Saturday, February 28, 2015

Weekending



:: The Extraordinary Beauty of an Ordinary Day by Jen Kershner at The Cottage Nest because aren't we all doing our dangdest to really notice this in our own lives? "Look around you at all the beauty and love that fills your home. The cat that wants his belly rubbed. The daughter that wants you to sit on her bed and keep her company. This is your life."

:: Selfishness for Now by Erin Loechner at Design for Mankind because this is exactly where I find myself right now. "Sometimes I feel like the bulk of my job – as a writer, as a mother, is simply to protect my time..."

:: Intentional Neighboring Part I by Becca Stanley at The Stanley Clan because this is my very heartbeat. "When we talk about intentional neighboring, we mean living your life with purpose and consideration towards taking seriously Jesus' command to "love your neighbor as yourself." This, of course, leans far more complex and simple and crazy than it sounds."

:: Finding Rest for the Soul by Alia Joy at Deeper Waters because I keep trying to figure out how to do this like I mean it.  "Rest cannot be a reward, it must be a requirement."

:: Stupid Easy Nutella Cocoa Puff Cream Pie by Kendra at The Sugar Box because cereal and pie. "What [this pie] doesn't have: a filling that needs to be cooked and coddled and cooled and taken on a shopping spree."

:: Because You Asked, How Do I Love the Poor by Lori Harris because this is so hard to talk about and she does it beautifully and inspires me to keep truckin' here in my neighborhood. "To love the poor without making them feel poor, you have to know the poor well enough to call them your neighbor." (She had that in bold type and I'm leaving it that way because BOOM. It's everything.)

:: How Do School Lunches Around the World Look at Bored Panda because the world is so full of radness. (Sidenote: We are proud school lunchers, every single day. Our school eats for free and we never, ever pack. I see this as just one of the facts of life. As my dad always said, "It builds character!")

:: Hey, I'm speaking at Allume on October 15-17 in Greenville, SC! I'm way beyond honored to be part of this group of my heroes. Will you be there? Tickets go on sale Sunday March 1 at 8 a.m.!

Inline image 1

 :: Those boots up at the top? Silas calls them "My high heel boots" and has worn them to school every day this week, usually with sweatpants, but one time with his "fancy" shirt and necktie. Because he is just the best thing ever.

Happy weekending, homies.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Guts of Inspiration


For the past month, I've had a stack of magazines by my bed that I was too busy to read. I was busy writing, busy bleaching the whites, busy charring tortillas over an open flame. I was mediating sibling wars and cleaning cleaner off all the mirrors (long story). I was in meetings and in my van and wasting time on things that were more mindless than inspiring.

I was even busy exercising, but only a little.

Life felt like a long string of tasks, even the parts I was used to loving.

I watched some TV, because it was time spent with Cory, or the kids. I picked up a book and read now and then, but that's a worthy cause, and I like watching my Reads list grow.

But those magazines collected dust for two reasons; 1) In such a busy season, it never seemed like a "good enough" use of my time and 2) I liked knowing they were there waiting for me, an eventual reward for all my effort.

Earlier this week, after the left-overs were packed away and the kids were tucked into their beds, I grabbed them. Enough was enough. If I waited much longer, new issues would arrive, but more than that, the longer I ignored them the less I began to care about them at all.

Since middle school, magazines have been one of my happy places. Equal parts color/information/quiet, they speak straight to the heart of me.

So I got to work.

Four issues and thirty-some dog-ears later, I couldn't begin to tame the creative beast. I didn't want to.

In just two still hours, I tracked down the part of me that had gotten sidetracked by my schedule and agenda. I came back to life in those pages, reimagining the green entry table and considering the neglected downstairs bathroom.

I made plans to make lemony chicken and dill soup and serve it up with yellow cake with salted chocolate ganache.

I vowed to stop the world this weekend for a batch of homemade spaghetti and meatballs - I could already hear the oil hissing in the pan.

In no time flat, I was daydreaming about a family trip to the Lake Michigan Shipwreck Museum, plotting hellebores for the garden, and making a mental note to find The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain (Calvin) and Remember Me Like This (moi).

The funniest thing happened when I woke up the next morning - I couldn't wait to dig into my "real" work. Maybe the line between work and rest isn't as stark as I thought. Maybe sitting under an afghan and thumbing around for more projects actually counts as billable hours. It helped me remember who I am.

My art is "official" writing, but it's also cooking and learning and playing house with my home, to name a few. They feed one other.

In this life that I find so rad, an organized mud room happens to be the catalyst for an enjoyable 3,000-word-count day at the "office".

So, it's Friday. The perfect day to try something new.
What are you going to do about it?

My advice? Find that "other" part of you that's been hiding somewhere in the corner of your day jobs.

Dust it off.

What are you waiting for?


*amazon links

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You Thought I Was Thrifty


A couple of weeks ago I met a new friend.

We met for an entire day, having never even shared a phone call. Though there was a time when this sort of thing would have made me a ratty jumble of nerves, I found myself looking forward to it.

I wondered, am I losing my introvertedness? Did the internet warp my personality?
Then I spent six straight hours in silence while my kids were at school, ignoring every phone call, no radio, no TV, no podcasts. (The concept of listening to podcasts is so foreign to me, I can't even tell you. I want to do this thing, but I can't understand why I would invite such interruption into my silent hours. So, here I still am, utterly podcastless.) I don't even make eye contact with the cat when I'm home alone.

Yep. Still an awkward introvert.
(I'm not saying all introverts are awkward, I'm just saying awkwardness is a vital part of my life's fabric. It makes for a stunning combo.)

Just as we pulled up to the coffee shop for breakfast, I blurted out, "Wait, are you a healthy eater?" It was a sudden, visceral concern.  Could I forge a friendship with a girl disinclined to eat chocolate-filled carbs at 9 a.m.?

I couldn't say.

She assured me she likes the smell of junk food in the morning, then somehow segued into a story about doing a pull-up. Scratch that, FIVE pull-ups.

I mean, I was scared.

But five minutes into our "breakfast", I knew we were good to go.
We had a great many things to discuss. We share all kinds of common ground, except for the fact that she also plays basketball regularly with college dudes oh my gosh how do I get myself into these situations?

I could choose to ignore her glaring athleticism.
I was willing to overlook this obvious character flaw.

I kid. Come on. 
(Also, isn't she pretty?)

To celebrate overcoming this first hurdle to our friendship (does she jump hurdles, too? probably so) I took her to my favorite thrift store.

This feels like the right time to tell you her name, although writing about her in 3rd person does build intrigue....

Fine. It's Janell.

We spent the next 90 minutes sorting through good junk.
And yakking.

I got a cart, which I've never done in the history of my love for our local MCC Thrift Store.

I texted Cory a picture of an old man cardigan to match his old man beard and he wrote back, "It looks like a ladies sweater!"

Which, to be fair, I did accidentally buy him a ladies flannel the previous week from Goodwill, so he was still a bit suspicious, and rightly so.

Anyway, we filled the dang cart UP.

I kept tossing stuff in like I was some kind of secondhand Kardashian, then at the very end I put a bunch of it back, which I tend to do, including a supah-cute tea pot that Janell swooped in and grabbed.

I had no idea she was eyeing the tea pot!
(I'm so glad I didn't have to arm wrestle her for it.)

 
This is my cart after I put a bunch of stuff back.
What is wrong with me?
Atone me!

Do I plan to wear that tube top as a tube top, or turn it into a skirt? I'LL NEVER TELL.

As for the rest of it, I have no defense.

This is right around the time we knew we were in trouble.

Listen, many of the ladies at the MCC are the sweetest EVER. They're volunteers. And they're, I mean, in their golden years.

They're smart and snappy and they always oooh and aaah over what I'm buying, to the point that I sometimes feel bad, like maybe I should offer it to them.

But on this particular day there was some confusion with the register. Or...something. Plus, we bought ALL OF THE THINGS, which wasn't helping.

It took a reallllllllly long time to check Janell out.

Then it was my turn.
And when it was all said and done (all and all and ALL said and done)...

My total was $2,696.26 and that man thought Janell was stalking him.

Nothing seemed quite right.

Blue tags were 50% off and I had lots of blue tags!
Something was off.

So we started all over. Bless it.

As you can imagine, I had two pretty hefty bags of goodies to take home with me in the end.

But after I'd finally paid and after our sweet check-out gal had taken my coupon and apologized for the tenth time, she grabbed those bags and with grave concern in her eyes, took one look at me, then looked right past me at Janell.

She said, holding my bags out to a person who DID NOT OWN THE BAGS, "Here. You look young." (Quick glance back at me then right back to Janell.)  "And strong."

And she handed Janell my bags.
Even though my hands were entirely free.
Even though Janell was already carrying her own stuff.

They say youth is wasted on the young. 
If you ask me, youth is wasted on the middle-aged-ish.
(Also if you ask me, height is wasted on the uncoordinated and rapid-movement-opposed.)

My name is Shannan. I'm almost 39. I hang around spring chicks a decade younger than myself who do sport things in an intentional and unironic way. I have low muscle tone and that tell-tale wrinkle between my eyes that inspires Silas to ask, "Why do you sometimes look mad when you're only not grumpy?"

But I can show you a good time.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Blur


I've been spending time lately looking out my bedroom window. It's the biggest perk of moving our bedroom downstairs. I was barely able to see out the window at all when we were upstairs, and certainly not from the comfort of my bed.

It helps that at least half of what I see is white. It's the perfect backdrop for juicy pops of color and all my mixed-up thoughts.


White shrouds my yard, my neighbors' yards, in thick blankets, as high as our boot-tops. We've hit that time of year when we begin to despair a little. We find ourselves remembering last summer - it wasn't so long ago - and hoping it'll come back for us again.

It's harder to believe in late-February.

The weather lady said this is one of our coldest February's ever. Colder than last year, and that's a truth I'd rather not linger on too long. Last year was so bad, we swore it couldn't get worse.

The winters have gotten so much harder since we came to the city.
I know it's a coincidence, but I could probably be convinced otherwise if I tried.

Right now there's a red truck outside my window and a tiny shed the color of a Tiffany's box. I've lived here over two years and never noticed that shed. I couldn't see it until I shifted my perspective and all the world blurred white. I couldn't see it when I didn't need to see it.

So when I'm tired of writing or I need to understand the condition of my heart or when I've just spoken words I regret, I stare hard at that shed, past the bowing arcs of wires and power lines that should muddy up the view, but somehow make it even better, and I remember this is where I belong.

Not forever, but for now, and with any luck at all, for a good long while.

For all the stories I share about my neighbors and this community, trust me, you don't know the half of it.

I could write volumes, and some days, I think I might.

I could tell you things that would make you bawl. I could tell you things that would make you want to drop what you're doing and run breathless to the nearest half-busted city.

Or, I could tell you about the time last summer when a man ran stark-naked in his yard in broad daylight, just two doors down. All we know is, his dog was on the roof, he was in his birthday suit, the cops showed up, and before it was said and done, our corner was edged in yellow crime scene tape.

I could tell you how we gathered in our back yards after it was over and laughed and sighed, how this weird incident of humanity drew us a bit closer than we had been, how I felt a throb in my gut - I knew there was trouble there, so why hadn't I baked them muffins or a cake?

I could tell you they returned home a few days later and I swore I would do it then. I would bake muffins and show up in the face of their shame and welcome them like I should have done before.

I could tell you I never baked a thing. I never even saw their faces again. And now they're gone.

Someone told me two nights ago that we were described to her by mutual friends as a family who "moved to the city to sort of be like missionaries."

On the one hand, I'm sorry if I ever gave anyone that impression.
On the other hand, I suppose it's partly true.

We moved here to be a neighbor. That's all.
We moved here because this is where we were sent.

But if Jesus lives in and through us, we're always on mission, right? In theory?
Aren't we all neighbors, and aren't all neighbors "sort of" missionaries?

We had certain ideas, and most of them ended up being wrong.
It's hard to know why God believed this is exactly where we needed to be.

I think about it all the time.
I keep staring hard at that blue shed but it's not giving up a thing.

 
This morning I drove Calvin and Ruby to Chess Club in my striped pajama pants. Our neighborhood is not a morning person. It's sleepy and grumpy before it's fully light, just like me.

Driving back, I got stopped behind an early bus picking up a child who, for certain reasons, doesn't attend the neighborhood school.

Its lights flashed red while it waited, with me behind.

The bus was waiting for Olivia.

We never, ever see her. She all but disappeared a few months into our move, just after I handed her a quarter on popcorn day and she squinted her eyes like, "Who the heck are you?"

I thought for sure she'd be a part of our lives, and that hasn't even come close to happening.

The lights flashed red again, again, again, and I watched her house like a hawk. I wanted to lay eyes on her. Check out her curls and her cheeks.

The bi-fold door cranked closed and the bus drove on without her.
Her home was dark and silent.
I wondered if everything was okay, then eased into my driveway, not a soul to be found around me.

Olivia is all the proof I need that I didn't come here to save anyone.
She's evidence that my ideas are usually wrong, a next-door reminder of the ways I'm still not good at this and the reasons I'm the one that needs saving.

 
So this is my city.

This is my home, all white-washed and looking prettier than it ever has before.

I love it so much. I can't get enough of this mashed-up feeling that we're all in this together - whatever "this" is.

We belong in the confusion encamped around us, and in the pain, and in all the wild hope that we'll learn to love more, every year, every season, every frost-bitten February day.

"God's blessing is everywhere. And so paying attention outside of church buildings - as well as paying attention inside church buildings - becomes a way to see more of God from different angles, uncovering more meanings. Whether in the midst of a literal city, or in the suburbs, or on a lonely mountainside, worship outside of church buildings allows a glimpse of the world, the whole world, transformed." - City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Mile

For more thoughts on the city, go here.


(affiliate link)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Praise for Heaviness



I'm usually pretty connected to my emotions. Though I'm not prone to wearing them way up at the surface, I spend enough time inside my head to understand the seas in which I swim. 

Still, days come along, like Tuesday, and I just don't know. I walk around feeling blue at the edges. I can't put my finger on it. It's not as much a consequence as a bone-deep condition.

Blogs and social media would have me blame the latest tragedy in Libya, but Tuesday was a rare day where I hadn't read a single headline. I didn't even know. And once I did, well, it all got worse.

There's so much heaviness right now. It's everywhere. 

I felt this way through most of December. It's not depression, not even a personal sadness. It's shrapnel-wounds from the hard lives around me. It's impossible to avoid, and I know I'm not the only one. It doesn't have as much to do with where we live or who we live near or the folks we call our friends. It has to do with being human, and living in a place we weren't created for.

We're all refugees, and we're lonely for home.

"Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."

The lyrics from my tambourine-swinging days bloomed in me as though they'd never left. It's been decades since I sang that song, proof that truth digs deep roots.

My affliction was heaviness, origins unknown. 
The antidote could only be praise.
But what does that look like? How do we manage? Is it fake-it-til-you-make-it? Claim you're fine when you know you're not?
I'm no good at pretending

I went about the business of life, making dinner, folding socks, writing words, checking Instagram, feeling blue. Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. It kept coming back.

My faith often feels so different than the way others' looks.
As it turns out, my garment of praise was my new yoga pants.

I dragged my rear to class for the first time since December on Wednesday morning and flailed through an hour of (surprise!) PiYo. (I thought I was showing up for Power Barre. But when you're me, it's really all the same.) You already know this about me, but I'm the very worst at these things. I blame my scattered center of gravity and my irresponsible wingspan. I'm the opposite of athletic and possess the strength of a kitten. I'm just whatever about it. My vanity abandoned me years ago. Just understand the risk you take if you put your mat beside mine.

When the madness was over, we fell into Child pose, and I cried. It was involuntary. Immediate. No one could have known. In that moment, I saw those twenty-one men with the courage of Christ in the last light of their earthly eyes. I saw my friend's brother, fighting for wholeness. I saw moms sobbing for their children and neighbors hooked on meth and kindergarteners who tell me they're tired at school because they're too scared to sleep at night. The lights were dimmed, my body tired, and all I had left was this, "Just stay with me, God. Be near."

Wanna know what happened the exact next second? 
Mary J. Blige happened.

"Oh, won't you stay with me? 'Cause you're all I need."

The song doesn't exactly stay on-message for its duration, or even past those two lines. Doesn't matter. God sent Mary to my pain, an immediate answer to my brokenness. You'll never convince me otherwise.

I always thought of praise as the act of lifting my hands as I sing (I'm an unabashed non-hand-lifter.) I never knew where I fit in the scheme of praising the Lord. 

I have a better idea now. Praising means refusing to roll over and despair when all the world is gripped in darkness. To praise is to remember the victory that already belongs to us, even when our reality makes us sad. Praising means soldiering on in the face of dismal odds and getting out of bed every day because God gives us the strength to do hard things. Praise is sitting in the dark with my tears but knowing I don't sit there alone.

My garment of praise is the acknowledgement that God is only good and I don't have to understand his ways in order to keep believing. 

He is enough, and my ordinary life is the best praise I can offer. 

"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified." Isaiah 61:3 KJV

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Parenting and Adoption - Year 10


 My hands were wrist-deep in suds, the two youngest were already in bed, Ruby sat at the table coloring a picture of two friends, one with brown skin and one with "tan" skin, holding hands, with twin bows in their hair.

Across the island, Cory and Calvin were mired in the angst of an almost-tweenager, and for the hundredth time this month, I was lost. What really helps in moments like these? Our words were even, but the temptation to cast guilt was ever-present, and I found myself wondering (again) about the invisible "they's". What would they think if they knew how he talks to us sometimes? They would never allow this. They would command more from their kids. They would know what to do. They, they, they...

(Who are they?)

I scrubbed oatmeal from our breakfast dishes while the discussion turned in circles and I thought hard about how I might have acted when I was ten. I do it all the time. I try to trip into the past and take stock on myself, my experiences, my parents, and all the air between us.

At ten, I found my first best friend and I must have been teetering on the edge of boy-crazy because when Glen - the epitome of fourth-grade cool - got hurt in a recess game of kickball, I tried to make myself cry. It seemed like the right thing to do.

I was one of two teacher's pets that year. Everyone thought Mrs. Artz was so mean with her permed old-lady hair and the way she frowned without even trying. But I had cracked the code, and all it took was staying sweet and trying my best. Sometimes I offered to fill the mailboxes during free time. She liked me, so I liked her back.

Once, I screwed up a quiz so royally that I had to skip recess and re-do it in the hall. Stretched out stomach-down on the gray floors that smelled like old news and fresh starts, I scrubbed my eraser across my mistakes then flicked them away with the back of my hand. And I seethed. After everything was put back together, I stood up, walked to the drinking fountain, and said the F-word. Out loud. To myself. I tried it on, wiggled my skinny shoulders under its weight. It was as exhilerating as I expected, but my cheeks must have flamed like apples, because that was almost thirty years ago, and I still remember it like yesterday.

My identity was taking shape, and I had no idea.
I see myself in that little girl.

Maybe that's why I wig out when I catch my kids at their worst.
They're kids, yes. They're figuring out who they are, and who they want to be.
But I know there are slivers of this reality that will be part of them forever.
It can be painful to watch.

I believe every kid has a few gold threads stitched into his fiber. They're unique, outside the norm. They make him who he is, but they also make him stand out. (There might be nothing more terrifying to a ten-year-old than being different.)

We are dealing with so much "different" right now.
You can take the typical woes, like being cool enough, tall enough, fast enough, smart enough (i.e., not too smart, just smart "enough",) funny enough. On top of that, we're feeling an epic technology deficit, which appears to be monumental to a fourth-grader.

I wonder all the time if this stuff would matter so much if my child didn't still believe he should be living half a world away.

It comes close and ebbs away, but it never, ever leaves.

A few weeks ago I found him sitting in my bed with his nose in a book, which doesn't happen nearly as often as you might think. He read me these lines, "She felt a sudden, deep longing for her dead mother, and then wondered if it was harder to miss a mother you had loved, or, like Dallas and Florida, to miss a mother you had never known."

There were no tears and we didn't parse the words into a deeper meaning.

We didn't have to.

I kissed his head and told him it was beautiful. I promised I would read the book when he was done, and I did.

I don't know what to do from here. I have no idea where these turns will take us.

Our days are mostly just like yours. We laugh and grow and do all the things families do. We belong to each other, and it's as real as the ground beneath us. But some nights are quiet enough to tell the other side of the truth, so we do. Morning always comes, but we can't forget. I have never known this kind of pain, and it isn't even mine.

I believe in adoption with my whole heart. I believe in family and forever-love, restoration and redemption. I believe there is no such thing as, "This is all he knows" or, "He doesn't even remember that." It's an unfair loss, one some kids feel more deeply than others.

I probably sassed my parents when I was ten years old. But I know I was a good girl. A rule follower. I earned love and a good reputation. I was a girl who pretended to be boy crazy when all I really wanted to do was play with my Barbies. I was a child who didn't know how to say no and only had the guts to say how I really felt when I was stone-cold alone.

Those aren't the goals I have for my kids.


I'm still not sure what to do or say or how to fix small problems (hey, eye-rolling) or bigger ones.
But he trusts us. He still reaches out for my hand and he's not afraid of wounding me with the truth.
Our love for each other is gladiator-fierce. (There's so much room in one heart.) We love each other every day, and some days find us at our worst.

On this day, I want to champion all the ten-year olds. Let's remember how weird it was for us and be open to the possibility that it's even harder now.

Find a child who might not quite blend in (oh, how I wish my kids could see the beauty of not blending in!) and show her how the world couldn't function without the particular glint of her gold thread.

Let's honor everyone's story. Let's refuse to default to the sort of parenting that leaves no room for every voice. Let's lead with honor and guide with love.

Because I protect my kids' stories with gladiator fierceness, I asked Calvin for permission to share some of what he's going through right now. Though he sometimes says no, this time he said yes. I asked him, "What would you tell people about adoption?" He answered, "I would tell people that even though adoption breaks your heart, it's in a good way."

~
 
If you're an adoptive parent, a foster parent, a bio parent, a grandparent, or a someday-parent, you need to read Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech. It was delightful, heartbreaking, hilarious and full of wisdom. It made me better.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why Surrender Shouldn't Be So Scary



What would it mean to fully surrender to God’s plan for my life?

That’s a question I can’t stop asking. Quite honestly, the answer terrifies me.

Is that something a Christian isn’t supposed to admit out loud? Well.

All I can say is, God has spoken most clearly when He has asked something specific of me, something I would never have chosen for myself. His loudest call is often one to painful action — the sort of obedience that feels like tearing, rending, breaking, shrinking.
The tidy Christian girl I once was would have believed God rescued me from each of those pits.
Click here to continue reading at (in)courage...

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