Birthday Blessings.

This Thursday my mom will turn the big 5-0. Birthdays are always special, but this one feels especially victorious. She’s made it through a hard year struggling with treatment after treatment, surgery after surgery to combat her metastatic breast cancer.
And so we thought, what better reason to celebrate this milestone than with a surprise birthday party full of friends, family, flowers and good food?
[Beautiful flowers from grown and arranged by Aunt Denise.]
[Our sugar-coma-inducing cupcakes. Aren't they lovely?]
My aunts [my dad's sister and his brothers' wives, and my mother's sister], cousins and I emailed, called, schemed, and prayed for months to plan the party. And then we baked, and cooked, and whipped, and frosted, and decorated, and talked, and laughed.
[The women behind every good party.]
It took a lot of prayer, a lot of planning, a lot of lying through my teeth and maybe more frosting than one body should really consume in one weekend, but we pulled it off. She was surprised!

No one spilled the beans, even though most of the party guests saw her in church yesterday morning. In faith, we refrained from canceling it even though she spent a few days in the hospital last week.
And in faith, we celebrated, thanking God for a beautiful day full of energy and joy and time together.
[The brood: Dad, Mom, Adam, Jacob, Matt.]

[My in-laws.]
[Forever friends.]
[Group hug!]
[The birthday girl!]
It was everything we could have hoped for. I’m a happy, relieved, thankful kind of exhausted.
Maybe you and your family have reason to worry, to wonder what the next few months and years will be like, to think that maybe now is not the time to celebrate. I know how that feels.
But this weekend, all my fear and concern and doubt was replaced by something much more important :
Faith to believe that even though it seems like a time to fear the future, tomorrow will be a good day. Faith to believe that life is worth celebrating, even when it’s hard. Faith to believe that He knows our hopes and plans, and He’s working on our behalf.
So, don’t hesitate to celebrate. Do it now. Do it while you can, even if you can’t be sure what today, tomorrow, or next week will hold. Do it together, because family is our best resource for support and strength.
Pray hard. Make memories. Eat everything. And whatever happens, choose to celebrate.

The Shrinking Margin.

If only there existed a magic button for my life, one that I could press to give me that time and space my mind needs to feel rested again. Today I find myself feeling cramped and small and crazed, oppressed by my insecurity. Oppressed by my inability to juggle and format and finish the things I need to do. Do you ever feel that way? This is how I’ve felt intermittently for the last few weeks. 
Summer is my favorite season, because I feel an exuberance in the warmth of each day, an unquenchable need to celebrate life in all its green and flourishing glory. Each wedding, party, cook out, firework, each slice of watermelon and ice cold beverage wet with condensation is a joy to me. I don’t want it to end.

I don’t want to miss it.
And so I struggle in this paradox: in a season that I should celebrate and relax and enjoy the lengthened days, I find myself so overcommitted and busy that the days feel like they’re flying by without me. My calendar and my mind are so full that I have no space to breathe and enjoy it. I find myself living in the margins of my life, which are shrinking by the second.
It’s no wonder, then, that when I think about writing, I’m too worried about whatever else I should be doing to feel at peace with my creativity. For me, writing is a process of roaming through the recesses of thought and imagination, of exploration and rabbit holes and contemplative ideas. And I haven’t made time or space for that recently. So when I sit down to write, and I turn inward to my thoughts and feelings, what I find is a mess – much like the explosion of laundry that has barricaded the path from bed to my closet. Not an inspiring landscape to live in.
Perhaps a three day weekend to celebrate independence is as close as I will get to that magic time and space button, so long as I don’t try to cram it full of going and doing. I won’t be checking my email. I won’t be looking at the time. And I will try my hardest not to think about the coming work week or what I think someone else thinks I should be doing with my time. 
It is my time. It is my life. No one else can create it for me. 
Time to breathe. Time to think. Time to restore rest and writing for me. 
To celebrate, here are a few links from around the www that have inspired me this week: 
Why Todd Henry hopes to die empty.
Two recent sources of inspiration and motivation: Jeff Goins and Darrell Vesterfelt. A great quote from Jeff’s talk with Darrell about the inherent narcissism that comes with being a writer:
“Because writing is an internal act, as is any form of art. And the journey of looking inwardly to bring something out can sometimes be hindered. We can look inside ourselves and never get out.”
And after the concert I went to on Monday, I can’t stop listening to The Swell Season again, particularly this song. [My apologies - there's not a video of a live performance for this.]
For all my single ladies out there, keep believing. We have entered the era of The Return of the Nice Guy. Swoon.
Speaking of nice guys, I married one. Yes, this is a shameless, mushy plug for my music man Matthew Jason. I’m abundantly thankful that I married an artist, someone who understands the roller coaster ride of creativity in all its awkward, crying, mascara-streaked glory. [Obviously, we're talking about me, here, not Matt. My husband does not wear mascara.] He lives to play his heart out, and he always inspires me to keep going. [Fan him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter. It would mean a lot to both of us.]
[Image found here.]

Come on, feel the Illinoise!

Happy Sunday, dear readers. How has your weekend been? Mine has been glorious. My brothers came for a visit, which of course meant a day downtown.

A day in Chicago gets me excited every time. It doesn’t matter if I’m walking the same beaten path to the Art Institute or the Shedd Aquarium or Wrigley Field, I love it. The possibilities are endless.

We planned to spend the afternoon at the Shedd, but to our surprise and dismay, the general admission price has nearly doubled since we visited two years ago. Not exactly in the budget yesterday, so instead we wandered along the lake shore to Navy Pier. It turned out to be a beautiful warm day, perfect for walking and admiring the glittering architecture, the brilliant blue water, the pedestrians and their pets, the brave little sailboats, the trees with their arms reached to the sky waiting to be twinged with green any day now. Sometimes, wandering in the sunshine is just as enjoyable as wandering a museum, except it’s free [always a plus in my book.]
Later we ate at Gino’s East, meandered down Michigan Avenue, and visited the Skydeck at Sears [Willis] Tower. Traveler’s tip: go to the Skydeck at dusk or after dark. The wait is much shorter, not to mention how positively romantic it is to see a million city lights twinkling endlessly in the dark.
As I looked out on the teaming city streets and twinkling lights, I felt that gut instinct again –  This is where I belong. 
I feel blessed to live in a hub of art and culture and intellect and opportunity. Living here feeds my constant hunger for learning and exploring new things, whether it’s a new restaurant or a museum exhibit or meeting someone new that shares my interests in writing and art and music.
Chicago, every time I visit you I love you more than before.  

by Sufjan Stevens

“you came to take us 

all things go, all things go 
to recreate us 
all things grow, all things grow 
we had our mind set 
all things know, all things know 
you had to find it 
all things go, all things go…”