Monday, December 26, 2011

When God Wore Diapers

I was never one for Christmas. For most of my life, the annoyances and stress outweighed the good parts for me. I loved Thanksgiving. Loved it. Then December would show up, and I would resign myself to yet another year of busyness and awkward social situations. (Sidebar: Please attribute this disposition to my adolescent belief that cynicism was the same thing as wisdom, more than to any particularly scarring holiday experience.)

But then I had to go and fall in love with the world's biggest fan of Christmas. And as these things often play out, over the six holiday seasons we've shared (five as husband and wife), I have found increasing measures of real joy and anticipation in myself on December 1st. Add to this the fact that our 22 month old daughter kind of knows what's going on now, and I can say I genuinely enjoy Christmas. But I've gotta tell ya, this year I got my ass handed to me on a holiday-themed platter.

It's been a hectic semester for the Pintos. I started the internship for my counseling program, which means I am being a therapist for the first time -- doing all different kinds of therapy with different combinations of people and problems. The understatement of the century is that this has been hard on my emotions. I've written on here about brokenness, and that's really what I keep coming back to. Guys, our world is broken. Things are not going the way they were meant to go. I have always had sufficient evidence in my own black heart of the need for a Savior, but now I've got more. Like, a shitload more.

I was so looking forward to Christmas because it meant a respite from grad school and my internship, and lots of quiet family time with my man and our girl. Last Sunday, Dec. 18th, I had turned in my last papers and I was looking at a two day work week and then vacation. I woke up Monday morning feeling a little funny, and by noon I was laid out with a stomach virus. It was miserable and humbling (and nobody is ever as sympathetic as I want them to be when I'm sick...are you this way, too?), and I wasn't back to 100% until mid-week.

On Thursday morning, Dec. 22nd, I received a phone call that a precious girl I knew had lost her battle with cancer. She was 28 years old, just out of the starting gate in so many ways. For about three months before she had to stop working, we had done cotherapy at one of my internship sites. While I only knew her for a short time, we bonded quickly simply because this is often the nature of cotherapy and, of course, because my cotherapist had cancer. Generally, people come to therapy because they have big questions; they want to talk about life and death matters. So Kendra and I kind of jumped right in to some very real stuff with people. And her own diagnosis led to some pretty intense conversations between the two of us, over lunch or in between appointments, during which she displayed an iron will and an unshakable zest for life. I will not tell you much more, because remembering those conversations feels holy and sacred and like none of your damn business. But I will tell you that she was beautiful and graceful and strong, and she was too young to die.

The funeral was yesterday morning. I didn't go. People almost always say really stupid things at funerals, and I do not yet trust myself to respond graciously. She was too young. That's what I keep coming back to. Death and disease. These are surely the purest forms of evil on our planet. They do not discriminate; they are cold and heartless and blind. And I swear if anyone tries to talk to me about the sovereignty of God, I will probably slap them across the face. This is not what God intended. If I'm going to trust Him, then I have to believe that He is grieving now with me and with people who knew her much longer than I did, and with her family. Her family. Lord, have mercy.

Is there a way out? Where is hope? Unfortunately, there is not a way out of dying. That is one of the few guarantees of life, and I do believe we would all be wise to get more comfortable with that fact. It would, in reality, make life better and more precious.

But the answer, it's on the other side of death. I was pouring my heart out that Thursday with a trusted advisor, wondering if I had been a "good enough" friend to Kendra, and just generally feeling utterly helpless. He asked me if I believe I will see Kendra again. I said, "Yeah. Yes, I do." He said, "I believe when you see her for the first time in eternity, you will exchange knowing smiles. No words will be needed, for she will know what it was like to have been you, and you will know what it was like to have been her...and you'll just smile at each other." There is real comfort in that for me.

I do not believe death will get the final word. I do not believe that disease gets to have her body - or any of our bodies - forever. We will be redeemed. Surely it is a powerful God who can defeat death. It is a mighty God indeed who will demolish and decimate this evil away from us and for all of eternity.

This is the God I believe in. This is the hope I have: that whoever got us into this mess in the first place, it won't matter, because He has provided, is providing, and will provide a way out. He is the only real game changer. And He did it in the unlikeliest of ways. He "became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:14) God came as a man in the person of Jesus Christ. And as things go around here, He came as the infant Jesus Christ. Wait a second. A baby? Seriously?! The almighty, infinite, all-wise Creator of a baby?! Diapers and drool and learning how to walk. The whole bit. That's how He did it.

So if this is how He defeated such powerful adversaries as death and evil -- in humility, in quietness -- how am I to follow His example? Well, I'm gonna need to get back to you in about 50 years because that's probably how long it's gonna take me to really unpack that. But for now I will tell you that I am going to keep calling the brokenness what it is, not excusing it or accepting it, and in fact fighting against it with all I am. But I am going to really try to carry humility in my heart at the same time. I'm going to try to be gracious, and I will love whoever is in front of me as best I can in any given moment. Because moments are really all we have, and they pass so quickly.

O come, o come, Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Spend Less :: What do you really want?

Waterdeep is, in my opinion, one of the best bands of the last 20 years. Never mind that they have a smaller following than, say, Limp Bizkit or Matchbox 20 or LMFAO. They are awesome. I started listening to them circa 1997 and I simply have not stopped. Because of this, their songs have basically become the soundtrack of my life. The Christmas season is no different, and to get the ball rolling on my post encouraging us all to spend less, I offer a few lines from one of my most favorite Waterdeep songs, “If You Want To Get Free.”

I am so often deterred from my actual intent
By distractions in a cellophane wrap.
And by a cruel voice that taunts me when I open them up
To find just one more box full of crap.

What is our actual intent in gift-giving? I happen to be of the persuasion that, generally speaking, when people set out to do good things, it is because they have good motivations. As time passes our motivation can get clouded, but perhaps we can retrieve the essence of what we want to achieve by retracing our steps.

Have you, or do you know someone who has, bought progressively more expensive Christmas gifts over the years for their spouse or family members? Five years ago, you agreed on a spending limit of $50. But then one of the involved parties had to go and spend $65, which of course made the other involved party feel a little embarrassed. So the next year you said, “Seventy-five dollars, and that’s all. I mean it!” But one thing led to another and this Christmas you’ll end up spending $250 on each other. Why? Again, I am an eternal optimist, and so I am going to choose to focus on the nobler motivations at play here.

1. I want to celebrate you. You are very special to me, and you have done and been for me when maybe I couldn’t do or be for myself. This makes me feel humbled and grateful. As such, I want you to feel treasured.

2. I want to bless you. We will celebrate our second Christmas with our daughter this year, and when she saw our Christmas tree for the first time last week, I am pretty sure I got more joy from watching the wonder on her sweet face than she did from having the actual experience. Parenthood is amazing that way. Our children are the most precious gifts we have ever received, and so we want them to feel treasured.

3. I want to share love where it maybe wouldn’t be shared otherwise. You can’t repay me. Maybe you won’t even know who I am. But I’ll know that you had a good meal and some warm moments because of me. Every human being on this planet deserves love, and so we want to share that love with as many people as possible this holiday season.

Like I said, I’m focusing on the nobler motivations here. Perhaps the stupid White Elephant gift you have to take to the office party for the job you don’t even enjoy very much – perhaps that doesn’t fit into any of those three categories. Um, you’re on your own there. But I think these three motivations cover most of our gift giving anyway.

For me (and maybe for you), base motivations for gift giving have absolutely nothing with a price tag. It’s not a formula like, “I want you to feel loved + I spend $100 = You feel loved.” And anyway, times are tough for a lot of folks right now. So I wrap up this blog post with a few practical ideas for ways to achieve your actual intent for the holiday season without spending tons of moolah.

1. Go handmade. Listen, you don’t have to be Martha Stewart. In fact, for these three ideas, you probably only have to be moderately conscious to achieve a pretty impressive result.

2. I’m cheesy, sappy, et al…therefore, I love receiving the little coupon books that offer stuff like free babysitting, a homecooked meal, cleaning the bathroom (the bane of my existence!), and so on.

3. Give experiences rather than material items. This report aired on NPR in 2009, which explained a scientific study that discovered people get more enjoyment out of fun experiences than they do out of receiving gifts. A person’s enjoyment of, say, an iPod will diminish over time. But if you can give someone a good experience (a nice dinner, tickets to a play, a gift certificate for a manicure), their enjoyment of that experience actually increases in their memory. The material item may break or get boring or become outdated; but the memory of that fun experience really does – is scientifically proven to – get better with each retelling. The implications here are rather compelling.

For what it’s worth, my husband and I have given homemade hot chocolate mix to our friends and family the last few years, to rave reviews. And we are starting a new tradition this year of spending a good portion of our Christmas money on taking a family trip. This year we will spend a couple of days in the lodge of Mt. Magazine State Park, and I have got to say, I am looking forward to that weekend so much – probably more than anything else that is on this month's calendar.

Spend less, friends. It's not about the money. People don't need money. We actually only need a very few basic things. Food, shelter, clothing...and love. So give something that really matters this holiday season. Give of yourself.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

thank you

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

-- W. S. Merwin


So here's what's going on -- life is really hard, for almost everybody. No, for everybody. There is not one person left unstained by the brokenness of this world, wrought either by their own hand or by the hand of another. Or both.

Each day that passes finds me more convinced of this bitter reality -- brokenness.

And for every new outward event that proves the brokenness to me, there is an almost one-to-one ratio of some inward event that - lest I be tempted to view the brokenness piously - makes it impossible for me to do so.

The world is broken. I am broken. And the world is broken.

I am broken. Also, I am redeemed. There have been some moments, so bright and expansive and hope-filled, when the redemption is so undeniable. Who could make beauty from ashes? Who could actually take the death and waste and (seemingly) useless parts of me, and transform them to life and purpose and power? Not me, not on my own.

I am broken. I am redeemed. Also, I am being redeemed.

Also, the world is being redeemed. Close to me, and far from me. Light always beats darkness. Love always beats fear. I have some evidence of this now, and I cling to it. Because I know one day (oh, I ache...let it be soon) we will have all the evidence we need.

"Oh, how I long for love to beat fear in your life. How I long for you to trust me! Lift up your eyes. I am calling out to you a thousand times a day, in a thousand different ways, to show you the beauty and the life and the power that is available to you. It's scary; I know it is terrifying. Because the cost is nothing less than losing the very life you've held so tightly. The life you still clench with white knuckles.

"You have spirit, that's for sure, and courage. But will you come to Gethsemane? Do you have the courage to have it out with me here? In Gethsemane, one does not have the luxury of hypotheticals. Oh, but one can find comfort, and purpose. And resurrection. Come to me, and you will find rest for your soul. Lose your life, and you will find it. This is the mystery. And this is the Truth."

thank you thank you thank you

Friday, October 21, 2011

See, what you need to understand is...

"See, what you need to understand about Dean is..."

I was working at an advertising agency, and I think I was about 23. I had just been publicly, loudly, and colorfully reprimanded by my boss, Dean (not his real name). Everyone around this scene knew that I had done nothing wrong, that it was just a misunderstanding. But nobody spoke up. I just had to take it, apparently.

I was speechless. Dumbfounded. By God's grace, I somehow did not cry, but I'm sure I looked like a scared little girl. Dean's #2, who had witnessed the scene, came up to my desk after about 15 minutes and said, "See, what you need to understand about Dean is...he's a really good marketer. He is really sharp and really creative. He just moves too fast sometimes, and he doesn't really know how to handle people. I'm really sorry for his behavior. Are you okay?"

Okay? Even at 23 years old, I knew I was NOT okay and that what had just happened was NOT okay. That was the beginning of the end for me and that company. I was never assertive with Dean - never had the chance - and I naively thought, "If I leave this company, I'll leave this jerk behind and not have to deal with this crap anymore." I didn't yet realize that there are jerks everywhere. I somehow avoided more Deans in my professional life, but do you know where they have showed up since then? I'll give you three choices:

1. Church
2. Church
3. Church

Did you say "Church?" If so, you're the winner!

And this is the hang up for me. Because if some crazy dude at some tiny ad agency wants to be a jerk, that's fine. It's not good, but it's his deal and not my deal and I'll get over it. But aren't people in the church accountable to a higher purpose, a higher way of doing things? Aren't we, as the church, accountable to God and each other? Of course we are.

And church people are still people, and not perfect, and all that. I get that. I really do. But when this girl sees a pattern forming, she is gonna try to figure it out.

So. I decided to study the local church, and I figured out a way to get credit for it in one of my classes by getting more specific and studying the American megachurch. I am going to share some of what I learned here as background.

Businesses love to study megachurches. They see them as successful, creative, and lucrative. Forbes magazine has referred to megachurch pastors as "essentially CEOs who successfully address many of the same issues that challenge their business brethren." Megachurches are designed -- and this is stated in various ways explicitly and implicitly -- to grow resources (people, money, land, buildings) as much as possible in order to display the "big-ness" of God. "Big" experiences are also part of the mix here, as they are constantly pushing towards the cutting edge in terms of music, technology, and creative events.

So, that's the goal. How do they support and work towards achieving this goal? Essentially, by fashioning every aspect of the church around the goal.

1. The Pastor is offered as relatable, accessible, and highly visible to the congregants.

2. The large support staff is able to provide many services in-house (graphic design, counseling services for congregants, food and hospitality services) that were hitherto unavailable in this arena.

3. Architecture. One article I read drew a distinction between the "vertically-aligned" buildings of the traditional church, and the "horizontally-aligned" buildings of today's megachurch. The traditional (Catholic, generally speaking) church was built to overwhelm the congregant with the majesty and big-ness of God, with its high ceilings and ornate statues and crucifixes. But today's megachurch buildings are designed to be approachable, comfortable, and utilitarian. The congregant comes to church, but it "feels" more like a shopping mall or community center. Basically, this new architecture is centered on the congregant rather than on God.

4. Symbols. Old church symbols: think crucifix, statues of saints, the Communion table. The megachurch, on the other hand, abandons these heavily religious images for images of...well, of people. Websites, promotional materials, and of course the huge projection screens. All of these have images of people enjoying each other, or enjoying their time of worship, or being reverent.

And this is the crux: the megachurch offers the personal experience on a grand scale. Goh (2007) refers to this as "performing the mega." The megachurch relies heavily on creating "mega" experiences (grandness of scale, variety of options, etc.) for its congregants in order to display the "mega"-ness of God.

So far, this discussion of the megachurch has just been discussion. Now I will move into some of my criticisms of this model, and in order to do that, I think I need to share my personal experience to be completely honest with you.

I am an evangelical. I am female. And I am a worship leader. Oh, and I live in Arkansas. That is the nutshell of my dilemma. I am called and gifted as a worship leader, and I have been supported in this gifting by the Body, to a point. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that every church I have joined with in ministry (as a member) has brought up my gender as a detriment to ministry at some point. Correction: the leader of the church, rather than the members of the congregation, has had some sort of conversation with me about my gender. Here's a sampling of what I've heard:

"You know, I think from now on we're just gonna hire a male for this position. It'll just be easier." [I was briefly employed here.]

"This will be the first time I hire someone for this position, and I think I want that person to be a male. Maybe we'll hire a female in the future, but not this time."

"I am thinking I may need to hire a male this time because I'm considering the chemistry of my team."

Message received. My gender is a detriment. At least as far as they are concerned. I kind of like my gender. It's pretty great. I like being pretty, and a wife, and I get to have babies which is also pretty miraculous and awesome. Further, I am confident in what God wants me to do. While some of the people I have encountered do take theological exception with females in leadership, I am not one of those people. And I have peace about this. And it's actually because of a John Piper book, which I will tell you about if you really want to know but I don't want to get too far off topic.

But most of these do not take theological exception. They have told me that they fully support my desire and gifting. However, they are considering factors other than what the Bible says about me and my gifting. If a church is primarily concerned with "performing the mega," which is to say, reaching as many people as possible with as broad and inoffensive a message as possible in order to grow resources as much as possible...and if this church is in boils down to this -- it's just easier to hire a male worship leader. It's less controversial. Or at least, it's just more expected.

You may not be surprised to know that this has been hard for me to deal with. It has been very hurtful. Because these church leaders are not business executives. It's church. It's not business.

I've been in at least three (maybe more, but who's counting?) hurtful situations regarding gender and calling and yada yada. And I kid you not...each time, I saw the "Dean scene" replayed before me. This is how it goes --

Head honcho #1 says something to me that is really, really crappy. See the above quotes.

Everyone else knows it's crappy. I don't speak up for myself, and they don't speak up for me either. OR I do speak up for myself, but it doesn't change anything.

Eventually, honcho #2 comes along to smooth things over. #1 has disappeared, apparently. Either doesn't know, or doesn't care, what's going on with me. And here's what #2 says...

"See, what you need to understand about Dean is...he's just way ahead of the rest of us. He's been hurt a lot in his life, and so he doesn't really have any soft skills with people. I mean, he's just got so much on his plate, that he can't possibly be expected to care about every little thing..." And so on. And then #2 apologizes on behalf of #1, and tries to coach me regarding my further interactions with #1. Because...I's my problem...? It's weird, people. Just weird.

Okay. Why do I need to understand anything? And I am proud to say that, finally, after the third take of this particular scene, I was able to say in that moment that I was not okay with my life or self-respect revolving around #1 like -- apparently -- everyone else was. I am supposed to live at peace with everyone, as far as it depends on me. And this one...this one doesn't depend on me. So. Peace.

I am glad that I finally did that, and I really do have peace. But...

I am of the belief that if I find myself in an unfortunate situation more than once or twice, I need to not only examine the situation in order to avoid it...I also need to examine myself. Because apparently, there is something about me that is contributing to this mess. I've been doing lots of that self-examination lately.

There are two things that I have learned, and I'm going to be completely and brutally honest here:

-- I was looking for significance (which is okay), but I was looking in the wrong place for that significance. Maybe I was not fully confident in myself, and I needed someone else to bolster that. Unfortunately, I kept seeking this from people who were incapable of encouraging me for whatever reason. And these days, when I'm feeling shaky or negative about myself, I take it to God and to people that I know love me and have my best interest in their hearts. World of difference!

-- My ministry focus was too narrow. Since I have given up on gaining this sense of significance from the withholders, it's like the floodgates have opened! I am ministering more, and in more varied ways, than I ever thought possible. I cannot accurately express how much of an encouragement this is to me - and such a special gift from the Lord - that I am now in a season of my life where my calendar is literally flooding over with opportunities to make a a real Kingdom difference.

So, I know this is a really long blog post. But it's one that has been stewing around in my heart and mind for some time. I offer this as encouragement to those of you who may be wondering about your usefulness as a part of the Body, or wondering about the Lord's timing. I want you to be encouraged, and know that while the Body is imperfect, the Lord is perfect in all things. His love for you never fails. His plan for you is amazing! Trust Him! Lean on Him! Let Him heal and strengthen you. He will take care of the other stuff. Just move in closer to Him.

Thanks for reading. Peace to you.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Chenal Family Therapy
10800 Financial Centre, Ste 490
Little Rock, AR 72211
501.786.9970 (ofc) 888.816.7916 (fax)

Hi Everyone -

I want to update you about a new program we're offering at Chenal Family Therapy, designed to help lower-income individuals and families get mental health services at a reduced cost.

Beginning today, Chenal Family Therapy will begin partnering with local graduate schools to help future therapists and counselors earn their required "practicum" hours as a step towards graduating and potential licensure.

Our "interns" who are nearing the completion of their graduate level training, will offer counseling and therapy services for substantially reduced hourly rates.

As part of providing this service, our interns will be supervised and coached by licensed and experience therapists, helping them to provide quality mental health care, as well as to grow as professionals.

Our first intern, Rachel Pinto, is pursuing her Master of Science degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and Community Counseling from John Brown University. Prior to being a graduate student, Rachel worked in a variety of fields including church ministry and as a high school teacher.

Rachel has a special interest in marriage counseling, step-families, and women's issues. Rachel approaches counseling from a systemic, emotionally-focused, and existential framework. As such, she strives to help her clients connect with themselves, their significant others, and their environment in new and deeper ways regarding the "big questions" of life. Rachel lives in North Little Rock, AR, with her husband of five years and their one year old daughter.

To learn more about our new reduced-rate therapy program or schedule a session with Ken Clark, Rachel Pinto, or another therapist, reply to this email or call us at 501.786.9970.

Ken Clark, MA, LAMFT
Licensed Associate Marriage & Family Therapist

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Help

I saw "The Help." It wrecked me. In a good way. I set about putting my emotions into words on this here blog and simply could not get started. Then I realized that the main person I wanted to communicate with regarding this movie was my daughter. Since she's only 18 months old that's not entirely possible right now, so I wrote her a letter. I publish it here for your eyes today, and for her eyes when the time presents itself.


Dear Ava,

It is Monday, August 22, 2011. You will be eighteen months old tomorrow! I am not with you right now; I'm out of town on business, so I will miss your eighteen month birthday. However, I'll be home on the 24th and we are gonna have us one big celebration - because eighteen months is kind of a big deal, but also because you with or without an occasion are a big deal to me. So we're gonna eat spaghetti and eat cake and listen to music and watch Elmo and Grover - all of your current favorite things.

I saw a movie tonight called "The Help." I would love to watch it with you someday when you're a little older. This movie stirred up lots of emotions in me. I'd like to think that you are even now realizing that tears can come when someone is happy, or when they are sad, or when they are happy or sad for someone they really care about. Ok, maybe you don't have all of that yet, but I've cried in front of you a couple of times and you did not seem afraid or alarmed. You just studied me for a moment, and then went on with whatever you were doing. That is wonderful, Ava, that you accept people so simply. Anyway, about this movie...

I'm not going to tell you about the plot or the characters, because we will watch it and I want you to have the full experience. But there were women in this movie who, because they had darker skin than the people around them, were treated badly. All of them were treated badly, and some of them were treated very badly. Yet they showed strength and courage and they did not give up on what they believed in. They had hope in their hearts. And you know what I thought? I thought, I want Ava to know about these brave women. She needs to know where she came from, and understand that she also has that strength and courage and hope. You will learn the history of our nation, and parts of it are really bad. You will learn that white people used people of color to do the dirty work, and you will even see the leftovers of this arrangement in our present day. I wish I could protect you from this horrible reality, but I can't. So it's best for us to just face it head on.

People feel a lot of different things when they learn about this. Some people say it's not true, or it's not so bad, or everything is better. These people are lying, and usually people lie because they are afraid. Do not be like them. Other people get angry, and they start fights and call people bad names and break things. These people are also afraid. Please don't be like them.

Then some other people get angry, but they use their anger differently. They use it for good. They take the hardness of that energy and use it to push away the bad parts of our world. Then they take the softness of that energy and use it to increase good things like kindness and respect and love. If you can learn to be like these people, you will be wise.

I am so proud of you, Ava Denise. You are my heart, my very heart walking around in the world and the best thing about me. You love to laugh, and make new friends, and explore new things - that's how I know you have courage and strength inside you already. I simply cannot wait to be your mama for the rest of your life and watch this adventure unfold. I just love you!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Keeping House

Hello faithful readers (both of you, haha). It's been awhile since I've posted. In fact, I could currently be working on stuff for my stats class, but I wanted to at least check in and share some of what has been swimming around in my head. Silence, in this case, does not mean that there has been nothing to report.


"Love your enemies" is freaking hard. Lord, have mercy. That is all on this one.


My sister gave me Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson, and since I have had a teensy bit of free time this summer to indulge in some non-grad school reading, this was my pick. I'm almost done and I have been so encouraged by Peterson that there really, truly is God-ordained value in keeping house and taking care of one's family.

Essentially, I am a performer. I mean that in the positive and negative sense here, by the way. I do love the stage, and I can hog the stage fo' sheezy...BUT the positive side of this is that I really enjoy being among people and if that being with them also means we are working together to achieve something I really care about, that's even better. I did this sort of thing for 10 years, the last four being as a high school choir director. Then I quit teaching, got pregnant, had our sweet baby girl...and for awhile there, the most important thing about me was how much milk I could produce on any given day.

And I struggled. "Is this it?" I thought. "Is this all I do now?" I felt like the exciting stuff was happening out in the world, and while I love my daughter so much that most times I can't talk about this love without crying, many times I felt like I was simply fading away from relevant and meaningful interaction.

Peterson's book has helped me see that I was a victim of an internalized cultural bias against the duties of keeping house and, I believe, against women in general. That second thing is a huge can of worms among some evangelicals, and a whole 'nother post in and of itself, so I'll leave it alone. I think. :) The main thing I want to share is what I've learned from Ms. Peterson.

Did you know that the word "housekeeping" was not even in the English language until the late 19th century? Before the industrialization of the Western world, almost every family had a homestead. They all worked the land, and took care of the house and clothes and food -- together. Enter industrialization, and factories, and bigger cities...and many men are going to do the hard manual labor of the factory which leaves the women at home to keep house. Peterson submits that this was when the division of labor that we live with today (to some extent) came to be. She further asserts that the various appliances and gadgets that were created to make life easier actually did not achieve their function, but that we still expect ourselves to continually do more and be more.

Take food for an example. A typical weekday meal on the homestead consisted of a pot of stew (made from seasonal veggies and whatever meat was available, if any) that was placed near the fire in the morning and forgotten about until a bowl was eaten at lunch and a bowl was eaten at supper. But today, we have ovens and food processors and fancy gadgets and celebrity chefs constantly in our faces demonstrating how to cook these huge feasts ("in 30 minutes or less", right?) and even someone who loves cooking, like myself, can begin to think it's all just a little much. Peterson even goes so far as to refer to the TV networks and magazines and websites devoted to food as food porn. It is beautiful and alluring and, let's face it, unattainable.

So. Many people who could otherwise learn a few simple technniques in order to cook healthy meals for their family just give up before they even get started. Many others spend money and time and energy on pursuing the fantasy at the expense of the heart of the issue -- that is, loving and caring for your family.

There is a third group here as well: those who view housekeeping (Peterson's definition includes providing food, shelter, and clothing for one's family) as simple, menial, and by extension, insignificant. And if the work is insignificant, what does that say about the worker? And here is the heart of the matter. I felt like I was wasting away because I couldn't see the value in doing such simple things for my family. But Jesus' view is upside down from our cultural view, isn't it? He says the last will be first.

Many of Jesus' parables and teachings revolve around these everyday matters, as if God Himself values to the utmost what we refer to as mundane. The parable of the feast speaks of a king (probably the Lord) who prepares a feast, and when the people he invites don't show up, he invites others until his house is full. And what is He doing for us right now? He is in heaven, preparing a place for us and a magnificent wedding feast. (John 14:2, Rev. 19:9) God Himself is doing these things for me so that I will be fed and housed for eternity, and He is asking me to do these things for my family in the meantime. How beautiful is that?!

Sidebar: I do not believe this word is just for women, or just for married people. Peterson suggests, instead of wedding showers, we give people "graduating from college" showers or "getting my first apartment" showers regardless of whether they are married or single. I love this! I'm kind of wishing I still knew some college students so I could help them set up house. Wait! I do know a few. Awesome!

This is getting longish. But I want to share some scripture with you. I've read it many times, but in light of what I've learned from Keeping House, it is bringing tears to my eyes these days. If you are a stay-at-home parent, or you're a working parent with children, or you're a single person who just needs to be encouraged to take good care of yourself and the people who cross your threshold...please read the following scripture in the context of housekeeping. It's just beautiful.

Matthew 25:31-40 (The Message)

"When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.'

"Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about?...' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me -- you did it to me.' "

Take good care of the people in your lives. It is, truly, the Lord's work.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


If you like good music and you have never heard "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" by Lucinda Williams, then I'm thinking you need to get this album like yesterday. It's probably about ten years old, but man, it's timeless. And I didn't even know about Lucinda when it came out. I had to play catch up.

A few friends and I went to Memphis in May, probably 2002? Looking at the early evening schedule, we saw that The Counting Crows were playing in a little while and some lady who had this country hick sounding name was on before them. Someone had the wonderful idea to show up for the country hick's show and get close to the stage ahead of the crowd that was sure to form for The Counting Crows.

So we show up. And here's this fair little lady in all black - jeans, shirt, and cowboy hat - with a J-45 slung low, and a voice that was anything but fair or little. In fact, car wheels on a gravel road is the perfect way to describe Lucinda Williams' voice. The sound is kinda crunchy, not "pretty," and oddly satisfying. I fell in love immediately with the depth and simplicity of her music.

She sang "Joy" as her last number. Click the link if you've never heard it; it's four minutes of gloriousness that you should most definitely experience. The whole song is basically just one chord, kind of a country stomp dirge sort of thing. "I don't want you anymore 'cause you took my joy...I'm gonna go to Slidell and look for my joy..." over and over.

And I remember there was a ~40 year old lady near us at the concert. She had long black hair, and a long flowing skirt, and she had taken her shoes off. When the song started, it was apparent that this was what she had been waiting to hear. She cheered enthusiastically, then started swaying and stepping back and forth. After a few moments, her eyes were closed and her head bowed so that her hair fell forward and moved with the music and the wind. And by the last verse she was spinning 'round and 'round, arms outstretched, eyes still closed.

"You took my joy, I want it back
You took my joy, I want it back
You took my joy, I want it back!"

Everyone around her knew that she was getting her joy back. She was taking it back. And we tried to avert our eyes, as you would from any holy thing.

Monday, May 2, 2011

You talk a lot, but you don't say very much...

A continuation of my reflections on the Beth Moore conference from a few weeks ago:

This was my biggest take-away. Near the end, Mrs. Beth led a time of prayer for the various needs she had discussed. One of the topics was close personal friendships, and so she asked women to stand - if they felt comfortable doing so - if they had loneliness and were feeling the lack of a close personal friend.

Ok. There are like TONS of church groups who come to these things. And most of them wear matching t-shirts. Which are mostly pink. That is unrelated. But you get the picture, right? Large groups of similarly dressed women, roaming around this place, talking, laughing, excited. Hyped. Well, like church-lady hyped. Further...most of them are white, 20s to 50s, probably middle class. And they know Jesus. So they have one big thing in common, as well as lots of other little (but still pretty significant) things in common.

And when Mrs. Beth asked if anyone wanted prayer regarding loneliness...a solid 60% of the women stood. I was not so much surprised as heartbroken. Right then and there, all of the air went from my lungs and I cried for the brokenness in that room (arena). I wanted to just grab one of my standing sisters, grab her and lay my hands on her so as to somehow impart some strength of heart. I have known that loneliness, that chill and trembling, and not too long ago either.

So then I realized...if this is true in this place, that 60% of these women are lonely, then it probably holds true for the people I see on a daily basis. It steamrolled me.

Who in my life is living this quietly lonely life, and trying to cover it with clothes and laughter and lots of words?

Who is desperate for someone to know, yet horrified that they would be found out?

Since then I have tried to be more aware of people, more open to interruption and inconvenience. Or, just...more open. And I've been praying courage for my sisters, that they would risk it. That they would reach, that they would reveal even though it's terrifying. Part of the fear, I know, comes from being hurt before in some very real and horrible ways. I went through a really rough season of life in which I believed my "picker" was broken. Lots of users, and no true friends. Like the children of Israel in Nehemiah, I had to rebuild my walls and gates, and it was hard work.

And then others just have really high walls, and their gates are locked tight and no one is getting in. I believe this is from hurt or fear, as well, and by my guesses this is where most of those lonely women in that arena stand. They are surrounded, literally, by like-minded women, and they're still lonely. And this is especially tragic to me because no one who would be a treasured friend is going to bust down your gates. You're gonna have to open them up yourself, even if just a little at first.

So, I'm praying for courage. For all of us. Because even though I have some good relationships, I can still hide. We can all hide. Be strong and courageous, my sisters, and let someone know you. Don't waste another minute.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mrs. Beth

I love her. I got my tattoo because of something she preached on. She doesn't know this, and I'm not sure what she'd think, but there it is. Forever. That's how tattoos work, alas.

So when I heard she was coming to LR again, I was really excited. She knows her stuff, but she keeps a very real and authentic perspective on what her life has become. No nonsense with this lady when it comes to Jesus, but plenty of quite hilarious nonsense otherwise.

A few disjointed reflections on the weekend:

-- "The thing that is most important at the end, is most important today." A good reminder for this young mama to keep the end goal in sight during the many (sometimes mind-numbing) days with a toddler. So much potential in Jelly Bean's little frame that I must not overlook.

-- "Endure the hard for the sake of the good." God's way of doing things transcends our way. I grab for credit and glory and recognition. He literally "despised the world." This despising does not mean that He hated the world or, even, was mildly annoyed by the world. He loves His creation. But He never has and never will do things the way we do things. As such, I must always tell myself to "lift up thine eyes" to transcend the miry strategies of control and hedging that are my natural way. And I am (with increasing frequency) trusting that He will lift me up when the time is full.

-- Boundaries. My sister wrote a wonderful post on this word, and rightly divined that it is such a weighty and misunderstood term. I appreciate and am so thankful for her authentic journey. I offer the following as a support for her comments. Kind reader, please resist the temptation to see this as a rebuttal or, even, a response to anything she wrote. We love each other and support each other. :)

1. Boundaries are good and necessary.

2. Read the book by Cloud and Townsend. Many questions can be answered by investing the time -- even with the first 3-4 chapters -- to get a good understanding of exactly what they mean.

3. "I don't like you" doesn't equal a Christlike boundary.

4. Three biblical reasons to draw boundaries:
a. I simply can't (schedule, other obligations, etc.),
b. My help doesn't help, and
c. Beyond the boundary is unauthorized danger.

Well...the babe is stirring. I think naptime is over and it's time to fix lunch. I'm praying that you all have a wonderful weekend with family and friends. Take some time to reflect on how much Jesus loves you. He went to great lengths to have a relationship with you. Will you move in closer to Him this weekend?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

If I Wanted To (Repost)

So I found the following post on an old blog, and since it reminded me of how things can change but still essentially stay the same, I'm sharing it here as well. I originally wrote it about six years ago, in January of 2005. I didn't know it, but I was to meet my husband in about three months. And we got married in March of 2006. God is good.

(By the way, I am now completely convinced that life is about the journey rather than the destination. But we would still do well to be wise and courageous.)


It started as a vow in some old tree house
You swore you'd never be your fathers when you aged
But you're all sitting at this bar wondering who you are
And you're becoming those at whom you once were so enraged

And a prison bar don't have to be too strong you know
It's how many there are side by side that keep you in the cell
The camera dollies out from where you're lying in your bunk
But the camera's in the prison yard as well

If you wanted to, if you wanted to
If you wanted to, you tell yourself
You could have - Is it true?
Did you want to?

-From "If I Wanted To" by Don Chaffer

The practical end of Waterdeep has been cause for a fair amount of sadness and bewilderment for me. What do you do when your favorite band quits making new music? Of course there will be solo projects, which I know will be amazing. But when I listen to the wonderful creation that is Live at the New Earth, it is bittersweet to realize there will never be another chance to witness their collaboration.

But I won't go on and on about that.

Just to was Don Chaffer and Lori Chaffer's writing that has influenced me just as much - no, more than any other artist to date - to write the way I do. To be brave enough to write about real life, with all of its jagged edges and misplaced puzzle pieces, is something I strive for in every song.

Am I being honest?

This seems like a pretty basic thing at first. It seems like lying would be the thing you'd have to do on purpose. But how many decisions have I, or any of us, made from selfish motives we didn't fully realize until afterwards? Surely the heart is deceitful above all things.

Am I being honest? Are these words that I'm writing actually what I believe, or did I select them because it's what is expected of me or because I read them somewhere or because they rhyme? Is this the point I really, down to the bottom of my soul, want to make?

Because some days are great days. Clear and simple and pure...and the shimmering, crystalline happiness that is produced is really true to form. And other days are not so great, full of clouds and crowds and bad smells. And maybe even catastrophe. On these days I feel like I'm clinging like a wet spider to the Rock while the tormented sea rages around and over and onto me. I am not overcome, but I am battered, and that's what I write.

I'm reading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer right now. He writes about climbing Mt. Everest with an expedition of about 15 people. Right after he descended from the Summit (which took him over a month to reach, by the way), the mountain was struck by a terrible blizzard. Several of his teammates were caught totally off-guard and a few of them even died. He originally joined the expedition to write an article for Outside magazine, but after the tragedy he wrote the book as well as a sort of self-induced therapy. So, I recommend. But that's enough background.

Last night I read about when he finally reached the Summit and was standing quite literally on the top of the world. Over 29,000 feet above sea level. He said that he had been climbing for such a long time that when he crested the final incline and saw nowhere else to climb, he was confused and disoriented. It was only after a couple moments that it sank in that he had in fact reached the highest point on the planet. And then, get this -- his very next thought was, "I'm halfway through." Some of his teammates spent over an hour at the top, snapping pictures and congratulating each other and crying. And using valuable oxygen and physical energy. One lady even required a sherpa to haul a satellite fax machine to the top so she could send faxes to her loved ones...! Krakauer sat there for five minutes, erected a flag his wife had sewn for him, and then started climbing back down.

When I read that, at first I was like, Come on, guy, give yourself a freaking break. Enjoy the moment for once. But then I realized that the persistence and realism that had to that point aided his successful ascent was also the stuff that got him back down the mountain in one piece. As a skilled climber, he knew this...and he knew that the real cause for celebration would be to return home to his wife and children alive and healthy.

I think I need more of that climber's instinct. I need to keep my eyes on the goal - the real goal - at all times, and anything that doesn't assist me in reaching that goal...well, like a long-time friend says, "Sorry 'bout cha!"

I know my ultimate goal -- eternity with my Lord, and the hope of hearing with these ears His sweet voice saying, "Well done. Have some wine!" Or something related to that. It's the more specific goals that allude me. It's like, I know what I should be doing, but sometimes I don't know what I should be doing.

Or maybe I do know, on some level, my specific goal. I just can't admit it. A good friend (and the best guitarist I've ever had occasion to play with, actually) confessed to me once that he was more afraid of success than he was of failure. Even now his words challenge me. Because what if I do go for it, and experience some success, and then I blow it? The greater the success, the greater the potential failure.

A misstep on Everest is so different from a misstep on Pinnacle.

But no climber can climb Everest their first time out.

Several of my recent posts have discussed a certain restlessness I've felt recently. At first I thought it had to do with the holidays, or with a tendency to lose focus. But I am now willing to say that what I'm experiencing is more than seasonal discontent. It's lasted too long and it is accompanied by such compelling anticipation. I am now believing that there is a new, higher mountain for me to conquer. May I prove to be a wise climber, courageous and tenacious.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hi, I'm Rachel and I'm a control freak...

Number one -- it is entirely possible for someone to be laid back and easy going and STILL be a control freak. When I was in the past confronted by my own controlling tendencies, I would tell myself, I'm not controlling. I'm too chilled out to be controlling. Wrong! Wrong-a-bong-a-bing-bong!! So what happened that I now see myself more rightly? Well, I don't really want to go into it. Broad brushstrokes...something I've wanted for a long time came along, and it seemed perfect at first, but the more I learned the LESS perfect it seemed. But I was so focused on THE END GOAL and doing/saying/praying the exact right thing to achieve my GOAL that anything else didn't matter. Several weeks and a couple of pretty enlightening conversations with my husband/champion-of-my-soul later...I was willing to just let it go.

And since I let it go, clarity. The clarity and peace of a bright, sunny day. And the one thing I know is that when this thing I've wanted for so long actually does happen (and it will...He's been telling me for over 15 years that it will happen someday)'s not going to be because of anything I did. The glory belongs to God, and Him only. And by His grace, I will stop trying to elbow my way in.

You Hold My World
By Israel Houghton
Take my heart -- Lord, will You take my heart
As I surrender to Your will
I confess You are my righteousness
And 'til You move me, I'll be still
And know that You are God

You hold my world in Your hands
You hold my world in Your hands
And I am amazed at Your love
I am amazed that You love me
...I'm not afraid!
My world is safe in Your hands,
In Your hands

Take my life -- Lord, will You take my life?
You are the reason that I live
I believe You have forgiven me
And by Your grace I will forgive
And know that You are God

You hold my world in Your hands
You hold my world in Your hands
And I am amazed at Your love
I am amazed that You love me
...I'm not afraid!
My world is safe in Your hands
In Your hands!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


One year. I knew my life would change, and I wanted the change, but I had no way of knowing how it would change. And while I can't say that I have loved every minute of it...I have loved every minute of it. The other mommies and daddies reading this probably understand the sensical nonsense of that last sentence. Being a mom is the absolute hardest thing I have ever done (and I am now seeing glimmers of our sweet Jelly Bean's toddler self, so I don't think it's getting easier any time soon)...but oh, it's just the most fabulous thing.

So without further ado, I shall offer a retelling of Ava Denise Pinto's entrance into our world.

On Monday morning, 2/22, I went to an appointment at my OB's office. I was three days past my due date and as big as a house. (At least a single-wide, people. I had some serious water weight. And Taco Bell weight. But anyway...) By some miracle I was still able to pee into a cup (sorry if TMI) and my urine specimen had protein in it. This coupled with my high blood pressure and blurry vision indicated to my OB (Dr. Sellers - love him!) that I had preeclampsia. This is a potentially dangerous situation, and he was noticably concerned. He told me that I needed to check into the hospital that night to be observed, and then they would induce labor the next day, Tuesday 2/23. My sister, Holly, was at the appointment with me which was a really good thing b/c I proceeded to bawl my eyes out from disappointment that I could not have natural childbirth. Um. No comments from the peanut gallery. It's really what I wanted, but it didn't work out, so maybe next time.

But very soon my disappointment was overshadowed by excitement upon the realization that I would get to meet my sweet girl in just one day! Dr. Sellers sent me home to "rest," which is like telling a child to rest on Christmas Eve times a thousand. But given the fact that I was as huge as a trailer, I couldn't get around very well anyway, so I basically laid on the couch while my mom and Nana got my hospital bag together. Jeff got home from work a little early, and we were at the hospital by 7pm. I got an IV (ouch! According to my husband the RN, the nurse was terrible at it), a sleeping pill, and something to help me dilate...and then I was off to sleep.

I woke up at 6am on 2/23, and at 7am received my first dose of Pitocin. No pain meds at this point because I just wanted to see how it would go. My thinking was, I've never experienced this type of pain before, so let's just see what happens and I can get meds at any point along the way. And really, it wasn't too bad until Doc came in at 1pm and broke my water. And then, oh baby! Pain level went from a 2-3 to a 8-9 in the matter of a few minutes. Actual natural childbirth is progressive, so that (I hear from my amazing sister who has delivered three babies naturally) you can stay on top of the pain mentally. But with that sudden jump-up in pain level, I was having a hard time holding on mentally and emotionally. I wasn't screaming or crying or any other stuff that happens in the movies...but I could tell that something was "off". Little did I know... (I should say here that my mom and Jeff were both in the room with me this entire time, and they did a fabulous job of maintaining a peaceful and supportive environment so I could focus on my labor.)

Around 3pm I asked my Mom to go get the nurse to check my progress. I told myself that if I was beyond 5cm, I would continue laboring without meds. But if I was less than 5cm, I would probably get meds. I didn't share this with anyone else at that point. So the nurse checked my progress. She said, "I think you're probably about a three. But look at this." And she showed me her surgical glove. Meconium. Lots of it. I didn't really know what I was looking at, so she helped me out. She said, "I don't think that was a head that I just felt. I think it was a booty." Oh, WOW. A wave of fright washed over me. I laid my head back against the bed, started crying, and said, "C-section."

"What did you say?" asked Jeff.

"Nothing." I was in pain, and I started to get really scared right then. But I had felt the Holy Spirit with me throughout the entire process, ever since the appointment the day before. And especially during these moments, as I lay there having all of those emotions He was saying to my spirit, "I am with you. Don't be afraid. Be brave. I am with you." I'm not sure what your beliefs are about stuff like this, but His presence and comfort were as real as what I was receiving from Jeff or my mom.

Our nurse brought the charge nurse in and they did an ultrasound to confirm that Ava was frank breech. I asked them for an epidural, and I swear my mom and Jeff let out a HUGE sigh of relief when I said that word. I know it was difficult for them to stand by and watch me go through that much pain and not be able to do anything about it. Less than 20 minutes later, we were inserting the epidural (which was a pain unique unto itself, let me tell ya) and I eventually felt better. Dr. Sellers came at 4pm to do an ultrasound, confirmed that Ava was breech, and told me that we needed to do a C-section. Some more fright at this point, because I had never been to surgery before, and my sweet doctor offered to pray with me. I accepted, and then when he and the nurses left the room - and it was just me, Jeff, and my mom - I just let it all out. I cried and cried and then cried some more. I don't think I have ever in my life cried so hard. What was I feeling? Um, pretty much everything. Sad, scared, happy, excited, and just overwhelmed that I would see my girl in just a couple of hours.

We were scheduled to go into surgery at 5:30pm. I don't remember much of what happened in the next couple hours. I know we were delayed until 6pm, but I was so tired and emotionally exhausted that I may have slept or just spaced out.

Then it was time, and they wheeled me into surgery. Ok, operating rooms look like what I would imagine a panic room to look like. Not the most comfortable place, number one. And number two, there are about 15 people in there, all with a different and I'm sure very good reason...but still, it was like, "Oh hi everyone. I'm just huge and naked and about to experience the single greatest moment of my life. Don't mind me." And if I hadn't noticed by then (which I certainly had), I saw it now that dignity is a casualty of motherhood.

So in the last 48 hours I had experienced several surprises:: preeclampsia, painful IV, painful labor, breech baby, painful epidural. So when Dr. Sellers told me, "I'm about to pinch you and if you feel it at all, you should tell me," and then I felt it...I mean, really felt just fits, right? Except not really. They dosed my epidural three more times over the next fifteen minutes, with no change. At least not to my midsection. My arms and legs were completely numb and useless, but I could still feel the pinching on my belly. So then they told me that they needed to do a spinal block, right then and there. Perhaps at this point I had about three crumbs of dignity left...and when my nurse and three nursing students had to lift my paralyzed (and huge, have I mentioned that?) body off of the operating table for the spinal tap insertion, that was it. Zero dignity. I'm telling this in a humorous way right now, but in that moment I thought, "Ok, just check out so you won't go berserk." And so I just went numb, emotionally and mentally. The spinal tap was inserted - with no pain this time - and it worked.

When I was finally laying back down on the table, and I couldn't feel the pinching, it was apparent that I was really and actually about to meet my little girl. Finally. Dr. Sellers explained what he was about to do, and what I may feel, and that he would have to hand Ava to the NICU nurses as soon as she was delivered to clean out her airways. Another of my labor desires was compromised here, in that I couldn't be the first to hold my baby.

I didn't feel the cutting, but I did feel some movement...kind of like someone was pulling on my legs, and then pressing down really hard on my chest. Then she was out, and everyone was saying how big she was, and I could see her little legs and hear her little cries. Tears of joy, and "Thank You, Jesus," over and over. She was with the NICU nurses, crying like a champ, and I didn't want her to think she was alone. I told Jeff to go stand next to the warming table and talk to her. He didn't miss a beat. Just walked over there, let her wrap her little fingers around his thumb, and said over and over, "Ava, this is your daddy. I'm right here with you. Everything is going to be okay. Ava, this is your daddy. I'm right here with you. Everything is going to be okay..." Definitely one of the most special moments of the day.

And then, finally. My moment. Our moment, me and her. They brought her to me, and suddenly I was a mama. Certainly when I was pregnant, I was a mama. And as we continue on this path, I will know more of what that means. But that moment was so pivotal, so life-changing. I thought (and maybe said), "Oh wow, this changes everything."

I have never worshipped like I worshipped in those moments after Ava was born. My God. My God gave us this exquisite miniature of His glory. I told her, "I'm your mama, and I will always be here for you no matter what." She was so beautiful; I just couldn't stop looking at her.

And you know what? I still can't. Ava Denise, we love you more than life itself. And we love being your parents. You are so fun and adventurous and intelligent. You have brought so much joy to our life, and we thank God for you every day. Happy birthday, Jelly Bean!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Baby Weight

Ok, so I pretty much decided last month that I can't call it "baby weight" anymore. My daughter is almost a year old after all. Not sure where that line is exactly for me (and it is a purely personal decision), but once the new year rolled around, my patience with my Mom Body reached critical mass. No pun intended.

I think a lot of mommies can identify with me on this. Before pregnancy, I had a pretty healthy self image. Sure, there were some days where I felt bloated or frumpy, but most of the time I was comfortable and confident with my body. When I would hear pregnant ladies complain about their bodies and the amount of weight they were gaining, I was usually the first to remind them that "It's for the baby." Then, I was pregnant. And I was the one whose waistline DIS-AP-PEARED and who saw some mind-boggling numbers on the scale at the doctor's office. And you know, it still helped to hear people say I was beautiful and glowing and that the weight gain was for the baby. But let me be honest -- all of that weight was not for the baby. A lot of it was due to the extra burrito from Taco Bell or the mozzarella sticks from Sonic or the real Coca-Cola I had about every other day during my third trimester. And I promised my future self that I would lose all the weight relatively easily after our girl was born. After all, I would be breastfeeding which supposedly burns like 100,000 extra calories a day or something.

And you know what? I did lose a lot of the weight. Most of it. But weaning time came and went with little fanfare (thanks to a very laid-back and adaptive baby girl), and I realized that I still had more than a few pounds to lose. It wasn't about the number. I probably couldn't tell you right now what I weigh. For me it was about how I looked, and how I felt about how I looked. On one of my harder PPD days, I told a friend, "I just don't feel alluring anymore." But that day was like in November or something. I just kinda sat there for awhile, literally and figuratively.

I learned in one of my grad classes that a depressed person actually has to come out of the pit a little before she'll make any lasting changes. Someone who is truly at rock bottom cannot - by virtue of being at their very lowest point - pull themselves out. There has to be some sort of inciting event, a bounce if you will. (I love finding grace in the most unexpected places, don't you?) My grace happened on or around January 1st. I can't remember exactly when, but it was like the curtains on the windows of my mind were opened and I saw the cobwebs and dust and dank for the first time. I told myself, "2010 was baby year, and 2011 will be recovery year." I gave myself two goals: read the Bible all the way through, and get my body back. The Bible reading I felt would give some structure to getting some Light and Truth into my tired soul, and it has. And getting my body back has been a healing event as well, empowering and enlightening.

When I was pregnant and a brand new mommy, I plunged way into that identity. Listen, I wanted it so badly, and when it happened I was more thrilled than any blog post can describe. But by the time JB was drinking bottles and crawling around, and we had found a workable rhythm at home, I actually had a little time to look at myself in the mirror. And the words of Fred Willard, wha' happened?!? So, you know what? I am not just a mommy. I'll tell ya, I am primarily a mommy and all you have to do is try to mess with my baby or family if you need to be convinced. It is the biggest part of me now, but it's still just a part. I'm also a wife, and a friend, and a sister, and a professional. And it's time for the outside "me" to reflect the inside "me" again.

So. How am I doing it? I devised (ok, more like stumbled's how I find all my good ideas to be honest) a two-step approach:

1) Start with The Master Cleanse (shout out to Carmen and Andrea here). Follow the link for more information. I did three days of Ease-In, five days of the Cleanse, and three days of Ease-Out.

a. Pros: It was like hitting the reset button on my appetite. It is essentially a fast, and I made it a spiritual as well as physical exercise. I would get hungry at mealtimes - no big surprise there. But I would also get hungry if I smelled food, or if I saw a food commercial on TV, or if I drove past a food billboard. My stomach was responding to my eyes seeing the pictures of yummy food. I wasn't any hungrier 30 seconds after seeing the advertisement than before, but my body wanted me to think I was. I think I read this in one of Richard Foster's books, but the stomach really does act like a spoiled child sometimes.

b. Cons: Bathroom time. Please reference the website.

2) Super Top Secret Mysterious Weight Loss Plan: reduce intake of energy, increase output of energy. Diet and exercise, people. I am using the LoseIt! app on my iPhone, which is also available on the good ol' interweb. It tracks calories and other nutrition info of the food I eat, and calories burned for the exercises I do (even housework is included in their available exercises, and sexual activity...can I get a what, what?!). But my favorite part of the app is that it asked for my goal weight, and how much weight I want to lose each week (0.5 lb, 1 lb, 1.5 lb, 2 lb)...and then it calculated my net daily calories based on that. Too cool!

But you know, the main thing is that whatever plan you choose, you stick with it. It's not magic. But it has been fun, finding new recipes ( and both have lots of healthy recipes) and -- the best part -- RESULTS. Can I get an amen on that one?! I was wearing my biggest pair of jeans the other day, the ones I wore during my first trimester, and my Mom said, "Wow, Rachel, those pants are about to fall off you! You're gonna have to get some new ones soon." I could have done the Rocky shadow-boxing dance. "Getting strong now...won't be long nooowwww!" I was so pumped.

And that, my friends, is exactly the kind of empowerment this mommy/wife/grad student/sister/friend/soon-to-be-professional needs.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Food 2011

I'll just say it. Food is a big part of my life. I love the comfort of it -- how a homecooked meal (preferably prepared by one's mother) sits warm in your belly and your heart. And I love the adventure of it -- trying new tastes and techniques, and learning. Not to the extreme of those guys on cable TV who eat bugs and intestines and such, but you know, basically just eating more non-American foods. And I LOVE what sharing a meal with someone does for the friendship. It is profound, almost spiritual, the conversations I have had with folks over a simple meal prepared with care.

So I'm going to add FOOD as a regular subject to this here blog. I'll post pictures and recipes and stories, and I'd love to read/see some of yours as well.

So, any requests? Anything you'd like to see me try this year? Also, an unofficial poll...what is your ultimate comfort food?