Last month, I went on a 24-hour retreat with a group of women from our church.

That statement in no way conveys what a big deal this was. The last time I’d gone away all by myself was over fiver years ago. I was pregnant with our first child and working for a nonprofit. In that role, I spent one night at a camp we ran for high school students; fun, but hardly a “retreat.”

Until the second I left, I was convinced that I wouldn’t make it to the retreat. Something was bound to go wrong: a child would end up in the ER, or I’d get sick, or the dishwasher would explode. So when I found myself actually pulling down the driveway, I was surprised at just how HARD it was to drive away. I spend most days looking for any chance to take a break from my kids, but when the chance finally came, I . . . missed them. I missed my girls and my husband while the garage door was still closing. And there was something else: a little twinge of . . . guilt. I felt . . . selfish.

I’m not a clingy mom. My husband and I take advantage of generous grandparents to go on many kid-less overnight trips — although in these cases, I can easily justify leaving because I’m doing it for our marriage. I wasn’t worried about my husband’s ability to handle three little girls for twenty-four hours; he’s very competent, it was only 24 hours, and I’d be at a retreat center ninety minutes away. And I thought it was important to go. With a fourth child due soon, I figured it could be years before I’d be able to get away again.

But then it hit me: This is the biggest thing I’ve done JUST FOR MYSELF in five years.

That was promptly followed by this question: Who is MYSELF? After five years of more or less living in reference to kids and husband, is there any ME left in there?

As I left my house behind, I felt like I was tangled in a web with sticky filaments binding me to husband, children, household responsibilities, family and friends. Not an unwelcome web, but one that restricted my full range of motion. Throughout that ninety-minute drive up a mountain and down again, I could feel the filaments of my web stretching to their limits. They didn’t snap entirely, but as I parked in the retreat center lot I felt more alone than I’d felt in years.

You might say that a good part of this retreat’s spiritual work happened on the drive there.

But my work wasn’t done. After checking in and greeting friends and eating a delicious dinner (that I didn’t have to prepare), I sat down for the evening session. The topic? “Longing.” The discussion focused on the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar healed by Jesus in Mark 10. When Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

So that was what we were supposed to ask ourselves: if Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” how would I answer? What was I longing for?

This question was an extension of my conversation with myself in the car. What WAS I longing for?

An immediate list of superficial things came to mind: A book contract. Sleep. A new wardrobe. An industrial washer/dryer. But these weren’t questions that I’d spent any amount of time seriously pondering — let alone imagined Jesus ASKING ME. I like to keep Jesus in a safe, comfortable place, where I ask Him, “So, Jesus, what can I do for YOU today?” Having Him turn the question back on me was scary; it meant I had to know who I was and what I wanted.

So there it was. That was my longing: I wanted to know who I was and what I was supposed to do. I wanted to know my calling.

I did get an answer, although not the one I expected. I recalled that Kathleen Norris, in her excellent book Amazing Grace, writes, “If a call merely confirms a comfortable self-regard, if God seems to be cleverly assessing our gifts and talents just as we would, I would suggest that it is highly suspect.”

In other words, a true calling is usually CHALLENGING. So I asked myself: What’s challenging for me? The answer: What you’re doing right now: being a wife and mother. Who you are RIGHT NOW is the person stuck in that web, connected to husband and children and household responsibilities and family and friends. And you need to learn to find joy and meaning in your stuck-ness.

After leaving my family for twenty-four hours, I wanted to go home again.

The next morning, I walked in the woods before driving home. I don’t normally put much stock in signs, but lying right in my path, atop the snow, was a tiny bird’s nest. It must’ve blown out of a nearby tree. I picked it up to show my daughters, and as I held it for the rest of my walk, I had a chance to study it. Ever really looked at a bird’s nest? They’re made of scraps; this particular one was made from strips of bark like the ones I’m constantly sweeping up around our woodstove. But some bird had spotted these scraps, seen their value, and thought: I’ll use those shreds to make a home.

As I drove back to my home, I was ready to do likewise.

Posted in Adversity, Being a Woman, Marriage, Parenting, Self Esteem | 1 Comment

Memory Making 101

One of my more vivid memories is of the time my sister and I decided to swap bedrooms for a while. We’d moved everything else, and it was down to the furniture. My mom and I removed my bedding, the mattress and box spring, and were left with just the frame to disassemble. It was the bed frame I had always wanted — shiny white wrought iron, day bed style, with hearts. I loved that thing. However, over the course of the next hour and a half, I would begin to wish I had never laid eyes on it.

This was not a difficult task. As a matter of fact, no tools were even required. Literally, all we had to do was lift and pull the corresponding pieces apart. We lifted, pulled, tugged, shifted, angled, leaned, and did everything humanly possible to take this bed frame apart. It simply would not budge. We stood there, yanking and heaving and making no progress, all the while scratching our heads in utter and complete confusion. There were no screws, no hardware of any kind. What the heck was holding this dumb thing together? We were exasperated. After nearly ninety minutes, we were sweaty, breathing heavily and pretty out right ticked off. We were smart people! What we we missing?

Eventually, we were ready to run up the white flag. We could not figure out what else to try. So we looked at one another, shook our heads, and gave up. At the precise moment that we both let go of the frame, the FREAKING THING JUST FELL APART ON ITS OWN. We lost it. We collapsed on the floor, laughing hysterically, tears streaming. To this day, I don’t think either one of us has laughed as long and hard as we did that day. When one of us would calm down enough to catch a breath, the other would start cackling all over again. I remember how sore my stomach muscles were, and crying out, “Stop!  It hurts! Stop laughing!”

Why is this memory so much stronger than most of the others? Because in those moments, I felt something very deeply. I felt a strong and deep sense of frustration, racking my brain, helpless to figure out such a small, easy task. Then I swung to the other extreme, being overwhelmed with hilarity and disbelief, and utter exhaustion from prolonged laughter. And in both ways, I felt connected to my mom in that powerful way that can happen when you share an intense experience.

This experience did not alter the course of my life in any way. The regular routine of life resumed immediately afterward. It wasn’t even the details of the scenario that were especially extraordinary. It was the feelings. It is the FEELING of what happens that makes it stick. The more intensely you feel something, the more deeply that experience seems to burn itself into memory.

As a parenting coach, I get asked a lot of questions about how to go about the routines of family life. “How important is it that I serve a home-cooked meal every evening?” “Should we do devotions at bedtime or in the morning?” “Do we really need to take a week-long vacation every year?”

My response to these types of questions is generally this; do what works for your family. What your child is most likely to remember about family dinner is how he FELT. Was it a time of togetherness, when the family gathered and shared about their day or told jokes? Or was it a time of conflict or anxiety, with family members complaining and chastising one another? He is most likely to remember how he felt sitting at the table night after night, NOT whether the lasagna was homemade or store-bought! If grilling hotdogs or bringing in pizza once a week allows for the family to relax and enjoy a meal together, by all means, do it!

What your child is likely to remember about a family vacation is NOT how long it was, or how far away and exotic the location was. He WILL remember how he felt on that vacation. Did the family do some of the things he was interested in? Did that make him feel special and valued? Or did he never get a vote on where the family went for dinner or which activities were chosen? Did he feel ignored and unimportant?

It’s the feeling that stays with us, and it is that feeling that sears the details of an experience onto the brain like a tattoo. When it comes to making family memories, let’s truly not sweat the small stuff. Rather than spending the bulk of your time and energy on the details of how, what and where, I would like to propose a new question: “What does it feel like to be my kid during dinner time?” “What does it feel like to be my kid when we are away from home?” “What does it feel like to be my kid during the holidays?”

You get the picture. We all want to provide our kids with a childhood that they can look back fondly on and be thankful for. Make the best choices you can with the information you have, and then major in creating meaningful experiences, where they have the opportunity to feel deeply valued, appreciated, loved, and enjoyed!

Want to read more articles like this one?  Check out Stephanie’s blog over at

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Resting to Please God


The other night I had a dream. It is kind of embarrassing actually. I dreamt I was so busy running around that the only time I had to sit still and be quiet was when I was, ahem, about to use the bathroom. People realized that this was the only time I had to myself, so they would seek me out at this normally solitary moment. Even my pastor came looking for me, trying to share a verse he felt I needed to read. Ever ready to read, I pulled out my Bible and read Exodus 20:10, proclaiming, after I was finished reading, that this verse was salvation.

Of course, I don’t often dream. True to my dream, I am always running around trying to fit this and that into my schedule. I reflected on this and my dream as I looked at a picture of my schedule, proud of myself that I have such a full life. That is, I was proud of it until one of my relatives saw the schedule and commented, “Where’s the “rest”?” Thinking my dream and my cousin were on to something, I decided to look up the verse in my dream and I realized it was for me, and other busy women:

“But the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you.”

I read my Bible daily, sometimes as I’m brushing my hair, sometimes I listen to the audio version while I’m in my car, but recently it occurred to me, I don’t rest for myself, and I also don’t rest with God. Sure I attend church services on the weekends, and Wednesday nights, and I’m part of an evening Bible study with women. I’ve fed the homeless, prayed for prostitutes, and babysat for single mothers. But rest? To take a whole day and to nothing for God’s glory? How does that please the Lord? I can really identify with Martha of Luke 10:38-42:

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’ But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Why is it so hard to rest? I’ve dreamt before on numerous occasions that I was sleeping! I know the reasons, one of which is fear. I know that I am saved by grace, and I know that other busy women also know this. But the dishes need to be washed, the clothes need to be ironed, and if we don’t get involved in fifty different ministries, then we aren’t as good a Christian as the woman down the block, and we fear the frown of God and other Christians.

I’m learning something through learning how to rest: I’m learning to say no, and to not worry about the frown of others. I’m learning God wants us to rest, and rest in Him.  Because when we take one day off a week just to rest, we bring God glory.

What I love about God is that He not only tells us to rest in Exodus 20, but in Genesis 2 He gives us the example of resting. And if it’s good enough for God, shouldn’t it be good enough for us?

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Posted in Theology & Philosophy | Leave a comment

Lost and Found: Moses’ Tale

It was 5AM yesterday morning when my phone buzzed with the text:

“Moses has been found :]”

My east coast family still can’t get used to my west coast time zone so I was roped into one of those wonderful early-morning group texts. My brother had just left a visit with us and toward the end of it he found out his beloved French bulldog, Moses, had gone missing. He got lost around my parents’ house where he was staying.

I have to pause this story and explain how much my family loves its dogs. They have always been like our children and members of the family. My brother’s dog is his best friend so the news was not taken easily.

How could this guy not be your best friend?

Being 3,000 miles away for eighteen more hours, my brother, along with us, took to social media and the internet to begin looking for him and spreading the word. Within minutes people began joining the mission of finding Moses. People who didn’t know my brother and who I barely know were sharing the photos and using the hashtag #FindMoses.

Search parties were formed. Neighborhoods were canvassed. The Humane Society was called. Many of us began to despair. Wouldn’t someone keep him if they found him? He is such a valuable and lovable dog. . . . What if the unthinkable had happened to him?

The news that next morning came from a man who had picked up Moses along a busy street and brought him to his home twenty miles away. He happened upon the #FindMoses hashtag and saw hundreds of Tweets and Instagrams with the little guy’s picture. Had he not seen the posts he would have kept him, as his daughter had already fallen in love with Moses. He would have never seen the “Lost Dog” posters were it not for the Internet.

Social media worked. It worked because there was a community of people who know my brother and us, and rallied around this mission. They acted like a real community should act. So often I become disillusioned with my life online. As much as I love social media (I used to work in social media for a living), I find it cheap and several shades dimmer than real-life relationships. Then something like this happens and reminds me of stories from the Wild West where people would join together to build a barn or help harvest the crops. This translated into real action when a huge search party was formed, but still allowed people like myself to get involved 3,000 miles away.

I learned this week to give social media and, more importantly, people’s character more credit. The group effort meant a group success. I’m sure Moses will be bestowing a lot of grateful slobbery kisses in the coming weeks. I, for one, can’t wait for mine.

Home safe and sound!

*Photo credits: Author

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Peanut Satay Sauce and Dressing

So I admit I’ve been holding out on you all. The first time I made this sauce, I was stunned. Was it really THAT good? Or was I just pregnant and everything tasted good? Then I made it for guests and they were having thirds. No, not of dinner, of JUST THE SAUCE. My sister was dipping her fork in it and licking it like lollypop.

Our palates first laid eyes taste buds on it just before we moved from Portland. Our treasured friends, Wes and Jess, had us over for a “last meal” of sorts. We ate out on their patio while dipping veggies and chicken into this sauce. Neither Chris nor I could believe how yummy it was. I mean, we were warned that we would want more after scooping a conservative amount onto our plates, but really? I needed a bowl?!

Peanut Satay Sauce

6 garlic cloves, peeled

2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

1 large bunch cilantro, slightly chopped

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3/4 cup natural peanut butter

1/2 cup minus 2 Tbsp soy sauce (or tamari, I’ve used fish sauce in the mix as well). Odd measurement, but do it!

3 Tbsp rice vinegar

1/2 to 1 cup canned coconut milk (to your taste preference)

For step-by-step directions and mouth-watering pictures, please visit: The Joyful Table

Posted in Food & Drink | 1 Comment