Tuesday, December 13, 2016

to elf or not to elf? that is the question.

the elf thing.
for me, it might be the most conflicting element of the christmas season.

to have elves or not to have elves? … that is the question.

really jody? are you seriously spending even an ounce of energy asking that question?

but alas, i am. i’m a woman with kids and we do life in the south and—though i’m not entirely sure about other parts of the country—where we live, school age kids everywhere have elves.

truth is, i’ve never been exactly sure how i feel about this cultural norm.

even after moving to georgia with our first two kiddos, i was able to keep it all at bay for awhile. when emily and tyler were little i could monitor everything about them: what they ate, what they watched, who they played with … and, yes, even the elf thing. they never did get swept up in it. i had control. but by the time children numbers 3 and 4 came along, like in most every other area, the control began to crumble and crack and the christmas elves were inevitably introduced (as was the disney channel, sugar cereal and the occasional lunchable). and i’ll admit, there were some pretty cute things about having elves. but still, i always had this nagging thought, this itch deep inside, wondering if i should be expending any of my precious mama energy on precocious elves.

and then bella arrived on the scene and how could we not do elves with her? her first christmas home and it was like we had our own little life-sized christmas elf. so of course we did elves with bella. we even found one that sort of resembled our tiny dark-haired gal. by this time, the older kids got involved and that made it easier. i was happy to turn over the elf thing to their creativity. and so emily and tyler began setting up elf displays for the younger ones.

some of you are reading this and wondering what in the world “having elves” even means.

oh gosh. i know. and it makes me a little crazy to even explain that. but, here in the south, someone came up with the idea of having elves (little dolls) show up the month before christmas and get into all sorts of mischief — especially after the children go to bed.

so what that looks like is when the kids are finally asleep, worn out parents are cooking up creative messes with a bunch of dolls. (because the month of december has nothing else going on). and thanks to social media, i’ve seen some pretty spectacular displays over the years.

* snowball fights and winter blizzards re-enacted on kitchen counters with powdered sugar.
* edible bonfires created with pretzels and mini marshmallows toasted.
* chandelier circus act set up in the dining room.
* toilet-papered christmas trees.
* zip lines constructed from one corner of the house to another.

you name it, i’ve seen it.

one year, tyler set up all of connor's
action figures parade style
clearly, we owned too many action figures

i even knew one woman who removed all of the dishes from her kitchen cabinets and then excitedly announced to her children the next morning, “the elves did it.” i heard that and was like, okay, that’s it. i’m out. no matter how cool i want my kids to think i am, i’m not drinking the kool-aid which suggests i should create that level of chaos in my kitchen in the month of december to entertain my children, who are, in fact, already over-entertained.

the magic of christmas only goes so far in the mcnatt house. i’m sorry. i’m out.

except, i wasn’t.

i did the elves anyway.

i felt like an elf-addict; a creative-christmas-mom-wanna-be. and so i did it. sometimes exhausted and slightly over-wrought from a busy, bustling day, but i did it.

and then we moved to minnesota and really no one up there “does elves.” i assure you, they are way too busy digging themselves out of their driveways and trying to stay alive in negative 10 degree weather to have time for creating mischief in their kitchens. not that they aren’t fun people, but they just aren’t re-enacting bonfires with pretzels sticks for their children’s wonder, they are, instead, burning real wood to stay warm.

and so, with our move north, the elf thing kind of all fell away.

but y’all know the story: we came back south. and, come christmas, found that the elves were still going strong down here below the mason dixon line. maybe even stronger than before we had left. yes, i had to revisit this conflict once again.

now, at this point, i realize i am 658 words into an essay about elves. i haven’t once mentioned the birth of Jesus or advent or anything which really matters. i am merely writing about pretend elves and their antics. (as opposed to real elves, jody)? okay, moving on.

it’s ludicrous right? and that’s been my dilemma all along. with all that this month means, magical and merry as i might want to be, i just don’t know if i have it in me to whip out the elf stuff night after night. for some reason, especially in this season of make-believe, i am more aware than ever of the most brutal reality of so many. there are too many people in our world who have nothing elf-like about their lives. and no matter how many lights or shiny things we hang around our house, the needs and pain of others hangs heavy. and, truth is, trying to create some kind of spectacular elf spectacle can easily leave me at a loss.

it’s not just the hard stuff that has prevented my full and fun embracing of elves, but even the stuff i think is a thousand times more important to focus on: advent—preparing our hearts for the birth of Jesus.  elves are nice, but it was the newborn babe who came to save the world. and how in the world can we do the advent wreath and the jesse tree and the real christmas story and still have time for elf mischief? i’m telling you, if we add up all that and the shopping and baking and wrapping and arranging and caroling and shipping and card addressing … it’s no wonder mamas might start drinking heavily or find themselves dead tired and delirious come christmas eve.

all that said, after a substantial hiatus, the elves returned to our home last night.

yes, you read that right.

what??? you’re head is spinning? mine's spinning, too. i realize i just made a complete case for the banning of elves from christmas forever.

except …

except bella is in 3rd grade now. and because she has four older siblings who have gone ahead and pretty much grown up on us, we know, all too well, that these years of child-like wonder are slipping right by us like minnesotans on a sledding hill. we will blink and she will be a teenager. and her december will be filled with final exams and other less than festive activities. and i look at my four teens and then i look at my little girl—still 8 years old and desperately hoping an elf will show up sometime soon—and there’s really no way i can hold back the elves this year any longer. i just can’t. i thought i could. but i'm caving. a few nights ago she prayed out loud about it and then last night, switching from God to santa, she even wrote out her request in her little journal. yes, she did.

so here we are.

after tucking bella in, i was sitting in front of the christmas tree deliberating over the great elf decision last night. connor, my only teenager still spending much time at our house these days, came down from his room, and hearing my big debate, said, “mom, i’ll do it! i’ll take care of the whole elf thing. don’t worry, i’ve got it covered!”

and without any hesitation he headed for the storage room to retrieve the elves from their crate and began constructing a zip line across our family room for their grand entrance.

and my heart, conflicted as it might be, swelled a bit with pride, because my boy, teenager or not, still loves this stuff, and even more, he loves his little sister. just like his older siblings took great pleasure in setting up grand displays for him every night, he will, in these next two weeks, do the same for bella. i will, however, absolutely forbid him to shower my kitchen with powdered sugar or remove all the dishes from my cabinets, but i will give him free rein to love on his little sister through the antics of her elves. because as magical as the elves might be to her, there’s nothing make-believe about the love of a big bother. it’s real and it’s right and as ridiculous as the whole elf thing might be, it’s even okay.

so here's the deal: i still don't know how i feel about elves. i'm so wishy-washy about it all you could probably convince me either way most days. i would love to hear your thoughts and even your argument, but, please don't judge me. i promise you, there's not a bit of judgment coming your way. no matter how many elves you have or don't have, there's no judgment. none. i don't know how i feel about elves, but i do know i feel great about a big brother doing something sweet for his little sister. and, so that's that.

to elf or not to elf? who the heck really knows.

but, in our house, the elves are back. at least for now.

connor (age 5) and the elves. the sparkle in his eyes says it all.
bella, today.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

the presents not for us

it's december 8th and there's a small stack of presents wrapped on my kitchen counter.
probably a rather normal occurrence in many of our homes once we settle ourselves into the month of december. piles of presents and all sorts of other holiday hoopla, scattered here and there.

and though these gifts will be out the door at the end of this week, i have kind of enjoyed the spectacle of them piled high on the counter above the dishwasher and below the cup cabinet.
they are, most certainly, in the way. unavoidable. center stage. 

and they are causing a bit of a stir. 

"are all those presents for you, bella?" incredulously asked a couple of friends who had come to play at our house one afternoon this week.

a fair question to which bella quickly, and, if not a bit dramatically, replied, "no, those aren't for us. my mom is only buying presents for a little girl named serenity." with shoulders slumping and her body sighing, she continued, "everything she buys is only for that little girl who doesn't have stuff. there are no presents for us. none."

you can imagine the looks of horror traded across the faces of bella's friends in our kitchen as they wondered if this christmas mrs. mcnatt had, in fact, truly and officially, finally lost her ever-loving mind and was, indeed, only buying presents for someone other than her own children. imagine!

to hear bella tell it--i had.

presents only for another little girl. a little girl we don't know. a child we haven't even met. 

and nothing--not one single item--in the house for her own brood of children? how can this be? what in the world is this?

a christmas catastrophe? 

a mistletoe mistake?

a present-buying blunder?

a silent-night slip-up?

and where the little girls standing in disbelief around my kitchen counter might think so, my answer is no, not at all. none of the above. because as dismaying as it might seem to a few 8 year olds in early december, this is what christmas should be--a stack of presents in the middle of the kitchen for someone other than ourselves.

now, before y'all start joining up with bella's friends and feeling too badly for her and her siblings, rest assured, the mcnatt children will have gifts a-plenty under the tree come december 25th. but right now, this week, the focus is elsewhere. and it's truly the best christmas gift i can give my children: this gift of knowing it is not all about them.   

i love giving gifts. and i especially love giving to my children. it's a great joy to watch them unwrap something wished for. truly it is. and each christmas we take delight in figuring out a few surprises for them. but, that comes automatic to them--and to us. because of our human nature, there's no lesson needed in teaching them to want and to receive things, but much to be learned in how to give things away; how to think of someone else's needs or wants before our own. 

and, i'm not pretending for one minute in our house, that we always do that lesson well.  honestly, i write this and think sometimes our attempts are weak and unworthy. i know so many of you are doing wonderful and amazing things at the holidays. you are doing it much better. i know that.

but wherever you are and however you are doing it, let's all just agree that christmas affords an opportunity and the perfect occasion to embrace this practice --- and to give and receive and teach this present of selflessness.

it can be a stack of presents on the kitchen counter or a basket of goodies for a neighbor or a box of donuts for the firemen or time spent with someone shut in and lonely. but what a gift it is for each one of us to remove our eyes from our own wish list and turn them toward the seeing of another soul's need.

i don't know about you, but playing santa for my own kids, though joyful, has also come with a bit of heaviness and mixed emotion. when they were all little, it was crazy fun to watch them open one thing after another. rick and i got such a kick out of the chaos and energy spinning wildly around come christmas morning. but years ago, there was a christmas where i began to see it with a different set of eyes. i knew we were headed down that oh-so-tempting, but ultimately ugly, path of excess. it was going to happen if we didn't curb our enthusiasm and give ourselves some guidelines and parameters in our gift buying. we had five kids and when multiplied by many gifts for each child it equated to what felt like a tremendous amount of too-much. and that wasn't what we wanted our christmas morning message to be.

somewhere in that next year, i stumbled upon a little "christmas morning formula." and, loving its simplicity and ease, we quickly embraced it for our own. to this day, it's how we do our gift buying in december. i wanted to share it with y'all, not as the only way to do december, but as one way which has worked for our family. it has helped keep things under control and helped keep that christmas wish list a little more realistic so that we truly can look outside of what's under our own tree and see the reality of others.

it's not only a good guideline, but comes as a catchy little rhyme making it easy to remember! we ask our kids to consider these four items and their four gifts:

something i want.
something i need.
something to wear.
something to read.

that's it. nothing too terribly earth shattering, but simple. easy. clear. and that's how our gift buying for our own children looks. times five kids, it's still a lot, but it has become a lot less chaotic and crazy in these years when we stick to this. and, no, we don't always adhere to it perfectly.  (my husband--especially--finds little ways around it).  =)  in addition to this formula, i should probably tell you we also try to do some kind of experience or family gift -- like, oh-my-gosh, a brand new puppy last year -- TUCKER!

again, i'm not saying this is the only way, but i do encourage you--especially you young mamas--to find freedom with a few good strategies which can help make your christmas more meaningful and your silent nights a little more sane.

those presents on our counter are for serenity. seriously, that's her name. and it's perfect. giving gifts and serenity do go hand in hand.

the very foundation of christmas began with a gift. the gift of a newborn babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. that gift is everything. it is all things. it is the only thing. and dear friends, we must do whatever it takes to keep that simple, extraordinary, most magnificent gift -- the message of our christmas morning.

"in character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity."
                                                                                ~ henry wadsworth longfellow

Monday, November 21, 2016

inspired friend. inspired idea: a gratitude gathering

in a country which seems--especially of late--a whole lot more hostile than it does hospitable, what does it look like to be neighborly?

remember the sesame street song, "these are the people in my neighborhood?" written the year after i was born, i grew up watching it performed, episode after episode, and even owned a copy of the record which, throughout the 1970s, i probably played a few thousand times on my fancy, little record player. (so cutting edge, i know).

but in 2016 what does it mean to live in neighborhoods and to really know our neighbors?

and, even more so, what does it mean to be thankful for our neighbors?

in light of this week of thanksgiving and my november inspiring women series, i want to tell you about a little something that is happening in the neighborhood of peachtree corners. my dear friend, karen, is a part of it. and where she won't let me focus on her as inspiring (though, i assure you, she is) i will, instead, dedicate this post to focusing on her inspired idea!

last week, while speaking as part of a hospitality panel at a women's event at our church, i was asked to share my definition of hospitality. and because--like in almost everything--i steal the ideas of others, i shared the words of shauna niequist from her book, bread and wine: a love letter around the table. (a book, by the way, i highly recommend).

shauna defines hospitality as this, 
 "the heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. it's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment." 
so here it is: last week, while i was preparing to talk about hospitality, my friend, karen, was actually preparing to do something about it in her house. she, in fact, was living out exactly the definition i had shared (i.e., stolen) from shauna.

karen's idea: to gather neighbors together and focus on gratitude.

karen would describe her street, sapelo trail, as pretty social: ladies-nights-out, halloween parties, progressive dinners, christmas cookie exchanges and even poker evenings. over the years, they've had some good fun and made some good connections.  about a year ago, a few of the women even began a bible study on their street. what's more, karen would also describe the street as pretty diverse: the women represent different races, religions and walks of life. truly a blending of people. for after all, what else is a neighborhood, but a beautiful blending of different people? 

and though these women have been growing in their connections with one another, recently, karen was prompted to plan an evening where they might become even more meaningfully connected. not just an event sipping sweet tea or wine on the porch (though that can be terrific, too), but an intentional time to share, dig deeper and to know each other even better as neighbors.

with her (inspired) idea in mind, karen invited the women of sapelo trail to her home for "a gratitude gathering." 

and on a sunday evening in november, many of these women came together to uncover gratefulness and blessing in each other as neighbors.

one year we planned a hoedown together!
again, i know karen doesn't want me to focus on her, but if i was going to focus on her for a quick
minute, i'd have to tell you she does this kind of thing really well. she's truly a hostess-with-the-mostess kind of gal. i don't mean grand and over-the-top in her entertaining, but gracious and incredibly topnotch in her thoughtfulness. she has a servant heart, a willing spirit and a tremendous talent for creatively, resourcefully and beautifully pulling details together. over the years, she and i have partnered on several events, and i can tell you first hand, God has gifted her well. 

karen is a decorator, a designer, a do-it-herself diva, yes! but mostly, she sees herself as a daughter of the Servant King, who, because of Him, is inspired to love and serve others well. when a woman takes her talents and mixes them with the tender things of Jesus, it's truly inspiring to see. that is my friend, karen.

and, whether she likes me to publicly declare this or not, she absolutely inspires me!

the evening's theme was "gratitude." karen shared her own journey toward gratefulness and how keeping a gratitude journal and recording her even most basic, simple blessings was a part of that rich journey. encouraged to do the same, each woman received a little journal to take home with them.

"gratitude for the seemingly insignificant --a seed--this plants the giant miracle." ~ ann voskamp

in addition to this conversation about gratitude, the women gathered around different tables in karen's home where she had prepared not only food, but also questions for fellowship at each table. questions which were designed to allow these women to know and understand each other even better.

the questions:

* what "little things" are you thankful for today?

* name one aspect about the way you were raised for which you are grateful?

* what is something or someone you are thankful for?

* share a time when you experienced something hard, yet it brought blessing.

let's face it, hosting an intentional evening like this takes time and energy and at least a morsel of courage. but when i asked karen about why she decided to pour herself into this kind of gathering she answered this
 "all women desire connection and want to feel significant.  my desire in hosting “a grateful gathering” was to provide a setting for meaningful conversation where these ladies would feel loved. i wanted us all to go a bit deeper in our conversations, but i wanted the evening to be comfortable, welcoming, and non-threatening."
to gather. to be grateful. to go a bit deeper. 
to be appreciated  ...

isn't that beautiful? inspired? inspiring?

what if we all opened our homes to gather our neighbors--including those who are different or think different or follow different religions/politics/or whatever--what if we were intentional in our gathering and purposeful in our gratitude. what if we gave thanks together and declared our tables a "safe zone," places of "warmth and nourishment?" what if we chose to be more hospitable than hostile?
i know my friend didn't want one shred of credit or any accolades for this gathering she hosted. she truly does serve others out of the most humble of hearts. but i did want to share karen's inspired idea with y'all. maybe it will, especially in this holiday season, ignite a spark in you to think about your home and your neighbors and your table a little differently.

this thanksgiving, my prayer for us all is that we would be willing to gather together in a spirit of gratitude and grace.

friends, i don't have the quick and easy answer to our country's crisis, but maybe spending less time listening to the nightly news and more time loving our neighbors could be at least a small step in the right direction of healing.

perhaps a sliver of hope is found when we are willing to give people not a piece of our mind, but a piece of our heart ... like karen and the women of sapelo trail. 

be inspired.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

real women. real inspiration -- meet rebecca stevenson

i've dedicated this month of november to celebrating the fabulous women around me. through one woman after another, God keeps revealing to me how He has divinely gifted and beautifully ordained us to influence and inspire others.

in my series kick-off post (november 1st) i encouraged y'all to look around and take note of the inspiring women in your life. are you doing that? and even more importantly, are you telling them? please do! they will be blessed, and believe it or not, friends, you will be blessed! seriously, sometimes it takes a little extra work to compliment or praise someone else, but when we authentically go there---we find joy! i liken it to the act of serving: maybe hard at times to get up and going, but somewhere in the middle of our serving we stop and think, "wow, this actually feels good. i might be blessing others, but truly, i am also being blessed!" does that make sense?

so, with that said. let's move on to my next introduction ----

please meet, my friend, rebecca stevenson!

i knew her when.

a couple of freshmen girls, we met at grove city college up in pennsylvania many (many) moons ago. rebecca and i moved in similar circles--sharing friends, interests and the same triple major. with both of us marrying before our senior year of college, we also shared the novelty of having our M.R.S. degree before our B.A. degree!

as you can tell from our college picture, we might have shared a penchant for big hair as well -- gotta love the late 80s!

rebecca stood out. not just for her big hair, but because she had this way about her: she kind of sparkled. oh so smart and sincere, but she encompassed an energy and enthusiasm which captivated those around her. that was rebecca. we haven't spent any time in the same place since those college years, but i have no doubt she still sparkles. it's evident even living in different states these past several decades. (thank you, facebook).

and it's absolutely no surprise this old college friend is now a published author. i believe it was in dr. stansberry's creative writing class when rebecca first shared something she had written. though i can't recall the exact topic, i do remember somewhere in the middle of her prose thinking, "hot dang, this girl can write!"

we are now middle-aged women, decades removed from those big-haired college girls sharing snatches of writing in dr. stansberry's class: wives and mothers; lunch-makers and laundry-doers. but when september 2016 arrived, rebecca brewster stevenson's first novel, healing maddie brees, hit the shelves and she added author next to her name.

and i'm so proud of her.

this summer she asked if i would read and preview her book ahead of time. can i just tell you how much fun it was to sit with a brand new novel written by a dear old friend? that's awesome stuff, people. and the best part: it reads beautifully. pouring over her novel on my back deck this summer i had the same feeling as listening to her read portions of her writing back in college -- hot dang, this girl can write!

the reviews have been enthusiastic. "Rebecca's writing has been called "exquisite" (Stephen Chbosky), "thought-provoking" (Barbara Claypole White), and "gorgeous" (Kirkus Reviews)."

barnes and noble offer this overview:
"A debut novel from a promising new voice in fiction, Healing Maddie Brees is the story of a marriage and the memories that pit themselves against it, of the uncanny power of the body in both disease and desire, and of whether true healing ever really happens.
Maddie Brees has been given bad news: She is seriously ill. But she also has an old friend, an ex-boyfriend who might be able to heal her. She was witness to Vincent Elander’s so-called miracles in the past. But that was a long time ago, a memory that she would rather stay buried."
whether you find it on the shelf of your local bookstore or order it off amazon, i'm going to encourage you to get your hands on this beautiful book which has been aptly described as, "A gorgeous meditation on broken bodies, fractured faith, and the soul-wrenching path to serenity." - Kirkus Reviews

recently, i had the chance to ask rebecca some questions about her book ...

1. tell us a bit about your new book and your main character, maddie brees.

Maddie is a thirty-something wife and mother who isn't quite in touch with herself. She doesn't realize this because she is deliberate in attending to her marriage, children, life; and she is honest regarding hardship, unwilling to pretend that life isn't difficult sometimes. But when it comes to her history, she has been dishonest--not just with herself, but with her husband, Frank. The novel is the story of a year in their marriage, when the couple is confronted by cancer. Because of Maddie's dishonesty with herself and Frank, what should have been a time of mutual support and new intimacy becomes a season of isolation, imbued with memories--for Maddie--of an old boyfriend who seemed to be able to heal people. Given that context, what loving spouse wouldn't want to seek out this ex-boyfriend for his desperately ill wife? But, for reasons both spoken and unspoken, Maddie doesn't want that contact. The novel's conflict arises here.

2. rebecca, of course the breast cancer diagnosis hits especially close to home with me, but i'm curious, with all the illnesses maddie could have, why did you choose breast cancer?

As with certain other cancers, breast cancer is both physical and sexual. It taps into who Maddie is as a mother, as a sexual partner--and these realities intersect, too, with what Maddie slowly recalls and, in a way, re-lives over the course of the book. In writing about the body and marriage, I was intrigued by the words of Jesus in Mark 10:8, in which he speaks of marriage as two becoming "one flesh." This is a profound idea, one that hints--I believe--at a truth our culture is blind to: that our bodies are far more significant than we realize; that what we do with our bodies matters on both the physical and spiritual planes. For this reason, I wanted to work with the idea of one member of a marriage union becoming ill, and I wanted that illness to have specific ties to that character's sexual (and physical and spiritual) identity. In addition, sadly, breast cancer is not an uncommon experience. I have friends who have fought and won battles with the disease and were willing to share their experience with me. To the best of my ability, I wanted to express an honest and believable fight that honored those who have been through it.

3. though not classified as a christian novel, you've thoughtfully woven elements of the gospel into maddie's story. please discuss.

Yes! And I alluded to this in my response above. In writing this book, reflecting on Christ's words about our bodies and His sacrifice--which was a devastation both spiritual and physical-- I couldn't escape focusing on the connection between our bodies and souls. While Maddie is decidedly suffering from cancer, she is also suffering from sin. It was a natural extension of her physical illness to the spiritual. Moreover, I remain fascinated by what we believe we "want" from God. As Christians, we believe Christ to be the Incarnate God, the Son sacrificed in payment for our sin. When confronted with suffering, we rightly ask to be delivered. We also know that, ultimately, the sacrifice of Christ satisfies every longing. This story of physical and spiritual need naturally lent itself to the power of the Gospel. Making those connections were the most difficult and rewarding aspects of writing this book.

I wanted very much to write a book that discussed these things while being accessible both to Christians and non-Christians. As with any like-minded group of people, Christians have terms that serve as short-hand for our shared experience. It was exciting--and essential--for me to write about Jesus in language that I hoped would invite outsiders in.

4. avid readers often identify with a character from a compelling story. so much so, they might even find it hard to shelve the book and move on. you've obviously been living close to maddie breed for some time--creating, developing and launching her. i'm curious about how you, as an author, now separate a bit and leave her?

Ha! What a great question! The truth is that I don't think I've left her at all. I often wake in the morning "worrying" about the outcome/future of the book just as I might (and do!) worry in a similar way about one of my children! But I think you more thoughtfully mean my connection with the character herself, and the truth is both that I am satisfied with where I left Maddie, and she will always, in a way, be "in process" for me. Despite the book's being *out there* now, I frequently pick it up and read select passages, almost as if I'm checking on her!

5. i think women - really all readers - would like to know a little bit about the writing process for you as a mom/wife/busy woman. how does that happen in the context of busy living?

For years, I did all my writing in stolen time. During the years I was homeschooling and in graduate school, I only wrote during the summers--and then it was after the kids went to bed or on occasional "writing days," when my husband took the kids off on an adventure for the day so I could write. Later, when teaching full-time, I took evenings once or twice a week at a local bookstore. But the best work came after I left teaching, in the one amazing year that my children were at school all day and I was at home. I had been working for six years at that point and wanted desperately to take care of things around the house, but instead I wrote almost all day, every day, often at the library. The the only way to get writing done, I've found, is to skip everything else and write. The dishes and dust, as we well know, will wait.

6. in addition, how has this publishing process impacted your family?

My family are enthusiastic supporters of me as writer. They have longed encouraged and supported me--and my husband has zealously championed me and my work. I'm incredibly grateful for him. The publishing process itself hasn't made a large impact: I've had to travel a time or two, but for the most part, it's been a quiet experience. I'm with an independent publisher, and they are incredible, but we lack the power of one of the big five publishing houses. My hope and prayer is that attention to this book will grow--and then we'll see how it impacts us.

7. what is next for you?

I'm at work on my next novel and also have a children's book underway. I'd like to continue this writing thing in the hope that my work asks important questions that help us to consider truths we might otherwise overlook. Perhaps the greatest compliment I've received thus far for Healing Maddie Brees came from a non-Christian reviewer who said the novel made her reconsider the church in new and good ways. In truth, just that one comment is more than enough. Christ's church is a beautiful, if flawed, body. If I can help open eyes to her beauty, then I am satisfied.

8. so friend, i know how to find you on facebook, but where can we find you on the internet?

I'd be delighted for visitors to my blog, "Small Hours," which can be found on my website: www.rebeccabrewsterstevenson.com

rebecca, dear friend,  thank you for sharing your gifts with us --- and for inspiring!

Friday, November 4, 2016

real women. real inspiration -- meet alex and krista

as i explained in my last post, this month i'm dedicating my blog to some of the amazing gals God keeps sending my way. seriously, i'm like almost tripping over them --- these girls "who are getting it done and encouraging others while doing it!"

it's my birthday month and i'm hosting a party here on my blog this november and sharing some of these treasures with y'all.

so without further ado, it brings me great joy this afternoon to introduce to you two of my favorite gifts: krista and alex.

i met krista several years ago at a proverbs 31woman's conference in north -- or was it south? -- carolina. makes no matter, because krista has this amazing way about her which just draws people in wherever you are with her. it has something to do with the fact she very well might be the best lover-of-people and the best listener-to-people i've ever met. standing there in that conference center in (some) carolina, she simply asked me to tell her my story. and we ended up talking well into the night. yep, just like that.

alex and i connected when she and krista invited me to a retreat they hosted in idaho last fall -- the open door. i became smitten with this new friend immediately and a sisterhood was born! alex lives in colorado and i live in georgia, but recently we were able to spend time again when we teamed up in milwaukee, wisconsin to speak at the MOPS international convention.

you're tracking all of that, right? hello, skymiles.

anyway, this post isn't about our travels, but it is about where God is taking these two women with their talents and their teamwork.
in addition to having husbands and multiple children, my friends are both published authors and busy speakers who write and talk specifically to encourage women. you can tell just from the title of their books.

krista's book, reclaiming home: a family's guide for life, love and legacy, was released last fall and alex's most recent book, loving my actual life: an experiment in relishing what's right in front of me, was released this past spring.  if the books, full of powerful and practical ideas, offer great insight and encouragement. if you go above and click on the names, you'll be directed to these girls' websites. check them out. and friends, i want you to know these ladies are the real deal. i know them both well. i know their hearts. and i know the words in these books and the ones that come out of their mouths are 100% authentic. alex and krista are living it out, figuring it out, wrestling it out  ... just like you and me. they encourage not from a place of expertise, but from a place of experience and empathy.

one of my favorite things these two have done together is begin a sisterhood movement. last year, they invited 12 strangers to idaho for a retreat called "the open door." twelve diverse and pretty much unconnected women came together to learn more about what it means to come together as women. they repeated this rereat again this past fall with a brand new group of gals and they have plans to continue. it isn't easy work organizing, planning and implementing this kind of undertaking. i mean, seriously, i struggle making a grocery list for my family most weeks. but these two did this with such intentionality and thoughtfulness. as an attendee, i cannot tell you the details they added to bless us. they thought of everything.

so why would two women take on this kind of task to plan a retreat for others -- strangers, at that? what is this open door sisterhood thing all about?
here's what they had to say:

It's about encouraging one another to believe God. Believe who he says he is and what he promises. And then to encourage one another to live from that belief in our daily decisions. We like to say we are encouraging women to "be world changers for good right where you are." That means believing God can use all of us regardless of our circumstances. I also believe the sisterhood is about calling out where we see God working in each other. Sometimes it's difficult to see that when our life circumstances are pushing in on us from all sides. But a sister can often spot a talent, a tender spot in our heart, our growth in an area, when we are blinded by life swirling around us. It's this calling out that helps us see how God is moving. And finally we want women to walk through doors God opens. It starts with believing him, finding where he's working in our own life and being obedient to the next step.

and because writing books and hosting retreats isn't enough for this dynamic duo, they also decided to launch a podcast this year.  in fact, this month marks their 21st episode -- a milestone in the podcast world. you can listen at {the open-door sisterhood podcast}  the underlying theme? you guessed it --- encouragement. when i'm cleaning the house, folding laundry or driving around town, i turn on these podcasts and listen. oh my goodness, y'all, they are fantastic. please listen, you'll be blessed.

so, maybe you're like me and you're kind of wondering how a girl from colorado and a gal from idaho join forces, write books, throw retreats and host podcasts. like i said earlier, i can't seem to figure out the grocery list making these days. how is this even possible when most of us struggle to meet a friend for a cup of coffee? i asked them this question. here's alex's response:

I mostly try to keep up with Krista! Truly none of this would be happening were it not for her initiative. We try to split tasks, though we each have different gifts. We spend a lot of time on Voxer, texting on the phone and video conferencing. Technology allows us to plan and execute these things from our two kitchens. I am so thankful God placed us in this ear where we can collaborate from states away and still drive our kids to soccer practice.
My house is never clean and Krista doesn't sleep. We all have to give somewhere :). We still only have 24-hours in our day like everyone else, this is just where we spend our "extra."

retreat throwing, podcast hosting and book writing:  i asked these two whirlwinds to explain the connection in all of it. and they said this:

The retreat stemmed from our own writing/speaking life and a feeling that we needed a circle of women who were pursuing the same calling who could spur us on. And then the podcast spun out of our core values. We wanted to extend the same encouragement to women outside of the limited retreat circle (listen to episode 21, it gives a great overview for how all of this came about). For me writing is my strength. It is where I feel most comfortable, but also where I believe I'm most effective. So I need to stay focused on this area even though I'm easily distracted by the good things happening with the retreat and podcast. But the sisterhood spurs me on. As I talk to women, as we interview them on the podcast, I'm reminded of how I'm uniquely wired and it gives me the motivation I need to keep going.

pretty amazing stuff from a couple of pretty amazing women. but, what i love most about them is the humility and honesty they bring to everything they do. with all of these accomplishments under their belts, they continue to work from a place of total dependence on Jesus. that comes through in everything they do. they'd be quick to tell you, "it's not what we are doing, but what He is doing through us."

krista and alex, you inspire me!
i love you girls to pieces.  xo, jody

p.s. if you're still unsure as to why all this celebrating and encouraging stuff is necessary, i'd invite you to link back to a post i wrote a couple of months ago unpacking what often occurs between women. 
the post is called sisterhood: rejoicing or jealous?

next week, i'll be introducing you to an old friend ... stay tuned! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

my birthday party: real women. real inspiration.

i don't know if it's the rise and influence of social media or my personal season of middle age, but never have i been more aware of what other women are out there doing. i mean it -- never have i been so in tune with the activities and accomplishments of others: the cooking of the perfect pot roast, the capturing of the clever photo, the trophy of the triumphant son, the awarding of another honor.

i see.

last month i wrote a post [ rejoicing or jealous?] discussing how our -- okay, my -- human nature is sometimes quicker to move in the direction of jealousy than it is to truly rejoice in another's success. from the feedback, i guess i'm not the only one who struggles here. good grief, is it true? i'm not the only broken crayon in the box? what a relief!

but with that ugly elephant out of the way, recently, i have felt a strange, but incredibly strong, pull toward truly celebrating the amazing women around me.

i'm not sure the reason, but God continues to cross my path with incredible women. real women who really inspire: mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, friends. i just keep meeting them -- girls who are getting it done and, most importantly, encouraging others while doing it.

from that friend of mine who tenderly comes alongside young mamas to the nice checkout lady at home depot who joyfully rings up her customers --- these women keep popping up everywhere.

and i'm on to them. 

i have eyes and ears tuned to the success of these females finding their sweet spots. it happens, you know. when we stop thinking about ourselves and our own stuff, it is truly inspiring to take note of those around us who are using their gifts for God's glory.

so, i want to celebrate this. celebrate them.

and because november is my birthday month, i am hosting a little party here on my blog!

this month -- starting this week -- i'm kicking off a new series: real women. real inspiration. i'm planning to share with y'all some of these gifted girls who keep coming my way. trust me, i have a list, but i'm also open to suggestions, so feel free to send me the story of someone inspiring in your life.

that's what this birthday party is about: inspiration, collaboration and celebration.

consider yourself invited!

i'm serious, if you'd like to nominate someone inspiring, email me at emmyandty@aol.com. i'd love to hear from you. i'd love to hear their story. whether you write to me or not, what i'd most like you to do is to go looking anyway. take time each day to see the people around you. go ahead and see if you can find someone who is doing something really well. i'm not talking about someone who is necessarily making a big splash -- maybe just a small ripple. but maybe that small ripple is impacting and encouraging others. just go looking. take the time to notice and take the time to rejoice in others.
maybe you can tag them or send them this post and tell them ... "this is YOU! this is what YOU are doing!" let them know they have inspired you. it's a beautiful thing.

friends, i know these female relationships can sometimes be challenging, but instead of competing or coveting, let's be women who take the time to encourage and be encouraged.

join me!

by the way, i'm not sure i have a totally concrete plan as to when i'll post these stories. i kicked around the idea of having "fabulous female fridays" or "wonderful women wednesdays," but, truth be told, that's really not how i operate -- all organized and official like that. (sorry).  so, just know they'll show up when they show up. much more my style.  =)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

destination home : the promise concert 2016

the irony doesn't escape me.

for the past three years i've had the chance to work on the promise concert -- a fundraiser dedicated to making homecomings possible for vulnerable children in georgia and around the world. promise686 is an organization helping both foster care families and those who choose to adopt.

so, that irony ...
though, typically, a beautiful event raising money, somewhere in the middle of it, i am always struck with how brutal the reality is for so many.

this concert is a group effort taking many volunteers, but over these past few years, i've had the privilege of being the one to fuss over the ambience of the evening. i'm not going to lie, i love that job. i love turning a yard or a century home or (especially) an airplane hangar into something really pretty. i love figuring out how to design tables and colors and centerpieces in a pleasing and picture-perfect way. 

but then, somewhere in the midst of all that pretty-making, i find myself completely overwhelmed with the pain of those children who are living really, really ugly lives. because though i know the importance of the right aesthetic elements, it all starts to feel a bit insignificant when i hear the stories and see the faces and feel the hopelessness of the kids represented in this evening. 

last night, sitting with beautiful friends at beautiful tables on a beautiful georgia night, i listened to cassie's story. a story of sexual abuse and abandonment. a story filled with deep pain and family betrayal. a story, though one of courage and hope now, was once on the path to total destruction. and i am almost embarrassed to be sitting in my new dress and carefully selected shoes in my privileged environment when i cannot even begin to fathom the depth of this young woman's despair -- when i simply cannot comprehend even one hour in her own childhood shoes as a victim of incredible abuse. did i really spend so much time hunting down the right table decor? did i really stress over the font or the fabric or the most frivolous details of this evening when there's a girl with a story like this? and not just one girl. but thousands of girls and boys and children in our state; across our country; all over our world. 

we ordered cool, neutral-colored globes to decorate each table. they went well with the sleek black lanterns and the gray metal across the airplane hangar, but absolutely paled in importance when i think of the children around our real globe -- our world -- the little ones who don't have a safe place to call home.

under the direction of my dear friend and amazing event leader, julie sawyer, my job was also to make sure our guests had a good time and that they were comfortable. i'm serious, after the decor was arranged, that was my evening's assignment -- responsible even for making sure we closed the massive hangar door should the temperatures drop and people begin to get chilly. 

ironic though, because as comfortable as i wanted our guests (and, yes, even myself) to be, listening to the program i began to squirm in my seat. i squirmed to know the hours and energy this event cost when i cannot possibly know the cost of pain in the hidden corners of every direction we turn. every. single. direction. there are over 150 million orphans across our globe. one hundred and fifty million. that means if you grouped them all together in one place they would actually make up the 10th largest nation in our world today. is it possible that the 10th largest nation on our planet could be children without parents? children without a place to call home?

and foster care's statistics aren't any better.  there are over 13,000 children needing foster homes in the state of georgia alone and currently only 3500 homes available to meet this need. those numbers don't work. i don't have to convince you the enormity of this problem. 

i realize there's value in helping throw a great event. i get it. i get that people will write checks and want to return if the party is fun and the air is filled with festivity. and, honestly, i know it's how God has gifted me in helping make this stuff kind of happen. as superficial as that can all sound, i am pleased when God uses my wiring for His glory and purposes. 

but that doesn't mean, i don't get the irony. just because i care if the candle is cream or white or off-white, doesn't mean i don't get the insignificance of that flame when there are so many children being burned up in the fires of real neglect and need.

so there it is. those are the facts. that is my frustration and my embarrassment and my i-don't-even-know-what-to-do-next all rolled up in a few words. that's where i land at the end of each fundraising concert each year. i hear a few compliments and words of praise for how well it went or how good it looked and though i'm, of course, pleased, i'm also completely perplexed at how we can all go on living our comfortable lives when such horror is happening in every corner of our globe. our globe. not the pretty ones on our well-appointed tables, but the one we all call home. i am perplexed and dismayed at my own forgetfulness and apathy in the comforts i can so often take for granted.

so, yes, i'll post pictures of our lovely evening. i know some of you care to see them and i'm happy to share. but, what i'm asking in this blogpost is that even as you are appreciating the pretty pictures,
maybe stop and ask what you might do or give or be. is there a place on this globe -- near or far -- that God is, perhaps, asking you to step into? maybe it's providing the finances or maybe it's providing a family. there are many opportunities to come alongside the fatherless and that's why putting on a great event is important: raising money and raising awareness. maybe even raising the level of uncomfortableness in our own lives.

i know it's what our heavenly Father wants. in fact, promise686 bases it's entire ministry on the very heart of God.  He is "a Father to the fatherless ... God sets the lonely in families, He leads out the prisoners with singing."  ~ psalm 68:6

director, andy cook, and his promise686 staff

(don't quote me on this andy cook) but i will probably always say yes to helping at event like this because even though it makes me stare hard into the unseemly places of pain, it also reminds me there are so many doing so much to make a difference. promise686 is an organization faithfully taking one right step after another to do what it is asked. this ministry physically and financially comes alongside families who are fostering and adopting kids. currently, they have raised up and trained over 900 active volunteers specifically serving foster families. in addition, over the past 7 years, they have also raised great amounts of money for families who desire to adopt but cannot afford to do so. amazing stuff, for sure, but trust me, they have even bigger goals. please, take a look at their website and check out what's going on. 

the truth is, maybe we all need to squirm a little in our seats. whether we are caught up in our designing of events or just way too comfortable in our daily lives, maybe we are better for the  opportunities to squirm and feel the pierce of someone else's pain. 

not just to feel uncomfortable, but to be moved to do something. just something. one thing. anything.

                       "i am only one, but still i am one. 
                        i cannot do everything, 
                        but still i can do something;
                        and because i cannot do everything,
                        i will not refuse to do something
                        that i can do."  
                                                   ~ helen keller

the silent auction -- awesome job katie, lori and kim!

music by kurt scobie

so, yes, i was a little obsessed with the airport venue!