a hundred bouncy balls and one throne

Sometimes I imagine that trying to manage my life is like trying to hold a hundred bouncy balls all at once. Let me paint a picture of what has been portrayed to me as a “perfect woman”, and see if you know what I mean.

This woman is active in causes, fighting against everything from modern-day slavery to a lack of clean water in poverty-stricken areas of the world. Or maybe she’s fighting against one. Something, at least. She is fun to be around… people enjoy hanging out with her. She’s environmentally- aware, using her Nalgene to drink green tea (yay antioxidants!) and at least 8 cups of water a day. This person is patient, and kind, and is generous with grace to herself and to others. She is fashionable (that is, she does her best to look cute in public, and probably wears lipstick). She gets at least eight hours of sleep a night, takes her vitamins, flosses daily, and goes on long runs every time she gets a chance. She tithes. This person knows about world affairs and all the things going on in the White House, and when she votes (because she does vote), she is informed. She is outgoing, friendly, and makes people feel like they are loved and important. She remembers her friends’ birthdays. Her relationship with the Lord is her top priority, and she is passionate and persistent in her pursuit of Him and His Will. She sings hymns, reads her Bible, and is involved in her church body. She hears Him speak during her quiet time. She spends her money wisely. She is a loving, supportive wife who has healthy boundaries and a wise, gentle mother. Her house is cute, and she can bake, and she throws great parties. She takes a Sabbath every week, where is engages in fulfilling and restful activities. She calls her grandparents (and her parents, for that matter). This woman is competent. She can change a tire, and set up the Internet at her apartment, and probably speak Spanish when she goes to Mexican restaurants. She’s thin. She’s completely comfortable in her sexuality. She has opinions about movies, books, music… she’s well-informed and well-spoken. Coffee dates are her thing. And she manages to meet up with everybody from her pastor (or his wife) to the anguished high schooler who needs somebody to listen to her. 

And I try to meet all these standards. See what I mean about the hundred bouncy balls?

I am aware, unfortunately, that this list sounds a little snarky. Or bitter. I’m not sure, maybe both. But honestly, I did my absolute best to avoid that tone, because the truth of the matter is that I believe that every single one of those things is good. I mean, you can’t really deny that flossing is important… or spending time with God.

But here is my truth. I cannot do it. I can’t even do most of it. And although that may sound very bold written in black and white on your computer screen, it’s not a confident declaration. Because I really do believe, deep down, that I should be able to hold it together. Why am I whining about calling my grandparents or tithing? I should be able to handle these things. And with that mentality, most of the time, I just suck in my breath, smile, and try harder.

Yet, it is exhausting to try to be this woman. I cry a lot because of it all. And too often, I just get so discouraged with it all that I quit trying and hibernate in my room with an old season of Grey’s Anatomy and some Nutella. And then all the balls drop to the floor and it’s just not good.

So, I’m letting some of those balls go. Politics: gone. I simply do not have the mental or emotional energy to try and figure out whether I’m a Republican or a Democrat. Fashion: also gone. I’d rather wear leggings and an oversized top every day, and lipstick looks weird on me. Plus, the harder I try, the less I like whatever it is that I have on. Causes: for now, I’m letting that one go, too. Environmentalism: I will recycle when I remember, but otherwise, gone. Also, I’m never going to take vitamins, speak Spanish, or enjoy green tea.

And for those that are still worth holding onto, at least for now? Well, I’m just going to have to take the “throne of grace” approach for those.

Hebrews 4:16

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joining the family

Have you seen Parenthood? To me, this scene sums up family pretty much perfectly.

Talk about tears rolling down my face.

Edit: see this blogger’s perspective on Biblical adoption

my bookshelf: a sneak peak

bookshelf

I love to read. I truly do, in every sense of the word. There’s something so peaceful about feeling the weight of a book in my hand and breathing in the familiar smell of the pages, about settling down to escape into another world. It’s simply good for my soul.

Over the years, I’ve built up a strange collection here on my bookshelf. A few fairy tales, some children’s books, a science fiction classic, a cooking manual, one or two Christian treatises. There’s a book about terrorists and their hostages, one about a mouse and his soup, one about a circus, and one about a boy who lived. Some are written by great authors, others are relatively unknown. Yet, these are the ones that I read over and over, until the spines are broken and the pages are falling out. They are full of wonder and magic and questions about humanity. They inspire hope, assuring me that goodness is real, that light conquers darkness, and that people can learn and love and grow alongside one another. As I read, I’m drawn in with passages that invoke longing in the deepest parts of me… more often than not, I find myself crying or laughing or making that subconscious gesture of touching my heart with my fingertips. Each makes me smile, for one reason or another. And because I love you, I want to share them with you.

And so, without further ado, I present to you my favorite books. I’ll be revisiting them in time, to give you more details about what they’re about and why, precisely, I love them so. This is just a sneak peak. Here are the titles (in no particular order):

p.s. One more thing. Is there a tiny bit of me that wishes I were the person whose bookshelves were populated with more dignified tomes? Sometimes. My least favorite books are often those that enjoy the most literary acclaim, and I’ve caught myself feeling unsophisticated when the topic comes up. But I love reading too much to slug through another book by Jane Austen, or to finish The Fountainhead, or to even pick up Catcher in the Rye in the first place. Instead, I embrace these lovely selections as my kindred spirits.

can it be both?

december-2011-lunar-eclipse-pictures-southern-california_45589_600x450

“Look up, look up, look up into the sky, love.
You see that moon shining so high up above us?
It rolls around on account of a bunch of scientific stuff.
I like to think it does just because He loves us.”

 words of poetry by Bradley Hathaway

oh, and I found the photo here.

a couple of cupcakes…

…in mason jars.

So many happy things came together to produce these cupcakes. Just take a peek at the flavors: fluffy lemon cupcakes with a sweet blackberry jam frosting, dense peanut butter cupcakes offset by a chocolate-nutella icing, and a vanilla cupcake with a bit of chocolate chip cookie dough hidden in the middle. See what I mean? Goodness all the way around. And then add in the fact that I baked them in mason jars, wrapped them up, and mailed them all the way to California (successfully, I might add). It just makes me smile.

Let’s start with my favorite.

Lemon Cupcakes with Blackberry Buttercream Frosting.

(unashamedly taken from AllRecipes… I’m a huge believer of crowdsourcing recipes)

lemonblackberry cupcake

INGREDIENTS: (and don’t forget the mason jars, washed and dried!)

1 c. white sugar
1/2 c. butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. ap flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. milk
1 lemon, juice & zest
1 c. butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
4 c. confectioners’ sugar
1/2 c. seedless blackberry jam
DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350* F.
2. Cream sugar and 1/2 c. butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and mix 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract into mixture with the second egg.
3. Beat in flour and baking powder until thoroughly combined; beat in milk, lemon juice, and lemon zest to finish it up.
4. Spoon the batter into mason jars, filling them about one third of the way. Don’t worry, they will rise like crazy. Place the jars on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish, for easy movement to and from the oven.
5. Bake in the preheated oven until bottom of cupcakes are slightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool them completely.
6. Beat 1 c. butter with 1 tsp. vanilla extract and salt until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup at a time, and then add the jam.
7. Using a pastry bag (or in my case, a ziploc bag with a hole cut in the corner), pipe frosting on cooled cupcakes. Top with a blackberry and close the lid of the mason jar.

Next up,

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

(again, see here and here for the originals. also, this one is pretty time-consuming and requires some ahead planning, just so you know.)

chocolate chip cupcake

INGREDIENTS: (again, don’t forget the mason jars)

1 1/2 c. + 1 1/2 c. ap flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 c. + 1/2 c. butter, softened
1/4 c. + 1 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
3 eggs
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. milk
2 tsp. + 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. mini chocolate chips
1/4 c. shortening
1/4 c. butter, softened
2 c. confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
DIRECTIONS:
1. Whisk together 1 1/2 c. flour, baking soda, and sea salt; set aside. Beat 1/2 c. butter, 1/4 c. white sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth. Add 1 egg and the 2 tsp. vanilla extract. Mix in the flour mixture until just incorporated and then fold in the chocolate chips. Form the dough into tablespoon-sized balls; place onto a baking sheet, and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.
2. Preheat an oven to 350* F.  Place the prepared mason jars on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish, for easy movement to and from the oven.
3. Cream remaining 1 c. sugar and 1/2 c. butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in 2 eggs, one at a time, and mix 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract into mixture with the second egg. Beat in 1 1/2 c. flour, baking powder, and milk until thoroughly combined. Spoon the batter into mason jars, filling them about one third of the way, and happily drop a frozen cookie dough ball on the top center of each.
4. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the cake portion of the cupcake (not the cookie dough ball) comes clean, about 20 minutes.
5. In a large bowl, beat shortening and butter until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla; beat until the icing is smooth.
6. Using a pastry bag (or in my case, a ziploc bag with a hole cut in the corner), pipe frosting on cooled cupcakes. Top with sprinkles or other preferred festive topping and close the lid of the mason jar.

And don’t forget:

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Nutella Buttercream Frosting

(and they’re here and here)

peanut butter cupcake

INGREDIENTS (plus washed and dried mason jars):

2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. shortening
1 c. peanut butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 pinch salt
1/4 c. shortening
1/4 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. Nutella
2 c. confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat an oven to 350* F.  Place the prepared mason jars on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish, for easy movement to and from the oven.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the brown sugar, shortening and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt; stir into the batter alternately with the milk. This batter will be thicker, kinda like cookie dough. That’s okay. Spoon the batter into mason jars, filling them about one third of the way.
3. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the top of the cupcakes spring back when lightly pressed. Cool completely.
4. In a large bowl, beat shortening and butter until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla; beat until the icing is smooth and then mix in Nutella.
5. Using a pastry bag (or a ziploc bag with a hole cut in the corner), pipe frosting on cooled cupcakes. Top with a half of Reese’s. Eat the other half while you close the lid of the mason jar.

Whew. Well, there you go. Here’s a lovely “after” photo of them all. Aren’t they pretty? Enjoy!

cupcakes

relationship tidbits: silliness

Series time! I know that I’m not an expert on love… but there are certain things that have risen to the surface in Will’s and my relationship over the years that I believe are good and necessary and worth sharing. Thus, relationship tidbits. Little things that are, in my opinion, actually quite significant.

“Be silly. Be honest. Be kind.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

For today, I want to talk about silliness. I am not a carefree person. I’m serious, contemplative, quiet. There are maybe three people in this world who have actually seen me in a moment where I’ve totally let down my inhibitions. But somewhere along with making me fall in love with him, Will managed to draw me out of my thoughts long enough to make me giggle. And I haven’t stopped since then. I mean, we tickle each other, roll around on the floor, make funny sounds. We repeat ridiculous jokes that are four years old. We get into pillow fights. We skip or snort or whatever it is that comes out of us in that second, all without worrying about how we look. We’re silly. For us, it’s is a way to connect heart-to-heart without having to work for it. It’s honesty and laughter rolled up together. It’s good stuff.

p.s. image found here

on eternity and on joy

Do you ever feel like you just can’t handle your own life? That things are all dark and twisty and confusing in your head? Sometimes, I feel like every time I turn around, I’m lost again, fallen, broken and muddled. I’m tired and I’m ready to just stop trying to make my way, to just lay down and sleep until things are better.

The fact of the matter is that I’m now living in world where I’m separated from the perfect and eternal. It’s about sin, it’s about the Fall, it’s about waiting for Christ’s return. The world is broken, and right now, I’m a part of it. C.S. Lewis talks about just this in his sermon “Transposition”, asserting that for now, humanity is in a lower, lesser, poorer dimension and — get this — cannot fully understand or grasp the truth of the higher (that is, heaven).  If you’re interested in his allegory, here it is (I suggest sticking with it. He’s kinda brilliant):

————————————————————————————-

Let us construct a fable. Let us picture a woman thrown into a dungeon. There she bears and rears a son. He grows up seeing nothing but the dungeon walls, the straw on the floor, and a little patch of the sky seen through the grating, which is too high up to show anything except sky. This unfortunate woman was an artist, and when they imprisoned her she managed to bring with her a drawing pad and a box of pencils. As she never loses the hope of deliverance, she is constantly teaching her son about that outer world which he has never seen. She does it largely by drawing him pictures. With her pencil she attempts to show him what fields, rivers, mountains, cities, and waves on a beach are like. He is a dutiful boy and he does his best to believe her when she tells him that that outer world is far more interesting and glorious than anything in the dungeon. At times he succeeds. On the whole he gets on tolerably well until, one day, he says something that gives his mother pause. For a minute or two they are at cross-purposes. Finally it dawns on her that he has, all these years, lived under a misconception. “But,” she gasps, “you didn’t think that the real world was full of lines drawn in lead pencil?” “What?” says the boy. “No pencil marks there?” And instantly his whole notion of the outer world becomes a blank. For the lines, by which alone he was imagining it, have now been denied of it. He has no idea of that which will exclude and dispense with the lines, that of which the lines were merely a transposition–the waving treetops, the light dancing on the weir, the coloured three-dimensional realities which are not enclosed in lines but define their own shapes at every moment with a delicacy and multiplicity which no drawing could ever achieve. The child will get the idea that the real world is somehow less visible than his mother’s pictures. In reality it lacks lines because it is incomparably more visible.

So with us. “We know not what we shall be” [1 John 3:2]; but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth. Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like pencilled lines on flat paper. If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines vanish from the real landscape, not as candle flame that is put out but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun.

You can put it whichever way you please. You can say that by Transposition our humanity, senses and all, can be made the vehicle of beatitude. Or you can say that the heavenly bounties by Transposition are embodied during this life in our temporal experience. But the second way is the better. It is the present life which is the diminution, the symbol, the etiolated, the (as it were) “vegetarian” substitute. If flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom [1 Corinthians 15:50], that is not because they are too solid, too gross, too distinct, too “illustrious with being.” They are too flimsy, too transitory, too phantasmal.” (pp. 109-11)

————————————————————————————-

Do you get it? Earth and our experiences here are the lesser realm, while heaven is so. much. more. And for now, we actually CAN’T understand that greater realm. It’s beyond what our broken, earthly minds can grasp. It is more real than our reality here on earth. We’re living in a black and white world without knowing that color even exists.

Except… I believe that there’s more to the story, for, as Lewis says, “in varying degrees the lower reality can actually be drawn into the higher and become part of it” (The Weight of Glory 113). This blessed, holy occurrence makes itself known it a feeling that we have named joy. And that’s where the goodness of this world comes in. Occasionally, in the midst of the muddling of our minds, we get a glimpse of something from that other realm, an earthly encounter that is closer to the spiritual than most. It’s this fleeting feeling of beauty and rightness, “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited” (The Weight of Glory 31). It’s goodness in the midst of pain. You see, it’s bittersweet.

You and I both know that although today may be dark and twisty, we were made for something more. And although we may not be able to understand what heaven will be like (see above), we can rest assured in one thing: whatever it is, it will be better. It will be better. It will be better. If my joy is just a taste, just a touch, then I believe this with all my heart. What a relief. Heaven is waiting.

storypeople

I just love Brian Andreas. His work is so good. Here are a few of my favorites. Aren’t they just sweet in a weird sort of way?

bottle it up

As I’m typing these words, I’m sitting on my bed with a homemade heating pad, composed of one of Will’s socks full of dry rice. Every time one of us has a sore neck or a headache or any other sort of bump or bruise, we plop it into the microwave for a minute and then it makes everything feel better. And I have to tell you, the most distinctive thing about this little heating pad is the way it smells. It’s this warm, nutty, popcorn-y, barley-ish rice smell, if that makes any sense at all. It’s strong and quiet at the same time, a smell that makes me fell cozy and taken care of. A smell I want to remember.

Sometimes I wish, I truly wish, that we could bottle up the scents and sounds and tastes and feelings that are associated with our experiences. Like Widget’s tent in The Night Circus. It feels so bittersweet that once a moment is gone, it’s really gone. And pictures are lovely, but our lives are rich with more than just visual images. I want to be able to go back to this afternoon, when Will fell asleep beside me and I could feel his warm breath on my side every time he exhaled… that, I think, would be contained in a thin golden bottle. I want to be able to open up a round pink decanter to hear the sound of my mom laughing while she chases the dog through the house. And I’d have a tiny turquoise one for the soft surprise of feeling sea anemones suction onto my finger that day that Mil and I discovered rocks full of them on a Santa Barbara beach. The sounds of Zambia would take up a whole shelf and the smells of Thailand would get another. I want to be able to share it all with others, with my friends, with my one-day children. I want to be able to return to them on a rainy day and relive the brightness of the past. My joy, my memories, my life… I’d bottle it all up if I could.

a little letter

Hey there,

So, let me start off by confessing something… blogging makes me nervous.

I never thought I’d be the person to start a blog. But, for the last couple of weeks, it’s all I’ve been able to think about. Should I do it? I’ve been worried about what it means to put my life on display, about my inevitable desire to focus on the numbers, about the temptation to shape myself into the type of person that people will like and therefore follow. I mean, who am I kidding? Why do I even have this random, deep desire to blog about my boring life, anyways? Bah, the questions keep circling and circling!

But there’s the desire to deal with. And somebody once told me that that famous verse in Psalms- you know, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desire of your heart”- wasn’t about God granting your wishes. Instead, it’s about Him putting His own longing in your soul, to become your longing. And so maybe I should pay attention to this sudden and strong desire to put my thoughts and feelings and musings onto the Internet.

You see, I think that we’re all more alike than we realize. And maybe if I say the things that others don’t dare to say, then they’ll feel like they aren’t so alone. Because I know that I, for one, feel alone a lot. And I believe, I choose to believe, that somebody could be raw and honest and maybe sometimes get it right.

I know that your story may be one that has some really hard chapters, and part of me feels silly about telling you how I am inspired to be honest, when my struggles are much more mediocre. What do I really have to be honest about? There are no deep secrets or heart-breaking times. My sadness and my loneliness and my doubts seem like ingratitude when I lay them beside miscarriages or divorce, or battles of eating disorders or abuse or poverty.

But, I just have to tell myself that God has given me a story. And if I believe, even in the tiniest, that HIS story for ME is bigger than just myself, that it is true and right in the sense that He is true and right, then I should share it. Because He has given me a desire to do just that.

So I’m going to share it. And sometimes it will be deep and heavy. Sometimes, not so much. If you know me, you know that I have plenty to say on the sweeter parts of life: the sunshine and the magic and the music of my everyday. There will be plenty of recipes, a “DIY” thrown in here and there, and other bits & pieces of inspiration. Whatever’s on my heart.

And now it begins.

Madi