Come, Dine With Me

Maybe your relationship with food has been a rocky one. So has mine. I remember being eleven years old and already not liking this body that housed my soul. My mom is one of those moms who keeps everything. A few years ago she gave me one of my childhood diaries that she had kept. It’s a small, butter yellow diary, still scented after all these years, with some kind of perfume that instantly takes me back to girlhood whenever I breathe it in. One of my childhood best friends gave it to me as a gift on my tenth birthday; her inscription, in girly, child-like writing, rests on the inside cover. My friend’s mom, hot glued cream lace around the front cover and little yellow roses and ribbon bows on each corner. This diary was the keeper of my secrets, and all the drama that goes along with those middle school years. In April of 1991, my little eleven year old self decided to go on my very first diet, because, even at this tender age, I believed that my body already was not good enough. I cannot remember how I knew this about myself, but I just knew that I wasn’t “right”. On a Saturday, I recorded my starting weight of eighty four pounds, and by that Monday I had lost two pounds. I remember checking books out of the library on how to count calories and measure my food, so I began to do this. The first time, it lasted for five days, and I lost five pounds. I was eighty four pounds, and had a goal weight of seventy three pounds. I didn’t reach my goal that time, so it wasn’t long before I would start again, and again, and again, from the time I was eleven years old, my relationship with food has been tenuous. 

Being almost forty and more self aware, I can see things clearer now. I feel an aching, real grief for that little girl who entered that world of disordered eating so early. I feel such compassion for her. I know that she thought that if she weighed a certain number on the scale she would be lovable – loved. It is just now that I understand what she had been -has been- searching for. The reality is that I have been loved my entire life. Of course I have been, by the Creator of the universe Who breathed life into me, and took painstaking care to make every part of who I am – the One Who calls me His beloved. I have always been deeply loved by two parents, siblings, and so many family and friends. Yet, my entire life, I have battled to feel loved. It has presented itself in so many different ways, but one way that has impacted me, maybe the most, is this relationship with food and with my body. So maybe it makes perfect sense that I would write a book on food and the table and the community we find inside of that. Maybe it is a way to do the hard work of finally resting in my belovedness.

It is true that I find beauty and deep connection in food and the table, but I also bear very real scars. I still wrestle the same demons that my eleven year old self wrestled. Maybe the delight and joy that I write of when I share a favorite recipe, and describe the tastes that dance on my tongue, and the way these experiences have connected people around my table sounds foreign to you, because of your own battle with food. That’s okay. There is still space for you at my table. I don’t want you to leave, and I don’t want you to feel alone, because you are not alone. I have been in your seat, and too many days I still am. Let’s stay at the table together. I believe the way forward begins with compassion – compassion for ourselves that in turn turns outward to others. I believe that our relationship with food is a spiritual one, as all of life is spiritual. As much as we claim otherwise, we don’t and can’t live compartmentalized lives. So all of life is spiritual, and this includes coming to the table to nourish our bodies and to find communion in our relationships. It’s our stories that bring us back to the table and it is our stories that keep us there. I don’t have another cure for this struggle with our relationship with food and our bodies that has not already been stated in hundreds of other excellent books and by much wiser people than myself. Of course we have freedom in and through Jesus, but life – our spiritual journey – is a process. In real life, many times, freedom does not just happen over night, or with enough faith. It just doesn’t. So, dear ones, yes, you, the one who stepped on the scale this morning and immediately started the day on the wrong foot, the one who feels immense shame for the extra chocolate chips she gobbled down behind a closed door, the precious ones who love their current bodies, the ones who simply use food as fuel, yes, you, come. Please come. Come to my table, sit awhile, dine with me, it’s our stories that weave us together as we continue to learn the beauty of tasting and knowing that indeed God is good, and we are loved – more loved than we have ever imagined.

{an unedited excerpt from my manuscript}

 

DSC_0051 A page from the scented diary of my eleven year old self.

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The Language I Have Yet to Learn

It doesn’t seem to matter where I go, there is this language that swirls around me that I have never been able to learn. I am constantly just on the outside left flailing around like some awkward penguin. It is as foreign to me as German. For years I’ve tried really hard to learn this language. Okay, okay, sometimes I have tried really hard. But I continue to walk away realizing the reality that I still don’t understand it. The truth is, I don’t think I ever will. I have failed my whole life at this language.

Small talk.

It’s like a secret language that I have never been given access to. I dread it, and every time I head into a scenario where it is expected of me, I die a little inside. I awkwardly fidget and avoid eye contact and pray that I won’t be seen, so then maybe, just maybe, I won’t have to engage in the language that I do not know. The times that I have really given effort still leave my cheeks burning in embarrassment. One of my middle sons is at an elementary school where the parents must walk into the school and wait in the cafeteria for the students to be dismissed. Yes, this means there are many, many days of ducking small talk. Last year, a woman from my church, who I happen to think is a pretty amazing woman, although we are just acquaintances, sat next to me as we waited. Immediately I knew what had to happen. I looked at her, and I smiled in what surely was my signature awkward way, and I proceeded to talk about the weather. Now I have heard people dialogue for literal minutes about the fact that it is raining outside. I thought to myself surely this is safe. How badly could I mess up the weather? I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I am sure it was something as articulate as, this sure is some weather we are having. I tried to continue the conversation, but really what more can be said about the weather?! She politely smiled back at me, and agreed, and then to my horror, we sat side-by-side in utter, awkward silence. I am actually typically comfortable in silence. I can ride in a vehicle with someone and be completely at ease with no conversation, or a need to fill the air with words. However, I got the distinct impression that I was supposed to say something else, but I didn’t know the words to say! I rarely do.

Instead of talking about nonsense that doesn’t seem to really matter or add any value to life at all, I would rather not have these pointless, superficial conversations. Instead I wish I could ask where does it hurt? What is on your heart today? How can I listen to you in a way that will ease that burden you are carrying? I am highly suspicious that asking those probing questions, especially in a student pick-up gathering, would make people even more uncomfortable than my hopeless attempts at small talk do.

Being introspective as I am, I sometimes assume that people must think I am stuck up, as I duck and avoid my way through social situations to avoid talking about the weather. But really I am not. I actually do love people. I especially love listening to people, and making slow, beautiful lasting relationships. I have a desire to gain a better understanding of the people around me, and I do have a deep desire to connect. I think we all do. Small talk, however, has never given this to me.

So, if you meet me in the grocery store, on the sidewalk, or in the cafeteria at an elementary school, duck and avoid along with me, or go ahead and ask me what I believe the purpose of life is. Kidding. Sort of.

The truth is I know deep down that small talk is a necessary evil, and that I do have to participate, as awkward as it may be, in order to reach that connection that I really long for. But I don’t think it will ever be a language that I become fluent in.

Is small talk painful for you, or do you excel in this art?

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Adding coffee to small talk, does make it slightly more bearable!

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My (not so) Hidden Agenda

I picked my manuscript back up. It is an on again off again relationship with it. I tend to be all or nothing, and will be all in for awhile and then lose focus. As I delve deeper and deeper into the enneagram (raise your hand if you are as obsessed as I am!), I am learning so much about myself. The weaknesses of who I am are especially insightful. In typical enneagram two fashion, I tend to let the needs of the people that I love suffocate my own needs. Frankly, I use that as an excuse too often as well. Last week we hugged our oldest son goodbye for at least a month. He boarded a plane to Europe, landed in Denmark, where he will stay a bit before moving on to Sweden, and possibly Portugal. He is chasing some big soccer dreams, and is at the beginning of a huge crossroad. I am so excited to watch his future unfold, and inspired watching him pursue the dreams of his childhood. Before he left, he made me promise to keep chasing my own dream of publishing a book one day. I want to see my children flourish in their dreams, but I believe that they need to see their mama flourishing in hers as well. So, after making that promise, I metaphorically dusted off the manuscript and got back to work. I joined a writing group that is challenging me to write five hundred words a day, and so far, so good. For the first time in almost fourteen years I am finding myself home alone during the weekdays, with no kids to take care of or home school. It’s a good time to write, and the excuses are disappearing.

But why am I blogging? One of the reasons that I allow myself to use the needs of others to neglect my own when it comes to writing is how cut throat the publishing market is. I will be earnest for a bit, and then the reality of the world that I want to jump into sinks in, and I get scared. The truth, from my research, is that publishers, and agents alike, are not looking for quiet, little introverted homebodies who find their voice in writing over talking. I am beginning to think that I was born in the wrong publishing era. It seems as if everyone is looking for writers with a platform, and if the writer is also bubbly and engaging in person, well that is a bonus. I cannot change my personality. I cannot make myself extroverted and a dynamic public speaker, but I can work on a platform as I continue to write my manuscript. At one time, I had a good blog following – back when it was trendy to blog and I spewed a lot of stuff that I no longer even believe. So my motive in blogging is not entirely pure. I need you to come here and read, so that I can rebuild some kind of platform – something that will at least put me inside the pack when the time comes to hire an agent.

I think that I still have a lot to say. It is just different now. I am no longer a mommy blogger. I am no longer certain about so many things that I once was. I am no longer dogmatic about adoption, or willing to exploit my kids for some decent blog traffic. I worry that inspiration won’t come, or that I will keep pushing this dream down for the rest of my life. But right now, today, I am willing to fight for it again. It just might be a series of todays that gets us to the someday where our dreams are fulfilled. So maybe this will be a symbiotic relationship, you can help me build up a platform, and perhaps something I write will resonate with you. I like the connection that writing brings. Writing is one of the only ways I have ever felt like I could affect the world around me, and it helps me unwind my heart and find my way. And maybe, just maybe, we can find our way together in this little space.

What is your dream? Is it unleashed or is it suffocating?

Here’s to the dreamers – I believe in us.

 

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Little brothers talking to their big brother who is chasing a big dream in Europe.

 

 

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Does Anyone Read Blogs Anymore?

Is “blogging” still even a thing? I honestly have no idea if people write, yet alone, read blogs anymore. I am not sure if I care enough to have that keep me from writing here. But I am not sure if I don’t care either. I used to be so good at this – at keeping a little space occupied with words and filled with photos. I am not good at it anymore, and I cannot decide if that matters to me. Somedays I want to write, but sometimes I wish only strangers read the words, because it feels so vulnerable to have people that I know read them. But then I kind of like this little space, and the thought of moving and starting again is not at all appealing. All I know for sure is that,  I am a writer. I don’t say that in an arrogant way, because honestly, it means little. It certainly does not mean that I am a good one. It simply means that I was created to communicate words through my hands more than with my mouth. So write, I must.

I have been working on a manuscript for literal years now. To be honest, I scrapped the first one. The one that detailed our adoption journeys, because in the midst of writing I began to really transform and grow from the person I once was and all I believed. I realized that first manuscript was not a story that ever belonged to me, and that it was not ever mine to share. Plus my thoughts on adoption have radically changed (along with church, missions, theology, and just about every other major brick of certainty that was at one point the scaffolding of my life). I love my sons with all of my heart, and I cannot imagine my life without them, but my ideas about how they joined our family are catastrophically different from the ideas that I was once so vocally passionate about. That is best left to discuss over coffee, face-to-face, because even when someone is better at words through her fingers and behind a screen, there are certain topics that need eye contact, voice and relationships. I suck at that, but I am trying. So manuscript number one was deleted, and it was the very best right thing to do. I have no regrets, and am so thankful that it never went to the publisher.

The idea for manuscript two was birthed almost two years ago, and I was so excited about this one. For awhile I wrote passionately. But, as characteristic of myself, it eventually got pushed to the back burner for other things and other people. I am not the best at self care  – of making margin for what is actually life-giving to me. I make promises to myself and break them all of the time – promises that I would never dream of breaking if I had made them to another human and not just to myself. So this summer, I picked that manuscript back up with renewed focus and determination. I also picked up another life-giving activity that I have neglected – reading. Reading makes me a better writer and an overall better person. I picked a wide variety of books from a wide variety of authors who believe a wide variety of things. The stack was large, and I am still blissfully working my way through it. It has been so refreshing to read view points that I once would have feared to read and to relax in the freedom of reading for pure enjoyment. One of the books that I read this summer was Shauna Niequest’s Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes. First of all, it is a beautifully written book. Second of all, it is my manuscript. I mean it is exactly what I was in the middle of writing, but it is so much better. I cried as I read it, not because the writing moved me, although it did at times, but because I felt as if this second manuscript, which I was so proud of, is a cheap knock-off of the real deal – a real book, by a real (and fantastic) author.

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I didn’t come here today, because I had an epiphany about my writing that I wanted to share (nor am I looking for pity or for people to tell me to just write it anyway). I didn’t come to the obvious conclusion that my story matters, and that nobody else has exactly my story or my way with words. I didn’t decide that I needed to push through and just write that manuscript. I promised myself that I would write a chapter every week this summer, and I read Shauna’s book and have yet to open the manuscript back up. It has been weeks now. I honestly don’t know what I will do moving forward. Somedays I feel as if manuscript number two will be scrapped and that is crushing. I guess I came here today just to write something some place. Maybe to see if I could, if these hands had anything to say or if writing helped sort out my head. Maybe it is to resurrect this little space instead of the manuscript, or maybe alongside with the manuscript, or maybe my writing will take a completely different turn. I have no idea.

All, I know is that I must write, and today it was here.

 

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My yellow tufted couch

I closed my eyes and in my mind’s eye, I walked through the big iron gate and stepped into the tiny tiled compound which held our three story home. I then slowly walked through every nook and cranny of that house and let the memories collide with the tears. I find myself doing this again more lately as the one year anniversary of our departure nears. Sometimes the grief that comes after this silly exercise makes it hard to literally breathe. The weight of what feels like a bag of bricks can be felt on my chest, and the pain can be unbearable if I don’t get control of it at the forefront. It’s as if I realize all over again, but for the first time, that it is all over. I will probably never step foot into that pink (yes, pink) house again, and most certainly never again call it home. Last night at 2 AM as I laid in my warm bed far across the ocean from my other bed, I felt the panic rise up to swallow me in waves of grief, as I was hit with the reality of what we had lost. Sometimes people still ask me how I am doing with the transition, and I always say that I am okay. Because I am okay, but these moments still happen and it still hurts.

I don’t doubt that we followed God’s calling in leaving behind a country and people that we loved. Although Ethiopia was also our calling, in this season our highest calling is to our children – even over children in our ministry. We had to do everything we could to ensure not only their actual safety, but just as importantly because of history for two of them, their felt safety. There is a time and place to teach bravery and courage and we always want to teach trust and faith in a good God, and we do that. But nothing was worth making easily triggered children reface and possibly relive some of their worst fears. So, as the story goes, we left it all behind. It was God’s prompting and gentle guiding, but ultimately our choice – we moved our feet. But sometimes in the deepest, most honest and authentic places of my heart, it feels like He took it all away.

Last night, as I imagined myself once again in the tall pink house nestled in the beautiful mountains of Oromo country, I kept getting distracted in my Ethiopian living room. Never before moving to Ethiopia had I ever owned new living room furniture. We were given a cute little set from relatives when were married. And then when we moved into our first house, we found a set on Craig’s List that we liked. Upon moving to Ethiopia, we were again given living room furniture. It was a huge gift and help to not have to purchase that living room furniture on top of everything else we needed to purchase in order to furnish our home. However, the Ethiopian made couches were lower quality than most furniture here in the states, and with sixteen plus people living in our home at one time, and numerous guests in and out of our home, it quickly became worn and rickety. Pieces of our couch were literally falling off every time someone tried to sit on them. When we returned to Ethiopia after our summer in the states in 2016, we felt so much peace with where we were as a family in Ethiopia, and felt in our hearts that we would be there for a long, long time. So, we took our tax refund money, and we went into a furniture store that sold imported European furniture. It was the first time in my life that I was able to choose exactly what I wanted for our living room. I chose a beautiful, bright tufted yellow set with an adorable accent comfy chair and bright colorful contrasting pillows, because it matched the sunshine in my soul in that moment. I felt so much joy and contentedness with the life that we had carved out and I felt so much hope for our future.

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I only have this one photo of my beautiful yellow tufted couch set, because as a missionary I feared people’s reactions to us having nice things. I wish I hadn’t. I know now that God is okay with even missionaries having pretty things. Making a home beautiful within the bounds of one’s budget is so okay.

Less than two months after purchasing our couch set, we sold it at almost half its value and boarded a plane to go back to the states. I believe that God does give and that He does allow things to be taken away, but slowly, as I allow myself to delve into all of the pain that is still at the surface, I think I am understanding that God does not give to take away. My formative years have skewed my view of God in ways that I am still untangling. But I can confidently say that God is the giver of good gifts, and that yellow couch, in all of its tufted sunshiny glory, brought me days of ridiculous happiness. When I would wake up in the morning, I would come down the stairs, grab my Bible and curl up on that couch or in the cozy chair. I felt joy every single time I walked into my living room. It held me one day as I laid on it under blankets sick with food poisoning.  And even in the very short time that we owned it, I am so pleased at how many people it held – teenage boys doing a Bible study, teenagers playing xbox, little kids wrestling one another, family movie nights, friends, and even on occasion one of our dogs.

Yes, that pretty little couch set is gone, and so is Ethiopia, and so are so many dreams and ideas of how we saw life playing out, but God remains. He constantly shows up inside the mess inside of my heart, inside the doubts and fears and pain. He continues to be a Father who desires to lavish good gifts, and He continues to do that. His gifts are just wrapped much differently than maybe I had once hoped for, but they are here and good nonetheless. Do I miss that couch, and that home, my people, and the mountains, and walking the cobblestone paths for avocado juice? Do I miss the much simpler way of life and the ’13 months of sunshine’? Yes. Every single day I miss it. But at the same time I love my new little house and the odds and ends furniture that we have scraped together to make home. I love the sound of my children giggling in our family room, the memories we are making around a fire pit in our back yard, the small kitchen that feels just perfect. I love the unlikely community of people that God is growing up around us, and the new dreams that He is placing in our hearts for Ethiopia and for here.

Daily I am learning to renew my mind with the truth of Who God is. He is a God Whose love for me is without end. His goal is not to hurt me, but to save my life. That alone fills in some of those achey places in my heart, and allows me to remember the beautiful gift of a yellow tufted couch.

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Removing the Politics out of Loving my Neighbor

I think that one of the greatest disservices that we commit against one another is that of labeling each other. I understand that sometimes we need labels, especially in this culture we live in, but far too often those boxes that we label people into are boxes of judgment and stereotypes. I was born and raised as a Baptist, and up until a few years ago, I was content with that label of a Baptist. However, during that time if someone had labeled me into the same box as a Westboro Church Baptist, I would have been deeply offended, because not all Baptists wield picketing signs that read “God hates fags”.

I am guessing the same sentiment is true for my Muslim friends who are so often immediately labeled as a “Radical Islamic”, and yet we do it. Last week I saw a Facebook post that made a blanket and ugly statement about Muslim people, and I literally wept in horror. Later that evening I was talking to my husband about it, and I shared that I did not understand why I felt so much pain and responded with so much grief to what I had read. He answered, because when you read that, you picture all of your Muslim friends in Ethiopia, who you love and who you know fit none of those labels. He was right.  I think that what hurts most about labels is that they mostly happen outside of a relationship. We share posts on Facebook that box people into just one way of being – we judge the heck out of someone that we do not even know and we excuse ourself from the greatest command that we were given – love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Sometimes love looks as simple as thinking twice before we share something on social media that unjustly labels an entire group of people.

We use labels to determine who is worthy of our love and who is not – who is in and who is out. Inside the polarizing political climate that we find our country in, we are so quick to draw a box, a dividing line depending on what side we veer to. The political labels are especially divisive and hurtful, and can never really tell you the whole of a person’s heart, because labels never can. I fear that we have allowed our political leanings to give us permission to not love that neighbor. It is a sad commentary when we have reduced someone to a singular label that allows us to forget their belovedness and the fact that they were created in the image of God. It is a sad day when our politics have become our god, and the filter in which we view all of life is which political party we align with. Perhaps this generation’s biggest blindspots will trace back to our love for political labels over our love for our neighbors. I fear this as I look around me and into my own heart.

The same Jesus Who died to free us, died to free them, and loves them with the same love that He loves us. Honestly, I do not really line up anywhere on the political scale, and most days I feel like an outcast because of this. I have very swiftly been pigeon-holed into a side and labeled, but the reality is that I don’t fit on the right, and I don’t fit on the left. I am a mess of contradictions and all over the place as I try to navigate this life loving God and loving my neighbor, and maybe we were never created to be labeled into one box.

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I am guessing if the people who choose to label me would instead choose to sit down and share a pot of coffee while I share my heart, they just might walk away with a different label for me or none at all. They might see that I am apprehensive about the safety of my Black children, not because I am listening to the left and believing lies and fake news, but because of real life experiences that have happened to them here in America. They might see that I have a heart for Muslim people because of the community of Muslim friends whom we did life with in Ethiopia. They might see that I am tender toward refugees, because I am a bleeding heart who knows how hard it is to live inside of a foreign country and not speak the language or understand the culture. Maybe they would understand why I am so passionate about sanctity of life, and why that reaches farther than just the unborn lives. Maybe they would walk away agreeing with me, or maybe not, but it would certainly be a better start than just boxing me into a label without knowing me. The same is true for everybody.

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I believe a lot of the tension in this country could be relaxed, even just a little, over pots of coffee, steaming cups of tea and a cozy kitchen table. Maybe this will not fix everything, but it gives us a place to start.  When we step into the lives of people, it is so much harder to label them into a box. People are nuanced and contradictory and unique, and worthy of our time and our love and of our listening ear. Maybe loving our neighbor should stop being political and start being practical and relational. Love is always the best, first step. When we don’t know what to do, how to think, where to go, loving someone over a cup of coffee is never wrong.

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To My Kids As They Go Back to School

Summer with you was beautiful. The older you get the more I fall in love with each one of you, and the more I want to slow down these years with you. I am all too aware of how quickly these days are flying by, and how before I know it my last baby will be in a cap and gown, and there will never again be a need for a  ‘back to school’ post. As always the seasons seem to pass so swiftly, and here were are on the verge of another. As you prepare to start another school year, there are three things that I want to tell you.

Grades are not everything.                                                                                                                  While it is true that we have you attend school for an education, and we believe that is an unalienable right for you, as it should be for every child, academics has never been the most important thing to your Dad and I. I know that the the world around us places a great emphasis on grades and academics, and there is a place and necessity for them,  but listen to me when I tell you that is not the most important thing. Your worth and value as a person does not come from a letter grade or a test score. There will be some subjects that you excel in, and there may be others that you struggle in, and that is all okay, because that is how life works in the real world. I want you to be diligent in your school work, and as long as that happens, your grades matter little to me. Because I know that an A or B or C or any other letter can never tell the whole story of the wonderful, incredible person that you are. So, yes, be diligent, follow directions, work hard, but please understand that grades are only one very small piece of a much bigger picture. There are far bigger, and dare I say far more important, lessons to be learned inside of your school than the ones that you will take tests about. I hope that you learn character traits that will serve you well, and that you will develop a personality filled with love, sensitivity and empathy. I want you to learn to be courageous, brave, and strong, and to lead by gentle example. I want you to learn how to navigate this world as a follower of Jesus by first learning how to navigate the halls of your public school.

You will never regret being kind.                                                                                                             My hope for you this school year is that you would walk so closely with Jesus that you are a beautiful reflection of Him as you walk your hallways, sit in your classes, eat in the cafeteria, and kick a ball out on the pitch. More than good grades, I want you to be a good person. A good person is a kind person. Every single day you will have opportunities to be kind or to be unkind. You will have a choice to be a person who includes others or excludes others. There are kids inside your school who are picked last, picked on, and left out. Be intentional about looking for those kids – the ones that are different, not cool, the kids that are hurting, the kids who are new and nervous. When you find them, run to them, these are the kids that need your kindness – they are desperate for it. These are the kids that will remember your smile, your words of encouragement, your invitation to the lunch table, the recess circle, or the seat on the bus. You will never, not one single day, regret the kindness that you give, so give it freely, give it often.

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It’s okay to make a mistake.                                                                                                                      In this life, and in your time at school, you will make mistakes, because you are human. You will fail, you will flounder, and you will fall, and unfortunately that is just a given if you have a heartbeat. But the real test of characters comes after the mistake is made. Your response to your mistake is important. Take responsibility for your mistakes and  allow them to teach you to make a better choice the next time. Admit your mistake and apologize whenever necessary, and then move on. Keep walking forward, and heed the wise words of Maya Angelou “when you know better, you do better.” I don’t expect you to be perfect. Dad and I are not perfect. Nobody is. We love you regardless of any mistakes that you make in this life. Mistakes are good learning lessons for the rest of your life. They do not define you, but they do help you to grow and to change. Life is a journey, and there will be bumps along the way, there will be good days and there will also be bad days, but at the end of every day, know that you are beloved by your Creator, and that Dad and I will be right here to help you navigate this big, wonderful life you were given.

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Dear Bathroom Scale; It’s Not Me, It’s You

I know this may come as a surprise, but I have thought long and hard about this, and I think we need to take a break. I have known it for some time, but I have been too scared to live without you. I have lied to myself that I need you in my life, but I don’t need you. I never did. When I lived in Ethiopia, I did not bring you along with me. You didn’t live in my bathroom, and I found a freedom from you, but the freedom was short lived. I started to walk by other bathroom scales right out on the street, and I began to pay one birr to step onto that scale. While the culture I lived inside viewed the scale differently, I could never adapt to that kind of different.  My Ethiopian friends took great pride and joy over increasing numbers on a scale, and they would cheer and congratulate one another when they had gained a kilo. I, on the other hand, would hope nobody would get close enough to read my numbers on the scale, and I would cringe if I had not lost a kilo. After all, even being a small person, the scale read me as close to the same number as many of the grown men in Ethiopia, and that was mortifying. Even though you didn’t live with me, you still had control over me.

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In moving back to the states, I immediately put you back in the bathroom, and I became loyal to you once again. Every morning I would visit you first, and I allowed you to determine, not only the kind of day I would have because of the number you would give me, but also, as ridiculous as this is – my self worth and my value as a woman, as a mom, as a human being. You became a vehicle of frustration, anxiety, and even depression. And I allowed you to have that power. I gave it to you many, many years ago. Somehow it seemed that a number told my story. It is true that some of the time you did bring me happiness, but it was always fleeting and it was always false.

I think that I knew that it had to be over between us when I found myself unexpectedly in Barcelona on a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. Of course I did not carry you in my luggage over the ocean. But every time that I bit into a buttery, flakey perfectly chocolate filled croissant, I thought of you. When I sipped chocolate cappuccinos or Spanish reds, you crept into my thoughts. When I got to try paella for the first time and discovered it to be one of the best meals that I had ever eaten, you were in the back of my mind. When I only intentionally did one workout in the entire two weeks of travel, never mind the almost 90 stairs I climbed to get to our flat, and the literal miles I walked – 6 hours of actual walking the first day while trying to unravel the mystery of using the metro – you were constantly in my thoughts. I must have spoken aloud about you no less than ten times. I feared returning to you, and what you would say to me. It didn’t matter that my clothes still fit fine, and that I had accumulated so many amazing memories and experienced things some people can only dream of experiencing; the sad reality was all that really mattered to me was what number you would give me when I came back to you. You had become my master.

Today is the day bathroom scale. I am calling it quits. I am kicking you out of my life. I have deeply depended on you to predict my day, but I don’t need you for that. I can choose to have a good day despite a number. Our relationship has been unhealthy for so long, and I need a clean break. I know that I am the one who pursued this relationship, and that is why I have to be the one to also end it. The only thing that you have ever really given me is an obtuse number that means absolutely nothing. You have never been able to tell me my true worth, or my true health, and you most certainly do not define me. I am done listening to your lies. I am walking away from you, and I am walking into freedom.

Sincerely, Tiffany, your slave no more

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Sadly, I know I am not alone in these thoughts, and that many can find solidarity in this battle. If you are one of those people, I would love to hear from you. Let us encourage one another in this journey toward freedom. Please drop me a comment or an email, or come find me on Facebook or Instagram. You can even take a photo of yourself saying goodbye to your scale and tag me tdarling02 and hashtag it #ditchthescale, as I would love to cheer you on in your own journey.

 

 

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The Power of the Table

The older I get and the farther removed I grow from the white-washed flannelgraph Jesus of my childhood, the more in awe I am of the actual Jesus. As a lover of food and the kitchen, I especially love how much Jesus ate with people during His life on earth. I think it is a significance that we have often overlooked. We tend to focus on His sermons and His miracles, and the proper ministry portions of His life, but what about the everyday life of Jesus – the ordinary? Perhaps there is even more to learn from these mundane moments of Jesus’ life on earth. Have you ever wandered through the gospels and took notice of how much ministry happened around a table and with food shared among friends? Meals around the table were such a significant part of Jesus’ everyday life. The table was a precious part of Who Jesus was and how He lived. What is perhaps so startling is the kinds of people that Jesus invited to His table. They were not the pristine looking religious people, but rather quite the opposite.

Later Jesus and his disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers. The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: ‘What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?'” Mark 2:15-16 MSG

Jesus’ choice to invite these people to the table was no doubt very intentional. He was blatantly ignoring the social norms of His culture and even the religious laws of purity. But these were the very people that Jesus continually chose to invite to His ‘Supper Club’. As these people sat around the table eating and drinking, and let’s just be authentic here – partying – with the Son of God, they were exposed to a little bit of heaven – to the Kingdom breaking into the ordinary rhythms of daily life. It was life-changing for many of these people who had been spit out by religion, but had been offered a seat at the table with Jesus and His friends. These people got a glimpse into a new and better way to live – they got a taste of a new life – of the kingdom breaking into earth. It was like the appetizer before the main meal – a taste of what is to come.

Our culture is not really a dinner table culture anymore. We live in a high-speed, fast-food country that celebrates individualism and isolation.  Although, we so easily curate status updates on our social media, and have a false sense of community through these outlets, the truth is, so many of us cling to our privacy. But there is still power to be found around the table. The dinner table is relational and communal and everything opposite of private and isolated. The table is the antidote for loneliness; it is a powerful expression of inclusion and friendship and belonging. Food ties us together, when it is eaten together.

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If I am to be a representation of Jesus on earth, which I am, then perhaps meals around a table with guests should be a significant part of my life. When we set a table, whether it be with perfectly coordinated dishes and wine goblets or paper plates and red party cups, when we serve a carefully prepared gourmet meal or buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken with our neighbors, our co-workers, our community, we are inviting the Kingdom to break into the ordinary rhythms of life. We are giving people a safe place to belong; many times people who do not feel like they belong in the chairs in our churches but are comfortable in the chairs at our table. We are nourishing bellies, and we are nourishing souls. We offer people a sanctuary to be covered in grace, to taste a new and different way to live, to experience sacred love. If you eat, which you do, and can put food on a table, which you can, then you can pull out a chair and invite a guest – even a disreputable one – to join you for a meal at your dinner table. And the more we become comfortable with this, the more our table expands, our reach extends, and we  discover that the table has become one of the most beautiful, authentic mission fields that we have ever been to – all without leaving the comfort of our homes.

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Coming home, making art, and having courage – on living the life you were born to live

Slowly I moved from one painting, one sculpture, one portrait to the next, completely immersed in a kind of creative ecosystem. As I wandered art galleries in Barcelona, Spain, my being welled up with intense, undeniable emotion. At first this feeling left me confused, as I am not an artist, at least not that kind of artist, although I can certainly empathize with being a creative. So, maybe I really am an artist. Maybe we all are. Probably we all are, once we discover our own kind of art. Upon further prodding and introspection, I discovered that the emotion I was feeling, as I took in the art around me, came from a place of longing, a place that I did not expect to have tapped into with a few visits to art galleries. But there was no denying what I was feeling was indeed longing.

To get a glimpse into someone else’s imagination through the portal of their art is a gift for sure, but for me it went so much deeper than this. As I gazed upon art and read bios about artists, I realized that I was witnessing people’s life works – I was witnessing work that flowed out of what these people were born to do, and it made me long for the ability to do what I was born to do. I encountered this theme, and the emotion that was married to it, again, while I watched my oldest son train for soccer in Barcelona. As I watched him essentially make his own kind of art out on the hot pitch with a soccer ball, I was reminded anew that indeed he was born to play soccer. I wrote briefly of this on my social media accounts, and likened my son’s stepping onto the soccer pitch to ‘coming home’, because that is what I am reminded of when I see him with a soccer ball. Everything else falls away, his true self surfaces, he is at ease, and he ‘comes home’. I believe that it is true that we are all searching for that place that makes us ‘come home’, and I believe that we all have that place – we all have our own kind of art. As I typed out these thoughts last week, I alluded to the fact that I had not found what it is that I was born to do, and watching him made me ache to discover my own destiny. But even as I wrote out those words and shared them, I knew it was not true. In second grade I knew what I was born to do. It is what I would do in my free time. It is what I dreamed of doing. Just like my son knew when he was six years old what he was created to do with his life. When one is thirty seven years old and still finds immense joy in doing the very same thing she did at eight years old, well, that is probably what she – me – was created and born to do.

I was born to write.

Even typing that brings tears to my eyes, because it is so full of emotion. It also scares me. Because what if I fail? What if, what I was born to do, just isn’t good enough? There are so many writers in this big world, and there are so many good writers that I sometimes wonder if it is even worth a shot in finding my place among them. But just because there are better writers, and just because there are good writers doesn’t take away the gift that I was given. As I encountered art from vastly different artists, each was unique, each had carved out their own, different space in this world, and the beauty of one did nothing to detract from the beauty of the other. Some of the art that resonated the deepest with me did not resonate with my husband, and some of the art that moved him did not move me. And that is okay. That is life, and that is art. Some people may read my words and not relate, some people may not even read what I have to say, but someone, somewhere may need my words; someone may need what I was born to do.

It takes risks and courage to put art into this world  – whatever that art looks like. There is no easy way around that. I become vulnerable when I expose my art – when I write and allow people to read it. It is so easy for me to talk myself out of trying. I let this blog go dormant, and I find a million excuses to not write. I have a manuscript that is years old that has grown dusty, and I refuse to finish it, and perhaps for some really valid reasons. A new, fresh idea was born this winter, and although I write, it is not often enough, and it is with immense trepidation and self-criticizing. I sit here with a mug of now mostly cool coffee, and I wonder if anyone even reads blogs anymore, but then here you are, reading my blog, and you are someone, and that is enough. I fear that I will write and write and write and never get published, and the fear leaves me paralyzed. But if I never try, I will never succeed. If I start now, I can fail faster, and try again. There is never a good time to begin perfecting one’s craft, there are always excuses, there is always life to get in the way, so I might as well begin now. There will always be failures, but what if one out of a hundred times, I don’t fail? The what if is to beautiful and motivating to ignore.

Today is as close to the perfect start time that we will ever have, because nobody knows what tomorrow holds. We will never get better if we don’t begin. What is it that you need to start today? Where do you find yourself ‘coming home’? What were you born to do? What is holding you back from trying?

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Now is the best time to begin. We get one, wild life to live; what if we live that life doing what we were created to do? It takes courage to live out our destiny, but perhaps the reward from the risks we take is worth the joy that can only be found inside of our own, wonderful art that we put out into the world.

“If you feel like there’s something out there that you’re supposed to be doing, if you have a passion for it, then stop wishing and just do it.” — Wanda Sykes

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