A New Story

August 24, 2016

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We celebrated our anniversary last week and it has me thinking about the past 9 years and all the things marriage has taught me. I think everyone has that one thing that continues to be the sole shaper of their life. The thing that continually draws repentance and forgiveness and try-agains. Mine is marriage.

When we started out I don’t think we knew all the baggage we were bringing under one roof. Because we were virgins, because we’d never drank alcohol, and because I’d never even wore a bikini I think we (and our parents) thought that life was starting out in the best possible way for two young people. But eventually, the clothes come off and the atrophied organs of repentance, humility, and grace stare at you in the face. Surgery is needed. Bad.

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When we got to our honeymoon destination I thought, “Life is perfect.” Pacific coastal houses dotted the cliffs and the lights reflected off of the ocean. The waves were washing up into the natural rock pool below the steps of the lighthouse and if you looked over the infinity edge of the cliff you could see seals swimming around in the pool. California was always a mutual love affair for us, so this. This was our happily ever after.

We slipped into the jacuzzi tub that overlooked the pacific and the neighbor peeked his head out of the window just above us. He hollered out introductions and wanted to know where we were from. We made small talk, told him we were from the east coast celebrating our honeymoon, and mentioned how generous our friend Kelly and was for letting us use the house for a week! He knew her well and seemed as genuinely joy-filled for our recent nuptials as our families were with an excited,  “Wait just a minute. I’ll be right back!!!” A few minutes later he emerged from the window, grinning from ear to ear with a nice bottle of wine.

“Here! This is for you!”

Now, granted, I didn’t know a good bottle of wine if I’d tried. But given the neighborhood, I had a hunch it was expensive.

“Oh, we don’t drink!”

Why we didn’t just accept it politely with a sincere “thank you” I’ll never know, but his face that night is something I’ll never forget. He looked confused and dejected and awkwardly shoved the bottle behind the window before wishing us a good night. We never saw him again. When I consider the kind of person it takes to refuse a stranger’s generosity, all because of being too good to accept a bottle of wine, I want to cry.

I mourn this old version of me.

This honeymoon recollection is just one of many memories I have of being too stuck up, too prideful about my own convictions, too bent on being right, that I refused to see the heart of someone else. I wish I could say these feelings remained the inner workings of a critical soul, but as you’ll learn in parenting, the heart is what drives the actions and the actions are a direct window into a person’s soul. Many judgements and unfair accusations far worse than refusing a bottle of wine spilled out onto poor, undeserving people. Like my husband, my sister, my family, my friends.

Lord, they were the years of the locust.

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If you don’t come from legalism you will scratch your head at what I’m writing. The more times we’ve moved and had the opportunity to visit a variety of churches, the more I realize that my husband and I come from a very small representation of Christianity. Most people cannot relate to our experiences of preaching on appropriate shoes to wear to church, appropriate beats in a song, and an approved list of churches we could attend. But for those of you who do know, or who are recovering from perfectionism, you know that when I say the chains of externalism run deep, they run deep.

I tend to be the crusader who says, “Never look back! Let us rally and forge on ahead.” because there is a slippery slope that comes with the past and living in it for too long. Yet, there was a point in our marriage where we moved from the south to the midwest and I had this realization one day that life. It was not meant to be this miserable with broken, fractured relationships and awkward confrontations. I wanted to know how it felt to live at peace with all men and not feel anxious that God was crouching waiting to judge our family for impossible standards we had imposed upon our own selves. I wanted to know what freedom felt like. And not the kind we’d always been sternly warned about from pulpits, but I wanted to know what it felt like to be free to confess, to be free to be vulnerable, to be free to fail, and to be free to grow, without the vultures of criticism sapping the marrow from my bones.

For all my dissatisfaction, I just didn’t know how to get that kind of freedom. For years we stumbled around trying to find a church home that accepted us, with one foot in legalism and one foot in a taste of grace. Shortly after our move, we left the church denomination we’d been raised in. Through counseling, some pastors lovingly confronted our self-righteousness, not to mention our gross theological errors. With legalism come subtle misinterpretations of the gospel and I was so confused. Didn’t God owe me because I’d been faithful? Wasn’t I promised blessings, not curses, and by the way, where were they? God was measuring us. Sin was sin. The Bible black and white. Wasn’t I called to confront those who were obviously living in disobedience?

Little did I know that I had never been faithful, never measured up, and was most certainly living in disobedience of one of the seven deadly sins – pride. Our services were more liturgical in nature and I remember bowing my head every week as prayers of confession were recited. I had never heard such humility, especially not collectively in corporate worship. I had never heard anyone say, “You are more sinful than you could ever dare imagine and you are more loved and accepted than you could ever dare hope.”

And hearing those simple, yet profound, words week after week broke me.

My ignorance is laughable now, but the idea of repentance was just not a concept I had considered. My life’s mission was to be so perfect I’d never need to ask for forgiveness. It wasn’t like I never said sorry, but a life of confession was not my jam. So imagine over 8 YEARS of grievances that had built up and corroded over time. Our marriage was the first to be affected.

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I often wonder if not getting married at 19 and 21 would have helped in this department. Was it a maturity issue? Were we just young and naive? Could we have found different spiritual paths before we’d started a family and come together at a healthier place in our lives? Steven’s dad had taken his life mere months before we began dating, I had classic insecurity issues from my past with CO-DEPENDENCY warning signs written all over my forehead. Yet instead of finding liberty from it in a good and perfect Father (whom we had honestly never seen) we both used each other to deal with it. Or not deal, whichever your viewpoint.

But here’s the thing: when you’re full of unhealthy patterns, you don’t know it. When you perceive yourself has holier than others, you only see right and wrong. You don’t even consider the in between, the process, the journey. And for all our issues, I know of no other teaching ground better than the union of two sinners who never really knew they needed a Savior birthing children together. This combination has a way of perpetuating the blame game of who is holier than the other until somebody gives up. I remember the day clearly. The white flag of surrender that should have gone up the day I gave my life to Christ, but didn’t. At this point, we had been married for 6 years and our relationship had been one pile of hard things on top of another pile of hard things (mostly by choice). But when I stopped and looked at the broken examples we had come from, it hit me. The choice lies with us. The cycle must end.

And that was the beginning of the beautiful surrender.

I started asking a lot of hard questions and instead of justifying my life patterns I asked God to give me a spirit of honesty and humility. I began looking at my relationships one by one and wondering why they weren’t marked with more love and more grace. Why did other women seem to have a village helping them harvest wheat and I was off in a field by myself tearing up a field with a lone hoe? Why did toxic people feel like they could come and run my life, but the people I trusted and deeply cared about would rather run than tell me something hard I needed to hear? Why was I not saying sorry more often and opening up the window of confession in our own home? Why was I not petitioning for grace and peace? And where was the gospel in all of this?

Sadly, the gospel had been shut out a long ago and the people who needed it the most had not gotten it from me. I looked at the pieces of my prideful judgement and decided my first relationship repair should be with my husband. What started with a “Hey, I’m sorry.” avalanched into a 2-year rock slide of fumbled attempts to right the wrongs I had made in my piety. As memories resurfaced and conversations were recalled, I dug people up on Facebook, sent emails, calls, and texts.

Weddings I should have been apart of.

Life events I should’ve been there for.

Hugs I should’ve given.

Forgiveness I should have readily imparted.

They had all piled up like missed opportunities and with them, blessing upon blessing. Yet I was so blinded by my convictions of no alcohol and modest dress and proper music that I didn’t even see it. If it hadn’t been for the freshly corrected realization that the gospel meant I was loved (plus nothing!), I might have slumped into withered despair at how disgusting I had been. But one by one I asked for forgiveness and my eyes began opening with a renewed sense of hope. This! This is the power of the gospel. A song couldn’t even come on on the radio without my heart crumbling into two, crying at the joy that I’d been forgiven, restored, and was at peace. I was the most raw I’ve ever been in my life and for the first time in my life I saw people as souls. I can’t help but wonder if that is what becoming a Christian looks like for a person. The world is made colorful. People are seen as equal, beautiful creations. And you walk around on a high feeling known, and loved, and accepted.

While I felt I had been given a new lease on life, my marriage was healing, and everywhere I looked I was seeing roses where there were thorns and sand castles where there were trash heaps, a reckoning does not always equate resolution. During my avalanche of righting all wrongs, there were unanswered petitions of forgiveness, misunderstandings, and separation from old and toxic habits and people. And while the past few years have brought a clarity to the fall-out of legalism, warped theology, and missed grace, I have drawn much comfort from the peace that passes all understanding.

I John 1;7 “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.”

God has brought a light to our family, illuminating our own toxicities. By doing that and continuing to do that, our marriage has been cleansed. Our family is healing. And through the whole painful process of rebuilding I have had this vivid picture in my head that follows me everywhere. It’s one of our family running down a path into a woods lined with check boxes, familiarity, and safety. It is the easier path with promised results of conformity and reward. The other path is murkier, lined with unknowns and spirit-led direction. Yet, we round a bend one day and narrowly miss the edge of a cliff we see too late. We realize our mistake and just at the point we’re slipping and we think we’re done in for, God’s loving hand swoops down, picks us up, cradles our hurts, and breathes…

“I will write a new story.”

So we’re running towards that and never looking back.

Gluten-Free Lemon Loaf

August 9, 2016

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I once tried gluten-free for a brief 48 hours and then promptly stuffed my face with a bowl of pasta. You all with food restrictions deserve an extra jewel in your crown. Every once in awhile I toy around with the idea of cutting out processed white flour for good and I bake with gluten-free blends. And every time I come back to it I think, “Gluten-free has come a looooooong way.” There are now some recipes I actually prefer without white flour because I like dense, nutty, rich flavors. If you don’t need this gluten-free and want a rounded, fluffier, loaf you can cut out the almond flour, rice flour, oat flour, and flaxseed meal, and use the original 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour instead. The GF version stays flat and sometimes the loaf falls, depending on the day and how my oven is behaving. Either way it tastes amazing, especially with a cup of coffee and someone to share it with.

//GLUTEN-FREE MEYER LEMON LOAF

2 large eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt, buttermilk or coconut milk
2 heaping Tbsp. meyer lemon zest
2 Tbsp. meyer lemon juice
2 tsp. lemon extract
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/3 cup oat flour
1 Tbsp. flaxseed meal
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
lemon glaze
1/3 cup meyer lemon juice
2 Tbsp. natural cane sugar

Preheat the oven to 350′. Grease a 9” loaf pan.

Whisk the eggs, olive oil, yogurt (or alternative), zest and juice of the lemon and lemon extract together well.

In another mixing bowl, combine both sugars, almond flour, rice flour, oat flour, flaxmeal, salt, baking soda and baking powder and mix together. Add half of the dry mix to the wet, stir to combine, add the rest or the dry and stir everything together. Pour the mixture into a prepared 9” loaf pan.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. While the cake bakes, make the glaze. Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and cook until the sugar dissolves. When the cake is finished, let it cool for 10 minutes before inverting (if you choose). Prick holes in the top and pour the glaze over the warm cake. Let the cake cool completely while it absorbs the syrup. We drizzled ours with honey, but it’s amazing all alone.

Source: Sprouted Kitchen

8, 7, and 5.

August 8, 2016

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There is a 3 month period every year where these three are sequential in age. This year it was 7, 6, 5 and next year it will be 8, 7, 6.

But not too far back in memory are the days we celebrated 3, 2, 1, and 4, 3, 2.

Those were hard days.

I don’t remember knowing it was hard at the time, because I grew up the oldest girl of 14 children, nannied 4 children during college at 17, got married at 19, and got pregnant on my honeymoon. Life was one continuous string of babies and people were always (and I mean, always) coming up to me to ask me my age, if I was planning on having a large family like my parents, and did I know my hands were full? I honestly didn’t, I was just doing the next task in front of me, trying to thrive, not survive, and it was usually spooning mashed carrots or reading Goodnight Moon.

People would find out I came from a large family and immediately comment, “Oh! This must be so easy for you!” as I juggled a screaming 2 year old in Target, while loading my groceries, and swiping my card. I remember tiredly smiling back at them and feeling guilty that I didn’t feel that way. “It’s not easy,” I thought. “What about this makes you think that it is?”

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When they were 3, 2, and 1, I cut my hair short and bought myself shirts in multiple colors. Quiet times were the runs I would squeeze in on the weekends between feedings and although we tried to get to church every week, 3 out of 4 times a month I was home with someone that was sick. There was no money for the “Mother’s Morning Out” programs and we lived in a city with no family nearby. Looking back, these seem like such trivial things, but to me, at the time, they seemed like lifelines just out of reach.

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There were days when these three were really little and I was changing diapers every hour, that I thought we’d never get here. There were days when we had three car seats lined up in the back seat of our jeep and bunk beds crammed into a little 2-bedroom apartment that I thought we would never know personal space again. There were mornings I would go to Wal Mart at 5am to grocery shop just so I wouldn’t have to change a diaper in the public restroom, twice, and check out without anyone crawling out of the shopping cart.

Sometimes I run across pictures from their babyhood and memories of me, their mom, trying so hard, will flood back. I see library trips, and park play dates, and raspberry muffins on Valentine’s Day. I see homemade aprons and alphabet cards and sticky fingers grabbing my green turtleneck that I also had in black, and blue. I see never enough time. Never enough patience. And never enough’s stretched out long into the Oklahoma sunset.

And if I could, I would give that girl turning into a woman a big hug and say, “It’s hard. But 8, 7, and 5 is just around the corner.”  I would tell her to not freak out but she would have a baby that is more of a handful than all three of these kiddos combined, but that you’ll know this time it doesn’t last forever. (We hope.) You will reach the point that you thought would never come and your babies will be in “big school” with people helping you teach them and you’ll be able to go for a run with just one child in a jogging stroller and you’ll buy shirts because you like them, not because they’re on sale in 3 different colors.

You will feel supported.

And because time heals wounds and God is good and we learn lessons from out mistakes, motherhood will not be the only thing that defines you like it did in 2011.

She really needed to hear that.

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I often hear myself saying things to the kids now that I would’ve never known to say 4 years ago. Time and experiences and truth do that to you. In many ways, each birthday here is a collective “We made it!” and “Look how different we are!”

I am growing up with my kids.

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Maybe it’s that I wish I would have had the guts to tell people in the grocery store that raising three kids under the age of 2 was hard, or that I would’ve allowed myself to stop doing the laundry and read a book when they were napping, or simply took a moment to be proud we had made it to story time at the library, but this past year I gave myself permission to celebrate what needs to be celebrated and grieve the things that needed to be grieved.

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So, Shiloh bug. While I hug your bunny and tell you it’s soft and I sing over your cake and laugh at your sparkler candles, know that I am also celebrating another year of motherhood. Another year of refinement. Another moment to take stock of how far we’ve come. I am grieving all the moments I apologized (or didn’t) and could’ve been better, but also rejoicing in the what-is-to-comes and the what-we-accomplished. If you learn nothing else from me, know this: God’s got you. He’s got your grocery store runs and your zoo memberships and your turtlenecks all in His precious hands. He has the big moments and the silent ones and the ones that are fighting to be understood all wrapped up in a safe and cozy place – His embrace.

You will fight to be known, and loved, and needed, but you already are.

Consider this me. Talking to what I wish was my younger self. But I’ll tell you instead.

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Here’s to an amazing year of being 7.

Love,

your mummy

First Day of School!

August 4, 2016

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We had our first day of school yesterday and while I know it’s earlier than most institutions start, we were on board and ready. Our schedule works out to be about 6 weeks on, 1 week off, and I love that we get random weeks off to go visit family or take vacations. I did my best to be prepared and ordered monogrammed uniforms (photoshopped out) early in July, gym shoes on tax free weekend, and the unusually long list of school supplies hours before we needed it, but I usually forget something. And, predictably, I did. The night before school started it hit me that I didn’t have a pair of “uniform-approved shoes” for Emma and went running out the door, leaving Steven with a baby who had just pooped in his swim diaper and three very excited kids needing to be put to bed. Thankfully, 20 minutes before closing Gap came through. 😉

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So there they all are. The loves of my life. I expected to feel all sorts of feelings, but mostly I was just feeling excited for them. And so proud. (Can you say that?) Shiloh and Keller have an especially challenging couple of months ahead with the language learning curve and I expect them to be extra tired as their brains catch up. Immersion is a funny thing.

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Everyone who knows Emma knows that she is always smiling. And that she loves her friends. She could barely contain herself when she was reunited with her girlfriends and found out she was sitting next to them in class (she’ll probably be moved shortly for talking too much like last year, but it’s fun while it lasts!) I wish I could just soak up her enthusiasm for life forever. When I think about the fact I only have her home with me for 9.5 years before college, it takes my breath away.

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My little family. I am so blessed to do life with these people.

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Walking the halls and taking everyone to their classrooms, I was afraid somebody would cry. But we all were just excited for this new year of possibility and the many experiences we have yet to live. It’s the first year where I feel like life has been calm, settled, and full of rhythm. I have prayed over their classes, their teachers, their friends, and I feel confident that this. This is exactly where we are supposed to be.

Raw Almond Butter Cups

August 2, 2016

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We met the kids’ teachers last night at school and walking around the halls made me feel so glad we are apart of this unique place. My three oldest are doing a German language immersion program and their teachers will only speak German in the classroom. So there I am, standing next to Emma having a conversation with a teacher, and I’m only half picking up bits and pieces of what they’re saying! It’s the weirdest feeling to ask your 8-year-old, “What were you guys talking about?” Ha! I realized after last night that I need to kick my butt into gear since all three will be speaking like this and I definitely need to make more progress with Rosetta Stone. (My Christmas present from last year!)

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These raw almond butter cups are such a favorite in our house that one pan goes in minutes. Since this is the first year I’m not homeschooling I anticipate much more free time than I’m used to with just Hugh at home (if I won’t, don’t burst my bubble ;). I would love to make it a regular routine to bake treats like this with the kids when they get back from school in the afternoons. I want them to have really good memories of coming home that I hope will stay with them forever.

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I don’t have a mini silicone muffin tray, so I spray my mini muffin pan liberally with coconut oil and pop them out when they’re frozen solid. The only thing I’ve changed is doubling the chocolate topping. It could be just me, but there never seems to be enough to spread around. ENJOY!!!!

//RAW ALMOND BUTTER CUPS

3/4 cup raw almonds, ground into a meal
1/4 cup rolled oats, ground into a flour
2 tablespoons raw almond butter (or nut butter of choice)
1.5 tablespoons coconut oil, warmed if necessary
1.5 tablespoons pure maple syrup (or agave nectar)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of fine grain sea salt, to taste

for the topping
6 tablespoons coconut oil
6 tablespoons pure maple syrup (or 2 tbsp agave nectar)
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
pinch of fine grain sea salt, to taste

1. Add almonds and oats into a high-speed blender and blend on high until a flour forms. Dump into a large bowl and break up any clumps with your fingers.
2. Add the nut butter, coconut oil, maple syrup (or agave), cinnamon, vanilla, and salt into the bowl. Stir until thoroughly combined. The dough should be fairly sticky like cookie dough.
3. Line a mini (or regular) muffin tin with paper liners or use a silicone muffin holder. Portion the dough into each muffin cup and press down until even and smooth.
4. To make the chocolate sauce: Whisk together the coconut oil, sweetener, cocoa powder, and salt until no clumps remain. Spoon the sauce over top each of the cups, distributing evenly. Garnish cups with sliced almonds if desired.
5. Place in the freezer in a flat area for 30-45 minutes, until firm. Pop out the cups & enjoy! Store leftovers in the freezer.

Source: Oh She Glows