cultivate (kuhl - tuh - veyt)
v. 1) develop 2) nurture

graft (grahft)
n. 1) transplant 2) bud 3) union

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Anecdotal Antidote

There seems to be a case of the newlyweds going around. Much like polio vaccinations, the antidote contains a strain of the contagion. You hafta get hitched to get inoculated. It takes about a year or so for the symptoms to decrease. Then it lays dormant in your system till death do you part.

The masses are mostly concerned with those recently infected, and those who have successfully managed their diagnosis for fifty or more years. We are simply teary-eyed over couples who have been married for fifty, sixty, seventy-plus years. They’re an inspiration. On the other end of the spectrum, we feel the need to check in with those newlyweds to make sure they’re managing OK. Maybe they need us to bring them a pot of Chicken Soup for the Just-Married Soul (CSFTJMS). We give them a studious once-over to make sure they seem sufficiently dewy-eyed and affectionate toward one another. And it’s always the same question (newlyweds, say it with me):
“How’s married life?”

Bleh.

Go ahead. Ask a newly-married couple how many times they’ve been asked this exact question. I dare you. Now, here’s the really weird thing: How many newlyweds are going to offer an earth-shattering answer to this question? Even if they’re two months into this gig, and it’s going horridly off the rails, do you think this question paired with a goofy smile on the face of the inquirer is going to solicit any kind of vulnerable answer? Um, no. Best case scenario, you happen to be the first person to ask them this question, and they’re excited to answer with some adorably cute anecdotal proof of their wedded bliss. More likely, you’ll be the 174th person to ask them this week, and they’re so sick of slapping on the million-watt smile and telling cutesie stories that they kinda grimace-glare-mutter something unintelligible which necessitates you administer an emergency dose of CSFTJMS.

This is really not a post about the One Yearers though. This is really just a long-winded segue, but before I drop the newlyweds like a sack of biohazard pathogens, may I make a suggestion for some alternatives to asking the much-dreaded question, “How’s married life?”

Hows abouts:
“What is one thing that has surprised you about married life?”
OR
“What adjustment has been the most challenging?”
OR
“How can I pray for you?”
OR
“Do you have any leftover trendy cake pops from the reception? I have a craving.”

OK? OK.
Moving right along.

While I remember that repetitive question in our early months of marriage, I don’t recall the last time someone asked me. A couple’s first year very well may have significant challenges, but it’s the following 49+ years that will fortify or crumble the castle. Most couples will outlast their first anniversary, but many don’t make it to their matrimonial booster shots.

Booster shots are a tricky thing. I’m sure my childhood vaccinations have worn off, broken down, fallen apart, whatever it is they do when they’re too old. I think I’ve received a couple booster shots of something as an adult…?* If someone hadn’t walked up with a stabby-mabob and administered my whatever booster, I wouldn’t have bothered to ever get it. I don’t spend my days charting immunization boosters and how to maximize their effectiveness. I don’t give them a second thought. I barely given them a first thought. It’s more like a fleeting blip on my brainwaves.

Shots. Blip. Ouch. Blip. Is it too early to have chocolate? Silly me! It’s never too early to have chocolate. Blip-blip.

I’ll pause to validate that I might be losing my dear non-vaxer readers. The analogy gets a little muddy if you’re opposed to them, yeah? Just substitute essential oils for vaccinations, and call it good. Group hug.

The nuptial excitement wears off, and without proper preventative measures, the commitment breaks down. The initial megadose of matrimony becomes diluted and risks falling apart. In order for continued success, immunizations require boosters. Marriages, likewise. If I expend no further energy and thought than minimal blips on the brainwaves, there won’t be many anniversaries to celebrate. Do I keep a watchful eye on the health of the relationship, looking for ways to maximize our strength as a couple? Or, just like my booster shot, have I completely ignored it, assuming my laissez-faire posture is enough to avoid calamity?

I wonder what would happen if, instead of inundating the newlyweds, we also asked those who are due for a booster, “How’s married life?” Now there would be some conversation.


Seventeen and counting,

Cynthia



*Yes, I realize I should probably have some sort of a clue as to what the nice lady is jabbing into my arm, but confrontation is not my strong suit and I wanted to be brave for my girls to see it wasn’t so bad.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Beauty is in the Eye of the Bookholder

There’s something anticipative about wrapping my hands around the spine and fore edge of a novel. It beckons the senses and stirs the soul. The possibilities are boundless. The weight of the volume whispers of uncharted lands, adventures that beckon; of elation, agony, redemption, beauty. Anything can be extracted from the pages.

Despite my hearty tribute, I’ve always struggled to read books that challenge me, books with substance. I wanted to be someone who read books that stuck to my ribs, but I always gravitated toward...fluff. Instead of decadent twelve course meals on delicate bone China, I was settling for sketchy potluck appetizers on flimsy paper plates. You know the ones I mean. Toasted salmonella puffs with a hint of E. coli merengue plated with a tangy botulism reduction which rapidly saturates the 1-ply plate. Check please.

This year I wanted to feast. No more bland fare that’s been sitting out too long. The goal: fifty-two books in one year, consisting only of books I’ve either never read or never finished. My list is comprised of a smorgasbord of genres that would lead you to assume the curator was a hyperactive toddler hopped up on a dozen Pixy Stix and released unsupervised in a bookstore for a shopping spree. I won’t even attempt to explain why I’ve chosen the books I’ve chosen for this year. Accept the method, folks.

It’s Week 37 and I’ve completed thirty-one titles. Perhaps I won’t meet my reading goal, but I’ve already succeeded in something far superior to arbitrary quotas; I’ve proven to myself that I am most capable of digesting quite the literary meal. I’ve dined on the theological eloquence of Lewis, the worlds imagined by Tolkien, and the cry for social justice of Dickens. I’ve sunk my teeth into the battles between men, and the gods who interfered. I’ve wandered through the well-worn paths of Prince Edward Island and come face-to-face with IT. I’ve cried despite knowing the fate allotted to Beth and Charlotte alike. I’ve cringed through dystopian landscapes, and nodded along to uplifting prose.

In short, my palette is greatly expanded, and I’m left, not uncomfortably stuffed as one who gorged until pained, but rather as one whose appetite has merely been fanned into flame. Each entrée merely whets the appetite for the next literary flavor.

Yes, I think I shall peruse the menu a bit more. What’s your recommendation?

Turning a Page,

Cynthia

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Let Them (Re)Visited: Let Them Get Dirty

Let Them (Re)visited is an opportunity for me to eat crow or crow all the louder regarding topics I covered during my Let Them series. Let's see what happens, shall we?


Many moons ago, we lived in the middle of the city. We had modern conveniences like sidewalks and asphalt. We were greeted in the morning, noon, and night with sirens. We had a decent-sized yard, all things considered. Getting dirty was downright luxurious. It was like winning the lottery when mom said to play in the mud.

That was then.

This is now.

We have two and a half acres...of dirt. Dirt roads, dirt driveway, dirt-covered bushes. Basically, it's dirt as far as the eye can see, broken up by desert growth and our lovely 3 foot berm of poop. You see, we bought this dirt with poop factories animals in mind. So we're fortifying our city gates with the materials they provide. You want on our property? You're gonna hafta scale the poo. May the best man win.

We're classy people. Most of my children take Olympian leaps up Poo Mountain and arise victorious at its peak, complete with celebratory fist pumps. I'm trying to curb this bad habit. I really am. But I've had better luck nailing Jell-o to the wall. I've also caught them sliding down its treacherous sides like it's the black diamond run of poo skiing. This is accomplished on feet if I'm lucky...backsides if we have house guests. 

Yes, I have to remind my children to not show off our poo pile to their friends. Yes, I've lectured my children about inviting their friends to scale up, roll down, and generally fling the contents of Poo Mountain. Yes, we are blacklisted from delicate play dates. 

Then there's shoveling manure against the wind, which always results in a special full-body "dusting." I wish I could tell you how many times I've told a particular child to go shower off, because there's poop in her hair. She acts like this is ludicrous.

I showered yesterday!

Yes, but you've conquered Poo Mountain (congratulations, by the way-your gold medal is in the mail) and flung manure dust all over creation, sweet child. Contracting dysentery is not on our bucket list.

Dirty nails and smudgy faces are a daily occurrence around here. “Shoe checks” are mandatory. But mixed in with all that dirt are great life lessons woven throughout childhood memories. Hard work, the responsibilities of farm life, the joys of training a new animal, and the sorrows of burying one. The struggles are greater. The earth oftentimes resists yielding to the shovel, as we are wont to protest the shock of the Gardener's spade slicing away that which would stunt our purpose. Yet, the rewards are richly gratifying. Moldy kitchen scraps and manure mingle with cultivated soil and thoughtfully sown seeds to reap an inspiring bounty. When what we see is degradation and filth staring back at us in the mirror, perhaps He sees timely growth wrung from adversity.

In the end, we traded our sidewalks and asphalt for neighborhood games of tag on a bumpy back road; our sirens for the silence; and our yard for dirt. Glorious, filthy dirt.

And more showers.



Applying Soap Liberally,

Cynthia

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Annie was one such woman...

Every once and again a life touches another's, leaving a profound and indelible signature. Annie was one such woman. My story is much like countless others; her kindness speaking volumes, and her smile sparking palpable joy in any room she entered. She never took herself too seriously, all the while gladly bearing another's burden with heartfelt warmth. What was probably an act of kindness quickly forgotten by her has stuck with me for nearly twenty years. 

As I blew into work on a frosty morning, I lamented to Annie (who went by “Annie” then, and so remains in my mind as “Annie” instead of “Anne”) that I had regretfully lost my favorite winter hat. Bustling between college classes and work, I had somehow lost it out of my truck. Alas! Despite retracing my steps, Operation Hat Recon had failed miserably. It was just a silly ol' hat, but Annie listened to my dramatic hat tribute with her trademark compassion and empathy (those who knew her, know exactly what I mean). With work to do, I set to my tasks, while Annie went to the back room. Now is a good time to mention that the hat I lost was white-just ordinary and white. She reappeared with what can only be described as a Suessical hat. Measuring in at an impressive thirty-six inches-yes, it was three feet long, this hat boasted bright stripes from stem to fringey stern.  With her 1,000 watt smile, she held out her hat and declared that she absolutely insisted I have it. She modeled how stylish this hat was as she strutted her stuff across the faded carpet of the workroom.. With a gallant toss of her head, she demonstrated how one could use the tail of it as a scarf. How could I possibly say no?

Her head would have been just as cold as mine on the trek home after work, and yet I know that if it had been my jacket I'd lost, she would have given that to me as well. That's just who she was. I could recount dozens of stories of her kindness-driving me across town when my glasses broke, shoving money into my pocket to sneak us ice-cream at work, impromptu drawings for tough days, movie dates, a great many conversations on every topic under the sun, and a hilariously perplexing nickname which stuck for quite some time (but which also holds precious space in my memories). Each moment is stored in my heart, and I'll treasure them there for a lifetime. 

As the air grows chilly, I'll pull out my Annie Hat. I've readily worn it every winter, and every winter I garner at least a couple raised eyebrows and amused side-eye glances. The fluff has long since been suppressed, and the hues have lost a certain vibrancy-much like the world has with Annie's passing. However, I will gladly keep right on wearing this comical hat, and anyone who comments will hear a tale of an incredible woman who, with a simple gesture, taught me that it's always the right time to be generous...and a tad goofy.   



At a time in our nation when it's en vogue to disagree, I can't help but think that the world needs more Annies. Perhaps today you could choose kindness over yet another politically charged argument. Hug tightly. Listen intently. Snuggle a little longer. 


With a Blessed-but-Heavy Heart,

Cynthia

Monday, January 25, 2016

Let Them (Re)visited: Let Them Give it Away (and a book shout out)

Let Them (Re)visited is an opportunity for me to eat crow or crow all the louder regarding topics I covered during my Let Them series. Let's see what happens, shall we?

As soon as I peeked at the first Let Them title, I knew my stance wouldn't have changed one iota. Kids with much should be encouraged to practice generosity. Liberally. But here's what has changed for our home: Things are more complicated now. Kids ranging from toddler to tween means interests are more diverse. Toys are more distinctly owned by individuals. Group consensus to toss something is not met so easily. Olders are more attached to The Things From Their Childhood (things they rarely actually play with, because they are babyish). More trinkets get tossed in the trash, because they don't survive to meet the inside of the giveaway bag.

The living situation is more complicated too. We're practicing commune living, so there's seven people living in a manufactured home. Because we're kooky like that. Four kids in one room means somethin' has to go, precious snowflakes. As this is a temporary arrangement, some special treasures have stayed boxed up. The life-as-I-know-it-will-cease-without-this-toy items have been relegated to small bins on the bed or under it.

In short, our children have learned to do without. And embrace it. They've played card games, and worked many a puzzle. They've learned new skills in the kitchen, pursued classic literature (because books are one area I basically refuse to limit, and is evidenced by the mountains of reading material surrounding us), and climbed our trees for hours. Perhaps we've all learned to be content with less. Don't get me wrong, we all have displayed selfishness over keeping something, but what I've learned since February 23rd, 2013 is that less truly, really, honestly is more.

I think most parents want their children to become giving, thoughtful, gracious people. I think most of us falter in our steps as we strive to raise grateful kids. It feels uncomfortably against the flow to teach kids gratitude, and sometimes it's easier to float with the current down You Deserve It River. Sometimes we need a solid kick in the pants before we're willing to adjust our thinking. Before I'm willing to say, “OK, God, what I'm doing is a total crapshoot.”

(Here comes my amazingly smooth and undetectable segue.)

Hey! Remember that one time I applied to be part of a launch team for Kristen Welch's new book, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, and didn't know I'd been accepted because my e-mail is rising up in mutiny and eating important e-mails? I've basically been playing catch-up with the rest of the team, which means they've been babysitting me and holding my hand, bless it.


(source)


We need a kick in the pants, and Kristen delivers a swift, but gracious boot to get us moving. We're not all precious, gentle families who practice All The Special Things with our families. Kristen knows that. Kristen is our people. She's transparent. Reading her book is just like sitting across from her on a squishy couch, yukking it up. I know this because we have the same verse inked on us and I sent her an e-mail years ago to tell her...so we're basically BFF's and I'm not a weirdo stalker. Not once do you catch of a whiff of condescension. Grace, firm suggestions, a call-to-action.


“When entitlement's poison begins to infect our hearts, gratitude is the antidote.” 
“Kids will be kids and if we give them too much, too soon, they will likely take it.” 
“We give our kids more because we think it will make us all feel better, but it actually places a higher value on things than on relationships. And often our kids don't need more stuff or more freedom; they just need more of us.”

Good words, Kristen. Go read more of her good words (and possibly win something...Oops! I've said too much.).

So here's the deal: Today is the release date! Go get thee thine own copy and one to giveth away. This isn't so much a parenting book as it is a manual for not raising, nor being yourself a self-absorbed lazy butt. You won't regret it.


Convicted,
Cynthia

*Cover courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lay Down the Guilt, Mamas.

It was one of those days. You know the type. The days where you wake up ready for bedtime, the full moon is wearing on the senses of certain kiddos, you've snapped before pouring a single crackle or pop into a bowl for those cherubs faces. I call those "coffee-to-wine" days. Or maybe you've been too forceful in tone or heavy-handed in a swat on the tail. Maybe you reacted out of anger, and your apology hung in the air. When that long-awaited sandman arrives, it is a blessed thing. You love those small people dearly, but...seriously. 
For. The. Love.

They will find you.

When you fall into bed exhausted from a day filled with refereeing and tongue-biting, you thank Jesus for each one of those precious snowflakes asleep in their bunk beds. They drove you batty all the livelong day, but you could still be moved to tears just thinking about how fast they're growing up. You slap your hand across the light switch to turn it off and then roll over to pray with the hubs. Approximately two seconds after the “Amen” he's asleep (Don't ask me why God gave men this instantaneous shut-off valve. I am seven shades of green with envy over this talent.).

And then the mommy guilt hits.

It's not like a tsunami that engulfs us. It's usually more like a gentle shower of paver bricks. And not like the spray-painted foam kind in the original Star Trek episodes. Ladies, I posit that there is just about no worse feeling than middle-of-the-night mommy guilt. You know what I'm talking about. Our head hits the pillow, and doubts slam our soul. The space between our ears becomes the Devil's own playground.

Sooo...you've got some grandiose plans...for someone who loses their cool, wastes time, throws down judgment and attitude. World changer, huh? You'll be lucky to make a dent within your own family, let alone the world. But, no. You go ahead. I'm sure tomorrow will be peachy keen. World changer.

Thanks, Satan. Sleep can wait.

May I suggest something? May I suggest that we are heaping on a whole mess of stuff that Jesus already knows about? He chooses to love us through and despite our shortcomings. May I suggest that we think too highly of ourselves if we truly believe that our every action will be either our child's doing or undoing? How 'bout we just unclench a teensy bit?

Is parenting important? Um, yeah. Should I be on my knees, in the audience, on the sidelines, shivering under an umbrella supporting my kids? Of course. Is the whole world going to stop on its axis if I miss a game (or even *gasp* a season)? Actually, no. Will salvation expire for my daughter if there's a day that my prayers for her consist of pursed-lip* sputters like, “Jesus, feel free to come back today.” or “Thank you, God, for the poetic justice when she ran into the doorjamb while stomping away with her saucy self. I needed a boost today. And now please also send me the bladder of a twenty-two year old.”? Not likely. Of course, if all of humanity hung on our flimsiest moments and weakest instances of faith, the lot of us would be doomed. The book of Acts would have been over in a hot second, because none of us would have been able to launch something as big as Church Beginnings.

So, here's the deal: You are exactly the gem you are supposed to be, flaws and imperfections included. God's going to keep refining and polishing until you gleam in His presence, but that doesn't mean you're worthless and useless in the meantime. It doesn't mean you fail as a mother. The actual refinement process is exactly what produces such incredible final workmanship. Every single hard moment of mothering is just more of that polishing.

There's this beautiful treasure tucked in 1 John 4. John is reminding his readers not to fall prey to lies and deception, and then in verse 4, he lays down this stunning reminder: "You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them (the lies), because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."

Bam. Drop mic.

God is SO FOR YOU. He is for your parenting, and for your marriage, and for your New Year's resolution to read the bible with your kids every day. He is in your corner, because He is actually IN YOU.

Even when you fail.


Get Some Sleep,

Cynthia



*This is fondly referred to as “The Grandma Face” in our house. She had a way with The Look that could pucker your butt cheeks, bless her.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

These Are My People

They stood before us in complete brokenness. Their souls were anguished and what they shared was crushing. We were a room filled with salty tears and heavy hearts. They had pulled back their shroud of mourning and palpable grief spilled onto people eager to bear the burden with them. Eager to carry even an ounce of their pain. With news such as theirs, judgement could have proven swift and tongues could have been ablaze with harsh speculation.

I reached a hand for her during prayer. We fervently sought the Lord. When words were spent, we both eyed her nail indents in my palm.  I tried to recall a time when I felt so wholly needed during a prayer that the physical proof lasted longer than the prayer itself. 

I've seen people tenaciously cling to Jesus. I've heard the confessions of the saints. I've looked on as the young wash the feet of the wise. I've listened to prayers soothe anxious minds. I've watched them crisscross the room to pray with him. To edify her. At first I was shocked by the gentle admonitions peppered throughout conversation. Now the shock would be to not hear it. 

We've found our tribe. It's messy and transparent. It requires each one doing their work, and isn't that how it should be? For us, it happens to be a more organic tribe. However, I'm a firm believer that any Jesus-lovin' people can fit the bill whether they meet at a park or in the pews, submerge or sprinkle, are liturgical or non-denominational. While those details (and scores of other churchy topics) are of incredible import, all the theology in the world can offer nothing more than a framework for beliefs. Heart work is developed in the grittiness of relationship. Discipleship, true discipleship, challenges your weaknesses, calls upon your strengths, and rubs you raw. And just as raw flesh will blister, sometimes a raw faith will do the same. That broken family? They were blistered. They knew they needed the healing salve of their tribe. They came with wounds exposed. We listened with bandages in hand.

I don't share to self-congratulate. Our tribe is a hot mess. I share because I know these people deeply enough to know we're all a hot mess. We see each others' faults, because we push beyond Sunday greetings and polite prayer requests. All the programs and curriculum in the catalog can't buy that kind of authenticity. 

Can I suggest something? Trade in the brittle facade. Replace it with a robust desire to truly love Jesus and His people. Carve out time. Ask hard questions. Tell hard stories. Break bread. Reach far. Call. Write. Pray. Repent. Fast. Confess. Worship. Repeat.

Learning to Repeat,

Cynthia