Introspective Insights

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

Mother’s Day and A Vision

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

I’m having a pretty fabulous Mother’s Day and am trying to stay in this moment, but this weight, this cancer, is so heavy at times.

I’m trying to be still and know that he is God. So hard to do. I see these faces I love and I think – will I be leaving soon? All information I know thus far says no – but getting this disease reminds me that we are guaranteed nothing. And in that realization, I have moments of stillness and I wonder what that means. I do not know God’s timing, but I know he is healing me and I know he is with me and loves me. And I know my goal sooner or later is Him – not a place, but a person – HIM. How do I live out these waiting, uncertain days? I try not to think about the C word or dwell on it – but live, just live life. To find the stillness in the uncertainty.

Flowers and hugs at church. A lovely friend saying, “God isn’t just saving us – his word isn’t just for us, but for healing too.”

Listening to the end of the For King and Country CD – there is a monologue where the speaker talks about love – how it’s the only thing that remains. And I close my eyes and I see Jesus in a yellow pink glow waving love around me and saying that love is everything and all things; that he loves me. This means everything; I stand in awe of my creator.

I can’t ask, “Why cancer?”, but I want to. I want to know and understand, but the only thing I know – the only thing he has revealed to me is that his power, God’s power, will be demonstrated in my life. Resting my spirit in his peace and power today.

Learning To Love

In the last couple of weeks, God has put people in my path that are challenging. Challenging to the way I think, do life, and my perception of what is right and wrong. While this feels like something new, the reality is that God has done this throughout my life. Last week, he presented me with these two people and I avoided the inevitable. So of course, I knew that I would be presented with it all again. Today, I felt like I got it right. I chose to love and engage in tough interactions. I let myself be open and listened and was surprised at the questions I received. I know an element of this post is vague, but that is on purpose. The point is that I’m learning to love others in ever expanding ways. The truth is that I didn’t want to interact, or learn, or be open, but that is what growing and changing is all about.

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.

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.

Love Personified

I keep listening to the Jars of Clay song Skin and Bones from the Inland album which speaks of love being people – both the object of love and the action of love.  Recently I read that love is a person and his name is Jesus.  This means that love is not a feeling or action – but a person. A person embodied in what love really is – all actions flowed from love of others, love of the Father, love always at the forefront, love as the focus, love personified.  And isn’t that what we all need to learn?  Love is who we should aspire to be – love is “skin and bones”. It’s not a theory or a concept, science or philosophy, but an embodiment of us acting out our highest calling.

I think of my days at home. I express love through doing things for others – “acts of service” as a famous author describes it.  Checking off the to do list all in the name of love.  But are these tasks received as acts of love?

Maybe it is not enough to show love in the lists, but to be present and hear and touch and hold and whisper into a little ear and play “This Little Piggy”.  For my children, being present – “quality time” is likely one of the few love languages they understand. Love towards my children  is my presence fully engaged and focused on them in the midst of the everyday tasks and experiences.  And as I come to this realization, I remember how much I have to learn.

Labyrinth + A Snake = God’s Heart


I took a walk yesterday – in a garden – alone (except for
the snake) – isolated in the woods.  All
things about that statement pretty much terrify me.  I’m not a nature gal, but appreciate it.  I’m rarely alone…so much so that my ears ring
when it is quiet.  And snakes – don’t get
me started!  I drive into the gardens and trails with an air of fear agitating me.  I pay to park, seeing only a mother and her young
boys and the guide in the welcome center. 
He says, “Take this path to the labyrinth…it’s…um, just better…you’ll
see.”

I step forward, all fear dissipating…the beauty and wonder
before me.  It is a blue sky, breezy, sun
prism day – early fall, the crunch of leaves under my feet – not cool, not
hot.  I head down the path, past the
tended gardens, into the woods; enveloped in greenery overhead, beside, in
front.  I turn and see the wooden bridge
over the algae blanketed pond.  Noises of
crickets and katydids welcome me.  I
cross and enter the path.  I listen to the
babble of the brook, the steady rush of the waterfall into the stream.  

I almost step on his chain-linked pattern body – tiny snake
in the path.  He has heard me pounding up
and is still…head poised up, listening. 
I can’t resist him and stop to take a picture – the only picture of this
trip.  He enchants me and I whisper, “You
are so cute!”

I twist and turn on the path…the leaf and tree markers a
blur in my peripheral.  As much as I
would like to read them all and linger, I’m keenly aware of my mission and the
fact that the sun sets earlier these days and I’m alone in this desolation.
  

I approach the last bend before the labyrinth.  I pause at the opening and read –
instructions, etiquette.  Labyrinth – “an
intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to
find one’s way or to reach the exit.  A
maze of paths bordered by high hedges, as in a park or garden, for the
amusement of those who search for a way out.” (www.dictionary.com)  While this is the formal definition of the
area I am about to enter, I made the pilgrimage here to find something and rest
in the confidence that I am not lost.  In
fact, I am sure I am found.

I pray as I walk into the limestone labyrinth path…silently,
surely…trudging quietly; grasshoppers and locusts spraying outwards from the
prairie grass as I disturb their rest; sun warming my face.  I am euphoric in my thanks and praise – not
the usual tone of my discourse with God. 
I listen, crunching feet, sun hiding in a small rainbow behind a
cloud.  God tells me he loves me.  Of course, I knew, but like any relationship,
it is important to be reminded.  He keeps
saying, “Be quiet, my child.”  Why is
this so hard for me, for us?  I prattle
on in my mind.  I pray quietly and
slowly.  In the middle of my quest God
says, “I am mighty and strong and it would do you well to remember.”
  Oh how often I have forgotten!  Put God in a box – limit him to my own
understanding of the circumstances and situation.  And when we hurt – don’t we restrict him
further?  Our pain in constant focus and
his universe blurred, distorted…greatness lost in our human amnesia.

Somehow this makes me laugh – because I am his child and
there is a bit of scolding in his voice. 
I promise that I will remember.  I
reach the center of the labyrinth.  I sit
in the quiet – sun blazing past the cloud…I move to another boulder, to feel
the heat on my back.  

I don’t want to walk out, but I perceive the sun
sinking.  I am quiet now and I hear the
words to an old, old song my mom sang in church.  I see a shadow pass over me – a hawk.  The song echoes in my memory, “And he will
raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breadth of dawn, make you to
shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.”  A reminder, promise, wonder, majesty, glory, our
smallness, his infiniteness.
 
 

I take the sunny path back through the prairie grasses.  I hear the crackly, ocean-like sound of the
breeze blowing through the birch trees. 
This experience so ordinary from the outward appearance, such mystery,
and over abundant gift to my inner psyche.

When We Begin

This past weekend I was privileged to participate in a spiritual retreat – Good News Via de Cristo.  It was an amazing experience that I recommend to all Christians.  This poem was my response to one of the talks where God’s love for us was described so beautifully. 
When we begin, God is there.

Watching, loving, in wonder.

He holds our future in His hands.

He makes our plans and they are good, amazing,
incomprehensible, beyond our imagination.

In all things good and bad, close and far, his banner for us
is love…

Always love, love, love, love – a flag over us.

In baptism we begin our relationship.

We take His name – we, His beloved.

Our marriages and soul ties to family and close friends a
hazy glimpse of the mystery.

This life abundant – more than we can create or plan or
imagine.

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.


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. 

The Afterward


Christmas is over…New Year’s ball is dark…kids are
sleeping.  The hoopla and preparation of
the last several weeks has drawn to a close. 
Every year I look forward to this time of year and when it is here and
gone the inevitable sadness creeps up on me.
 
I thought I was smart this year by resisting the buildup – avoiding the
hype…letting myself believe that it was really just “another day”.  But in my quest to avoid the pain, I almost
missed out on the joy and peace and hope that Christmas brings.

I have a cross stitch with Jesus in the manger that says “Gift
of Love”. 
I stare at it and try to
really absorb the message – try to comprehend what really happened that night
over two thousand years ago.  The truth
is that I don’t really get it – I’m not sure that anyone really does, but we
find glimpses of it when tragedy strikes and we pray and mourn and wish that it
was one of us instead of a child struck down in a senseless act.  We realize that we would sacrifice ourselves
and in that sacrifice offer the ultimate gift of love.  

Christmas…it is just one day…one day that we do silly things
preparing for – cutting down an evergreen and adorning it with lights and
ornaments, sending cards, baking obscene amounts of baked good, filling our
homes with bright lights, candles, and other shiny decorations.  We give gifts to remember that gift that came
to us then.  Yet, the day is gone in a
flash of light.  We see the cookie
crumbs, the lights gone dark, the clutter absent and the stark, cold, white
winter lies before us – icy and quiet. 
Maybe this quiet is time for reflection. 
I can’t quite figure it out…how to grasp sadness and embrace it and
grieve for what has passed by.  But maybe
that is the trouble.  Looking back is so
easy when the pain is fresh and looking forward so hard when the view is misplaced. 

Here is the opportunity to start a new journey…to lay down
what has built us up to this moment and find a fresh perspective.  What if the process of getting to Christmas
was the joy?
  What if each day we could
live in anticipation and gratitude and peace? 
Christmas would be a continuation a fulfillment of that joy – a day set
aside to remember and reflect and comprehend this incomprehensible gift. 

I’ll be honest – I don’t know if I can do it.  Dark days lie ahead and light absent unless
we strike the match.  But I have to try –
pushing it all aside – looking at this year, stretched
out before me…anticipating its joys and secrets…putting last year behind me.