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Toddler to-do: Climb on top of princess car. Check.

 

I tend to view life in terms of to-do lists. Today: drop-off daughter with grandma, deposit check at bank, pick up prescription at Safeway, work on website design. Then, as time allows: laundry, dishes, straighten up living room, clean stovetop, scrub floors, straighten up and dust bookshelves.

I also have my toddler with me all day, as I do every day. So many of these things will be left undone, as they usually are. And even if I finished all of these tasks, there would soon be five more chores to take their place. The work of a mother is never-ending.

My mom’s magenta Honda Civic used to have a bumper sticker that said, “Every mother is a working mother.” I didn’t appreciate that bumper sticker at the time. I was in high school and frequently used that car to drive to social events. So I covered it up with two other bumper stickers, “Free Tibet,” and “Maybe if we ignore the environment it will just go away.”

Now I know the truth – every mother is a working mother, and it’s just as important of a message as the other bumper stickers. “Free Tibet” stayed on the Honda for years after the car was officially passed on to me, and received a few mild reactions. Waiting in line at the Canadian border crossing, someone yelled out “Didn’t you know Tibet is free now!” (It’s not.) Or, when I worked at a private Christian high school a co-worker commented on how the “Free Tibet” car was mysteriously in the parking lot again, as if it couldn’t belong to someone who worked there. (It did.)

Today I found an old notebook with to-do lists and notes from different times in my life. The first page has my honeymoon flight itinerary, a phone number for a travel agent and notes about our rehearsal dinner. Later I find job references, a stream-of-consciousness writing exercise, sermon notes, and a workout schedule that was never followed. I find notes about many jobs I applied to unsuccessfully, as well as notes Spencer and I made before his interview with the first professional job he landed. A to-do list from a mystery Tuesday: underwear, mattress pad, painting hooks, money back? C & B, B & B, golf practice, Mollalla job application, call Bob, Bible study, wedding photos, laundry.

Apparently this notebook was lost in boxes or spare bedrooms but resurfaced recently as it has notes from 2006 and then 2015. I find To-Do Before Baby: organize bedroom, set-up chair, return used items to Toys R Us, set up swing, bolt Marie’s dresser to the wall, childproof sharp corners, childproof sliding door?, maternity photos?, doula?, baby shower?, register w/ hospital, tour maternity ward, spare key for my parents, taxes, teaching class, Marie b-day gift.

It makes me happy to think of life in terms of to-do lists. To be able to see the tasks that need to be done, and slowly work my way through them. I feel I’m making progress; I have a vision for how I want things to be and I’m taking the steps to get there. Some people call this “adulting.” Sometimes all the dishes and laundry and diaper changes, the bills and vacuuming, feel monotonous and relentless. But I’ve come to see that God is with me just as much in these every day, ordinary moments as He was with me in Africa or in the births of my children.

The extraordinary is present in the ordinary.

 

P.S. Do you have a favorite bumper sticker?

 

 

Today marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. This year, Easter happens to fall on my son’s 1-year-birthday.

I’ve been telling myself for awhile now that Lent is my favorite season of the liturgical calendar. This should be a hint as to what a fun person I am! Did you enjoy overeating and racking up debt during Advent? Well, I love giving up desserts in order to practice solidarity with Christ’s suffering on the cross. Cheers!

Haha. But seriously, I do observe Lent, and I enjoy the fact that it is somewhat counter-cultural. In the U.S., we live in a culture of excess. I recently read that 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, meaning they don’t have enough savings to pay their bills if their paycheck was delayed by just one week. Also, I think it’s safe to say that as a whole our society has big problems with food, alcohol, drugs, and pornography. Lent is all about practicing self-control, and that is not something that we do very well.

This season, I’m planning to focus on two things: cleaning/decluttering our apartment and organizing our finances. This means I’m going to be in a bad mood for awhile! But hopefully by the time Easter rolls around, I’ll be feeling better than before I started these projects. I’m currently reading Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money and I have Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on deck.

To help me with cleaning, I’ve started a housekeeping calendar on a whiteboard on our refrigerator. I’m trying to keep my daily expectations low, since it’s hard to get a lot done with my very active 10-month-old and preschooler around. As I write this, Marie is at preschool and Paul is pulling books and DVDs off our bookshelf. Time to move him into the pack-and-play. I actually started the housekeeping calendar last week; already I haven’t been able to keep up with the laundry schedule I created, but have done okay with the rest of it.

I also want to go through and declutter little sections of our apartment at a time. I’ve already gone through a lot of old papers and filled up several bags of recycling. I got an accordion folder and filed away important papers so that I can find them when I need them. This cuts down on clutter and stress.

My goal in this endeavor is making our apartment a nicer place to be. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be in this apartment, but I might as well make it as nice as I can while we’re here. Plus, if I declutter, it will make it easier when we do move.

For the finance part of this, my husband and I are taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University through our church. We are very blessed to not have any debt, but I want to get a better grasp on budgeting, saving, and a lens for making big financial decisions. This is especially important since we are living on just one income for now. Dave Ramsey talks about using cash envelopes for certain budget areas, like groceries and entertainment, to help prevent you from overspending. I’m planning to try this during Lent and see how it goes.

To be honest, thinking about my finances and decluttering my space fills me with anxiety, fear, and shame. It’s much harder than my usual Lenten sacrifice of forgoing ice cream. I’m reclaiming the things God has already given me.

When this season is over, I’m looking ahead to celebrating. We’ll be kicking up our heels over Easter and Paul’s first birthday, with Marie’s fourth birthday following a few weeks later. I’ll be celebrating finding beauty in the things we already have and joy in opening my eyes to the blessings around me.

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Celebrating good times on Marie’s first trip to the roller rink.

 

 

Are you observing Lent this year? What are you giving up or taking on? What’s something you’re looking forward to celebrating?

 

Earlier this week, in a rare moment when I was not being woken up by my daughter or my son, I had a dream about my grandfather. It’s been almost 4 years since he died, of an aggressive lung cancer. It was against his wishes to have a memorial service, and I was away at the beach celebrating my last child-free birthday when a few of my family members scattered his ashes into Amazon Creek.

My mom and I visiting Papa Jack near the end of his life.

My mom and I visiting Papa Jack near the end of his life.

My grandparents were never churchgoers when I knew them. Living most of their lives in the Bible Belt, they felt they didn’t fit in with church people. They were raised in church, and took their own children to church for a time. I’m not sure what my grandfather believed, but I certainly never heard him profess to be a Christian. In the months leading up to his death, I heard that some of my cousins in Kansas wanted, but were unable to, fly out to Oregon to lead him to Jesus. My mother said in his last days she spent hours holding his hand, reciting the 23rd Psalm and saying the name Jesus over and over.

Anyway, I have very orthodox Christian beliefs. I believe in heaven and hell, but who goes where is a private matter between each person and God. God is inviting us all to heaven – we just have to say yes. I think there are plenty of people who claim to be Christians who haven’t really said yes to Jesus, and I think there are also people who don’t go to church or don’t talk much about religion who are on good terms with God. And who knows what might happen on someone’s deathbed.

In my dream about my grandfather, he was still alive. I was surprised. “I thought you died!” I said.

He explained that he was still alive, but he was just living in another place where I couldn’t visit him right now. “I’m with Jesus,” he told me joyfully.

I’ve been talking a lot lately with my 3-year-old about spiritual things. She just keeps bringing up all these questions about God and what happens when people die. “Is God real?” she asks me. “Someone at the park told me He’s not real.”

“Well I believe God is real,” I say. “Some people have different beliefs though. It’s all a little bit of a mystery.”

So we’ve been talking about mysteries. Questions that haven’t quite been answered by science. Bigfoot is a local mystery we’ve talked about. Most people don’t believe in Bigfoot, but a few people are really convinced. Dreams are a bit of a mystery too. Sometimes I’ve had precognitive dreams – I had a friend who was biking across America and I dreamed she was hurt. I found out later she’d broken her arm. I had some friends in Portland and I dreamed they were moving away – I knew it couldn’t be true because the husband was in the middle of a master’s program. Then we had them over for dinner and found out that in fact, he was dropping his program and they were about to move to Alabama. There was no reason I should have known about either of those events.

So my dream about Papa Jack? Was it just my unconscious mind telling me what I wanted to hear? Or could it be something more?

Well, it’s all a little bit of a mystery isn’t it?

My grandfather with his first four children. That's my mom on his right.

My grandfather with his first four children. That’s my mom on his right.

Papa Jack and Mama Anne with Aunt Cathy, Uncle Joe and my mom (the baby).

Papa Jack and Mama Anne with Aunt Cathy, Uncle Joe and my mom (the baby).

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Happy Halloween and Happy birthday to my grandmother 🙂

A few weeks ago my parents treated us to a family beach weekend. My husband works a lot and we don’t have extra money, so it’s rare to get away for a weekend. It was a gorgeous, sunny September weekend in Newport, Oregon. We walked along the edge of our continent, dined on corned beef and Scotch eggs at Nana’s Irish Pub, watched sea otters play at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and slept deeply and peacefully against the white noise of ocean waves out our window.

On Sunday morning, I felt the urge to visit the wax museum. I used to love visiting the wax museum as a kid, hadn’t been there in about 16 years, and wanted to check it out as an adult. I thought it might be a tiny bit scary but surely my brave 3-year-old could handle it.

We arrived and then as soon as my mom purchased tickets and it was time to go through the turnstile into the museum, MJ started to freak out. She noticed it was dark inside. I wanted to go in, so I told her that she could just wait outside with Grandma and we would see her in about half an hour when we got done. My husband and I (plus baby in Ergo carrier) entered the museum and I was quickly entranced by the American Idol exhibit which featured…karaoke! Much to Spencer’s chagrin, I began singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” on stage, and then moments later MJ and my mom arrived. Both my mom and daughter were thrilled to sing on stage with me.

What made MJ change her mind and be willing to enter the wax museum?

Light.

The woman at the front desk gave MJ a tiny flashlight to wear on her finger. “Will this help you go through?” she asked. “Yes,” my little daughter nodded and bravely ventured in holding Grandma’s hand.

Light makes things not so scary.

Our world is in a crisis. The refugee crisis, the climate crisis, the gun violence crisis. There are a lot of scary and dark things going on in the world. Politicians don’t seem to be helping much. Religious people don’t seem to be helping much either. It would be easy to get very discouraged by the darkness. But….

The light has already come into this world. Jesus is our light. He helps us to see in dark places. And he is always with us .

“In him was life, and that life was the light of man. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5

I don’t have to be afraid, because God is with me always. I can be thankful for that.

At Oregon Coast Aquarium with MJ, facing one of my big fears. Photo credit: Alice Evans

At Oregon Coast Aquarium with MJ, facing one of my big fears. Photo credit: Alice Evans

The wife of Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, didn't have many career options.

The wife of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, didn’t have many career options. Photo credit: Alice Evans

 

It seems that people in my generation, commonly known as Millennials, have some confusion over this issue of finding their “calling.” And really, can you blame us? We’ve grown up in an era of unprecedented opportunities. We’ve all been told since we were little that we could be anything we wanted when we grew up — if we just believed in ourselves and worked hard enough. Here, have some fairy dust to go along with that thought.

So, do you want to be a politician, a scientist, an artist, a lawyer, or a surgeon? An astronaut, a marine biologist, or a kindergarten teacher? The problem with too many choices is that it’s overwhelming. Our limited brains can’t handle an unlimited number of options. It can be hard enough to choose whether to make spaghetti or tacos for dinner.

It’s also unrealistic to say that we have unlimited career options. Professional athlete is out reach for most of us, I think. Yet many people are lucky enough to have a variety of options. My dad had a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and later decided to get his master’s in Computer Science and became a computer programmer. My friend Holly had a degree in Romance Languages and 6 years later is in the midst of physical therapy school. Her husband was a landscape architect and is now a middle school teacher. So we do have options, and we can even change career paths if we choose.

I’ve done a lot of praying, reading and general soul-searching about my calling over the years. I want to live a meaningful life — I believe there are specific reasons I’m alive and I don’t want to miss out on those reasons.  Here’s what I’ve come to believe about the topic of finding your calling.

Your calling is about more than paid work. Some important aspects of your life-calling involve your relationship to others. If you’re married, being a loving and supportive spouse is a significant part of your calling. Likewise, if you’re a parent, you’re called to be a great one. And we’re all called to be loving and supportive friends to different people at different times.

You have more than one right choice. If life were a test, it would be an essay test, and not a multiple choice one. I believe if you genuinely desire to do something meaningful with your life — then you will. It’s not really as complicated as we make it out to be.

Work is still work. Even if you are lucky enough to make a living pursuing your calling, it’s still work. There will still be moments when you won’t want to do it. You will still have to interact with difficult people, and complete boring tasks.

Examine your talents, passions, and opportunities. We all have specific talents and passions and I believe God wants us to use them to help others. My husband is a talented landscape designer, and he knew he wanted to pursue landscape architecture since he was a little boy. He hasn’t been able to work in the design field for the last 6 years because of the recession, but it’s my belief that he will get back to it — when the opportunity becomes available.

My soul-searching has led me to discover that  — as unfeminist as this sounds — being a great mother and wife is a huge part of my calling. Perhaps the most important part. But I also know that it’s not my entire calling, because I have a passion to do more. I know that writing is part of my calling because I just can’t stop writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 5-years-old. I’ve loved all my freelance writing and editing jobs even when I had to write about horribly boring topics.

Will writing turn out to be the bulk of my paid work, or more of a creative outlet? Or will I go back to being a classroom teacher? There are lots of things about teaching that I love, and some things that are challenging. We’ll have to wait and see what opportunities arise…

Have you found your calling? What is it?

I’ve been reading the book The Power of a Praying Wife. I was initially a little skeptical about this book because I heard about it from a woman who said we needed to pray for our husbands because “they are our leaders in our homes and in our community.” Hmmm, really? The last I checked our mayor was a woman. I also know of many successful female teachers, principals, medical professionals, lawyers, pastors, etcetera. Yes, men can be good leaders, but so can women. Anyway, I chose not to bring this up at the time as I figured my minority opinion would be consider divisive in the women’s church meeting I was attending. Just because I disagree about something important doesn’t mean I need to get into an argument about it in every situation.

Another thing I initially disliked about this book was the the pink floral-patterned cover. Because, you know, women want to buy books that are pink and have flowers on them. Maybe they could also give away a free Barbie doll with each purchase of this book.

That being said, I picked up a free copy of this book at Bible study a few weeks ago and started reading it and praying through the chapters. I think it’s actually a great book for Christian women, though I may disagree slightly with a few of her comments. Her goal is to help people to improve marriages and prevent divorce, which is pretty important, considering the high divorce rate. Praying for your spouse and children is very important, in my opinion! The book covers prayer topics that I wouldn’t necessarily think of on my own — but now that they’ve come to mind, they seem like great things to pray about. If you can’t think of your own words to pray, you can just read the prayers aloud with your husband in mind. Easy!

We often undervalue prayer and think of it as something you do as a last resort. But truly I think it’s best if prayer is our first resort. Praying about problems before they occur can prevent them from happening in the first place. The further I go on my journey as a person of prayer, the more I believe in its power. It works, not in a God-vending-machine type of way, but prayer can change your heart and the heart of those you pray for and influence the outcome of events. This God-stuff is very mysterious.

I think more appropriate cover art for Power of a Praying Wife would be a picture of a woman running a marathon, or engaged in an intense wrestling match. Or perhaps a picture of a mother bear protecting her cubs. Yeah, that sounds about right. She’s ferocious, and willing to fight to protect what’s important.

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This is my first assignment for Writing 101: 20 minutes of free writing. So it’s not as polished as I would like, but here are my thoughts for today. And what about you? Do you believe that prayer works? Would you like to share an example of a time in your life when prayer has worked for you?

 

Jesus asks his followers to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That sounds really nice. Everyone likes to love and be loved. But what does it look like in practice?

When my husband and I first got married, we moved into a large apartment complex in southeast Portland. We soon met our next-door neighbors, an 18-year-old girl and her 26-year-old boyfriend. My first encounter with the girl was when she asked me if she could borrow my bicycle to ride one block to 7-11. Caught off guard by her request, I offered to drive her the one block instead.

Of course, this set up a precedent wherein she would often knock on our door asking for a ride or to borrow money or use our phone. Usually I, being a love-your-neighbor Christian, would grant her requests. Except for the times that I would pull the blinds shut and pretend not to be home.

This girl had a baby from a different daddy than her current boyfriend. Her baby was in foster care and his father was in jail. She was still in high school. She wanted her baby back. She would get him back soon, she often told me.

Her world was new to me. None of my high school friends had had babies or 26-year-old boyfriends or exes who were in jail.

Her circumstances were new to me, but the dynamics of our relationship were not. She was a Needy Person. I’d had other friends who were needy too, friends who made bad choices about drugs and promiscuous sex again and again. Friends who complained about their lives and asked for my advice and then would not listen to it. Friends who took and took and did not give back. Friends whose lives were black holes into which I tried to shine the light of Jesus.

Throughout the year, our neighbors’ problems seemed to get worse. They got jobs and lost jobs. Their car was towed due to lack of insurance. They borrowed our vacuum cleaner and gave us fleas. When they asked us for money to buy a flea bomb, we said we didn’t have cash. They asked if we could go to the bank and withdraw money. We said no.

We moved out as soon as our lease was up, quickly and quietly, without saying goodbye to them. Sadly and predictably, in the following years, I’ve been hesitant to get to know my neighbors.

What did I learn from this? I learned that loving your neighbor can be inconvenient. Sometimes you may get fleas, even though you don’t have pets. I also learned that it’s important for me to set boundaries with people. For example, I do not need to give someone a ride to a place that is within easy walking distance. I do not need to give money to someone who recently quit his or her job.

I do need to seek God’s will in my day-to-day encounters. God’s quiet voice may ask me to buy a sandwich for this panhandler or go to coffee with that friend. Or it may ask me to spend a quiet morning recharging my spirit through prayer.

In the words of theologian Frederick Buechner, “The place where God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” In order to love those around us, we first need God to fill us up with His deep gladness. The world may have an endless need for love, but thankfully God’s love is endless.

 

How do you find a balance between showing kindness to others and having boundaries?

When you look at a Pollock painting, do you see a mess that your toddler could have created? Or do you see a priceless work of art?

When you look at a Pollock painting, do you see a mess that your toddler could have created? Or do you see a priceless work of art?

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I originally wrote this as a guest post for the blog of my friend A.J. Swoboda (ajswoboda.com), pastor, theology professor and author of Messy: God Likes it That Way.