Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Name Calling

Just as parents know and call their children by their names, God knows and calls each of us by our names. As Isaiah 43:1 states, we are His!

This article is now available through Churchmouse Publications.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


This afternoon my children treated me to a makeover. For the better part of two hours, I sat in a fluorescent green chair, the seat of which comes to about half calf on me. Katie began the process with some brushes and a colorful palette of various creams and powders with which she proceeded to cover my face. Though only five years of age, my Katie is serious about outward beauty and generally all things prissy, so she took on this particular job with great earnest. When something didn't look quite right to her, she (not always gently) used a washcloth to erase the unwanted markings and then began again. Her intense gaze broke only when she approved of her work, in which case she grinned and bounced a little.

As Katie worked on my face, Caleb rubbed my back and shoulders, which was divine. When he got bored with that, he retrieved some stampers and ink pads. After I made my selections, he branded my left forearm with a brown horse jumping over a black fence. Then it was time for the actual face paint, which would give a more theatrical look to the now dark pink, green, and blue hues that covered my entire face. With Katie on my right side and Caleb on my left, my cheeks became their canvases. Soon large butterflies began fluttering on one half of my face, while a dark Ninja prepared to kick anyone who got in his way on the other half. Then, believing that face paint shouldn't be restricted to the face, Caleb and Katie took to painting my hands and wrists, which resulted in more butterflies and fighting Ninjas.

Next it was time to style my hair and get my nails done. Callie now joined in with her spray bottle and comb and tried to convince me to start parting my hair on the other side while simultaneously scolding me for using so much product. She also told me that dark hair grows faster than light hair. Meanwhile, Katie worked on painting my stubby fingernails--alternating between mauve, red, and pink paint. I thought it was kind-of pretty, though I couldn't get a complete look at it since my hair now covered the entire left side of my face. The final touch was made by Callie, who painted my toenails with a shiny purple base and then added bright red polka dots on top. Very pretty.

Even though I was afraid that someone might unexpectedly come to our door and find me in this rather colorful condition (Did I mention that they topped off the artwork on my face with bright blue and yellow dots?), I completely enjoyed the couple of hours of being pampered by my kids. It didn't really matter to me how it all looked (again, unless a visitor showed up); I just delighted in having my children so close to me and took pleasure in their love and creativity.

And then I washed my face.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Things I Wish I Didn't Do

  • Bite my fingernails
  • Procrastinate
  • Attract mosquitoes
  • Obsessively double-check pretty much everything
  • Compare myself to others
  • Prefer tasks over playtime
  • Edit everything I read
  • Dread going to the grocery store
  • Have high expectations
  • Break out
  • Run late
  • Get scared of heights
  • Look at dirt in my house and wonder why it doesn't clean itself up
  • Let my imagination get the best of me
  • Have control issues
  • Get really shy and backwards around people I don't know well
  • Dislike talking on the phone
  • Give up on something if I'm not instantly good at it
  • Get glued to the TV
  • Have panic attacks about speaking to a group
  • Fear what lurks beneath the ocean's surface
  • Love sweets so much
  • Love lists so much

Thursday, March 25, 2010


When Caleb was two years old, he loved the movie Snow White (or "O-White," as he called it). As we were driving down the road one day, he was looking at an "O-White" book and kept wanting to show me a picture. 

Caleb: Mom! Mom!
Me: Yes, Caleb?
Caleb: Dopey!
Caleb: Mom! Mom!
Me: Yes, Caleb?
Caleb: Dopey!
Caleb: Mom! Mom! . . .
[You get the idea.]

Thinking I'd cut off my toddler's little game after indulging him for about 18 rounds . . . 

Caleb: Mom! Mom!
Me: Dopey?
Caleb: No!
Caleb: Mom! Mom!
Me: YES, Caleb?!
Caleb: Dopey!

Five years later, I think he still has me playing this game, because he canNOT tell me a story without interjecting several "And guess what's?", to which I must reply "What?" before hearing the next few phrases. I guess he just always wants to make sure I'm listening.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


After You Believe By N. T. WrightThe title of this book--*After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters--is what drew me to it. As N.T. Wright acknowledges within these pages, there is very often an either/or factor among Christians. We either live our lives trying to legalistically adhere to a bunch of rules (though the rules vary from person to person), or we give very little thought or care to how we live, knowing that "God's grace is sufficient" (which is true). But how we live between our conversion and our funeral very much does matter, and it is not found in either of these approaches. Wright reminds us that God will one day fully combine Heaven and Earth, but the process has already begun. And so has the transformation of character, or virtue.

Wright explains that "virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become 'second nature' . . . Those who follow Jesus can begin to practice, in the present, the habits of heart and life which correspond to the way things are in God's kingdom--the way they will be eventually, yes, but also the way they already are because Jesus is here . . . But virtue is always the result of work and cost" (pgs. 21, 105, 216).

Having virtue does not mean that we are to be sinless (not that we ever could be), nor is it simply a matter of following someone's example--even Jesus' example! Rather, we are to engage in what Wright calls "The Virtuous Circle"--which involves scripture, stories, examples, community, and practices--and our character will thus be transformed. Our thoughts, words, and actions will begin to reflect our love for God and for other people, and it will just be "second nature," not our pursuit of following a list of rules.

Wright states, "The key is this: the 'fruit of the Spirit' does not grow automatically. The nine varieties of fruit do not suddenly appear just because someone has believed in Jesus, has prayed for God's Spirit, and has then sat back and waited for 'fruit' to arrive . . . The point of using the term 'fruit,' after all, is that these are things which grow from within rather than being imposed from without" (pgs. 195, 206).

I had never read any of N.T. Wright's books before this one, but I am anxious now to read his previous works. Although I was a bit intimidated to dive into this Bible scholar's teachings, I found that this book was challenging but not arduous, complex but not insurmountable. Truthfully, the only negative aspects of the book, in my opinion, are that it becomes somewhat repetitive and that Wright continually tells the reader of things he is going to talk about later in the book. (I'd rather he just let me know when I get there.)

Overall, this is an excellent book and one that I recommend every Christian read.

To order this book, visit bookschristian.com.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the product mentioned above for free by The Ooze Viral Bloggers in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Coffee Table Commentary

Currently on my coffee table are the following items: a miniature tea party set, a toy gun, mail, a rented DVD, an empty glass, a pad of paper, a doll's hair curler, a photo card reader, a Chess piece, a pen, a guitar pick, a Disney princess storybook, a coffee mug, a ponytail holder, a couple of safety pins, a stack of birthday notes from my husband to me, a candle (the only thing that's actually supposed to be on the table), a cell phone, a guitar capo, a laptop and reading glasses (until a few minutes ago), a set of horse stamps and a stamp pad, change, a remote control, a tube of pretend lipstick, and Abe Lincoln's log cabin made out of a milk carton. Yes, we have a fairly large coffee table.

As my gaze and thoughts were drawn to this scene, I suppressed the initial thought (not difficult to do) of how much I need to clean my house and instead thought about how these various items represent the bits and pieces of our family's life. The items are colorful and interesting. And a bit random. They have been used and reused. Some handled with care; others not so much. They represent our work, our play, and our hobbies--things we love.

I've been told that 20 years from now, I can have a clean house if I want to. But for now, with three young children, that's just not a likely reality. We don't live like pigs, but our house is generally messy most of the time. But it's because we live in our house. We enjoy ourselves and our time together. Plus, my husband made me promise him when we first got married that our house would look and feel lived-in and not like a museum.


Sunday, March 14, 2010


I'm about a fourth of the way into reading N.T. Wright's latest book, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. Today I read some of his insights on virtue that really stood out to me, and I wanted to share them. I'll do a full review on this book when I'm finished reading it.

 . . . you have to grasp the fact that Christian virtue isn't about YOU--your happiness, your fulfillment, your self-realization. It's about God and God's kingdom, and your discovery of a genuine human existence by the paradoxical route--the route God himself took in Jesus Christ!--of giving yourself away, of generous love which constantly refuses to take center stage . . . 

The glory of virtue, in the Christian sense, is that the self is not in the center of that picture. God and God's kingdom are in the center . . . 

Virtue, after all, isn't just about morals in the sense of "knowing the standards to live up to" or "knowing which rules you're supposed to keep." Virtue . . . is about the whole of life, not just the specifically "moral" choices. Those who put rules or consequences first sometimes think of vocational choices as a sort of sub-branch of ethics. I prefer to think of it the other way around. We are called to be genuine, image-bearing, God-reflecting human beings. That works out in a million ways, not least in a passion for justice and an eagerness to create and celebrate beauty. The more specific choices we think of as "ethical" are, I suggest, a subset of that wider image-bearing, God-reflecting vocation.

After You Believe By N. T. Wright

To order this book, visit bookschristian.com.

Things I Love and Admire About My Children

  • Her drive and determination
  • Her insatiable hunger for reading
  • Her talent in writing
  • Her creativity
  • Her leadership
  • Her love of putting on programs
  • Her confidence and lack of inhibition
  • Her talent in composing music
  • Her compassionate spirit
  • Her attention to detail
  • Her big-sisterliness
  • Her sense of justice but also mercy
  • Her desire to try new things
  • Her sense of adventure
  • Her honey-colored hair
  • Her blue-gray eyes that always look pensive
  • The way you can always see the wheels turning in her head
  • Her thankfulness and appreciation
  • Her giving and sacrificial heart
  • Her task-orientedness
  • His kindness
  • His helpfulness
  • His desire to please
  • His love for his family
  • His generosity
  • The way he gets excited for his sisters and cheers them on
  • His playfulness
  • His creativity
  • His ingenuity
  • His desire to protect his family
  • His smile that makes his eyes disappear into half moons
  • The way he tells a story--his animation
  • The pride he takes in a job well done
  • His encouragement
  • The way he dances with absolutely no inhibition
  • His amazingly messy and curly hair
  • His love of life
  • The joy he both gives and receives when playing with babies and toddlers
  • His friendliness
  • His servant spirit
  • Her giggle
  • Her hugs and kisses
  • Her love of affection--her snuggliness
  • Her concentration when she's working a puzzle
  • Her enthusiasm
  • Her humor
  • The way she makes me laugh
  • The way she takes care of babies
  • Her thoughtfulness
  • Her non-conformity
  • Her love of life
  • The way she handles her dietary restrictions with such a positive attitude
  • Her blond curls
  • Her big blue eyes
  • Her ability to make some really crazy faces
  • Her giving spirit
  • Her inhibition
  • The way people are drawn to her
  • Her incredible whistling ability
  • The way she savors food she enjoys (especially chocolate) and hums while eating it

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Conversation With God (Based on Job 38-42)

Note: I admit that I am not a poet. Nevertheless, I wrote this poem several years ago and wanted to share it. When I read the passage in Job back then, I was really struck by the questions and interactions between God and Job. Just bear with me in my elementary style of poetry writing.

Once I sought to question God,
And from a whirlwind He answered me.
He asked if I had an arm like His
Or a voice of thunder as He.

He asked me where I was at the time
That He constructed the heavens and earth,
When boundaries were given to the seas,
And seasons were designated for birth.

"Are you able to command the dawn as I?
Do you know where I store the snow?
Do you know where the darkness makes its home
Or from where the wind first blows?"

I confessed that I did not have a reply,
And on my mouth I placed my hand.
He continued to speak--this time from a storm--
And revealed to me His mighty plan.

He explained that the constellations I see
Are an intricate work of art
And that He cares for the raven as much as the lion;
Provision for each He imparts.

"Have you given to Me that I should repay you?"
Knowing the answer, He asked.
"Whatever is under the heaven is Mine,
For I am the First and the Last."

"My child," said the Father, "Why do you question?
Can you find fault in all my ways?
Do you not even realize that I'm your Creator
And have numbered each of your days?"

"Why, I created the mouth with which you question,
Your finger that points at Me,
Your mind that's now filled with pride and doubt,
Your heart that once believed."

Then humbly I stood there in ashes and dust,
Confessing that I couldn't understand,
That His ways are blameless and beyond comprehension;
My whole life fits in His hand.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ode to Joy

Though my list doesn't include raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, these are a few of my favorite things . . .

  • Music
  • Giving gifts
  • Spring
  • Fresh flowers
  • Chocolate
  • Knitting
  • Being warm
  • Blue jeans
  • Coffee
  • Sleeping late
  • Fire in the fireplace
  • The pear tree in my front yard
  • E-mail
  • Good books
  • Road trips
  • Roller coasters
  • The perfect pillow
  • Romantic comedies
  • Hot bubble baths
  • The ocean (looking at it)
  • Candles
  • Haircuts
  • Good mascara
  • Girls night out
  • Personality-catching photographs
  • Being published
  • Words of affirmation
  • Solitude
  • The sky
  • Suspense (but not the scary kind)
  • Facebook
  • Laughing
  • Cherry Coke
  • Clearance sales
  • Lists
  • Checking off lists
  • Greeting cards
  • Going out to eat
  • Swinging
  • My favorite pen (Bic Cristal, black)
  • Someone else cleaning my house
  • Holidays
  • Memories
  • Completed projects
  • My blog
And then there's the obvious: everything about my wonderful husband and children!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mourning and Rejoicing

My family and I made the trip from Mississippi to Texas to attend our friend Julie's funeral. After the seven-hour trip (which included a speeding ticket in Louisiana--Grrrrrr), we quickly checked into our hotel and then made our way to the visitation. The visitation lasted three hours, with a steadily moving line that poured out the back door the entire time. It was a closed casket, but they did have several big, beautiful pictures of Julie and her family.

Julie's husband Mark was at the front of the room, greeting everyone with big hugs. We hadn't seen him in several years, but the moment we saw him, it was as though no time had passed. We were able to see so many wonderful friends from our years in Texas. A few of the friends we saw are ones who actually moved from Texas to Maryland with us to start a church, so time with them was especially sweet.

The next morning there was a graveside service for Julie. It was pouring down rain and absolutely freezing, but it was a beautiful time. So many people gathered there. The message was completely glorifying to God, and we all sang "How Great Is Our God" (which is what Callie played for me on her KAZOO to help cheer me up last Friday after we got the news of Julie's passing) and Chris Tomlin's "Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone." These are two of my very favorite songs. I couldn't really sing them, though, because music is what really brings my emotions to the surface. So I mostly just cried but praised God just the same.

That afternoon a few of us got to go to Mark's house and just sit around and talk and laugh with him. It was very special. We certainly didn't expect to get to have this intimate time with him, so we count this a huge blessing.  I got to wander around Mark and Julie's house and look at pictures of their family and just imagine their lives there. They have an 8-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. Addi was just six months old when Julie was first diagnosed with cancer. My heart just aches and aches for them.

That evening there was a huge celebration service, and there were no less than a thousand people there. Amazing! It was such a beautiful time of worship--nothing less than that. Of course, more tears poured out of me during the music, but both the tears and the singing were healing and good for my soul. There were also some great stories of Julie shared, and again, the message was beautiful and glorifying to God.

Everyone, including Mark, wore jeans and bright colors to all of the events--including the graveside! It was so great and just the way Julie would have wanted it. We could rejoice, because we knew that she was with her Savior and was now made whole. I am so glad that we were able to be a part of these days, because I was truly blessed and challenged by the crystal clear message that Julie presented even through her death. My hope and prayer is that the message at my funeral will be equally clear and that people will have seen Christ in and through me.

I hate to be a copycat, but I would love for my funeral to be like Julie Mangrem's! Yes, remember me, but mostly rejoice that I am with my God. Praise Him! And by all means, wear your blue jeans to my funeral, sing as loudly as you can, and eat some chocolate in memory of me.

I am so glad to have known you, Julie Mangrem. Your life is a testimony to the greatness of our God.