For My Dad on His 70th Birthday

Dad 1My dad is turning 70 years old today, and as the writer in the family, I can’t let this amazing event go by without a few thoughts on my wonderful father. I decided the best way to honor him on his special day is to list seventy reasons why I’m glad he’s my dad or seventy things I love about him. At first I thought this might be a challenge, after all, whether it’s years or numbers on a list, seventy seems like a lot. But in the end, I found that the only I challenged I faced was in limiting my list to seventy things. That’s just the kind of man he is. And, in terms of years, seventy years is nowhere near enough time to know and love the man I call my dad. Happy Birthday, Daddy. I love you with all my heart!

Seventy Reasons Why I’m Glad You’re My Dad…

1)      The way you wear your black socks with sneakersDad Pic 4

2)      Sunbathing in Williamsburg

3)      Lunch at a “Sports Center”

4)      A Carolina vs. Duke rivalry that will NEVER die

5)      Tea Parties with AletheiaDad Pic 3

6)      Your affinity for Gaither music

7)      The way you play the piano

8)      The piano you gave to me

9)      Memories of you singing “I Shot the Sheriff” while shaving when I was a child

10)   Long walks with BellaDad Pic 14

11)   My shelf full of writing books that you give me each ChristmasDad Pic 12

12)   The way you always wait until Christmas Eve to do your shopping

13)   The way you always go overboard

14)   The way you always look to me to wrap your gifts

15)   Dancing with you to “Johnny B. Good” at a NUCA conventionDad Pic 20

16)   Walking down the aisle with you at the Kellogg Manor House

17)   Watching you hold Aletheia and Tenley for the first time and having you dedicate Dad Pic 23both of them

18)   Having you officiate my wedding

19)   Being baptized by you

20)   The way you love GodDad Pic 19

21)   The way you love my mom

22)   The way you’re so proud of Chris

23)   The way you love my girls

24)   The way you love Melanie and meDad Pic 5

25)   Watching Les Miserables in London, for the very first time, sitting next to you

26)   Dates with “Pam” and “Bobby”Dad Pic 2

27)   The way you can be a bit of an Eeyore whenever you think about getting old

28)   Seeing you at all my basketball games and piano recitals

29)   The smell of your cologneDad Pic 24

30)   Going a James Taylor concert with you in Charlotte…a dream come true

31)   All the dreams you’ve made come true

32)   The blue topaz ring you gave me for my 16th birthday, and a myriad of other jewels that make me think of youDad Pic 17

33)   Flying kites at Territorial SchoolDad Pic 11

34)   Motorcycle rides to the Turkey Farm

35)   My first bike…and my first car

36)   Slumming on a Saturday

37)   The way you “fix” things by calling the repair manDad Pic 13

38)   Your blue eyes that look like Pop-pop’s

39)   The way you always know when to bring home chocolate

40-45)   Trips to: Germany, Austria, England, France, Belgium and ItalyDad Pic 10

46)   The way you have always believed in me as a writer, even when I didn’t believe in myself

47)   George’s comments on my “bog”

48)   How good it feels to make you proudDad Pic 7

49)   Sneaking off to Applebee’s or Moonraker’s whenever mom was out of town

50)   Our shared love for March Madness, the Eagles, Alison and Barnes and Noble

51)   Your eclectic taste in music…that you passed along to me

52)   Listening to you preachDad Pic 9

53)   All the prayers you’ve prayed over me, all the dreams you’ve dreamed for me, all the tears you’ve cried for me, your hugs, your kisses

54)   Sitting in your lap and finding I’ll never outgrow it

55)   “Ahh, Cisco! Ahh, Poncho!”Dad Pic 6

56)   Knowing that you’re the only one who will always watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with me

57)   Knowing you’re my biggest fan

58)   Never, ever doubting my father’s loveDad Pic 8

59)   Showing me what the Father is like

60)   The way you use big words, and you’re amazing vocabulary

61)   “Sweat Buddies,” and countless games of H-O-R-S-E and Dad Pic 18Around the World

62)   The way every bum on the planet seems to be drawn to you, and the way you never turn them down

63)   Watching you and Chris share a beer in GermanyDad Pic 21

64)   Your love for CRISPY chocolate chip cookies and spumoni ice cream

65)   Dream vacations throughout my life…even if they were spent, in part, at a pay phone or a convention

66)   “Acorns grow into mighty oaks…”

67)   “Preacher Mode,” and a fateful 4th of July

68)   Your hands and crooked fingerDad Pic 22

69)   Your patience, your wisdom, your love and your strength

70)   The awesome privilege, and pride, and gratefulness I feel in my heart because God chose me to be your daughter, and because God chose you to be my dad

 

 

The One Thing Needed

“And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10: 41-42 NKJV

It’s 7:30 am on Sunday morning.

As I sit, and think, and pound out words, I wonder at how seven whole days have slipped by since I last sat down to write.

I am learning this about myself: The longer I go without writing, the further I feel from God. My soul feels weary and I can’t help but look back at my week and ask myself, “How did I get here?

My family goes to church on Saturday evening, and last night as we piled into the car, I felt a sense of urgency. I love our church and I always look forward to being there. But last night was different. I didn’t just want to be there. I needed to be there. I needed the chance and opportunity to enter in and connect with God.

As our worship leader concluded the song service he told us that sometimes he feels like his days are spent in a mad dash from one “Have To” to another, and that sometimes in the midst of the rushing from obligation to obligation he fails to make space and time for God.

He also told us about how much he loves to spend time with his son. How he loves for his son to crawl into his lap, and just sit there, content to be with him. And he said that this is how it is with God. That God, as our Heavenly Father, loves for us to simply spend time with him. He reminded us that we don’t always have to spend our time with God by reading the Bible or praying. That sometimes it’s enough to just sit and be with God.

I needed to hear these words. I needed to picture myself as the child, sitting in the Father’s lap, doing nothing but being with Him because this is what my soul is weary for.

As I reflect on my week, as I write this blog, as I prepare for the week ahead, I can’t help but think of all the things I allowed to come between me, and God and writing this week.

They are tricky, these things we think we have to do. They crop up, and deceive and steal from us the one thing that is needed. In and of themselves, they aren’t bad things. Quite often they are worthy and needed goals. And perhaps the trickery doesn’t lie in the things themselves but in the urgency and pressure we place upon ourselves to get each “Have To” accomplished.

This week, as my “Have To” list mounted, and my time with God was dispersed like dust, I could feel the pressure mounting. I can see how I let the pressure get to me, how I let it get at the best of me. How I yelled at my kids, and fought with my husband and became short tempered, graceless, and downright vile.

Don’t I know better? Isn’t this what Jesus was getting at when He spoke the words to Martha? I can imagine what Martha’s “Have To” list must have looked like, and I’m afraid it bears a startling resemblance to mine.

And the words He spoke to Mary, the words that said only ONE thing is needed, that by choosing the one thing, the good part would not be taken away from her. Isn’t this the one thing I missed this week?

I’ve seen this truth at work.  I’ve known the miracle myself. That when we choose God, when we place Him in His rightful place at the TOP of our “Have To” list, when we make Him the one thing that is needed, the one thing we Have To Do,  the goodness of Him is not taken from us. And I’ve seen it too, how He is faithful, how He multiplies the moments. When we open up our lives and make space and time for Him, He opens up the cosmos and makes space and time for everything else.

As I make a plan for this coming week, I am reminded of how I can do things differently. How I can be the little child who crawls into the Father’s lap. How I can make space and time for God. How I, like Mary, can choose the good part, the one thing that is needed.

How this week I can tear up the list and find in Him my most urgent…my only… “Have To.”

To Hear Your Voice

For the past two weeks writing has come hard. The time, the words, everything feels like a challenge, a battle, a fight.

I recently celebrated my first “Writing Anniversary,” marking one year since the day that God and I met together over this heart I have for writing and drew a line in the sand. No more excuses, no more procrastinating, no more fear of stealing from my family by pursuing my dream. I am so proud of the fact that I haven’t looked back. That I have stayed faithful to God and I’ve watched and grown as He has been faithful to me.

I feel like this should be a time of happiness and celebration, but this morning I noticed discouragement, frustration and doubt setting in.

For seven months I’ve been working on writing my first book. It is a junior fiction novel. It’s a fairytale story, one that my heart has felt drawn to for years, and as I near the final chapters my writing feels opposed.

This morning I felt the need to ask a friend to pray for me. I figured that prayer from someone on the outside, from someone that isn’t me, can never hurt. So I texted my friend and told her what I was feeling.

Less than a minute after sending this text my dad called on the phone. “Hey, pretty girl,” he said. “I was just calling to hear your voice.”

Immediately I knew that this call wasn’t just from my dad, but also from God.

It’s no coincidence that God choose to have my dad call me, just when I needed it most. For years, my dad has been my biggest fan, believing in me as a writer long before I ever began to believe in myself. What could be more appropriate than to find his encouragement in the midst of my discouragement and doubt?

When my dad asked me how I was doing, I was tempted to shmooze over the truth of my struggle. But then I thought, no, God is doing this for a reason, why get in the way of what could be a blessing not just for me but for my dad as well.

When we take the time and opportunity to encourage someone, isn’t it always an encouragement to us as well? That’s just the way God’s love is. It always comes back a hundred fold.

For a few minutes, I took the chance to be vulnerable and tell my dad what I was feeling. He told me how much he enjoyed my blog last Sunday, and how he understood my thoughts and feelings. He told me that I have a lot on my plate and a lot to do as a wife, a mom, and a writer, and he laughed at my idea of running away to Barnes and Noble to sit amongst the other great authors and write for an hour or two. He told me that I’m doing a great job keeping all the wheels turning and that sometimes a bit of quiet time to ourselves is just what we need to refocus and regroup.

It was the simplest of conversations, but it spoke to my heart.

As I went about the rest of my day, lunch, grocery shopping, putting the girls down for naps, I thought back to my talk with my dad. His words kept repeating in my head, “Hey, pretty girl, I just wanted to hear your voice.” And I realized that these words were God’s words too.

It seemed like God was telling me, “Pretty girl! I want to hear your voice too. Not just your audible voice that calls my name and speaks to me, but your words, your writing. Keep going, don’t quit. I want to hear from you.”

I still don’t know the answers, how I’ll find the time or the words to finish my book. But I do know who’s in my cheering section: my dad, my family, my friends, and God. I know that my writing has meaning and a purpose. I know that it is my voice and that my voice matters to God. I know that God is with me, and for me, and that he will lead me to the time and the words I need.

If you are finding yourself in need of encouragement this week, ask for it! It’s amazing how Satan tries to talk us out of doing something so simple. If you know of someone who needs encourage (And don’t we all need this?) then give it!

You never know when your words or actions may be used in the life of someone else to echo the love, the grace, the heart of God.

This is what I’m learning. This is what I know. In the face of discouragement, frustration, and doubt, encouragement comes. It always comes.

And when encouragment comes, my heart cries to God and says with relief, “I just wanted to hear your voice.”

Do Not Miss This

I love to rock my babies. It is a luxury I have been afforded as a stay-at-home mom. Naptimes and bedtimes are coveted parts of my day, and I try to take the opportunity to sit and rock my babies to sleep as often as I can.

Sadly, I realized this week that in the process of rocking my youngest, Tenley, to sleep I have fallen into a bad habit. For the past few weeks I have routinely taken my phone with me into Tenley’s nursery. When I know she is sound asleep, I scroll through Facebook or check my email until I know she is ready to be put in her crib.

I know this sounds harmless, and in reality it probably is, but lately I’ve started to feel that something’s not quite right. When I juggle these moments with Tenley with time on my phone, the payoff is not fulfilling. Instead of leaving her nursery feeling refreshed, rested and satisfied, I feel hurried, anxious, and kind of icky.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook just as much as the next person. I also know how helpful and sometimes important it is to stay up-to-date on what’s landed in my inbox. But this time with my girls is sacred, and using it to consume myself with these venues of social media seems to squander the glory of these moments.

With this in mind, I held Tenley in my arms yesterday and consumed myself with the sight of her. Instead of using my phone to check into the world of Facebook and email, I used it to take pictures of what I like to call “Tenley parts.”

The curve of her upper lip…

Tenley HandThe tiny red veins that trace her eyelids…

The soft pink dust of her cheeks…

Her scrumptious legs, elbows, and hands…

The delicate wisp of hair that just barely brushes her ear…

These are the sights I used to savor when she was a newborn infant. When did I let Facebook trump the awestruck wonder of her?

It’s an important question, especially on Mother’s Day.

Tenley, my “baby,” recently turned eighteen months old, and my oldest, Aletheia, is four. Aletheia out grew our rocking days quite some time ago, but thankfully she still loves to snuggle. Most days, at naptime she asks me, “Mama, you want to snuggle with me?” and I am afraid I have fallen into the habit of missing these moments too.

Concerned with what’s next on my to-do list, I convince myself that I don’t have time. What I fail to remember is that this time with her, right here, right now, with Alethiea at age four, is All. I. Have. This time, this moment, will not happen again.

What could possibly be more important, more urgent, than soaking up the God-glory, God-beauty, and God-wonder that is found in my girls? And isn’t it true that Facebook, email, and to-do lists can never rival what God is giving now?

It all comes down to a choice:

A choice to savor the babe in my arms and the golden haired girl that squeezes in tight under rose colored covers, or focus my attention on the hurry, the rush, the chatter, that fills up time but leaves me with nothing.

Tenley EarHow easy it is to forget, in a world of Facebook, email, grocery shopping, eighty hour work weeks, and the almighty to-do list, that our children are not just children, but tiny image bearers of God. And when we miss them, when we miss the moments we’ve been granted with them, we miss Him too.

The last thing I wish to do is ladle guilt on hardworking, never stopping moms. Motherhood, in general, requires that we give everything we have, to everybody, at all times of the day. I know that valid responsibilities demand our time and attention and that it is hard, sometimes impossible, to let our focus and time linger on naptime snuggles and bedtime lullabies.

But when the chance is given, when the choice is ours, these moments, these days, are not to be wasted, and what I hear God telling me on this Mother’s Day, and in these moments is, “Do. Not. Miss. This.”

Mamas, on this Mother’s Day, gaze at your children as you gaze at the stars and find in them, the glory, the beauty, the wonder of God.

 

A Lesson on Inconvenience (From My Four-Year-Old)

A few weeks ago my oldest daughter, Aletheia, turned four years old.

For several months now, Aletheia has been into Charlie Brown and Snoopy so as the first weekend of March arrived, preparations for a “Peanuts” birthday party were ready and waiting to go.

To my dismay, everything came to a screeching halt when my husband, Chris, was called out of town on business. “Don’t worry,” he told me. “I’ll be home in plenty of time to celebrate next weekend. I’m sure everyone will understand.”

Fast-forward one week. Chris did return from his business trip, but I am sorry to say, he didn’t come home alone. As a special treat, he brought the flu back with him.

Once again our birthday plans were put on hold. One by one, each member of my family came down with the flu, and by the time each of us recovered another weekend had come and gone.

Three weeks into March, and almost a month since my daughter’s actual birthday, I was beginning to get impatient. The friends and family we invited all understood, but I’m sure they, too, were beginning to wonder if our birthday celebration was ever going to happen.

I would like to say that my biggest concern, in the midst of all of this, was for my daughter but that would be a lie. In truth, my biggest concern was that I was being inconvenienced, that life, in general, was not cooperating with what I had planned, with what I thought was best.

There is a reason why Christ tells us in scripture that whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:4). Here we were waiting to celebrate my child’s birthday, and it turns out that my child was the one who was handling the situation best of all. I think it simply never occurred to her, that we, as her parents, would not come through. Her faith and trust in her mommy and daddy was secure. She knew that she was loved and valued and, in time, would receive the blessing for which she waited.

It seems this was just the lesson that I, too, needed to learn. When life hands us a situation that seems a total inconvenience, wouldn’t we be far better off to know with all our hearts that our Heavenly Father will come through for us, to know that our faith and trust in Him is secure? To know that we are loved and valued by Him and that the blessings we hope for will come.

In the end, my daughter’s birthday turned out to be more fabulous than I could have ever planned or hoped for.

We ended up celebrating her birthday on the afternoon of Easter Sunday. At first I thought this plan would be adding way too much to an already hectic schedule, but it turned out to be just the thing.

Rather unexpectedly, two of my husband’s brothers and their families ended up in town to visit for the holiday. This meant we had family from both Georgia and Illinois added to our guest list. My daughter got to spend her birthday with Aunts, Uncles, and cousins whom she loves dearly but rarely gets to see.

This summer, our Illinois family will be moving overseas to serve as Missionaries to Mozambique. Only God knows when we’ll be able to celebrate another birthday together. Knowing this made our time together even more precious and even more rare.

As we sat around the table, savoring every bite of our delicious cake and watching Aletheia open her presents, I couldn’t help but take in the joy I saw on each and every face. To see our family, joyful at the sight of Aletheia in all her birthday glory, to see Aletheia, joyful at the glorious sight of her family, was one of the happiest moments I’ve known as a parent.

I sat, and watched, and knew that this blessing was from God. It was exactly what he had in store all along.

In his book, Desire, John Eldredge writes, “We must have life. We cannot arrange for it.” By this he means that only God can supply us with the kind of life we long for. A life that meets our heart’s desire. A life that fulfills us. A life of love, adventure, and glory.

So many times, in our attempts to fulfill our own desires, in our attempts to experience the fullest life, we try to be the ones to orchestrate the plans we think are best, and when those plans go awry, we feel disappointed, frustrated, inconvenienced.

I’m learning that what I often see as an inconvenience is really nothing more than God’s way of telling me to slow, to stop, to get out of His way. To stop my crazed and frantic attempt to arrange for the life I think I need, the life I think I want, and trust that He will come through.

In the disappointment, in the frustration, he whispers it soft: Stand still, wait, watch. In what seems an inconvenience He gently reminds me to throw back head, open arms wide, and laugh, like the child, as I receive the lavish blessing only He can create.