26 June 2007

Our sanctuary.

Summer has officially arrived, and this past weekend proves it. On the first "official" weekend of summer, we had an unbelievably relaxing time enjoying our new "sanctuary" right here in Dallas - our friend Michelle's grandmother's backyard. Crazy, huh? 88-year-old Granny Elizabeth is the sweetest lady and has allowed us to use her pool all summer! So we packed our canvas beach bag, donned our swimsuits and headed for the backyard sanctuary complete with a private fenced-in pool, hot tub with fountain, Brazilian hammock, gorgeous natural canopy of Crape Myrtles & Bradford Pears, and even those recliner rafts with the cup holders! H-E-A-V-E-N!

Our friend Paul was in town from Athens, TX and he and Steven went out to lunch, so I got to spend the first hour by myself enjoying the retreat. Sunshine, the sound of flowing water, and reading about classic beach cottages in my newest Coastal Living magazine - could I ask for more?

I decided to enjoy the quiet and take in all my surroundings while the boys were away...

I'm seriously thinking of getting one of these hammocks and replacing our bed. It's SO comfy and you feel like a burrito all wrapped up in it. After all, this is what we'll be sleeping in when we live in Bora Bora.

My view from the hammock...

Steven got his turn... (not without a fight, though!)

And then he took a nap on the edge of the pool deck...

...and woke up and smiled at me :)

The icing on the cake is that we also decided to break out our ice cream maker and make homemade Peach Ice Cream with the fresh peaches from Central Market. MMMM!

I heart summer.

19 June 2007

Who Am I as a Woman? (Captivating Chapter 1)

Who am I as a woman? I still have no earthly clue how to answer that question. Maybe because most of the time, I still feel like a girl living in an adult world. I feel like a teenager agonizing over what she will wear to the dance on Friday night. I am OK with still feeling a lot younger than I am and with people mistaking me for a teenager at the movie theater. But what I want to gradually deal with and move past are the immature obsessions of a girl who still hasn’t completely found her confidence in something that is so much bigger than what this world has to offer.

I am learning that we as women are the representation of God’s "feminine" qualities to the world…a revelation of God’s "mercy, mystery, beauty, and His desire for intimate relationship." Perhaps we want to be desired so badly because God Himself wants us to desire Him. As much as He pursues us, He wants a response from us. It’s amazing to me that Christ fills both the masculine and feminine roles, and that is why it was "very good" when he fulfilled creation by designing both man and woman.

But as soon as we enter this world, we begin to be attacked by the arrows of life, our sin rears its ugly head (thanks, Eve), and what we were truly made to be gets shifted around, fought against, wrongly translated and abused. And so we end up with each of our individual stories, with some adventurous chapters and some chapters we’d rather just tear out of the book altogether. What I'm realizing though, is that underneath the details, our stories as women are really all the same. The friend I am doing this study with - well, we couldn’t be more different. Our answers for practically every question in the book so far have been opposite, yet we "get" each other. At the core of it, we are doing this study for the same reason. To recapture - or perhaps capture for the first time - who we are as women.

In Chapter 1, I loved the story of John & Stasi canoeing at Oxbow Bend and the picture of beauty as Stasi helped canoe her family to safety. Even in a moment when she was using all her strength, she was uniquely feminine. It reminded me that the picture of a "godly woman" that I grew up with - the perfectly coiffed, manicured lady with creased slacks always working in the church kitchen - isn't necessarily what a Godly woman has to be. In Stasi's example, she fulfilled her uniquely feminine role, and John fulfilled his uniquely masculine one, but they worked together as a team. Love that. The fact that Steven and I are a team is probably my favorite thing about our marriage.

I look at this favorite photo of me with my dad at Virginia Beach, circa 1983. 5 years old. Little did I know about beauty; I was just free to be a little girl. I loved my daddy, and I especially loved being at the beach with him. He made me feel special and like a little lady. Today, when I look at it daily (since it's in our bathroom), I'm reminded of what I want to keep about myself. I mean, my hands can barely fit around his waist but I'm hugging tight. I want to embrace life like that. I want to embrace my Heavenly Father like that.

"Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not kind enough, not gracious enough, not disciplined enough. But too emotional, too needy, too sensitive, too strong, too opinionated, too messy. The result is shame, the universal companion of women." (p. 7)

Yet, somewhere along the way from 5 years old to 29 years old today, I've experienced that shame. Because now when I look at this photograph, with all the good things, I also notice that my thighs have always been quite thick! It makes me want to barf to admit a thought so ridiculous, but it's true. Not just appearance-wise, but somehow between age 5 and now, I've let the world (and the church!) dictate who I should be. Gag.

"Aware of our deep failings, we pour contempt on our own hearts for wanting more. Oh, we long for intimacy and for adventure; we long to be the Beauty of some great story. But the desires set deep in our hearts seem like a luxury, granted only to those women who get their acts together. The message to the rest of us – whether from a driven culture or a driven church – is try harder." (p. 7)

In the workbook, the question is then posed, "Do you resonate with that? Do you ever feel that way? How have you – how are you now – 'trying harder'"?
My answer: "Sometimes I feel there’s not a big place in the world for introverts like me. So I try harder to be something I’m not and I just end up totally drained. It’s such a lie that you have to be a bubbly personality to fit into the Kingdom of God."

I've been thinking a lot about this - my unique personality and how it fits into things. Sometimes I wish I were like those charismatic young women in the church, leading the youth group in skits and cheers and trust falls. Somehow, I was always the girl in the back, dreading my turn. The thing is, one-on-one with people, or in small groups, that's when my true self was free to shine. I can more easily embrace this fact now, but honestly, it's not frequently celebrated.

What do you ladies think? How do you distinguish between what the "church" says we should be, and what God says we are?

Now, let's talk about this whole "adventure" thing.

"A woman is a warrior too. But she is meant to be a warrior in a uniquely feminine way. Sometime before the sorrows of life did their best to kill it in us, most young women wanted to be a part of something grand, something important." (p. 11)

Ideally, yes, I do want to go an adventure. I love that idea. When I think of adventure, I think of hiking from village to village in the Cinque Terre in Italy...or driving through the European countryside stopping whenever I want to take photos of flowers in all their raw, unspoiled beauty, or hiking an unexplored trail in New Mexico with my husband. I think of being accompanied by one special person, or a few people I love. I do want to be a part of a shared adventure.

But how the heck do I embark on adventure here in Dallas, TX? Yes, you can go with the whole cliché, "Life itself is an adventure!" But really? With little money, little freedom to leave Dallas right now, and many of my closest friends so far away, how do I find this adventure?

Probably one of my favorite parts of the entire chapter was at the very end - last paragraph.

We are being invited into "a journey toward the restoration and release of the woman you always longed to be… It’s about discovering who you already are as a woman." (p. 19) We're not re-creating the wheel, here. "Restoration" and "release" imply that it’s already in here. Somewhere deep down, there is a confident woman waiting to (re)surface. Thank God.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ANGE! Happy 30th, my friend. Here's an oldie but goodie for you :).

All excerpts from Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul by John & Stasi Eldredge.

Favorite flower.

Aren't peonies the most delightful of all flowers? They almost look like tissue paper flowers, they are so delicate. My hubby knows how much I love them and brought me some pink ones last weekend. He also brought me an azalea bush. I was telling a friend about this on the phone and she said, "Wait...he brought you an azalea bush...and panties?" Tee hee! I guess my old Jersey accent reared its ugly head for a moment and made it sound like quite an interesting gift choice. But it is an awkward word to say correctly!

So I hope these pe-O-nies are a bright spot in your day, as they have been in mine!

14 June 2007

It smells like Kibera.

I was washing my car the other evening, and I smelled Kibera in the air.

The pungent scent of burning wood - in the U.S., that's a scent usually reserved for the chilliness of fall. It's a comforting, cozy aroma conjuring up memories of football games and holidays. But here, the smell of burning wood is usually not present in the midst of blazing summer stickiness. As Steven tossed old branches from the recent rain storms into our backyard firepit, I, in the front yard, was not thinking much about autumn or Dallas, TX...

As the low-lying sun cast a goldenness all around me, I stood there with washrag in one hand, recalling the day I first stepped foot on the chaotic streets of India and the dirt roads of Kibera, the biggest slum in East Africa. That burning smell. The beads of sweat all over my body. Gazing down at my feet, I realized I was wearing the same brown sandals that had touched both of those third-world soils. Whatever they are burning there in the slums - trash, wood, food - it's a scent you don't soon forget.

But it's not just that. It's the activity of life - a very different kind of life - swirling around you...this beautiful mess of smiles, poverty, laughter, need, and desire.

I remember experiencing this as I strolled down Kibera road with Moses on my left and Peter on my right, two of the teenage orphan boys who live at our Calvary Youth Hostel there. Moses and Peter were great conversationalists, inquiring about my life in America. "We heard that everyone goes to college there. Is that true?" I thought about how much I took my college studies for granted and felt ashamed, as they were desperate for a chance to get any kind of higher schooling. But as much as our lives were different, I felt like we were friends.

During our stroll, we passed shanty shacks selling meats and vegetables that seemed hardly edible. We meandered through trash and human waste flowing quietly along the red caked dirt road. We passed children in half-shirts and naked bottoms who waved joyously. And of course, we smelled the stench of burning wood and felt the perspiration trailing down on our faces.

What is it about this place that draws you back? It was filthy, frightening, and despicable. Yet, it was joyous, hopeful, and shimmering. Perhaps what is compelling about these poverty-stricken places is that they are drastically different than where I am standing here in Dallas, TX. Yet the people I visited there were yearning for hope and life just as much as I.

13 June 2007

To all of you Captivating readers out there...

One week from today, Wednesday, June 20th, I'll post my thoughts on Chapter 1 of Captivating. If you don't know what I'm talking about, read this post :)

Read away, ladies! I'm excited to hear your thoughts!

08 June 2007

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary...

Much to my own disbelief, I am developing a green thumb. I've also discovered that gardening is rather therapeutic. As I tend to the leaves, roots, and blooms, I seem to be to nourished as much as they are.

"Won't you come into my garden?
I would like my roses to see you."
~ Richard Sheridan

The role of helping plants grow was meant to be a metaphor for life, I believe. "The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good." (Genesis 1:12). According to their kinds - I love that. There is so much variety. Hmmm.

As I dig into the soil with my rosy-pink gardening gloves, I reach for the root. I know the weeds will not be removed for good unless all of them is extracted. As my gloves become caked with soil, I realize this is going to be messy. But darn, it feels good.

Here in Texas, my flowers must be watered daily. No skipping the routine because I am too busy or distracted. They cannot survive without it, right? And growth. Why do some stems survive, and some do not? You know, if you prune hydrangeas too soon, you might cut off a branch that has already prepared itself to bloom next season. Although you can't see what is hiding inside that bright green stem, there is potential beauty there.

So here's a peek into my garden. First, the whimsical coneflowers (a.k.a echinacea). Two days ago, my red one looked like this...

Now it looks like this. Lovely.

Here's my purple coneflower a few days ago...

And today...

And now for the zinnias...

This is dainty lantana...

Blanket flower. I think her name should be Maria.

Here's my pink hydrangea, a housewarming gift from my dear friend, Jenni.

Here's my "yellow rose of Texas" from Stephanie. It has tons of buds! Right now it's hanging on for dear life to the front porch posts so it will grow straight and strong.

This is my autumn sage bush, and it smells heavenly.

I found this sprouting up next to the autumn sage, and I have no idea what it is! We shall see...

Wave petunias circling the tree...

My husband knows me well and realizes how gardening has become my new "therapy." Today, not only did he bring me a bouquet of pink peonies (my favorite flower), but he returned from the gardening store with a few other surprises: an azalea bush and a basil plant. I hope they quickly grow to be strong and beautiful. For myself, I hope the same.

01 June 2007


With all of my heart and soul, I want to be a valiant and courageous woman. Hear me say I want to actually be one, not just be seen as one. There is quite a difference.

I have begun reading Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul by John & Stasi Eldredge, which I am doing as a book study with another girlfriend. A few pages into the first chapter, there was this quote:

"Then the time came when the risk it took
To remain tight in a bud was more painful

Than the risk it took to bloom."

~ Anais Nin

Oh. Dear. Little tears in my eyes. I'm not sure exactly what I love about this quote...maybe it's the feeling of being on the verge of something that is somehow scary and enticing. "Then the time came..." implies that enough is enough. "Then the time came..." implies that before that, there was another time of covering, hovering, and closing oneself off. A time of doing anything but living courageously.

I want to blossom. I want to stop allowing myself to choose things that cause me to wither on the vine, and instead choose those things that are life-giving. The world does not and cannot dictate my beauty, worth, and identity. It is time to start living as the captivating, courageous woman I was intended and created to be. This is the only way I can represent Christ to the world.

Does it mean becoming an extrovert? No. I don't know if I'll ever be that. It just means choosing to live without fear, for God's sake.

So as I go through my book study of Captivating, I'm thinking about using my blog to include those of you other women who also want to read the book from afar. I would post my thoughts on the chapter, one a week, and then you could participate in the comments section. I purchased the Captivating Guided Journal also, which will help raise questions for pondering alone with God and together. Many of you, too, have said you want to pursue this abundance of life we have available to us as women.

So who is with me?