Wednesday, December 19, 2012

We all need a good meal sometimes.

Today I pulled an entire page of my Bible out of my eight-month-old's mouth. Didn't I tell you she loves to devour the written word?

I walked into the bathroom to find the drain in our sink completely filled with little grape tomatoes. I think I pulled out NINE with the help of the handle of a skinny spoon. Good thing they were too big to get too far down into the pipe. [How on earth does she get these ideas?!]

I carried two kids up three long flights of stairs in the effort to get to a holiday show that our best friends' kids  school put on. I mean, it was pretty cute to see all those baby faces tooting on their recorders and showing off their dance moves. I kept thinking about how in a few short years it might be my kids up there wearing Christmas trees on their heads or sporting reindeer antlers while wearing ballet shoes. Classic. Can't wait. (Or can I?)

Came home to find that my husband's day did not go at all to plan and is buried (still) under a mountain of work. He has been working around the clock since Sunday and hasn't slept in days. :-(  (BOOooo to Ad agencies! They have NO holiday spirit whatsoever.)

So I decided to make something really great for dinner. Like actually cook a real meal for once.

Don't get me wrong, I like to cook, and make almost everything from scratch. But since Lyla came into the family, I have had a hard time enjoying the whole food preparation project. I figured it out tonight when I was preparing a 30 minute express meal and instead of taking the allotted 30 minutes, it took an hour and a half. I don't think Rachel Ray includes caring for two kids at the same time into those 30 minutes at all. Which makes sense. I realized that the reason I don't enjoy cooking anymore is because I am constantly interrupted. And a 30 minute meal takes 90 to prepare. Which is why we have a lot of green smoothies and eat a lot of rice and beans around here. Quick, easy, nutritious. And there are less tears and nobody is bleeding (most of the time).

But I digress.

Tonight I prepared a real meal. A follow-a-recipe-and-commit-to-it meal. And despite how long it took to finally get it all together, (keep in mind I was getting the kids ready for bed, cleaning the house, preparing a bottle, holding a tired and fussy baby, putting Lexi in time-outs and trying to cook all at the same time...why??!) it was F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C. So great that I have to share. Even Eric told me to make it again (that's kind of a big deal around here)! And I promise, it doesn't have to take 90 minutes. Just maybe prepare it while the kids are napping. ;) Because for the explosion of flavor and nutrition you get with this simple one dish meal, it's so worth it! And if you've never had arugula before, you are in for a treat.

I will even give you some mouth-watering, low quality phone pictures to whet your appetite! I know. I'm that awesome.

[Yes, that's a Fiesta plate. Be jealous. I love them.]

[Like my salad scoops? They are moose heads!] 

Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad
from: Rachel Ray's Express Lane Meals

4 (very large) servings - great for leftovers!

1/2 lb short-cut pasta
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 T. grill seasonings, such as McCormicks Montreal Steak Seasoning, 2 palmfuls
2 t. hot sauce
3 T. Worcestershire sauce
5 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 cup EVOO (Extra virgen olive oil)
2 large onions, sliced 1-inch thick
6 thin-cut chicken breast cutlets
2 T. dijion mustard
Black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-reggiano
2 bunches arugula, thoroughly washed and chopped
1 small head radicchio, cored and coarsely chopped (wasn't at my grocery store, so I did without it)
2 cups fresh basil, 20 leaves, coarsely chopped (I didn't have fresh and used dried - still good! Although if you have the option to use fresh, DO! It's delicious!)
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, a generous handful, chopped
3 celery ribs, thinly sliced (I don't like celery, so it didn't make it into mine)
1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into bite size pieces
1 pint grape tomatoes, left whole in small, cut in half if large

Heat a grill pan or outdoor grill to high heat.

Bring a large pot of water with a tight fitting lid to boil over high heat. Once the water boils, add some salt and the pasta, and cooking according to package directions until al dente.

In a small bowl, mix the garlic, grill seasoning, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and 2 T. of the vinegar. Whisk in 1/4 cup of EVOO. Divide the mixture between two shallow bowls. Add the sliced onions to one and the chicken cutlets to the other. Toss to coat both thoroughly and marinate a few minutes.

In a salad bowl, combine the mustard and the remaining 3 T. of vinegar with a little salt and pepper. In a slow steady stream, whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup of EVOO then add the grated cheese. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it thoroughly and add it to the salad bowl with the dressing; toss to coat. Since you are adding the pasta while it is still hot, the dressing will really soak into the pasta.

Grill the onion slices, cooking them on each side until well marked, about 2 to 3 minutes. Grill the chicken cutlets for 3 to 4 mins on each side. Remove the onions and the chicken from the grill to a cutting board to rest and cool for about 5 minutes. Coarsely chop the grilled onions and cut the chicken into thin strips. Add them to the dressed pasta. Add the arugula, radicchio, basil, parsley, celery, mozzarella and grape tomatoes. Season with a little salt and pepper and toss thoroughly.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Small Joys

I don't know how to appropriately transition back to normalcy after a week filled with so much sadness. Lots of death in five days. Too much and no more please. But here we are.

This weekend though, has been filled with life. And here are a few of my small joys.

- Hanging out in the kitchen together while Eric and Lexi made Christmas cookies.

- Making an impulse buy on Amazon after reading about the product on one of my favorite blogs. Seriously I got on Amazon within 30 seconds (I'm not joking) of finding out this product existed and discovering that there were only 4 left in stock, I bought one. I would tell you what it is, but then I would most likely bury my head in a hole and not come out for a few months (#iamsonotimpulsive and yes, #ijustputahashtagonmyblogcuzimcoollikethat).

- Finished an art piece that I started a few days ago. HUGE GIGANTIC victory for this Mama of two crazies and still aspiring independent artist! I am even framing it, it's that good. Boom. And not only that, but Eric has offered to move his office to the basement so that I can use the room as my studio (he must be impressed). Under the condition that I make the time to really invest in my art. Love him. Love him. Love him.

- Received an amazing phone call that gave life changing news about a dear dear friend. God is faithful and yes, He DOES answer prayers!

- Early morning breakfast with a close friend I haven't seen in a while. Renewal, forgiveness, and refreshment over coffee, juice, and a really really cream-cheesy bagel. Thankful for honesty and new beginnings.

- Piling the whole family in the car and driving all over Albany Park in the rain to visit several thrift stores (there are a LOT of them here) in search of the perfect white elephant gifts for our Christmas party this week. Our long search was hilarious, successful, and left us feeling incredibly grimy and in need of lots of hand sanitizer (as usual).  Lexi was also properly bribed into good behavior (this happens a lot when we go out - and I am not even ashamed to admit that, because it works) and came home with a pretty awesome toy xylophone on wheels that has been in use since I scrubbed it down (it was in need of some heavy duty sanitizer as well...).

- Eric brought Lexi into the kitchen with him and made homemade frozen yogurt this morning. Man of my dreams, people! We all indulged and it wasn't even eleven o'clock yet.

- Got the house picked up and in order. Big accomplishment, if you had seen the before picture (oh, yeah, I don't take incriminating pictures like that). Laundry still isn't folded, but is it ever? ha. At least it's in the basket and not all over the floor (...anymore...thanks, Lyla). That's right. I blame the baby. All the time.

- Read aloud through our new towering pile of library books to my girls once or twice and then sat in and listened to Eric read them over again. As much energy as Lexi has, she can sit for an hour or more just listening to us read to her. And I love reading, so we both win and devour words and stories together. Lyla, on the other hand, would rather devour the words literally. And does. She has an affinity for the taste of paper, what can I say.

- Going through our advent calendar each night together as a family and listening to Lexi retell the story of Jesus's birth as she memorizes the scripture. Discovering that it is never too early to start family devotions together. Thankful for a husband and father for my girls who takes his role as our spiritual leader seriously.

- Twinkling Christmas lights everywhere. Love. Love. Love. We could use some snow to complete the whole holiday ambiance, but the lights will do.

- Anticipating the culmination of Advent, and the celebration of our Lover's birth. This year the Advent season has been more meaningful to me than ever before, in light of all our recent happenings. And I am ready for some all out celebrating. For Christ has come. And this, friends, is GOOD good news.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It comes in threes.

This morning we found out that a friend of ours from college passed away yesterday. He was 24 and took his own life, leaving behind a young wife and his family.

Come Lord Jesus. Please come back soon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Grilled cheese sandwiches and the true meaning of Christmas

I didn't start this blog as a means to make money, or have tons of followers, or even to be widely read. I started this blog to be an honest voice. Mostly to myself, and to whomever else happens to stop by and listen. I am an introvert, if you hadn't already guessed. And most often I am more honest in writing than I can be in person.

And today is an honest day.

The past three days have been sad ones. Monday I had the opportunity to serve at Lydia Home here in Chicago (just a few miles from where I live). I went with some ladies in my Moms group to help sort presents for the kids they serve. As I was sorting out the presents for the kids in residence, the foster kids, and the single moms with kids, my heart was breaking for them. It was breaking that these kids were born into broken homes, a broken life, a they now have to pick up the pieces of their parent's mistakes. And here I am, born into privilege  Always knowing there will be a next meal, new clothes when mine become unwearable, and presents that don't come from an anonymous donor, but from parents and family that cherishes me. I didn't have a choice in the matter of what kind of situation I would be born into. But now the least we can do is open our door for one of these fatherless children who didn't have a say in the matter either.

One of our Gospel Community members (our church's term for small group) just had a friend pass away suddenly and unexpectedly. She left behind a husband and a baby girl who just celebrated her first birthday. We spent the evening last night as a group praying for her family, and comforting our friends who are hurting and grieving her loss. Carrying each others burdens is no easy task. But that is what Jesus calls us to do. So we cried with them. Prayed with them. Gave them the space to be and grieve and remember.

This morning I finally heard back from a friend that I have been missing and have not heard from in a while (despite many attempts at my end). She told me today that she has just suffered a miscarriage, and that she is in a living hell right now. My heart is broken for her. And I pray that she finds life and truth and the only true comfort there is, in Jesus's open arms. I pray that she chooses to run into them.

As I sit here crying, and trying to make sense of how frail our humanity is, I am just so thankful that our God is BIGGER. That HE is LIFE. And that apart from Him, we are nothing. We have nothing. We are DUST. But in Christ, through His death and Resurrection, we have LIFE. And He is our only purpose.

And I wonder why we have to go through all of this pain here on earth. Why do we have to go through the pain and grief of friends and loved ones dying? Of babies leaving the earth before they've even had the chance to live? Losing our sisters, brothers, parents, spouses, children and friends to death. Why do our hearts have to break all the time?
And then I remember that it's because of ALL of this - because of our messed up, broken, hurting and lost world and humanity, that God sent His only Son into this world as a little human baby. A baby - who God had to watch live as a human being. A human being who hurts and has his heart broken again and again. A human being who is bullied and not respected. Who is so loving, but is continually shunned. Who loses his dear friend Lazarus to death, and grieves his loss. And then God watches His only human Son die on a cross, die a murderers death, an excruciatingly painful and humiliating death, just to fulfill God's promise and save all of us broken, hurting, unlovable people.

How great and deep is the Father's love for us.

I am also thankful that God is a God of joy. Because there has been a lot of it today, even in the shadow of all the loss around me. There is joy in waking up healthy, grilled cheese sandwiches dipped in ketchup, sunshine and a baby learning to stand on her own, discovering that the toilet paper has been dragged throughout the entire house by a giggling girl (without breaking! this is why I buy 3-ply), reading books together, a bright blue sky, and the anticipation of Christmas. A borrowed pen and new ink from a friend to try out, inspiration for my next drawing, and the joy of knowing that my life has purpose. Not in things, or in a self imposed identity, but in simply loving Jesus and following Him.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Our dinner table isn't full yet

Yesterday morning, Lexi got mad at me while we were hanging out in bed because I wouldn't get her any more graham crackers. So she angrily announced, "I AM GOING TO GIVE YOU CRUMBS!!" (except in Lexi verbage it came out more like "CWUMS!!!" and then dumped the little bowl containing all the graham cracker crumbs onto my head.

Since it was barely 7:15 AM, I did the responsible parent act and rolled over while pretending to be asleep so I didn't have to deal with it (also so I could stifle my laughter with my face in the pillow).

And then there is Lyla. Who occasionally will find a cord to chew on until I tell her NO and then she goes on her merry way, happy and content as can be. I always assumed Lexi was an easy baby until I had Lyla. This kid is unbelievable. She is extremely active and physically coordinated (she is trying to walk already and is only 8 months today), but is also cautious and very content. Laid back. I went to the mall the other day with just Lyla and she sat in the stroller for two hours perfectly happy while I browsed (something very rarely get the chance to do) around and just had some time to myself.

Lexi, of course, is a joy and always full of giggles. She is also very extreme. Dramatic if you will. But I love them both so very much.

The other day a friend of mine was telling me that she and her husband were looking around their dinner table and saw empty places. "Our dinner table isn't full yet."  And then she looked at me and said, "And yours isn't either."  Presumptuous perhaps, but so true. My dad used to say that his quiver of arrows wasn't full yet. That the family wasn't complete. Of course, we all knew once my dad said this, it meant we were adding a new sibling to the family in approximately nine months, give or take (there are seven of us, after all).
I don't know if we will have more biological children. I would like to, perhaps in a few years. But the point is that our dinner table still has empty places around it. And there are children's voices and laughter and tears that still have yet to fill up this old house.

I was talking to another friend of mine recently and was telling her how funny it is that I see all these different paths that my life could take. I could be an art teacher here in the city, I could pursue illustrating, I could get in on Eric's photo and video business and be his full time second on shoots and editing, I could start a business and sell my arts and crafts and sewing creations, etc. etc. etc. I have so many options. And yet I always go back to the fact that I want to invest in our kids right now. Some of these things I can pursue part time, which I am attempting to figure out how to do, but childhood only lasts for so long. Eric and I always talked about raising a family while we were young, and having foster children grow up alongside them seems only appropriate (this might be crazy, but that remains to be seen). And the truth is, I love it. Even when I feel like all I accomplish in a day is wiping butts and preparing snacks, I am, at the same time, investing in the Kingdom of God. And if that doesn't give some purpose to a stay-at-home-mom's day, I don't know what does.

I have been bad at keeping pictures up to date, so excuse the tardiness. But I will leave you with some fun times from this last month during a lovely warm spell that swept across the city.

 [I am not a fan of Halloween, but was won over by these costumes!...ok...and the free candy...sheesh.]
 [Chubby bug]
[doodle bug!]
 [Love my lively little girl. And my ridiculously long arm.]
 [thoughtfully considering how to take away my camera]

 [goofy baby]
 [sippy cups are serious business]
[dandelions at the end of November?!]

To continue the trend, look for Christmas pictures to appear on here sometime in March. ;)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Letter of Regret

Dear Future Self,

Just because you are out running errands and get really really hungry (since it is 11:30 AM) and the kids are getting squirmy, does not mean that you should eat out alone with them. Trust me. A trip to Chipotle will only end with multiple trips to the bathroom, a grabby eight-month-old (who really really wants to eat food but still chokes on her rice cereal), a quesadilla catapulted across the table, milk from a straw squirted on a child's head (and body, and table, and chair, and floor), very loud screams for more chips, and finally, a very embarrassing tantrum display by the two-year-old which turns everyone's heads. You, on the other hand, who wanted to stop and eat there in the first place because you are dying of hunger, will only manage to eat two bites of your burrito bowl before you pack everything up and make a quick exit out the door, with two sobbing children in tow.

So, the next time you get hungry while out shopping, take my advice. Eat the squished granola bar that is hiding somewhere in the depths of the diaper bag, and suck it up. Eating at home just may save your sanity.

My Regrets

P.S. Children grow up eventually. But then you will be alone. So in the meantime, pack snacks. Lots of them.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Birthday Joys

My favorite boy had his 27th birthday this weekend. 

Since the birthday boy is also the in house photographer, of course neither of us thought to get out a camera (and we have quite a few) and document the party (fail.)... So photo props to our friend Lucas for this little instagram of the cake and the birthday boy's luscious locks of hair. ;)

We had a great weekend with family and friends and were a little blue this morning when reality set in and the clock struck 7:30 AM, signaling the man of the house to leave for work. 

But today in the midst of mountains of laundry, very dirty floors, tired kids and leftover chocolate cake, I am so very thankful that God brought Eric and I together seven years ago. I still get a chuckle whenever I think about how when I first met him, I wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with him. Thanks to my friend Dan, who lived on the same floor as him, and my sister, who had a class with him and needed a study partner, he kept showing up. And eventually, so did I. 

And by his birthday party that first fall semester in 2005, ice skating downtown, I knew this guy was going to be my best friend for years to come. And I am so looking forward to the continuation of our lives together. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

No More Turkey, please (ever).

I still have exactly 31 minutes of Thanksgiving day left before this post becomes obsolete. So here's the skinny: After having over twenty people in my home for Thanksgiving dinner today, I am too wound up to sleep and can only thing about two things - how much I love my Chicago family and how much I hate Thanksgiving food.

Two explanations. The first one is easy. Our families do not live in Chicago, or anywhere near it. I have some relatives in the suburbs, but for numerous reasons I like visiting them separate from holidays. When we settled here and found our church, we quickly adopted a family and community to call home. Therefore, we celebrate holidays together, and I love it. Also explains why I had twenty people in my home today (and it worked out beautifully, I might add!).

Second explanation. Slightly more difficult. I may be the only person in the United States of America who leaves the Thanksgiving dinner table still hungry. And will not be going back for seconds.

I hate traditional midwest Thanksgiving food.

Turkey, no thanks.
Stuffing, gross.
Creamed sides and casseroles, no thanks ever.
Mashed potatoes, yes ok, fine.
Pies. They are good, but I'm pretty much all pumpkin-ed out by now.

Sushi. Yes.

Eric doesn't like Thanksgiving food either, so even though we agreed to cook a small turkey for the benefit of everyone coming, he also grilled baby back ribs, steaks, and steak and bacon wrapped shrimp.

So I should have been plenty full, even with never taking a bite of the turkey.

But with both my girls needing things and being in my lap and all the commotion of twenty people in one room together, I'm pretty sure I didn't get the food coma. Which is a good thing, because who needs it? And while everyone was laying around moaning and groaning about how full they all were, I felt just fine.

Next Thanksgiving, I will not be cooking a turkey. And may not, ever again. Because turkeys are not ever mandatory for a good Thanksgiving. Friends and family, on the other hand, are.

Monday, November 19, 2012


In the spirit of Thanksgiving season, everyone has been talking about being thankful, counting your blessings, and even going the route of counting down on Fb the days until Thanksgiving with things they are thankful for.

I have many things to be thankful for, but often times, choose to not be thankful. Or to dwell on the things that are not going as planned or just feel downright bad. Being thankful is a choice. One that we often may take for granted in our rush of daily life.

But this morning, in spite of being up most of the night for numerous reasons (two little girl reasons, to be specific, among other things), and then struggling to get out the door this morning with four very tired people involved, I found myself choosing to be thankful.

Thankful for my family, as crazy and ridiculous as this particular season in life is.

I am thankful that my girls give me reasons to laugh every day, and sometimes to cry too. In being a part of their very small lives, I am catching glimpses of heaven every day, and am constantly reminded of how incredibly DEEP and unchanging our Father's love is for us.

Thankful for my husband, even when our relationship isn't perfect. We wouldn't be human if we didn't always have some growing to do. And I am thankful we can grow in this together. And that we daily CHOOSE to grow in this together.

I am thankful for my God. Who loves His fallen creation so desperately, that He went so far as to send His own Son to die, in order that our Oneness with our Creator might again be restored.

Thankful for friends to earnestly seek the Lord with, to LOVE Jesus together as we walk through life, to be on mission with, to laugh with.

I am thankful for friends who's hearts are being drawn towards Jesus, and the hope of new Life where there has previously been none.

I am thankful to be called into authentic discipleship. I am thankful that God is redeeming me, making me new, and has called me to love my own life so much LESS than I love my Father.

I am thankful that we are uncomfortable, for it only makes the desire to know and be filled with Christ so much more intense.

I am thankful for new beginnings.
I am thankful for being hopeful.
Thankful that I am alive.
That my spirit is alive.

I am thankful that God is at work here, making all things new in this City, in this world. And I am thankful beyond words that He is at work redeeming us, and is ever calling us to join Him in His renewal here.

So today, choose to be thankful, and as the words of the prophet Hosea say,

Sow righteousness for yourselves,
    reap the fruit of unfailing love,

and break up your unplowed ground;
    for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
    and showers his righteousness on you.

Hosea 10:12

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Babies can make art too.

Art class with Lexi is always an adventure. Each week we walk to the our local park district for arts and crafts. Even though I am capable of doing these projects at home, it is always nice to go to a class and let a teacher (that is not me) take care of all the details! I am with Lexi the entire time, but she has so much fun being in a room full of other kids who are all being creative together (including Lyla, who is always smudged with paint by the end of it!) with a teacher who does an excellent job interacting with each one of them.

The first time I went to this class, I noticed that the other moms and caregivers kept snapping at the kids for doing it "wrong." Painting in the wrong area of the canvas, gluing the eye ball off center, not covering the entire area with paint like you are "supposed" to do. Then the ladies would proceed to do the piece for their child, so that it would be done "right." Now, I don't think I am a snob, and I will be the first one to admit that I am not the perfect parent, but really? And art class for two-year-old kids should be just that - art class for two-year-old kids. NOT art that mom created because she pushed the child aside in her effort to do it "right." 

I went to school to be an art teacher. I would be teaching art right now if I hadn't made the choice to stay home to raise my girls. And this rant is not unfounded. 

To the Moms, back off! Let your kids create! It is so important for them to feel confidence and freedom in their creative expression and for them to be given heaps of praise for their beautiful work. Because it IS beautiful. Did they try hard? Did they have fun? Is what they created developmentally appropriate for their age? Then, Moms, it is BEAUTIFUL. There are other classes that you can take if you are dying to do some arts and crafts yourself. But seriously, let your kids be kids. And let them create.

When I first began giving Lexi materials to make art, back when she was old enough to not eat the crayon, but draw with it instead, I resolved to always let her be the one to create. 
Being an artist myself, the idea of giving a very small child a canvas and then an entire list of rules of what you can and can't do with it seems rather limiting and also next to impossible (unless, of course, you push the child aside and just do it yourself...which seems to be the common parenting trend here). I don't want my kids to think negatively when it comes to creating. And if I am constantly saying "NO" and limiting their creating process, there is not going to be a very positive association with making art. 

I DO believe that part of coaching the creative process is giving some boundaries as well. But boundaries and parameters that teach skills, new processes, and are age appropriate for the child's development. I am strict in my training when it comes to obedience and the heart issues. I am not so strict when it comes to creating (unless it involves painting or drawing on the walls, table, clothes, or baby sister - that is a strict no-no). 

If Lexi wants to finger paint instead of using the brush, so be it! If she wants to glue things to the canvas that "don't belong" there, then go for it! It is her creation, and she is proud to call it her own!

Here is the final piece, with some finishing details added by the teacher (tree outline, leaf outline, and turkey legs). Except for a teensy-weensy bit of help from me (like with the glue and the order of the letters in her name), Lexi made this piece by herself. And I LOVE that it isn't perfect. I like it better this way. :) And not to be smug (ok, maybe it's a little smug), but the other moms in the class liked it a whole lot too. I received more than a few comments about how great it was that I didn't do the piece for her, and how in ten years this piece will truly be a treasure.

Art never has to be perfect to be beautiful. 
And isn't that the whole point of the creative process anyway?

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Lexi has this little teaspoon set that she plays with in her little kitchen. There are three little measuring spoons, each a different size, attached together on a key ring. For the past two days, Lexi has been pretending that these are her "keys" and has been messing around with all of the old skeleton key holes on the doors, trying to lock them. None of the doors have the ability to lock without the old skeleton keys, which we have, but aren't really necessary since most of the keyholes were filled in a long time ago.

This morning, as she was playing with her "keys," I had a sudden thought that if Lexi happened to lock the one way lock in the bathroom, she would have to unlock it herself in order to get back out. In that second I realized that she might not be quite smart enough to put the two and two together (since she speaks like a five-year-old, but still definitely has two-year-old logic), but I let the thought go.

Literally not two minutes later, Lexi ran into the bathroom, shut the door, and turned the lock. The one-way lock, with the filled in keyhole.

The bathroom window was also locked from the inside, and my cell phone, which has been refusing to make or receive calls all week, of course wasn't working either.

I tried bribes, drawing picture diagrams, step-by-step verbal instructions, I tried EVERYTHING. Lexi cried and cried and due to sheer frustration and confusion, and because she is TWO, would not turn the lock. After a while, every time I even mentioned the word "doorknob" she would burst into a fresh set of tears and back away from the door. Fortunately, Lexi is easily distracted, and in-between crying bouts, she entertained herself with her bath toys and playing in the sink (welcome relief from all the fearful cries).

Suffice to say, an hour and a half later, Lexi was finally out of the bathroom and sobbing in my arms, thanks to our good friend, Nick (who also happens to be our housemate of last year and very handy with a drill). The lock is now removed forever, and all other doors appear to be safe as well.

If you know my daughter, you will understand why I never thought that lock would be a problem (and prior to today, we didn't realize that particular lock had been filled). Lexi is two and a half, but has the verbal capacity and diction of a five-year-old. She always speaks in full sentences, complete with almost perfect grammar, and asks questions, reasons, and even can tell stories as well as recount past events in chronological order. She is able to do things physically that most two-year-old's can't yet because of her coordination, and figures things out on her own on a daily basis. Her memory is impeccable and she is really really smart for a person that small.

But she is still two.

She throws tantrums like there's no tomorrow, will cry if you tell her "No," hits or bites if you take her toy, talks back, and has poor reasoning when it comes to not wanting to go to bed. She is obsessed with play dough, water, Curious George, and construction vehicles, and her favorite thing to do is put all of her toys (including Lyla) down for their "naps."

 And still, she is two. Which means that when she turns a lock, she apparently doesn't understand that you have to turn it the other way in order to get the door open.

We spent the remainder of the morning doing some "art therapy" (which was really just an excuse to paint dry noodles), reading library books, and recounting the story of how "Mister Nick opened the bathroom door and I got out!."

Moral of the story: I should always act on my premonitions. Also, never trust a two-year-old. EVER. I feel like I say this often...

Parenthood is certainly never boring. I'm so glad I have the best teammate and some truly great kids, as well as some invaluable friends. It also got me thinking that sometimes when we get into a situation voluntarily, and then realize how truly stuck we are, it sometimes takes more than a few loving people to get us out again. Even if I was the one who turned the lock in the first place, and like a two-year-old, can't turn it back again. I am so thankful to be the daughter of a persistent, faithful God, and be surrounded by a community of brothers and sisters who really know who to care for one another and practice it daily. We never have to be stuck for long.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Farewell October

It's the last day of October. I'm not quite sure how that happened, but it is already almost winter again. I am so thankful to have these two cute little girls to spend my days with. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Year of Grace

Lexi and her "sister" B - July 2011

It's time to write about our year of intentional living. I have been putting it off for months, mostly because of the fact that we had a new baby, moved, and were going through so many transitions at once it was all I could do to get my family clothed and fed every day.

But know that I have wanted to give you a good conclusion. A good reason for ending the year without acting like it never happened. Because it did happen. And it's time to reflect.

Last spring, Eric and I felt that God was calling us into radical Gospel centered living. We didn't really know what that was supposed to look like, only that we felt moved by the Spirit that we had to walk in obedience to whatever big was coming. We simply had to be willing to listen and obey. So we listened. It was then that God brought a sweet couple into our lives who also felt the same calling on their lives. We connected, and within a span of a few months, knew that we should move in together for a year of intentional community living.

Going into it, I think we each had our own grandiose ideas and visions of what our year would look like. Basically a lot of people would come to know Jesus, we would be serving every day in our surrounding community, and we would be sharing most things in common and have incredible fellowship every day. We were all going to be best friends and inseparable and it was going to be AWESOME.

In reality, that didn't really happen.

I will not speak for everyone, and I am sure that each of us has our own thoughts about how last year went down, but I will only speak to my own experience.

Barely two months after moving in together, Eric and I found out we were expecting our second baby. I was ecstatic until the sickness set in (which I have written about before). I honestly believe that had I not been so sick, the following nine months of living with this other couple would have been completely different. Perhaps not, but it happened regardless.

For me personally, there were a lot of high points as well as low points in our year of living together. There were also a lot of things looking back on it that I wish I had done differently.

I wish I had lived and loved freely, instead of stuffing anger and building barriers.

I wish I had practiced forgiveness every minute of every day, instead of letting things build into exploding and crying myself to sleep almost every night.

I wish I had served more, and pitied myself less.

I wish I had not judged so harshly, and instead loved more fully.

And I wish we had laughed more and struggled less.

But even a midst all of the difficulties and adjustments, God spoke to me and worked in me like never before during this last year. I felt like I was in a pressure cooker most of the time and for a while yelled at God for "picking on me." But He wasn't picking on me. He was merely doing what I had asked Him to do. Perfecting me. Cleansing me. Giving me the opportunity to get rid of all the "me" and fill my life with HIM ALONE.

I just didn't think it would be so messy. So painful. So hard to let go.

But God is good and faithful. And so throughout all the brokenness and sin in my own life last year, there was also an incredible outpouring of GRACE.

I learned, and am still learning, how to receive grace. How to give grace. And how to walk daily in grace.
As a testimony to this, when our daughter was finally born in April, she was given the name Grace. My entire pregnancy with her relied on the grace given to me, and my acceptance of it and choice to walk in it. It was only appropriate that her name reflect that. She is a daily reminder to me of God's sovereignty, goodness, and love that is always given, but never deserved.

Me with Lyla - April 2012

This past Monday at my Moms group we were discussing raw emotions and how we react and respond when certain situations arise. This passage from the study we are doing struck a chord with me, which acted as a catalyst for this reflection.

"When I take the easy route, I let the situation dictate my reaction. When I am determined to pursue the good, I rise up and unexpectedly give grace. I give grace because I so desperately need grace."   (Lysa Terkeurst, Unglued)

I give grace because I so desperately need grace. 

Romans 5 explains it perfectly here.

And how we are instructed to live in Micah 6:8. (ESV)

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,[a]
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Things didn't quite pan out for me as I had hoped, as far as my big dreams for intentional living and community serving were concerned. I felt disappointed and disillusioned until I realized that God's way is always better than my own. There was more brokenness in my own life that needed to be worked at first. And of course, making my own plans for "ministry" will always fall through. Instead, Eric and I experienced a year where our marriage was strengthened, our love relationship with Jesus grew immensely, and we were put into positions of leadership that we never saw coming before. We began to fall in love with our neighborhood and see the depravity in it. We began to realize what loving people with Christ's love really means. We got deeply involved with our church family and invested in people to disciple and people who have discipled us. We learned what community is and what it isn't. We learned about forgiveness. We learned about communication. We learned to walk in grace.

About halfway into our year of living together, Eric and I started listening again. God seems to keep asking us to do really big things. I guess when you are obedient in the small things, He ups the anti, right? ;) He began working on our hearts for this years ago (if you know our story, and our love for orphans you will understand this), so we weren't surprised when He revealed to us our next step in His story. The problem was, the next thing He was/and is calling us to do, involved us needing more living space that was not shared. The couple we lived with also felt like it was time to go separate ways as well, so we had a mutual agreement and ended our year together just after both of our new babies were born, when the lease ended this last May.

Life with this couple could have gone better. There are many fond memories mixed with a lot of things that I regret in the attitude of my heart. But overall I wouldn't take last year back. I even tell people that it was a good year. A hard one, yes. The hardest I have experienced by far. But a good one. And I believe that to be true. It was not a failure. It was making imperfect progress. I love Jesus more because of it. I am walking in His grace because of it. Without last year's "pressure cooking," I am convinced it would have taken me ten years of growth to get to where I am today. And I have certainly not made perfect progress. But I can say for certain that I am making imperfect progress. Imperfect progress moves us forward, by and in God's grace. 

Eric and I are currently in the lengthy application process to becoming a licensed Foster Home for kids in Chicago who don't have a safe, loving home of their own. We are in the beginning stages of the process, and the whole thing takes up to four months. If all goes well, we are expecting to have a child, or more likely a sibling group, placed with us sometime in the early months of the new year.

It turns out that for us, living out the Gospel is not only tough, but it also calls for radical life change and sacrifice. And of course, a whole heaping of blessing and joy! Loving Jesus is serious business. God's Word is serious business. Being a light in this depraved and hurting City is serious business. And letting God in to work on all the mess in my own life is serious business. And in spite of it all, I will never turn back. I am alive because of His grace. And so very thankful for it.

May we continue to walk in His abounding and never ending Grace.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

G-Love Time!

This last weekend we were honored by the visit of Eric's parents. His dad has had some health difficulties this year, and was not able to travel for several months. This weekend, and by God's goodness, Dad blessed us with his presence and was finally able to meet his second born granddaughter. Who, by the way, has an adorable double chin. ;)

My girls were showered with so much grandparent love, I was certain they would explode. They didn't. (Well, actually they both did, but Lyla's was the diaper kind and Lexi's was the tantrum kind, and neither one had anything to do with the grandparent love kind. :)

 Grandpa even encouraged Lexi in her obsession with construction vehicles. (And I thought only boys were into those....wrong!)

There is always lots of giggling with a Grandma nearby! 

 Silly, happy Lexi. 

Grandpa surprised the girls with an early Christmas present. A beautiful kitchen handmade by Grandpa and Grandma themselves! Lexi is so in love and is cooking up some delectable dishes. Here she is showing off her cooking skills as well as the new little skirt that I just made for her.

Thanks for visiting, Grandpa and Grandma! You are always welcome. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pumpkins and Dinosaurs

Last week we took a trip to a pumpkin farm out in the suburbs with some friends. 

Lexi was enthralled by the pumpkin-eating dinosaur. We had to go back three times during the course of the morning to watch it move around, chomp up its pumpkin, and then let out a huge belch with some steam. Most of the four-year-olds were too scared, but Lexi was a little bit in love. 

Playing with friends

 Lyla in her starfish suit (passed down from Lexi. If you want to see Lexi in the same suit at the same pumpkin patch, click here). 
 My sweet potatoes. 


Not to be left out, I shrunk too. 

After returning to her normal size, Lexi tried to pick up all the biggest pumpkins..... Maybe next year. ;)

Woody on steroids. Lexi was in her glory. 

And of course, Buzz gets a hug too. 
 And Rex.
 Straw maze. I was scared poopless. I kept losing Lexi around every turn, which of course, made her run even faster because she thought it was hilarious to lose me. Little people should not be allowed in straw mazes. Period. 

This tunnel was pretty awesome though. Lyla wanted to be in the picture too.

Running towards the light!

 Fire engine time with friends! 

Lexi is still tiny and cute.

By the end of the morning, Lyla looked like this. 

And Lexi looked like this. See the pain on her face? It is screaming nap time.

Within five minutes of leaving the pumpkin farm, Lexi looked like this. ;)

Almost forgot to mention...this particular pumpkin farm also brings in a few hundred exotic animals during their fall season. Along with giraffes, and a bunch of animals I have never heard of or seen before, we also met this guy. Had to share. His chops are rather remarkable.

And speaking of pumpkins, my lovely chevron painted pumpkin made it outside to adorn our front porch. And now it looks like this. Thank you squirrels.