Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Last night I was upstairs painting our closet doors. Aaron was fitting together plumbing parts in the bathroom, and I was in the corner of the bedroom with a well-worn brush.  Our closet doors cost us absolutely nothing because my dad is the Salvage King.  When the State Farm Insurance office in our town decided to raze its building, Dad asked the owner if he could go by and save some things out of it.  I'm not sure of the exact amount of treasure Dad amassed from that foray, but I do know that our closet doors and a good portion of our bedroom trim were among the spoils.

Salvaging is in Dad's blood.  If there's something free, and that something holds the potential of someday, possibly, remotely proving itself useful, that something is going in Dad's garage.  He loves yard sales, and I remember he used to take me and my brother to dig around in the college dumpsters where hasty students, in their hurry home, threw all manner of perfectly good stuff.  He's never above curbside picking.  Last week, my parents drove to Kansas City to visit my brother, and as my mom later related their trip, she said, "Your dad was looking on the free section of the KC Craigslist before we left, and I'm not sure why."  Really, Mom?  You've been married to this man for 40 years, and you're not sure why?

The depths of his garage have also provided us with door hinges, an antique doorknob that matches the rest of our doorknobs, roof tar, a ceiling fan, two Craftsman porch columns...I could go on.  It's amazing.  I'm telling you, if you need a dogsled, or a 1958 Studebaker part, or a Egyptian mummy - go.  Now.  You will find it in Paul's garage.

Dad sees possibility where others see detritus.

And so, last night, easing white paint onto doors that were destined for the landfill, I thought about my Dad.  And I thought about God.

It's a risky comparison to make, because I don't want to sound like a story you'd find in Chicken Soup for the Soul.  But Dad and his salvage heart make me think of God and His salvage heart.

Suspend your disbelief with me and dare to believe the impossible: that God takes the crud and junk and trash of our lives and turns it into good.  No, really.  It's not a slogan for a Christian t-shirt (God Loves Junkin').  It's true.  All the things that feel like too much, the things that have plagued us for too long, the wasted years, the yawning fears, the dying hopes, the regrets, the sullied depths that no one sees but us.

He collects them all. And He wants to redeem every single one.  His is a salvage of the greatest imagining - nothing in this sad, heavy world is beyond his touch of redemption.  

The children of God have been transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:14).  In His Kingdom, nothing is wasted.  Nothing goes under the blade of the bulldozer.  He's using every bit of it, for our good, for His glory.

In a world where we toss all manner of things - ugly things, old things, worn out things - God is never ready to dispose of us.  He makes beauty from ashes, and it's hard to think of a better salvage than that.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What These Streets Need

On Sunday morning, we walked out to our car to discover papers and CDs strewn all over the passenger seat.  My first thought was annoyance.  "Aaron left something on my seat again!" Then, remembering we'd been out late the night before and Aaron would have had no time between then and now to rifle through the glovebox, I realized someone had been in our car.  We hadn't locked it, so whoever it was didn't have to enter forcibly, but they took the fortuity of an open door to dig into our glovebox and trunk and to swipe the odd change in the cup holder.  

It's not the first time we've had something stolen from our carport.  The last item was of considerable more worth than my quarter for Aldi.  But this instance rankled me more, so much so that my concentration during church was shot.  As we sang, I thought about how maybe I wanted to build a privacy fence instead of a picket fence.  Getting to know our neighbors be darned.  During the sermon, I worried our house would be ransacked while we sat placidly in rows.

It's hard to love your neighbor when your heart is full of fear.

Two little girls live next door to us.  A vivid assortment of plastic toys dot their front yard, dropped, forgotten, never corralled back into order.  I have seen a portion of the heartache that happens behind that white siding, and yet still, I begrudge the trash that drifts over into our yard.  Nearly every day when the school bus drops off the oldest girl, she runs to our front porch and knocks on the door.  If I tell her that we can't play today, she wallops on the glass until I am afraid it will break.  The days she comes in, she wants every snack in our cupboard and tells my daughter we do not have enough toys.

As the clock inches to three every afternoon, I feel anxiety rise up in my chest.  I know the bang, bang, bang on our door is coming.  I don't want to give up my quiet afternoon to referee toy quarrels. I don't have time to be a vending machine; there is laundry to do!

It's hard to love your neighbor when your heart is full of resentment.  

 If I showed you the unedited script of my mind, you would find a wish that we could move our charming old house to a nice, new neighborhood, where the inhabitants are soundly middle class.  No needy children hanging around.  Alarm systems aplenty.  You would find desires to hide, impulses to insulate, plans to retreat.  You would uncover so many, many things that are not who I want to be, not who Jesus asks me to be.

This is the thing about who Jesus asks us to be - it's simultaneously so simple and so difficult.  It's simple because the complex labyrinth of law is gone.  To please the heart of God we need only concern ourselves with two things.  Love the Lord your God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

It's hard because love requires denial, sacrifice, surrender.  It's hard because I really, really love myself and the things I want.  When love inevitably asks of me to give someone else that same attention, time, and care, I resist.

We moved into this neighborhood because we got a neat house for a steal.  We had hopes that our renovation would spur on other spiff-ups, that ours would be the first in a series of street updates. "Look here!  Your house has potential too!"  But, instead, God is using our neighborhood to remodel my heart.  Moving a beam here, opening up a room there, showing me the truth of the castles I'm prone to build: plenty of room for me and little for Him.

I want a pretty bungalow and a undisturbed life, and yet Jesus reveals my ambition is not nearly enough.  It's a respectable block of land I have my sight set on, and He's building a Kingdom without end.  I unroll the blueprint, and I find the plans are scribbled top to bottom with one instruction - to love, love, love the people around me straight into His waiting arms.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Deconstruction Work

Grumpy mornings begin in benign enough births, small circumstantial upsets that, alone, mean nothing. Yet pile them one on top of another - a precarious wooden block tower - and life feels unmanageable, hard, and IRREPARABLY BROKEN if we're going for drama.  (And I do go for drama.) A potty training accident.  Crumbs on the floor when I just swept.  A fussy four month old. Baby junk that has completely taken over my living room but that I can't quite find the courage to boot because darn it, the vexing teddy bear swing does work magic.

My words get sharper as the block tower grows.

A tiny voice asks, "Mama, my play on couch?"  I nod, and she rolls along the cushions, burrows herself into the corner.  She's so little and so big all at once, and my heart is struck with tenderness. How many days do I have to watch her play on that couch?  Not as many as I think.

The catchphrases for times like this are many: Choose joy.  Be present.  Live in the moment.  They're good reminders, but sometimes, a little skeletal.  What do they really mean, anyway?  It looks different every day, and I've got to flesh out that bone each new morning.  So, I take a deep breath, and I

smile at her.

Take a picture because I will want to remember her, like this.

Move the teddy bear swing out of the center of the living room and into a corner.

Ask her if she wants to make muffins.  And of course she does.

I often get tricked into thinking that a grumpy day must have a complete reset in order to be rectified. Call Aaron home from work, give me an hour to meditate, and why don't I change into a new outfit to seal the new start?  But that block tower can be dismantled just as it was built, one block at a time, and it sure makes less noise than toppling the whole thing over with flying arms.

In the spirit of honesty, this still happened.

Where does girl get her drama???

Oh yeah.

So we'll do this again and again.  Add a block, take a block, slowly, slowly, knowing all the time,

there's grace in every bit.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Five Kids' Books We're Loving

It's hard to find the holy grail of kids' books, is it not?  Some books my daughter loves but I feel as though I will need to go hide in the bathroom by myself for a long while if I have to read that book one more time.   Others I love but Anna just isn't ready to sit through yet.

Here are five that we both currently love.  Keep in mind that Anna is 2 1/2, so our recommendations might not appeal to your kiddos if they're much older or younger than her.

1.  Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson.  There are quite a few books in this series, but this one is my favorite.  It's written in catchy and masterful rhyme.  The words in this book are just delicious.  I love books that hold Anna's attention but also have a lot of vocabulary that she's not exposed to every day.  This is one of those.

2.  Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack.  My aunt gave this to Anna, and my aunt has raised and homeschooled nine amazing children, so any book she gives I take seriously.  It's one of three in a series, and it is a sweet little story about Angus the Scottie dog whose world is turned topsy with the arrival of a CAT!  The text is written with all-caps emphasis on certain words, which makes for fun reader intonation.

3. Feathers for Lunch by Lois Ehlert.  I love a lot of Lois Ehlert's books, mainly because she incorporates lots and lots of nature.  The rhyme stands alone in this book, but the labeled illustrations of flowers and birds are what makes it one of my favorites.

4.  Dr Seuss's ABC by Dr. Seuss.  I'm not an across the board fan of Dr. Seuss.  The Cat in the Hat annoys me and some of his stuff is just too much - Fox in Socks for one.  The ABC book strikes a nice balance of whimsical language and good flow.

5.  All Things Bright and Beautiful by Bruce Whatley.  The words of the classic hymn are set to gorgeous illustrations.  A little girl wanders through her life on a farm, and at the end of the book, I am always ready to go outside and explore!

Any good recommendations to add to our reading routine?  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Tiny Letters

As previously confessed, I don't have a baby book for Judah.  I have one for Anna, but it's only filled in up to around six months.  I hope she never needs to know her 9 month old weight, because that information has floated away into the cumulus of all forgotten facts.


I do have these tiny books for them.  I love tiny things.  So much so that the phrase "tiny white dishes" has become a joke in our marriage.  I started writing letters to Anna when I was 20 weeks pregnant and we knew she was a girl.  I started Judah's a month or so after he was born.  I write with haphazard frequency, usually just once a month or so.  I keep them in the telephone nook in our hallway, which we aren't ever going to use for a telephone but is charming nonetheless.  I am probably charmed by it because it is a tiny nook!  All the tiny things together!

In the letters, I tell them the cute things they're doing.  I write down things Anna says that are hilarious and will do the same for Judah when he is able to talk.  I pray for them.  I tell them over and over again how much I love them.  

One of the things I've realized about being a mom is that it's good to capitalize on my strengths.  Oh, there are things that I have to hunker down and do no matter how I feel about them.  I wouldn't say keeping on top of the cloth diaper laundry is a strength of mine, yet it has to be done.  Of all the many things that are non-essentials, though, I can gracefully release the ones that aren't me.  I'm just not the mom that saves the lock of hair, the hospital bracelet, all the monthly stats.  And that's okay.  I can do letters, and more importantly, I will do letters because I love to write.  

I hope someday they read my letters, scrawled imperfectly but with every stroke a love mark.  I hope they are reassured that the love I have for them reaches far back, into times they can't even remember. To have been loved before one began is a strength and comfort of great proportions, and that love is a gift I can give them, all bound up in a tiny book.   

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Goal Tending

I'm late to the goal-setting party.  But in the three weeks since New Year's Day, I've kept two tiny humans alive!  That's the rub for me these days, perfectly illustrated in this exact moment: As I type, Anna is organizing a nap strike, and so this post, like nearly any task these days, will be completed over several snitches of time.  The tension of motherhood and my "doing" personality can leave me frustrated.  In a season of life when nothing ever seems completely done, it's cathartic to take a blank page of a new notebook, a mug of tea, and a few moments of brainstorming.

Some of my goals are lofty; I know they might not happen in 2016, but it gives me joy and hope to write them down on a tidy list.  Others are doable with hard work and focus.  A few more are things I would likely accomplish without a list, but I add them anyway because every list needs a couple lines you know you'll cross through.

  • Finish remodeling our 1928 bungelow.  We've been working on this beauty since May 2013, with breaks here and there, but this year, we've determined to put our hands to the plow and not look back!  Aaron and I created a calendar and some monthly goals to help us have the biggest projects finished by December.  
  • Stay within our budget.  We keep a monthly cash envelope system, but I am not the best at staying within the confines of the cash system.  When I make a purchase online, I often forget to remove the cash.  I want to shop online less in 2016 and not buy anything that I don't have the cash for.  Related to this is a handful of saving goals I have.  I'm keeping envelopes marked with the goal on the outside, and anytime we have extra money at the end of the month, I'm going to tuck it away in the envelopes.  I find that having the actual cash motivates me much more than figures in a savings account.  
  • Love our neighbors tangibly.  Two little girls come knocking on our door quite often, and I want to welcome them in even when it's not convenient for my schedule.  I also would like to invite our neighbors over to eat dinner or to barbecue once it gets warmer.
  • Go on one date a month with Aaron.  Date nights are harder to make happen now than ever. We have a list of quirky, non-chain restaurants to try, and though we don't want to abuse the privilege, my parents are great sports about babysitting.  
  • Earn extra money through Ebay and Craigslist.  I have a monthly goal I'd like to meet.  It's one I think I can meet just by listing around five items per week.  This money will go toward some of our saving goals.
  • Plant a big garden.  We've done this the last two years, but I would like to spend some time troubleshooting our past problems (squash vine borers, I'm looking at you) and laying out the most efficient plan for our limited space.  
  • Get caught up on photos.  Before Anna was born, I printed out all of our photos and organized them in simple albums.  I'd like to do this for the last three years.  
  • Start blogging again.  And done!  Maybe the goal should read "Start blogging again and keep blogging."
  • Get back to my pre-baby weight.  The pounds aren't sliding off as easily as they did with Anna, but on the positive side, I'm thinking more about what I eat and when I exercise, two things which are good no matter what the scale says. 
What about you, my friends?  What are you hoping for out of 2016?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

If You Say So

Anna is at that stage in toddler development when new words pop out in her vocabulary daily.  She's able to carry on a conversation now too.  Some conversations with her are incredibly illogical, but others are pretty fun.  A few of the best lately:

I was drinking my morning cup of decaf coffee, and Anna asked for some.  "Why not?"  I thought.  "It's decaf."  I poured her a tiny cup.
Anna:  Iss dangerous.  (Looking up from her cup of coffee.)
Lara: Your coffee is dangerous?
Anna:  Yes.  Coffee dangerous.  (Looks back down with concern and takes another drink.)

Anna: Poppa old!
Lara:  Oh that's funny. You think Poppa's old?
Anna:  Yeah.  Beard.
Lara: Poppa's old because he has a beard?
Anna: (Nods her head vigorously.)  No beard, young.  Beard, old!

Anna:  I have to poo-poo!  (Runs to bathroom.)
Lara:  I have to go potty too.  Can I join you?  But I don't have to go poo-poo, just pee-pee.
Anna:  Oh no!  Mama not potty-trained!