes we just want to give up. Except we know that some day soon, we get to start over again. It's such a relief. 

It really is a fork in the road. []

This is why I love Jesus and all his talk of repentance. Repentance is turning around. It's starting over. It's leaving everything filthy and evil and broken and shameful at his feet and getting the beauty and glory and goodness in exchange, the wonderful things Father God intended for us to have all along. 

This is the Gospel, another word for Good News. Because it is. The starting over can happen not only every day, not only every year, but every time we ask. Every time we tell God we hate our hurtful actions, anything that separates us from him, and we let him separate that sin from us "as far as the east is from the west". 


Now that feels light, gloriously awesome. What a way to start the year. Forgiven, sparkly clean and new.

Lamentations 3:23 says: "Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

On being a writer

{I wrote this the other day because I felt like the words were taking over and it was hard to get the rest of my obligations accomplished. I imagine many writers have written words more poetic but essentially say the same thing.}

Being a writer is a troublesome thing. A strange well that must always be pumped.

Sometimes it comes as a deluge with waterfall fury. It cannot be scheduled or timed. You must stop everything to channel it. Stop cooking, driving, sleeping. Stop and let the words flow. Your hands tire keeping up.

The rest of the time, you stand in the heat, in the cold, churning letters into words, pumping out meaningless sounds. You feel nothing.

But if you stand there long enough, something happens. The flow returns. It always does.

We are just here to receive it. We really can't take credit for the words that matter. They have a mind of their own. And we are their happy hosts.

[photo cred:]

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Five Things I Need to Remind Myself About Parenting (and Toddler Schedules too)

[Toddler Schedules: Examples and Tips from my very limited experience.]

Toddlers are in a funny but often frustrating stage. While they are learning like crazy, they have an attention span the size of their pinkie finger. 

If I had to guess, we make it harder than it is. I always want my son to be listening to Pavarotti or learning Farsi, but he only wants to eat dirt and kiss the dog. What's a mom to do? 

We moms know if a toddler isn't entertained or engaged, they will find something to engage with. Don't we know? The curiosity makes for an excellent student, if you can make the most of it.

Here are a couple pieces of advice I need to give myself about toddler parenting:
1. Schedules are good. Our brains naturally run according to rhythms. We set our kids up for success - as in, good moods and better behavior - when they know what to predict. Spontaneity is great, but your whole life shouldn't be a guessing game.

2. Like your child and have fun with him. If you are always putting out fires and find that you don't really like your child most of the time, your relationship will be adversarial and you won't build the trust you need to keep your toddler listening to you as he grows. Play is the primary communication kids have with the world. Stop your working, get on the carpet and have a tickle fight, play trains or dolls and let your inner kid out for a bit. 

3. Plan ahead. It's related to schedules, I guess, but it's good to take time early each week to think about what you want to accomplish and how you want to do it. If you want to develop your child's artistic skills, work on the alphabet or counting, you will need planned activities. And you won't do them if it's a last-minute idea. Planning ahead also goes for trips to the store or any venture out of the house. I forgot snacks at Target once, right around dinner, and you can believe I will never do that again.

4. Make getting out of the house or play dates a regular thing. Sometimes kids get cooped up or isolated and then they get bored more easily, or simply can run out all the energy they have. Going to the mall, the park or even the store feel like a nice change from the ordinary for him. I also feel like my son does better when he is with other kids his age, rather than just at home with the parents. He learns basic social skills, problem-solving and sharing, and his communication improves. 

5.Be nice to yourself. I have totally unrealistic expectations for my son and me most days. I am far too influenced by what I see on the Internet, and I'm not even on Pinterest. I am not a super cute crafty mom, and I know it looks like there are hundreds of them out there, but there are probably only three, posing as different women with different names and families. And they are making a killing. Nevermind that. I value my sanity. If we do one cool craft project a week, that is awesome!. 

Below are a few toddler schedules I find helpful. You can take what works for you and mix and match based on your own family and lifestyle. As you can see, one of the schedules are from a childcare center, while the others are personal schedules created by parents. Our schedule is still in creation mode, and it will get re-worked again when my work schedule changes in the new year. My husband stays home with our son so a lot of their activities depend on Josh's pastoral commitments. (But if we're going to raise a pastor's kid, I love that he gets to grow up with Daddy.)

Anyway, as I said, planning is a must. Unless I have my activities lined up in advance, I can almost guarantee we will be watching Netflix half the day, with me scratching my head for ideas and wishing for nap time to get here already. 

Great places for activities:
The Nurture Store - sign up for the weekly play planner via and get an activity planner each week 
Hands On As We Grow - 50 activities for toddlers 

Schedule Away. [Each image is linked to its origin.]

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rapidly in Pursuit of Failure

I am a sprinter. 

I live life in short bursts. Two weeks chasing a hobby, or a sparkling new pursuit. Giving myself completely to an idea. Up late, up early, energized and watching my work put on skin. 

It's terrifically exciting. All that momentum. All the success, real and imagined.

But it's also terrifying.

These energy bursts, these nuclear shots of productivity usually have an expiration date. I can only sustain this speed for two to four weeks. And then #*@%#! And my crashes are a loud, banging sound, the kind that usually leaves me tired and frustrated, even sick. 

This is no way to live, you're thinking, but because you're polite, you aren't saying it out loud. I agree with you. 

Since we're talking honestly, you might be wondering if this is mental health issue. Well, I've wondered that too. And it would be nice to blame it on a diagnosis. But if I'm honest, I think it's some kind of a personality trait or talent I just haven't figure out how to use yet.

Nuclear energy, as we know, is capable of powering entire cities and nations. It's also capable of destroying them. I feel like this about my own life. I have this personality power that I haven't figured out how to master yet. Instead of powering my life, it is wrecking it. 

[On left: photo cred: right: photo cred:]

Today I sat down with myself to figure out why I initially believe all my ideas are created equal, only to find out they are not. And why more often that not, good and bad ideas both seem to end up on God's doorstep, abandoned. 

So for my learning, and maybe also for yours, here are the paths of my "good" and "bad" ideas. [It's hard to know what constitutes good or bad, but for this scenario, I'm basing it on the likelihood for each idea to catch on in the real world, or the demand it would have by real people.]

The Good Idea Path:
Step 1: Get a new idea while driving, in the shower or just before falling asleep. 
Step 2: Become overwhelmed with adrenaline surge and begin contacting people who can make the idea come to life.
Step 3: Fantasize that I will become a well-known consultant on this topic and have a terrible time keeping up with demand.
Step 4: Start talking about the idea and how excited I am.
Step 5: Make meaningful connections toward the success of the idea. 
Step 6: Realize that people think my idea is good and there really is a market for it. 
Step 7: Become fearful that this is too good to be true and I have just started talking too soon.
Step 8: Fantasize that after I become famous from my brilliant idea, I will never be able to keep up with the demand. It will spin out of control and I will freak out, and someone will find me weeks later, under my kitchen table in the fetal position. 
Step 9: Abandon or table idea. 

The Bad Idea Path:
Step 1: Get a new idea while driving, in the shower or just before falling asleep. 
Step 2: Become overwhelmed with adrenaline surge and begin contacting people who can make the idea come to life.
Step 3: Fantasize that I will become a well-known consultant on this topic and have a terrible time keeping up with demand.
Step 4: Start talking about the idea and how excited I am.
Step 5: Make meaningful connections toward the success of the idea. 
Step 6: Realize that no one actually thinks this will work.
Step 7: Question my entrepreneurial spirit and wish I had slept on it.
Step 8: Abandon or table idea.

It's not fair to say that all ideas end up this way, tossed out and left for dead. But it's enough of a pattern to be addressed. 

One helpful ah-ha emerged from today's thought-storm: I realized I spend so much initial energy on my ideas because I do not trust myself to stick with them long-term. I imagine that the more I accomplish during the early sprint, the more I will be committed to the idea or the more I will be able to see it play out as failure or success early on.

Giving an idea legs in two weeks rather than two years doesn't necessarily mean it is more likely to be successful. In fact, taking the time to muse and meditate over something may make it more likely to succeed in the long run, knowing a truly good and worthwhile concept will inevitably require my life's work, patience and creativity.

The answer to overcoming this pattern is obvious. (I think.) Stop playing the hare and play like the tortoise instead. 

If I respond to a new idea with less speed and more thoughtfulness, I might be able to rule out which ideas are good and which are not. With only one or two paths to pursue, I would put more time and energy into just a few things, develop them, let them succeed or fail, but it would not be for quitting or running out of steam. Moving more slowly would allow me to anticipate demand and make accommodations for success. 

Nevertheless, I have this proclivity for moving fast. Sprinting. I think it's good, but I still don't know what to do with it. I needed to modify my approach to new ideas, look at them all with a bit more suspicion as to have more clarity. But I want to make sprinting work for me. That will come next. 

If you have any genius, thoughts or experience you'd like to share in regards to this blindspot of mine, I welcome it. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The answer to my prayers for patience; or When I think I will take up drinking

The Siders' house has been the headquarters of a host of eclectic maladies this week. Which is another way of saying we got nothing done. Not the Christmas shopping or the home scrubbing. Just staying alive, feeding ourselves. That was enough.

Today was our big day to knock it out, all the things that had been mercilessly stacking up, waiting to happen. Josh promised to take the lead on the errands earlier in the week, but this morning he awoke stricken with the crud.

We laid low, hoping for the Dad to be cured so he could resume his duties, but soon it was clear I would be our family Santa. I decided to take John along. It would do him good after being cooped up all week. One successful trip to the bookstore assured me our Target stop would be manageable. Even enjoyable?


We made it through housewares and into the grocery section when he decided his heart was set on the chocolate donuts. Not understanding the concept of currency, theft and other legalities, he attempted to pry open the package to retrieve a pastry. Being a responsible parent, I placed them back on the shelf and played it cool while he tantrumed in his timeout next to the dinner rolls. This is normal, right?

We pulled ourselves together eventually, or at least he did. Until the part where I pretended to leave him near the frozen foods. (I should know better because pretending to leave never works. He just stares at me brazen-faced while he walks the other direction.)

I hoisted his twisting, protesting body into the air as the conservative lady with the snug bun and ankle skirt looked at me with pity, knowing I hadn't read her parenting book. We needed a stop at the restroom to avoid a call to the police.

He screamed and cried and pounded the door. More angry energy than I had ever witnessed from this kid. And there we were, in the germ-infested Target bathroom. I know we both felt trapped. And I was kept thinking someone was going to hear and think I needed law enforcement's assistance to control my child. Or at least to keep from injuring him.

Maybe 10 or 15 minutes later, after one call to Dad and an attempt to videotape the tantrum for proof of what I lived through, there was a moment of silence and I made the most of it.

Not that I should be gloating here, but his relative compliance afterward may signal a mom win. Or maybe it's too early to say.

As we snuggled up in bed tonight, I whispered to him, "You are my favorite and I love you very much. Even though you were a total punk at Target." He took it well.

I think this is what God says to us after our gigantic, selfish meltdowns. That even though we are totally self-obsessed and rude, he likes us anyway, and he will still make sure we have food in our tummies and gas in our cars tomorrow.

No other agenda to writing tonight except I just had to get this crazy day off my chest. I guess I can say this:

Parenting is weird. And it sure makes me appreciate God's patience.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hello, Goodbye

Tonight I chased John like usual. Stuffed his slippery body into a towel after his bath. Tried to convince him of the long-term value of teeth-brushing. There was the bending, hugging, running and tiring that makes up any bed time story around here. It often wears me into complaining or unrest, but tonight I simply felt thankful for it all.

It hit me the other day that I am one of only a couple of my close friends who have kids yet. It's a delight to know we all tuck ourselves in beside husbands now, despite how long it took to get them.

But we are not all parents. In the same way we have so little control over when we find our life partner, it seems we have even less control over when we become parents. Sure, there are things we can all do to improve the likelihood of parenting or marriage, but we're helpless in the end to really force anything. We waited nearly a year for the "plus" sign on the pregnancy test.

It's been almost 3 years since the first baby prayer got answered, and I celebrated by giving John a bath while he splashed in his heap of bubbles. When he was dry and snug, we laid next to each other in our big bed, his head on my chest. And it's stuff like this that you know makes all the sweat and messes worth it. It's so rich. So full of life, the kind that I love.

Being a wife to Josh is much the same.
I don't thank him enough because maybe I guess I get overwhelmed by his husband resumé. But how does one properly thank a man for being trustworthy, faithful, dependable, a pillar of strong and someone to always lean on? What's the right way to appreciate someone who loves, or at least tolerates, my numerous idiosyncrasies and loves me just how I need to be loved?

I will just have to say it, I guess.

And I am bowled over with thankful for a God who fights for me. Who chase me with good, loving kindness. Who just won't give up.

I am thankful for this gigantic life and all the ideas and people who create a and think and make totally original things. I am so glad I get to be here to hear all about it and see the genius and beauty of humanity open up.

There are many things to fix and even more to grieve as we conclude this Mayan Baktun. But I wanted to put it out there that I am leaving this old age with thankfulness so I can start this new era with hope. Hope of more babies to hug, more falling in love with Josh and experiencing the transformational love of God. I hope for a breakthrough of courage and miracles. For good and glorious things that have never been seen before.

Here's to the beauty of the past and the majesty of what is to come. Too much to comprehend but knowing our God, it will be very, very good.

Monday, December 17, 2012

What I learned from quitting: Lessons from the Dream Project

On quitting the Dream Project

A few weeks ago, I quit the Dream Project. It was a slow, dragging fade. I lost momentum only a few weeks in, and it was so disappointing because 1) it was such a good idea. I thought. And 2) I was inspiring people. And I love to inspire people. In that two-ish months of writing, I had at least 2 other people tell me about dream projects they started. And others submitted their precious dreams to me so I could share them and dream with them. 

It was invigorating. And it was exhausting. And I never knew why until today. 

I avoided the topic because I felt guilty about quitting. It was the kind of guilt that made me want to forget I'd ever started it. I felt like a total failure starting something so important as dreaming of how to fix the world, and then just tossing it. As if dreams don't matter. 

But today I figured out why the Dream Project was so hard. And why I had to quit. And I don't have to give up dreaming. 

I found this new app called Unstuck. If you own an iPad, please get it. It's free, and it's genius. I used the app to work on a "stuck" area of my life, which for me was the dream blog. I just didn't know why I couldn't gather the will to begin again. I worked on my stuckness, and with the help of the app - seriously - I discovered two reasons I gave up: 

1. I was unfocused. My dreaming was all over the place. I was trying to save little kids for human trafficking, solve marriage issues, get babies for my friends, an arts district in Manhattan, and keep up the health of my family and friends. My dreams were big, and they were many. That's okay, but being without focus and vision is one of the fastest ways to lose momentum on a great idea. 

2. I could not dream honestly for myself out in public. My friends who started their own dream projects kept them to themselves. They were able to think up grand solutions and future visions for their families and the places in their lives that mattered most to them. As much as I trust readers, especially the small crowd that gathers here, there are some things that no one has the privilege to see. Sometimes not even Josh. Dreaming that has power, I found, is very intimate. Some dreams are just for me and God to see. 

So what now?
I really value authenticity so when I felt my inability to dream big for myself in the public forum of the blog, I lost my mojo. I still think dreaming is essential for people. I think it's a sign of health to be able to think about possibilities. 

Dreaming means you possess a properly functioning mind. It is both your right brain creativity meeting with your left brain problem-solving to arrange and form alternatives and options and ideas that have never existed. 

The iPad I'm using now to tell you about the value of dreams was once simply a dream in Steve Job's imagination. How much better an illustration can I give?

I am going to continue dreaming, but I will do it in two ways. The opposite of the Dream Project: 
1. I will dream big, but keep it to myself. Allow the safety of intimacy to allow the dreams to stretch and grow. 

2. I will stay focused. Narrow vision, with a telescope into the future. 

I hope this helps anyone trying to navigate this world of dreaming. These are my most profound lessons that I've taken from the Dream Project.  I don't like failure, but I value courage and risk-taking more than I fear failure. So I took a chance, and I whiffed on my original goal. 

But I learned how to dream through it all. And I think that's what matters most. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Not alone and the thing we fear most

couple months ago, one of my friends employed in a helping profession - we'll call her Hopetraversed one of the darkest seasons you can go through in this kind of work. 

Being the patient, genuine listener that she is, she learned of something wrong in another person's life, an unsafe situation. So she did what we've all been rigorously trained to do. She asked for help, gave the information to people who could bring safety. 

Instead of being lauded as a hero for paying attention to someone's pain and responding well, the worst thing happened. She was accused. It was never clear what she was accused of, but it was enough to wreck her. She questioned her motives. Interrogated her heart, only to find she really did want the best. 

No matter. An accusation of any kind, especially ones invented out of the thin air, these sting. They crush. They distort our self-perception and stomp out our self-worth. 

Her friends rallied. We defended her in all the ways we could. Stood up to the lying bullies, face to face, and told them the truth. And we prayed. Oh, how we prayed. 

I knew she must have felt so alone at the end of the accusation finger. So one day I called her, and we talked about all the worst things that could happen. We dragged all the fear demons out and repeated their scary taunts aloud.

   "What if you lose your job?"
   "What if no one believes you?"
   "What if you have no money?"
   "What if they ruin your reputation?"

And then I said, "Hope, no matter what happens here, I am not going anywhere. Me and Josh have your back because we know who you are. So if the worst comes down, and you don't have a job and you can't pay the rent, you can move in with us for a while and go make coffee somewhere."

"But no matter what happens, you're not going to be alone."

Terribly long, stretching weeks passed before her rightness quietly prevailed. Her name cleared with glorious, pure color. And maybe best of all, she grew deep and tall in the midst of the agony, surrounded by strong, brave friends she barely realized she had. 

Soon afterward, we looked back on conversations and relationships that formed scaffolding around her heart. One of them was the day we talked. The day I said, "Hope, no matter what, you will not be alone."

She found she never was.

I remember another friend whose husband a year after marriage called it quits. He wrenched her heart into bits with words that he hadn't loved her all along. And then he left for another relationship. She fought to save their marriage, but he would not have it. 

For weeks and maybe months, she and I spoke daily. On the hardest days, we talked again and again. And the craziest thing happened. The crushed heart healed. Packed tightly with friends and family and a God she learned was madly in love with her, she lived. She grew a shield around her, and I watched her become the most beautiful she'd ever been. Finally, she knew who she was. And it happened in the wake of tragedy. 

It amazed me what these courageous women survived. One lived through abandonment and betrayal, the other through an excruciating lie, created to ruin her reputation but preserve another's. Besides sheer willpower, I wondered how they made it, until it hit me. The not-aloneness they felt was the thing. It was the weighted anchor of their souls on the days the winds of loneliness and accusation blew the fiercest. 

On days like yesterday, my friends could be anyone. She could even be the heart-crushed families in Newton, Connecticut. The mothers who will never hear their children play or laugh or cry again. Who will never tuck their sweet, curious five year-olds in bed after the goodnight story. I can only imagine what this feels like.

I am a mom now, and it's hard to think of an injustice worse than this. We all keep saying in whispered disbelief, "Kindergarteners. Why? They were only in kindergarten." It's impossible to know why. And I think if we did, it would never help. Because the pain, I think, is not in the "why". It's in the enormous emptiness, the silent space these beautiful children's souls filled in the lives of those who loved them. 

The aloneness. It's vast. The black hole of ache in your insides, threatening to swallow you right up. I'm sure if I was one of these moms, I would wish to chase my little one into heaven to escape the pain. 

I've argued with God about pain so much, tried to make him promise me I wouldn't have to go through loss like this. We've talked through several horrific situations I desperately want to avoid. I told him if he could simply assure me there would be no pain, I could trust him. But he never promised this.

I wrestled for years on this one, and then I figured out what I was really afraid of. It wasn't what I thought. Our greatest fear is not pain. It is being alone in pain. 

My worst moments in my memory were not being in pain. They were the sensation that it was just me in the world, that I had no one. 

Jesus didn't try to make it pretty: "In this world, you will have trouble." But like a broken record, he promises he will never leave. 

"Be strong and courageous...for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6

"...I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you." Joshua 1:5

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." John 14:18

"...God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5

One who doesn't leave []

Getting left when your heart is shattered is the worst of the shattering. Being held, being with, being silently known, this is what cups our heart in the truest, darkest of hours. No logistical explanation of "why" could ever come close to the presence of someone who loves us. Could never touch the promise that God, that our friends or family, are not going anywhere. 

My prayer is that these families with bleedings hearts and agonized, weary souls will be surrounded on all sides by family and friends who walk under the pain with them. Who will sit quietly with the wounded hearts and not try to solve it with empty words. 

And I pray they will feel the comfort, the presence and the nearness of the One who promised with his life that he would never, ever leave. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Favorites and Bests from the Week

A multi-media presentation of Favorites and Bests. :) 

Best blog/genius ideaStoryline by Donald Miller

Best blog post for writers:

Best advice for being a good conversationalist

Best advice about life from Mark Twain (a compilation):

Best Where Are They Now celeb : You just gotta see it to believe it. Hint: It's Milton from Office Space. 

Books: Danny Silk's new book Powerful and Free

Best news I got in a picture mail: a pic of a positive pregnancy test from a very good friend. Yippee! Hurray. The news isn't public so no names are coming out of my mouth, but I'm super happy for you, friend. :) 

VideoBest argument for doing only one thing at a time. and the product here.

iPadThe Paper app for iPad. The lines are clean, pretty and effortless. These squiggles and scribbles were just test marks, but it feels like abstract art inside the app. I think I'm going to sell it to the Smithsonian. I bet they don't have any art created by the iPad yet. I hope...
[Je suis un artiste.]

Online shoppingPretty scarves at Anthropologie.

Audio: The podcast of my recent message from our Controversy and Living the Restoration series. I preached on the pop belief that many roads lead to the same God and how to respond.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Favorites and Bests from the Week

Here are the week's Favorites and Bests, back again by popular demand. As in, I thought it was fun last week so I demanded that I do it again. And who am I to say "No" to a good idea? So warm up a cup of soothing, delicious Jasmine tea, preferably the good stuff from Harney and Sons, (ooh, there's a Favorite already) and have yourself a read.  

Best Facebook status from my friend, Ryan: "You know you teach in Revere [Massachusetts] when: 1) a student spells "career" as "careea" 2) when your teachers' union meeting is held at the horse racing track." 

Best DIY gift idea: For all of you born before 1995 (AKA aging hipsters) - you might appreciate this new use for the colorful, reliable and oh-so-not-floppy disk. If you're still in a low(er) tax bracket but have a little spare time, consider this as a gift idea for friends. Floppy disk notebooks. Since you probably have no idea where to get floppy disks these days - I didn't - you can get them cheap right here

[Best college kid gifts ever.]

Best DIY Christmas crafts for kids. 'Tis the season for pine needle paper cuts, cotton ball angels and Elmer's glue messes. Now, I don't even like crafts that much. Scrapbooking is pretty much my least favorite thing ever, next to Sudoku, algebra and dusting. But I'm trying to raise a well-rounded kid over here, and he needs to excel in the liberal arts. So check these crafty kids ideas out - if they intimidate you, that means you're normal, but at least it may inspire you to do something besides watch TV today.

Best leadership blog: When it comes to leading, serving, publishing, productivity and the like, it's tough to compete with Michael Hyatt. He's a knowledge sharer, not a hoarder. Learn to get published, live more efficiently and be a gosh-darn better person. Follow him on Facebook so his wisdom will show up in your news feed.

Best faces of men in love. How beautiful is this man's expression? [Gasp!] I can feel the moment with him. Take a look at this face and at least 10 others, men seeing their brides for the first time. If you feel like crying for a good reason today, let this be the one. 

[Photo cred: found at]

Best undoubtedly true news. A recent report from North Korea states true, real-live unicorns - well, a unicorn grave - were found in North Korea. Of course we believe it since we already knew unicorns existed and everything. Only teensy problem is no one has actually verified the report. But other than that, I mean, I'd pretty much say it's fact.

[Mythical? Please. I see one right here.]

Best way to make a huge difference with a small budget: World Vision created a way for you to purchase animals for needy villages across our world. I love this. I can buy a goat for $55, or here I can buy 13 small farm animals for only $101. Incredible!

Favorite medicine.
Really? A favorite medicine? This list is starting to suck. No wait, come back! This is only a weekly Favorites and Bests so I'm sure it will be more interesting next week, but I was sick this week, and it was not fun. I was heavily drugged - all legal - but I'm going to credit Zicam, the zinc-ified citrus dissolving tablet, with making the journey from sickie to wellie a faster one. 

Most Intriguing ComebackOkay, not a best, not a favorite, but I find myself returning to short video clips of Liz and Dick. I can't help myself. A trainwreck? Maybe, but the similarities are there in an uncanny way. What do you do? I know we all remember Elizabeth Taylor as otherworldly and glamorous, but I think she had at least a little Lindsay Lohan in her. 

[Lindsay playing Liz or Lindsay playing Lindsay playing Liz? The world may never know.]

Favorite thing out of my price range: the Yogibo bean bags from the Daily Grommet. Seriously? Can it be cooler than this? Yes, it can, but this week, my brain is swimming with the possibilities of the silly fun John, Josh and I would have if one of these was in our possession. Hard to imagine spending upwards of $200 on a beanbag, right? But that turquoise bag is calling my name. Christmas list item? Maybe.

Least favorite game I don't miss: POGS. Does anyone else remember these? This was the game I refused to play - among others - in my junior high class. I wonder why I had a hard time making friends. 

[Photo cred:]

And last but definitely not least: Best Advice I got this weekI emailed a mom blogger I'm a fan of - Lisa-Jo Baker from The Gypsy Mama - and asked her a big question. I wanted to know what I should do about my ferocious fear of success, which is really a fear of failure, which is probably really a fear of spiders, but I just can't access it yet. Anyway, I asked her to reach into her soul and give me the wisest wisdom she had on the topic. Here's her take-a-deep-breath, earthy response that surprised me in a good way: 

   "Hey there Sarah - yes I'm guessing most people in whatever business they're in think    about that stuff. Mostly I just tune it out - both the success and any failure (perceived or real in both cases) :) I take a deep breath and go and empty my dishwasher. It's incredibly grounding. The perfect free therapy. :)  And if you can do it while on the phone with a great friend. Well, that's even better! warm wishesLisa-Jo 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sometimes I Can't, and That's Good

My friends recently took on a home improvement project: a whirlwind weekend thing with painting and heavy lifting and other tiring things. I realized after it was all over they didn't ask for help. They just did it all themselves.  

Then I thought that was kind of odd for my friends. We usually ask for help. Painting, moving, building, constructing, remodeling - we usually do it in packs, pizza for lunch, work that requires sore muscles, dirt under the fingernails, showers afterwards. 

It's nice to get something done on your own, to have the sense of accomplishment, the "I built this". But then there's this even bigger "wow" you get when you invite someone else in to the process, the "we built this" effect. It's like something that is hard gets done, but faster, and when you're done, you have this friend you didn't have before. A bond builds in the hammering and the arguing about paint colors and the gentle but slightly annoyed "you missed a spot" and everything that turns an individual's pride into a community's unity. 

It's like letting people in on the work, letting them help you, is good for you and for them. 

The sweat builds the camaraderie, doesn't it? [Photo cred:]

I remember after college I didn't much like asking for help. I was a campus ministry intern that first year, and I met weekly with this incredible, cosmopolitan group of college girls. There were the sparkling, hospitable roommates: Hayet from Algeria and Vivian from China, and the beautiful Persian and Japanese girl, Fatemah, from Japan. Sometimes she would take off her hijab when it was just us girls. There was Duchess, the fiery, spunky track star from Florida.  And I can't remember the name of the girl from Brazil - her name began with O. And then there were me, Merrill and Jackie, the Midwestern brunettes who came every week to see what would happen next. 

It was so dynamic. Our conversation led to God, the gods; with Christians and Muslims and agnostics in the bunch, it was lively to be sure. And so beautiful. One of my favorite memories from one of the most difficult, out-of-place years of my life. 

But I had an agenda. I was promoting Jesus, you know, The Way, The Truth and The Life, and he sure needed some help so I volunteered. I felt compelled to be the WalMart, the place with all the answers. So each week I baked the goodies and tried to have something for us to talk about, some kind of activity. And all the pressure was on me to arrange everything and make the food and fill up all the roles so I could show how together Jesus was helping me be. 

That spring, I attended a missions seminar, and the speaker, a local preacher, came and talked about Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4. He said Jesus did something outrageous here, besides just talking to a woman who was a social outcast. He took a big breath and asked her for a drink. 

Yes, so imagine this. Here's Jesus, the Son of God, and he's thirsty. Because he's human. And of course he could just speak water into existence like he did the first time it was invented, but no, he sits down at this well, and he's like, "Hey, would you mind helping me out with a beverage? I'm parched." 

This always seemed like a strange move for such a powerful guy. But the speaker continued. He said Jesus empowered the woman to give him something, to be the one with something to offer, before he gave her what she needed, which in her case was redemption, compassion and someone to understand without judging. 

[photo cred:]

He let her serve him first. And this was what opened the door. Her service, her provision to him of something he did not have, gave her the upper hand. She had something this man needed. And this gave her value. Wow. What a humble person Jesus is. And so creative. 

I took this to heart. The WalMart compulsion fizzled under the weight of the new revelation. Jesus let others serve him, which empowered them to see their value and skill, and they opened their hearts to him. 

So I backed off, did less, asked for help. I let Hayet and Vivian bake, and we held our group in the dorms or in the girls' apartment, and everybody helped. I got to breathe, stop being Jesus and let him do his thing. And we all felt much better. It turned out Chinese food made by a Chinese girl is quite delicious, but I would never have known if I'd kept at it with the poorly baked goods. (I don't even like cooking, for crying out loud.)

We can do it all on our own, the building and child-rearing, the painting and gardening, the bathroom remodel and the gutter repair, the volunteer caroling at the nursing home or managing every single program in our organization. We can all just separate and work on our little tasks and come back together and talk about it. We can try to make God proud with everything we accomplished. 

But it's just not as fun, not as big-thinking to do your own thing. And certainly not as effective. It's the invitation in, the "we want you and we need your help" that builds other people up, the work alongside another that forges the bond and turns acquaintances into friends. It's the admission, "You have something I need," that turns an angry, rocky heart into someone who wants to help, to hear and be heard. 

I'm not trying to be fuzzy. This just worked. Took the heap of pressure off me and let others see I believed in them. It was a relief then, and still is now. And the outcome is always lovely. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

An Ounce of Prevention, or All the Things That Don't Happen

When John was born, he had the wobbliest head. I mean, that thing couldn’t stay in one place if it tried. It wasn’t trying, for the record. It was tedious work keeping the head lined up with the body, not too far to the right or left, front or back. All the veteran parents shout to the newbies, "Support the head! Support the head!" as if it might just tip too far and roll right off. 

There were plenty of times where I had control, where I knew where the head wanted to wobble so I secured my hand behind that tiny noggin, and there it stayed. Some days it got away from me though. A sudden spark through his not-quite-formed neurological pathways and jolt! There goes the head again.

One hand in front, one behind the head. Good mama. 

One day I was holding him on the couch, and he was doing the bouncy head thing like usual, but all of a sudden, his whole body flung backwards. It was all I could to keep him from crashing out of my grip and smashing his head on the coffee table. But I caught him, wobbly head, spazzy body and all.

And at that moment, I realized that I saved him from a solid head knocking, a significant, nasty ouch that never happened because of my alertness and adept parental response system. And you know what? He is never going to know about it.

There were countless moments like these, which changed as he grew. Like all the times I put a pillow down near the couch so he wouldn’t bonk his head on the furniture, or when I covered the underside of the coffee table with my hand as he crawled underneath so he wouldn’t end up with a goose egg on his forehead on his way out.  

He’s like a born stunt man with no training. Here we are, the parents, flailing after the kids, holding our breath and trying to prevent severe maiming or death. It’s exhausting. And he’ll never know how much breath I lost, the touchdown catch dives across carpet, down hallways or through the living room, all to save him from himself.

This little dude is hardcore. And he keeps me running. 
He only knows about the times he does fall, when the chair he is standing on is more tilty than normal, and off he goes. Or when he careens through the nursery and pops his head on the table. The ouch turns rainbow colors and swells up nice within minutes.

Weeping ensues. It’s tragic for all of us. I missed one. I catch a million "almosts", but this one was an "actual". 

But what of all the times it doesn’t happen? When I caught John’s wobbly head that day on the couch, I realized there are a million times where I almost get hurt or emotionally wounded, where a bruise or a major injury, even death, were sure to happen. And then Father God or his angels step in, puts a hand behind my wobbly head, prop me up while I’m stepping, and then I’m okay.

I don’t even know about these times though. It’s prevention, and prevention never gets the cred it deserves.

Who knows all the diseases you avoided by taking your daily vitamin and exercising 30 minutes a day? Who knows the car accident you avoided because you turned around to be sure the oven was off? Who knows the falls and bangs and near-death experiences you’ve narrowly escaped because your very capable Dad and his angels were toodling right alongside you, ready for another jerky moment where you lost control? Think of the stunts you still pull as an adult, you know, applying makeup or making phone calls or composing your latest novel…while driving. How many times have we been saved and yet we’ll never know? 

Yet it’s the wounds that do happen, as rare as they are, the rejections, the “No” answers to tearful prayer, the rude lady in line at the grocery store or the friend who hurt our feelings, the jobs we don’t get, the phone call that “it’s cancer”, sad, long nights where we’re alone. It’s all the stuff we don’t like, the wounds and pain we do feel – these we remember. Whether it’s his fault or not, God gets the credit for these things.

No, God never gets credit for the prevention. I think he should.

I wasn’t good at recognizing God’s protection before I was a mom. I blamed God for the bad stuff and didn't see all the preventing he was breathlessly performing with such skill. Now that I am a mom, I see it much more, or I simply assume it’s happening. “I’m alive, aren’t I? It must be working.”

I can see now that there are a hundred almost-bad things that could have but did not go down in any given day. Too many to count. I’ll never know about them, but I know God is good so I know he is keeping the almost from being actual.

So thank you, God. Thank you for the excellent protection job you’ve been doing. Thank you for keeping me and my family safe again and again and again. Thank you for your hand around our little heads and tiny, fragile bodies, preventing, preventing, preventing. I hope you get more credit for all the diving after us that you do. Thank you. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Favorites and Bests from the Week

I'm in a sharing mood. Which also happens to be a promotional mood. (I still think I could be a rockstar at PR if the opportunity afforded itself.) Reading blogs and surfing the web allows me to happen upon a million new places I didn't even know existed. And I'm not even on Pinterest - I refuse. Anyway, here are a few of my favorites and bests: things I've been using, listening to, reading, enjoying lately. 

Best new gadget:
The iPad - yes, I finally got one. It's the 2 so don't think I'm all elitist or anything. The babe will get the Kindle - last year's Christmas gift to me  - regifted. He doesn't know yet, but something tells me it won't surprise him much.

Fave new app:
Flipboard - this iPad-friendly (and iPhone too, I think) app funnels your social media through some mystical beautifying system and makes reading through Twitter, Facebook and other news a far more aesthetically pleasing experience. 

Best band:
The Blackbird Revue. We're all sad about the Civil Wars and their internal conflict leading to tour cancellation and a bunch of other fallout. But if you're in love with that hauntingly lovely, folksy sound, you're going to just dig the freakishly talented, musical storytelling duo of the Blackbird Revue. They're local to the Midwest so you can catch them playing at venues around KC on a regular basis. And when you decide you can't get enough of their work, you can buy all their albums. Like you should. 

Best Jesus music for kids:
Little Songbirds. This light-hearted, spunky music is performed by the whole Fa'agutu family of singers, including the children. With almost a reggae feel to the sound, you and the kids are sure to be bouncing and singing along in no time.  

Best play and education ideas for moms:
NurtureStore. I'm telling you, the Brits know how to raise children. Or at least, this particular one, Cathy, does. When you subscribe via email, you can get the super helpful Weekly Play Planner which is, for the most part, stuff you could and would actually do. Or at least it gets your brain going for new ideas. Play and learning projects for all ages abound. Yes, even babies and toddlers. Since we're all thankful this time of year, I'm so thankful for this site. It's been helping me relax and helping me remember to include John in my daily tasks and reminding me of his developmental stage. 

Fave Toddler Schedule:
Montessori's Toddler Schedule. Over the holidays I found myself grasping for activities for John to do to engage and educate him, but also keep him busy. It occurred to me that the combination of our ever-changing routine with Josh's job and mine, the fact that he stays home with a working parent without peer interaction, plus the added switcheroo of holiday travel, was probably not helpful to a little tike. So onward with the newest idea: get John on a schedule. I had no clue where to start. What kinds of activities should be included in his day? I'm sure many moms, especially SAH moms, need these kinds of ideas. I thought this schedule was one of the most intriguing and helpful I found. 

Best inspiration for writers
Jeff Goins. His blog and weekly newsletter are chockfull of tips on writing, inspiration to get your bum off the couch and your fingers to the keyboard. He's connected with the leadership and writing spheres around the web-o-sphere so he offers freebies and discounts on lots of resources. He loves to motivate and share. Follow him on Twitter, subscribe to his newsletter and fall in love with writing again. 

Favorite thing I did this week: 
Gave the message at church. We're in the middle of a series on Controversy in our culture where we polled the "audience" to see what people are talking about, struggling with and what they really wish someone would answer. We've tackled big topics such as LGBT issues and the church, the end times, Christians and tolerance, and today I had the privilege of addressing the pop belief that there are many paths to God. Which of course is illogical, but that's not the point at the moment. I will post the podcast later in the week once it's up, but it was really enjoyable to share the thoughts and research I've had in my brain for the past 13 years. 

Favorite book I'm reading
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott. So painfully, hilariously, breathe-a-sigh-of-relief-you're-not-crazy honest about parenting the first year. And really, the truth of it lasts through all the years of parenting, from what I can tell. Anne always makes me laugh so hard I cry, which I find delightful, and these daily musings on mommyhood don't disappoint. In one entry, she recalls loving and adoring her sleeping baby one moment, only to fall asleep and wake to his cry, furious and resentful that he is awake and keeping her from precious sleep. If you're a mom or thinking about being one, this book will help you give yourself a bit more wiggle room on the perfection scale. Thanks, Anne.