The Truth About Who You Are

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Of the two sets of quiet that bookend each day, I write best in the hours before dawn’s early light. Today, however, my brows furrow intensely as I grasp for words that seem super glued inside my head. My usual morning chai can’t even dislodge them.

It’s then that my early riser ambles down the stairs. She comes over to hug me before stretching her long limbs over my curled up legs on the sofa. She is content to snuggle near me. In that moment when my words come slow, the feeling isn’t necessarily mutual. I really want to make progress on my article, so I try to plow on just a bit more. But soon my mind throws its hands up in the air, and I set the laptop aside to give her my attention. We talk for a bit as I finish my chai, and she wants to know what is this morning’s Olympic gold medal count. I pull the laptop back over, and we discover the United States and Russia are tied for first with 18 golds while Netherlands sits in second with 17 golds.

She sees a picture of a gold medal winner with a rounded section of his prize between his teeth.

“Why do some winners bite their medal?” she asks.

 “I’m not really sure,” I answer, shrugging my shoulders. “Maybe it’s just tradition? Maybe they saw others do it first so they think it’s the thing to do.”

“Maybe they don’t even know why they do it,” she replies sleepily while reclining back on the sofa.

It’s then a few of those words for my article break free. I lean back, reposition her legs over my own before placing my laptop on both.

I sometimes want the parts of my life to stay in their boxes, my family time to sit right here, my writing time to sit over there. But this often makes for frustrating living. Those worlds slide into each other throughout the day, like when I slice vegetables while discussing middle school issues with my son or when I prepare breakfast while quizzing my daughter on spelling words. Even intentionally focusing on one thing – or person – is a good way to tug free sticky ideas related to something else.

I can more easily accept this about the parts of my life than the people in it. I’m embarrassed to admit how often I’ve wanted to place folks into neat and tidy boxes, too.

To read more, visit here where I’m hanging with one of my favorite people – and one of the most gifted writers – on God’s green earth. Grab your favorite warm beverage treat and join us?

For the Times You Think You’re on the Outside Looking In

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My eyes open to wide-awake sunlight rushing through my window blinds – my first clue that something wasn’t right. I grab my phone and see my alarm has been going off for sometime, but I had the volume control turned down too low for me to hear.

I swing my legs out of bed and take a quick look outside: white, white, white. I grab my phone again and check my email. And right there, between sale advertisements for Elsmore Swim Shop and Barnes & Noble, is the blessed email that reads like a belated Christmas gift: District 49 schools – 2 hour delay.

Hot diggity.

Snow delays are a double blessing: you can avoid the early morning, rush-around crazy but the kids still have to skeedaddle for most the school day.

David is on terminal leave (which just means he is enjoying some extended time off before he begins full time in his new job) and right now he is making buckwheat pancakes for his crew. James and Ethan relish extended laziness in bed and Faith curves into me on the sofa.

My arms circle her and I think about how much I love being right here on the inside looking out.

I’ve struggled much with the opposite lately, thinking I’m on the outside looking in. I stand in the snow outside and cup my hands on the cold glass – or on the computer screen or phone picture – and see a scene I’d love to curve into myself. Women talking by the fire, eyes bright with dreams come true, or at least talking about plans in the making. Sometimes I can turn that the right way and say Thank you, God, for giving them this gift. Sometimes I turn it the wrong way and say Why, God, can’t You give me that gift? 

That choice is a one way trip to the corner of Lonely and Feels Sorry for Herself.

Seasons change and you can outgrow your middle school brain right alongside mile-high bangs and baggy sweatshirts. But while the clothes may not ever work in fashion or fit, the thoughts sometimes revisit.

Or maybe you don’t have to look anywhere because the Enemy does such a good job convincing you you’re forgotten, that you make up your own fireside scenes in your imaginative little head. You are off and running with them, running to the first friend or sister you can find. With downcast eyes, you ask her to tell you your fears aren’t founded. My friends’ words are kind and sympathetic with a dose of reality. Even as they wave me right on in to a fireside seat and I’m thankful they are safe people, I still want a do-over where insecurity doesn’t get the last word.

But you know, every time I’ve stayed put and talked to God about it – telling Him all my whiney, feel-sorry-for-myself concerns and fears – I’ve never felt the pang of wishing for do-overs. I’ve only heard Him tell me trust me, daughter, trust our history together and believe what I say about My plans for you

After we eat butter-slathered pancakes with maple syrup, Faith turns up the soundtrack to Frozen. Voices sing with over-the-top theatrical fanfare and I die laughing. When I stop to take in the scene around me, I can’t help but say out loud,

Thank you, God, for all that’s right here where I’m on the inside looking out.

If You’ve Ever Regretted a Little Vulnerability :: at (in)courage

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Some memories don’t visit you but cement themselves as permanent landmarks in your mind.

Like the one formed when my good friend, the one with much older kids, swings by for a visit when the house looks like we’ve been livin’ large and cleanin’ little. And if you define “livin’ large” as surviving a house full of sick little people, then we have. Answering the doorbell, I shrug off the state of the house knowing my friend is no stranger to this stage of life.

As I walk toward the door, I look down at my baby girl asleep in my arms, body warm and worn out from a persistent virus. I open the door with one hand and smile, cock my head to quietly welcome my friend inside. Shutting the door behind her, I move to the sofa and clear off a mound of plastic dinosaurs so we can sit. We chat quietly for five minutes when James and Ethan, finally fever-free, run hollering into the room. My eyebrows furrow and I Shhh! them harshly, pointing to their sister. The baby wakes and I sigh exasperated. Swaying with my baby in my arms, I risk a see-through heart and confess,

“Ya know, some days with little ones are just so hard.”

I smooth hair out of my daughter’s eyes, and I’m blind to the forthcoming response.

“Well, you’re the ones who decided to have kids. What did you expect?”

I stare at her as her words ricochet off the walls and hit my heart. I hear the message loud and clear,

Quit whining, wimp.

That’ll teach you to be vulnerable, I say to myself.

Read more here?

When Your Heart Needs to Be Understood

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My kids aren’t so grown I don’t remember those bleary-eyed yesterdays, the ones where I was knee deep in new babies and new motherhood. I taught music at Mark Twain Elementary, but twin babies in the house meant I’m not too fresh and put together. On most days, it feels like victory just to be vertical.

My best teaching buds Patty, Sue, and Jen were a stage or two ahead of me in parenting, and on more difficult days dedicated mama cheerleaders. They understood what I was going through and gave me grace in my floundering. When apologizes tumbled profusely because I had to back out of our dinner plans, Sue would say,

“Kristen, don’t apologize. Parenting is a lesson in flexibility.”

And when I worried I wasn’t doing everything the parenting experts said I should, Patty would smile and say,

“Forget about the books. You’re doing more than you think you are.”

And when Jen found me crying by the ellison cutter in the library because I felt behind on everything, she just slung an arm around my shoulders and promised me,

“Girl, just get today’s necessities done. And really, you won’t feel this way forever.”

At the kidney shaped table in the 5th grade classroom, they let me spill lunch crumbs and heart crumbs about the wonder and work that was raising babies. They became my sisters in solidarity leading me to the daily finish line.

They got me, or at least the crazy-sleep-deprived-working-mother part of me.

Last week I returned from a blogging conference, the only writery/bloggy conference I ever attend. Because hello? It takes a lot of effort to leave my house, more logistical maneuvering than Eisenhower used to plan D-Day. {And with that reference I sound 85.} Anyway, it’s worth going for more than the educational benefits – of which there are aplenty. But for a relationship-loving gal like me, what really draws me in are the others who attend, too. They understand this writing thing, that I’m doing more than just playing on facebook the whole live long day.

They get me, or at least the key tapping, writerly part of me.

And they cheer me on toward the day’s finish line, whatever that may be.

But then I look in the mirror at whole Kristen – the wife and mother and writer. The girl who loves Jesus and making dessert and playing music and taking pictures. The girl who ignores library book due dates and the dog hair and dust that cover my floor. The girl who tries to get through each day without using too much math or too little grace.

And from my chestnut hair to size 11 feet, no one on this planet fully gets me. Not my husband, my sisters, or my best friend. Nobody.

The same is true for you, too.

And while this can frustrate us, God arranges it this way to free us. He doesn’t force us to the door of His heart. But He guides us there out of love because the only place we can be fully known is in the home of the One who created us in the first place. And where unconditional love lives, freedom lives too. But it’s our choice to walk inside and make ourselves comfortable.

God is the only one who “gets” all of you, who sees you exactly as you are and loves you just the same.

And He enthusiastically cheers you toward your own unique finish line, whatever that may be.

Speaking of friends and writing, the lovely Kat Lee invited me to her place last week to talk writing, blogging, and community. You can read the interview here or listen to my very unpolished self with a side of Okie accent on the podcast here.

If You’re a Little Scared to Be in a Room Full of Women

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The crisp air shook me wide awake that velvet black night my friend and I walked into Sally Clarkson’s house for her Christmas tea. I didn’t know anyone except Sally (a little) and the friend who brought me. Most of the women in attendance were homeschooling moms and members of her monthly Bible study. I was neither, but I didn’t let that stop me enjoying some delicious food in a warm, relaxed setting.

As the evening progressed and my friend mingled with others, I nibbled desserts and looked for a place to sit for Sally’s devotional. Since there was no room in the living room, I sat next to people I didn’t know on her spiral staircase overlooking the living room. I made small talk with a few but didn’t really click with anyone new. When Sally began her lesson, I curled up comfortably with her words and felt genuine encouragement reach all the corners of my soul. Later that night as my friend and I drove away, I felt satisfied and content. The evening could have been ripe with awkwardness, but I had an enjoyable time.

Let me tell you something, however: This isn’t always how I feel after leaving a group of women. Sometimes I leave feeling more like I’ve been to a funeral than a party, part of my confidence dying right along with my good time.

And I’m tired of it.

I’ve spent nearly 20 years as a military wife, and I can’t begin to count all the social situations I’ve bloomed and withered during. I’ve been in rooms full of familiar women and never-met-before women. Extroverts and introverts. Older mentors and younger mentees. Easy going people and military brass. Sometimes my conversations flow easily and I get along beautifully with folks. Sometimes I don’t gel with them at all, so I scoot toward the peripheral and suddenly become captivated by the pictures on the wall or the contents of my purse. Other times I feel downright awkward and keep checking to see if I have toilet paper hanging out of my skirt. Or maybe a little broccoli in my teeth.

This is nothing unusual; we all experience uncomfortable social settings from time to time. But here is where I get into trouble: When I don’t click with others or feel “at home” in a room,  I sometimes turn inward and convince myself  I must be a problem of the loser variety. Not only is this a straight up lie, it’s a poor choice guaranteed to steal my good time and confidence.

Has anybody been there but me?

When we give into all those inward thoughts, we might believe it’s best to hole up in our homes or hotel rooms or hearts. But doing this guarantees we’re traveling to an isolated, dangerous part of town that keeps us looking inward rather than outward.

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God desires for us to walk in the knowledge that we are dearly loved and already treasured. And heaven knows I want to rally behind all His glorious desires for me rather than raise a roadblock. So, whether you’re about to attend a conference, a PTO meeting, or your friend’s wedding, don’t get lost in no man’s land. Instead, remember these things for a healthier perspective:

1. Pray Yourself Up Before You Leave and While You’re There. Before the wheels of my van leave the driveway or the wheels of the plane leave the runway, I’m already asking God to protect my heart from the Enemy’s suggestions while fortifying it with His truth.I repeat Colossians 2:17 to myself  “…the reality, however, is found in Christ.” Your reality is in Him, and He says you are completely worthy, talented, loved, and wanted today. If anything else snakes its way into your thoughts, take it to Jesus. That is the only way to see yourself not overly or underly, but in reality.

2. We’re all small. We all need Jesus to bridge the gap between ourselves and God. Everyone does, including that conference speaker, the PTO president, and the business CEO.

3. Your attendance has purpose. It isn’t random but a divinely scheduled appointment. God places us in strategic places at strategic times, and He is using your presence there for your good.

The next time you’re in a room full of women, refuse to arm wrestle the enemy over your identity. Don’t hand him your confidence. Walk with purpose and your head held high because no matter how completely comfortable or uncomfortable you feel, you are complete in Christ.

With or without the toilet paper or broccoli.

For All the Late Bloomers

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The lilacs are blooming in Colorado now.

In June, people.

June.

My brain tells me that is ridiculously late because in the rest of the country – and in most other places I’ve lived – lilacs bloomed two months ago. But the truth is for this mountainous town that sits 7,000 ft. above sea level, they bloomed right on time.

Not long ago a friend and I were talking about our awkward teenage years, and she asked me when I bloomed. While this could translate into different answers depending on the specific topic, I told her in general, it was around 35.

Give or take a year.

We all bloom, but we all do it against a timetable of one. In the physical sense, this is easy for me to remember.

But when it comes to talents, gifts, and callings? Oh, how I forget.

Sometimes, I see other people’s talents blooming in all their lavender glory, and I wonder when my own brown patch of earth will show some hints of green. I sit down, chin propped on hands and wonder when my drought will end.

If you’re waiting on this Wednesday, remember often it’s not if growth comes, but when.

“May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!”  ~1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 The Message

God promises to make everything holy and whole, to put you together. He sees the environment where you live and knows that blossoming too early means short-lived blooms. God imprints on your soul all kind of beauty and gifts, and He knows the best time for them to burst forth.

All you can do is water the ground and wait, remembering you aren’t waiting in a time of drought but a time of finding out.

And a time of seeing how the Giver of All Good Things graciously prepares, divinely cares, and wholly loves.

If you are a military wife *or* a woman in transition, maybe this would bless you?

I’m traveling with my favorite four, so I won’t be posting much these next couple of weeks. I look forward to seeing you again regularly afterwards! Happy June, friends!

 

The Sweet Truth About Your Tears

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I’m sightseeing at Panera’s glass covered bakery when I see her out of the corner of my eye. She turns from her laptop to the window as she gracefully swipes tears from her face.

I turn back to my panoramic view of desserts and order a cinnamon roll.

My thoughts roll back to the girl and her tears. I enjoy people watching (especially at places like airports and restaurants) and hypothesizing about the lives of others. I’ve seen Spanish royalty, Hollywood actors, CIA operatives, and mini-van driving mamas like me.

Or at least, I might have.

I find myself doing the same with this darling woman as she stares out the window. I don’t know what’s bothering her, but whatever it is, her heavy heart leaks tears.

Did she have a fight with her husband?

Did she get a rejection letter from a hopeful employer?

Did she take a pregnancy test and it read negative? Or positive?

Did she see a news story she just can’t forget?

Whatever causes her tears, does she know they’re seen?

Do you know it? Because this is true: Your pain matters because your heart matters.

“It’s the quantum physics of God: one broken heart always breaks God’s in two.  We never cry alone.”  

~Ann Voskamp

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ (Colossians 2:9-10). We never cry alone because God is a part of us, so He can’t help but care.

And like a dusty, forgotten gift card found in a drawer, I find a gift that proves my pain matters because I matter, and it’s all seen by the One who never leaves my side.

Your tears are meaningful because your worth is undeniable.

Your identity is unshakeable.

Because His love for you is unfathomable.

May you hold these sweet truths close to your heart today.

Love Thy Military {or Civilian} Neighbor

To my fellow military spouses: Happy Military Spouse Appreciation Day! Thanks to all of you who serve and sacrifice quietly in the shadows. You may not feel like it, but you are brave heroes, warrior world-changers, and tender heart-holders. You are my family away from family, and I love you.

{I’m working on a surprise for you that will be available at the end of the month. Stay tuned!}

If you find yourself living in the same neighborhood as a military family, maybe today is a good day to shower some extra love on them? Below are a few ideas that are never expected but always appreciated.

And really, these are good ways to love on any neighbor, military or civilian.

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{Download a free printable of this from my original post.}

1. Ask her over for dinner. Being the only grown-up in a house gets lonely, so hanging with other adults is nice. If your schedule permits, make it routine {i.e. Invite her for dinner every Sunday or coffee every Tuesday}. FYI: she’ll be focusing on your company, not your house.

2. Bring dinner to her house. Even just a casserole she can put in the freezer is so helpful and awesome.

3. Offer her your contact information. Give her permission to call or email you if she needs something.

4. Grocery shop. If you’re making a grocery or Target run, ask her if she needs anything.

5. Take out the trash. If her trash and/or recycle receptacles are outside, take them to the curb for her.

6. Offer to babysit. Be specific. If she knows you well, offer to take her kids with you on a playdate. It doesn’t have to be for long. Just having an hour or two to exhale on her own feels like a Christmas miracle.

7. Bring over a plate of cookies. Attach a note with the names of your family members and contact information. The baked goods don’t have to be homemade. {Sometimes I buy these instead.} She is just moved by the gesture.

8. Help with home improvement. Many spouses have the urge to do house projects while on the home front. So much of the military lifestyle is out of their control, so home improvement projects help them feel in control. Help her paint a room or pick out curtains. {I picked up a drill for the first time and helped a friend with a deployed husband install bathroom tile.} Even something as simple as helping her pick up/change lightbulbs is appreciated.

9. Swap movies, books, and magazines. Let her borrow your Netflix movies and return them for you.

10. Bring her a Starbucks treat just because. It’s more about showing up and checking in than about the treat.

11. Send her a card. It’s easy for military spouses to feel ignored, so this always makes her day. Also, DaySpring has some lovely e-card options.

12. Invite her to participate in things. Even if she can’t make it the first few times, don’t quit asking.

13. Refer her to your people. If you have a hair dresser or a dentist you like, ask her if she would like their name(s). My neighbors are often the best source for where to go to get what done.

14. Give her the gift of green. Potted flowers in the summer, stems from the grocery in the winter. They brighten her home and her mood.

15. Encourage her. Look for something specific she’s doing well and brag on her to her face.

16. Give her yard a helping hand. Mow or edge her lawn.

17. Remember her birthday.  Surprise her with a card or a piece of cake.

18. Remember her on holidays. Give her a card for Mother’s Day. Invite her over for Thanksgiving dinner.

19. Follow through. If you tell her you’ll do something for her, be a woman of your word.

20. Pray for her strength, her marriage, her kids. It is the least and the most you can do.

What would you add to the list?

For the Mamas and Mama-Mentors {Free Printable!}

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Every so often, as my almost-taller-than-me children and I cruise the aisles at the grocery store or Target, some sweet soul will notice one of my sons sporting his favorite Maui t-shirt. They want to know: Did you vacation there recently?  Once they find out we lived there, they follow-up with the same question: What’s that like?? But given the drive-by nature of grocery store encounters, we have to answer in a way that sums it all up.

So, one of us usually gives an answer along the lines of,

“It had it’s highs and lows, but we wouldn’t trade our time there for anything!”

It’s a whole lot easier to say this than go into all the details.

When I think of all that encompasses our lives as a Mama, I think the same words pretty much sum up our job title.

“It has its highs and lows, but we wouldn’t trade our time there for anything!”

Mom's Day flower

 free printable version here

If you would like a little extra something special to give your own mama or mama-mentor in your life, maybe print this off and place it in a frame or card for her?

Mama: Such a simple word for such a busy calling.

Much love to all the mamas, aunts, friends, and mentors out there who freely and generously invest in others.

Enjoy your day, friends!

When You Want to See Yourself More Clearly

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He finds me in the kitchen stirring jambalaya and adding parsley to the crockpot bowl. He sidles up next to me and almost whispers it,

“Guess what happened today, Mama?”

I turn to find his eyes flickering warmth like a good spring day and ask, “What happened today?”

“Well, I showed some of my drawings to my friend Harry, and he liked them! He said he thought I was a really good artist.”

I smile big and answer, “Well, that’s because you are a very good artist!”

He gives me a look that says You have to say that because you’re my Mama.

No son, I say it because it’s true. But perhaps it’s more expected that Mama-me would say it. It’s not expected from others, and I think that’s what makes it exciting. I see this written all over his handsome little face: Kind encouragement from others wipe the grime and dust from our own mirror showing us a more genuine, beautiful picture of ourselves.

It makes the real us feel known.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I am known in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  ~1 Corinthians 13:12

God knows us fully, right down to the dustiest corners of our heart. We rest in this always because He loves us always. But sometimes, He surprises us by dropping unexpected encouragement into our laps from other folks, the kind of encouragement that can turn an inheritance of grief into an inheritance of grace. The kind that surprises us by helping us see ourselves more accurately.

Recently I read a beautiful, poignant memoir called The Artist’s Daughter by Alexandra Kuykendall. I met Alex at Allume last fall and then again in Denver a couple weeks ago. She is honest, genuine, and pure delight – all qualities that dance in her lovely writing.

In The Artist’s Daughter, Alex writes of her childhood as the daughter of a single doting mother and a famous Spanish artist who was not regularly involved in her life. While I have no idea what it’s like to grow up without a father, I can identify with wounds caused by disappointing realities and wishing for different, of wanting to be fully known as only God sees. And really, who couldn’t?

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Alex writes of how she learned to turn an inheritance of grief into one of grace, and what this looks like in herself, her marriage, and her mothering. It is a compelling story that touches tender places relevant to my life and probably yours, too.

Because I loved it so much, I’m {surprise!} giving away one copy to one person who links up *or* comment below. I will draw a winner from the total link-ups and comments and announce that winner on the blog next week. But if you don’t want to wait for your own copy of The Artist’s Daughter, you may now find it here or here.

May it bless you as wildly as it blessed me.

Giveaway copy generously provided by Revell.

If you are sharing your own surprise story, here are some things to remember:

1. New to link-up’s or have questions? Read this first.

2. Since we all dig surprises, please surprise another writer by leaving a comment on her post *or* by giving her a facebook shout-out or tweet. Use the hashtag: #outoftheblue. 

3. Be sure to include the out of the blue banner {see below} in your post or link back to Chasing Blue Skies so your readers can join in the fun. That way, we can all easily find each other. 

Next week’s prompt: A memory of spring that surprises you! I’ll just tell you right now mine might have something to do with all the springtime snow we’ve seen. {Hello, 2 hour school delay on May 2nd!} I look forward to reading how your own unexpected surprise story of spring increased your joy or made a difference in your life!



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