Introspective Insights

Introspective - adj: Examining sensory and perceptual experiences. Insight - n: The capacity to discern the true nature of a situation.

Sucker Punched

I’m not one to whine and complain, but there are times when a day attacks and wins. I’m not sure when it started, but by mid-morning, the headache began. By noon, I couldn’t keep my eyes open and by mid-afternoon, I was angrily yelling. In my self-inflicted time out, I asked myself the same question I always ask, why do I fall victim to this madness?

I crawl out of my hole, apologize to the kids. Start slow and quiet, helping with homework. Understanding fills the room. Hugs and silliness and laughter follow. Yet, I still face off to the fear, the sneaky lie that tells me that I push the kids away every moment and that someday they will give up on me. Yet, I know that even when I’m irrational, I always love them. And this broken, tarnished mom will always start again.

Connection

For years when the kids were infants, I craved community. It seemed as though other people had relatives, friends, and acquaintances that helped when their babies were born and while we had that kind of help, we had very few meals made for us. Sharing a meal, to me, was what community was all about. My fondest family memories were around the table. My husband cooked for the first full year of each of our children’s lives and I am very thankful for that.

At times, when the days were tough and long and the baby was crying or my ears were ringing in the quiet, I angrily asked God why we didn’t have neighbors or close church friends that could come along side us during this time. God was quiet, as he is sometimes.

My third pregnancy was challenging with gestational diabetes, my terrible attitude, and incredible stress at my job. In some ways, Abby’s birth was a relief and a stark realization that my negative outlook needed to change. Our doorbell was quiet, the phone collected dust. Community seemed like a utopia. And it was then when I needed it most.

After leaving my job, I remember feeling like I was on a free fall. In those first few months, God answered my prayer for community. In fact, he answered it a few months before when I was invited to a women’s Bible study. I joined MOPs a few months later and from there we finally found a church that we loved. We were welcomed with open arms, wherever we went. That leap of faith, leaving my job, broke down barriers for the connections we longed for.

Now I’m blessed with many friends, along with those faithful few that I’ve always had. I’m reminded of this transition today as I sit in my parent’s house full of family. I realize that when I am home, my church family and others fill my heart, ring my doorbell, and chime my phone every single day while away from my biological family I love so much.

Connection, community, we were made to crave it, seek it, and engage in it. I’m grateful for this yearning and the beautiful community God has given us.

Who is in your community? What was your path discovering those connections?

Little Helping Hands

As early as 18 months, I started letting the kids help me bake. Little hands measured, stirred, scooped, and spread. As much as I wanted them to help, it was also a source of irritation for me. I started each baking session with my extra patience on and sometimes it ran out before we finished. I’m ashamed to admit that I made each one of them cry in frustration at least once.

Sometimes I bake because I want to surprise Jerry and the kids with a treat. While I don’t feel obligated, at times my annoyance with the little things that go wrong result in a stinky attitude. The love language I often express towards others is acts of service. I also enjoy giving gifts, so the combination of the two often leads me to obsessively looking for that perfect item and then running home to cook and bake three items in two hours. Baking is usually therapeutic for me, but occasionally I have that stroke of bad luck where I cut myself, dump sugar between the stove and cabinet, and realize I have no measuring spoons clean. Then I am rushing and brushing away the very people I’m preparing for.

Tonight, I was determined to make apple pie and start the apple butter in the crock pot. Pie crust and I don’t get along, so I ended up grumbling and patching it together like a quilt. After peeling and chopping about 50 apples, I knew I was in over my head.

My sweet, four year old Abby walks up, “Mama, can I help scoop the apples into the crust?” My first instinct and response is, “No”. My time line already a mess, bedtime looming in the distance, dirty dishes literally spilling off the counter, to do list too full for the last three hours of the day. She insists, whining, “You NEVER let me help!” I pause and look into her pleading pools of blue. I hand her the spoon and she begins – two apple slices at a time (there are at least 60 slices in the bowl). I sigh and walk away as Kayla sits at the table and chats incessantly over the single apple she has been peeling for the last five minutes. I’m frustrated, but thankful that my girls are here in my space, doing what I am doing and choosing to be with me. I know it won’t always be this way. God, please give me the patience to pause and listen and communicate with a word, a sound, a look, a gesture, a hug, that I am happy they are there.

Perseverance

My 63 year old dad graduated from college recently. He always wanted to go to college and here he was cap and gown on, first to walk across the stage – me and sister and mom cheering loudly. He has overcome so much, especially in the last year. And when I look at it and think that everything he has ever accomplished was through hard work and sweat and mental anguish and never giving up and do I really know how to live my life that way? He – selflessly giving to us in the only way he knows how – work, hard work, repetitive, head-down work. He – fighting his own demons and falling down but always, always getting back up.

And have I truly learned it yet? That it is the everyday commitment, the grind, the still, small effort that makes the difference and not the lightening bolt moment.

Tell Me Something Good

I’m tired, y’all, just tired. I’ve been listening to you talk about your husband / kids / friend / sister and if I’ve met them before, my opinion is starting to slide and if I’ve never met them I’m convinced that I don’t want to anymore. And it’s because of that one sided story you’ve told me…your venting. And I want to be there for you and nod and understand, but I’m so very tired of hearing the bad and the ugly. You see, I just want you to tell me something good. Just one thing, if that’s all you have about your husband, your sister, your daughter. Because I want to know all about them. I want to have a full rounded opinion about them. I want to know deep down, do you really even like them? Much less love them? Because right now, I don’t think you do – your words tell me you don’t – over and over they say rejection and anger and irritation and maybe even just a little hate. And its hard to listen to that over and over and not think the worst.

So let’s start over today, friend. Today, tell me something good and I will do the same and maybe, just maybe we will start to remember the good that is already there in those people close to us. It could help us change our minds and our hearts about them. And tomorrow, there will be another good thing and we’ll see it and speak it and there is power in our words and we can live in this good thing we’ve spoken.

Today, right now, about THAT person, tell me something good.

Six Years

To my Zachary on the occasion of his 6th birthday.

Six years ago, he was born – our second child, a son, Zachary John, which means “remembered by a gracious God”. We were in awe of this precious boy – crying softly, hand tightly clenching Jerry’s finger. He cooed and sighed in his sleep foreshadowing the loud, joyous, boyish sounds we now hear every day.


He preferred one of us snuggling him to sleep instead of a lovey, thumb, or pacifier. A whole year of nights he only wanted Jerry. He smiled at everyone, everywhere, always looking for a smile back. Every picture in his baby book is a grin. To my astonishment, he laughed at 10 days old, on Valentine’s Day. A precious love gift for this exhausted mama. I’m still in love with him today.


His first steps were terrifying to him, but that dimpled smirk and sigh of relief boosted his confidence. Now, he never stops running.


When I’m angry and tired, he gently comes to me and says, “I love you, mama.” My heart melts. He likes to listen to us read to him, but yesterday he read his first sentence.


This mama aches for that little baby boy, but loves this delightful, six year old boy in front of me. Time marches forward, ignoring my pain, but gifting me with the joy and discovery of my Zachary.

Holding Time


I’ve written before about the fleeting moments of childhood rushing by me.  I was reminded of it
again today as I watched my preschooler almost turned big kid.
 

He’s all boy, my Zachary. 
Always smiling his dimpled grin – big blue eyes sparkling.  Today he was so hungry at the restaurant that
he ate his spaghetti and his two sister’s also – using two forks to shovel
everything in – grinning ear to ear, mouth stuffed.

He took his first shower today and laughed in delight at the
water running down on him – inching further and further under it.  Shaking, wiggling, shimmying around.  

I forget that even at five there is so much for him to
discover.
  Yesterday a neighbor let him
ride his battery powered car with real gear shifter, accelerator and brake.  He hit the accelerator for the first time,
bubbling cackle infectious.  

Preschool is almost over and big kid school looms on the
horizon.  I can’t imagine him not home
with me…can’t imagine him all spiffed up in his school uniform, backpack, and
lunchbox in tow and yet this reality is a few months away.  How can I hold onto this time?  I feel helpless under its ever flowing
current.
  

God puts us here to care for these small ones for such a
short time and yet the day-to-day can swallow us up if we allow it – I have
often and too easily allowed it.  Today I
aim for consistency in capturing the wonder, recording the moments, priceless
memories and gratitude for this gift of motherhood – even if fleeting.

Bread & Wine Book Review


One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, just wrote a new book – Bread & Wine – A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes.  When I heard that I could get an advanced
copy and write a book review, I was ecstatic and jumped at the chance!
 

My best, brightest, and most positive memories are around
the table.
 While that includes the big
holidays like Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving at my Grandparent’s house, it
also includes the simple day-to-day gatherings. 
I remember laughing until I cried many nights at my childhood home over
any typical weeknight dinner – pizza or meatloaf or porcupine meatballs.  Five kids and my parents telling funny
stories and barely resisting spitting out our food or milk in fits of
silliness. 
 

I remember afternoons when a neighbor would show up and
there would inevitably be coffee and a snack – around the common kitchen table
– never in the living room.  I remember holidays
at my husband’s childhood home when we were dating and first married – in-laws
and siblings and nieces and nephews cackling and telling the same stories over
and over – crammed into spaces too small and nobody minding the tables between
us. 
 

I can see the table with splattered food that reached to the
walls, ceiling and floor when our three were little – loud and crying, and
spilling and even in that chaos, I see myself smiling, remembering.  I see Jerry and I at our favorite Italian
restaurant, the elderly waiter singing in Italian, the wine glass in my hand,
smiling and toasting and basking in my wonderful husband’s love. 
 

Around the table I see the people I hold onto and love. Even
when there is illness or pain or confusion or heartbreak or tension in the
everyday, when we are around the table, we can laugh and tell those same
stories – the ones that knit us together in an unbreakable bond. 
 

Shauna’s books have always met me where I am – right in the
midst of the same seasons in my life.  Cold Tangerines met me in the joys of my
life, Bittersweet met me during the
heartache, and Bread & Wine weaves
together all of those good times and bad, highs and lows into this everyday
necessity that is so much more than eating, but nourishment for both the body
and soul.  All of her books have left me
crying at one point and close to throwing them across the room at another – digging
deeply into the wonder and joy and striking the chord of pain and suffering.
Bread & Wine is no exception. 
 

The chapter entitled “Start Where You Are” has become my new
theme.  I’m an all or nothing person, so
I want to immediately start and master the next big thing with gusto –
controlling all its parts and accomplishing remarkable things.  But the truth is that I have to start where I
am – take small steps to move in that direction that results in those
remarkable things – whatever they are.
 
Running starts with walking and jogging and then logging miles – but
never in an instant or even over a single month.  Writing starts with single words strung into
sentences that result in moving thoughts and change producing vision.
    

“Open the Door” is a chapter that reminds me that true
authenticity when opening your home is being who you are in your own space even
if your space is like mine – perma-crumbs on the floor, dishes forever by the sink,
laundry baskets acting as multicolored living room accessories, splatters on
the bathroom mirror.  My mother always
welcomed neighbors and friends in the front door even when she was in her
pajamas, even when the kitchen was undone from the last meal, even when we kids
had left toy after toy strewn in the living room.  The door was always open and I aspire to have
that open door policy, in hopes that people will understand and know that they
can come as they are to this place where I am who I am.

I have a set of Russian dolls – much like the one that
Shauna refers to in the chapter of the same name.  They sit on my mantle – six elegantly
decorated ladies all tucked into each other. 
In this chapter, she brought me to tears with this – looking through
pictures of her Grandparents with her Grandmother.  Her Grandmother said that she remembered just
how that thirteen year old felt and that nineteen year old bride felt and that
thirty year old on the motorcycle felt. 
“She said you carry them inside you, collecting them along the way, more
and more selves inside you with each passing year, like those Russian dolls,
stacking one inside the other, nesting within themselves, waiting to be
discovered, one and then another.”   And in that moment tears welling out of me, I
realized that all of those selves I’ve collected along the way are lost – that
I don’t know them anymore, that I seldom look back and reflect and remember and
reach deeply into myself to stack them all together and come to the full
realization of who I am today because of them.
 
Some of the baggage those selves have collected needs to laid down and
some of that past joy and wonder, and fun-loving personality need to be picked
up.  I sobbed realizing that in doing
this, it will change the person I am today and I so desperately need that.   Whenever I look at my Russian dolls, I will
remember. 
 

The chapter entitled “Take this Bread” brings home to me
what it means to live this life around the table, acknowledging our physical
limitations by taking the time to sit around the table for bodily
nourishment.  But it doesn’t end there –
although our culture pushes us to use mealtimes as quick fuel stops for the
body – it goes much deeper than this. 
The table nourishes our body and soul and brings us together in that
singular place where we are all one.  Shauna’s
friend Shane so eloquently says – “bread is the food of the poor and wine is
the food of the privileged, and that every time we see those two together, we
are reminded of what we share instead of what divides us.” Yes! This physical
and spiritual act of communion – sharing bread and wine is the heart of this
book – the table that brings us together – but only if we fight for it and
cherish it and allow ourselves to be open to it.

The recipes – so fun and delicious!  I made the Basic Vinaigrette and loved the
simplicity of it.  My next go around I
will adjust the acidity using less balsamic vinegar and more olive oil, but I
have tried the original recipe on Greek salad and chicken and potatoes and
enjoyed them immensely.  I will likely
buy a better jar for it – my jelly jar has a high maintenance lid, which
results in more mess than I care for.
 

The Goat Cheese Biscuits were out of this world!  I do not have a cast iron skillet – but now
after making this I am inspired to purchase one.  They were dense and rich without being over
the top.  I gobbled up four in one
evening – I couldn’t resist!  (Looking
forward to eating more with eggs for breakfast!) I ended up making 14 biscuits
with the recipe instead of 12.

Overall, Bread &
Wine
is a real treasure of the mind, heart, and mouth.
  Each chapter weaves together a beautiful
tapestry of how the everyday table is one of the richest and most beautiful
places to be. 

I was given a free, advanced copy of Bread & Wine to review. 
However, my opinions are my own. 

Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold
Tangerines
 and Bittersweet,
and Bread & Wine. Shauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois,
and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She
is married to Aaron, who is
a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is
recording a project called A New
Liturgy
. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry
and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday
life–friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books,
celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and
reveal to us the heart of God.


Streams of Starbucksness


I am at Starbucks with my sweet three year old Abby.  She’s been really cranky today, but she is
quiet right now.  She is eating a pink
cake pop and people watching.  We are
making the mermaids on our cups talk. I’m the mommy and she’s the baby.  She looks out the window and says, “The cars
are going fast!”  Jazz pulsates and
slides out of the speakers.

Abby is hunched over her chair backwards watching the
manager interviewing someone.  I’m
admiring my gold purse and pondering the purple stainless and ceramic mug that
is on my wish list.  I sip the sweet,
rich foam off the top of my latte – nectar of the coffee warming my
insides.  I look into her adorable face –
hair a mess, smiling, dimple shown, big blue eyes laughing. 
 

Abby plays a game, “Can you sit in this position, mommy?”
Leaning forward, on the edge, on her knees, legs spread apart, sideways with
legs crossed.  She says, “It’s a little
table!  That one is a little table!  It’s a baby!”

She climbs on my lap. 
She says, “You have to write, mama. 
Why?”  I say, “I must!” She says, “You
so cute.”  I kiss her still pudgy,
toddler cheek. How I wish all of my moments with her were like this – coming off
lunch time with her tantrums and my yelling. 
Night and day.

The music slows and saddens, tranquil trumpet.  This moment fleeting, the clock signaling the
end.
  She bonks my head with hers
grabbing my pen and clicking it so I cannot write – snapping me back to
reality. 

To My Zachary


Yesterday you turned 5 – five, five, five.  I can’t believe that half a decade has passed
since I first held you in my arms.  Your
older sister taught me to be a mother. 
But you – you taught me how to love as a mother.
  Pushing you out was one of the most excruciatingly
difficult things I have ever done and I will never forget the feeling of you
entering this world.  All pain and
discomfort and intense, overwhelming eleven hours of labor began to fall
away.  

My heart began to race and didn’t stop for another six hours.  I sat up instead of sleeping – watching you –
 baby burrito cooing and humming in your
big sleep.  You were such a loud sleeper
and my heart ached with love for you – love at first sight.  

Now you run and jump and search for toys that begin with the
preschool letter of the day.  Every toy
can be made a gun or a sword and you leap off the top of couches in a single
bound.  You have a heart of gold
crumbling under the weight of my yelling and apologizing as fast as you
can.  You hug, kiss and protect your
sisters.  You tell me you love me when I’m
having the worst day.  

Your clear blue eyes dimpled cheeks and chin envelope me in
the reminder that there is so much good in this world.
  And you – in your five your old glory are one
of the best of those goods.  

I love you – my one and only boy.  I’m so grateful for you, Zachary John.  Your name means “remembered by a gracious God”
– he remembered me and in his grace and mercy gave me the gift of you.