Sunday, August 19, 2012

Death by Glitter

This week, Olivia and I spent some one-on-one time crafting: just a couple of girls, a couple of dollar-bin picture frames, a bag of sequins, some tacky glue, and a cylinder of rainbow glitter. 

When our project was at 90% completion, there was a knock at the front door. By the time I got back to the kitchen, the entire 4-inch-high cylinder of glitter had been spilled. Here's what my kitchen floor looked like.

This photo doesn't do the mess justice. If you have any experience with glitter, you know that even just a tiny bit can infiltrate your home so that days later you are still finding it on your clothes, furniture, and stuck in the tiny hairs above your lip that you don't want to call a moustache but your daughters will tell you is one. 

And this was a LOT of glitter, all over the crafting table cloth, chairs and floor.  My purple Shark vacuum shot much of it into the air until I figured out the right attachment to use. This is why many mommies do not craft, but leave it to preschool teachers.

You know the expression "live by the sword, die by the sword?" Well, I live by glitter, and also die by glitter.

I have also experienced death by sequins, when, on Father's Day weekend, a ballerina skirt exploded in the wash and bedazzled the washer and dryer and lint trap with pink iridescent sequins, which then got all over our clothes. Happy Father's Day, husband. You sparkle. 

Our family also lives and dies by sewing pins. Jeff has stepped on several, and found needles sticking out of the arm of our couch (now it's leather, so I know longer use the couch as a pin cushion, so that particular danger is over). Our back yard patio is like a drunk Jackson Pollock, with water color splatters absorbed into the concrete. And I have also died many deaths (emotionally speaking) getting ground-in Play-doh out of upholstery and cracks in our kitchen table. 

The fact is, whatever we love has a downside. You can tell what someone's passion is by what pain they are willing to suffer for it (or, in my husband's case with the pins, what pain they are willing to let their families suffer for it). I met a woman at a party a few weeks ago who had arrived on her daughter's razor scooter, because though she had sustained a stress fracture in her heel the day before, she didn't want to drive her car for just a mile. That woman loves to exercise. Stress fracture? ACL tear? Well, that just comes with the territory. 

Yesterday, I went to visit a neighbor who was making her four year old son a two-tiered pirate-themed birthday cake. Her entire person was literally coated with powdered sugar, and the fondant wouldn't roll without sticking to the silicon rolling mat. Death by fondant!  Her sanity as well as her marriage was in jeopardy for a couple of hours (her husband said today at the party, "Can you taste the slight hint of bitterness in this cake?") But come next child's birthday, they will both go gung-ho again, and turn the house upside down doing a Minnie Mouse themed-party for their daughter. Why? Because they love it! We shall be very good friends with these neighbors.

I often lament all the scrappy messes I am picking up in this house, but they are mostly my fault. I have created a culture of creativity here, and small pieces of paper, thread, glue and other hard-to-clean substances are the price I'm willing to pay, if I think about it. 

I'm also often irritated that there are vases of dead flowers throughout  my house, but, again, it's my own fault. I just love flowers, and I'm too busy sweeping up glitter to dump them out before their dead. They are not a testament to my lazy housekeeping so much as my commitment to creativity. 

Just before I left for Texas, I was emptying a vase of expired blooms, and I found a Jedi master drowned in the bottom. Apparently, the girls had been launching their Star Wars toys down the stairs, and Yoda fell through our open staircase and into a vase full of geraniums on the bookshelf underneath.

I'm always telling the girls not to do this with their action figures, because they are bound to get lost in the crevices under our stairs. When I told Livie I had found her Yoda, she was unrepentant. She said something like, "Well, sometimes that happens when you're having fun." What's one dead Jedi master in the course of a whole hour of gleefully tossing toys down the stairs? 

I see your point, small daughter. Now, watch out as you walk through the kitchen. Mommy's been sewing, and she may have dropped some pins.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Freak Out and Throw Stuff

If somehow you have missed out on the bizarre pop culture trend that has brought this image to every major retailer near you and just about everyone elses Pinterest page, let me illuminate you.

"Keep Calm and Carry On," was the stiff-upper-lip motto of the British -- particularly Londoners -- during World War II, when they were in constant threat of German bombs. Even before the Olympics in London, this slogan and sign caught on. Target carries a line of paper products that says "Keep Calm and Birthday On" in hot pink. On Etsy, you can buy a sign that says "Keep Calm and Expecto Patronum" (for all you Harry Potter fans).

And just this last weekend, at the MOPS International Convention in Grapevine, Texas, the MOPS staff were wearing shirts that said "Keep Calm and Mother On."

A noble sentiment. I really wish I were calmer. I wish I were more even tempered. I wish my spirit was more settled, that my brain moved slower, that my anxiety -- spiritual and otherwise -- was less.

Before I left for the convention, as I blogged in "A Mother or an Entourage," I was feeling overwhelmed by the preparations needed to leave my children. But even more than that, I was besieged by spiritual anxiety, which I can't write about when it is currently affecting me. The details are not important at this moment (I'll get to them in months to come, I'm sure), but I was struggling with God. His love for the world felt far off to me; I couldn't quite believe in it. And I was mad about this, because what I really  wanted to do was go to this leadership convention with a full heart, ready to worship, learn, and have fun. I didn't want to attend seminars on encouraging other young mothers when I didn't feel encouraged myself. I didn't want to be battling my rebelious heart and my anxious brain the whole time.

I told this to my pastor Shelly, both before I left for the trip, and I was crying to her in the lunch lobby outside the workshop from which I was playing hooky.

"Look around you, Amanda," Shelly said. "Do you see all these women crying?" She was right. Throughout the long weekend, there were pockets of women with their arms around each other, praying and crying as they fought their own demons, internal or external. Many of the leaders were in pain. But they were leading anyway.

The night before I got on the plane, I was considering not going. This was perfectionist thinking, friends, the kind I have sworn, in writing and in front of live audiences, to put an end to. But old habits die hard.

Do you ever think this way?

If I can't worship with a whole heart, I won't worship. 
If I can't lead without making a mistake, I won't lead.
If I can't know the answer to all my questions, I'll just stop asking any.
If I can't feel the peace of Christ at all times, it must not be real.  

My primary mental problem, is that when I experience doubt, fear, or anxiety, especially about God himself, I tend to want to go into my laundry room (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively), shut the door and try to figure it our by myself. I don't feel I should approach God until I'm totally sure what I think about him. I don't want to tell any of my Christian friends what is going on.

This is not a good idea. If I find it hard to understand the heart of God when I'm seeking his presence, how could I possibly do better when I'm consciously hiding from him and his people?

The final speaker at the MOPS seminar was Kay Warren, wife to Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. She spoke primarily about shame. In order to have real community with other women, she said, we have to allow them to see the things about us for which we feel ashamed. God is not afraid of our dark places. As God's followers, we need to boldly enter the dark places of others and shine light into them. Sometimes that means crying together. Sometimes, it means shouting. Sometimes it even means shouting at God. Ironically, this honesty about our shame leads to connection and hope.

I was in Paper Source yesterday (one of my favorite places) making a return of excess black envelopes. The woman in front of me was buying half a dozen greeting cards, and I saw this one as it was being scanned.

I left the counter immediately and got one for myself, which cost me all my store credit plus one dollar and 15 cents. On the way home, I thought of so many people I could send it to, and by sending it to them, I would have been showing them compassion in the best way I could think of. "Your situation/relationship/life/illness is tough right now," I would have been saying. "Go ahead and freak out if you want to. I will listen. And when you're done, we'll see if we can't find some hope in this situation."

Fact is, I can't afford to send this card to everyone I would like to send it to. So I am blogging it to all of you instead, and hopefully not violating too many copyright laws to do so. Then I am saving it for myself.  It is currently on the bulletin board in my laundry room, the place I go to freak out.

And every time I have gone in there in the last 24 hours, I have felt that perhaps God is sending this card to me.

"Go ahead and freak out, Amanda," he might be saying. "I can take it. Read Lamentations. Read the Psalms. My people have been bringing their woes, complaints and confusion to me for thousands of years and yours are no worse than theirs. I am not offended. I will give you answers at the right time. And forget trying to hide from me in the laundry room. I'm in here, too."

Today, I read Psalm 139, verses 7 through 12.

Where can I go from your Spirit? 
Where can I flee from your presence? 
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; 
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
if I settle on the far side of the sea, 
even there your hand will guide me, 
your right hand will hold me fast. 
If I say, "Surely the darkness [in my laundry room] will hide me
and the light become night around me," 
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day, 
for darkness is as light to you. 

Whatever you're doing right now...keeping calm and carrying on...or freaking out and throwing things...God is with you. He's not afraid of your doubt, anger or fear. And he loves you. So don't even bother trying to hide.

Scraps of Soul, Live!

If you like reading Scraps of Soul, perhaps you'd like to hear
my thoughts in person? 

As my kids go off to school in September, I'm finally able to answer God's call and the desire of my heart to encourage other women and young mothers as they seek to live lives of...

 Imperfectionism: pursuing love and excellence without expecting perfection from ourselves or others! 

If you or someone you know has a group looking for fun and relevant speakers, send them my way. Below is a synopsis of my favorite topics.

Put Away Perfect:
Replacing Perfectionist Thinking with God’s Perfect Will
This talk is designed to help women live with realistic expectations of themselves and their relationships, by changing the way they think. (Romans 12:2) Perfectionism is a very common root of anxiety, depression and dissatisfaction, but it doesn’t always manifest itself in the way we expect: in a high achieving “perfect” body and a Martha Stewart home. Perfectionism is actually a way of thinking that can also cause procrastination and the destroy our ability to take risks and be creative. Having the skills to recognize when you are thinking like a perfectionist can give you more freedom and joy. I focus on perfectionism in our mothering, friendships and even our faith. This is a great topic for both seekers and mature believers.

All My Friends Have Issues:
Real Thoughts on Real Friendships with Real Women
Based in part on my blog of same name, this is a great topic to tie in this year's MOPS International theme on Taking the Plunge: Risk. Real. Relationships. In it I talk about the "enemies" of authentic friendships (competition and comparison, perfectionism, unwillingness to be vulnerable), and "friends" of authentic friendships (honesty, mutual encouragement, and the willingness to learn from one another's differences).

What Can Post Partum Depression Do for You?
Having experienced PPD personally and found that God used this experience to profoundly change the way I saw life and His love for humanity, I weave facts about risk factors and symptoms of depression and anxiety with my own story. Other groups have found this talk relevant for a number of their women, as it helps them know how to help friends with this experience, as well as themselves. I also speak about the concept that negative emotions like fear and frustration don't disqualify us from a life of faith with God. This message is also filled with humor about the conflicting emotions we experience as women; it is ultimately a message filled with hope. Wanna know what I think the Bible means when it calls women the weaker sex? Book me to find out!

Mary Vs. Martha: Choosing the Better Part
My unique take on the Mary/Martha story examines the strengths of both these women's personality types. Leaning in the Martha direction myself, I hate the simplistic interpretation of this story: work=bad and sitting at Jesus feet=good. The essence of this story, from my perspective, is that Martha saw a “should” where Mary saw a choice, and, as Jesus said, Mary chose the better part. In order to live a life of joy and freedom, without bitterness, we have to learn to judge situations rightly and know when to work and when to rest and refuel. This talk is informed by the book "Boundaries" by Cloud and Townsend, which I recently taught in a six-week course for MOPS moms at Mariners Church in Irvine.

An Amateur Woman:
Making a Life instead of Just a Living
When God called me out of the working world, I found it first devastating and then ultimately liberating. I also found that it was not permanent. In the last six years of being an at-home mom, which I refer to as my Amateur Era, I've discovered that the definitions of amateur, (1) one who pursues an interest for love, and (2) an unskilled person, both apply to me as a woman, wife, mother, leader, and follower of God. An Amateur Woman accepts not her unskilled status! But instead, pursues her passions, dreams and God given talents because she both loves others and is deeply loved by God. This is a message of hope and encouragement to women of all ages, but especially to young moms who feel they've lost their identity when they had babies.

I have been involved in the MOPS group at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA  for eight years, for the last two as the Coordinator of our Friday group. I am now serving as liaison between our Women’s Ministry and our two MOPS groups, which meet weekly and serve over 200 women, as well serving as a Bible teacher and shepherd to our steering teams.

I love the unique opportunity MOPS has to meet the needs of all kinds of women in all stages of their faith in our communities. At Mariners, we find moms come to us because we know they need something -- friends? wisdom? sanity? – and find that what they truly need is the love of God in their lives.

As a speaker, my goal is be relevant, grace-extending and challenging. And I promise, I can make your ladies laugh. I believe we all learn better when we're laughing.

A former magazine editor and current blogger, I am the at-home mother of two daughters (kindergarten and third grade) and have been married to my college sweetheart for 13 years. I am also a quilter, reader, fledgling surfer, renegade gardener, passionate friend, and baker of ambitious but flawed birthday cakes.

Amanda Anderson
Speaker, Blogger, MOPS Leader

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An Amateur Woman

 A few months ago I was a guest of my friend Elizabeth at a literary society luncheon. The luncheons, held on weekdays in a beautiful place with beautiful food are primarily attended by women. Elizabeth had prepared me for a roomful of middle-aged, well-coiffed "ladies who lunch." 

So it surprised me when, halfway through our Cobb salad, the stranger to my left turned and asked me, "So, are you a professional woman, too?"

I paused with my fork half way to my mouth. I looked at Elizabeth. I looked back at the stranger (it turned out she was a librarian for a prestigious private college). I stammered out a rather inarticulate answer...used to be a magazine editor/writer...actually wrote about this society when it started...still do a little freelance with two small children.

But I had a perverse desire to say, "No, actually, I'm an amateur woman. I do this whole woman thing for free." 

I know what the librarian was asking. I think I may have looked particularly employed that day, as I was wearing only remaining dry-clean-only clothes. So she was simply wondering, what is my profession? I rarely feel insecure when I tell people that I quit my full time job six years ago to raise my small daughters. So I wasn't threatened by the question.

It was the wording that gave me pause. And the phrase "Amateur Woman" struck my fancy. I immediately envisioned it written in capital letters. Moreover, between that day to this, I've studied the three main definitions of amateur and found that of all the labels I could be given -- stay at home mom, homemaker, volunteer, blogger, quilter, friend, wife, Christian -- Amateur Woman is one of my favorites.

One definition of amateur is the opposite of professional; someone who engages in study, sport or activity for pleasure rather than financial benefit. Ama comes from the Latin root for love. So, basically, an amateur is in it for love.

I am finding the act of being a woman to be a pleasure, which is good, because I doubt going pro and getting paid is possible. Daily, I am attempting to have a life that I can do for love.

I decided to quit my job when I heard God speak to me, just as I was passing a farm stand on my way to work. A thought rang in my head: "You don't have to be stressed out to be valuable." It was completely non sequitor to my present stream of thoughts, and I knew it came from somewhere outside my self. Moreover, it penetrated to the very marrow of my life's present crises, as God's voice always does. I had lots of rational reasons to be working (financial needs, future career advancement), but at that particular time in my life, what was actually keeping me from  giving notice was not rationality, but fear. The fear that I would be worthless if I stopped pushing myself so hard. 

I gave notice to my editor a week later. It turns out, I do feel valuable despite my lack of paycheck. I won't go so far as to say that I no longer have stress; I am raising children on one income, after all. But it's distinct from and less acute than the working-mother treadmill of stress I ran on for the first two years of my daughter's life, knowing that at any moment a case of the flu, a cancelled baby sitter or a missed nap could derail the whole week, make me miss a deadline or send me into a shame spiral when I had to choose between my daughter's needs and my job.

After the initial identity crisis that is inevitable in our culture when you stop earning a wage, the amateur era of my life has opened up a much larger world to me. I know there are very real challenges for women in our culture, but I have tasted the extreme freedom of being a female with children; it is socially acceptable, by and large, for me not to work in order to raise kids. And while raising kids, I am doing lots of other things as well. While I don't have the freedom to go to the bathroom without a child with me most days, I do have the freedom to pursue passions, from homemaking arts like quilting and cooking, to church leadership, to the very intellectual discipline of being a self-aware, psychologically astute parent. 

Which brings me to part two of the definition to which I relate: Amateur also applies to an athlete who doesn't compete for payment or a monetary prize. 

Until 1971, Olympic athletes had to be amateurs. One could be stripped of their Olympic medals if it was discovered that they had ever been paid for playing their sport, rather than being supported by a parent or other wealthy family member. The Dream Team was big news in 1992, because for the first time professional NBA players were allowed to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. 

Currently, I am being supported by a family member, namely, my husband, and his support allows me to train, like the Olympians, incredibly hard at being an Amateur Woman. Amateur doesn't mean slacker. Amateur Olympians were hitting the pool, the track, the bike incredibly hard. Likewise, though there is no official compensation involved in being an Amateur Woman, my goal here is excellence. Not perfection, but excellence. My own personal best. 

My training regimen is multifaceted.

I strive for energy-sustaining, free-radical fighting nutrition. I prepare unprocessed foods daily and buy mostly organic foods. 

I refine my mind with good literature, parenting books (psychologist Bruno Bettleheim's Good-Enough Parent has been very influential, and I believe will truly propel me to excellence when I get past the introduction), and New Yorker cartoons (some of the most piercing observations on modern child rearing). 

I spent a lot of money the year I turned 30 on therapy.

 I strengthen my soul with Bible study, both group and individual, plus worship every Sunday. 

I surround myself with spectacular coaches, ranging from my husband to a cloud of great witnesses: my friends and fellow Amateur Women of various ages who cheer me on and offer valuable correction. 

I nurture my creative side with sewing projects (quilting, embroidery, purses, baby blankets) and ambitious birthday cakes. 

I cultivate humility by biting off bigger leadership projects than I can chew, so that God has to step in and remind me that he's the boss. Not me.

I'm seeing results. If NBC were to do an inspirational back story on me, I think the character development over the last 10 years would be measurable, enough to possibly bring a tear to the eye of other women who are doing their darndest every day.

And finally, the third definition of amateur that I find so compelling: a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity. Example: Hunting lions is not for amateurs.

With all my growth and striving, there are always elements of womanhood at which I find myself unskilled. And as soon as I master one stage (woman with infant, for example), its over and I'm on to the next. I wake up some mornings with an overwhelming sense of my amateur status.

The women in my life I most admire are 20 to 30 years ahead of me, and though their bodies are older, their souls seem to be acquiring the most coveted qualities of youth: faith, freedom, self-confidence, curiosity. They are dreaming bigger, worshiping with more joy and abandon, praying bolder prayers, learning new technology, seeking peace in their relationships, finding greater value in the simple pleasures of life. They refuse to accept "unskilled" as their status, knowing that the lions of despair, broken relationships, ignorance, fear, doubt, boredom, and complacency must be fought. So they fight. They inspire me, and to them I bestow the honor title, Amateur Women. Women who are doing life for love.


Monday, August 6, 2012

A Mother or an Entourage

As I prepare to leave my husband and children for four days to attend the MOPS Convention in Grapevine, Texas this week, it occurs to me that I am difficult to replace. 

In fact, it takes about half a dozen people to do the job of one me. My kids need either a Mother, or an entourage.

In order for me to get on a plane on Thursday morning and be absent until Sunday afternoon, I have enlisted the help of no less than five people, not counting my husband. There is my brother who is watching Olivia (and frankly, let's also count my sister in law, for though I have communicated solely with Uncle over this, it is likely Auntie will do most of the work). 

But first there is my neighbor who is watching Olivia for the early morning shift so that Hubby can get Sophia to Harry Potter camp and Uncle doesn't have to arrive at the crack of dawn. Then there is my friend Elizabeth who is picking Sophia up from camp and having her overnight (taking her to a dance rehearsal that night at church and bringing her back to camp). Then there is my mother watching Olivia on Friday and picking Sophia up from camp. Then there are both my parents who plan to entertain and feed my family on Saturday night. 

And I suppose we could also count the Harry Potter camp staff (Headmistress Kathy and Professor Poppy), and all the people in the factory who supply Trader Joe's with the frozen foods my family will be eating every meal while I'm gone.

As I make copies of insurance cards, type out directions, phone numbers,  and "consent to care" forms for various people, I am appreciating myself very much. Though I often feel that I do nothing all day, just my physical presence and my ability to drive are car are very, very important. I stand in the gap between my children and chaos, neglect, bodily injury, starvation, and boredom. Every darn day. 

I have similar feelings of self appreciation when I get sick and stay in bed for, say, four hours, and see how quickly our home descends into filth and bedlam without me. I'm like the little boy with his finger in the dike. I pull it out and the whole town goes underwater.

It's frightening having children. Their very existence on the planet means that someone must take responsibility for them. And most of us mothers are aware that that someone is us. Moreover, we want it to be us. "Working" mothers and "nonworking" mothers alike. I remember one of my "working" girlfriends calling me in horror to tell me that the woman who operated the small school bus that took her son from school to occupational therapy while she was at work would sit in her bus and fall dead asleep as soon as she dropped the little boy off. 

"This woman is responsible for my son's life, and I think she's too tired to be driving!" my friend howled. "I must make other arrangements." The horror she felt was this, simply: no one cares about my son as much as I do. True. I think she made sure to drive him from one place to another from then on. 

And now, back to me. I am a one-woman entourage. Like they are little movies stars, I make the kids' personal appointments, chauffeur them, bring them drinks, fawn over them, make sure other people also fawn over them, pick out their clothes and do their hair, bring them food. I treat them like they are VIPS. Which they are. 

I'm glad I'm doing this work myself and providing my kids with consistency and stability. I wish I were doing it better. More patiently, more kindly, with a better sense of humor.

I'm also very tired. And therefor very excited to be going away to rest, learn, worship, and eat barbecue for a few days (It's Texas, y'all, I'm assuming there is barbecue). I wish I could take all my mommy peeps with me. Pat yourself on the back. You do the work of at least four people every day.