Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2014 Book List

I am often asked how I am able to read so much, since I always complain about being SO busy and having no time to myself. The trick is that I mostly steal reading time in snatches of minutes here and there. I usually read for at least fifteen or twenty minutes before going to bed, although I've also been known to stay up hours past my "bedtimes," due to an inability to put books down. Also, I am a freakishly-fast reader, Adam makes fun of how crazy my eyes look when I read because they move back and forth like "a ping-pong ball." I know, it's attractive. I might have a problem with having more books I want to read than I have time to read them. See exhibit A: my nightstand. It's a problem. 
Anyways, I wanted to keep my reading list for 2014 up-to-date in case anyone needed some recommendations (or perhaps non-recommendations). I've starred some of my favorites, and I rated most of them on Goodreads as well. My favorite book on the list is probably The Goldfinch. My least favorite was Serena, although I'll probably see the movie anyways because Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Plus my book club agreed that the story will make a better movie than book. 

The Interestings (Meg Wolitzer)
Orphan Train (Christina Baker Kline)
In This Moment (Autumn Doughton)
*The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
*The Lowland (Jhumpa Lahiri)
And I'm currently reading: The Good Lord Bird (James McBride)

I find most of my book recommendations via my friends Leigh and Shannan. I also just stumbled onto this list on Amazon: 100 books to read in a lifetime. So many books, so little time. 

*Note: links to books are affiliate links, which just means if you click on them and purchase the book, I get a tiny little referral fee. Which means I can buy more books, hurray!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mothering in the dark

Most of the time, the darkness swats away easily, no more meddlesome than a troubling fly or perhaps a noisy bumblebee. Other days though, the darkness settles on me heavy and thick. Fog rolls in over the skyline, and buildings lose themselves to the grey sky somewhere above the fourth floor.

On these days, my heart sinks at the familiar clink of her doorknob turning long before I am ready. My ire rises at yells of MY MOMMY from Caden in the back room. I scurry to him, trying to shush his yelling before he wakes the teenagers sprawled across the hall. Settling him, and climbing back under the covers, I convince myself he times his yelling and she her tiptoeing based on the ideal amount of time for me to get myself cozy. They are working together against me, I think. And I cannot shake this me vs. them mentality, even as I muster momentum to roll myself out of bed. To brush my teeth, pour my coffee, and push my feet into rumpled jeans and a black Anteaters t-shirt. Adam and I snap short over spilled cereal, and I bang the dishes loud as I unload the dishwasher, making room for the mountain of dirty pots and pans and peanut butter crusted knives and old milk cups. We tally minutes and tasks, each certain our tally runs higher than the other.And the darkness nips at my heels, treading underfoot, tripping me up in the grocery store when the children fight over cereal flavors and insist they need all-of-the-things. I whisper-yell words out loud that should stay inside my head. I apologize again, only to snap more unkindness in an effort to mold them more fully into the tiny models of adult behavior I expect and feel certain I deserve. Later, I sob into the phone that we are raising the worst-5-year-old-in-the-history-of-the-world. Our two year old is a menace and our five year old is a brat and don’t even get me started on all the unrepentant moody teenagers!


If I’m honest, I don’t actually feel ok. Rather, I’m lost somewhere beneath long strings of snow days and sick days and mountains of laundry. I question my purpose, my abilities, my reasons for getting out of bed. I want to give in to the darkness, I think. To simply climb back under the covers, and perhaps never get out. But the kiddos knock on the door, and my children cry for snacks, and Maverick barks insistent. So instead, I put one foot in front of the other, even when it’s not pretty and I’m still not sure how to shake the fog. Because apparently life keeps moving, and I have no choice in the matter.
Inexplicably, the last few weeks have mounted the hardest parenting phase thus far. Caden throws tantrums and yells loud, and Jayci struggles to find her own space in the mix. She wants him to play the way she imagines; he rebels, already, against any constraints snaked around him. She responds ugly, with cries and whines and yells and hitting.

I cannot stand the yelling and arguing thrumming angrily against nerves already strung-taut. And so we all dig in our heels, each stubbornly trying to shape the world into the one we imagine. She wants princesses and magic and little brothers who answer her bidding. He, I suppose, wants to be free to run and tackle and eat all-of-the-things. And I want children who listen perfectly, play together nicely, and mostly leave me space to breathe.

We dig in heels and pull and push and try to make it all work, and we end up hopelessly locked in the same endless cycle of me-vs-them. And the truth falls hard because in this cycle, we all lose. It inevitably ends with tears and shame and all of us certain we have missed living the life intended for us.

The shame, of course, flings the ugliest pieces back in our face in endless loops. I replay the words spat through pursed lips next to the sliced cheese at Publix. My heart sinks and I push myself lower and smaller, in shame and sorrow. The voices in my head and ears bark soft but insistent: you are not enough. Not kind enough or patient enough or forgiving enough or fun enough or anything enough.

I need the space, found sparingly and not without much searching struggle, to remember the truth. To recall whom God ordained as momma to Jayci and Caden. To remember that shame never rests on my heart the same way as repentance. To sit at the foot of the cross and beg forgiveness. And then to accept that forgiveness and walk in it. To know, even in the deepest darkness, that life and parenting are hard. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I’m doing it all wrong, it just means that I’m doing it.
So if today is a day, or week or month even, for you that looms dark and foggy, know that I am with you. Because together in the fog feels much less scary than alone. I let friends in, and cry ugly in my pajamas on our new Ikea-via-craigslist-sectional. I ask Jayci for forgiveness for the hundredth time, reminded by a friend that modeling humility and asking forgiveness renders far greater grace than perfect parenting ever can. Rescued by another friend with a late afternoon trip to the park, we sit on a bench missing its middle slat and let the kids run wild. They fall and scrape their knees, barely missing a beat before running up the slide and spinning on the swings. And so too, I fall and it hurts. But I get back up and run covered in the grace that Christ extends every single time. Because light still shines, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reunited and it feels so good

The Fedex man brought me back my laptop this morning. And I just about jumped for joy or hugged him or something equally ridiculous. Luckily I contained myself (particularly lucky for the Fedex guy).

Now I feel like we have so much catching up to do around here my friends.

For now, though, just a quick 365 project update. And some of my favorite reads from the past few weeks.

I feel as though spending half of the last month with no school and multiple snow days has really thrown off my life in general, and especially my sense of time and accomplishing actual tasks. Hopefully, we can get back into the swing of things now that temperatures are in the 60s (which I love, obviously, but what in the world is up with this crazy weather?)

These two: important, kinda painful, not really "pretty." But I loved them both, and I think you should read them too.
The Problem with little white girls (and boys) 
OK, white folks, here's how you can really help!
Grace Waits
A Careful Charismatic
The Ultimate Guide to Parenthood
3 D's and The Big Three: A Survival Guide to Survival Mode
On Being Jacked and All the Things I'm Not
I've also really been loving the Sacred Scared series that Glennon is hosting on her blog (Momastery). Love. I guess I've been thinking a lot about fear lately, and the ways we can so often overcome fear by showing up anyways.

Speaking of fear, a quick excerpt from one of my favorite things I've written here, I feel like somehow it encapsulates so much of what we do and how we feel about our life here in the city. Also, we spoke again to the same college class (just a new semester and new batch of students). And guess what? They asked so many of the same questions too.

Adam and I have discovered that the similarities between us and our neighbors far outweigh the differences. We've discovered that we belong to each other; and that together we discover Jesus across the dinner table, in the backyard, and throwing the Frisbee at the park. That the lady on the corner is Mikey, never prostitute. Because who among us wants to be labeled and described by our most desperate mistakes? So we learn names. And then we call people by them. Because we firmly believe that Christ would not brand junkie or homeless or drug dealer or gang-banger. Why do I believe this? Because the gospel in my own life carries the freedom and grace in called-by-name, not labeled by the mistakes I’ve made. Not proud, or greedy, or fearful, or anxious, or depressed, or quick-to-anger. None of that defines me in Christ, and living out of my identity in Him is the quickest way to breathe fear-less wherever we find ourselves (read the rest here).


Finally, I leave you with one of Adam's greatest creations (via Smitten Kitchen). Banana Bread Crepe Cake with Butterscotch: this was everything I want in a dessert breakfast: fruity, sweet, tangy, and a little nutty. Plus, we shared it with some of my very favorite people in the whole world.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Because it's been a minute (and Caden's cardiology appointment)

At this point, I'm embarrassed to admit how much I miss my laptop. And not just because I'm behind on returning emails and editing pictures and various other important tasks. Because I miss being able to google things and browse pinterest and check IMDB when I'm watching a movie. Also because I have two full memory cards of pictures from the last few weeks, not to mention video footage of a rap battle the kiddos had in our kitchen.

Enough about my problems related to my apparent laptop-addiction. We've had a crazy couple weeks, which I realize is as-per-usual around here, but that has all been compounded by the number of snow days and holidays we've been lucky unfortunate enough to experience the last week or two. In fact the children were out of school for over a week. And it's not just MY children who i am pleased to see go back to school today: it's the neighborhood kiddos too. It's time, ya'll. Past time really.

Last week, we took Caden to his cardiologist appointment (he has a check-up every six months). In the days leading up to these appointments, I find myself fluttering with a strange mixture of trepidation and assurance that things will be just fine.Mostly because our little boy has all-of-the-energy, all-of-the-time. And his cardiologist keeps telling us we will notice his energy lagging significantly when it comes time for his next surgery. Despite this assurance, I cannot help feeling unsettled perhaps by the mere reality that our son even needs a cardiologist in the first place. I don't know.

Anyways, they did an EKG and an echo, even though Dr. V thought that he could probably gone without an echo since his murmur sounds mostly unchanged. For those who have asked more specific questions about what the doctor said (sorry if this is confusing/jargon-y to those of you who didn't ask/don't care): They said there is a little leakage from the neo-aortic valve (Caden's new aorta, which was previously his pulmonary), but that this is to be expected because all pulmonary valves (yours, mine etc) have slight leakage. We will just continue to monitor this. He also said that Caden's pulmonary valve (which is his donor valve, the one he will need future surgery on), has significant leakage. This has caused slight dilation of the right ventricle.

All of this sounds much more dire, apparently, than it actually is at this point. He said we will need to continue to closely monitor this, but he doesn't think that intervention will be necessary "anytime soon," which is of course really good news. The longer we can wait for his next surgery, the better. Caden will go back to the cardiologist in August right around his third birthday. Thanks for keeping him in your prayers, as always!

In other news, the snow melted and now it's supposed to be like 70 degrees this week. Crazy Georgia weather, y'all. We had fun playing in the snow (well, kind of. It turns out my children are kind of wimpy when it comes to cold. At one point, Jayci was sobbing and asking "but why is it so cold in Georgia?!"). All that to say, good riddance to the snow: bring on the warm weather!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

FAQ: Fear

Occasionally, some brave soul/organization/school asks Adam and me to share our story. This typically goes better together than apart, since I loathe speaking in front of anyone, but cannot resist correcting and contributing once Adam opens his mouth.

A few months ago, a friend and professor asked if we might share with his college sociology class our journey from living and growing up in the suburbs to living in the city. It was an interesting place for us to share, with emphasis neither on our faith, nor on our reasons behind living where we do; rather, we spoke frankly about some of the differences in city vs. suburban living, and some of the challenges and joys of living in our neighborhood. This journey, of course, finds itself all tangled up with our faith and following Jesus, which means we end up talking at least a little bit about how and why we decided to move here. When we finished, the professor asked the class if they had any questions. Every hand shot up.

One girl in particular began the evening slouched in the back row, texting or facebooking furiously on her phone. As our story progressed, she stashed her phone in her faded leather bag alongside her books, and eventually abandoned her seat in the back row for an open chair near the front. I smiled encouragingly at her, hoping she would ask a nice-and-easy question. What she actually asked was this:

But aren’t you afraid?

This question, or some variation of it, definitely ranks as our most frequently asked frequently-asked-question. I find it surprisingly difficult to answer, because here’s the thing about fear: of course I’m afraid. Of so many things: of Caden’s next surgery, of screwing up my children in irrevocable ways, of saying the wrong thing, of the scrawny collarless pitbulls roaming our hood with ribs jutting, of dying; and, inexplicably, of our chickens. Of getting everything all wrong in following Jesus, or even (if I’m totally honest) that I’m wrong about the very existence of the one I follow. Fear unfolds complex and hard to define, let alone conquer.


The complexity of fear acknowledged, on this particular evening, Adam and I make eye contact with eye-brows raised. He nods his head, clearly passing the question to me. I shoot him a quick sarcastic thank-you-very-much look, and take a deep breath.

Actually no, I tell her. In fact, I’m surprisingly unafraid of living in our neighborhood. In every way. Sometimes, we even forget to lock our doors; such is our height of our not-afraid.

I hurry on, noticing the skeptical looks sprinkled throughout the room.

Because, honestly, I didn’t always roll down my windows and yell to my neighbors. I can remember, with surprising clarity, exactly the fear that coursed through my veins when I began coming downtown. We had just finished our first summer at camp, and I knew I simply HAD to see these kids again. And so, I called every ministry on the list of those who brought kids to camp. After weeks of unreturned phone calls, two ministries finally told me how I could get involved. Wednesday night Bible study after work seemed like a fairly harmless way to ease-in.

The next Wednesday evening, I began the drive downtown with the sun still high in the sky. But as I turned onto the infamous Bankhead highway, it had already nearly completed its slow descent over the horizon. Shadows lengthened and deepened, while the sky steeped to black. Street lights blinked on, or perhaps didn’t, over long stretches of abandoned houses with shattered and boarded windows. Entire blocks littered by trash and wire-grated-corner stores, bustling sidewalks, and strip malls with every sign painted by hand, the landscape reminded me more of our honeymoon drive through the streets of Jamaica en route to our resort than of my own suburban neighborhood. I’m embarrassed to remember just how deeply and loudly my heart thrummed in my chest. I sank in my seat at each red light, checking surreptitiously time and again to ensure I had securely locked the doors. On one particular corner, men huddled in clusters outside a windowless store, staring unabashedly at my twenty-one-year-old self with creamy-colored white skin and curly hair tied hurriedly back in a ponytail. I cautiously navigated my cute new green Honda down pot-holed streets, contemplating running the red light, carefully avoiding eye contact and ignoring the shouts. Wondering if I should turn back.

But I didn’t turn back. Instead, I kept showing up week-after-week. And I discovered that those guys on the corner? It turns out they are human beings. With names. And fear always recedes in the face of names; of humanization, of friendship, or even just connection.

The girl nodded slow: I never thought of that, she said. You know, that the thugs on the corner are just people.

I felt shock course through me at her words, though I suppose before I began that fateful drive down Bankhead highway, I had never thought of it either. Yet even months later her words haunt me. Because at what point did it become ok for us, especially us Christ followers, to cease thinking of anyone as a person?

Adam and I have discovered that the similarities between us and our neighbors far outweigh the differences. We've discovered that we belong to each other; and that together we discover Jesus across the dinner table, in the backyard, and throwing the Frisbee at the park. That the lady on the corner is Mikey, never prostitute. Because who among us wants to be labeled and described by our most desperate mistakes? So we learn names. And then we call people by them. Because we firmly believe that Christ would not brand junkie or homeless or drug dealer or gang-banger. Why do I believe this? Because the gospel in my own life carries the freedom and grace in called-by-name, not labeled by the mistakes I’ve made. Not proud, or greedy, or fearful, or anxious, or depressed, or quick-to-anger. None of that defines me in Christ, and living out of my identity in Him is the quickest way to breathe fear-less wherever we find ourselves.

This fearlessness, however, arrived for us two-fold. Almost like Jesus knew we needed greater protection against creeping anxiety and the constant question: but aren’t you afraid?

And so literally two days after we moved into our house in a “dangerous neighborhood,” our son emerged from my womb with a heart not formed quite right. We cried, and wailed, and kicked, and finally surrendered to the truth most hard to swallow: there are no guarantees. Life turns, not as we will it, nor how we prepare for it. Rather, God holds all of our futures in His strong hand, and in His perfect timing. That means we cannot protect against bullets any more certainly than we can protect against a broken heart, both literally and figuratively. Our children’s hearts WILL be broken, as will ours, whether we live in the city or the suburbs. And yes, we will find ourselves in pain and perhaps weeping through the night. But this problem cannot be relegated to simply living in a broken neighborhood. Because the truth remains that we live in an entire world broken in need of a Savior.

While I do not claim to understand God’s ways, I would not say that God gave Caden a faulty heart, necessarily. I will declare with certainty, however, that the Lord in His infinite kindness used those harrowing days to draw us near, to deepen our dependence, and to teach us to live fearless by stripping away any illusions of control we might have otherwise harbored.

And so we live in the hood, and we invite yet another teenager to live with us for a few weeks. We remind him to turn down his music and pull up his pants, and we don’t let our own children watch anything not rated G. Because we walk in the tension daily of somehow both letting go and living wise. Of fear and freedom, messy relationships and prayer. We remember the lessons that have been learned the hard way, and we enter into even the darkest places knowing the truth that behind every chest lies another human being, one whose heart beats broken in desperate need of a Savior.

To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only by journeying for the world's sake - even when the world bores and sickens and scares you half to death - that little by little we start to come alive.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

Links and Poems and Pictures

Ok so this whole computer-ruined-by-milk-spill thing is really messing with my mojo on the blog. Not that I necessarily had any bloggy-mojo to start with. And since I cant even seem to get my camera to want to put its pictures onto this slightly-bootlegged-old computer (not that I blame her, poor camera), here's a few shots from instagram this week.

First of all, you guys obviously know my sweet little heart hero (Caden). I wanted to remind everyone that this week was CHD (congenital heart defect) awareness week. 1 in 100 kids are affected by congenital heart defects, and we are hoping and praying for continued research, support, and prayers for each and every one of these kiddos!  Also, Caden goes back to the cardiologist this week, and even though I feel like they're for sure going to say that everything looks great (because, hello, this little wild-man is not lacking energy in the least), I cant help but feel a little nervous every time we have to go. So your prayers are much appreciated this week, for heart defects everywhere - and specifically for this little munchkin and his heart-appointment this week.
In other news, our Anteater basketball season is in full swing. If you're interested in buying a bright green t-shirt ($10) or hoodie sweatshirt ($20), please email me Becca1612 at hotmail dot com.
In still more random news, this little girl is the most adorable art and gift-lover ever. She has the most beautiful thoughtful heart you guys, and yesterday she came out of her "playtime" (which is like naptime but without the sleeping and also without any restfulness for momma), with a canvas that she had glued crayons perfectly across so that she could recreate some art they made at school. Adorbs.  
Finally, Jayci has been requesting lots of family dates, and "girl time" lately. I recognize that the life we lead might make our kids feel like they have to share mommy and daddy with lots of neighborhood kiddos, so I'm trying to do a better job with being intentional spending concentrated time with my children. This weekend, that meant mani-pedis and a Target date with Jayci.

Finaly, I'll leave you with a few links I loved this week (if you're only going to read one, make it the one from Russell Brand. Who knew?).
Russell Brand: My life without drugs "I look to drugs and booze to fill up a hole in me; unchecked, the call of the wild is too strong" . . .
What your church can do to care for the poor
More Love, Less Hustle
Words for the mothers who make
The best gift an adoptive mom can give


Oh and this poem too:
The small woman
Builds cages for everyone
She
Knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck her head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners
- Hafiz

Thursday, February 6, 2014

If God is real . . .

I don't know if you remember when my amazing friend Lori Harris guest posted here during my series on listening, but she is an amazing person and of the few people who I feel like totally "gets" my life, since she is living the same way in north Carolina. She is hosting a Local IF Gathering this weekend (I'm going to one in Atlanta), and asked me to help write something around the theme of "if God is real, then ..." - little did she know what a pivotal question this was in our journey towards inner-city ministry and our lives in Atlanta. She also couldn't know that someone (not mentioning names but hint: it wasn't one of the kids) would spill milk and kill my laptop dead. But I am passionate about God who is real, so I will peck out approximately 2 words per minute on this glacially slow old iPad my dad gave us when he upgraded. I've also never guest-posted before, so leave me some love so I don't feel embarrassed, deal?
"If God is real, it changes everything. Sometimes the change comes slow, with one tiny step, with one yes to working at a summer camp we know nothing about. And sometimes it bounds wide, with moving onto a busy street corner in inner-city Atlanta. But rest assured, if God is real, then change will come. Change comes sometimes painful, always beautiful; in faltering baby steps, and in leaps and bounds. Because our goal morphs from success, to proximity to a God who is real. We open our doors and live our lives wide open. We order our pizza through three-inch-thick-bullet-proof glass, and then share slices with the guy pushing his shopping cart past our parking spot out front, because God is real and we cannot imagine Him doing otherwise. We love through the hard days of marriage, and trust in the scariest nights because God never promised us easy. Just that He is real, and that He will be with us always. . . " 
Read the rest at Lori's place (also, you should definitely follow her blogs, she is the kind of writer I hope to be when I grow up)

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