This Is Why A Break Is Needed

One of my goals for this weekend was to print out my digital journal (as I mentioned earlier, I journal on my laptop because I type much faster than my carpal tunnel allows me to write) and to paste it into my "real" journal. (I do this because I straddle the edge of the digital divide. I love the convenience of journaling on the computer. But I can't leave all those beautiful journals I've collected empty, can I?)

Right now, I have a year's worth of thoughts and observations collected. This was from the very first entry, made August 1, 2006. It proves to me, once again, that this blogging break is a good thing for my soul. Blogging has taken so much of my energy, so much of my thought life, so much of me that I have little leftover to be mindful of God, to give Him my first and best.
August 1, 2006

If you’re reading my journal, there’s no way to tell this. But today, I’m starting a new document on my computer. Two nights ago, I printed out everything from November 1, 2005, to the present and carefully pasted it in my current book. Today, I have a fresh, blank screen in front of me. (Screen! Ha! It’s not a fresh, blank page anymore, is it?)

It’s always fun to print out my journal, because I end up reading a good chunk of what I’ve written over the past (in this case) nine months. My first thought? Wow, there’s not much here. My second thought? Wow, a lot of this is really good. God has taught me a lot of truth this year.

One of my most recent entries touched on the biggest lesson right now – learning to be quiet, alone and rest before God so I can hear His voice and yada Him.

Sunday, our senior pastor Glen preached on Col. 3:12-17, and he touched on this very thing. He talked about the difference between training and trying. You train for war, for the Olympics – for something that’s deadly serious and means a great deal to you. When you try to accomplish something – that’s a second tier. We try to lose weight. We try to exercise regularly. We try to get up early or spend more time with our kids or have a date with our spouse once a month.

It’s a big difference. When I train for something, I arrange my life to meet my objective. It’s not an “add-on;” it’s foundational. Everything else is structured around it. It takes precedence.

To that end – let’s look at the spiritual disciplines. Glen mentioned five Disciplines of Engagement: celebration, fellowship, prayer, study and confession. These are primarily outward acts that build our spiritual lives.

But, as Glen said, if you are an outward person, it might be better for you to practice one of the Disciplines of Withdrawal: servanthood, fasting, solitude, simplicity and secrecy.

And that’s where I am today. God is teaching me these disciplines and letting me taste the power they leave in their wake. When I do things in secret, I have a sense of intimacy with God. When I fast, I discover the continual presence of God always waiting to meet my needs. When I worship in solitude, I find God is deeply personal with me. As Beth Moore likes to say, “He delivers a ‘my’ Word – one that’s just for you.”

Glen defined spiritual discipline as “any activity that can help me gain power to live life as Jesus taught and modeled it.”

And wow – do I need that power right now!

A few entries ago, I alluded to the fact that the tide is turning in my heart right now. I always hesitate to say, “Aslan is on the move!” when I’m so deeply human and fallible. But truly, that’s how I feel. Something is changing. God is moving. I just don’t know exactly where He’s leading yet.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of all this learning about secrecy and fasting and intimacy, I felt God pull deeply at my heart. It was almost irresistible. In fact, at times, God’s nearness was so overwhelming to me I was moved to tears. (And despite what my husband may think, that’s not normal for me.) I would be driving in my car and suddenly I would feel this heavy, holy presence with me – and the only thing I could do was cry. It was too deep and moving to respond to with words.

This continued for a few days, and I felt strongly that God wanted to tell me something. I half expected – but never experienced – a “kablooey” moment, where God would burst onto the scene with a thunderous explosion and unshakeable message. But I certainly felt like his main point was this: Change is coming. Be Corey’s helper. I have a dream for you – bigger than anything you can even imagine -- and I will see it to completion. And my dreams for Corey are bigger still.
It was good for me to read that today. I feel like my spiritual life has grown fat and slovenly over the last 12 months. Much of it is due to the grinding mundane. As a stay-at-home mom, my days tend to blend into the other. It's easy -- oh so easy -- to slip into bad habits and get lazy and drift. I feel that deadness in my soul. Chuck Swindoll calls it "mind-clutter." I need God's help to clear my mind of the cobwebs and garbage.

But I also needed the reminder about stillness and solitude and intimacy with God. I'm getting ready to move, which always represents a new chapter in my journey. I want my sail to be filled and powered by God's Spirit, so I will pilot this boat with purpose and direction. I don't want to drift where the currents take me.

As is so often said, the true enemy of the best isn't the bad -- it's the good. Blogging is certainly good. I delight in the wit, the camaraderie, the honesty of the bloggers I have on my Bloglines account. I'm encouraged by their love of our God and their focus on their families. I just need to make sure the good isn't throwing off my quest for the best.

See you soon. :-) For now, the break continues.

P.S. Two quick pictures. The first is from the recent wedding of our dear friend and babysitter Nicole. Both of my kids were in the wedding party; I got to read a beautiful fairy tale that's a parable about purity called "The Princess and the Kiss." It was such a God-filled ceremony, my heart was overcome with joy and awe.

The second picture is from my daughter's sixth birthday party this past week. I'll probably need to break my blogging fast sometime this week to dedicate a post to my precious firstborn. She's added so much joy and beauty to our lives.

Hello. My Name is Kelly. I'm an Internet Addict.

Well my friends. I think it's time to be honest. To lay it all out on the table.

I think I have a problem with the Internet. The first thing I do in the morning when I get up is turn on my laptop. I spend countless hours most days sitting in front of my screen, doing everything from reading news or commentary to checking my Bloglines account multiple times. I see my life through the lens of "what would make a good blog post." At dinner, I talk to my husband about the funny stories I've read online that day, and before I go to bed, I check my e-mail again.

It's not right.

And it's starting to take over.

I opened my journal last week (which I keep on my computer, since I type at lightening speed and my handwriting has evolved into a series of cramped, illegible marks on paper) and discovered -- to my horror -- that the last time I had journaled was May 9. And before that, April 15. And most of the journal entries in April were copies of posts I had written for this blog.

I was aghast. I started this blog because I love writing, it seemed like a good outlet for some creative energy, and I was impressed with the talent out there in the blogosphere.

But it's not an outlet right now. A better analogy would be a drain. It's become all-consuming, to the point where I'm not recording my personal thoughts and prayers to my God anymore. That can't continue.

So I think I'm going to take a bit of a blogging break for a few weeks and see if I can achieve some balance in my life. (Plus, we're getting ready to move in less than a month. I'm sure my world will be turned upside down for a while, making blogging more difficult.) That's not to say I won't be around. I might. I just don't want blogging (and/or reading posts, commenting on posts, or staying current with the news in every time zone) to consume me anymore. I want to play with my kids without running to my computer every 10 minutes. I want to wake up to my Bible instead of my laptop. I want to enjoy the last few days we have in this beautiful house -- and I want to write about all these things in my journal without feeling guilty that I haven't posted to my blog that day.

Most of all, I want my writing to be first and foremost for God, not for an audience -- no matter how wonderful that audience may be. Warren Wiersbe, a dear family friend, sent me this quote a number of years ago when we were corresponding about the writing life. I have never forgotten it.

If you write for God, you will reach many people and bring them joy.
If you write for people, you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world for a little while.
If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after 10 minute, you will be so disgusted you will wish you were dead.
- Thomas Merton

Right now, I write on my blog for people. I want it to be more than that.

See you soon dear friends.

Sorting: It's a Sickness

As I may have mentioned before, my family is currently in the process of moving. We are not moving across the country this time, which is a blessing. But a move is a move is a move when it comes to sorting and packing and all the other headache-inducing tasks required.

If you have Advil, please send it.

Because we have about four weeks until our actual move date, I'm currently in the throes of sorting. I'm cleaning out every drawer, every closet, every box with the hopes that we won't pay to move something we don't use or need. (Which quickly leads to the next stage -- eBaying and Craig's Listing and Salvation Army-ing.)

I'm in my element here, because I love sorting and organizing. I think I got some sort of Martha Stewart gene when it comes to this sort of stuff.

Plus, the process isn't as painful as you'd imagine, since I've been sorting on some level ever since we moved here four years ago. This is the longest we've ever been in one house, which gave me a chance to really unpack every box for the first time in years to ascertain what was inside.

So. Let's say I'm currently in the final stage of sorting -- the master sort, if you will.

Today, I started cleaning out my office. (Correction: This morning I started cleaning out my office. Before I had fed my children breakfast. Before I had taken a shower. It's really a sickness. I wanted to make that part clear here; confess my sins and all that.) On top of a small cabinet which stores family photos and scrapbooking paraphernalia, I found two metal boxes from Ikea. With labels. One reportedly contains "stationary," the other stores "paper."

The stationary box held true stationary. I tossed a few packs of note cards that may have been printed when Ronald Regan was in office, but otherwise, it was a quick sort.

The paper box? Well, it held all sorts of beautiful note pads I had forgotten I about. (I'm a Writer, therefore, I get a lot of Writing Implements for various holidays and birthdays.) It also contained remnants of sticky pads, most from my college days.

I quickly recognized why I had saved them lo this many years. Because they are so funny.

Take, for example, this one.

Or consider the wisdom in having a dog follow you around, because inspiration could strike at any moment. (Funny how having kids follow you around doesn't always lead to inspiration. At least, not in the Phil. 4:8 sense.)

Or how about this one? My favorite.

You never know what you're going to find when you delve into a box in my house. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to hunt more treasure.

Plus, I need to check my eBay listings.

How To Know You Have A Girl

Clue #1: You'll hear this. A lot.

"Ohhhh! It's so cute!"

Hear this in your head as a sing-song phrase. "Ohhhh!" actually takes about four seconds to say, and it goes up, then down, then up. "It's so cute!" ends on a note that's so high only dogs and old people with out-of-whack hearing aids can discern it.

Yesterday, I heard that phrase uttered about ...
... the tiny M&Ms we used to play bingo at the library
... the plastic giraffe she chose as a prize when she achieved bingo
... the crayons wrapped up in a napkin "package" at Red Lobster
... the plate of baby carrots, cucumber rounds and Ranch dressing she was served at Red Lobster
... and the watch battery she found in the hotel hallway.

Wow. That's a whole lot of cute.

Lucky for me, she also found this cute:

It was given to me by my blogger friend Michelle at Military Mommy. (And I'm not joking. My daughter happened into my office when I was reading this
post and looking over my shoulder she said, "That's so cute! I love pink!")

I won't even tell you all the ways Michelle and I have bonded via e-mail. (Many of them involve food. Big surprise, right?) But we have, and hopefully, we'll get to meet face-to-face someday. And to think that she believes I'm a "Rockin' Girl Blogger" ... well, it just made my day. Because she is one of my favorite reads online. She is married to one of our nation's finest military men, and since he happens to be out at sea right now, she's raising -- by herself, everyday, 24/7 -- two adorable and sweet children. Plus, she makes me laugh (and cry, usually at a country music video), and she loves my Jesus. How much better can you get?

To keep the love going, I'm supposed to pass the award on to the five blogs I enjoy most. Problem is, all of them have already received this award. (It's like a Rockin' Girl Blogger Fest in my Bloglines account.) So I might have to let this chain stop with me, for now.

But rest assured, that I will hold this cute award in reserve for a rainy (or snowy) day. It could show up where you least expect it. So stay cute, y'all. Some pink could be in your future.

News Flash: Pregnant Women May Be More Sensitive To Caffeine

So today, when I finally managed to drag myself into the shower around 12:30 PM and then needed to take a nap from the gargantuan effort of all that sudsing and repeating, I decided some coffee might be in order.

I normally [heart] coffee. It's my friend. I drink some every morning with a splash of flavored cream and thoroughly enjoy the smell, taste and energy it brings.

Until I'm pregnant. Then the aroma of freshly brewed java becomes anathema to me. It's like the smell of fresh vomit. Utterly repulsive.

Given that, I haven't been drinking much coffee for the last few months. My poor husband keeps trying, especially on the weekends when we would normally split a pot of French press. "Are you sure you don't want any coffee?!?"

Ummm. Yes.

Until today. When I woke up at 1:45 PM and remembered that:
a. I needed to clean my house ASAP so it would be ready for a potential showing this week.
b. I have two children...
c. ...who hadn't eaten anything all day besides a bowl of cereal and...
d. ...the three-year-old might have had an accident while I was sleeping, due to the appearance of a large wet spot on his shorts, which were now firmly deposited on my computer chair.

Energy needed. Immediately. Form of -- coffee. Wonder Twin powers, activate.

I found some day-old Starbucks Sumatra in the thermal coffee pot. I poured it into a glass, threw in some ice and turned to my fridge to find some cream.

And that's when I saw it -- the gift from God. A brand new container of Coffee-Mate Peppermint Mocha cream. As you might guess, it's a "seasonal" variety of flavored creamer. (Want to take a guess at which season?) It was a tad past its sell by date, but seeing as most Coffee-Mate creamers have nothing natural in them, I wasn't worried. No dairy, no spoilage.

I splashed some in and brought it to my lips.

Mmmmm. It was good.

So I drank the whole glass. And then had another for good measure.

Thus, I am writing an entry on my blog at 12:41 AM. When I should be sleeping.

It's just so hard to be still under the covers when my legs won't stop twitching.

Week 12

First, let me say thank you, my dear Internet friends, for inquiring about my well-being the past few weeks. I'm happy to report that I'm finally feeling better -- almost completely better, in fact.

I'm 12 weeks into the pregnancy now, and at my doctor's appointment last week, we saw the baby's profile and heard the wonderful heartbeat.
Can you believe this was the nubbin only one month prior to the previous picture? Just a peanut with a heartbeat. God is amazing.
Because I know you all have inquiring minds, here's a quick snapshot of me right now. (And thankfully, I don't mean that literally. Because I don't think you're prepared for that.)

1. Whenever I'm pregnant, I get extra weepy, and this pregnancy is no exception. I cry at insurance commercials (anyone seen that one from All State where 6,000 teenagers go out for a drive each year and never come back?!?), McDonald's print ads and my children's daily gifts of rocks and drawings.

I also practically bawl as soon as I hear the opening strains of a Chris Tomlin song. For my mind to even reach toward the concept of God's goodness right now causes my throat to constrict so tight, I can't talk for five minutes. As you might imagine, there's been very little singing in church for me lately. Mostly, I just stand there with tears streaming down my cheeks.

And hopefully, my children's Sunday school teachers are doing a good job, because if my daughter dares to ask me a question like, "Mommy, why does God love me?" I can only cry in response. Seriously. It's that bad.

(Side note here, but when have I ever stayed on topic? It's the reason I love parentheses. When I was pregnant with my daughter, and I was still unaware that the pregnancy hormones directly affect my tear ducts, I had my most infamous oh-my-word-I-can't-control-the-tears moment. It happened when my husband I and drove through a Bay Area intersection where my father, a pastor and a man of great respect, was holding a sign up supporting George W. Bush during the presidential vote recount of 2000. We honked for him and his crowd -- which was faced off with a much larger and more vocal pro-Gore crowd -- he waved, and I started bawling like a baby cow. "I'm just so proud of our country," I sobbed to my Vulcan husband. Who stared at me like I was losing my mind before laughing so hard he almost had to pull over. It was quite a moment.)

2. I probably shouldn't admit this on a public forum, but my favorite pregnancy book of all time is "The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy." I read it before I even had a desire to have children, and I laughed quite a few brain cells right out of my head. (Pregnancy also steals my ability to make sense. Sorry.)

I'll never forget when I read this in the chapter entitled, "Looking the Best You Can - The First Three Months."
First of all, if this is not your first baby, skip this segment and move right into the discussion of the second trimester. Generally, the stomach of a woman who has had a baby before will pooch out about five minutes after conception, and she will look obviously pregnant in the first three months. Most of us pregnant with our second or subsequent children have never failed to comment on how big we got immediately. It must have something to do with the stomach muscles not ever being as taut again after the first pregnancy has yanked them apart.
Can I get an AMEN?!? Because holy cow. When I get up in the morning, I look like a woman who might need to work a little harder on her abdominal crunches. By night, I look like a woman who should be practicing her breathing because that baby could be coming at any time.

OK. Maybe it's not quite that bad. But I do look four to five months pregnant by dinner. And with both of my previous pregnancies, I didn't start to wear maternity clothes until I was about 18 or even 20 weeks. What's up with that?!?

3. When I need to eat, I need to eat right now. Immediately. Don't get in my way or try to be cute. It could be fatal, and as we all know, hungry pregnant women are not held responsible for their actions.

Also, don't give me a salad or a roasted chicken breast with a baked sweet potato. It's true I would have loved those thing three months ago. But right now, I need fat. Like a McChicken with mayo. Or a big piece of Il Primo pizza from Green Mill. Or possibly a brat with extra spicy mustard. Or cheese. Lots of cheese. With guacamole and chips on the side.

Oy. My poor, healthy eating husband. He's anxiously awaiting the Junk Food phase to come to an end. Pray for him.

Otherwise, I'm generally back to my normal self. We told our kids about the baby after last week's doctor's appointment, and they are both thrilled. Our five- (soon to be six) year-old daughter is especially ecstatic, and she's already practicing carrying a baby around all day. A good friend of mine, who also has a girl for her oldest child, told me I might need to fight my daughter for rights to see the child once the baby is born. And I suspect that will be the truth.

So stay tuned. This story is far from over. (And aren't you excited?) More to come.

July Fourth Fizzle

My original plans for today involved me sharing with you our small-town Fourth of July parade. (Which is actually held on the evening of July 3, so as not to interfere with the fireworks on the Fourth. It makes complete sense, in a twisted kind of way.) The parade is Americana incarnate, complete with politicians, tractors and floats of the local YMCA kids pelting the bystanders with candy. My kids love it, naturally, and my five-year-old daughter has been looking forward to it for about three months.

Problem is, about five minutes after the kids and I had settled ourselves on a curb Tuesday night near the end of the parade route, the tornado sirens went off.

"Uh-oh," I thought to myself. "That's not a good sign."

And sure enough, five minutes later, the police drove by and announced that there was a tornado warning for our county, so the parade was canceled and everyone should "seek shelter."

My daughter, bless her heart, managed to help me pick up the blanket and our picnic basket before bursting into tears.

So, in memory of happier times, let me share a few pictures of last year's parade. Because there's nothing like being in a small town for the Fourth of July.

The kid waiting for the parade to begin.

Our son may have had too much candy.

Our daughter, doing the "girl thing" (which is, looking cute and not as hyper as her brother). Please notice the myriad of tractors in the background.

One final touch of Americana.

Before I make y'all feel too sorry for us, last night's fireworks made up for the lack of a parade. So it was a happy Fourth after all. Maybe just one with a little less sugar than last year. And that's not always a bad thing.

Food, Glorious Food

Almost two weeks ago, Lisa of Lisa Writes... tagged me with this restaurant meme. I was immediately excited because food is a bit of a hobby with me. I love planning menus, I love trying new recipes, I love going shopping, I love cooking. And eating out? That just takes the hobby to a whole new level. You mean someone is going to cook for me? While I do nothing but sit and bask in all the aromas wafting around the eatery? It's pure bliss.

The rules, as such, are as follows:
1. Link to the name of the person that tagged you.
2. Include state and country you live in.
3. List top 5 favorite local restaurants.
4. Tag 5 other people and let them know they've been tagged.

I've already fulfilled rule number one. (I love crossing things off my list.) And if this is the right place to say so, Lisa's blog has become a new must-read for me. Her thoughtful, intelligent and funny observations about life ground me and make me laugh at the same time. Her writing reflects that she seeks to know God with all her heart, and I always leave her blog encouraged to press in and press on. You can't say that about everyone.

Now, on to rules two through four -- which will henceforth be known as "guidelines." I can tell you I currently live in Minnesota, in the good old United States of America. But as I believe I've mentioned before, I currently live in a small town that has very limited dining options. Read: We have two mediocre chain restaurants and a whole lotta fast food. Neither are what I call "good eats."

So I'm going to name five restaurants I love to visit when I return to various cities around the country where I've lived in the past.

1. Cafe Latte in St. Paul, MN
I first stumbled across this gem when I was interning at a TV station in Minneapolis. A reporter and photographer I
frequently worked with suggested this place for lunch -- and I've been hooked ever since. Their chicken salsa chili is renowned. I've even learned to make it at home. Their homemade breads, fresh salads, innovative soups and decadent desserts are mouth-watering. (Try the Turtle Cake. Or choose from that day's selection of cheesecakes.) When I lived in California and would return home to visit the family, a stop (or two) (or three) at Cafe Latte was a must before I headed back to the airport.

2. Hash House a Go-Go in Hillcrest, CA
I love breakfast, so any place that specializes in morning food is tops with me. The motto at Hash House, as it's affectionately known, is "Twisted Farm Food." And truly, the inside of the cafe looks like a farm as imagined in the mind of a gay man who hasn't left San Francisco since 1986. It's all stainless steel and metal farm implements and funky waiters. But the food? To die for. And the portions? Also to die for, as everything is served on a platter that's about two feet wide.

My favorite breakfast at Hash House is the farmhouse scrambler that mixes hardwood smoked bacon, avocado, onion and Swiss cheese with about half a dozen eggs. (At least, that's what it looks like.) My second favorite breakfast is the mango-coconut flapjack, which is at least 12 inches in diameter and tastes like Hawaii. And then I don't eat the rest of the day. Really. But it's worth it.

3. Miguel's Cocina in Point Loma, CA
Some of the best Mexican food on the planet, which is saying something considering San Diego is right on the border and boasts at least 12 million taquerias. Miguel's serves some of the best salsa and white sauce I've ever tasted. Their shredded beef is divine, whether consumed in a taco or on a salad. And the ambiance is perfect -- right on San Diego Bay, overlooking some sailboats and the random Point Loma crowd. When I worked at a Christian college very near Miguel's, my waistline suffered.

4. Pat and Oscar's in San Diego, CA
Two words: Bread. Sticks. Amazing, garlicky, warm, crispy breadsticks. The first time my husband and I ate at Pat and Oscar's (or just Oscar's, as it was known back then; Oscar put his wife's name on the store to celebrate a significant wedding anniversary), we walked up to the counter and ordered a pizza, a BBQ chicken dinner, a Greek salad and an extra basket of breadsticks. For two people. We then sat down outside (all San Diego restaurants have outdoor seating) and waited for our food to arrive. The breadsticks came immediately. We were hooked immediately. We ate the whole basket. And took the rest to go.

I feel I must asterisk this pick with the note that, for a time, I was completely sick of Pat and Oscar's. We ate there every Sunday after church with our Sunday school class, and by week 65, I was getting tired of BBQ chicken and breadsticks. But now that I can't get them anymore, a stop at Pat and Oscar's is always at the top of our list when we return to San Diego. Because absence makes the heart grow fonder.

5. Willow Street Pizza in Willow Glen, CA
My husband and I lived right around the corner from this adorable little restaurant during our time in Silicon Valley. My first fixation was their wood-fired Thai Chicken Pizza. Then my sister started waiting tables there, and she turned me on to the Grilled Pesto Chicken Sandwich, topped with fontina cheese and served with homemade garlic fries. Then, I moved on to the Garlic Chicken Pizza, piled high with bacon, chicken, spinach, caramelized onions, roasted garlic cream sauce and Parmesan.

And ... OK, wow. I'm getting hungry. This is somewhat torturous for a pregnant lady who eats every hour on the hour right now. Maybe I should stop. Before I start waxing eloquent on the chain restaurants I love but don't have access at the moment -- like Jamba Juice and In-and-Out Burger and Rubio's.

So let me tag Sara at Miller Moments, Michelle at Military Mommy, Sarah at In the Midst of It (who just blogged today about many yummy breakfasts she's producing in her very own kitchen). And then, to go outside of the continental U.S., how about Michelle at Scribbit and Kailani at An Island Life. Because I'd love to hear what's popular in Alaska and Hawaii.

Bon appetit! And have a great Fourth of July!