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Sunday, December 29, 2013

It's just a cake

This day is supposed to be fun. Supposed to be fun. Supposed to be fun.

No matter how many times I keep telling myself this, my perfectionistic self keeps talking right back.

You won't have enough seating. Everyone will be bored. You didn't plan the snacks well. There's not going to be enough cake. You forgot to pick up ice cream and cups. You procrastinated on too many things.

At least, I consoled myself, I like my theme. And it's not too hard.

Black, white and pink all over.

I got some adorable things. Maddy picked out zebra striped plates. I picked out black and white polka dot napkins. I got clear cellophane snack bags with a Damask print to send home pink sprinkle popcorn as the favors.

And my favorite of all??? A zebra print cake mix. With pink icing on top.

Last year, for the first and last time, I looked up pintrest for maddy's 4th birthday party theme: sprinkles.

Before that event, my party M.O. was lazy simple.

I baked cupcakes and frosted them. Maddy decorated them with sprinkles. They always looked awful, but tasted great. I served it with ice cream. And your choice of water or coffee.

Family came over, and we opened presents. And that was It. No fanfare. No themes. No favors, no games, no nothing. At least nothing Facebook- or pintrest-worthy.

But last year, I wanted do something really special. And with the help of my sisters, we pulled it off, and sprinkle party still gets mentioned by maddy a year later. (And might I add, it took about a year to stop finding sprinkles in the rocks in our floor.)

But as much as that party lives on in Maddy's book of all-time-cool memories... I was craving something simpler this year.

The theme started with a pack of cute black and white birthday candles. And I knew I had to get them.

Same trip, I find the cake to beat all cakes. I'd already tackled tie-dye cupcakes... And what could be more perfect?? Zebra print cake, with pink frosting.

Maddy would LOVE this.

(or maybe, really, this one was all about me.)

The cake started out tonight awesome. The pattern was coming out just like it said it would. I only needed one cake pan --- which was great because little miss has managed to hide one of our cake pans and I can't find it anywhere.

When I cut the cake in half to add icing in the middle, the inside looked amazing.

(And that, my friend, is the very last time anyone will use the word "amazing" for this cake.)

When I added the top layer, it was falling apart. I couldn't flip it over properly, so I had to put the top on upside down. I've done it before without much fuss.

But this time the cake is literally crumbling apart. Ryan tried to hold the sides together as I slathered on all the icing I could. I think I hoped magically the icing would turn into pink, strawberry-flavored glue.

It did not.

And I had used all my icing, and there was none left for the sides.

I only had a can of purple vanilla icing in my pantry.

Ok, I thought. I can make this work. Pink on top, purple on the sides. Maybe I can make it look like this was on purpose.

But the icing on the sides just literally pulled the cake apart.

My beautiful masterpiece looked like a kindergartener's science fair project erupted all over it.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Ryan promises to bake a cake tomorrow in the copious amount of free time we (don't) have.

But I didn't want just any cake. I wanted THiS one. With the zebra print.

Ryan (the logical one here) reminds me that it is JUST a cake. Maddy will love it. (and she probably will.) "We'll feed this one to the kids, and make a prettier one for the adults."

As I concede and head to bed, I think to myself... You know. It's not just a cake. It's a memory. And I have a choice to make this one a shameful, embarrassing one. Or a memory we can laugh at for the years to come.

I choose to laugh.

As I head into Maddy's room long after she's given in to her dreams, I kiss her soft, squishy cheek and hold her limp hand. And I pray that tomorrow I forget all that party stuff which doesn't really matter anyway... And choose to enjoy and celebrate the most beautiful blessing on earth ...

My (not-so-baby) girl Maddy.

Happy 5th birthday sweetheart. And may we have many more cakes and memories to laugh at in the years to come.

(Maddy's sprinkle party last year... And proof that I do know how to frost a cake:)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The spirit of Christmas

The other night while dutifully folding laundry, I was watching a Christmas special. I remember last year, Netflix had a whole bunch of cute Hallmarky kind of movies, and this year I wanted to find one.

I started -- and stopped -- a few different holiday specials. As much as I understand that most of the world doesn't celebrate Christ anymore... I still found the explanations of "Christmas spirit" to be somehow not enough.

Which made me really think about what the Christmas spirit is anyway.

Is it a drive to help others that starts on a Friday in November (and I would argue that it most definitely does not) and ends abruptly on December 26? Is it a time to celebrate family? Is it a time to let each other know how much we love them?

Is it a time to have childlike dreams come true? A time to "celebrate" with every friend and acquaintance? Is it a time of tradition, of making egg nog and sugar cookies? A time to eat delicious food without guilt, and max out our budgets without remorse?

I guess the heart of what I'm searching for is, what is a Christmas without Christ?

Some people may staunchly tell you that you cannot have a meaningful Christmas without Christ. And I would argue that tons of people have a meaningful holiday without God being anywhere near the heart of their celebration.

We all have meaningful days in our lives without including Christ. People around the world will be enjoying deep tradition, new beginnings, first Christmases for babies or couples, thoughtful gifts given and received, a well-deserved break from work, and the joy that can come from being around the people you love.

In short, they will be enjoying the "Christmas spirit" our culture has sold us.

But the joy that comes from those Christmases is all so dependent, isn't it? It depends on being surrounded by all of your loved ones, having hope in your circumstances, feeling healthy and whole, having time to take a break, and being free from the ever-present taint of grief.

Where is the joy of family when when your family is embroiled in a bitter divorce?How do you enjoy unwrapping gifts when the budget is so tight, you couldn't afford to fulfill your own children's wishes? What do you do when you're planning on celebrating new beginnings... But your pregnancy just ended in miscarriage? How do you find joy in delicious food when your body is battling cancer? What if you already feel lonely, or hopeless, poor, sad, angry or hurt?

The traditions and the gifts and the celebrations really aren't enough to satisfy. Not deeply anyway. Not in a way that would cover up all the hurt, disappointments, frustrations, broken relationships and lost dreams that can seem extra hurtful when you surrounded by other people's Christmas spirits. In fact, the Christmas spirit might just make everything hurt MORE.

This year, I am thankful the Christmas spirit is not enough.

I may not be as broken as I have been in years' past. And yet, I find that when I think about all the fun of Christmas -- the presents, the food, the celebrations, the services -- they simply don't add up to a spirit of joy in me.

Our family is embroiled in a painful divorce. I expected to be giving birth in a few weeks, but I am not. I had hoped we would have little miss as ours forever at this point, but we are still waiting. I had hoped to spend time with all my family, dining on our traditional feasts and exchanging gifts with all the kids. But my family is scattered.

The spirit of Christmas is not a balm enough for the hurt I've experienced, the disappointments, the failures.

And I am thankful it is not.

Because that opens my heart to the true Spirit of Christmas. The gift if God's only son. God's heart broke with His gift, so ours no longer had to. The promise of a deeper love, unending and without condition, broke through this desperate world of ours with the shout of angels and a newborn's cry.

His is a gift that can never be destroyed by disease, untimely death, divorce, broken promises, despair, hopelessness or heartache.

His gift is the perfect gift.

Perhaps this just propels the myth that Christ is only for the weak, the broken, the hurting. But maybe it's just that it's when we are weak, when we know the things of this world cannot satisfy, then alone are we most open to the best gift of all.

The gift of Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow, I hope you will join me in celebrating the true SPIRIT of Christmas.

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours --

Rachel, Ryan, Maddy and Little Miss

"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong."
1 Corinthians 1:27

Monday, December 23, 2013

Women of many talents

The other day, I posted about singing up front at a service for the first time in over a year. A dear friend commented that I was a woman of many talents.

Which was very sweet, but it got me thinking... Aren't we all women of many talents?

Mine just might be more "on stage" than yours. Mine are the kind you can do at your school's talent show.

But let me tell you girls, you have a heck of a lot of talents I wish (wish wish wish) I could possess.

My friends Stacy, Meredith and Deanna have awesome organization skills. I've said if they are Type A, then I am Type Z. They can run organizations, naturally lead, have great business sense, and manage time like its nothing. In fact, they are actually on time to things. (To me, that's right up there with having magical powers.)

My mom is crazy-skilled at home-keeping, time management and hostessing. You will never want for food at her house. (Yet at mine, we are out of milk, bread, cream --and therefore by default, coffee -- cereal, oatmeal, apples and peanut butter right now. Not to mention that we have piles of laundry all over over our living room, a phenomena I don't ever recall seeing in my childhood.) I think my kids will be eating a stick of butter each for breakfast in the morning. (Just kidding... I think.)

My friend Jessica is empathetic, compassionate, soft-spoken and loving. She reminds me of the verse somewhere in the Bible that says, in reference to her kids, "they will arise and call her blessed."

My friend Jeni is a rockstar at getting stuff done. My friends Grace and Emily so impress me with their discipline in running. My friend Melissa loves her kids like no one's business. Kristin will do anything for you, and is one of the most generous and giving people I know. Jeanne is super smart and gives great advice, and always shows that she listens and cares. Marilyn shows so much grace, kindness and strength of character.

My sister Sarah is gorgeous, is the best hostess I know, is a fabulous cook, bakes with the best of them, is super generous and is a fabulous mom. My sister Judy... Well, there's probably nothing you could put in front of her that she couldn't do.

My friend Robin has stuck with me persistently since we were (wait for it ... ) in junior high gym class. She's pursued me through tons of national and international moves between the two of us. She has a heart for God, and doesn't get nearly as caught up as I do in perfectionism. She really balances me out.

Stevie blows me away with her sensitivity, generosity, the way she feeds her family, and runs a business from home.

Bethany has the uncanny ability to meet me and others in grief. She makes me laugh and cries with me. She has a gift of sisterhood.

If I've left you off this list, it doesn't mean I haven't noticed your talents. I have, and do... And yes, every once in a while I wish your talents were mine.

(For those of you who possess the
Magical Power, will you please tell me, is there a pill or something I can take that will make me on time?!?!)

I think sometimes when we see others talents, we wish we had them for ourselves. (Perhaps that's just me though.)

But when I really think on it, I, for one, am glad none of us are perfect in talent.

Think of a girl who is perfect in everything she does. Sound like someone you want to be best friends with? Probably not.

And you know what? She probably would be a little lonely herself. If we knew her, we might be so intimidated we'd completely miss out on her friendship and the joy her personhood might bring.

So my challenge to all of us is this:

Affirm those talents in yourself, and affirm them in your friends. Show everyone the gift of who they are to you. And be happy with the gift you are to others.

And give others and yourself lots of grace, because in their own way, our weaknesses are gifts too.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The beginning of things

A trailhead. Doesn't look like much, does it?

The other day, I was looking at my stats for this new blog. Now, I'm not complaining one little bit, but I'm used to seeing numbers much much much bigger next to my name.

 I was reminded of how easy it can be to give value to your work based on numbers or popularity. When I see a 1,000 or 40,000 in my stats, I feel like a really great blogger.

But when I see 2 next to my name, suddenly, I don't feel so great.

"Can I really write something people want to read??" I wonder.

And when I doubt myself, I go back and look my other blog... Maybe to remind myself that I am still the same blogger with the same voice, even if I don't have an audience (yet.)

It reminds me of a few lessons I've been learning lately. "Attach your significance to the activity, and not the outcome." Ooooh, I love that lesson. And "success builds on itself." Each success you have no matter how small helps boost you on to greater challenges, bigger risks and higher rewards. So it's important to recognize and appreciate any success, no matter how small.

This all got me wondering about the beginning of things.

In the beginning of anything (I don't care what it is), there's very little reward. There's very little recognition. In fact, the beginning of something great can sometimes mask itself as the beginning of nothing at all. (Or just the beginning of a great big mess.)

Just like when you cook. At first, each ingredient looks humble and not so special. As you take the time to weave it all together, you end up with dirty dishes and messy counters.

(And if this represents where you're at in your new job or business venture, you mat be asking yourself, "What was I thinking! My life was so neat and tidy till I got this crazy idea to mix things up.")

And still nothing to show for the mess. But you keep going, follow the recipe to the last period, and voila!! A beautiful gourmet masterpiece! (or maybe you end up with hot dogs. We all have those days.)

I wonder how many bloggers stop writing because they got caught up in the numbers. They saw the mess and no results, and just didn't stick with it long enough to find their niche and find their voice? And so the beginning met the end, without ever creating a middle.

How many small businesses, home-based businesses, Etsy shops, and musicians slowly slow down to a stop. Just because the rewards, or the pay or the stats were slow in coming?

Which reminds me of one last lesson: Leaders are paid for their vision and their tenacity. (I didn't make that up btw. I just heard it and loved it!)

I think the best blogging advice I was ever given was "just keep blogging." Stop worrying about if your message is spot-on, your words are just right or if people seem to be reading. Just keep at it."

I love that advice. It just takes the pressure off of writing. Not every blog post has to be a home run. It doesn't even all have to be deep. But just getting in the habit of being consistent... That's what counts.

I truly believe that most people don't meet their goals because they just don't keep at it LONG enough or OFTEN enough.

So what have you started recently? What keeps you going in spite of not seeing rewards ... only humble beginnings or giant messes? What is your vision and your tenacity that pulls you through?

What a view! The beginning of the hike may not have looked like much ...
but how amazing it is when followed to completion!