Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 17-19

Okay, so this is starting to sound like a refrain with me: I'm sorry I'm late. Yuck. I'm sick of saying it. And you're probably sick of hearing it. Let's just leave things like this... I'm busy, you're busy. Sometimes I just won't get my posts up on time and sometimes you won't have a chance to read and respond. Grace, grace, all around grace. Thanks for your patience.

So my tardiness has nothing to do with my desire to discuss these chapters with you. I've felt like the last pages of the book have been a bit repetitive, but I think we break new ground in our reading for today. I'm going to go in a bit of a different direction, though, and solicit your stories instead of dissecting Miller's words. In How to Make Yourself Write a Better Story he says:

Here's the truth about telling stories with your life. It's going to sound like a great idea, and you are going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you're not going to want to do it. It's like that with writing books, and it's like that with life. People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.

Ouch. So hard to hear and yet so true. I think he's totally right, and I think most of us can relate. I know I can... My life is littered with times that I haven't had the courage to step out and sacrifice a little. And, thankfully, there are a handful of instances when I actually manned up and did something totally beyond myself. I won't bore you with the long list of failures, but I'd love to share one small miracle in my own life.

When Aaron and I were trying to decide whether or not the Lord was calling us to adopt, I was a wreck of emotions. I had always felt called to adoption, and I desperately wanted a baby, but I also wanted my motives to be pure and God's will for our lives to be evident. I went in circles trying to tease God into writing it out in a contract for me. Yes, I want you to adopt. Yes, I will make the funds available. Yes, I will bless your family... But, of course, nothing is quite that clear cut. One afternoon as I was wading through information packets from five different adoption agencies, I spread the papers out on the floor and laid on top of them, face down. I know, I'm dramatic. But my heart was broken and I was confused, and it felt like God was being very distant and uncaring. So I prostrated myself and cried like a baby until everything seemed distilled down to one all-important issue. "God," I said, sitting up. "If you want us to adopt you need to show me that you will provide for us financially. You know full well that we don't have $20,000." And though I can't claim to have heard the voice of God, he spoke so clearly to my soul my heart stopped beating. His reply? "If you want to walk on water, you better get out of the boat."

And we did. It wasn't easy. In fact, it was a huge, terrifying, life-altering step of faith that was filled with complications, second-guessing, and strife. But we got out of the boat, and God did provide in a hundred unexpected, wonderful, and downright miraculous ways. Oh, how he has blessed us. Our son is pure joy. (And yes, that's him in the photo above. Beautiful child...)

Your turn: Would you share a time when you learned that joy costs pain? Or, is there a time that you didn't dare to take the plunge that you deeply regret? I think we can learn so much from each other... Our stories, like Millers, are our testimonies--our chances to encourage, sustain, and uplift. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 13-16

I'm throwing you a bit of a curveball this morning by including chapter 16 in our "three chapters a week" routine. Sorry 'bout that. It just made sense to include that little mini chapter (the conclusion to Part II) in our discussion today. Though I'm going to talk about something that came up in chapter 13...

Right now I'm going through my annual fall make-over. No, this isn't a physical make-over (though I did buy a pair of skinny jeans in a moment of pure insanity this past weekend), it's more of a total life overhaul. I tend to do this every autumn. I don't know why. Maybe it's the back-to-school routine or the obvious changing of the seasons. Either way, September seems to be a bigger "new start" to me than January 1. Everything feels fresh and ready, ripe for resolutions and refinements that I've been putting off for months.

This year my goals have much to do with simplicity. I want to spend more time with my kids, enjoy long conversations with my husband, go for walks in our new neighborhood. I want to eat less packaged foods and feed my family home-baked breads instead of Oreos. I plan to work out more, get my core in shape, and sweat my way through high-impact cardio. I intend to make one personal connection (email, phone call, coffee chat) every day. I want, in short, to be a better me.

Which is exactly where I think Miller is at by this point in the book. He's trying to find a good story, an ambition, anything that will drive his character to do something meaningful with his life. And at the beginning of chapter 13, that translates into "getting up a little earlier," and "going to fewer movies."

Hmmm. It's a start, I guess. Much like my autumn resolutions are little more than scraping the surface of a more "meaningful" life. Is doing extra sit-ups really going to make my life better? Not likely. And yet these sorts of goals give me structure, something to shoot for even if it seems somewhat inane.

So, here's my question. In our search for meaning, do you think there is value in striving for personal betterment? Do resolutions build character that eventually results in the sort of integrity that prods us to change the world? Or does focusing on our own story insulate us and make us individualistic? In looking at my own list, I can't help noticing that most of the things I hope to accomplish this fall don't extend beyond the borders of my home and family. Somehow that doesn't feel right to me...

What do you think? Are you, like me, constantly in the process of "bettering" yourself? If so, what things drive you? Do you think this is healthy? Or is our culture influencing our understanding (or misunderstanding) of God's desire to write our stories?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pumpkin Bread

Autumn is my favorite season for so many reasons, and I won’t pretend that one of them isn't the yummy fall fare. I’m an amateur foodie, what can I say? At any rate, this is one of my favorite fall recipes. It’s perfect for breakfast or snacking and makes a dense, moist, delicious bread. You’ll love it!
Pumpkin Bread
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 butter
2/3 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup applesauce
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two loaf pans.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water, sugars, and applesauce until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.
  3. Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. You’ll have to watch the loaves rather closely at the end of the baking time. Ovens vary greatly and you don’t want to over bake this wonderful bread!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sneak Peek: Beneath the Night Tree

In the hope of getting you all excited for the upcoming release of Beneath the Night Tree, I'm going to regularly offer sneak peeks into the story. Don't worry--I won't give too much away. There are lots of surprises in this book and I don't want to spoil any of them! But a few paragraphs won't hurt. :)

From the very first chapter, Songbird:

Daniel hummed in his sleep. It was an unconscious song, a midnight lullaby, as familiar to me as the sigh of my own breath. I fell asleep at night listening to the cadence of his dreams, and when I woke in the morning, his quiet melody was a prelude to birdsong.

I opened my eyes in the darkness and strained to see an imprint of peach on the horizon beyond my open window. It was coming, but when I blinked at the black reflection in the glass, dawn was nothing more than a promise, and Daniel’s every exhalation seemed tuned to charm it into being. I pictured him in his bed, arm flung over the pillow and palm opened toward the sky as if God had set an orchestra before his still-chubby fingers. As if God had chosen my son to coax light into our little house.
Maybe He had.
If there was one thing I had learned in five years of being a single mom, it was that the Lord did exactly that: He used the small, the inconsequential, the forgotten to shame the wise. He worked in contradictions, in the unexpected. And I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if He hovered over my Daniel, drawing music from the curve of his parted lips with the gentle pull of divine fingers. 
The thought made me smile, and for a moment I longed to tiptoe across the cool floorboards and be a part of it all, to slip into the tiny attic nook that was my son’s bedroom. I wanted to feel my way through the shadows, stretch out beside him, and kiss the sugared-sweet little boy mouth that puckered like a perfect bow.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 10-12

Welcome back! It's been a wild week, but everyone in the Baart household is happy, healthy, and loving our new home. Space! Oh, glorious space! We feel so incredibly, undeservedly blessed.

Anyway, I'm excited to jump right into the chapters for this week. So much in these pages spoke to me (especially the part about feeling like a loser in your own life), but I'm going to focus on one passage in particular. From Writing the World:

I've wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don't want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgement. We don't want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn't remarkable, then we don't have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.

To me this entire passage can be summed up in a sentence: We don't want to live a life that requires us to accept the bitter with the sweet. Because really living--really truly investing ourselves in our life, the people around us, our community, our story--requires sacrifice. And let's face it: sacrifice sucks. It makes us dive down deep into ourselves, to the places where we are insecure and vulnerable and capable of being wounded. It's a whole lot easier to live life on the surface.

But it's also a lot less beautiful. It's less fulfilling. More mundane. I think Shauna Niequist puts in perfectly in her book (aptly named) Bittersweet: "...we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the callouses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, earthy." Amen. I choose a bittersweet life.

Which is easy to say right now when my life is sprinkled with sweet. And not some sort of light dusting of confectioners' sugar. We're talking a baking catastrophe--an industrial-sized bag of the good stuff spilling out all over me. It's not always like this... I've known loss and heartache, and even now amid all the good there are bitter pills to swallow. Feelings of isolation that creep in and cuddle up next to the contentedness. Distance from my husband as he puts in crazy-busy weeks at his new job. The knowledge that even though I do my best as a mother I fail and fail again. But even in the midst of this, I can see opportunities for growth and change... the possibility of a better me, a better life, a better story on the horizon.

What about you? Is your life more bitter or sweet right now? Are you afraid to accept the responsibility inherent in acknowledging that life is brilliant? Or do you accept the remarkable (and your role in it) with arms wide open? Anything else in these chapters you would like to discuss? I'd love to hear from you...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vomit and Beyond...

Hello all. Sorry I didn't keep us on-track with a Million Miles blog on Monday. The good (bad?) news is I don't have a good excuse... I have a GREAT excuse. ;)

We moved on Saturday (woot-woot!) and are living in utter chaos. To make matters worse (actually, better in the long-run) we hired someone to help us out with our painting and he started first thing Monday morning. Nothing is where it belongs--instead, it is all piled in the middle of the great room. See the photo above? That's me with all our junk in the background. Sigh. I don't like living amid clutter, but puked-on clutter is unimaginably worse... Yup, my middle child got sick on Monday and ended up throwing up on my favorite chair, our couch, and the carpet. You'd think I would have wised up after it happened the first time and attached a bucket to his chin. But I don't think it would have helped... projectile vomit is never easy to contain.

At any rate, I hope you'll forgive me for taking a week to catch my breath (and pray that I don't get sick, too!). I'll be back on Monday with another post about Miller's book (we're up to chapters 10-12). I'll also be sharing an awesome recipe later in the week and a little insight into my upcoming release, Beneath the Night Tree.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 2, 2010