Wednesday, April 30, 2014

the best of the month: APRIL

Last month I started a series called The Best of the Month where I share my favorite articles and blog posts from the past month.  Each day I read multiple articles so when I come across one that I really like, I save the link.  At the end of the month I sort through all the links, divide them into categories, and share my favorite from each one.  Hope that you enjoy these reads as much as I did.


Jessica at Jessica Lynn Writes: Hope For My Military Child

This morning I was holding my newborn daughter, and for the first time I felt a twinge of sadness. She didn't choose this lifestyle. Her dad will deploy in the future and leave her for months at a time. Through her tears, I'll have to explain why he left and comfort her when all she wants is him. I love that she'll grow up experiencing new places, but it absolutely breaks my heart that she'll see her family's faces more on a computer screen than in person. 
This may be the life I chose, but I didn't necessarily choose it for her, so I hope I can show her the positive aspects of this military life and I hope they'll outweigh the negative just a little bit. I hope the friends we make across the world will become her surrogate family, giving her the physical hugs, kisses, and playtime when her real family is far away. I hope my husband and I will be a good example as parents so when he jets off for the sandbox she'll know he's coming back to a family bound by love. I hope, whether we move across the world or down the street, that she'll understand—as cliche as this is—that her home isn't defined by an address, but by where her heart is planted.


Laura at Hollywood Housewife: Blogging is My Favorite: When I Blog

Your favorite bloggers - those that write well, post frequently, or photograph recipes, fashion, or crafts - are spending a lot of time on their blogs. They’re not squeezing it in during naptime. If they don’t have some sort of help...or kids in school all day, I guarantee you that they’re getting up extra early or working late into the night. Solid blogging takes a lot of time. The content itself takes hours, but then if you want anyone to see it you have to have a presence on social media, respond to reader and professional emails, and deal with various backend issues.


Sandra Glahn at Her.meneutics: The Feminists We Forgot 

This "new woman" is not an invention of second-wave feminism either. Betty Friedan did not start the "woman movement;" Christians did. Motivated by the belief that men and women were made in God's image to "rule the earth" together, these pro-woman, pro-justice believers sought to right wrongs for those who had less social influence.


Eve O. Schaub at Everyday Health: Our Year of No Sugar: One Family's Grand Adventure 

 I wanted to see how hard it would be to have our family — me, my husband, and our two children (ages 6 and 11) — spend an entire year eating foods that contained no added sugar. We’d cut out anything with an added sweetener, be it table sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, agave or fruit juice. We also excluded anything made with fake sugar or sugar alcohols. Unless the sweetness was attached to its original source (e.g., a piece of fruit), we didn’t eat it. 
Once we started looking we found sugar in the most amazing places: tortillas, sausages, chicken broth, salad dressing, cold cuts, crackers, mayonnaise, bacon, bread, and even baby food. 


(I'm including two from this category because there were SO MANY amazing choices - I finally narrowed it down to these two)

Rebecca Wohl at Commission on Biblical Gender Equality: I Can't Change My Spots

I took her hands even tighter into my own and led her to a chair so we could talk. Her sweet spirit and kind words moved my heart, and I could tell we had more to chat about. 
“Well, after all these years of believing that women shouldn’t be in the pulpit, I just can’t change how I feel about that. But your – ,” she hesitated again.
I smiled again and tried one more time, “Sermon?”
 “Ok, for lack of a better word, yes, your sermon was really one of the best sermons I have ever heard, and it challenged me in my faith – imagine that, after 80 years of walking with Jesus.”
I was very humbled and grateful for her generous words, but wanted to push further…  “Ah, thank you so much! It was my true honor to bring God’s Word today. I’m so thankful that the Spirit ministered to you. So you are not sure if women should preach, but you think that maybe, I’m an OK preacher though?” I pushed further.
“Oh yes! The best! But that’s just you honey, I don’t know about any other woman out there.”
“So, if I’m a good preacher, and I am a woman, isn’t it possible that there are other good preachers out there who are women too?”

James Hoskins at Christ & Pop Culture: "God's Not Dead" and the Angry Atheist Professor: That Was Not My Experience 

...I’m concerned that the movie God’s Not Dead perpetuates a false stereotype: that of the bully atheist philosophy professor who is out to destroy every Christian student’s faith. I’m sure there are some of those professors out there. But I doubt that they are a majority. Even if they were, though, I don’t think caricatures and stereotypes are helpful. When we uncritically accept a caricature of someone, we become less gracious people. Instead, we become more dismissive, presumptuous, and defensive. We also become more likely to misinterpret an honest challenge to our faith as an “attack,” and react in a way that is less than winsome.


Kim at She is Fierce: The Sound of a Silent Doorbell

All I could do was wait to see if my doorbell would ring. 
When morning came and it hadn't, I received a phone call confirming that Dh was OK.
What I felt then was almost harder than what I had experienced the entire sleepless night.
 It was the guilt that follows that moment of relief.
Because it wasn't my love, but it was most certainly someones.
It wasn't my heart broken, but the hearts of 4 other families.


What Kept Me in Church Was Communion
When my eyes locked into the lay minister’s and he said, “Christ’s Body, broken for you,” I believed him.  When I dipped that scrap of bread, humble yet holy, into the communion wine, it sent shivers down my spine.  “Christ’s blood, spilled for you.”  This was the Gospel, simple and true.
It wasn’t a fancy program or a new method to “reach my generation.” It was following the example of Christ when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  And I did: I remembered Him.

When the cynicism of Christianity scabbed over my heart, the simplicity of the Gospel ripped it open again.  In my remembrance of Him, the offenses I held against the modern Church faded away.  

What is the best thing you read (or wrote!) this month?

Monday, April 28, 2014

What Kept Me in Church Was Communion

"It wasn't preaching or programs; what kept me in Church was communion"

I am one of those Millennials who seem to be leaving the Church in droves (at least, according to everything I’ve been reading in Christian books, magazines and blogs).  

I grew up in the Church, was home-schooled and spent two years working with a Christian ministry before heading to a Christian college where I met my husband.  The perfect (American) Christian story, it seemed. 

But I am also a critic.  

When I left college, I took a long, hard look at Christianity.  I used to believe in all of it.  But I was no longer sure.  I had seen plenty of people who were Christians in the same way that other people are golfers.  It was their hobby; it was how they made friends, how they chose their reading material and it dictated where they spent their Sunday mornings.  

But I knew that if I was going to stick with this Christianity thing, it had to be something more.  Like so many of my generation, I wanted to be a Christian not because I was raised that way, but because I was convinced that I couldn’t live an honest life apart from Christ.

For a while I wasn’t sure where I would end up.  After twenty-four years of weekly sermons and four years of daily chapel services, I didn’t miss preaching.  I found community other places (in our case, with fellow military families).  I listened to beautiful music, saw beautiful art that spoke to me and propelled my soul into states of worship. To be unflatteringly frank: I didn’t miss Church.

But we kept going.  

And, like I assumed proper for a believer, I used small talk and a smile to dam up my doubts. 

Eventually, we started attending a new church.  They had good preaching and music.  The community was strong.  But what struck me was the fact that they practiced Communion every week.  I’ve attended many churches in my life, but this was the first time where Communion was an integral and expected part of each service. 

The first time I took Communion there, I was left shaken.  “Why?” I wondered.  “I’ve taken Communion so many times and never felt particularly moved.”  There were small differences, actual loaves of bread and goblets of wine, instead of stale wafers and tiny cups of grape juice.  But there was more.   

There was something in Communion that I couldn’t deny.

When my eyes locked into the lay minister’s and he said, “Christ’s Body, broken for you,” I believed him.  When I dipped that scrap of bread, humble yet holy, into the communion wine, it sent shivers down my spine.  “Christ’s blood, spilled for you.”  This was the Gospel, simple and true.

It wasn’t a fancy program or a new method to “reach my generation.” It was following the example of Christ when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  And I did: I remembered Him.

When the cynicism of Christianity scabbed over my heart, the simplicity of the Gospel ripped it open again.  In my remembrance of Him, the offenses I held against the modern Church faded away.  

Had I seen Bible verses spewed as weapons against those we were supposed to love?  Absolutely.  But Christ’s Body was broken for me.  Was I disgusted that some Christians (including myself at times) acted like a person’s love for Jesus could be determined by their hemline or haircut?  Yes.  But Christ’s blood was poured out.  For me!

Each week it was the same.  I appreciated that our Church had good music and preaching.  And I learned and I grew from those.  But what brought me back each week was Communion.  I couldn’t wait until the end of each service to migrate from our seats to the stations at the front.  Each week I went away affected, changed.  It never got old.

Shauna Niequist writes in Bread & Wine,
 “Like every Christian, I recognize the two as food and drink, and also, at the very same time, I recognize them as something much greater – mystery and tradition and symbol.  Bread is bread, and wine is wine, but bread-and-wine is another thing entirely.  The two together are the sacred and the material at once, the heaven and earth, the divine and the daily.”

Growing up Protestant, I somehow got the impression that I shouldn’t take the Lord’s Supper too seriously.  “It’s just a sign, a symbol, after all”, said the voices in my head.  But I stopped caring about those voices.  I wasn’t sure what was going on as I partook in Communion, but I knew that it was changing me. 

In her spiritual memoir about converting to Christianity, Lauren Winner writes how, before she was even eligible to receive communion, she insisted on attending a church that practiced it each week.  “I didn’t understand what it was, exactly, or how it worked, but I knew, deeply, that the Eucharist was somehow essential, that it was the heart of what we do in those spired buildings”.  

Her words resonate with me: communion is the heart of what we do, which makes me wonder why many churches practice it so infrequently.  Why have preaching and music been elevated to a weekly status, but communion has been pushed to a monthly or even quarterly occurrence?  

It’s as if we’ve somehow decided that God can reach people with words (preaching), but He doesn’t really use actions (communion).  

But sometimes I wonder if there are others like me in the church; people who have heard enough words and really just want to see Jesus. 

And that is what I love about communion: it is so clearly about Jesus.  

In spite of my cynicism, I couldn’t deny Him when faced plainly with the truth of His sacrifice: His body, broken, His blood, spilled.  It is Christ, and him crucified (I Corinthians 2:2).  

And after seeing so many programs aimed at “reaching people”, I appreciate that communion is free of gimmicks.  It’s eating and drinking, and yet it is so much more.  Each time I partake, I remember that Jesus Himself established this act and that the church has practiced it through the ages with these same words and these same elements.  Amazing. 

Each week my soul is rattled anew as I receive Christ’s body and blood.  What that even means I’m not even sure.  But C.S. Lewis reminds me that the command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand”.  

And so, I take and eat with joy.  And hope that one day, perhaps, I’ll understand.     

**another post on communion: broken and spilled.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Product Review: eShakti Dresses!

Four Warnings to Accompany This Post:

1.  It is completely frivolous.  
2.  It will be very long
3.  It will be very honest
4.  It will contain substandard pictures (neither of us are photographers and we snapped these pictures before we left for Church on Easter because I was actually wearing mascara AND lipstick - an Easter miracle!!  Also, I am an uncomfortable model) :)

I have very mixed feelings while writing this review, but I'm committed to being honest so fasten your seatbelt for a long post.

When I first heard about eShakti I thought it was a fabulous idea.  They say that fashion should be for all sizes and I agree!  Their dresses come in sizes 0-36 and for only $7.50, your dress can be made to your exact measurements.  Add to this the fact that all the dresses are adorable and comes with pockets??  I was sold before I had even tried them out!

I was elated when I was picking a dress to review - there were so many wonderful options!  I narrowed down my original list of nine dresses to the one that I wanted, submitted my sizes and waited.  And waited and waited.  

The short version of the story is that there was a mix-up with my dress and I didn't get it for seven weeks!  And that was after I made multiple attempts to contact them about it!  The yellow dress below is the one I picked to review.  I warned you about the pictures and the model, remember?


The dress looks pretty cute, but I am not thrilled with it.  The neckline is too big which means I have to be careful about bending over.  This means it is a terrible option for the mother of a toddler.  Additionally, the fabric is too fragile to wear everyday.  I'm sure that I'll wear this dress a few more times, but it will not be an everyday option like I had planned on it being.  I was very disappointed.  :( 


I decided to give them another try.

Mostly because I wanted to be able to write a GOOD review and I really do like wearing dresses.  Because of my erythromelagia I am limited to shorts or a dress from about April - October so I need a good inventory of dresses on hand.    I like wearing dresses all sorts of places - to Target, to the playground.  I want dresses that I can be active in and not have to worry about wearing.  

The second time I bought two dresses for myself and bought one for my sister as well.  She had used eShakti once in the past and had a GREAT experience.  

Again, my dresses took longer than projected to arrive.  This might not have been their fault - I think it came from the shipping service.  But it was still disappointing.  I had to call multiple times and they kept assuring me that this was uncommon.

I want to note here that each time I called the customer service people they were very kind.  One lady in particular (I wish I could remember her name!) worked quickly to resolve my problem.  She was gracious and actually listened to me and followed up the next day.

The dresses arrived and I knew right away that I didn't like one of them.  I've since returned it and am waiting for a refund.  I have mixed feelings on this navy dress on the left.  It is very comfortable and easy to wear, which I love.  This dress is cotton which means I can wear it to church, or to meetings, or to take my son to the playground - my favorite type of dress!  But even though I gave my measurements, it is a bit too big.

I'm going to have to pay out of pocket to have a seamstress fix a few things.  The cross-over part at the top wasn't sewed shut.  I'm not sure why they wouldn't sew it (perhaps to accommodate different bust sizes?), but I tried safety pinning mine and decided that I actually need it sewn.  

Additionally, the dress hangs to the bottom of my knee - NOT what I was expecting.  There was an option to have the dress above the knee, but I read a reviewer who requested that and got a dress that was shorter than the average mini-skirt.  So I asked them to leave the skirt length as shown (which I thought was the top of the knee).  I will have it altered to be a bit above my knee, which is where I prefer it.  

While I still love the idea behind eShakti and have heard of many people who have positive experiences, I can't say the same for mine.  The dress I received to review is not my favorite - I would have returned it if I spent my own money on it because I probably wouldn't have gotten enough use of out it.  I am disappointed that I spent much more money on the blue dress than I normally would have, but I STILL have to pay to have them altered.  For a family who doesn't have a lot of extra cash on hand, this experience has been frustrating.  I am not sure that I will be using eShakti in the future.

So there you have it: my honest opinion.  Have you had any experience with eShakti?  Or do you have any dress recommendations for me?  

**In exchange for sharing my (very) honest opinion, I received the yellow dress for free. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Letter to the Incoming Freshmen Class at Christian Colleges

Dear Freshmen,

A few months ago you were filling out applications for college and comparing the list with your friends.  Last month you started anxiously checking the mailbox for college acceptance letters.  Your prayers may have started getting desperate: "Please, God, let me be accepted to at least ONE school!"  And then, as multiple acceptance letters came back, you realized that you had options!

All of a sudden the theoretical planning you had been doing for the last few years of high school came down to the big decision: which school are you going to choose?  

If you're reading this letter, I'm guessing that you've chosen to attend a Christian college.  Or as my alma mater put it: a Christ-Center learning community ("Because colleges can't be Christian").

I'm excited for you!!  The four years I spent at my university were some of the best of my life.  I have wonderful memories of friends, professors, dorm life, chapel and so much more.  My Christianity became more robust and profound because of friends, professors, and classes that asked me good questions and forced my worldview to stretch in necessary ways.  There is so much good that I could tell you, but I'm guessing you have heard many of those cheesy lines in the brochures and videos your prospective college sent you.  ;)

(A quick note: I've had many family members and friends attend secular universities who also loved their time in college, so I'm not saying that happy experiences are restricted to Christian colleges.  I'm simply writing from my experience.)

Now that I've been out of that the Christian college environment for a few years, I think I've gained some perspective.  I'd like to share a few tips to help you prepare for the upcoming school year.

It's Going To Cost
Christian colleges are expensive.  Many graduates (myself included) spend years paying off those bills.  If you want to reduce those costs, find out what job are available on campus.  That doesn't necessarily mean cleaning dishes in the cafeteria.  Students can join a cleaning crew, work in the library, tutor other students, run soundboards, and more.
It is an INTENSE Christian environment.
Think of Church summer camp on steroids.  It's not a bad thing, but it can feel a bit suffocating and myopic at times.

Go to Counseling.
I would say this no matter where you went to college, but it is especially true if you're attending a Christian college.  Most likely this is the last time in your life that counseling will be free so it is great to take advantage of it.  Don't feel like counseling is reserved for people with "major" issues either - most people have life issues to sort through in their early twenties.  I cannot recommend counseling enough!!  
Majors and Spirituality Don't Correlate.
People who major into Bible-related subjects are not more spiritual than the rest of us.  Some of them are doubters, some are rebels, some will eventually leave the faith, and some are truly sincere.  Knowing the Bible doesn't necessarily mean that you know Jesus.

Abide By the Rules...Most of the Time
Speaking as a former RA, please try to obey the rules, ESPECIALLY if student RAs are made to enforce them.  The RAs I knew dreaded confronting other students, but we signed a contract agreeing to do it.  Since you knew the rules before you agreed to go there, you were subjecting yourself to those rules. 
That being said, college is also about fun.  If you grew up in a strict environment and take things seriously and avoid getting into trouble, make sure you take time to have fun.  My husband's dorm made an indoor slip-n-slide down the hall (definitely against the rules).  I was late to curfew a few times (against the rules).  My husband was thrown in the lake after we got engaged (a college tradition, but still against the rules).  I drank alcohol during summer break (against the rules although I didn't know it at the time).  I made it through all four years without any demerits, but I wish I had been a little more relaxed about the rules and had more fun. 
So obey the rules.  But break a few.  But be smart about the ones you choose to break. 

You Will Be Stretched and Will (probably, hopefully) Change. 
And it's a good thing.  Admittedly having your beliefs challenged and then trying to figure out what you believe can be very uncomfortable.  It is easy to rely on the answers you've been given your whole life, but this is a time to study and question and learn.  

People Still Get Hurt.
Multiple Christian colleges are currently under investigation for mishandling sexual assault.
There are many Christian colleges currently under investigation because they dealt with rape incorrectly.  I beg of you: don't be naive!  Please don't assume that a student, faculty or staff member is safe because you are at a Christian college.
Christians Cheat and Lie and Steal.
Don't plagiarize.  Don't cheat.  Etcetera.  

Try Very Hard Not to Judge.
With so many rules, it's easy to use those rules as the markers for good and bad Christians.  Skirt an inch shorter than dress code?  Bad Christian.  Never skipped chapel?  Good Christian.  Beyond making judgement about someone based on their actions, sometimes we make them based on their theology, like this: Doesn't believe in a literal 7-day creation?  Bad Christian.
I hope that you'll come to a gracious and winsome place as a Christian.  Even if you hold tightly to your beliefs, I hope that you'll be kind to others, that you will actually listen to them and that you'll see Christ as our unifier.  
Once You Leave, All Bets Are Off.
One of my former cello teachers attended a university known for being one of the most conservative and most strict in the country.  While she loved her time there and was still very involved in the university, I remember her telling me that there was a very high divorce rate among the alumni.  She said: "They've never been given any freedom.  They went straight from a strict household to a strict college where they were told what to wear and when we go to bed.  They meet someone, graduate, and get married and suddenly realize they have freedom to do what they want."  In other words, don't confuse conformity with character.

The Chapel Stage is Not a Shortcut to Heaven.
Yeah, yeah, I know.  Everyone seems to be rushing to get up there to sing or play an instrument or pray.  The people on stage get noticed a lot.  If you do end up taking part in chapel, that's great!  But if not, it's okay.  You can be known for a lot of great things on campus without ever stepping foot on the chapel stage.

You Will Absolutely, Undoubtedly See UnChristlike Behavior.

You will meet many marvelous, godly, and sincere people.  They will encourage you and challenge you and make your college years wonderful.  But you will also witness unChristlike behavior from administration, from fellow students, from professors, and staff members.  I'm warning you so that you are prepared.  It is disheartening to watch, especially when you're at a college that you love so much.  But it is a good reminder that we are called to behave like Christ (not like other Christians) even when the circumstances are skewed.  

I hope that your first year at college is fantastic.  I hope that you learn and grow and have fun.  I hope that you make friends and make a few mistakes (and realize that you can get over those mistakes).  I hope you find a gracious, welcoming community for these next four years.


p.s. If you're looking for more general college advice, you can read the letter I wrote to my younger sister upon her graduation from high school.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Gossip is a Spiritual Issue

"I am a gossip.
I have spoken words about others that have been unnecessary, unkind and sometimes even untrue. I have painted others with verbal caricatures that have been unforgiving and unflatteringly. More times than I would like to admit, I have needed to beg forgiveness from God and others for my speech."

Today I'm sharing over my story over at RELEVANT magazine.  Read the rest of the article here.    

My Writing Process (a blog tour!)

I'm excited to share about my writing process today! I was tagged in a blog tour and, as I reviewed the questions, I thought they would be good for me answer and also fun for readers to get a glimpse into my head as I plan and write posts.  

I was tagged by fellow Air Force wife, Jessica of Jessica Lynn Writes.  I have been reading Jessica's blog for several years now (since before either of us had children!).  When I started reading her blog, they were stationed in Italy, which is one of the places we would love to be stationed some day.  Jessica's blog is one of my favorites and I read every post she writes!

The ladies I am tagging in this tour are fellow members of the Redbud Writers Guild, which I joined a few months ago and have found to be the most gracious and helpful group.  Julie Holly blogs at Peacequility and this post describes exactly how I felt when I first joined the Redbuds, although she says it much better than I did.

Jamie Rohrbaugh is not only a writer, but also a pianist who recently released a CD and you can listen to samples here.  I love The Weight of Glory, which is number seven.

I am moved by the writing and honesty of Melody Harrison Hanson.  Here's a line from one of my favorite posts:  "I am learning about boundaries, mostly that I am terrible with them. I do for others until I resent the doing ending up with no time to write or think or pray or sit with the Holy One."  You really should read her whole post though.

And now (finally!) to the questions!

(This picture wasn't posed and wasn't even taken with this post in mind, but I wanted to mention that on the left is a book written by another Redbud, Leslie Leyland Fields.)

What am I working on as a writer?
Consistency and Balance!  I struggle putting ample time into my blog when I'm also doing freelance articles.  I work painstakingly on the articles getting it just right and I'm glad that I do - I usually end up being very pleased with them so it is worth the effort.  However, I don't have the same attitude with my blog.  I don't agonize if I can't get a sentence just right.  I am not sure how to treat my blog writing as seriously as my freelance writing without getting bogged down.  
Also, I am working on taking myself more seriously.  I still haven't had the courage to call myself a writer aloud (other than to my husband!).  And I feel torn between wanting more time to write and (on frustrating days when I'm tired) just wanting to put my feet up and veg out to Netflix when my son naps.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I am not quite sure how to answer this one, but here's my attempt: I differ because I write broadly.  I don't fit into just one category. One day I write about military life, and the next about Christianity.  Then it will be a book review, a recipe, or a post about feminism.  I don't consider myself a mommy blogger (although I am a mama) or a lifestyle blogger (because I don't really write about everyday life) or a religion blogger (because I write many posts that don't contain a religious aspect).
Why do I write what I do?
Often I write to inform or help someone else.  My most popular post is a guide for PCSing, and I'm glad that people have found it helpful.  I'm also considering writing more on my erythromelalgia, not because I'm terribly interested in sharing more about it, but because there isn't a lot of information available about this syndrome - most doctors haven't even heard of it!  My few blog posts on the topic have generated a lot of traffic, which means people are looking for help dealing with the pain.  If I can help someone, I want to do it.
Other times I write to understand and to figure myself out.  My thoughts develop as I go through the writing process just as they used to when I journaled.
And, finally, I write to declare.  To be brave.  I write because there are things that I want to say, but I don't know how to say them aloud.  I'm always afraid that when someone meets me after reading my blog, they'll be disappointed by the real me.  I'm not particularly eloquent in person.... 
How does my writing process look?
On my phone I keep a list of ideas for blog posts.  That way wherever I am I can hurry and write it down before I forget.  Right now I have about 15-20 ideas on the list, which seems to be pretty standard.
I try to use the weekends to plan the posts for the upcoming week.  In the picture above you can see my calendar hanging behind my computer.  That's where I keep track of blog posts, guest posts and proposals.  It gives me a good visual of how many times I've posted and what type of posts they have been. 
Usually I try to have at least two posts written on the weekend so they're ready to go.  The night before they go up, I review them quickly.  Then I spend Monday and Tuesday working on posts for the last few days of the week.  I should clarify that this is my *goal*.  It doesn't always happen this way and sometimes (like last week) I end up scrambling to post something at the last minute or publishing something I just wrote.  I prefer to have posts written ahead of time so that they can sit for a few days before I review them and post them.
When I'm writing an article, I start by outlining what I think it will look like and then start filling in.  It usually ends up very different from the original. :)  The writing itself is not usually too difficult, but the editing is painstaking.  I review it countless times.  I read it aloud to myself.  I make other people read it for me.  It is a long process that I actually adore.  All my finicking and fussing is rewarded when I am able to find the right word or get the paragraph just-so.  

Tell me about your writing process?  Do you have any tips for me?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Whole30 Meal Plan AND recipe

We're doing another Whole30! Our last attempt was derailed by a nasty stomach bug, but we are currently on Day 4 and going strong!  It helps, I think, that we're doing it with friends this time.  Per yesterday's post, we're doing this because we have found that we feel better when we eat better.   

Since it is the first time our friends have done Whole30, I made a meal plan to share with them.  I planned two weeks worth of meals which we will alternate (i.e. Weeks 1 and 3 of Whole30 we will eat the same meals).  Included are links to most the recipes I list!  You can access the meal plan here.

A few notes:

1. Please do your own research about Whole30 before starting.  My meal list might be a great resource for you, but it doesn't take the place of knowing what the "rules" are of Whole30.  Additionally, if a recipe calls for something like mustard, I'm assuming that you'll check the back of yours to make sure it is Whole30 approved.

2.  I have tried to do a different protein each day of the week so that you aren't eating chicken for every meal.

3.  On the last page of the meal list I've listed several alternate meals in case you didn't like one, couldn't find the right ingredients, or just needed a fresh idea.  I've also listed some ideas for snacks and add-ons to meals.

4.  I have listed things you can eat at a few chain restaurants, but (as always) you should check with your local restaurant before ordering it.

5.  You can access my Pinterest board of Whole30 foods if you need more inspiration!  Also, here is an old blog post where I listed some favorite meals from our first Whole30.   

Speaking of meal inspiration, last night we had one of our favorite Whole30 meals! We like it so much that we eat it often when we're not even doing Whole30!  I love that it is simple to prepare and I can easily run to the store to pick up salmon, a lemon, squash, and zucchini and have a delicious and healthy meal in a short amount of time.  :)

I have said it before and I will say it again: I am not a photographer, not a *food* photographer, and not good at writing recipes, but this meal is easy enough to prepare that you shouldn't need too many instructions.  If you do have questions, however, leave a comment and I'll try to get you a clear answer!

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Place fresh salmon on a large sheet of aluminum foil (skin side down).  Drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add lemon slices on top.  Fold aluminum around salmon.  Bake for 20-35 minutes (depending on how thick your piece is).  Salmon should be light pink and flaky when it comes out.  Open packet and remove lemons.

Wash squash and zucchini and remove the ends.  Cut into 1/2 inch slices, then cut each slice into four pieces.  Toss in bowl with olive oil, a very generous tablespoon of garlic (or more if you're like me!), salt, and pepper.  Place in baking pan and cook for 20 minutes (turning the pieces a few times during the cooking time).

I usually prepare the salmon first and stick it in the oven to start cooking.  Then I quickly prepare the squash and zucchini and put them in the oven as well.  20ish minutes later, both are done cooking at the same time and the meal is ready to eat!

Let me know what you think if you try this!  And if you have any favorite paleo/Whole30 meals, I'd love to hear about them!

P.S. The blog is likely to be a bit quiet this week as we're sick and I'm working on another project! :)

Monday, April 14, 2014

When Numbers Define Us.

(photo source Chrisoph on Flickr via Creative Commons license)

Last year I had a startling revelation.  In the course of one week, I had casual conversations with seven different women and noticed that every single one of them mentioned wanting to lose weight.

It made me a bit sick.

This wasn't a unique week and those women weren't unique either.  These are the same words I have heard my entire life from all different women.  And they are the same words I have said many times.  I had simply started paying attention.

This is the narrative we know as women, isn't it?  If we follow the social script, we should always be talking about how we are trying to lose weight.

But I am tired of this narrative and I'm throwing away that script.

I am disgusted because we are doing this to ourselves and we are doing it to our children.  Our daughters are learning the patterns that they will repeat: to despise their bodies and focus on their numbers instead of their strengths.  Our sons are learning that women's bodies should always be smaller.  Smaller, smaller, and smaller.  They are learning that women should take up as little space as possible.  This is dangerous for all of us.

When we live focused on losing weight, we have already lost.

I want to make better lifestyle choices because of what I gain, not because of what I want to lose.

I want to make better food choices because it makes me feel better.  Because my body function best when it has the proper fuel.  And I want to exercise so that I will be stronger and more agile.

Instead of trying to shrink the number on the scale, I can focus on gaining energy and strength and a clear mind.

Is it just the number on the scale, though?  Or do I let other numbers define me?

Last week I watched several popular bloggers engage in a Twitter conversation.  They were discussing ways to get more followers and being more effective bloggers.

I was shocked.  Truly.

In my mind, these ladies had all "arrived."  They have written books and spoken at conferences.  They have had large companies as sponsors.  They have thousands of followers.  Their platforms are the type that no-name bloggers that me can only dream of.  And yet...they were all still looking for more readers and ways to be better bloggers.

I don't blame them for wanting more readers.  This is the truth of social media: It is all about the numbers.

As much as writers hate it, our platform matters.  It is all a game of how many followers and likes and page views and retweets we can get.

But when numbers are king, no one wins.

There is never a correct number.  Never, ever, ever.  You will always want more (or less).  You will always be focused on the next number.

I, too, fall into this trap and play this game.  But I know this to be supremely true: Humans cannot be quantified.

My worth has no correlation to the number on the scale or the number inside my waistband.  My value is not measured by the number of comments and page views I receive.

And so, my friends and my sisters, can we please stop with this game of numbers?  Can we rewrite the social scripts for our children?  Can we live in the freedom that numbers don't matter in life?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Day I Was Published. (And Why I Need to Get Thicker Skin)

Two weeks ago I had my very first article get published at RELEVANT.  It is such a tiny step in a lot of ways - there are so many wonderful writers in the world who get published all the time.  But this first time was special to me.  It was special, but it was also a bit crazy and scary.

It was a very normal day.  I did laundry.  I ran to Target.  I got a migraine.  I picked up the toddler's food off the floor.  I skipped writing to huddle in bed watching Sherlock and tried to get rid of the shakes that accompanied the migraine.

But at the same time I was watching the article and seeing as people read it and responded.  It absolutely astounded me to see my words valued and see that my story resonated with people.

Most amazing to me was the fact that men (PASTORS, even) shared my article.  I know it is silly since I'm both a feminist and an egalitarian, but it is still a surprise to me when Christian men think I have valuable thoughts and bring something to the table.  That's sad, right?  I so deeply want my (imaginary) daughter to grow up feeling valued and important in Church and to know that her words matter.

When the article went live, I knew, of course, that I would get negative comments.  What I didn't know is how much they would sting.  I didn't know that sharing my story gave people permission to comment on my marriage and my life and make assumptions based on what they read.  But that's what they did.

A few days after it was published, one of the negative comments was still bothering me.  Every time I thought about that comment, it was as if those words were being etched into my heart.  I cried in the car, feeling vastly misunderstood and mostly worrying about the negative words affecting my family.  My husband had read and approved the article before I submitted it because I knew that this story wasn't just about me.  But had I made the right choice in sharing our story?  

As I drove, I kept listening to Aubrey Assad's song "I Shall Not Want" and the line where she asks to be delivered "from the need to be understood."  It resonated with me that day as I just wished I could sit down with those negative commenters and tell them all the bits of the story that didn't fit in the article.  I was sure they would understand then.  I needed them to understand.

The image of the negative words being etched into my heart wouldn't leave my mind.  But then, in an uncharacteristic Charismatic moment, I felt God tell me something.  I was suddenly sure that those words weren't allowed to remain on my heart and burn their way into my life.   My identity is found in Christ and he has already told me what he thinks of me.

I know that the more I wrote, the more negative comments I will receive.  And I also know that I need to let them go.  Writing has connected me to God and has been a way for me to "work through my salvation with fear and with trembling."  Writing has connected me to people, both other writers and people who have resonated with my story.  And, truthfully, I've always been a writer in some form or another.  In the past it has just been in the form of journals.  I am healthy and happy when I write.  And that is the reason I continue to write.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

currently reading: Bittersweet

Try Grammarly's plagiarism checker free of charge because when your mother told you that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," she wasn't giving you a free pass to plagiarize! (Plus, she was quoting someone herself!)

My book review in fewer than 10 words: 


My book review in more than 10 words:

If you've read my review of Shauna Niequest's book Bread & Wine, it will probably come as no surprise that I loved this book as well.  Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way is Shauna's second book, which she wrote in between Cold Tangerines and Bread & Wine.  I am just now starting Cold Tangerines, which means that I have read her books exactly opposite as to how she wrote them.

As the title suggests, Bittersweet is written out of a season of loss and frustration in Shauna's life that will later yield good lessons.  This is a book that not everyone will understand.  But if you, too, have had a season where it feels like you are just bracing yourself for the next blow, for whatever disaster God or fate could send you next, this may be the book you need to read.

Bittersweet is a collection of essays that cover all sorts of things: the loss of a job and the loss of a baby.  Moving away from loved ones and making new ones.  Cooking and gatherings round tables.  Grace, grace, and more grace.  Friendships, families, motherhood and more.

In "Grace is the New Math," she writes of keeping a tally of the good and the bad of a person's life and calculating up their worth.  "Grace is smashing the calculator, and using all the broken buttons and pieces to make a mosaic."

This book came at the perfect time in my life.  I am, just now, slowly, calling myself a writer.  I haven't been able to say it aloud to someone, but I'm working on that.  In "Love Song for the Fall" Shauna writes about writing.  She says, "'s hard work, fraught with fear and self-consciousness..."  It is silly, of course, but I assume that fantastic writers sit down at the computer and the correct words flow out with no effort.  When I read that she had to force herself to sit down and work, suddenly writing was normalized for me.  This is difficult for everyone.  This is not always enjoyable.  This takes time.  This. is. difficult.

Multiple essays are on the subject of miscarriage.  Although I would never be bold enough to say that I understand miscarriage, her words gave me a window into what mothers must be feeling after the loss of a baby.  She writes of remembering the due date and thinking about "what might have been."  She tells readers to "say something" after a tragedy, even if it is awkward and you are not sure what to say.  I told my husband that if we know someone who miscarries, I'd like to buy them this book in addition to being there for them.  What I meant was that I wanted to give them words when they might not know how to express what they are feeling and, since I can't relate to that experience at this point in my life, I want to hand them a reminder that they are not alone.  

Earlier I said, "Go buy this book immediately!"  I was serious.  

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