Thursday, May 31, 2012

With Sincerest Thanks

Were you aware I've been experimenting on you for the past three months?

Probably not.

But I have been.

Four months ago, the deep down creator part of me started talking...loudly. It wanted to be used. It wanted to be stretched and challenged and to simply be able to create.

So I started praying about how to answer the groanings of my creator part. How to best quench its yearning.

I prayed and I thought, and I began my experiment:


Writing three times a week.

Three blog posts a week for three months and then we'd see.

Although I've had this little blog for years, my posting has been sparse, and I always struggled with the purpose of it. What was I writing about? What did I really truly down in my gut want to say?

On occasion, I got close. I got close to finding that illusive thesis, but then it would flit away like the butterfly flitting on the edge of your dreams.

But as I prayed and asked God for wisdom and the what to write if I wrote, I felt the butterfly begin to flit about me, coming nearer and nearer until it finally alit upon my finger.

I've been truly awed by the emails, Facebook messages, tweets and comments you've written in the last few months. I've been humbled by how God seems to be using this little blog to impact some of you in big ways. I've been blown away by the compliments and the urgings to go farther and go deeper.

There is no doubt my journey towards adopting Hannah is my something to write about, but it's opened up other conversations. Other stories, other experiences, other thoughts that at once seem utterly unconnected but somehow threaded together.

I've cried over emails where you've shared painful parts of your own stories. I've smiled and laughed at your anecdotes. I've been thankful for your common experiences and how they've furthered shaped what I've written here.

I've been awed again and again by you, my readership, and I can't thank you enough for coming back here and continuing to read.

Today, the initial experiment is over.

Three months and 39 posts have passed.

It's been a successful experiment. One I've greatly enjoyed, and I want to thank you for allowing me to experiment on you. And I want to let you know I'm going to keep writing and endeavor to keep growing this little blog into something...well, something good.

This is your place and it is my place. I want you to feel comfortable and at home here. I want you to feel connected to the common thread binding this place together, and I hope you do.

If there's something you want me to consider writing about, don't hesitate to drop me a line, a tweet or a comment.

Really, truly, I'm blown away by you. You inspire me and make me want to be a better writer.

And if this is your first time visiting the blog, I hope you will spend a little time here and find a connection to the thread.

With sincerest thanks...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Superfluous Smoke Detectors and All

Last week was full of things unplanned.

Finding out on Tuesday I would be starting work the next Tuesday. Then getting a call from Children's Connections the same day asking if my caseworker could come for her first home visit on Thursday afternoon. And finally a call late Wednesday morning from said caseworker asking if we could meet that evening instead.


Technically you are not supposed to have a home visit until all your paperwork is in--proof of employment and medical insurance, letters from doctors, background checks, financial records, etcetera--but my case worker was in Lubbock doing a home visit for another family and hitting two birds with one stone is always better.

So they checked with Bethany, my placement agency, and called me to set it up.

When the call came Wednesday morning, I went into a bit of a panic.

Thursday afternoon easy. I would leisurely clean the house over the next two days, and as I prepared the house, I'd prepare my mind and my spirit to share my home (well, my parent's home) and my history and my desire to adopt Hannah.

But then the leisurely two days to prepare turned into a frantic few hours.

They emailed me the home fire and safety checklist which I raced through ticking "yes" and "no" as appropriate and in a frenzy went out to buy more smoke detectors to meet the ridiculously over-safe requirements of installing a smoke detector in every bedroom and every hallway leading to a bedroom. In the case of my parents house, five required smoke detectors. Five!

My caseworker Kristin would later tell me not to worry about getting this house ready yet since I plan on moving into my own place soon and don't intend on Hannah* and I living with my parents. This first home visit was more about getting to know me anyway and not too much about the home itself.

Of course, yes, this makes since.

And yes, the frantic "thorough" cleaning my sister and parents graciously helped with probably didn't need to be quite as thorough.

Oh well, better to be safe than sorry.

I joined my family at my sister's for our habitual Wednesday night dinner before leaving a bit early to come home, change clothes into something I thought said mature enough to be a mother, put out a bowl of ginger snaps, turned on some music to drown out the eerie quite after the frantic hours, and sat down for a few minutes to try and calm my spirit and ask God for a bit of grace.

I prayed to do well--to speak from the heart and to speak the truth. I prayed for this to be one more step in Hannah coming home soon. I prayed for wisdom, and I prayed for God to prove Himself faithful.

As I prayed my heart quieted for the first time that day and a different prayer rose up in me.

I prayed for Kristin. I prayed for a woman so far away from her family. A woman who traveled across the state to meet with me and others hoping to adopt. A woman who was probably tired and a little bit lonely and a little bit homesick.

I prayed to show her true hospitality.

I prayed for her to find rest in our home. For her to be at ease and comfortable. For her to be a little more filled up, a little less dry, when she left our home than when she came into it.

Kristin was coming because of me. She was coming because of Hannah and a story she will play a supporting role in, but I found myself wanting for just a little bit of this evening to be about her--to be about hospitality and generosity and rest for the weary traveler.

I wanted for her to steal the show for just a little while.

Kristin and I did have a great conversation. As odd as it is talking about deeply personal experiences with a perfect stranger, it was somehow easy. And we talked on and connected and shared and chatted for two hours. Two hours when she said all she really needed was a few minutes.

As I look forward to reestablishing myself in a home of my own, my prayer is for my home to be a place of rest. A place of refreshment for weary travelers. A place where heartache finds reprieve and maybe a bit of healing. A place where lament is heard and felt deeply and met with grace. A place where joy blossoms. A place where visitors are never visitors and can shed a bit of the weight of their worlds.

I want my home to be a place of ease where you never have to be fearful of treading on eggshells. A place where a broken dish is always just a broken dish. A place where the people in the place are always more important than the place itself. A place where neighbors are welcome and strangers are home.

I want my home to be a place where grace is what you breathe in and hope is what you breathe out.

I've been dreaming lately of the colors I will paint with and the hand-me-down furniture needing reupholstering. I've been dreaming of decorating Hannah's room, and yes, even establishing safety measures and childproofing with superfluous smoke detectors included.

But what I dream about more is Hannah home. Hannah home in a family, doing life together with our friends, our extended family, our neighbors and those who need a little respite.

This to me is a home worth praying for. A home worth dreaming of.

*Hannah is a pseudonym. In order to protect her identity until she is fully and legally mine, I use "Hannah" in all posts regarding my one day daughter and her adoption.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Servings: Chewy Granola Bars

Memorial Day weekend is the official kickoff of summer for those of us in the US.

For me, it's been four years since the last weekend in May meant cookouts and camping and swimming and all those summery things. And I'm thinking of my friends in South Africa, heading into winter, wrapped up from head to toe with space heaters and hot cups of tea.

If I could, I'd wrap up a box of summer sun and send it across the sea.

It's an unfortunate part of becoming an adult that the magic of summer gets trapped in the hazy, yellowed photographs of childhood.

No more climbing trees and imagining enchanted kingdoms in their canopies. No more sprinting down the street at the sound of the ice cream truck's tinny melodies. No more dancing in the sprinkler and launching overfilled water balloons at the boys across the street.

Grown-ups live a much milder version of the summer magic. Barbecues and dinners alfresco. Gardening and home projects. Camping trips on long weekends and if your lucky a week or two of vacation.

A bit less magical, a bit more practical.

It's the onset of summer that makes me lament adulthood with all of its practical reality.

I miss the magical.

But I'm glad I have the opportunity to see the magic again as Benjamin discovers it--even though he cried on the last day of school, so sad his first year of school was over--and hopefully will see Hannah discover the magic next summer as she adjusts to opposite seasons and a school year slightly off kilter from the rest of the year.

This week, I wanted to make something with a little bit of summer magic. Something sweet and fun and perfect for being out and about this summer. So I sought out a kid-friendly granola bar recipe and rediscovered a bit of magic with the first bite.

These granola bars are the perfect combination of sweet and salty and are great for road trips or picnics or hiking or a simple summer snack.

I hope, as your summer kicks off, you rediscover a bit of summer magic, and your summer is one of adventure and imagination.

If you have a favorite summer recipe, share it with us in the comments section below.

Chewy Granola Bars

Check out the original recipe by Marie LeBaron on


  • 2 1/2 cups quick rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup puffed rice cereal (I used white rice, but brown would work just as well and would make for a slightly healthier option.)
  • 1/4 cup coconut
  • 1/2 cup M&Ms (The original recipe calls for M&M minis, but I used regular and it turned out just fine.)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened (not melted)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
  2. Add all of ingredients and mix together until combined.
  3. Press mixture into a square 8x8in (20x20cm) pan. For thinner bars, press mix into a 9x13in (23x33cm) pan.
  4. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before scoring into bars. Let it set completely and then cut into bars.


  • Spray a bit of non-stick cooking spray into the measuring cup before you add the honey. This little trick will make any sticky substance slide out of your measuring cup with ease.
  • You can be as creative as you want with your topping. Instead of using M&Ms, consider chocolate chips, Reese's Pieces, mini marshmallows or your favorite.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

God's Prayer Shelf

My mom reminded me of something Hannah* once said about God's prayer shelf:

"God has a special shelf where he puts our prayers. Then when it's time to answer them, he takes them down off the shelf, and he answers them."

Pretty profound for a just-turned seven year old.

At the time we were talking about how she prays every day for her "new family." The illusive something deep in her heart--a place to belong, a place to be loved, a place to be forever.

Knowing a family of her very own is the deepest desire of her heart, I was amazed at her wisdom and faith to believe God would answer her prayer at the proper time. And I silently prayed, Lord, answer her prayer soon, and if it's what is in your heart too, bring us together as a family.

This week God pulled one of my own prayers off the shelf.

A job.

Right at the moment when despair was beginning to settle into my heart. Right when I had run out of words to pray and could only trust the Spirit to interrupt my groans. Right when I was beginning to listen to my doubts and give them a foothold. That moment, He chose to pull down the prayer and provide a job.

And it's the job that is enough.

I'm not going to become ultra-rich off this job. But it will be a good job. A solid job where I can continue to help others and continue to do good.

It will be a job that will be enough for what I need right now.

And enough is, well, it's enough.

Wess Stafford the president of Compassion International often reinforces, "The opposite of poverty isn't wealth. The opposite of poverty is enough."

It's true. And it's true for what we all actually need.

We need enough.

We don't need more than enough. More than enough is nice. And those extra blessings of more than enough can often be what gets us through the day or gives us the extra burst we need.

But what we need is enough.

I'm reminded of the Israelites in the desert, instructed to take only what they needed of the daily delivery of quail and manna. Anyone who tried to hoard or save up, would find the extra portion rotted the next day. God was saying, Here is enough. You have to rely on Me for the enough.

And most definitely, the Israelites griped and moaned. We all would when we've been eating the same thing day in and day out for 40 years. I do it when I've been eating the same thing for a week. But the enoughness of the quail and the manna was a constant reminder of God's enoughness. Just as the little bit of oil and the little bit of flour were a reminder to Elijah and the widow.

Right now, I couldn't be more grateful for enough, and I know, really, this job is far more than enough. My heart swells with its more than enoughness.

It's as if I hear Jesus saying again "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable?...See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you?" (Matthew 6:25,28-30)

I'm so grateful for his enoughness and his provision of enough. And it makes me think seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness is partially about seeking the enoughness found only in God. It makes me want to seek more enoughness from the Author of enough.

What Hannah already knows and what the rest of us who are a little more battle worn and a little more pessimistic have forgotten is that those shelved prayers are waiting for enough. Waiting for the right time and the right enough. And if we can dig back into our faith and who we know God to be, the question is will we choose to believe Him for enough?

*Hannah is a pseudonym. In order to protect her identity until she is fully and legally mine, I use "Hannah" in all posts regarding my one day daughter and her adoption.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Sarah Laughed

There's a scene in almost every teen movie where the heroine ends up sobbing while hidden away in some really awkward place like a bathroom stall.

There she is, sitting on the toilet with gobs of mascara and tear stained toilet paper in her lap, bemoaning the mean girls or the boy who pulled a nasty prank on her or some other teenage drama, and the audience knows for a teenage girl, this the lowest of the low. There is nothing worse for her than those pitiful sobs in the middle of the girls' bathroom.

I know there's nothing worse because I've been there...

My last year of junior high was rough. I made a lot of poor decisions, isolating myself from the quality friends I had and building new "friendships" with people who were much less than quality.

Through the summer, thanks to awesome youth group leaders and a lot of support, I got back on track and began pulling myself together.

I was ready for a much better school year.

Arriving for the first day of high school, I was determined to drop my new friends--those bad influences--and rejoin my old group of friends. But I quickly discovered my old friends had been very hurt by a lot of my actions the previous year and weren't so keen about me rejoining their group.

So I found myself alone and friendless and spent my first lunch of high school sobbing on the toilet in the girls' bathroom with a pile of tear-stained toilet paper in my lap.

Not the beginning I had planned on.

For me friendships--the really great, quality ones--are unchanging.

Well, they do change, but they change in physical ways. Maybe I've moved or she's moved or life got busier or weddings took place or babies were born. But unless the person goes through a radical shift in personality and what I love about them isn't there anymore, the feeling I have for that particular friendship never changes.

This is especially true for my most intimate friendships--the friendships I have with people who know my stories inside and out, who stood by me in my ugly moments and cheered for me in my hardest moments, who celebrated with me in my joyous moments and mourned with me in my saddest moments. When I think of them, I think of them with all those experiences all rolled up and I experience the same intimacy and closeness even if its been months since we last spoke or if they live on one side of the world and I live on the other.

But in the last six months, a few conversations with friends have taken place which made me realize this is not true for everyone. And friendships I thought were really solid and would forever hold their specialness, don't hold it anymore.

It's been a hard pill to swallow and made me question a lot of my friendships. Are we still good friends even though we haven't talked in a while? Did me living in South Africa and being so far away from your story ruin our friendship? Is this thing still what it is in my heart?

I guess for a lot of people, life moves on and the timbre and the quality of a relationship changes with time and space. You don't write one email, make one phone call, drink one cup of coffee and pick everything up right back where you left off.

After last week's latest conversation on this subject, I walked away stunned and unable to process it. I felt like I had taken a hard blow and gotten the wind knocked out of me. What I loved dearly and had missed so much while I was abroad didn't exist anymore, and it left a hollow empty kind of place in me.

My other friend new it was gone. She'd been living it. She'd seen the shift in our little group of friends and new what we had at one point in time no longer existed.

She was kind and supportive and did her best to reassure me in the loss. But I felt like an idiot for not knowing, not accepting these relationships I loved so dearly were forever altered.

I don't think it was any one person's fault. Things change and we have to accept it. And I have to accept my absence for the last three years was a huge part of the change. But I hate it and I want to scream and punch things and throw a tantrum until everything is fixed and back to what it was.

But things change.

I know why Sarah laughs in Genesis 18 when God tells Abraham Sarah is going to have a baby.

She's old. Her biological clock ticked out a long time ago. And she gave up praying for a baby of her own decades earlier. She gave up when she gave her servant Hagar to her husband and said, Here, make a baby with her because my heart is worn out from the grief and I can't do this anymore.

Sarah's life was full of one change after another.

She left her home and everything she knew. She followed her husband who followed his God to a distant land. She had her name changed. She went back and forth from being Abraham's wife to his sister depending on the need of the situation they found themselves in.

And now, God was telling her of another upcoming change--motherhood.

Motherhood in her nineties.

Yes, Sarah laughed. Sarah laughed because it was all she could do. It was the only way she could express the emotion pent up in the years of hardship and loss and bitterness.

Sarah laughed, and I'm glad she laughed.

I'm glad she laughed because I need to laugh too on the days went it doesn't make sense to laugh. I need to laugh when what I thought was one thing turns out to be something totally different. I need to laugh when I have no idea what God has around the corner and what it might be terrifies me. I need to laugh like Sarah laughed or the empty feeling will spread and grow. I need to fill up the emptiness with a laugh.

On day two of high school, things got better, and eventually I had loads of friends again. And in the same way, I know I'll make new friends here in Lubbock and they'll be people who know the story of my journey back to Lubbock and my journey toward adopting Hannah. But I also know those friendships will be different from those that have changed.

And maybe it's okay. Maybe that's the way it is supposed to be.

I think laughing is the best thing I can do right now because right now so much seems so unfamiliar and impossible and so much is changing. And I need to believe others will eventually laugh with me as others laughed with Sarah when Isaac was born.

It's the best I can do right now. Laugh and appreciate those friendships for what they were and learn to love them for what they are now. Laugh and trust Godw for a crazy, wonderful, impossible thing coming around the corner.

I'm so glad Sarah laughed.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Servings: Banana Peanut Butter Bread

My six year old nephew Benjamin showed up to his soccer game with two of his mom's hairbands on his wrist--dark green, spirally ones that added a bit of muted flair to his black and white soccer uniform.

They didn't stand out, and I don't think anyone really noticed besides me. But I noticed because I had seen this trend pop up every now and then since coming home from South Africa. After discussing it with his mom, we both think he might be wanting to wear them because that's what "Auntie Manda" does.

Of course, I wear a few hairbands on my wrist for emergency purposes.

West Texas women have to be prepared on a daily basis to save ourselves from the blustery winds threatening dangerous tangles and knots to long or mid length hair styles. (Seriously, some days, it's like driving in a convertible with the top down.)

Then, there are those days when you just have to get your hair out of the way because it is driving you crazy, and if you don't do something with it right then, you are in danger of cutting it all off.

But Benjamin wears them because he thinks it's cool, because that is what his auntie does.

I'm pretty honored to be thought of as cool. It's not a word I would ever use to describe myself, so to have your nephew think you're cool and want to do what you do, well, that's pretty cool.

One of the best parts about being back in Lubbock is spending time with Benjamin and his twenty month old sister Katharine.

Benjamin and I have built a pretty solid foundation over the years, but it always has an ending where I get on a plane and fly off to the somewhere else I'm living.

Katharine, on the other hand, was born while I was in South Africa and was three months old before I met her. So I've missed a lot of her milestones and watching her little personality develop.

Getting to be a major part of their day-to-day lives is thrilling for me.

I don't have to beg and plead for someone to remember to send me pictures. I don't have to make sure and ask about them at every phone call just in case I missed something huge and everyone forgot to tell me. I don't have to wait for drawings to come in the mail before I can see their handiwork. I have the privilege of being on-hand and available for those moments all the time now.

And I'm loving it.

My sister's hubby has been traveling a lot this month for his job, so I'd thought I'd make something fun for Benjamin and something to make life a bit easier for my sister--breakfast and snack handled.

And we had rotting bananas anyway, so I found a recipe for Banana Peanut Butter Bread and sweetened it up even more with some chocolate chips.

I'm not a big fan of peanut butter except on peanut butter sandwiches, but this bread turned out pretty good. It's a must go with a glass of milk because it definitely gets stuck to the roof of your mouth as good peanut butter concoctions should. The banana adds a nice grownup flavor to it, as well.

Banana Peanut Butter Bread

Original Recipe by Corwynn Darkholme


  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 bananas, mashed (for best results, use over-ripe bananas)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose (cake) flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 325°F (165°C). Lightly grease a 9x5in (23x13cm) loaf pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in peanut butter, bananas, flour and baking soda until blended. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake at  325°F (165°C)  for 60min and cover the pan with foil to keep the top of the load from blackening. Bake for an additional 15-20min or until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean.
  4. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Friday, May 18, 2012

God's Heart for the Fatherless

It was an amazing and wonderful privilege for me to work at Oasis Haven for many, many reasons. Their's is a work I believe in whole-heartedly because they have a keen understanding for God's heart for "the fatherless." In fact, working for Oasis Haven was where I first started to understand God's heart for orphaned children, and it is because of them and through them I have met my daughter and am currently pursuing adopting her.

A few weeks before I left, our CEO Beth Gillig was asked to preach at New Creation Church on the subject of God's Heart for the Fatherless. She did an amazing job, and I hope you'll take a few minutes to watch the video and be inspired not only by God's heart for orphaned children, but God's heart for you.

Bonus! You get to watch me stand up there awkwardly for the last few minutes as Beth finishes up.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Being Thankful for Enough

Yesterday's letter of note on the Letters of Note blog (if you haven't added Letters of Note to your RSS feed, you seriously should) was a letter from President Ronald Reagan sent to his son Michael a few days before his marriage.

In it, Reagan exhorts his son:

"There is an old law of physics that you can only get out of a thing as much as you put in it. The man who puts into the marriage only half of what he owns will get that out. Sure, there will be moments when you will see someone or think back to an earlier time and you will be challenged to see if you can still make the grade, but let me tell you how really great is the challenge of proving your masculinity and charm with one woman for the rest of your life."

As much as you put in, that's what you get out.

Science was not my forte in school. Although I did well enough to get the grade, as soon as I left the class, all those wonderful principles dribbled out of my brain pan. So finding a life lesson in physics... I guess maybe it did come in handy after all.

I've been incredibly blessed throughout the years as I've moved from one location to one job to another. I have never had to fight or scrounge for a job. The next opportunity simply presented itself and I took it, assuming God would bless it and occasionally waiting to follow His leading in it.

So naturally, I assumed in moving home to Lubbock, within a matter of days a job would present itself. And not only would it be a job, it would "the right" job. A job where I could provide for myself and Hannah and a job in which I could be used to add to "kingdom come" on earth. Simple.

But this has not been the way of things.

I've had lots of interviews and quite a few people say "if we had an opening, we would definitely want to hire you" and a few amazing jobs who couldn't afford me and I couldn't afford to take, but no job offer. Not even one to turn down.

This is a difficult pill for me to swallow.

Why then did I leave South Africa? A job I loved? My daughter?

And I glamorize what life was there and decry what life is here, and cry and bemoan and generally throw myself a little pity-party-kind-of tantrum.

Unfortunately pity parties do not make you feel better. As far as putting into it what you get out, you get out of a pity party exactly what you put into it--more pity, more doldrums, more exhaustion.

On Monday, I asked a few friends and family members to join me in fasting and prayer over the job search. I didn't expect to get a job because I skipped a few meals, but I wanted to put the whole thing back in God's hands and ask for the patience, the faith and the wisdom to wait for His leading.

I found it rather rude when on the same day the job I'd been waiting to hear from called to say they'd filled the position. I put down the phone and cried and told God I just didn't get it and that Hannah was waiting and really...really...

It wasn't until evening when I was reading through 1 Kings that I found my way back into the peace that passes all understanding.

It was the story of Elijah and the widow (1 Kings 17:7-24). The widow with her little bit of oil and her little bit of flour.

In the middle of an enduring drought, this widow is at the end of her rope with one last meal for her and her son. They'll eat it and give in and waste away into starvation and eventually death.

So when Elijah tells her to feed him first, using up the last of her resources and leaving her and her son without a last meal, he's asking for a pretty huge favor.

But then there's the miracle, and the jar of oil never runs dry and the handful of flour never gets depleted.

What struck me as I read through is that God could have filled the jar to overflowing. He could have filled up the flour bin to the brim. But what he did instead was to give enough to keep the widow, her son and Elijah alive each day. Enough to keep them from starving, but not enough for abundance or extravagance. And truthfully, a few small loaves of bread each day was not enough to keep them from becoming malnourished, but it was enough to keep them alive.

Right now I have more than enough. I have a family who is standing by me every step of the way and helping to meet my physical needs as well as my emotional and spiritual ones. I have a whole host of people praying for me and even willing to fast with me. I have plenty of job opportunities to apply for and one chance continues to crop up after another. I have enough. I have more than enough if I'm willing to see it.

I do think Reagan's law of physics metaphor is right. What you put in is what you get out.

So I'm going to continue to put in. Continue to strive and pray and hope because I know there's a job and I know there's a little girl waiting even if she doesn't know exactly what she is waiting for.

But I'm thankful for enough. I'm thankful for the ways God provides enough everyday. Everyday enough, even when sometimes we don't think it is enough and we're feeling a little malnourished. I have no doubt there were days in the years of the drought that the widow raged and asked God why there wasn't more than enough. Just on this day, why isn't there more than enough? But God continues to provide enough.

I trust, hope and pray this time too God will provide enough, and am thankful for the enough he is already providing. And I'm asking ahead of time for forgiveness for the days I rage and the peace of God to calm my raging.

Father, you know and I know, you are always for my good.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Gourd, A Worm and A God Who is Bigger than We Want Him to Be

I went to South Africa a vegetarian. I came back a post-veg.

I didn't really mean to. I went holding to my guns. I went with all the research in my head--how the modern meat industry increases hunger in the developing world, adds to pollution, introduces chemicals and antibiotics into our systems and treats animals inhumanely.

When I got there, I would try not to make a big deal out of my vegetarianism.

But when I skipped over the meat in the buffet line at weddings, funerals, baptisms and other village events, it would invariably be noticed:

"Why no meat?"

"I don't eat meat."

"What?! You don't eat meat?!"

It didn't matter what I did to hide my plate or to make it look full, to everyone around me it looked as though I had a big, gaping hole in the middle where the meat belonged. As soon as someone started in with "Why no meat?" every eye within the immediate vicinity was on me and my plate.

And for them it was a big, gaping hole because meat is expensive. Because quality meat is a luxury. And because giving meat to a guest is an act of generosity and hospitality.

So I started eating meat again because I already stuck out like a sore thumb at these gatherings and my principles weren't as needed in this setting anyway. In the rural areas, that drumstick was Chicken Bob who squawked early in the morning under my window and that bit of beef was Mildred the cow who tried to run me off the road. They lived humanely and died well.

I still eat meat even though it isn't Chicken Bob and Mildred the cow anymore. I eat meat when it is prepared for me and keep to a veg lifestyle when I'm in control of my own eating choices. I still eat meat because early on in the veg years, I spent a lot of time on my soap box, preaching the ills of meat eating. Because although I said it was an ethical choice for me and I didn't expect the same choice for everyone else, I secretly thought all meat-eaters were selfish human beings and should be punished for their decision to eat meat. I still eat meat because I need that occasional piece of meat to keep me humble.

Self-righteousness is a funny thing. It almost always starts out with well-meaning intentions but ends up isolating us and separating us from those we mean to encourage.

I became a veg for all the right reasons. I became a veg to make a difference. I became a veg because I couldn't stand the thought of someone going hungry to feed my cow. I became a veg because ethically, morally and spiritually, I could no longer eat meat.

But it became the sword I would die on and the sword I expected everyone else to die on as well.

My freshman year of college, my best friend from high school came out to me. I was horrified and didn't have the first clue of how to respond to him in a loving way.

To be sure, I knew people in my general acquaintance who were part of the LGBT community, but they were people who were "out." This was my first "in the closet" friend to disclose his sexual preference to me.

I so badly wanted to respond well to him. But I didn't know how. And it certainly didn't help that I had had an on-again, off-again crush on this boy for years.

I prayed and I fasted and I had long chats with him over instant messenger--this was back when AOL and IM were still a thing--and I was inwardly terrified of what he said and what he did.

I just couldn't accept him and love him for who he was and where he was in his journey. This boy who I had known for years, who I had high-school-kind-of deep theological and philosophical conversations with, who was and still is probably one of the smartest people I know, who I fell in and out of love with so frequently--he could not be gay. Someone this close to me, this important to me, could not be gay.

And the story slowly became less his story and more about me and my own self-righteousness.

There's a part of the Jonah story we don't often hear about. It's what happens to Jonah after the whale and after he finally goes to Nineveh. It's what happens to Jonah after the city of Nineveh repents and turns to God.

Jonah walks out of the city and sits down by a gourd to pout, "I knew, [God], that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity" (Jonah 4:2). I knew, God, if I told these people the truth, you'd forgive them and save them. I knew God you were bigger than I want you to be. 

In response, God makes the gourd grow a tall vine to provide Jonah a bit of respite from the son. Then a worm comes, eats his fill, the gourd withers and Jonah is in the scorching sun again.

Jonah gets angry with the gourd, but God responds, "You have been concerned about this gourd, though you did not tend it or make it grow...should I not [then] have concern for the great city of Nineveh?" (4:10,11). You know how big I am, and yet you don't want me to be as big as I am. Is that really for you to decide?

This is what our self-righteousness so often comes down to:

God, I can't handle you being as big as you are. So I'm going to put on these rules and these limitations. I'm going to force them on everyone around me, and I'm going to make you be the size I want you to be.

I really wish I could handle God being as big as He is. I really wish when my friend came out to me, I could have acted with a little more humility and believed in a bigger more infinite loving God than the God I believed in then. I wish as I decided to become vegetarian, I had responded to others who did not make the same decision with a bit more grace and a bit more understanding.

I wish I would not prod and push so hard to magnify my own rightness and diminish the rightness of God.

Getting over your own self-righteousness is no easy task, but I hope to more and more get up close with a God who is infinitely bigger than I want Him to be. And maybe in the process my own heart, my own spirit, will become infinitely bigger than it currently is.

I'm thankful for the second chances I've had to love a bit better. I am thankful for every moment in which God has shown himself to be bigger than I've allowed Him to be. I am thankful for every opportunity I've had to die to myself so others might see in me a God much bigger than their wildest imaginations--a God who is infinitely huge and loves them right where they are at, just as they are, meat-eating and all.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Servings: Streusel Topped Blueberry Muffins

There is no doubt I am an amateur baker and sometimes I make rookie mistakes.

When I found the recipe for these streusel topped blueberry muffins, I took the author at her word, "yield one dozen" and "grease 12 muffin cups." But clearly, what the author meant was twelve large muffin cups and not twelve standard sized muffins cups as evidenced by the selected photos.

Now I know somewhere in the back of my brain filed neatly inside the drawer labeled Baking 101 it says, "When baking muffins or cupcakes, fill the cup half full. Do not overfill."

You probably know this, but an overfilled cup leads to muffins that runneth over and mess all over the bottom of your oven. Yet in my rush to get these done so they'd be an easy and yummy Mother's Day breakfast treat, I did not open up Baking 101, I did not pull out the file called "Muffins," and I did not follow the instructions there in.

The results you can see.

The closer I get to motherhood, the more friends I see become mothers, the more I look back at my own mother's mothering with the retrospective clarity that comes with age--the more I realize mothering comes along with a whole lot of love and with a healthy measure of grace. Grace for muffin tins that runneth over and messy ovens, and grace for grass-stained shorts and unkempt hair, and grace for yoga pants in public and dark circles under eyes.

Grace, grace. Lots and lots of grace.

Grace because none of us are perfect. None of us are going to get it exactly right every day. Some days we shout, when we're striving to be patient. Some days we leave the laundry for another day. Some days we send our kids to school without their lunch. Some days we overfill the muffin tins and make sloppy looking muffins.

But the best part of grace is that even sloppy looking muffins taste good.

I have no delusions of being the perfect mom. I know I'm going to need a lot of grace. I know some days I will speak a little harsher than I want to and will be a little less patient than I strive to be. I know my house will not be immaculate or consistently filled with the aroma of baking cookies. I know Hannah will not like me everyday and some days I may not like her very much either.

But I hope when I forget one of those Parenting 101 basic steps, I take a lessen from these sloppy muffins. Even though it may not be pretty, the outcome is something edible and even tasty, with a whole lot of grace and a whole lot of love mixed in. Because really, even sloppy muffins are better than no muffins at all.

I am thankful for my mom who always strove for edible and tasty even in the midst of overflowing and messy. I am thankful for all the moms in my life who I've watched strive for edible and tasty. And I hope today you get thanked for all that edible and tasty.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you very much and appreciate you more than words on a page could ever tell.

Streusel Topped Blueberry Muffins

by Heather Walker, original recipe available on


Muffin Batter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup milk
Streusel Topping
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons butter, diced


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease 12 large muffin cups or 18 standard-sized cups. Alternatively, line with paper muffin cups.
  2. Combine 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. In a small bowl sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour over blueberries and set aside. This will keep your batter from turning purple when you fold in the blueberries later.
  3. In a large bowl, beat 1/2 cup butter with 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and stir in vanilla and lemon zest. Fold in dry ingredients alternating between dry ingredients and milk. Fold in blueberries. Fold gently to avoid smashing the berries. Spoon batter into prepared cups.
  4. Combine 2 tablespoons flour, 5 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in 2 tablespoons butter with fork or pastry blender until mixture resembles course crumbs. Sprinkle over batter in muffin cups.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Finding the Dress with the Right Twirl

My future daughter Hannah* is a ruffles and lace, gowns and tiaras kind of girl.

In other words, she's a girly girl.

I am not. Well, I was when I was little, little. I was until my sister got too old to play with me and the mountain of Barbies and accessories got replaced with Nerf guns and sports equipment. I was an up-a-tree, skinned-knee, filthy, tomboy kind of girl.

Hannah, on the other hand, loves to feel dainty and pretty.

She is one of those girls who requires a dress to twirl just the right way before it can even be considered as a plausible option. So many times, I've sat in the store trying on dresses, "Oh Hannah, that's cute! What do you think?"

"But it doesn't twirl."

"It doesn't twirl," minor irritation in my voice as this is the umpteenth dress we've tried on and I was sure it would be the winner, "Ok, [sigh] let's try this one."

But, I get it, the twirl of the dress is important. The twirl of the dress is what makes her feel pretty. It's what makes her feel feminine.

I have only come to understand, accept and embrace my own femininity within the past few years. For most of my life my femininity has frightened me and I have felt decidedly unfeminine.

Any time, I needed to "dress up" for a formal occasion, the event would send me into a tailspin of fear and self-doubt. Other people would tell me how beautiful I looked, but I simply couldn't see it. I felt not like Cinderella at the ball, but the ugly stepsister cramming all her ugliness into something beautiful to deceive and win a prince. And the longer the event went on, the more and more uncomfortable I became.

I was always a tall girl. Always taller than the boys in my class, and, well, chubby. Chubby, but I felt gargantuan. Even as an  eleven, twelve year old girl, I felt huge. It's hard to feel feminine when you think you are massively out of proportion to everyone else around you.

I tried various ways to disguise this perceived hugeness.

The grungy nineties were great for disguise purposes with their baggy clothes and flannel shirts. I even experimented with dressing in nothing but boy's clothes for a summer. But finally, I settled on jeans, t-shirt and flip-flops. If I couldn't like what I looked like, at least I could be comfortable.

Jeans, t-shirt and flip-flops stayed with me for over a decade as I continued to ignore my own femininity and be tortured by my perceived lack of it.

Here's the conundrum I think a lot of women find themselves in due to the messages society currently tosses at them: On the one hand, we have the image of beauty most often portrayed in the media--skinny and sexy. But then countering, the feminist image of strength and I-can-do-it-all and I-can-have-it-all. I've known so many women who are lost in the in between of I should look this way but act this way and often the two do not go together. I can't be sexy and self-respecting. I can't be breaking through the glass ceiling and walking the runway.

I think for most women it comes down to an either or kind of choice. And neither really lands us in a place where we are completely comfortable with our choice.

But for me, discovering my own femininity has freed me from the debate.

The first time I ever felt feminine I was standing next to my ex. He is at least a foot taller than me, and to kiss him, I actually had to stand on my tippee-toes. Being in his arms made me feel small and delicate and feminine, and it made me want to try other things to enhance this new experience.

I bought dresses and heals, and, for the first time since middle school, painted my toenails.

I discovered my personal style--classic and chic. A style in which I can still feel every bit the tomboy but the tomboy grown up with a hint of sophistication.

For me, owning my femininity is about understanding and embracing my own beauty rather than running from it and hiding it. Its about having an edge but a beveled edge, a little softer, a little more open, and a self-respect not just for my mind and my character but for my body and my beauty, as well.

I absolutely think you can feel feminine in jeans and a t-shirt just as much as in a dress and heals. It's less about what you are wearing and more about your bearing and your own understanding of yourself.

Loving our femininity, honoring it as part of ourselves, is part of what shapes great women. And I hope, now that I finally have a love for my own femininity, to teach Hannah to love hers and to help her build up her self-confidence in her femininity over time, however she chooses to express it.

There are still days when I wake up and can't find where I put my femininity. There are days when I'm too busy comparing the size of my thighs with the size of hers, oh and hers...look how small and toned hers are, to remember to embrace and love my femininity. There are days and always will be days because hey, I may be a woman embracing my femininity but I'm still a woman who falls short but for the grace of God.

But today, I'm going to love my thighs for the size they are. I'm going to take them out for a run and love them for all their wobbly glory. I'm going to enjoy my femininity and thank God for making me a woman.

Women, do you agree? How have you embraced or reclaimed your femininity? 

*Hannah is a pseudonym. In order to protect her identity until she is fully and legally mine, I use "Hannah" in all posts regarding my one day daughter and her adoption.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Exercising Your Creator Muscle

I've been exercising my creator muscle a lot lately--knitting and crocheting and baking and writing.

It's a muscle I haven't worked out in a while. After taking it out for a run the first few days, it was tired and stiff--a definite ache in the muscle--but endorphins none the less. I was creating. I was making something again, something unique that had never been before, and it felt good.

When there is a big change or life gets a bit stressful, the first thing I usually throw out the window is my workouts. And I know, I know, you exercise junkies out there are screaming through your computer at me, "That should be the absolute last thing to go! Exercise reduces stress. It produces endorphins. It makes you feel better!"

Yeah, I know.

But exercise also means getting out of bed before I want to get out of bed and making my body move when all I want to do is curl under the covers and ignore the world for just a few more minutes.

So my Merrells gather a bit of dust and my workout clothes stay neatly folded in the drawer and I get a few minutes more.

Then I remember...exercise produces endorphins and reduces stress and maybe I should get up out of bed and go for a run. Maybe it will make the world seem a bit rosier and I'll be a bit less stressed.

Taking those first few steps after a long time without exercise, my body always feels heavy and cumbersome and I wonder about turning around and heading back to bed. I don't really want to do this. Why am I doing this?

A few minutes more and my body doesn't feel so heavy. A little farther and I can feel my muscles loosen and grow accustom to the rhythm of foot to pavement. It begins to feel natural and drives me forward. Oxygen is moving through my lungs and I'm starting to feel alive. The road before me and nothing behind. Yeah, this was a good idea after all.

Our creator muscles are a bit like that. We think about using them. We imagine all the wonderful things we could create if we only had the time, but too often those ideas get listed out on the dusty chalkboards of our minds never to get crossed off, only to get smudged and partially erased until we can't read our own writing anymore and remember what the idea was to begin with.

It is far too easy these days to allow our creator muscles to atrophy.

With every modern convenience and the guys over at Google and Apple doing all the creating, why in the world do I need to create? Someone else can do the creating for me. Besides, I'm not a creative person.

I happen to think we are all creative people. I think the ability to create is part of the Creator God's imprint upon us. We were made to create. We were made to produce new ideas and to compose music and to fashion art and to invent inventions. Creation is part of who we are as humans.

I love connecting with my creator friends. They inspire me to keep creating and to exercise the muscle in ways I never would have thought of without their influence.

My friend Cheryl-lyn is a soon to be hobby beekeeper. I love that. I love how she's choosing to stretch her creator muscle, to connect to her father and her childhood, and to maybe someday teach others how to stretch their creator muscles through beekeeping.

My father is constantly inspiring me to create, using his creator muscle in his quartet, his drama group, his Friday afternoon "Amazing Story" talks... Sometimes I wonder if there is a way to get him to put the creating on pause.

And then there's my friend Patrice who stretches her creator muscle thinking up wild and zany ways to encourage women to dive deeper into their walk with Jesus and to develop a deep love for the Lord--wild and zany like repelling off buildings kind of zany.

These creator friends of mine inspire me to keep dreaming up new ideas and new creations. To keep writing. To keep baking. To keep creating whatever it is I want to create and not to let those ideas get smudged and erased off my chalkboard without first getting crossed off in accomplishment.

Creating doesn't mean being crafty. It doesn't mean being arty. It doesn't mean being musical or being a talented writer. Creating can mean anything you want it to mean, after all, it's your creation. But definitely be a creator of something.

What ways can you exercise your creator muscle? It may ache at first, but once you've used it a bit, I promise it's so worth it. And if you don't like what you first exercise your creator muscle with, try something else. Just keep creating. You'll thank yourself for it someday.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sunday Serving: Grandma's Scratch Cornbread

I can't stand sweet cornbread. I won't eat it.

I crave the savory goodness of my Grandma's southern scratch cornbread. Baked in a skillet and the perfect side for almost any southern dish. This preference is just about the only distinction that makes me a true Southerner in defiance of my Yankee friends who prefer sweet cornbread.

Cornbread is one of the oldest truly American recipes with the earliest versions dating back to the Native Americans prior to Europeans arriving on the continent.

Corn is cheap. It has always been. It probably always will be. And most cultures have some form of corn based food as a staple in their diet--tortillas, pap, sadza, polenta, porridge.

I've picked cornbread as the Sunday Serving this week because it's back to the basics. Cornbread and it's corn-based relatives connect to hard times. They're the food of recession and depression. They're the food of poverty and of hunger. But they are also foods of connection and common history.

For most South Africans, pap (Americans, think grits but a lot stiffer) is a thread connecting them to each other, to their past and to their future. Many eat it at least once a day if not for every meal. It is so much part of their lives that when I told people you could not buy mealie meal (a type of corn flour used for preparing pap) in the US, they looked at me with shock and horror. This could simply not be possible. What do you eat then?

I cooked pap for my parents for the first time last week. As I dished it up on their plates, I felt I was extending that common thread to them as it was extended to me. I was connecting them with the history and lives of people and a country I fell in love with much as my grandmother's cornbread had connected me to her life--the hardships and the joys. I'm pretty sure Grandma felt about her cornbread the way my South African friends feel about their pap, and I'm willing to bet she ate it just about as often.

Last week the House of Representatives proposed cuts of more than $169 billion to SNAP, formerly the food stamp program. This after a report released on April 10th verifying SNAP reduced the poverty rate by 8% in 2009.

Currently more than 46 million Americans benefit from SNAP, more than half of them are children.

Another new report this week reported 1 in 7 senior adults face the threat of hunger. After I posted this report, my friend Leslie commented:

"My grandmother received Meals on Wheels for a number of years. We would do what we could to help assist her with groceries as well, but even at 10 and 11 years of age, it is so very sad to hear your grandmother worry about money and whether she could afford groceries or her medication and not both, then making the decision to not take necessary medication.
I donate to [Meals on Wheels] and other senior assistance programs when I can, but sometimes I feel it is not enough.
I am also not ashamed to say, or admit if you will, that for a short time back in 2010, I was a SNAP recipient. I had to take a pay cut and was making a lot less money. It was a little embarrassing at first, and I only had them for six months, but it was out of dire necessity. Paychecks were going to rent and bills with little, if any, left over. I was blessed, to say the least, and even though it was a rough period, I am thankful to have experienced it. No one should ever have to make a decision like eating or not eating. That's a basic human right and need."
I absolutely agree we need to do something about our debt and something about out spending. I also agree we need better aid--to streamline the system, get government departments to work together and make an altogether more efficient and more cost effective welfare system and international aid system. But I do not agree that drastically cutting SNAP as proposed without looking for ways to first improve the system and make it more cost effective is the way to go and it will drastically effect the lives of millions of Americans, many of them the most vulnerable in our society.

Bread for the World has started a petition asking Americans to stand up and say no this proposed injustice. You can add your name here and find out more about the proposed cuts on their website.

Many thanks to Leslie for giving her permission to publish her comments here.

Grandma's Scratch Cornbread:


  • 1 1/2 cups corn meal (South Africans, I've been told you can make decent cornbread with mealie meal, but I never tried it.)
  • 1/2 cup flour 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 cups buttermilk 
  • 1 egg 
  • 3 tablespoons shortening 


  1. Mix dry ingredients. Add buttermilk and egg.
  2. In an iron skillet melt shortening. Pour melted shortening into batter, stir, and immediately pour batter back into your hot skillet. (You do not have to use an iron skillet, but your cornbread will not be as tasty. An iron skillet adds additional seasoning and if well maintained, your cornbread will taste better and better over time.) 
  3. Bake at 400°F (200°C) until golden on top (approximately 20 min).

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Pressing the Reset Button

Reverse culture shock. It's a thing.

When I moved from Mmametlhake to Johannesburg, I went through a big culture shock--much bigger than my initial shock moving from the US to rural South Africa.

Moving into the rural areas, I was consistently with 24 other Americans for the first two months, making the adjustment much easier. We had each other to lean on and spout off to when things got a bit too stressful. But the move to Johannesburg was made alone, and it was a bit of a blow to my system.

During my Peace Corps experience, I spent loads of time in Pretoria at the Peace Corps offices, and was fairly used to moving from a rural setting to a bustling, modern, urban setting.

In Pretoria, you could walk to the mall, catch a movie, eat at a restaurant, use a proper toilet and generally escape to modernity for a bit. So theoretically Jo'burg shouldn't have been such a shock, but the consistent availability of all that modernity was overwhelming. I started having panic attacks, immobilized by how large everything was and the amount of access I had to both the basics and the extras.

In the village, going to the grocery store meant a two hour round trip in a minibus taxi on a dirt road to my "shopping town." In Jo'burg, I had two different grocery stores within walking distance of my home. Mmametlhake had no movie theaters, no restaurants beyond the local taverns and shebeens (not the place for the only white woman in the village to hang out), no entertainment venues of any kind. In Jo'burg, they were all over the place.

On one memorable occasion walking through a mall, I passed by a book store and thought, I should plan on coming back there and hanging out. The thought was so "normal," so connected to my life in the US, so everyday, that it set off a panic attack, and I had to race out of the mall in order to calm myself and start breathing again.

The transition from Johannesburg to Lubbock has not been quite so dramatic. If anything the amount of access and availability is less than what it was in Jo'burg. But the little cultural nuances are tripping me up.

For instance, chatting with my mom last night, I said "like if they were retrenched." And then I had to back up and think, Wait, that's not right? What's the word in American?" It took me a minute to think of "laid off."

Or if I'm typing the word programme or favourite or honour, the British spellings commonly used in South Africa just fly out of my fingers and I have to stretch my pinkie up to the backspace button and try again.

Or if I use the popular South African phrase "oh, shame" or "shame" (for South Africans, it's like saying "oh my goodness" or "oh my" but is used on a much more frequent basis in common everyday speech), I get weird looks from my conversation buddy like I'm having a much too intense response to their mundane story.

I know I'm driving my family crazy with pointing out the differences and the things Lubbock lacks in comparison to South Africa. My runs are boring because every house looks the same and there are no hills to climb. There's no mangoes or papayas or guavas. Everyone drinks soda and no one has fresh squeezed juice available. Blah, blah-blah, blah, blah. I'm sure I'm starting to sound like the adults on the Peanuts cartoons.

I'm hoping soon when I pull out of the driveway, I won't have to pause and think, Now which side of the road? (Thankfully this confusion only lasts seconds, and I'm fine once the car starts moving.) I'm hoping soon when I'm in an interview, I won't have to throw out a bunch of extra "um"s while I search my brain for the American word. I'm hoping soon I won't look at a standard letter-sized piece of paper and think Gee, this is funny shaped. (But really US, isn't it time we adopt the metric system and get on the same system as the rest of the world?)

So yes, reverse culture shock, it's a thing. And while I'm thankful my case has been pretty mild so far (with a few notable incidents), I am looking forward to my brain becoming fully Americanized again--or at least American enough, I don't want to lose all of my South African-isms.

So if you catch any weird, quirky things in my writing or when you stop and say hi, please just nod and smile and think to yourself, Poor Amanda, her brain's still resetting.

We thank you for your patience.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

How's Your Story?

You may have noticed I use lines about "living a better story" and "telling a good story" a lot in my writing. Well, admittedly, I stole the concept from one of my favorite authors and biggest influences, Donald Miller. If you aren't familiar with Miller, I suggest you check out Blue Like Jazz which was recently made into a movie (how this little book became the little movie that could is a pretty amazing story in itself). Miller is also the topic of Relevant's feature article for their just released May/June issue.

I first got hold of the story concept in Miller's latest book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I actually had two different friends send me a copy while I was living in Mmametlhake, and as I did with most books during the village season, I devoured it immediately, highlighting and underlining and making notes. When I finished, I turned the book over and started reading again. This time a little slower, trying to ingest and internalize as much as I could. I knew this was good stuff, and I knew I too wanted to "live a better story" right along with Miller.

The basic concept is pretty simple: take the elements of story--plot, conflict, etc.--and apply them to your own life. Is the protagonist engaging in his setting? Is she interacting with the plot? Is she engaging with the story as the principal character, or is she sitting back and letting it prattle on without her?

As Miller shares the story of how Blue Like Jazz went from book to screenplay, Miller realizes his own story wasn't a very interesting one. As the protagonist, he was allowing life to happen around him without truly engaging it and choosing to live a better story. From observation, Miller also came to the conclusion most of us could use a little encouragement to engage in our stories better.

I agree.

When conflict arises in my story, I tend to shirk back rather than engage in the conflict outright and move through it. To be sure, it is typically easier to move away from conflict than to engage fully in it. It is easier to shy away and try to keep the status quo than to accept that status quo has been tossed out the window and we need to drive the plot forward.

We all like status quo, but what if there is a better story out there just waiting to be written? What if there is a story out there worth reading? What if there is a Stranger Than Fiction kind of reality out there for us better than the slap the alarm clock, get dressed, go to work, do it all again tomorrow kind of life?

It's become one of my "check-in" "how ya doing" questions I ask myself on a regular basis: Are you choosing to live a good story right now? If the answer is "yes," is there an opportunity to live an even better story? If the answer is "no," how can you start living a better story right now?

There is a better story available to most of us if we will choose to engage it.

If you are living a pretty drab story right now, challenge yourself. What are five things you can do to live a better story?  Go outside and play catch with your daughter?  Take the vacation you've been dreaming of?  Start a blog? Take an art class? Ask her on a date? Go line-dancing? Log-on to the job search engine? Read that book?

Check-in time, and I'm pulling out my journal right now to make my five things list. 

How are you going to start living a better story today?

If you like the life as story concept, I suggest you read more in Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Since writing the book, Miller has also created the Storyline conference to further explore the concept and help others learn to engage in their story.