Sunday, December 15, 2013

Merry Christmas & The End of Another Year

How is 2013 almost over?  How is it December 15th already???  Not like I-have-no-presents-bought so it snuck up on me, just how it is the end of another year?  I am overwhelmed by the blessings around me.  It seems as though I blinked and found that my children had grown.
See what I mean???  Three going on 13.
This Christmas we are growing and learning and changing, then growing some more.  Addison knows all the words to what seems like every Christmas song and would rather sing them for us than listen to carols.  Audrey repeats everything you say, but in one or two word increments, and primarily using vowels, so everything sounds adorable.  "Miih peas." (Milk please.)  "Thah ooo." (Thank you.)  "euh Auduh?"  (Where's Audrey?")  "buuh buuh Dah-eh" (Bye bye DeLaune)  There are lots of confusing conversations happening in my house!

We made a fun attempt at celebrating advent, using a combination of the advent book our preschool minister put together, and our elf on the shelf, Merry.  We have been good about reading the advent scripture every day and the story from the Jesus Storybook Bible, but I ran out of new places for that sweet "Advent Elf" several days ago, and we don't do all of the daily activities.  I am completely okay with that, though.  (How unlike me!)  And here's why: My kids are three and one.  I desperately want to teach them that Christmas is about Jesus, and that all the fun stuff is just extra.  We talk about that, and reiterate that, and I even told Addison about who the real St. Nick was, and turned it into a magical story about someone who loves sharing the joy of Jesus with children and now lives forever...  But they are so young!  I am not going to drive everyone bananas trying to do everything perfect and Pinterest-y.  I have done that before and no one was okay with that.  Some people can do that and not be insane.  I am not some people.  I want to enjoy their moments, and be in the moment with them, more than make everything a lesson.

Besides that, if you want to analyze everything in your day, just let me send Addison to your house...

Why do you read your Bible?  
But why do you do it every day?  
Why do you want to learn more?
Why is red a Christmas color?
Why did Jesus have to be born?
Why do we give presents?
But why does Santa give presents?
Why do we show love and kindness?

...and on and on.  Y'all this is constant.  She just wants to know everything!  I find that if I am too concerned with keeping my agenda - even things like decorate cookies, wrap presents, go to the zoo, etc.- I miss sweet opportunities to teach.  To love on her with truth.  To learn with her.  To show her, and one day Audrey too, that I make mistakes all the time, and Jesus seeks me anyway.

Recently I have heard and read several lessons/sermons on God's presence and whether or not He still speaks.  It seems like such a simple answer, yet so many miss it.  There have been times in my life that I would have answered "of course God still speaks," but then been too busy or involved or un-receptive to hear Him.  Our pastor gave a beautiful Advent sermon on this today, based on the Christmas story of the shepherds, in Luke 2:8-18.  Here was the gist:
We experience the presence of God when
1) we are receptive to His voice, however He chooses to speak, and to what He has to say
2) we humbly place ourselves under His authority
3) we are willing to turn around and be His messenger for others.

At first glance, it seems that #2 is the doozy.  We are not exactly living in a time or culture that celebrates living under anyone's authority.  But the fact of the matter is that God continues to pursue us, to seek us out in spite of ourselves.  To stretch us and pull us to be more than we thought we would be, often in a way that looks completely different than how we thought it would.

I have a story about this.  It is pretty personal and sounds silly, but I figure if you've read this much you may not judge, or perhaps you need to hear it...

When Brad and I had been married almost a year, I was invited to a Beth Moore conference.  I was not in a place where I thought I needed to learn anything.  I wasn't prepared to be challenged, and frankly I was a little annoyed to be there.  (Sorry Missy, if you're reading this.  Just being honest.)  Brad had started looking into other jobs at other churches and was interested in moving.  I had a job that I loved, was getting used to our life together, and I thought we were doing okay, and I did not want to move.  I was pretty adamant about it.  I was basically a jerk about the idea.  I loved Birmingham and absolutely did not want go anywhere.  For most of this conference I was focused on me and what I thought I needed from our marriage, and was in no way interested in hearing otherwise through scripture, wise counsel from speakers, or otherwise.

Have you ever been to a conference like this?  The BJCC was packed, and in the last few minutes the place slowly began to clear as women tried to beat the crowd to the parking lot.  I remember a large group of women to my right stepped past us to leave just before the last song.  My mother in law and I also began to gather our things and a woman I had not seen before tapped me on the shoulder.  She said, "I think you need this," and she handed me a small card with the words "Just Go!" and "Joshua 1:9" scribbled on it.  Then she walked away.

Let me tell you that I think I stopped breathing for a few minutes.  Nothing in the conference had been on "going."  No song, no session.  How completely random for her to do that.  How would this stranger have known to say that to me?  I hadn't told anyone that Brad was feeling led toward change, or that I was hesitant to go.  I just was angry about it.  Until then.

God showed me just how He would pursue me if need be.  In that clear, audible voice and scribbled note, He gave me a clear answer to a question that I had refused to even ask Him.  My heart broke and changed and softened all at the same time.  Funny how God can do that.  I bawled like a baby the whole way to the car and the entire drive home.  (Want to instantly be closer to your brand new mother in law?  Awkwardly cry in her presence for 40+ minutes and admit all kinds of ugly things about yourself.  Awesome.)
I went home and apologized to Brad and committed to being open to change.  What I thought had been a good marriage changed pretty quickly into an awesome one.  Brad stopped looking to leave Birmingham, and five months later an even better opportunity came looking for Brad.  I love how God works.

Want to know if He still speaks?  Be ready to hear Him.
Want to know if He still speaks?  Be willing to submit yourself to what He says.
Want to know if He still speaks?  Be ready to be the messenger for someone else.

(Can you imagine that other woman?  The conversation she must have had silently with God before walking up to me?  Why do you want me to write this verse on a card?  Who needs to go where?  This is just silly.  Who am I even supposed to give this to?  She is going to think I am crazy!)

I am so thankful that God still speaks.  I am so thankful that when we are hard-headed and hard-hearted He takes drastic measures and uses usable people.  I am so grateful He has a plan that is so much cooler than my own.  I am so thankful He sent His son.

"God loved us and sent His son."  (1John 4:10)

"Come Thou Long Expected Jesus..."
Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart
Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring

"Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  (Joshua 1:9)

This Christmas season, I pray you are brave enough to want to hear God speak.  In the new year, I pray you are willing to be submissive to His authority.  It is so much better than our own.

(I pray I am too, because if another woman approaches me like that again I may have a heart attack.)

Merry Christmas!
This is my youngest nephew and niece with our two gals.
Merry Christmas from them, too!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Happy Armistice Day

Happy Veterans Day.

Or, as I still like to call it, Happy Armistice Day.  I will celebrate my own moment of silence at the eleventh hour today on this eleventh day of the eleventh month, when the fighting in Great War stopped.  (Whatever; I am a nerd and I own it.)  Today I am thankful we don't speak German.  Or Hungarian.  Or Italian I guess.  Or, since I just watched "Killing Kennedy" on National Geographic channel... I am super glad we don't speak Russian.  (Can you imagine?)  But that's a different matter all together.

I am abundantly thankful today for the veterans that I know and love.  And so many others.  That put your safety and mine, and the welfare of our country above their own.  For their families.  For their wives.  Bless them.  For their mamas.  Give them peace.  For their kids.  Give them strength.  (I saw a YouTube thing of a middle school kid giving a speech or something and his dad, who had been serving overseas, came in and surprised him in front of the whole school.  I bawled like a baby.  I am crying right now just thinking about it.)  

My dad is retired Army, having served more than 20 years.  My baby brother carried on the tradition and is a Lieutenant in the Army, serving in the armpit of America.  (Sorry Ft. Polk.)  Both of my grandfathers served.  Brad's grandfather was a cook for the Army.  Our nation has so much to be thankful for, largely due to men and women who committed to serve their country in ways that most of us are unwilling to.  Who fought in so many ways to protect rights and privileges that we enjoy, but would have no idea about if we lived in any other country.  I am thankful.  In the midst of political strife and awful decisions made by our leaders and scandals and drama, I am thankful.  I hope you are too.

In another matter all together, this morning my three year old asked what God's hair looks like.  I can't even make this up, y'all.

Happy Armistice Day.  Give a Veteran a hug or a handshake today.  I'm too far away to hug any of my Vets.  


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My hopes for our gals

Any parent hopes.  Along with love and hugs and exhaustion and fear, comes hope.
I hope she comes quickly.  
I hope she sleeps through the night soon.  
I hope she hurries up and cuts this tooth.  
I hope she's not sick.  
I hope she grows out of this stage quickly.  
I hope she always wants to snuggle.

My baby girl turns one today.  And my sweet husby celebrates his 93rd 33rd birthday this Thursday.  I am not organized, relaxed or timely enough to write two entries to honor them both, so I am killing two blogs with the proverbial stone.  (Or something like that.)



As my baby becomes less and less baby-like every day, I have been thinking a lot about what is in store. That always leads me to prayer.  And gratitude.  And hope.

I hope.  I pray.  For my girls.  For our family.  For our future.  For theirs.  My heart longs for the day when Jesus returns.  And in the meantime I hope.

I pray for the day each of them becomes a follower of Christ.

I hope it is early in their lives.  I hope they have a love for His word.  I hope God reveals Himself to each of them often, reminding them of what Scripture (and their Mama) says.  I pray for this all the time.

I pray for their future families.  I hope they meet a man early in adulthood and fall in love.  Not the romantic-comedy type of falling in love; the non-dramatic, low-key, Brad Gowing certainty kind of love.  The content, calm kind of love.  I hope they are patient until that time comes.  Patient and understanding and not consumed with the desire to be with someone, to have that type of relationship.  I hope they each remember to be concerned with the stuff that truly matters, not the stuff that matters in our culture.

I hope they find someone who is willing to tell the hard truths.  Who leads boldly.  Who helps them take themselves less seriously.  Who loves Jesus first and her next.  Who (only every once in a while) has trouble keeping priorities in line because he is so busy caring about people.  Who is satisfied and content.  These are the things that have and do bless my life every day.

I hope they get the joy of being someone's mama.  I hope they discover how different two kids can be from each other at such an early age.  I hope they find a career they love and that meets their needs, even if it may not last as long as they imagine.  That they are open to change and welcome new seasons.

I hope they will be best friends.  Probably not any time soon, but one day.  My sister and best friend had her baby girl Sunday and the only thing that would thrill me more is if I could be there.  I hope my girls will love on each other and protect each other and speak truth and grace and hope into each other's lives for as long as they are here on Earth.

I hope they know every day how much we love them.  I hope their Daddy and I are around for a really long time to be part of them.

I hope they always want to snuggle.

Happiest of days and weeks, to my baby girl.  And to my sweet husby.

How about you?  What do you hope for your family?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Thoughts on a Sabbath

Lately I have been thinking a lot about God's timing.  The "providential" plan and how it works together.  It is easy for me to dwell on how good God is, from this mostly comfortable place in my life.  It hasn't always been easy to remember God's goodness and faithfulness.  We have several friends in the middle of those types of times.  The out-of-a-job times.  The in-between-jobs, and is-this-the-right-thing-for-us times.  The why-can't-we-start-a-family times.  The money-is-tight times.  The if-I-am-in-God's-will-then-why-I-am-so-stressed-out times.  The I-am-afraid-of-what's-going-to-happen times.

If you are right there, let me offer you some encouragement.  It gets better.  What is happening right now is not IT.  There is a future.  By all means, plan, and prepare, and work hard, and follow doctors and family and boss' advice.  But take a rest.  Give yourself and those around you a break.  And remember that there is also a past.

I heard a really great sermon today from a guest preacher at our church.  He had some different things to say about the Sabbath, and used some different scripture references than I had heard referenced for discussing the Sabbath, but it was such an important message.  Using verses in Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Hebrews, he boiled it down to two points:

1-The Sabbath is not only holy because God declared it to be holy.  It is holy because that is the day to set aside from the toil and daily work of our lives.  Just as God worked at creation and then rested, allowing all of creation to reflect His glory and point us back to Him, so we are to work and then rest, getting rejuvenated so that we can rejoice in and reflect Him.

2-The Sabbath (or whenever we take our rest) is for reflecting.  Only as we look back properly (remembering all that God has done) and look forward properly (faithfully anticipating His future), can we live fully in today.

Living "fully in today" can be a challenge!  When we are stuck in the tough times, we get anxious to get out.  But remember.
Remember that the God who created the universe also created today.
The God who parted the sea and saved His people will redeem you.
The same God who knit you together in the womb has a plan and a purpose for you and your family.
God knows the desires of your heart; He put them there.  Relish in Him today and thank Him.

Take a breath and set aside a Sabbath.  Enjoy something today.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

You've been a mom for how long???

I just realized I haven't written anything on this silly blog since February.  A special day brought me back here.  My big gal turned three today.  I cannot believe it.  I sincerely cannot wrap my brain around it.  Will every year, every milestone be this way?  Will every significant event illicit such an "OH MY GOODNESS! WHY IS TIME SPEEDING BY SO FAST?" type of response?  Probably.

It is 2:56 right now.  Three years ago at this point I was still in the recovery room after surgery, staring at my beautiful baby girl who looked like an exact replica of my baby pictures.  I was in awe of the amazing, gorgeous, real-live, breathing, whimpering, little bit of a thing who slept on my chest.  Let's face it: I still am.  Y'all.  God is simply so good.

I have my regular afternoon episode of "Friends" on right now.  It's the one where Ross' son is born.  I am not exaggerating when I say I cried.  It's just whatever.  I am one blobbery mess today.

Have you ever heard someone say that having kids taught them what it means to have their heart walking outside of their body?  I had read that somewhere, before having children, and I thought it sounded so hokey.  And awkward.  And dumb.  Like, "of course you love your kid; you'd be a monster if you didn't."  But it is so true.  Not only that - mixed with amazement that God has allowed this miraculous, energetic, girly, silly little person to bless your heart each day - but having children has also given me a much deeper understanding of the Father's love for me.  For you.  For us.  How His faithfulness and love and grace and judgment and discipline all coexist.  Perhaps that is why God invented parenthood.

Here are some pictures of what we have been up to the last few months. They sort of highlight her crazy, silly personality.

at my brother's wedding

Yes, she is wearing lipgloss. 
Holding Audrey's hand and telling her to sit still.

Telling Audrey "practice your walking by pushing me in this wheelchair!"  Awesome.

The girls love reading  and snuggling with Daddy
Fourth of July love

"I love the beach! And Pinkalicious! And dancing! And tutus!"

"Mom! Enough with the pictures!"

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

This 7 thing is messing me up

This 7 Experiment is seriously messing me up.  And it's going to make people want to stop being my friends.

Here is a brief review: each week of 7 is a different "fast" experience.  Not a literal fast, but some type of self-chosen challenge out of one of seven categories: Food, Clothes, Possessions, Media, Waste, Spending, Stress.  I am at the end of the "Spending" week.  I am not exactly sure how next week's emphasis on stress will go, as I cannot very well eliminate my main cause of stress - two year old tantrums - from my life without eliminating one of my favorite people...  although I did come close to threatening to eliminate her the other day.  But that's a story for a different post.

I could list all the things I dislike about what I've learned.  That would take too long.

What I love most about what I have learned is that there have been scriptural applications to answer questions that have plagued the bleeding-heart section of my soul for some time.  On more than one topic, Jesus is asking me to take Him at His word and address some heart issues.  Issues that I didn't even realize I had.  Issues that I did not even realize I had, people.  I have a love/hate relationship about when that happens.

Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy... for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

Newsflash to me: perhaps "treasures on earth" also include good things like the savings account, and modest house, and home improvements, and stuff for my kiddos, and... and... you get the picture.  Maybe it's not just what we have, but the value we place on spending our way.  The way we spend our money may actually change our hearts towards the heart of God.  Isn't that the whole point anyways-to become more like Christ?

The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.  (Ps 24:1-2)

Newsflash to me: perhaps caring for God's creation really is an act of worship.  What would happen if I acted on the awe I feel about the world around me... i.e. stop using so many paper products (especially since so many of these, like napkins and paper towels, are non-recyclables)?  Recycle with purpose (and make Brad do it too)?  Use less in general?  It may be that my personal boycott does very little to make any difference, but if God spent five days on this magnificent creation, the least I can do is spend five minutes to work on taking care of it.  Could I become a steward of creation instead of a consumer of it?  Creation care as worship...  Hmmm...

The earth is defiled by its people... (Isaiah 24:1-13)

Newsflash to me: this is not just a political issue.  It's not about the left or right version of climate change. Creation is / can be a spiritual mirror for how at odds we as the Church are with God's commandments.  (That's a heavy sentence.  Go back and read it again.)  When I think about it like that, I get nervous that we are desperately at odds with how God desires us to treat the earth.  How He desires we treat other people.  How He desires we treat His bride, the church.  (I just typed that, then went and changed another disposable diaper, which I am pretty sure will end up in the ocean one day.  I still have a long way to go.)

...Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You foolish people!  Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?  But now as for what is inside you - be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.  Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth... but you neglect justice and the love of God.  You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.  (Luke 11:37-42)

Newsflash to me (and basically everyone): just because we tithe faithfully, or even more than tithe, doesn't mean the rest is ours to dole out as we please.  What burdens your heart?  Is it the Holy Spirit nudging you towards a change?  Right now I am seriously disturbed by the whole my-children's-jammies-are-made-by-child-laborers thing.  This has caused more than a hiccup in my buying.  I went to buy new shoes for AG the other day, and stopped short because I had no way of knowing if that company used suppliers who allowed child and/or slave labor.  No joke.  No new sandals for my gals.  (We do live in the south; they can go barefoot to church without being called redneck till they're at least 10.)  Then I went back to that app I mentioned (from, and looked up toys.  The present I just bought our niece was made by one of the many companies who scored a D-.  Happy birthday Kate!  Your new picnic basket was made by children in sweatshops.  Hope you enjoy!  Ugh.

What if how I buy is an act of worship?  Not just as in "I'm spending our money wisely, pat me on the back," but as in "I refuse to buy into the system that encourages companies to make stuff cheaper at any cost."  Is everything I do a potential act of worship?  Oh my.  Everything I do is a potential act of worship.

Every thing I do is a potential act of worship.  That seems so obvious now.  Even grocery shopping.  Even how I sort my garbage.  Even gardening (laugh, all you who know that I have kept exactly one plant alive for any length of time - I plan to start a vegetable garden if we ever see the sun again.)  Even how/why I save my money.  This one may have hit home the most with me, even more than the purchasing thing.  If I am taking Jesus at His word, and we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, what about the almighty dollar?  What if we started living on less and giving away more?  (Jen Hatmaker, you are ruining my life.  Okay, well, it could have been the Holy Spirit.  Either way.)  If I believe Luke 11, then generosity in spirit and in giving is what will heal my broken heart.  What will draw me close to the heart of God.  Or, "Perhaps we don't need another sermon or a deeper Bible study or a different mentor or a better church to heal what is broken inside us.  It seems an endless focus on ourselves hasn't transformed us in the slightest anyway..."  Thanks Jen.  (inward groan.)

This "experiment" has gone completely different than I thought it would.  If you are reading the book, or are doing the study, or about to do either, I would encourage you to not quit.  I almost did because... well, just because.  Who thinks they need to re-think how they feed their families?  Who puts their foot down and stops buying items just because?  Or, as Jen Hatmaker put it, "Who says 'No' when they can say 'Yes'?"  Good question.  I think the answer needs to be me.

Not to distract from the seriousness of this post, but I cannot help myself:

that is some awesome carrot baby food in her nose.
Mom of the year.

Addison loves Rosco a lot more than he loves her.
Oh well.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Baby Barf

Nothing says "Good Morning!"  like baby barf.  Actually, it screams "GETUPGETUPGETUP! NOWNOWNOW!"  Every day.  For ten days.  Sometimes twice.

I have done more laundry in the last ten days than I did when Addison was a newborn and spit up every hour.  It's really ridiculous.  More on laundry later.

Poor Audrey has been battling the cold Addison gave her, the worst prolonged cough ever, a double ear infection, and she cut her first tooth this week.  It has been a perfect storm to lose sleep.  And to barf every time she has a coughing fit.  Now the big gal has re-caught the cold, and Brad and I both have the scratchy throats that come with too-little sleep.  It's tempting to go back to Why Are We Always Sick land, but with two kids in flu season I am pretty sure this is okay.  Or I think of my sister's sweet baby boy in the hospital for three days with RSV, pneumonia, a stomach bug, and dehydration, and I think we are pretty lucky indeed.  We are just cooped up.  And Addison is tired of having only her mama to talk to and asks "Can we go somewhere today?" every morning.  This virus has overtaken our house, our schedule, my washing machine, and my 7 experiment.

Last Saturday at a baby shower for my sweet friend Leslie, some friends asked if I felt like this "fast" I am doing was drawing me closer to God.  They were specifically talking about the literal fast from food, so I somewhat-honestly (and jokingly) answered no.  But that's not really true.  Check out the last three posts.  And, for me at least, each week of "fasting" becomes more and more personal.

My 7 Experiment last week was to participate in some sort of fast from clothes.  Because it was only a week, I felt like choosing seven items of clothes to wear would be a snap.  And it sort of was.  The only struggle came when all seven items had baby barf on them because I simply could not do laundry fast enough, haha.  The major issue for me came in thinking about how much crap I have accumulated in the clothes department.  Maybe not right now.  We have moved twice in the last year, and I did a decent purge/give-away each time.  But I had so much crap before that.  All stuff that I had a plan for.  Just in case I go back to work full time.  Just in case I lose all the baby weight.  Just in case I don't.  Just in case I have a party to go to where I need to wear a sparkly shirt.  My "just in case" plans are a little ridiculous.  Especially in light of the fact that there are women in our city who desperately need clothes.  And why do I have all this stuff anyway?  The Gap, Loft, Banana Republic and other stores totally have my number: "Let's send her an email every day telling her our stuff is on sale and she will come buy stuff she doesn't really need just because it looks cute and is $10."  I have a serious problem folks.  An I-buy-things-I-don't-need-and-wind-up-wasting-stuff-and-supporting-the-consumer-machine problem.  So I'm taking Jen Hatmaker's dare to extend my "fast" and not buy any clothing items for two months.  Hold me to it.  Let's see what happens.

Now, here is where it gets dicey: I downloaded this app from Free2Work that grades a lot of different brands/companies based on their efforts to eliminate child and forced labor in their supply chains.  This website and app have completely rocked my world.  Of the over 300 apparel brands graded, I was only familiar with some.  But I was complete disheartened by most of those.  Probably 80% of my children's clothes came from companies who scored a D-.  WHAT?!?!?  Seriously sickened.  The image of children without parents forced to work their little fingers to the bone so that my girls can have cute jammies with a dancing monkey on them makes me want to throw up.  Or worse, children sold to some big guy with a club by their parents for the same reason.  Ugh.  I am thrown into the prayer I should be praying all the time: Jesus!  Come back!  End this!  I actually find myself tearing up a little when Addison puts on said jammies.

I took a political science class in college that focused on slavery in the 21st century.  It completely tore me up.  My 20 year old self could not figure out what little old me could do about it.  Now my 31 year old self has one tiny option: don't buy their stuff.  There are plenty of brands I can buy that are not on Free2Work's website for various reasons, so in the meantime I will not purchase the ones that are graded below a B.  Decision made.

Where the rubber meets the road: Costco.  Fifteen different Carters spring dresses in matching designs for the girls at great prices.  I put two in my buggy and walked away.  Wait just one little second.  Sad, frowny faced Maile put them back.  Ten minutes later, I find a box of Hershey brand peanut butter cookie mix with the kisses included. We had these at Brad's parents' house recently.  Delicious.  Into the buggy.  Wait just one little second.  You've got it: Hershey was also graded poorly.  And M&Ms.  How will I live???  (  Check it out.  Prepared to be disappointed.  It seems like such a little tiny thing for me to fight it alone.  But maybe we can do something with this little-by-little.)

This week the fast is dealing with possessions.  In the spirit of 7, I have picked seven categories of junk in our house to give away.  (And not just to dump at the steps of Goodwill.)  Because of the aforementioned purge of our stuff last year, I don't know how much we will be donating.  Perhaps my collection of well-worn mysteries needs to be given to a local library?  What about my huge box of "What if I go back to teaching and need these books as a resource" can go to a school or something.  And I know I have some kitchen stuff that could still go.  So go it will.  And clothes.  Maybe to a women's shelter?  I have started this week a little late due to the barf, but I am playing catch up this weekend.

The point of all this is that I am discovering more and more of who I am.  And I just don't love it.  I want to keep thinking that filling my house with stuff I want but don't need has nothing to do with the poor.  But I am like the folks Isaiah railed against, who he said were "crushing the poor."  In fact, I see myself too clearly in this quote from Jen Hatmaker:
       You care about all the wrong things: religion, not justice for the poor (see Isa. 1:11-17); self-  
       advancement, not orphans and widows (see 1:21-23); wealth, not worship (see 2:7-10); pride,
       not humility (see 2:11-18); shameless sin, not repentance (see 3:8-9).

If I sincerely desire to see God's Kingdom come sooner rather than later, what am I doing about it?  If I am buying what I want, when I want, without concern for who or what it might affect (other than my sometimes miserly husband, haha), am I not in fact crushing the poor?

If you know me, you know I am obsessive enough to turn this into a full time job and all I talk about.  My prayer now is not just for a heart-change regarding my excesses, but also a realistic desire about what I can do.  And the consistency to do it.

If you haven't read David Platt's Radical, or Francic Chan's Crazy Love, or Jen Hatmaker's 7, pick them up in your church's library.  Or my church's library.  To me, they all go together.  And point to where God is leading His church.  I want to be a part of His movement.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What I learned about "fasting"...

What I learned about fasting...  Hmm...

I stink at it.

Seriously.  It should not have been that hard.  But it was.  Excuses like "Malia is in town and I don't get to have good BBQ that often" actually floated threw my head.  (What?  I live in Birmingham!  I could have good barbeque every day of the year if I wanted!  How ridiculous.)  I came up with all sorts of excuses why I needed to cheat.  And I did.  It was very obnoxious to be in my own head all week.  (If I'm being honest, it's a little obnoxious a lot of the time, actually.)

In all seriousness, here's what the start of this little "experiment," and the prayer and study I have been a part of,  has done for me:

Renewed my awareness of the millions of people who are literally starving (you know, instead of just starving because it's been two hours since I've eaten), enslaved, abused, etc.

Reminded me that Jesus is enough - affection, love, conversation, and (especially for me) validation.

Caused me to recognize that I am, in fact, more like one those entitled snobs that none of us can stand than I thought I was.  I want to be able to eat what I want and when.  I do not want to wait.  I want things to be convenient.  I do not want to stop doing what I'm doing because there is something bigger/more/different outside of me and my Gowing bubble.

I have realized that for all the wheat, whole grain, fresh foods, etc. I feed my family, we are not nearly as healthy as I thought we were.

Let's face it: my body is a temple to the Holy and Risen Lord.  Scripture is clear on this fact.  We do not have to go somewhere and ask someone else to talk to God on our behalf; because that covenant was changed with Jesus, my body is the temple.  Do I always treat it as such?

To that point, does God cringe when I pick up ________ from Publix?  I feel better about the whole wheat blah-blah-blah my kid is eating, but there are still 26 ingredients in it, 14 of which I cannot pronounce.  Is it really what's best?

A woman sitting next to me at Bible study tonight pointed out that when God was chastising the Jewish people in the Old Testament, at least once He called them "arrogant, overfed, and uncaring."  How true today.  So, as we continue in the spirit of a fast (after all, the next week is clothes; I promise I'm not fasting from clothes. No one wants that), I am asking that God open my eyes to the areas where I need to care more.  If my possessions steer my heart (as Jen Hatmaker so aptly put it), I pray I'm using what He has given me for His glory.  Not mine.  In 2 Chronicles 20, God's people fasted with expectation.  I have a lot of expectation.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why I should quit before I get any further behind...

If you haven't been here a while, here's a summary of what has been going on in my crazy life: at the insistence of the Holy Spirit, I am doing Jen Hatmaker's 7: an experimental mutiny against excess study.  Today began the week calling for some sort of food-related fast.

Any normal person doing 7 would have looked at the list of suggestions this morning for the "food fast" this week and changed her mind.  One of the choices listed was skipping a trip to the grocery store and using what you have in your kitchen to feed your family all week.  That would probably have been much  more applicable to me.  Especially as I added up all of the food items in my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, and came to over 279!  (I say "over" because I forgot to count the chips, bread, and cereal.)  I am pretty sure that is ridiculous.  I, however, had already prayed over my list of items I was choosing to eat and decided they were appropriate if a little too lenient to be considered a true fast, so I decided to stick to my guns.  Ugh.

The morning started early - I rolled over around 4 I think, and dozed until 6:30.  I read my Bible and did a portion of today's study.  Then before I even got out of my jammies I messed up on the fast thing: I started to get my coffee ready, but remembered at the past second not to pour.  When I fixed oatmeal for all of us, out of habit I put in the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and craisins in my oatmeal along with everyone else's.  Oops.  I ate it anyway.

It is freezing out.  Literally.  Snowing.  See.
our back porch
Of course in central Alabama, when it snows things complete shut down.  Apparently I do too, as all morning long my brain has been pounding "need coffee. need coffee. need coffee."  The funny thing about this is that I drink one small cup a day.  I love coffee and could drink four cups, but limit myself to one.  Why is this so difficult then???

After dropping Addison off at school and Audrey in the nursery, I worked out for like a second.  Afterwards I ran into several friends from Sunday school dropping their kiddos off.  They're all doing a Bible study that I decided not to do because of this 7 fiasco.  As I got in the car I thought, "should I quit 7 and start the other?"  Here's the thing: I've been praying fervently for opportunities to get to know women around me better.  I have said a hundred times that the thing I miss most about Pensacola is the deep friendships there.  I have friends here, don't get me wrong.  Wonderful, sweet friends.  But what I have been praying for is the "oh you're sick?  Here let me bring you some soup..."  The "I forgot to thaw out chicken for dinner and now I'm too lazy.  Want to meet us for Mexican instead?"  The "Myhusbandandorkidsaredrivingmenutsbutyouknowmewellenoughtolovemeanyways" kind of friends.  So I drove away stumped.  Wouldn't that opportunity have been it? What I have been praying for?  Why, then, all the push from the Holy Spirit to do 7?  I came home a little bummed out.  (And un-caffeinated!)  I realize part of the point of a fast is for prayer, so I start seriously praying.  Not because I'm burdened or sad or lost or angry.  I just want there to be a point  to all this!  I heard Jen say on the video that accompanies our study yesterday that sometimes our attachment to what we feel entitled to (i.e. "I want my food how I want it and I want it now) is a mask for our need for approval, love, validation.  That's it.

That's it for me.  Don't I already have all that I need?  Haven't there been enough folks pouring into my life?  Isn't it time for me to do that for someone else?

Or better yet, haven't I already been validated?  Loved?  Is it not enough that Jesus died on the cross for me?  What more validation, what better friend do I need?   

Part of this study is becoming more aware of the poorest of the poor around the world.  The trafficked, the enslaved, the abused, the hungry and starving.  I am thrilled and anxious about this part of it.  That leads to my prayer for myself during this "experiment":

Lord, may you break this spirit of entitlement in me, and in its place may there be less of me and more of Your Kingdom.  Give me a right perspective, and wisdom, discernment, and mercy.  Help me care about the neediest, and learn how you want me to act.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This 7 thing is going to kill the last bit of sanity

Have you looked up 7 yet?  You should!  Or check out Jen Hatmaker's blog.  The book intro is pretty funny.  (It is a little like having a conversation with my good friend Barbara Burks: upfront, completely honest, not alone, and leaves you wishing you had the boldness to say more things out loud.)  The blog and book together are leaving me more and more uncomfortable with how I spend, wish, live, etc.

Tomorrow starts a week of this "experiment" where I am supposed to come up with some sort of food-related fast.  This will be difficult for me for lots of reasons:
I love food.
I have never turned food down.
I am currently cooking for a husband, a picky 2 year old, and nursing a baby and I simply do not think I can function while cooking 3 sets of every meal for a week.

Yesterday I tried to sit down and make a list of the foods I thought my entire family could survive on.  Things like " if I list tomatoes, can I include tomato sauce?" ran through my mind.  (Perhaps this misses the point of a fast.)  My smoke detector started going off during nap time (it's overly sensitive and goes off every other time I use the iron; I wish this could explain why my family looks wrinkled on a regular basis but it doesn't).  The alarm startled both of my semi-sleeping girls, causing about twenty minutes of frantic screaming from both at the same time, and leading to an hour of the baby only not crying if I was holding her (very unlike her).  I had a nap-time list of things to do about a mile long, so by the time I got everyone settled down I was stressed out and hungry and still trying to think of foods I could live on for a week.  What did I do to calm down?  Quickly devoured 4 oatmeal raisin cookies.  Seriously.  (Did I mention that I don't turn food down?  They were asking to be eaten!)  I then proceeded to make three successive mistakes on an evite that I sent out, spilled the crayons I was trying to clean up, made a mess on my up-to-that-point clean white kitchen floor, and remembered that I had laundry in the washer quickly molding.  I was completely at a loss and thought to myself "there is NO WAY I am going to get through this week without candy!"  Then I tossed back some M&Ms to make it till dinner.  (Its a wonder I am not diabetic.)

In all seriousness, I am interested in this fast thing.  It's something I've never done, and I'm excited about what the Lord has to show me.  I have been praying that I don't turn this study/experiment into a list of "to dos" to check off - as the obsessive compulsive side of me has a tendency to do - and instead allow it to be an opportunity for less of me and my stuff, and more of God.  The sections of this "experiment" are:

Aren't we all in need of down-sizing in at least a few of these areas?  Besides the sugar addiction, food is not really something I struggle with, but I regularly have to repent of coveting others' clothes and stuff.  I am on Facebook WAY too much, and I'm sure Brad can't wait for me to go through the spending part of this.  I am pretty sure I'll have to give Brad up during the stress week though, as he is typically what stresses me out.  (Just kidding... a little.)  So if this turns into something more than a few weeks of time set aside for prayer, and becomes a life of a little less Maile out there, I am absolutely positive it's for the best.

So here it is, the 13 foods I think I'm going to live on for a week:
Tomatoes/tomato sauce
Cheese/milk products
Whole wheat bread
Whole wheat pasta

To keep my sanity, I may be forced to make adjustments along the way.  Please note: zero caffeine and zero sweets.  Ugh.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

4 Months, 31 woman, and 7 things I'm a little anxious about

I kind of can't stand shots for my kids.  Scratch that.  I really can't stand them.  Scratch that.  I kind of can't stand visits to the pediatrician.  Scratch that.  It's really just well visits that I don't like.  Scratch that too.  It's really just that I cannot stand, get unbelievably annoyed, see red about the fact that I made an appointment over a month ago for my kid to be here so I know you knew I was coming yet we were still here for almost two hours, the nurse looked at me like I have a colicy baby but really I just have an infant who doesn't need to sit in this sterile, bright room in only her diaper for forever waiting to be stuck by multiple needles and missing her naptime, and I'm super nervous anyways about shots because I read that Jodi Picoult book about the kid who wasn't autistic until he had shots as a kid.  Phew!  It felt good to get it off my chest.  (English teacher friends - forgive me.  But if you have ever had a conversation with me you know that this is exactly what it sounds like coming out of my mouth.)

Just so you don't think I'm crazy and dumb: I like my pediatrician.  And I love that every time we have gone in for a sick visit, it's a super short wait.  That's why we still go there, in spite of the ridiculous wait sometimes.  And I will, of course, continue to vaccinate my kids; I would of course choose life for them over the debilitating diseases we're vaccinating against.  And, yes, I know you don't "catch" autism; I'm just a little nuts and look for reasons to be nervous about my kiddos.  Today was Audrey's four month check up.  And it was a doozy.  Can you tell it stressed me out a little?

On another note, I have been meaning to write about some things on here, but have been waiting to work out how it all fits together in my brain.  I do not have that figured out yet, but here goes.  Bear with me.

Have you ever read Proverbs 31?  "A woman of noble character, who can find?..."  (Gee thanks.)  It has popped up on my radar several times in the last month, which usually means I am supposed to do something/learn something.  I sort of ignored it at first.  I mean, I've read this chapter about a hundred times. I know it's supposed to be challenging women to do a bunch of great things for her husband and family.  I kept reading people's blogs, and hearing about this girl on the Today Show, all who tried to do each of the things in the chapter and  failed miserably.  (Who wouldn't?  I mean, "In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers." vs. 19  What in the world is a distaff?  And I can sew but I certainly don't own a spindle.)  It seemed to me that these women were being overly analytical - a habit most women I know struggle through - and were simply missing the point of the chapter.  So on Tuesday when I walked into Moms and More, a monthly Bible study my pastor's sweet wife leads, and saw that the topic was Proverbs 31, I rolled my eyes.  (Is a minister's wife allowed to roll her eyes about the Bible?  Not sure.  Shhh.)  But, as all things involving the Holy Spirit do, it was exactly what I needed.

In the spirit of starting the new year, well, new, I've been mentally reviewing and rethinking the way I do my job.  Since my job is my kids, my husband, and our house, I've really been thinking and praying about the way our days are laid out.  Talking to other stay at home moms and reading blogs (this pesky internet will be the death of me), I began to think all my time could be better spent.  What?  All?  Yes, all.  I re-thought trips to the store with two kids, showering while the girls are awake (read: showering ever), how I choose what I buy for our family, etc.  This brief review of Proverbs 31 was, for me, an encouragement.  In a nutshell, here's what it takes to be that "woman of noble character":
Fear the Lord. (vs. 30)
Be trustworthy with my marriage relationship, the lives & minds of my children, and strive to manage our home well.  (vs. 11-12)
Make wise choices when shopping; teach my children, no matter what I'm doing; work vigorously and eagerly (read: don't take two day to finish laundry, quit griping about the clutter, etc.) (vs. 13-14)
Give freely to the less fortunate and provide for those who serve (vs. 20 and 15)
Prioritize (vs. 27)

In other words, keep up the fight girls.  Use your time wisely.  Put your family first.  And when you need a nap or a shower, take one.  (Especially the latter.)  And quit beating yourself up about stuff.

On a similar front for me (and I use the war-like term on purpose here, folks), I have started the Bible study 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  I am excited and nervous and annoyed about it, all at once.  A few weeks ago I looked at a list of Bible studies being offered this semester at my church, and this was one that peaked my interest, but I was on the fence.  I mean, I don't feel like we live in excess.  But that's beside the point.  Within a week of hearing about this study, I had heard from three other people (without my soliciting their advice) that I should absolutely read the book and do the study.  (Holy Spirit.  Ugh.)  I balked, though.  "If you compare our little family to ________ who lives down the street or across town, or who sits down the pew from me, or who I follow on Pinterest, I am practically living in poverty."  That's something I might say to myself.

But the thing is that the Holy Spirit is not interested in how I match up to folks around me.  What matters is how much of me is doing what I've been called to do.  So I'm swallowing my anxiety and reading up on others around the world.  And pouring through scripture with the author, Jen Hatmaker.  And becoming obsessed with her blog.  (Read it.  Now, please.)  And sort of wishing that I had never heard of this craziness.  (I mean, I am going to have to fast from food.  Actually not eat some stuff folks.  It sounds sort of insane to me.)  And also getting excited that God is drawing me into what He is doing in His church.  Think about it: Francis Chan.  David Platt.  Jen Hatmaker.  A ton of other folks at Passion Conference, for two years in a row.  Something radical is happening here y'all.  Not just here, but all around the world.  The Bride of Christ has been called to be the hands and feet of our Lord, and we can't continue to pretend that we don't really know what that looks like.  Or that our lives are actually challenging or persecuted.  (If you have no idea what I am talking about, please go immediately to or your local library and buy/borrow Chan's Crazy Love, Platt's Radical, or look up Passion Conference, 2013.  Be prepared to feel uncomfortable.)

It may take a few years before all of this new way/old way/the-way-Believers-should-have-been-in-the-first-place becomes commonplace, or frankly it may never be, but I want to be a part of it.  And I am thankful God nudged me to at least be on the edge.  (To be honest I have been praying that Jesus comes back ASAP, like before my children hit puberty, but that's a blog for a different day.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Happy New Year... a little late

Did the holidays completely wear you out?  The weeks in between Thanksgiving and Christmas are always a little hectic - even for me who makes it a point to do as little "Christmas shopping" during the actual Christmas season as possible - with parties and visits to Santa and Christmas services, etc.  Add to that the seemingly unending Crud that we Gowings were passing around and it just seemed draining!

Our Christmas trip to North Carolina was a blast!  Mom put together a beautiful setting for us to celebrate Christ's birth, with a couple of new family members.  We got to spend time with my dad, back from Iraq for a few weeks, my brother and his fiance, and my sister's sweet little family.  Audrey loved the extra attention, and Santa Claus (and "RaRa") nailed it with the gifts for Addison, who cannot stop playing with her new princess toys.  We normally watch a little too much TV, and December I was worse than usual: instead of a few episodes on Disney and a movie now and then, we enjoyed those Christmas movies that were playing almost nonstop!  Apparently Addison misses them: on Sunday she informed me, "If the Grinch's mommy would just give him a bath, maybe he could be pink instead of green.  If he were pink then he would be happy, like Christmas, and love Jesus."  What?!?

 Right after we returned, I threw the gals and some laundry in the car to head south the Pensacola for "cousin camp" with the McPherson side of the family.  What a crew!  I loved getting to visit with the kiddos, watch Addison attempt to wrestle with the big boys, "ice" skate at the Blue Wahoo's winter wonderland, visit with some sweet friends, and generally enjoy a house full of loved ones.

Thinking about the year that has passed is a little overwhelming!  So many changes...
Our little family of three was in a new town

Then there was a baby on the way

New House.  New Adventures

Addison turned two

And started preschool

And learned where my make up is

We welcomed sweet Audrey Lynn

Addison loves her baby sister

And we started functioning as a family of four...
We are learning how to manage.

Happy New Year!  I pray you have a blessed 2013.  And that you're finding places to put all your Christmas stuff.