Worry whispers half-truths everywhere: on the evening news; at the doctor’s office; in the scroll of idle hands—you’re not safe, it says, subtly feeding the feeling that worry is warranted.
Do you hear it? I’m sure you do–especially now with “the virus,” as the Goobies call it at our house. You head out the door to go fix broken bones even as the bones of our nation are bending under the weight of responsibility, beneath the cost of the consequences if we all don’t collectively get serious about staying safe. The perilous state of politics hovers in that place too, and so much uncertainty hangs heavy in the world.
“Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.”
Romans 14:3 (NLT)
“Mommy–when I get big and outgrow my allergies, I want to have Goldfish because they are yummy.”
The Goobies sat eating breakfast while I packed lunchboxes before school. Bags of Goldfish sat on the counter. Emery watched me tuck them into his sisters’ lunches, just like every day. His comment didn’t surprise me: I can’t blame him for wanting to eat them someday too. He thinks all the other kids eat them all the time, and he feels left out.
“You know, I hardly ever ate Goldfish crackers when I was a kid. I didn’t really like them much” I tell him casually, hoping to downplay the appeal of the common childhood snack.
None of the Goobies believed me even though every word was true.
“Let’s make our own dairy free version today!” I said, trying to redirect Emery’s attention.
“We can do that?” Emery asked, puzzled. Intrigued.
For the third year running, the Goobies and I trick-or-treated without you. It all started a couple years ago when you kissed us goodbye and flew far away to say your last goodbyes to your grandpa. We missed you, but it was easy to forgive your absence that year. But the following year, our excitement to have you home with us was short lived: Vertigo stole you from us early Halloween morning (remember?) and didn’t return you back to us until well into the night. The timing of your illness surprised and irritated me and I found it difficult to play the sympathetic wife in the midst of my own disappointment, and I vowed to keep my expectations for future Halloweens low from then on.
Easier said than done, of course.
In hindsight, I realize I made myself an empty promise because why wouldn’t I expect you to spend Halloween with us? In the days leading up to Halloween this year, you doted on the Goobies, going above and beyond (ahem, spoiling them) with costumes this year in a subconscious attempt to make up for your absence the past two years, I think, and all the while I was bracing for the blow that hadn’t even come. Until then, out of nowhere, it did: urgent surgeries had been scheduled for Halloween night. It wasn’t your fault, of course, but my disappointment made me want to blame you. Can’t you get out of it? I begged. This is the third year in a row. Your hands were tied, there was nothing you could do, and so I excused myself from the conversation, shut myself in the bathroom, and cried.
As the tears fell, I realized I wasn’t really mad at you. I was upset about the situation and confused by your seemingly cool attitude toward it. You didn’t seem nearly as ticked off as I felt, and that bothered me. But oh, those Goobies. They are defenders and copycats, a dangerous combination when adversity tempts me toward a bad attitude. But I was quick to remember that if I continued to slink around with a chip on my shoulder, they would do the same. I didn’t want them to be angry with you. Disappointment is part of life. People will let us down, but what we do with that disappointment matters most. After a moment or two, I wiped my eyes and shook off the crazy, resolved to make the best of it.
All of this reminded me of a story Sally Clarkson tells about how her husband’s work took him away from their young family more often than she appreciated. An otherwise doting and involved father, his career took a turn that demanded a bit more time and effort than anyone at home really enjoyed. One night in particular, Sally was particularly not happy about having to say goodbye, but she knew showcasing a bad attitude about the ordeal would give resentment a foothold–not only in her heart, but in her kids’ hearts too. So instead, she chose to send him off with waves and smiles from happy kids, then wrapped her arms around her them after he had gone and suggested with a smile they go inside for cheeseburgers and a movie. She chose not to let disappointment dictate her behavior. I realized, I ought to do the same.
I didn’t make cheeseburgers like Sally did, but I did make Chex Mix. And corn dogs. And I served dinner on a festive table with candy corn strewn this way and that in an attempt to bring fun into what could have been a bummer of an evening, if I had let it. In the days leading up to Halloween, all I could see was my own disappointment over the past few years. Until then it didn’t occur to me how disappointed you must have been. You were the one having to do hard things instead of traipsing through the neighborhood asking for candy with the kids. Dealing with death, suffering through illness, and working late into the night are not the same as skipping out on your family. You were forced to spend another evening missing out on all the fun. My moping around and holding a grudge wouldn’t make any of it easier on you; if anything, it made it more difficult–and not only for you, but for all of us.
We missed you, of course, but we had fun anyway. Friends came over and my folks skipped choir and we all bounded out the door toward an evening of fun–all because, well, what good does it do to sulk? Life’s let downs aren’t easy to face, but it is possible to adapt amid disappointments. We just have to choose to do so, which admittedly, isn’t easy or immediate, but it is always worth it. When you finally made it home to rest late that night, you flicked through the pictures on my phone and laughed out loud, heart bursting to see your Goobies smiling.
Classic Chex Mix (Gluten and Dairy Free Style)
In our house, Chex Mix in October is like cookies in December: you can’t have one without the other. The warm, savory scent of this stuff crisping up in the oven plunges me right back into the Octobers of my high school years when I first started making it on my own. I must have learned how to do it from my dear friend Molly’s dad (thanks Allan!), although I don’t remember him ever showing me how. But I do remember him making it every year without fail, a tradition both Molly and I have embraced as our own, in our own ways. Clearly, our family makes it both gluten and dairy free, but believe me when I tell you you cannot taste a difference. This version is every bit as fantastic as its gluten-and-dairy laden cousin. Chex Mix is an effortlessly customizable treat, food allergy flexibility at its finest.
Note: If you want to use wheat Chex in addition to rice and corn, use 3 cups each rice, corn and wheat, for a total of 9 cups of Chex cereal.
4 1/2 cups rice Chex cereal
4 1/2 cups corn Chex cereal
2 cups gluten free pretzels (such as Trader Joe’s or Snyder’s)
1 cup almonds, or mixed nuts (or omit altogether if your family is allergic to them. No big deal!)
First, preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, in a large bowl, mix together the cereal, pretzels and mixed nuts. In a separate small bowl, mix together the Earth Balance, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder and onion powder. Drizzle the seasoned sauce over the dry ingredients. Using your hands, toss the mixture well until evenly coated. Pour onto a cookie sheet and bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for a total of an hour. Pour the mixture onto a big paper grocery bag (that’s been cut open, as shown below) and let it cool. (The mix gets crunchier as it cools.)
This is what a double batch looks like, about 24 cups worth. A single batch (as written above) yields about 12 cups.
The new year came quickly and I wasn’t ready, like a friend called suddenly to say they’d be over in five minutes and I still had yet to shower. This isn’t a good time, I wanted to say. Can’t you give me another week or two? The answer was of course, No. I’m already on my way.
And now the new year is here and I’m tired. The past several weeks took a lot out of me–how about you? Christmastime is the season of peace and joy, but as we entered into it, both eluded me at first, and I tried hard to construct the illusion of joy for our kids, because I didn’t want them to miss Christmas just because I was feeling funky, you know? The further into the season we got, though, I realized that joy doesn’t suddenly show up when the Christmas lights begin to cast a magic spell over the neighborhood. It isn’t a decoration to dig out and put on display for a few weeks, only to be tucked away again for the rest of the year. It’s not a knickknack to or an ornament or a garland or a star–because joy isn’t an exterior embellishment. Joy lives underneath it all, swirls around it and flows out from beneath those things, like caramel. Real joy pours out of a heart deeply moved by and secure in the love of God.
Two weeks ago, I lost sight of all this again. It was already the middle of December and Christmas was only 11 days away and we had only just started ticking things off our long list the day before. I spent that day running, quite literally, from sun up until sun down, showing up with a smile and spreading myself too thin in the process, perhaps. I forgot to set my alarm that morning, which means I didn’t take a shower before slipping on yesterday’s jeans, throwing my hair in a bun and running from one thing to the next. I pushed and ran and hurried and kept smiling, singing Christmas songs at the top of my lungs while I zigzagged across town with Emery in tow, both of us hungry and on the verge of grumpy.
Of course, in my rush to get out the door that morning I forgot to feed myself. I had snacks for Emery at least, but graham crackers and apple squeezers get tiresome, I imagine, especially when all the other kids are eating pizza and cookies and cake. After wrangling the poor kid away from all those allergens, I realized I’d need to feed him somehow before we headed over to Addie’s party later that afternoon. And so, I ushered us over to Costco because I could both squeeze in an errand and get him a hot dog. When we pulled into the parking lot, I gave my mom a quick call and launched question after Christmas question to her, trying to figure out details and make the words from my mouth catch up with the words in my brain, until I had to stop mid sentence to say, “Hang on. I have to lick frosting off of my purse.” My mom laughed, and it woke me up, I think. It broke the tension inside and helped me remember that sometimes, the right thing to do is to slow down long enough to taste the sweetness of the what surrounds me.
Boy, was that day a mess. And gracious me, how sweet it was too. Back to back Christmas parties with our girls, the freedom to celebrate the birth of our Savior, the permission (and encouragement!) to bring Emery along with me, the warm beds waiting at the end of the day, and just-as-worn-out-faces of friends who had to pull double duty that day too. Walking this harried road is a whole lot less lonely when there are people walking with me, because they are a safe place to be honest about how I have to choose joy because it doesn’t always show up on its own. More often than not, I live in a state of panic, afraid that my strained efforts at nurturing joyful kids will return void. I am afraid I am failing.
The choice I had to make in the middle of that messy, tiring day was whether or not I would let the joy spill out in the middle of the mess. Would I focus only on the imperfect world around me and keep my joy locked away, hidden because I was tired? Or would I let it free to leap out of my heart, wild and beautiful and ready to be shared? I chose joy, I’m happy to say, and what’s even better? Peace came too. The two settled in with us and beckoned us to play with them for the rest of the Christmas season, and so we played outside on a cold, icy morning.
We made popcorn and gingerbread houses and played Ring Around the Rosie in Sausalito and ate fancy Macaroons at Miette.
We baked Spritz cookies first thing on Christmas Eve morning–a last minute decision that was beautiful, delicious, and totally worth the mess.
We crammed family around our tiny kitchen table for leftovers and pie.
We shaped pizza dough into a snowman, a candy cane, a Christmas tree, and a star to celebrate the star of this whole show–Jesus.
On Christmas morning, we ate a store bought breakfast off of dollar store plates so we could get to church without fussing in the kitchen first thing in the morning.
And we spent the day ripping open presents that remind us of the greatest gift that’s ever been given.
The joy and peace we sing about all season long–it came, it lingered, and I pray it stays. There was rush and there was scurry, along with doubt and disappointment, but there was also stay and play, rest and enjoy. Immerse yourself in joy, the season seemed to whisper, because that’s what it’s all about. Isn’t that what the Angel said, all those years ago when Christmas first began? “Don’t be afraid!” he said, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people”(Luke 2:10). I was afraid, but then I found joy. Not feigned or forced–but real, true joy.
Christmas isn’t about constructing the illusion of joy. It’s not about spreading ourselves thin chasing a fantasy of what we think Christmas should be, sacrificing the reality of what we have at home in the process. Shielding the kids from disappointment or pushing them to smile just one more time so we can get a flawless picture is nonsense. Joy glories in the messes of life, after all.
Sometimes the message of great joy is wrapped up in messy buns and rumpled jeans. Sometimes joy bursts out, bright and shiny by licking frosting off your purse instead of freaking out over an empty sleeve of wipes. Sometimes it’s making a double batch of kettle corn and watching a gaggle of kids break into song, dancing and proclaiming the glory of the baby king. Sometimes, choosing joy looks like disappointment at first, like saying no to a fancy night out and staying home, pajama-clad and tenderly rocking a feverish child to sleep instead. Saying no to fear, to the sense that all is not well within me, and instead saying yes to the idea that joy is mine when I accept the gift of Christmas–the gift of Jesus–that’s when joy starts to leak out.
Joy is always best put on display when the story of the Christ child that dwells inside of a heart tender to Him swells and spills over out into the world He came for.
Joey and I host House Church in our home this year, and our little group has more food allergies than its fair share (but at least misery loves company, right?). We made a batch of Joey’s kettle corn one Sunday because everyone could eat it–and happily, everyone did. Our group can go through two batches of the stuff and still wish there was more around, but when it’s just Joey and I, a single batch suffices. He came up with this method years ago and it’s still one of our favorites. You can use coconut oil instead of canola oil–just warm it a bit before pouring it into your measuring cup. Joey prefers to use canola because it’s easy, so that’s what I’ve written here. Also, if you don’t have a Whirley-Pop, I don’t know how to help you, except to say that we love our funky red one and have been using it every single week since we got married, so it’s worth a small investment to get one if you really love making popcorn at home. House Church Family, this one’s for you. We wish you a merry Christmas (and a happy new year!)
1/2 cup popcorn kernels (we like Trader Joe’s organic popping corn best)
2 T canola oil
granulated sugar (a little more than 1 Tablespoon)
kosher salt, to taste
First, get your equipment ready. Put a Whirley-Pop on the stove–lid open please–and make sure you have a big bowl close by. Next, measure 1/2 cup popcorn kernels and set aside. Then, measure 2 Tablespoons of canola oil in an angled liquid measuring cup (like this one from Oxo, which I have and love) and spoon granulated sugar into the same measuring cup until the oil reaches the 3 Tablespoon mark. At that point, stir the oil and sugar together, mixing it up into a slurry.
Next, turn the stove onto high heat and pour the oil/sugar mixture into the bottom of the pan, followed by the unpopped popcorn kernels. Close the lid, and wind the handle, spinning it round and round so the sugar and kernels don’t burn. Keep winding the handle, and have patience. Before long, the kernels will begin to pop–keep winding the handle until the popping slows down and you can count two or three seconds between pops.
Pour the hot popped corn into a large bowl and promptly sprinkle with salt. Fiddle around with it a bit–sprinkle some on, toss, and taste. If it’s not salty enough for you, sprinkle a little more on, toss and taste, and so forth until you reach popcorn perfection.
This morning started out as one of those days. You know the kind. I spent my first few waking moments with the strap of my tank top askew–one strap on, one strap off–having been accosted by children who needed snuggles right now and didn’t care that I was in the middle of changing out of my pajamas. My morning glory was in full force as I juggled kids on my lap, wiping tears and stroking backs and assuring them they would all get their turn eventually.
To the table we stumbled and I managed about three sips of coffee as the kids stared at their plates and all but refused to eat. Addie complained her toast was too dry, so we added strawberry jam. Mia said she changed her mind and forgot to tell us she doesn’t really like toast (and left it untouched). Full tummies or not, we somehow managed to get out the door on time, but as we did so, Mia started crying saying she was finally hungry. I reminded her about her toast and she protested again against it. I wrapped it in a paper towel and set it on her lap in the car anyway, telling her she could eat it if she was hungry enough. She just glared at me and sipped her orange juice.
As we drove, I finally started in on the rest of my now-lukewarm coffee, which leaked water onto my lap as I went. (What?!) Without a towel to wipe it up, I did the next best thing I could think of: wrapped a diaper around the cup and went ahead and drank the rest of that darn coffee anyway. I held it up to show the kids what a weirdo I am, thanked Emery for letting me use one of his diapers, and everyone giggled their little hearts out. It lightened the mood for us all, and we clicked on some of our favorite going-to-school music and I sang my heart out between sips. Down the road just a bit Addie saw a lady jogging backward while walking a dog on a leash and had another good giggle as we declared today must be Wacky Wednesday, just like that goofy book the Goobies love so much. Not long after that, I saw a bird hitching a ride on top of a car that was already in motion. And by the time she climbed back out of the car, Mia had eaten her toast all up. (A wacky Wednesday indeed.)
Admittedly, we did not start the day off on a great foot, but as we lived through the crazy today I realized how much choosing joy in the middle of it helps us all hit the reset button. I also breathed a prayer of thanksgiving for the people who are smarter, wiser and more creative than I am that help me actually do that because let’s be honest: it’s not easy. But nevertheless, lately a few things have helped.
This first one is hit or miss: The One Year Devotions for Preschoolers, meaning sometimes we do it and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we forget and other times the kids remind us. When we all gather around the table and listen to you read the short excerpt for the day really does help start our day off right; it’s like breakfast for our souls. When we skip it, we have a hard time finding our footing and we stumble through. But when we do make the effort, we are all energized and focused on the reason we live each day anyway. The short stories and Bible verses are easy to remember and apply throughout the day. Something as easy as “God made all things” could have been applied today as we drove to school by saying, “God even made the wacky stuff. Isn’t He creative? He must have a sense of humor.”
Also, we love to listen to JJ Heller anyway, but “Big World, Baby” and “I Know You Will” (from her I Dream of You album) both help focus my prayers for them as I send them out the car door. After we have said our goodbyes, I usually finish one or both of these songs and end up in tears over how much potential I see in these little faces and how I pray I don’t squelch a drop of it with my own bad mood.
Perhaps the most important one for this season, I think, is a song from Rend Collective: Joy. It is the song I turn to when Addie whispers “I’m a little nervous, Mommy” as approach the morning drop off line to help her say no to the part of her that wants to sulk in the shadows and instead be confident in who she is because of Who she belongs to. It is the song I play when I feel bogged down by grumpiness to remind me I have the power to break out of that mood. It is the song that reminds me that joy is a choice and it does not depend on whether I feel happy or at ease. The song reminds me to see the beauty and goodness that dances around me every day, and to delight in it even when my circumstances are tough.
What I love lately is simply this: choosing joy. I got up on the wrong side of the bed today and I brought my bad attitude with me into the first moments of my day. Somehow I set aside my grumpiness and chose joy instead. Today started off wacky indeed, but there was so much beauty and wonder in it I would have missed had I not chosen to be joyful in the midst of it all.