when I write for others: Restoration House

Occasionally, I get to write for magazines, newsletters, blogs, and everything in between. It's neat to go back and read my words from another time. There's always room for grace and growth and a smile or head nod. Here's a fun interview I did with Kennesha Buycks in February 2019. Find the original here.

Tell us the story of your home. (go as deep or stay as superficial as you want with these) To you, what sets it ap1. Tell us the story of your home. (go as deep or stay as superficial as you want with these) To you, what sets it apart or makes it unique aside from the fact that you and your family are the ones who live in it.

 My husband and I scooped up our dream home near our hometown several years back. It’s got farmhouse vibes and was built in 1890. It sits on a few acres and we’re living the dream with some chickens and a rope swing. We’re not in a position financially to remodel the entire thing, but it’s fun to work on one room at a time and really make it our own.

How would you describe your personal home style?

If I had to name my aesthetic, it would be, “You’d never know six kids grew up here.” The walls and couches are white, and the toys are tucked away. I keep a pretty minimalist and tidy home. I find it brings a sense of serenity and security to the chaos that tends to accompany large families with full lives.

What is your favorite space in your home and why? 

Probably my bedroom! It’s free of technology and pictures and the bed is comfortable. I also love the spot on my couch where I read my Bible most mornings. The sun creeps in and the whole world feels ripe with possibility when I’m sitting there, reading and sipping my iced coffee.

If you could share one thing about yourself with readers that you’ve perhaps never shared publicly or via social media, what would it be? 

Gosh, that’s hard! I’ve been online since dial-up internet! I will say people are often surprised to find that I’m an introvert, because I stay pretty bubbly on social media. I love being around people but I feel most charged up after a few hours alone. I can power through an entire book on Audible in a single day if you’ll let me!

What was life like for you growing up in your childhood home?

I had a glorious childhood. My little brother and I talk about this all of the time. We spent our formative years in a small neighborhood with a pool and tennis courts, the kind of neighborhood where you could bicycle everywhere and stay out after dark. My childhood bedroom was a fun space, too, one that my parents did their best to personalize for me. My favorite bedroom setup had pale yellow walls and sky-blue bedding with clouds on it. I went through a zebra phase later, too.

What does home mean to you? What do you want others to feel when they enter/spend time in your home? 

 Home means peace. No matter the location, no matter how many times home must change, I always want my family and guests to feel a sense of peace. Jesus lives in our home and I want folks to really experience him just from hanging out with us at home.

Proudest DIY?

 I guess I’d have to say our chicken coop, which my grandfather designed and helped us build. Or maybe the floating bookshelves that I dreamed up and my husband installed in less than an hour! There’s a pattern here… I dream of beautiful things, and the men I love make them come true for me.

Do you think you’ve learned to embrace your story? Your home? Why or why not? Explain. 

Great questions! I’d say I’ve learned to embrace my story. I’m quite comfortable with my past and present, and expectant for my future. It is far more difficult to be content with my home. We’re working with a bare bones kitchen and bathrooms, for example, and I struggle with the notion of my kids outgrowing the space before it ever fully feels like ours. What helps, though, is seeing photos and memories made in the house as is, knowing that my family is content here and it’s okay if we never get the floors redone or a real shower installed.

If there was one piece of advice that you could give to others as to how to embrace their home and their story, what would that sound like? 

Clear the clutter! For real. Your kids will survive with less toys. Your kitchen can handle fewer dishes. Your closet won’t miss the clothes you never wear anyway. Pick one room at a time, and clear the clutter. I’ve found that having less things in my home actually makes it feel bigger, cleaner, and readier to host. Not only that, but having less to clean up or worry about gives me more time and space to focus on the things that matter.

How does what you do currently in your professional life/ministry tie into this idea that home is “more than just a place we live” and that it holds much more of a redemptive and restorative power than we may currently embrace culturally? 

I work in healthcare, as a hospice nurse. My husband works, in vocational ministry as a worship pastor. In a sense, we both pour ourselves out for a living. Home is place where we fill back up. Home is where we start our days, side by side on the couch in our Bibles. Home is where we reflect and reset, so we can refresh the world we meet when we walk out of its doors.

when I write for others: The Refined Woman

Occasionally, I get to write for magazines, newsletters, blogs, and everything in between. It's neat to go back and read my words from another time. There's always room for grace and growth and a smile or head nod. Here's a piece from July 2016. Check out the original post here.

I’ve always been small. I’m shorter than most of my friends and have had long hair for most of my life.  My face is covered in a faint smattering of freckles, and I’m usually described as cute.

I used to hate it. I wanted to be prettystriking or hot. Nowadays, I tolerate it. There are worse things than being thirty and cute, right?

But here’s the thing – I’m starting to feel beautiful. This might be the most beautiful season I’ve ever experienced as a woman.  I’m not talking about just my looks, because most days, I don’t feel as attractive as I did before four kids came out of my body.

So what’s changed over the last few years? I’ve cultivated influence. I’ve married, acquired stepsons and had children. I’ve built a ministry. I’ve invested in solid, ride-or-die friendships and built relationships with the next generation. I’ve made it my mission to dig deeply into my community. I’ve committed to a new level of vulnerability with the people I call home, to allow them to bring out the best in me and point me to Jesus.

These days, people are looking at me. Like, really looking at me –not judging or whispering as I walk by their lunch table. They’re asking how my heart is. They’re digging beneath the surface of small talk. And they’re asking me to look at them, and pour into them.

My family looks to me for wisdom, advice, and a soft place to land when they fail. My friends don’t hesitate to serve me with feedback, encouragement, love, affection, and correction. The teenage girls I lead value my opinions on their eyebrows, personal style, and how far they decide to go with their boyfriends. On any given day, people all over the world might read my blog or scroll through my Instagram feed and make a split-second decision about Jesus, just from peeking through my lens.

None of these groups are mind-blowing in number. I’m not talking about big stats and monster platforms. This is real life. Family, friends, the folks I bump into on the Internet.

But here’s what those groups have in common — me.

In some shape or form, I come into contact with all of these people. I touch them. They touch me. And it’s my choice whether or not to lean in, and be careful with their hearts in the process. It’s my choice whether or not to acknowledge the gift I’ve been given with them… my influence.

Strange as it sounds, once I began to feel the weight of the influence I carry, I began to see the beauty in it.  Influence is beautiful. Sacred.  As I brushed up against the idea that I could take hold of my influence and use it for good, I began to feel more beautiful. For the first time in my life, I could see clearly what my purpose is – to love God and love people. That’s all I ever have to do in this life.

Influence is freedom, and it is beautiful. It’s holy work, and I’m honored to do it.

Accepting responsibility for my influence made me care more about beauty than ever before, but in a healthy way. I started working out regularly — not to get skinny, but to take care of my temple. I actually don’t have time to feel insecure or negative about my body because I’m doing holy work.

So now I put in a few hours a week at the gym and try to watch what I feed myself. I pay more attention to my wardrobe. Not because I want approval from people, but because I know that teenage girls are watching me. I care deeply that they grow up to believe that God’s definition of femininity and sexuality exists to give them the best life possible.

I believe that Jesus is big enough to bring things full circle.  He’s kind enough to use our unique personalities in ways that teach us things about Him. I may forever be short and cute, but I’m beautiful because He’s asked me to use my influence over the small tribe He’s given me, and equipped me in all the right ways to do it.

To simplify the bedroom.

I’ve been back in school for three years now. Combine the workload with my day job as a nurse with a season of raising small children with the personality of an introvert, and it’s easy to see how my bedroom became a sanctuary. My husband painted it white for me as soon as we moved in. We went with simple bedding, minimal furniture, no pictures, no clutter. The kids know to always knock first if the door is closed. We don’t even have a lock on that thing. They don’t even touch the doorknob.

I spent hours reading my Bible there, typing out papers, and reading for pleasure before bed. But there were also naps and conference calls that weren’t necessary. There were also black holes of internet scrolling with the blankets pulled up to my chin in the middle of the afternoon.

For some folks, the bedroom might be an helpful spot for a home office or destination getaway. For me, over the last few years, my bedroom became home base. Remember playing tag as a child? If I could just get to home base, I’d be immune and safe. I could close the door and disconnect. It was easy to use my mom voice, “I need a minute – please leave me alone.” But that minute turned into an hour or more, valuable time that could be spent doing more to fill my soul and less to focus on myself and how hard this season is.

So in 2019, the bedroom changes. I still need a space to sneak away for a minute when needed, sure. But I don’t need a black hole in which to numb. My kids understand the complexity of our family’s schedules and respectfully give me time and space whenever I ask, but there’s no good or healthy reason for me to disappear for hours on end to my bed.

Practically speaking, here’s what it looks like for me…

A technology-free bedroom. My phone is out. I bought an alarm clock on Amazon and removed the phone charger from my side of the bed. Sometimes I take calls in there if I need quiet, but I try to park my phone on the hall table every time I walk into my room. It charges in the adjacent room at night, ringer on high for emergencies. Additionally, my computer is out. No more school work in bed. I sit in the dining room with the door closed if I need to concentrate, but I try to do most of my work in the kitchen where my kids can access me if needed.

A task-free bedroom. I no longer take whatever I’m working on into my bedroom. This could be eating, or meal-planning, or reading my Bible. I’m spending a lot more time in the den, even if nobody else is at home. I’m trying to build healthy habits and take up healthy space in my house.

To simplify the bedroom is to engage in spiritual warfare. For me, at least. I know what happens if I lie horizontal too long. I know what happens when all of my lines get blurred and routines run together. Life begins to feel foggy, and I lose sight of the God who called me to this life and sustains me to keep at it.

And so, I fight. I sit upright and read my Bible and find my Heavenly Father in its pages. I plant my rear end on a hard chair to type papers and count the days until graduation. I choose to only participate in sleep and sex (and an occasional argument or two) in my bed, to protect my space and my heart and my family. My bedroom is still a sanctuary, but now the whole house is too. Because my God is big and powerful like that.

Five things on a Friday.

I didn’t branch out as much with personal care this year, sticking to my goal of not replacing products until I was in need. I also wish I had gotten more facials, but overall, we had a good and glowy year. Without further ado… my top five beauty finds from 2018, in no particular order.

  1. Micellar water, Bioderma. The concept might sound silly or bougie, but micellar water is legit. I apply it with a cotton ball in the morning, instead of washing my face. At night, it’s great for eye-makeup removal. It leaves my face feeling soft and not stripped, which is great before makeup in the morning, and actives (serums, etc.) in the evening.
  2. Sunscreen glow stick, Supergoop. The fact that I used it for two days without realizing there was a plastic cover on it notwithstanding, this is my new favorite product. It makes me dewy all over, which is my only skin goal in life. It can go under or over makeup. I also like the idea of applying protective and natural ingredients that do something, and not just another layer of makeup to get the look I want.
  3. Banana brightening eye cream, Ole Henriksen. After walking out with a free sample from Sephora one too many times (it was wrong; I repent), my husband surprised me with the full-size (the only kind of surprise I like). It moisturizes, plumps, and brightens my under-eye area prior to makeup application.
  4. Almond shower oil, L’Occitane. I fell in love with this a decade ago (funny story: a customer left a bag full of it in Chris’ store and they never could track her down). This year, I decided to implement it into my routine as a necessity. I actually use it as a shaving gel, so it lasts several months.
  5. Deodorant, Lavanila. I gave up antiperspirant/deodorant years ago, and the detox thing is real – going without really has cut down on both sweating and odor for me. I needed more than just tea tree oil to get through this summer’s humidity, though, and discovered this at my bestie’s house. I’m still wearing it several months later, with no complaints! I feel less damp, and the mild pleasant scent lasts all day.

Looking forward to new fun finds in 2019. Cheers!

Thoughts from a concerned Christ-follower.

Politics and religion have clashed for centuries, but the last few years in America have given us quite the taste. The internet makes us more aware, more often, of injustices. Tragedy strikes, both new and old uncovered. Hurt people hurt people. Headlines scroll. We take sides. We post. We vote. Some churches talk about it. Others don’t. Christians are left to choose their own way, led by an outspoken pastor, or a silent pastor, or a news station. Sometimes, we just default to the way we were raised. Most of the time, we go where we’re most comfortable, where we feel most right and where we will not be challenged.

I could write a fascinating case study after watching people react to the 2016 election and beyond. I don’t watch the news anymore; it’s too sad. Let’s not talk about that subject; it’s too divisive. I’m moving to Canada. I’m sure there’s an explanation for this, and the media is just hyping it up. I hope he gets impeached. I hope she goes to jail. Standards and preferences and levels of tolerance change, depending on the day and the story and what’s at stake.

I’d like to think I have a unique perspective into this cultural clash. I grew up at a Christian school, in a predominantly white and wealthy community. This is where I first developed rich relationships with people of color, and where I was also given space and time to choose Christianity for myself. My education included a year-long, rigorous apologetics course, culminating in a twenty-seven page thesis. I also maintained a diverse group of friends “on the outside,” who taught me about everything from veganism to LGBTQ issues to the difference between agnostics and atheists. This is where I first learned to answer the very important question, Why do bad things happen to good people?

I am grateful for both of these environments, as the combination prepared me well for the world beyond high school graduation. I’ve felt both grounded and challenged ever since, secure enough in my identity to have open conversations. It feels natural and necessary to ask questions about what I believe, what others believe, what Scripture says, and how it affects everything from my everyday-life to the folks appointed to the Supreme Court’s bench.

Although there was never a single person who told me how to think and what to believe and for whom to vote, there was an overall understanding of how we did things. It continues to this day. It’s all over the internet and in our break rooms and church lobbies and around the table. Christians are under threat. We must protect our way of life.

It’s become difficult to reconcile the trusted voices of my youth with the trusted voice of Jesus, because I don’t see threats and protectionism mentioned in Scripture. If we consider ourselves to be children of God, we are not under threat. We are in Christ. Our way of life is the way of the Cross, not American culture. The Bible is straightforward in its accounts of Jesus and his positions. He remained very consistent throughout his life on earth.

Jesus never denied the existence of problems like systemic injustice, sexism, and racism. Jesus never isolated or insulated himself with his own kind. Jesus never blamed groups of people for their plight. Jesus elevated women. Jesus prioritized the poor. Jesus condemned racism. Jesus addressed injustice. Jesus was divisive and radical. Jesus boldly identified sin, but he brought the solution. Jesus became the cure. Jesus showed up ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. Jesus taught us that although the good news may be messy at times, it is never heavy nor condemning.

I’m done tiptoeing around the conversations America needs to have. I’m done worrying about a reputation of divisiveness within the Body of Christ I love so dearly. Jesus is my measuring stick, and he turned a table upside down in a church.

I’m not a lost liberal. I’m a concerned Christ-follower. So help me, God.

Five things on a Friday.

I’ve been wearing Glossier for years now, and working with them as a brand rep for about a year. (If you shop through my link, you get 10% off your first order and I get a commission. It’s basically an affiliate program. I think they had to let me in after I bought everything they sold. Even the sweatshirt.) Regardless of all of that, it’s simply my favorite beauty brand hands-down. Glossier makes incredibly effective skincare and makeup products, at an affordable price, with the right blend of natural and clinical ingredients, that ship in the cutest packaging. I figured this edition of Five things on a Friday might as well be a Glossier special. I’m highlighting (pun intended) the five products I use the most. Scroll to the bottom to save some money when you buy all five!

my current favorite glossier products, in no particular order:

  1. Milky jelly cleanser. It’s gentle enough for eyelids and tough enough for eye makeup. This is my first cleansing step of the night and I’ve never let myself run out of it. Price: $9/$18
  2. Priming moisturizer. I can’t quit it. I try other stuff and always come back to this. It goes on so smooth and adds a hint of a glow that I cannot deny. It’s got legitimate ingredients in it, too. Price: $22
  3. Balm Dotcom. I have a tube everywhere. Literally, everywhere. I’ve tried most of the flavors. Birthday is my favorite, and it has a little shimmer to it. Cherry is the most versatile; I wear it on my cheeks and eyelids in addition to lips. Price: $12
  4. Boy Brow. The product that brought us all to Glossier. It just cannot be beat. I use the end of the wand to draw a fine line where needed, and the brush to fill and fluff with some color. I don’t even need a pencil anymore. Price: $16
  5. Haloscope. This makes my cheeks glow like nothing else. It’s not too glittery or sparkly like other highlighters I’ve used. The stick has a lip balm/chapstick feel to it and is very easy to apply. I’ve worn Topaz all summer long but will switch to Moonstone soon. Price: $22

According to my calculations, buying all five products individually will cost you $90. However, they are all available via two different bundles, taking the the total down to $70. Don’t forget to shop through my link for an extra 10% off of your first purchase!

Phase 1: $40 for milky jelly cleanser, priming moisturizer, balm dotcom.

Boy Brow + Haloscope Duo: $30 for boy brow, haloscope.

alignment versus everything else

I recently listened to a quick-yet-powerful snippet about the difference between alignment and agreement on a podcast, and it sent me off on my own journey of research and speculating. The idea of constant and total agreement felt right to me. I tend to want everyone on the same page all of the time, or else my world feels unsettled. When I heard the word alignment, I pictured proper dance technique or a car in need of a tune-up. I couldn’t stop with just those two words, though. I had to dig into allegiance. Having grown up in a sports family, a military family, a church family, allegiance is in my blood. It’s sacred and it’s serious. I’ve even been told before that sometimes I can be too loyal. So I hit the books (aka the internet). Here is what I found.

a·gree·ment / əˈɡrēmənt/noun – harmony or accordance in opinion or feeling; a position or result of agreeing; the absence of incompatibility between two things; consistency.

al·le·giance / əˈlējəns/noun – loyalty or commitment of a subordinate to a superior or of an individual to a group or cause.

a·lign·ment / əˈlīnmənt/noun – arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative positions.

None of these concepts is good or bad. Words are just words when left alone. It’s how we use them that can either hurt or help. Because these words affect the way we interact with others, they tend to carry weight and burrow themselves into our hearts and minds. Because we can’t pursue them all at once, we tend to lean towards one at the expense of the others. Agreement. Allegiance. Alignment. When it comes to relationships, church dynamics, workplaces, and beyond… what is our aim?

Agreement demands unanimous opinion and feelings of total buy-in. Allegiance requires absolute and unending commitment, and refers to a hierarchy where one person is placed above an another. Alignment is the concept with the least oppressive standards. Appropriate relative position is all that’s needed to move a machine forward – a family, team, or organization. Alignment is the goal.

How do I know this works? Jesus. As a leader, he never once demanded agreement or allegiance from his disciples. The gospels are full of examples of folks asking Jesus questions or even attempting to correct him. He always responded by receiving their feedback and giving them a choice in exchange – to trust his leadership and follow or or not. As a follower, he was honest with God about his feelings as he pursued God’s plan to the cross. The night before he died, he even asked if there might be a way out. But he finished by submitting to his father’s leadership, because he trusted the vision. He chose alignment, and the world was made right again.

If you’re in a position of leadership today, whether it be friends at school who look up to you or children in your home or the team you supervise at work… what is your aim? What are you asking of your people? Agreement, allegiance, or alignment? Why? If you’re in a position of submission today who reports to someone, whether it be a team captain or parents or a pastor or boss… what drives your behavior and thoughts? What are you giving or holding back? Agreement, allegiance, or alignment? Why?

And to both groups, I ask… can you even imagine how much more harmonious and powerful life could be, if we aimed for alignment and didn’t worry about the rest? How freeing would it feel to lead from a place where we didn’t need people to agree all of the time or pledge their allegiance to validate our security and identity? How freeing would it feel to follow from a place where we could simply choose to align our behavior in the direction of those who lead us, even if we disagree with steps along the way?

As woman who lives in both groups on a daily basis, I want to aim for alignment. As a follower of Jesus, I’m grateful for a savior who doesn’t ask for anything else from me. I can choose to participate in agreement or allegiance, for sure, and my life hums with energy when those postures come naturally and easily. But appropriate relative position is enough to transform hearts and families and schools and churches and workplaces, and I want to be a part of that more than anything else.

on a practical note… (aka – great, Rach. but what does this LOOK like at school or work or church or in my marriage and friendships?)

  • you can trust God and still be mad
  • you can disagree with a strategy and still go along with the plan
  • you can delegate a chore that you will have to redo later
  • you can bite your tongue
  • you can ask questions
  • you can be bored
  • you can be patient
  • you can encourage others
  • you can hope for change
  • you can stay the course
  • you can dream about the future and still cheer for the present
  • you can think you’d do it better and still follow
  • you can be honest with your feelings
  • you can be loud about submitting
  • you can pray
  • you can pray
  • you can pray

*DISCLAIMER – all of these concepts assume nothing unethical, illegal, dangerous, immoral, etc. etc. etc. is taking place in your current situation

**RESOURCES – podcast, dictionaryarticle, article, articlethe Bible

current skincare regimen, summer 2018

Dairy is probably the worst thing to ever happen to my skin. Strange, because I never really had a problem with it until the last year. But after some monstrous cystic problems along my chin, I got strict about my diet several months ago and haven’t had a single breakout since. So there’s that. But onto the current routine. In the mornings, I’ve actually stopped washing my face. I use Vitamin C serum by Mad Hippie, followed by Trader Joe’s rose oil (I ran out of Biossance). I finish with SuperGoop sunscreen – either the CC cream or the Unseen. At night, I’m still double cleansing, currently with Glossier Milky Jelly and Skinceuticals LHA. I’ve made a commitment to  run through all of my current toners and serums and essences (oh my!) before buying anything new, but I already miss my UFO oil by Sunday Riley. After washing, I use a piece of medical gauze with soaked in Missha essence. I follow with Differin all over once a week or so, and finish every night with Mad Hippie’s face cream. I’m still on the hunt for a good eye treatment, and I don’t have any sheet masks or else you’d better believe I’d have one on while writing this.

to gather is to let the light in.

I didn’t grow up in a house that hosted often, or on the fly. My family threw parties occasionally, but most of our social gatherings took place in neighborhood clubhouses and church banquet halls. It was the 90’s, and the small group model within the church hadn’t taken off yet. Sunday school class made up one’s community, which typically consisted of weekly meetings in a formal setting and a yearly retreat or two.

As I entered adulthood, I watched the local church shed almost of all of its programming in favor of small groups – also known as life groups, family groups, and home groups. My introverted personality took a long time to warm up to them. I don’t want to use the phrase naturally averse, because I believe every human is wired for authentic community, but it’s the best description I can think of for the way I felt about opening my life to a group of people on such an intimate level. It was easy to blame my schedule, or the brand new baby (or babies), and not show up. For years, I resisted digging in and committing to these groups.

During one season of postpartum depression, my husband and I worked together to overhaul my schedule. Basically, we cleared everything off of the calendar and built it back piece by piece. For months, I only went to church, a weekly yoga class at my neighborhood rec center, counseling, and small group. I didn’t get to a vulnerable place with my small group for years, but it was during this season that I learned to show up consistently. And it changed everything.

I learned so much about myself then. Mostly, that I’d been lying to myself. I’d known all along that I couldn’t do life alone, that I needed grace just like everyone else in the world, and that being in community was good for my soul and the world around me. But there’s a difference between head and heart. I hadn’t wanted to do the work. I hadn’t wanted to feel exposed. I’d hated the idea of owing anyone anything. I’d been ashamed to admit any hint of failure even to myself, much less to people around me. I’d been living in the dark, but Jesus brought me into the light.

Over the years, it’s gotten easier. What started out as a disciplined commitment, a chore almost, has now become one of the greatest joys of my life. These days, I try to spend one night per week in community, which I define as the people who love Jesus and me enough to keep showing up for both. I gradually moved from coffee shops and restaurants to gathering in other people’s houses, and eventually… my own. Now, I’ll invite people over for a meal or a movie night with an hour’s notice. I’ll let teenage boys take over for a night or seven. I’ll offer to host the party instead of defaulting to a friend with a nicer house or sharper skills.

Opening my home to people has been a huge milestone of growth for my personality, my marriage, my role as a mother, and my journey as a follower of Jesus. It feels like letting the light in. It feels like victory.

My house was built in 1890. We bought it as a foreclosure. The floors are creaky and you can see through planks in places. The bathroom sink is cracked. Our kids are loud and our dogs are nosy. The walls are crooked, the baseboards warped and stained. There are never enough dishes or seats. It’ll be a decade or more before this house is “ready” to host, but we do it anyway. We can’t afford not to. We will not buy what culture or our flesh tries to sell us. We will not hide or withdraw or isolate. We will not wait for a better time. To gather is to fight. To gather is to change the world. To gather is to let the light in.

I’m in the light now, and I’m not going back.

time to thaw.

My friend sat on it for a few weeks before she brought it to me. “I’m not big on prophetic stuff unless I know for sure it has a meaning. This could be nothing at all. But I had a dream about you and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.”

She went on to tell me a beautifully vivid storyline that came to her while she slept. My four babies and I were on a sailboat, dressed to the nines and pulling up to her dock (neither of us have boats or docks, but wouldn’t it be nice?!). The wind blew through my hair and I leaned in toward her, a huge smile on my face. As we docked, I couldn’t contain myself. I looked straight at her, put my hand on her shoulder, and said

I have been on the adventure of my life, and I cannot wait to tell you about it.

I got to call my friend a prophetess. I got to tell her that her dream was from God and that it was her mission to tell me about it. I got to repent.

I know this dream was from God, for one reason alone, and it was this: that storyline was not real life for me. My friend had no idea. Most people wouldn’t. I may have been on the adventure of my life until now, but I could not see nor express it when it related to my children. In fact, I’ve spent the sum total of my birth babies’ existence just trying to keep them alive. Early on, I went numb in favor of spending my emotional energy on their dad and brothers. After I established solid relationships with my husband and stepsons, the numbness toward my biological children just felt easier.

I am not naturally laid-back. I am not naturally snuggly. I am not naturally messy. Small children require flexibility with all of those things. I was either too tired or too scared to to deal with the numbness, and so it turned to a sense of cold.

Until this summer. My friend shared the dream a few months ago and I knew it was time. I have more responsibility and less free time than ever, and still I know that now is the time to thaw. To be present. To stare at those four kids and pull them close. To let them see me, know me, forgive me, serve me, and love me. I’m asking God to help me learn the art of laid-back, snuggly, and messy.

I have been on the adventure of my life, and I cannot wait to tell you about it.

thoughts on breaks from the internet.

I’ve been online, in some capacity, for more than two decades. I played games on dial-up in the 90’s, I started blogging in 2003, and I’ve loved social media since its inception. After babies, though, I realized how easy it was to use the internet as an escape. I could numbly scroll through news headlines or cloth diaper sales pages (it’s real) and forget about how much money we didn’t have or how many hours I’d have to work the next day or whether or not I’d be able to pump enough milk.

I have learned so much from being online. So much. I’ve always been a voracious reader, but having articles and blogs and think pieces at my fingertips has just taken me to a next level. Drake released a new album. Do we think he’s really talking about XXXTentacion in that one track? Ominous blurbs about China and Canada filter through my car radio. What actually is a trade war, and are we in one? A patient swears she doesn’t use cocaine and thinks her marijuana might have been laced when her drug screen comes back positive. Is that possible? Beth Moore writes a powerful open letter to her brothers in Christ, calling them out and up. Historically, what is the Southern Baptist Convention’s track record with their treatment of women?

Skincare. Fashion. Theology. Parenting. Medicine. Google is one of my best friends. And if you come at me with some outlandish headline, I will definitely Snopes it on the go.

And don’t even get me started about social media! I learn more, laugh more, grow more, and love more than I ever could have imagined, just from connecting with others through platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Old friends stay close and best friends point me to Jesus, every single time I open those apps.

But along the way, it became apparent that I’d need to build some boundaries. My parents had obviously grown up without the internet, and my friends were on the front lines next to me. How much time is too much time? Where to keep my phone at night? When to delete apps and take a break? Who to follow and unfollow? How to talk about my kids online? How do I want to feel when I get on and then hop off again?

The weekend break was, and still is, a great idea. I try to delete social media apps from my phone for at least a day or two each week. Turning off all (ALL) of my notifications helped, too. I still stick to that one. Whatever it is, I’ll find out about it when I sign on. Lastly, being intentional about who to follow and what to click became a priority. I try to only consume that which is life-giving, whether online or off. But even with all of these safeguards, anxiety crept in now and again. A general, unsettled feeling settled upon me as soon as I posted something, or when I anticipated checking in again.

So I started taking real breaks. One month last summer. Christmas Break. Special trips or adventures. Another month this summer. And I got hooked. Whenever I go dark, I go all in. I leave my phone behind, forget the world, get lost in the moment. It’s an incredible feeling. Intoxicating, almost. I once told someone it felt like being the only sober person at a party on a yacht at sunset, when everyone else was partying too hard to soak up the vibe.

But there’s a dark side to going dark, and this is something I rarely mention. I ignore the news. I miss a friend’s birthday. I don’t return texts on time. It’s sort of like getting a scary bill in the mail and quietly placing it, unopened, in a drawer. I base each day off of how I’m feeling, how I want to feel. Is there a thing as being too self-aware? Because getting caught up in one’s feelings and thoughts is certainly real.

I think what I’m saying is, I make my internet breaks all about me. I get away for the right reasons, but I want to stay away for the wrong ones.

I do not have an answer for this dilemma. I do not think I can find it on Google. Here is what I do know. I know that the Bible has answers to everything, answers that never go out of style. That book has taught me so much about work and rest and people and life management and how to keep my soul healthy. And so, I know that I will continue to stay online and stay on guard. I know that there is no such thing as balance. I know that the internet is incredibly useful and most likely here for my forever. I know that I lean towards introverted selfishness when left to my own fleshly devices.

I know that rest is important, and that pausing to check my heart and soul and mind is crucial to my lifelong mission of making Jesus known. But I know that too much navel-gazing makes me dizzy. It leads me straight into walls, or onto my head. I also know that when Jesus pulled away to rest, he was always interrupted. He rolled with it, and it changed the world.

when I write for others: Upwrite Magazine

Occasionally, I get to write for magazines, newsletters, blogs, and everything in between. It's neat to go back and read my words from another time. There's always room for grace and growth and a smile or head nod. Here's a piece from December 2016.

I figured I might as well start my self-care journey in the bathtub. It sounded like the most obvious (bubble baths! candles!), and it just so happened to be the very spot where I’d experienced suicidal thoughts just a few months before. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I married, inherited and/or birthed six children, built and sold and bought a couple of houses, started my career as a nurse, and jumped into vocational ministry alongside my husband, all in a span of five years. If it sounds like a lot, of course it was. It absolutely was. But it just didn’t feel like it – not at the time. I’ve always wanted to be a grown woman with a man and a job and some kids. I’ve always been a high-capacity, keep-my-plate-full kind of girl. So I just went about my business one day at a time, until I broke.

I hit rock bottom one cold winter morning, after a few months of mild depression and a few precipitating events. My husband sent me to take a bath after I blew up at one of my daughters, and I found myself thinking of all the ways my family would be better off without me. After entertaining dangerous thoughts for a few minutes, I sent my husband a text. I need help. I don’t feel safe. He immediately went into action, and I’m forever grateful for his initiative.

Over the next few months, we walked a beautiful, painful, and simple road together. I started therapy and I cleared my social calendar. I said no a lot that year. I only attended counseling, church and small group, and family events. I fought hard to find joy when I looked into my kids’ faces and by God’s grace, I found it. I also dove head-first into the idea of self-care. It felt unbelievably exhilarating to get a little self-indulgent and spend more time on myself than ever before. And I had permission, nonetheless!

Like I said, I started with the bathtub. There were weekly bubble baths and face masks and magazines and candles. I did a lot of online shopping, and my husband made room in the budget for biweekly manicures. I practiced yoga for the first time ever, several nights per week in my bedroom. There was a lot of introspection and belly gazing. All of those things sound luxurious and amazing now, so it might sound crazy to say that they were hard at first. But depression is a beast. Back then, the bubble baths and the manicures actually had to be put on a list and checked off. They required effort. After awhile, though, I developed a sense of discipline with my regimens and my boundaries and my schedule. Those things became easier. They each tell a small part of my redemptive story of healing now, but I didn’t do everything right during that season. In fact, I got a big chunk of it dead wrong.

Somewhere along the way, I fell for the lie that said self-care started and stopped with me. I fell for the lie that said I had to look out for myself, that nobody else had and nobody else would. I fell for the lie that said I could somehow achieve my way to peace and wholeness, by being more disciplined and taking better care of myself. Looking back, I think my problem lay in my own definition of self-care. It was too small.

Self-care is about so much more than self. For me, it is the exploration of two key ideas. First, for whom am I getting healthy? Sure, I want to be stronger. I want my post-baby body to be able to do the same things that my pre-baby body could. I want to feel attractive when I look at myself in the mirror. I want to read about beauty products and understand what the heck the experts are talking about. I want to feel in the know, up-to-date, and relevant. But it is so much more than that. I want to be healthy for my people. I want my husband and kids to look at me and be proud of me, but also spurred on to become their best selves, too. I want the people in my community for whom my heart breaks to receive the best parts of me, in a way that doesn’t drain me when I pour out for them. I want my patients at work and the folks at church and the people online to be blessed each time we interact. And so I take care of myself. I take it seriously. But it’s not just for me.

Second, what is the aim of my discipline? I grew up in a Christian, upper-middle class family with doting parents and opportunities galore. And yet, I spent most of my life convinced that I needed to earn approval, and that I was only one bad decision away from falling out of right-standing with God. Once I went through counseling, I realized that even I need grace. No amount of striving can help. Grace is not just for the serial killers and the prostitutes out there.

If sin is nothing more than separation from our Creator, then we’re all outside in the cold. Grace is just an invitation inside, a seat at the fireplace with the One who makes things right again.

So I refocused my sense of discipline off of just self-protection and self-preservation. I dug into the spiritual disciplines that people have been using to take care of their souls since the very beginning. I began reading my Bible every morning, and spending more time with God. I practiced exploring humility in a very basic way – confessing and repenting in front of my husband and kids on a daily basis, and asking for help when I needed it.

Reshaping my life around these two ideas has completely revolutionized both my healing process and my working definitions of self-care. It can start in the bathtub if it needs to, but it can’t stop there.

People are literally dying to get a little good news from those of us who are healthy enough to carry it.

the run-down list.

There are approximately seven minutes between when my head hits the pillow and when I fall asleep. Do not be jealous. I have worked hard at this over a number of years. I am now the proud owner of a brain and body that can power down anywhere, anytime, on short notice. For me, sleep hygiene is unrelated to stress. I’ve simply trained myself to sleep. I think it might have started back in Alaska, during that summer when the sun never set. I was a confused nineteen year-old kid with just a bunk and a sleeping bag. We made it work.

Before I give in to sleep though, my heart and mind and soul partner together to review what I now call “the run-down list.” Almost all of the items on the list are completely unnecessary and even worse, pointless to mull over in a dark bed. But hey, baby steps. At least I’m not losing sleep over here. I touch on each topic as it comes, speak truth or encouragement or humor to it, and move on to the next. Here is the list lately.

my kids’ souls
my kids’ self-esteem
my kids’ destinies
did I lotion up my feet
did I use my new essential oil blend on my nails
why do we never seem to have enough money
why do I keep looking at money the wrong way
would Chris be willing to check me for lice again
does anyone in the house have pinworms
was that a throw-up cough I just heard
is using a sound machine app on my phone poor parenting
it feels so good to prepare for the next day the night before
it feels so good to be dairy-free and have clear skin again
will I ever get a massage again
will I ever get a facial again
will I ever get to the gym again
is my pillowcase the right kind for my face and hair
is my sleeping position the right kind for my muscles and bones
can’t wait to pick up where I left off on my Audible book tomorrow
can’t wait to sell and buy some more stuff on eBay
what a time to be alive in the Church
what a time to be alive in America
what a time to be alive as a woman
when will I eat tacos or sushi next
will Chris sleep okay tonight
do I need to pee one more time
are my slippers next to the bed
why is the Bible app’s verse of the day is always so timely
look at God
love you God
goodnight world

Five things on a Friday.

Life lessons learned from the 70+ crowd at the gym:

1. Make an experience of it. While exercise takes up merely a fraction of my day and my brain space, it appears that the older generation builds their entire day around their time at the gym. In the locker room, there’s talk of waking up hours before their swim class to let dogs out or read or get warm enough to make the drive over. Bags are packed the night before, and plans are made for showers or lunch or an errand afterward. Naps are a must, too, and built into the schedule. And don’t worry, we’ll all have a lengthy conversation to help them weigh the cost of whatever decision must be made or a plan that might need adjusting. Whatever they’re doing, these people soak it up for all of its worth.

2. Sit down when you need to. Contrary to my prideful personality that does not like to take a timeout, I’ve seen women cut out of class fifteen minutes early. Sometimes, it’s to get the shower stall they want, but often it’s because they’re just plain tired and over the exercise. Some of the men in the weight room seem as though they come just to chat. They spend exponentially more time in a chair in the trainer’s office than they do on a treadmill. I think I’m the only one who doesn’t take a rest between showering  and getting dressed. I’m hopping into my scrub pants with water droplets still on my legs. My workout buddies know how to pace themselves. But again, see #1. They’re in it for the experience.

3. Pay attention to your surroundings. I’m hyper-aware of my environment most of the time, but it comes from an introverted, anxious “I hope I don’t get attacked or have to talk to people” perspective. The old folks at the gym are not afraid of engaging. I’ve never seen people react so harshly to their routines being interrupted. I watched as a woman came back to her locker one day, dripping wet from the pool, to find someone else’s lock on it. Apparently, she’d taken their regular spot and would have to learn the hard way. I’ve also never seen such community like the friendships at the gym. The older people take care of each other like nobody’s business. I’ve found treats and presents for my kids tucked inside my gym bag, once I’ve left it in its usual spot on the counter long enough for them to trust me. It pays to follow a routine and play nice with the locker room ladies.

4. Take your time. I try to be in and out of the gym in under an hour, even less if I’m not showering there. Not my elderly friends. Some of my favorites are the ones who arrive at least twenty minutes early for their class or personal training appointment. One reads in a lawn chair in the locker room, and another loves to chat so much he could talk a brick wall into working out with him. I also love the folks who know when to call it quits, sometimes before things ever really get started. I saw a woman literally leave the gym and not go to class one day, because she’d left something in her car and figured she’d miss part of class by the time she got back from the parking lot. These people do not hurry. They have no need.

5. Say what you mean. I have learned more about conflict resolution from seniors than any other group. These people know how to speak their minds and it’s beautiful. They tell the teacher if they didn’t like her music choice. They call each other out if they haven’t been to the gym in awhile. Last week, a larger woman wrapped in a tiny towel walked right into the tiny sauna while I was in it, got comfortable next to me, and asked me to adjust the light for her. If the roles were reversed, I would have skipped the sauna that day to avoid bumping up against someone else’s routine. Not her. See #1. We’re really missing out if we aren’t treating each day like a luxury to be fully experienced.

EDITED TO ADD: A reader added an incredible lesson... self-confidence and body image goals! Those gals strip down in the locker room like it's no big deal, never glancing around or at themselves in the mirror. They don't give a second thought to how they look in a bathing suit or workout gear, either. One of my favorite ladies literally pulls up a chair and sits beneath the hand dryer in the bathroom, chatting with everyone while her hair dries. Talk about efficient!

Love goes first.

We were out of town at a family wedding two Aprils ago, getting ready in the hotel room, when I heard the knock. I’m sure I was in my robe, curling my hair or something. My husband let my grandfather in, and I could tell right away Papa meant business. He started moving furniture (89 years old, post-back surgery) and set up a little conference area by the window. He tapped the small side table he’d set up between two chairs, a signal I’d long ago learned meant that I was to sit down. This was to be was a legacy talk, the kind that outlasts him.

You see, my grandfather is pretty healthy. He’s overcome war and illness and injury and still lives independently, with my grandmother. He still attends church and works his land and exercises regularly and tutors kids at the nearby middle school. He’s got that vitality life on lockdown.

But my grandfather is fascinated with his mortality. Ever since I could remember, he’s been happy to discuss his final arrangements with anyone who will listen. Over the last several years, though, he’s become very focused on his legacy. What will they remember me by? Do they understand what I believe? Do they feel what I feel? Will they keep what I share?

And so we have these talks. Sometimes they’re back-to-back, and sometimes a few years passes between. Once, when a boy asked me for a kiss on a camping trip, Papa overheard. He called me into the camper, literally packed the place up and changed campsites, and had me draw a pie chart about the whole thing on the trip home. He named it our “I-85 conversation.” Needless to say, my first kiss did not happen for years.

Before the weekend of the family wedding, I’d never pushed back on Papa’s viewpoints. Usually, I took notes and kept my mouth shut. I’ve always been here to receive. My grandfather is the wisest man I’ve ever known, and never had it crossed my mind that I’d challenge and stretch and grow him like he had done me.

Until the talk that weekend. Election drama was heating up, Donald Trump was headed to our family party’s national convention, and Papa was unsettled about the direction of our country. He asked me to write two words on a piece of paper. Truth, and Righteousness. Don’t forget the capital letters at the beginning. And then he pointed at the words scrawled across the hotel stationary, with that arthritic finger of his. Those are the only two things I want to live by for the rest of my life.

As he unfolded his argument, I felt the Holy Spirit hover between us. This man with whom I share blood, and a love for Jesus, was suddenly on the very opposite side of the very small table that very much filled the room. I did not agree with my beloved Papa, and I was about to go there.

I don’t know, Papa. I don’t think I see it that way.

He paused. He smiled, eyes glistening. He cocked his head, hearing aids tilted it in prime position. And he invited me in. So I went there.

I only see one word with a capital letter in Scripture. Love. I see Jesus caring about truth and righteousness, but I see him repeating over and over that our only job is to love people. I believe that it’s dangerous to plant a flag on any argument other than one that aggressively, unconditionally, loves people like our Savior did. I believe that there are lot of tenants that sort of just naturally flow out of our focus on the one commandment – Love. With a capital. Love is what I want to live by for the rest of my life. I asked him to dig through the Bible and ask God what he thought. I think love has to go first.

He told me I’d given him a lot to think about. We’ve never revisited the conversation. But in the last two years, I’ve watched a 91 year-old man attack the life he has left with a renewed sense of vigor. Dripping with Love. With a capital letter.