Unexpected Joy

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I love to decorate for Christmas. It’s my absolute favorite time of year. I love the glitter, the lights, the candles….all of it. But this is our first Christmas in this house and I found decorating to be a little troublesome.
You see, we spent 11 Christmas’s in our last house. I had sort of built a pattern for where things went. Every bauble had a place. I knew where my gingerbread men stood and where my elves sat. I always hung the big glass Santa in the middle of the tree and placed an antique camel with no hook near the top. My puffy fleece countdown tree always hung on my pantry door and the red and green glittered cones had a special order on the mantel.
This house, while lovely and exactly where I want to be, is different. Our Christmas tree didn’t fit in this living room. We had a twelve foot artificial tree at the old house. We have nine foot ceilings in this house. There are shelves I didn’t have before which are begging to be filled but with what I’m not sure.
I know, these are completely first world problems. I am fully aware that the starving children in Bi-Africa don’t care about my gingerbread men not fitting in. (I’m not even sure Bi-Africa is a place but my friend, Denise, says there are starving children there and I’m certain they have bigger problems than me.) But I needed to figure it out. My heart has been crying for simplicity for quite a while in every area of life and as I started to pull out the boxes and boxes  of decorations, some of them didn’t feel right anymore. It all felt frivolous and too much. There were quite a few items that I had no desire to even pull out.
And yet I still wanted to decorate. Decorations have always helped my heart warm to the season of Christmas. This year, however, I was turning away from the pieces that were just about the pretty and was drawn towards the pieces that had a story; had meaning.
There was one ornament that was a gift from a friend after our first trip to the Nutcracker market together.
Then there were the sport ornaments I’ve purchased over the years for my husband. Some of them were his heroes growing up and some of them reminded me of special games or seasons we celebrated together.
I have 9 or 10 “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments from the year my daughter was born. She was an October Baby so it was a popular gift. I didn’t pull them all out this year but instead hung the one my in-laws brought her from a trip they made to Germany to visit my husband’s brother. It wasn’t like the rest. It was hand carved and painted and felt like it had love all over it.
I have a million hand made ornaments from the kids preschool and early elementary days but there were two that almost called out to me as I sifted through the box. They both had the same teacher in 1st grade. She’s an amazing lady who seems to have been born to teach 1st grade. She dipped their hands in white paint and wrapped them around a glass bulb and wrote their names on it in silver. So simple and yet so precious. I hung them side by side on the tree this year.
And then I found the Santa ornament. Listen, Santa is my jam and I have LOTS of Santa ornaments. But there’s one that is more special than the rest.
When my parents got married in 1967 they were very young and, from what I understand, didn’t have two nickels to rub together. But my dad bought a little tree and my mom hand made ornaments that year. She took Styrofoam balls and pinned sequins and ribbons to each one. She made one by gluing a Hallmark napkin with a jolly Santa to a ball and wrapping ribbon around it.
A few years before my parents split up she threw out all of those hand made ornaments. She said they were old and ratty. She replaced all the decorations with shiny blue and ivory ornaments. She put blue lights on the tree and in the yard. All of the hand-made, multi-colored Christmas pieces were gone.
The Christmas after her suicide in 1997 I got all of her decorations out. It made me so sad that the boxes were full of bulbs and balls and lacy pieces that had no meaning. But at the bottom of one of the boxes was the Santa ornament made from the napkin. I sobbed with sorrow and with gratitude. I have no idea how that one ornament made the cut. I don’t know if it was special or if it was an accident but it’s the only handmade ornament I have of hers. I’ll treasure it forever.
We can gather joy and delight from the most unexpected of places. My mom had no idea how precious that napkin glued ornament would be to me almost 50 years after she made it.
When my kid’s first grade teacher dipped their little hands in white paint she probably didn’t know it would bring tears to my eyes this far down the road.
I suppose that’s what Christmas is though, right? Christmas is about unexpected joy. The people of God waited for hundreds of years in darkness for a Savior. They expected a mighty king or a swift warrior – not a baby- and certainly not a baby in a barn!  It’s the unexpectedness that I cling to these days. The hope of when life feels dark and I don’t know what to do or where to go that God has a plan. It rarely looks like what I expect or could design on my own. No, God’s plan is always unexpectedly marvelous and always just in time.
So if your heart isn’t feeling it this year and you’re struggling to make sense of why any of the glittered poinsettias matter, know that you aren’t alone. Know that the God of the Universe cared about your story so much that he sent his one and only Son to a dark and lonely world. He sent him to bring light. He sent him to be light. He sent him to be the light. And if asking him to light your whole season seems unrealistic, ask him to light up your week. And if a week feels too big then ask him to light up your day. And if today feels like too much you can ask him to light up the next moment. He will. His love for you is so rich and deep and good and joy will show up in the most unexpected of places.

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Strong Enough to Bend

We all woke up this morning in a new reality. Some of us were ecstatic about the President-Elect. Some of us were devastated by the election results. But I think the majority us felt some sort of odd feeling somewhere in between. This has been an angry election year, there’s no doubt. But my hope was that today we  could all be on the same page of at least one topic…kindness.

I felt certain we would wake up knowing that what’s done is done and that God is still on his throne. I assumed we would all see that the sun still rose in the sky and know that tonight, we shall see the moon. The world will keep turning.

That is so far from what I have seen. Social media is filled with anger and wrath and finger pointing…from both sides. Name calling has been rampant all day, names flying around like dignity and manners don’t even exist. Self-righteous boasting and haughty proclamations are at a nauseatingly all-time high.

So when I opened my gratitude calendar and saw that today’s prompting was “trees” I thought, “What the heck am I supposed to do with that on a day like today?”

And suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, a song popped into my head. An old song.

very, very old song.

Does anyone remember Tanya Tucker? The country singer? She sang a song called,”Strong Enough to Bend” that came out in the 80’s.

 

“There’s a tree out in the backyard
That never has been broken by the wind
And the reason its still standing
It was strong enough to bend

For years, we have stayed ogether
As lovers and as friends
What we have will last forever
If we’re strong enough to bend

When you say something that you can’t take back
Big wind blows and you hear a little crack
When you say “Hey well I might be wrong”
You can sway with the wind till the storm is gone
Sway with the wind till the storm is gone

Like a tree out in the backyard
That never has been broken by the wind
Our love will last forever
If we’re strong enough to bend

When you start thinkin’ that you know it all
Big wind blows and a branch will fall
When you say “Hey this job takes two”
We can sway with the wind till the skies turn blue
Sway with the wind till the skies turn blue

Like a tree out in the backyard
That never has been broken by the wind
Our love will last forever if we’re strong enough to bend.”

I had to look up the words because I couldn’t remember them all but I actually laughed a little when I read them. Yes, it’s a little corny. I’ll give you that. But just imagine, for a minute, if we started swaying with the wind instead of bowing up like we know it all. What would happen if we put down the weapons of anger we have been flinging for months and worked together to be kind and helpful?

I imagine our country like a strong and mighty oak. It’s roots run deep. We can continue with the in-fighting, the hatred of our own people, the meanness, the lack of love and acceptance. But if we do we just might snap right down the middle. We might break. And we might die.

Or we, as a strong and might oak of a country, can make a choice that leans toward love; to sway in the wind. We can pray for days with blue skies but we can take action today. We can bend a little. And it’s in the bending, my friends, that a tree withstands a storm.

So I pray today for you, dear friend, and I pray for me. I pray for our country, for our leaders, and the choices they make. I pray that we remember we are the way love and goodness spread across this land. We are the ones who feed the sick and lonely and dejected. We are the ones to clothe the fearful and the cold. We are the people. We are God’s people. Regardless of who is in charge of this country, we can choose to bend.

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Anger at the Wal-Mart

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I’m not exactly sure when it happened. I’d like to point a finger somewhere or at someone, because blaming would make me feel better. Blaming would allow me to tell myself that it’s not a part of me or that I don’t have a part in it. Something has changed in America though and it’s ugly. We’ve become a nation of mad, angry, self-righteous people. We yell. We scream. We type in all caps. We wave our arms and hands at drivers and we rage out on our “friends” on social media. I know some would like to blame this election season but y’all, this has been brewing for a while. We would not be allowing this election year to be so nasty if the subculture of rage hadn’t already crawled into our being.

I went to Wal-Mart today. I know. Why would I chose to do such a thing on a school holiday? I’ll tell you why. Toilet bowl cleaner. I’ve got six toilets in this house and they all get used. Mama needs her some deals when it comes to cleaning supplies. Anyway, the kids and I managed to make it through the store fairly quickly, stocking our cart with cleaners and dusters and an Iron Man t-shirt because, well, Iron Man. We got to the check out and shockingly enough, there were only three lanes open. I know this surprises you because Wal-Mart and Target always have enough checkers for the shoppers in the store. (Make sure your computer reads the sarcasm font there.)

There was an older couple in line ahead of us. My friend Denise would say, “Old like me?” and I would say, “No. Old like for real.” They were old. Gray. Shriveled. And super cute. The woman had placed her purse on the conveyor belt, I’m assuming to mark the stopping point of items for the person in front of her and the starting point of her own things. I don’t know where the little belt marker was but it wasn’t there. So she used her purse. The checker, scanning items mindlessly and fast, scanned the last item of the person ahead and grabbed the woman’s purse and attempted to scan it.

The old lady ahead of me grabbed her purse back and said, “Oh, no. That’s mine.”

To which, I kid you not, the checker said, “No. It’s hers. If you want a purse you’ll need to go get one.”

What?

My daughter, watching the  whole thing unfold, looked at me as if to say,”What just happened?”

And then…

The old lady ahead of me starts yelling, “That’s my purse! It’s got my stuff inside! Give it back!”

And the checker says, (I swear I can’t make this up),”Prove it!”

So the woman opens her purse and shows that it is truly, in fact, her purse.

And her old man husband never flinched.

When we got to the truck my son asked what the people were fighting about and I just sighed. I told him I think some people have so much anger in their hearts that they don’t know what to do but let it spill out on other people.

I think there’s more of us with that issue than we’d like to acknowledge.

Once upon a time, when my kids were really little, they were having some anger issues with each other. There was lots of fighting, lots of name calling. and dear Jesus, so much tattling. I decided one day to sit them down and make a list of all the things that are worthy of our anger; things where if we were to witness them happening, we should yell or scream or throw a fit.

Our list included things like:

  • Kicking puppies
  • Picking other peoples boogers
  • Stealing toys or houses
  • Cutting someone else’s  artwork out

You know, things that make little kids mad. I can’t help but think that maybe it’s time for America to sit down and make a list. Be real about it. Make a list of the injustices that honestly and truly mean something. And then, instead of throwing a fit, say a prayer and ask God how He would have us react. I suspect that He will rarely answer with, “Go to your Facebook page and type in all caps with lots of exclamation points.” I’m pretty sure He won’t say,”Yell out your window in car line at the school and shake your fist at the other moms.”

He might. I don’t claim to know the mind and heart of God to the fullest.

I feel like He will suggest things like, “Give more hugs” and “Share more food” and “Turn the other cheek” because God tends to lean more towards the loving side and less towards the “let’s have a scream out in the check out lane at Wal-Mart” type.

A few years ago I had to come face to face with my own anger issues. I’m not claiming to have them all under control but I have taken HUGE strides towards being a gentler person. I rarely yell anymore. I work hard at letting the small things go; the battles that aren’t worth fighting. I don’t hold on to things that are completely out of my control…okay, I’m still working on some big things but the little things that are out of my control – easy. The big questions I ask myself daily, when deciding to engage rage or not are:

  1. Is the energy I spend on this anger issue worth it? If I’m going to be short on energy for my family later today because I spent energy on this angry thing, will I look back and approve?
  2. Is my anger going to make a difference in the situation? If I say something, yell something, type something in all caps, will I make a difference for the better in the world? Will my anger bring safety or bring justice?

If I can answer “yes” to those questions then I can let the rage fly. But even with that, I’m learning to temper my rage in a way that makes it more receivable. Can my anger be displayed calmly and rationally? Because it’s more palatable that way and generally brings change faster.

Here’s what I know for sure. Kindness almost always wins. Showing love, even when it’s not earned and especially when it’s not deserved, is always the best way. These things have nothing to do with being a door mat and everything to do with being a better person. Gentleness is better received than rage and a soft word is taken in and heard far more often than a snarky response.

So maybe this evening we all turn off the news and shut down the social media and take a walk. Maybe we wave at our neighbors – even the ones with the political signs in their yards for the candidate we despise. Perhaps we bake a loaf of bread and share it with a friend or pour a glass of hearty red wine for our spouse. Let’s all take a breath. Let’s inhale peace and exhale the nasty. And let’s all agree that Wal-Mart needs more open lanes.

 

 

 

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He’s Calling Me From My Grave

“Take me to the shouting grounds…

a prodigal lost was found…

I should be dead right now

but I am alive.

I just wanna see your face

You’re calling me from my grave

Take me to the shouting grounds…

it’s gonna get loud.”

To say the last few months have been hard would be an understatement.

Hard doesn’t begin.

If I told you the weight on my chest feels like a constipated elephant you might think I’m joking.

I am not.

When I say that Satan is an asshat I’m not just throwing around profanity.

He is.

I could give you a hundred reasons why my life has been stressful but I won’t because, dear friend, I know your list is probably longer. I know that you might look at my life and think I’ve got it dreamy. It’s all about perspective, I suppose.

I could talk of unfairness in life but that would imply I ever believed fairness was due.

I have never believed such nonsense. I’ve seen too much unfairness to too many who deserved way more fair than I.

Last week Crowder’s new album “American Prodigal” was released and my ears and my heart have latched on as if it was written just for me. It’s like David Crowder called someone up and said,”I’d really like to lay down some swamp rock with lyrics that punch Tam in the gut,” and a whole team of musicians joined in whole-heartedly.

The lyrics at the top of this page are from the song “Shouting Grounds” and I’ve had it on repeat all day. In between meetings and chapel and list making for the week I’ve hit REPEAT twenty times. At least.

I suppose I’m feeling the feels for it so deeply because I know that this is just a season. It’s a hard season but a season no less. I’ve spent 18 years in Houston so I’m grown accustomed to only two seasons, Summer and Not-Summer. When I season I’m not familiar with sneaks in I am lost in picking a wardrobe.

Lately my wardrobe has consisted of a plastic smile backed by a black heart.

But God is calling me out of this season. I am clinging to the faith that he won’t leave me here and that he wants me to pack my bags.

He doesn’t mind the black for a while but it’s not the color I was born to wear.

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So I’m checking out of the office a little early today and going for a walk. It’s time to shout it out. It’s time to throw a few rocks and maybe a coffee mug. It’s time to smash some things, cry some tears, and give it to God. The world and all of it’s ways could knock you and I down a thousand times over, throw some dirt on our heads, and leave us for dead. That’s not our purpose. He’s calling us out. And “out” – wherever that is and whatever it looks like – will probably be different for you than it is for me but it’s where we need to be.

I’ve allowed fear and worry and doubt to fill my bones with an immense weight and I’ve decided that I’m tired. And done. So I’m giving it to God. It’s something I should’ve done months ago.

I type it like it’s an easy task and that when I’m done I’ll do some sort of dance with scarves. I wish that were true. I’ll hand it over and, if my life time pattern rings true again, I’ll wrestle long and hard to take it back. But the joy and peace come from knowing that God loves a prodigal son like me so much that he’ll engage me in the wrestling.

What are you wrestling today? Are you as tired as I am? Join me in the giving up process and we’ll get our scarves out and dance together.

 

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A Self Portrait

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This morning was a hard one. A harsh one. I had to go to the doctor. It was a follow up visit from a check up last month where fasting blood work was ordered. This is not out of the ordinary and, in fact, it happens several times a year. I have a bum liver, a mediocre thyroid, and diabetes. These are things that must be looked after.

So as I drove to the doctor office this morning I was fully preparing myself for the shaming. When I was first diagnosed with all the things I did a bang up job of getting in gear. I knew that my life had fallen out of control and my health was a perfect picture at the time of the way I was handling things. Which was not well.  But I got it together, got my butt in gear, lost weight, starting taking my meds regularly, yada, yada, yada.  Within six months I had lost 25 pounds, got my A1C under control, my liver was functioning well, thyroid started working…I was jamming.

Then I wasn’t. I could sit down right now and make a very quick list of all the ways my life derailed this year but at the same time, I could make an even longer list of all the good things. It’s just been a big year. There have been big feelings, big changes, big decisions, big heartache, big joy. Big. There’s been  a lot of big. And my weight followed.

I felt certain, as I waited for the doctor to come into the exam room today, that he was going to share horrible news. I steeled myself for the off-the-chart-numbers he would read. I told myself that I would not cry. I had made these choices, no one forced me to be in this position.

“Mrs. Lexow, your numbers have never looked better. You A1C looks great, thyroid is super, liver is working…..”

He continued down the list and I felt like this strange feeling inside like maybe he had the wrong test results. Surely this was not right. And then he leaned in towards me and looked me straight in the eye.

“Mrs. Lexow, you are really healthy today. You’ve made great strides with your health and I’m really proud of you. But your weight is higher than it’s been in a long time and I’m thinking that it’s no longer a health issue, but a heart issue. What are you going to do to love yourself enough to lose the weight? What are you hiding from?”

Damn it.

So I came home, did some chores, started dinner prep for tonight, and sat down to check emails. I found a new writing prompt waiting in my inbox. The blogging challenge I’ve been halfheartedly working on suggested I write a self portrait.

“Be kind to yourself. 

There is so much beauty and life inside you.”

Two voices in one day telling me to love myself. To be kind.

I know how to do this. I know how to do it just like I know how to breathe and to walk. I preach self care, self love, taking care of your mental health all the time. So why then, when I know the answers, do I find it so hard to use them myself? Can I say kind things? Even harder, can I write kind things? Maybe I should. Maybe this is the first step toward looking in the mirror and believing there is beauty.

Well, here it goes…

Tamara, A Self Portrait

I am funny, full of quick wit.

You wouldn’t think so much punch could be contained in such a short frame.

I am full of sparkle, joy, fun….

I am full of a lot.

I love words. I love to write them, to read them, to speak them…

Even if you aren’t listening I will continue to talk.

But I’ll get angry if you don’t hear me.

I need you to hear me.

I am helpful, whether you want me to be or not. I’m sure I have an answer for you.

And if not an answer, I have a joke.

Or a drink.

Or a piece of cake.

I am a survivor. I could tell you I no longer fear abandonment because I’ve survived it so many times.

That would be a lie.

I am stronger but I’m still afraid.

Some people say big hair is hiding something. I think that’s bull.

Big hair is just fun.

I worry less these days about pleasing people.

Some people.

My desire for my family to feel my love is greater than my desire to please the masses.

I no longer think being busy is a jeweled tiara.

It looks like a heavy weight.

I don’t care to impress you with my accomplishments, my committees, my calendar.

I long to know my Creator on a deeper level.

Sometimes I see his reflection when I look in the mirror.

At least I think that’s who I see.

That’s why I want to know Him more.

I want to know for sure.

I am a wife, a mother, a lover, a fighter, a friend, a teacher, a preacher, a talker, a writer.

I am worthy of love.

 

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An Acrostic Poem I Did Not Write

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I’ve been participating in a blogging challenge the past couple of weeks. And by participating, I mean I have been reading the prompts as they’ve arrived in my mailbox and not acting on them. Well, that’s not entirely true…I was challenged to write an August version of a Christmas letter a few days ago but I could not wrap my brain around Christmas when it was a gajillion degrees. I decided on a back to school essay. It’s fine.

There was another challenge to write a poem. I have not been able to get the idea of me writing a poem out of my head. I am not usually a poet, but more of a drop all my words on the page kind of writer. I was intrigued though so I kept rolling it around. I wrote one a few nights ago about the moon. I was outside, waiting on the dog to do his business and I was frustrated. I was frustrated by the heat, by the dog, by life in general. I actually liked what came out but it felt so personal, so vulnerable that I wasn’t able to post it for the world. Maybe one day. I’m in a season of holding things close to the heart, which is strange for me as I generally vomit every word and thought that enters my head. I’m the one who speaks publicly and is often just as surprised as the crowd at what comes out. But lately there has been a call, a need, for stillness and forethought.

So when I friend sent me this passage this morning, seemingly out of the blue, I cried. At the foot of the chapter from Psalm 37 the note read,”This psalm is an acrostic poem, the stanzas of which begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.”

God was speaking to me, yet again, through ancient words. The cry of David fit my life and all the things I’m holding close right now, all the while written in beautiful poetic form.

So if you are a fan of poetry, or of evil-doers perishing as flowers in the field…this is a great read.

Psalm 37

Of David.

Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek will inherit the land
    and enjoy peace and prosperity.

12 The wicked plot against the righteous
    and gnash their teeth at them;
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he knows their day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword
    and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
    to slay those whose ways are upright.
15 But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
    and their bows will be broken.

16 Better the little that the righteous have
    than the wealth of many wicked;
17 for the power of the wicked will be broken,
    but the Lord upholds the righteous.

18 The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care,
    and their inheritance will endure forever.
19 In times of disaster they will not wither;
    in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.

20 But the wicked will perish:
    Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field,
    they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.

21 The wicked borrow and do not repay,
    but the righteous give generously;
22 those the Lord blesses will inherit the land,
    but those he curses will be destroyed.

23 The Lord makes firm the steps
    of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

25 I was young and now I am old,
    yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
    or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
    their children will be a blessing.[b]

27 Turn from evil and do good;
    then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the Lord loves the just
    and will not forsake his faithful ones.

Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed[c];
    the offspring of the wicked will perish.
29 The righteous will inherit the land
    and dwell in it forever.

30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
    and their tongues speak what is just.
31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
    their feet do not slip.

32 The wicked lie in wait for the righteous,
    intent on putting them to death;
33 but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked
    or let them be condemned when brought to trial.

34 Hope in the Lord
    and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;
    when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.

35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man
    flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,
36 but he soon passed away and was no more;
    though I looked for him, he could not be found.

37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
    a future awaits those who seek peace.[d]
38 But all sinners will be destroyed;
    there will be no future[e] for the wicked.

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

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There’s a little more than a week until I send my kids back to school. I’d like to tell you I’m one of those moms pining away for more summer but I’m not. Maybe if I didn’t have to go back to work earlier this month I’d being trying to fit in one more trip; to squeeze in one last adventure. But truth be told, my kids have spend quite a few hours entertaining themselves since August hit and I think they’re ready, too.

I was helping my daughter sort through her school supplies a few days ago and started to remember back to my school days. There was no social media then. There were no cell phones, texting, snap chatting…you had to ride your bike to Jennifer’s house if you wanted to see her. So back to school was all about catching up on summer. Where did you go? What did you do? And then there were the “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essays. Remember those? Do teachers still assign those? We always huffed and puffed like it was a chore but truthfully, it was always fun to hear what everyone had been doing.

So in the spirit of back to school, but in the buzzfeed fill-in-the-blank-style of today…

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Tamara Lexow

Reading: I read lots of books but my favorite was “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown. Y’all, this book is so good. Like, change your life good. It’s all about letting go of the ideals we have all placed on ourselves to be something we aren’t and embracing who God has created us to be. I highly recommend it but make sure to give yourself time. This isn’t a sit down and read the whole thing in an afternoon kind of book. And it’s not a beach read. You may, if you’re like me, need to sit it down for a few days here and there to absorb the simple truths Brown offers. Good stuff.

Watching: I spent the early part of summer watching ESPN’s special on OJ Simpson. I think it was five parts. Charlie and I watched them after the kids went to bed. If you remember where you were when the police chased the white Ford Bronco then you’ll understand why this series is not for kids. It went into so much of the story that I had no clue about when it all went down in 1994. Gory, gruesome, but a story more about human nature and less about murder.

Now I’m watching the Olympics with the rest of the world.

Crafting: If you call putting a house together crafting then I’ve done a lot of that this summer. We moved into our new house in May and I’ve been unpacking, hanging pictures, planting new flowers, trimming trees….getting settled.

Loving: Our new puppy, Ron Burgundy. Charlie finally conceded and let me get a puppy for my birthday. I wanted to go the opposite direction of our dearly departed Frank the Tank. Frank was a Great Dane/Mastiff mix and weighed in around 160. Ron Burgundy is a Maltipoo and is expected to max out around 8 pounds. He is adorable.

Listening: I’ve spent the summer rehearing the hits of my high school days. Lots of Guns-N-Roses, Bon Jovi, Travis Tritt, Garth Brooks…

Drinking: Wine. Too. Much. Wine.

Eating: Out. This needs to slow down because my waistline is starting to show the damage.

Celebrating: I ushered in the final year of my 3rd decade on July 4th. I plan to make 39 the year I become the best version of myself yet. Actually, that’s my plan every year and most of the time I succeed. I’m always trying to be a better human. Except the year I turned 31. I took that year off.

Improving: Grace. I’m making efforts in giving more grace – to myself and to others – and grace with, well, grace.

Traveling: Charlie and I didn’t travel anywhere this summer. (See Crafting above) The kids traveled a lot but I was very content nesting in the new house with my love. He’s pretty dreamy so I don’t care where we are as long as we are together.

 

How about you? How did you spend your summer vacation?

 

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God is Good

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“God is good all the time.”

The words from my pastor this morning caused bitter tears to sting in my eyes. I blinked quickly, dabbing the inner corner in an attempt to catch the tears before they fell. I had to deliver the children’s message in mere moments and I did not need to have red eyes, smeared eye liner, or any semblance of sorrow. My message was on thankfulness, not sadness.

That’s the thing though. I wasn’t even sad. So why were these words, words I hear almost every Sunday, causing such a commotion in my tear ducts?

As I questioned myself, sitting in the pew, I felt my heart tug.

“Do you believe it?”

Do I believe what, God?

“Do you believe I’m good?”

Of course I believe.

“All the time?”

(Sigh)

There it was. Can I sing the praise from Psalm 145? Can I exalt His name forever and ever? Do I speak of His mighty acts and the splendor of His majesty?

Some days I do.

But then some days….

Some days the plumbing backs up. Some days the dog pees on the floor for the thousandth time. Some days the kids forget to show manners of any sort. Some days your iTunes account gets mangled with your husbands and he has all your information and none of his own. Or so I’ve heard from some people.

Do I believe God is still good in the midst of a presidential election where both candidates seem like a train wreck waiting to happen?

Do I trust in His sovereignty when the price of oil drops?

Do I sing of God’s splendor and majesty when police are being shot by children, when police are shooting children, and when terrorism screams at our faces through every single news cast?

No.

No, I don’t.

Forgive me, God, Forgive me for forgetting of your love; of your goodness. Forgive me for sitting in despair and wondering where you are. Forgive me, Lord for not singing your praises and falling to my knees in gratitude for the simple fact that I have air in my lungs and food on my table and family who loves me dearly.

I want to celebrate God’s goodness because He is gracious and compassionate. He is slow to anger. He is rich in love. May my eyes look to heaven and be satisfied with all I have.

God is good. All the time.

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Rainbows On The Floor

Positivity does not come naturally for me. I’m not sure why but truly, it never has. My gut instinct is to fear the worst, to assume the worst, and to think disaster. A simple stomach pain could be a tumor. I headache is certainly an oncoming seizure. That skin tag? Most assuredly cancer.

I rarely voice any of the fears running through my head because, well, I spend a lot of energy most days on not looking crazy. In fact, most people don’t know I have such a negative gene because I work so hard on speaking words that uplift and support and inspire. I try to put sunshine out but the truth is, thinking on the bright side, seeing the positive, and picking up a glass half full are are mighty, mighty efforts for me.

All this being said,  with a desire to follow through on my New Year resolution to seek fierce grace still brewing in the depths of my heart, I decided this summer to put some extra effort into positivity. I wasn’t even sure what that looked like when I made the decision but I immediately was tested in living it out.

We’ve had a lot going on in the Lexow house this summer. We moved in May and have been working hard to settle in. There have been bumps. Plumbing bumps, planning bumps, unnamed bumps. Some of the bumps have felt small. Some of the bumps have felt insurmountable. We are still trying to climb over some of them…so much so that they feel less like bumps and more like mountains. So finding the positive, on certain days, has taken a true effort.

Last week I had to text Charlie with a specific piece of news and I started with the age old question, “Do you want the good news or the bad news?” As I unfolded the entire story on my smart phone screen I regaled issue after issue but wrapped up the end with a smiley face and a word of positivity. He replied,”I don’t think any of this is funny.”

Even my own husband was confused by my efforts to see the positive.

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As I walked from my bedroom towards my living room my eyes caught a glimmer across the brick floor in the hallway. A tiny rainbow was shimmering there, almost waving to me. I rounded the corner and saw another one, a bigger one. I turned to grab my phone so I could take a picture. Something in me knew I’d need to remember this moment of beauty.

There was no magic in the moment, albeit beautiful. The rainbows were simply fractions of  light from the glass on my front door. But I knew right then that God was reminding me that he’s there. Always. And with that true and basic reminder, positivity made so much sense. Thinking positive isn’t about faking a smile or typing smiley words you don’t mean. Positivity is about hope. It’s about knowing that God loves me and has my very best interest at heart every minute of every day. It’s remembering that his plans are for me to prosper; never to cause  me harm.

That was a message I needed to hear this week. The news from around the country has been so devastating; so easy to look at with negativity. It’s easy to look at the  news and lose hope. But if there has ever been a time for us to find the positive, to look for the good…it’s now. These are the days to remember that Jesus never once promised us this life would be easy. He never said we wouldn’t face trouble. The thing I have to keep reminding myself is that Jesus has faced the worst of the worst already and he’s sitting on the throne in victory. On the days when I feel like all hope, all positive, all chance of good is gone, he sends rainbows to dance across my floor.

A few months ago I might have missed them. I might have been so self absorbed in my own troubles that I tromped around the corner, never to see the light on the brick. I’m working on it though. Fierce grace means loving myself enough to go a little easier, to reach out for hope, and to trust that God loves me. It means looking for rainbows and knowing they’re there, somewhere, as a beacon of love from heaven.

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When Waiting is Hard

When Waiting is hard

We dropped our kids at church camp yesterday. As we made our way through the registration line in the 100 degree heat we were greeted at each stop by very energetic, very bouncy, very smiley camp counselors. Each one would smile huge, toothy grins, ask my kids what their names were and if it was their first time to camp. Neither of my kids are particularly toothy grin kind of kids so they would shrink back a bit, whisper their names and share that it was their 4th trip to camp.

They love this particular camp. My daughter says it’s her favorite place on earth. They wait so excitedly in the weeks before camp because they can’t wait for the freedom from Mom and Dad, the cabins, the new friends, the pond, the home made hill side slip and slide…they love it all. But they will say that waiting for camp to come is the hardest, most agonizing part.

As I watched them go through the process of checking in and finding their cabins I couldn’t help but giggle at how may times I had heard them say, “I can’t wait!” throughout the week.

Waiting is hard.

We wait for so much in life. We wait for joyous occasions, holidays, celebrations, vacations…all the exciting good things that life holds.

We wait for clarity. Will the job fall through? Will the test come back positive? Will we stay or will we go?

Watching my kids yesterday made me think back to a time in life when the waiting was excruciatingly hard. I was remembering the years I was waiting on my kids.

Charlie and I got engaged and married when we were very young. Very. I walked down the aisle at 21. There was nothing I wanted more in life than to be married to him and to make his babies. I know that’s not very popular among the strong, vocal, young women of today who rage at the idea that a woman’s place is making babies. But that’s what I wanted. I had never loved or been loved like what I had with Chuck and I couldn’t imagine not having babies immediately.

That’s not how it happened for us though. Oh, we got pregnant. Getting pregnant was not the problem. Five times we got pregnant. Five times. Five positive pregnancy test. Well, probably more like 20 positive pregnancy tests. I know I took at least four per pregnancy. And yet five times we experienced loss. Five times a doctor looked me in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry.”

I reached a point where I doubted. I doubted this dream in my heart to be a mom. I doubted my desire, my heart, my yearning. How was it that I prayed so hard for so long and yet faced this heartache over and over and over? Five times over.

We decided to go see a specialist who took lots of blood, ran lots of tests, scanned me, scanned Chuck, and poked and prodded me in every way imaginable. I was diagnosed with endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome. I was put on a strict diet and given medication. And still we waited. And waited.

I was doing all the right things. I was praying and dieting and medicating. I had multiple surgical procedures. I was smiling at my friends who were popping out babies left and right. I was buying gifts and attending showers. And yet I was waiting. And in that waiting I grew weary and I finally reached the point where I was done. I didn’t give up on the idea of being a mom but I did give up on the idea of birthing them myself.

I was tired of the advice from people with lots of babies. I was tired of people questioning my resolve.  I was tired.

So I called several people I knew who had adopted babies. We made an appointment.

And I got pregnant.

I swear. I almost had to roll my eyes at myself. After all the people said things like, “As soon as you relax…” or “As soon as you quit worrying about it…” and then here I was pregnant after all those things.

We weren’t at ease though. After all, we’d been pregnant five times before and it was never good. We had never seen a pregnancy past 8 weeks. But 8 weeks came and went. And then 12. And then 20. And then one morning at week 36, I waddled out of bed to go to the bathroom and my water broke. Shelby arrived a few hours later.

And when she was 9 months old (because who’d have ever thought we would need to worry about getting pregnant again?) I found out Seth was on his way.

We’ve done a lot of waiting over the years. We’ve waited on medical test answers. We’ve waited on surgeries. We’ve waited on job offers. We’ve waited. Every time we wait I think back to those years of waiting to have a baby. I know that God’s answers don’t always look the way we want. I know his answers rarely come in the time frame we expect. What I do know though is that he is loving and good. I know that he never gives you a snake when you need a loaf of bread. I know that he is faithful.

So even though I still don’t like to wait on, well, anything…I know that waiting brings growth. Waiting brings trust. Waiting brings faith built upon faith. I can watch my kids wait for things and not feel the need to rescue because I know there is good in waiting. I can hold on to hope in waiting when the answers seem to be no where in sight because I’ve seen the faithfulness of a good, good Father.

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