And Yes, You Have to Take Them Home

Updated below

So Corey and I managed to fit in a small afternoon lunch date a few weekends ago. (After many failed evening dates, I finally figured out that we should probably try to escape when Teyla is napping. It only took me four months to put that together. Go-go, brain cells!)

I nearly ate myself silly. Seriously. It was almost embarrassing -- yet not, because Corey and I have been married 15 years now, and he knows I love food. We got two appetizers, bread with really nice olive oil (two plates, thankyouverymuch), salad and an entree. And after all that, we decided to go for coffee.

It was a cool, rainy afternoon (which could be any weekend in May; I have no love for this state right now), so we dashed under window awnings to a quirky, local coffee shop. And there, on their barista counter, I discovered what is now one of my favorite business signs of all times.

I'm laughing out loud AGAIN just posting it. Because if something is funny the first time for me, it is even funnier the second time. It's like humor squared.

So tell me -- am I the last person in America to see that little gem? And/or do you have a favorite sign that you've seen out and about?

Update: Right after I posted this, I left to get Natalie from school. On the drive home, I saw a bumper sticker that had the Marine Corps logo on it next to the words "When it absolutely, positively has to be DESTROYED overnight." Made me giggle. So let's include bumper stickers in this thread, too. Because there are some good ones out there.

My New Look

I cannot even tell you how twitchy I've been all day. Beth at Be Design has been working hard on my new look for at least a week now; she installed everything Sunday night. I was so excited to get online Monday morning and give her a shout-out (didn't she do a great job?) and welcome you to my fancy-shmancy new digs.

And then the baby didn't take her morning nap. And Connor, oft-neglected and freshly out of preschool, wanted to play games. And then my faux-OCD shifted into overdrive due to the copious amounts of hair I am shedding right now and DEMANDED that I clean the house immediately. (Seeing a virtual carpet of hair strands on the kitchen floor will to that to your faux-OCD. Duly noted.)

So here I am, at 10:30 PM, after most of you have already stopped by and admired the new do, and I'm just now getting around to welcoming you.


But that's real life, right? Sometimes, we invite people over and then the baby spits up on the outfit we wanted to wear and the phone rings and the dishwasher starts to spill frothy, greasy bubbles from its innards. It just happens. We roll with it.

Here's another example.

This past weekend was Memorial Day Weekend, yes? The kick-off to summer? Many of you posted about spending the holiday at the pool or the beach, enjoying the sun and the sounds of BBQ and laughing children.

Here in Minnesota, we enjoyed a decent Saturday. It was warm enough, at least, to encourage me to run to a local nursery and pick up the few plants I wanted to put in my pots.

(Please note: This was my garden last year.

And that was just for vegetables. I'm saving a few shots of the planting beds around our house for Lisa's Garden Tour on June 13.)

So this year I have no yard. (Moment of silence, please.) I'm relegated to putting a few precious plants in my prized Mexican blue pots.

I have two tomato plants. (Yes, I know they will be crowded. But I couldn't pick just one! Don't judge me.)

I have a pot of basil and chives...

...and another of cilantro and chocolate-mint.

Oh! And we have a maple tree on our deck. Technically, this is Corey's. He found this tree when it was just an teeny baby plant in the backyard of our old house. He planted it and loved it and cared for it, and when it came time to move, he couldn't leave it behind.

It's our love maple.

By the front door, I have these pots filled with purple fountain grass, two varieties of sweet potato vine and a couple of different wave petunias.

But look closer.

No, not at the petunias. (Although they are alluring. Hello, darlings.)

At the sweet potato vines.

Do they look a little ... funny to you?

Well, yes. That would be because our temperature this morning as 41 degrees! And we barely made it to 60 today.

Which -- and here's where I return to my original point -- just goes to show that life doesn't always go the way you planned. Sometimes, you plan for beauty and flair only to find your timing is a little off. So the orchestration goes awry. I've learned -- that's OK.

The best things in life often happen when you least expect them.

Stormy Dinner

It was almost noon (read: lunchtime) when we pulled out of the church parking lot yesterday. Natalie, who is constantly hungry right now, chirped sweetly from the backseat, "Can we go out to eat?"

I glanced at Corey. He glanced back. "Maybe later tonight?" I said under my breath. "Teyla is going to need to go down for her nap soon."

So the deal was made. We would go out to eat -- possibly to "Red Lumpster" -- for dinner.

Four-thirty rolled around. The day, which had started heavy and hazy, had grown ever more foreboding. A storm just to our north was boiling in the sky. Suddenly, the sirens sounded, piercing the air with their rotating scream.

Being a Certified Weather Geek, I immediately ran to our deck. The skies to our north were dark and angry. But we were clearly on the edge of the storm. The skies above us were only gray. And to our south, the sun peaked through the patchwork haze.

I ran back inside, and simultaneously pulled up my favorite weather website and turned on the TV. Normal golf coverage on our local NBC station was pre-empted for Storm Watch. (That's what we called it back in San Diego. Of course, Storm Watch in SoCal means "your patio furniture may get water spots on it; stay tuned for this crisis as it develops." Here in Minnesota, it means something slightly different.)

The TV screen was a swirl of psychedelic colors. The meteorologist (Sven! In Minnesota! I love it!) was saying things like, "There's a confirmed tornado on the ground in Coon Rapids. The storm is moving directly east at about 40 miles per hour. It's a fast storm, capable of 60 mile per hour winds and golf ball-sized hail."

Be still my beating heart.

Natalie, who is slightly sensitive to bad weather lately, particularly tornadoes, appeared ashen and quiet at my elbow.

"Is the tornado going to get us, Mom? Should we go to the basement?"

Good question. The tornado wasn't headed toward us at that moment. If it stayed on its projected path, it would hit towns about 15 miles north of us -- certainly close enough for us to see the storm, but not close enough for us to seek shelter.

And then Corey appeared. "Are we ready to leave for dinner? We promised the kids."

Hmmmm. Another good question. We were on the edge of the tornado warning area. It wasn't even raining at our place. The restaurant where we were headed was south of us, which meant we'd be moving even further out of the storm's path.

What would you do?

I've Never Been More Proud (Sniff, Sniff)

This is how Natalie dressed herself for school earlier this week. Please note the position of her collars.

I believe she might have gotten some 1980s fashion sense in her genetic code.

I think I'll use this long weekend to teach her to peg her jeans.

Devastated by the Loss of a Sweet Stranger

When I worked at the TV station, it was somewhat common to answer the newsroom phone and hear this: "Could you tell Susan that she really needs to get her haircut? Oh, and that color she's wearing today looks awful on her. Maybe she needs to get some new clothes. Nordstroms is having a great sale this week."

The standard answer was, "Great idea! I'll pass it on. Thanks for calling!"

But, of course, we never passed it on. Not unless the caller was a. creepy (because then we would get the police involved) or b. so rude they were funny (like the woman who would call demanding our anchors brushed their teeth more; that sort of thing).

Why did complete strangers call the TV station to say such personal -- and often obnoxious -- things? Because they felt like they knew our anchors. They viewed them as friends. After all, they ate dinner with Marty and Susan every night, and they got ready for bed while Joe told them about the weather forecast for the next day. (Sunny and 70s from now until eternity. It was San Diego.) It wasn't a real relationship. But it felt like one.

So I understand the whole celebrity thing. I know we often feel like we know people that, in fact, we don't.

But this whole blogging thing. It takes the faux relationship one step deeper, doesn't it?

I have never met Steven Curtis Chapman or his wife, Mary Beth. I've never talked to his teenagers or played with his daughters.

But because I admire their hearts so much, I have been reading their blogs for the past 12 months or so. I've watched as they've gone on vacation to Hawaii and Florida. I saw their family Christmas card picture just a few hours after it was taken. I laughed at their young daughters as they would have sleepovers and go to Pump it Up for birthday parties and compete in gymnastics meets. I know Maria and Stevey Joy are nearly inseparable, that they have matching princess pajamas. I heard the story about the time teenagers Will Franklin and Caleb submitted to "makeovers" from their little sisters. I know Emily Chapman got engaged just a few days ago.

And, of course, Steven's music is the backdrop of my life. His songs have been my comfort, my peace, my encouragement, my celebration.
Going to a SCC concert is always one of the highlights of my year. Because we share the same Spirit, my heart resonates with the art created by his pen and guitar.

I guess that last line partially explains how I can be so broken over the loss of a little life that I didn't know this side of heaven. To be perfectly honest, I'm devastated. I'm completely empty today, devoid of laughter and joy. (And that's saying something for a sanguine like me.) I keep thinking, "This can't be real. This must be a horrible dream." (And if I'm thinking that, how much more must the Chapmans be wishing to wake up from this nightmare?)

Last night, as I was crying in my Bible (Psalms, of course), I thought of this song by Andrew Peterson. It's a great description of my prayer for the Chapmans right now.
Give us faith to be strong
Father, we are so weak
Our bodies are fragile and weary
As we stagger and stumble to walk where you lead
Give us faith to be strong

Give us faith to be strong
Give us strength to be faithful
This life is not long, but it's hard
Give us grace to go on
Make us willing and able
Lord, give us faith to be strong

Give us peace when we're torn
Mend us up when we break
This flesh can be wounded and shaking
When there's much too much trouble for one heart to take
Give us peace when we're torn

Give us hearts to find hope
Father, we cannot see
How the sorrow we feel can bring freedom
And as hard as we try, Lord, it's hard to believe
So, give us hearts to find hope

Give us faith to be strong
Give us strength to be faithful
This life is not long, but it's hard
Give us grace to go on
Make us willing and able
Lord, give us faith to be strong
Give us peace when we're torn
Give us faith, faith to be strong

Lord, we are raw. Your body pleads for Your touch on this precious family. Only You, Jesus. Only You.


I also want to pass along these practical suggestions I got in an e-mail from Jim Houser, Steven's manager. (His blog is another staple of mine.)

We are all humbled by the incredible outpouring of love and support at this difficult time. I have watched you, the Chapman friends, overwhelm website servers and jam phone lines with your gracious words and heartfelt prayers. The Chapman family is so grateful. Obviously, we cherish your prayers for all in the Chapman family, and we welcome you passing this along to others to pray and encouraging them to sign up for Steven's e-mail list to receive continuing updates.
  • If you'd like to express your condolences and get a glimpse of this beautiful little girl through a short video clip, click here. [Note from Kelly: I can't bring myself to watch this clip all the way through yet. It tears me apart just to see her smiling face.]
  • Mail to PO Box 150156 Nashville, TN 37215.
  • In lieu of flowers, the Chapmans request any gifts be directed to Shaohannah's Hope, click here.
In closing, as many of you know, the song "Cinderella" was written by Steven to help him (and us all) grab a hold of the special moments with those we love we might otherwise rush by. It was inspired by a bath time that Steven tried to "hurry," Maria and her sister Stevey Joy were not exactly cooperating. : ) Let us all be reminded again today what Steven compels us to with the lyric of this special song.

With Hope

I had a lighthearted post planned for tonight.

I'm not lighthearted anymore.

My soul is shattered for the Steven Curtis Chapman family. Completely shattered. To say I'm a fan doesn't even touch the level of respect I have for Steven and Mary Beth. His music has been used by God to literally shape my soul.

I can't imagine their grief. I'm not even involved, and I'm weeping for the whole situation.

Ironically, the only songs I can think of for comfort are songs Steven has sung.

Lord ... only You.

I'm Sorry. Did Someone Say It's Bathing Suit Season?

I'm working on a new menu today -- coming up with meals for the next 10 days, give or take, so I can put together a working grocery list.

Sifting through some new recipes I had recently pulled out of magazines, I noticed a theme. See if you can spot it.
  • Gooey Rocky Road Cake
  • Greek Chicken Salad
  • Cherry Revel Bars
  • Coconut-Blueberry Cheesecake Bars
  • Lemon-Lime Bars
  • Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
  • Lighter Ranch Chicken Salad
  • Coconut Chicken
  • Fresh Strawberry-Cream Cheese Tart
  • Carna Asada
  • Puffy Shortcakes with Meringue
  • Mango Tart
Hmmmm. I wonder if I have unresolved cookie issues.

God Made Me Weird and He Loves Me Very Much

A few days weeks months back, the Queen B reached out her golden scepter and tagged me with the 7 Random Things meme.

I told her I would get right on it.


In my defense, I'm a recovering late-a-holic in real life, and I'm doing such a good job staying on the straight and narrow (I was 10 minutes early to church yesterday -- for the third week in a row), I was bound to backslide somewhere.

Hey look! I just told you an extra random thing. This is your lucky Monday! Go! Now! Buy a lotto ticket!

1. I love prunes dried plums. Truly. And don't roll your eyes at me. Have you tried Sunsweet's Cherry Essence Prunes Dried Plums? If you haven't, don't judge. They are yummy. I'll say it again -- yummy.

2. You know how I sprinkle my blog posts with the word dude? That's not a gimmick. I really do say dude. Like, all the time. I also like to imagine I'm a surfer. But I'm not. The closest I came was boogie-boarding off the coast of Del Mar with Mindy when she lived with us for a summer. It was fun and cold and I hit my head on the sea floor a lot and got sand embedded in my scalp. Young boys laughed at us, mostly because we had no freakin' clue. But we didn't care. Because, dude, we were practically catching gnarly waves! Totally wicked.

(Anyone else hearing Crush in their head right now? Or is it only me?)

3. When I was a teenager, I qualified for Mensa.

And look at me now.

4. I can't go to sleep without some sort of a blanket. Even if it's 95 degrees in my bedroom. I must have a covering.

The only exception to this rule is when I'm lying in the sun, because I can definitely fall asleep lying on the beach on a gorgeous summer day. I like to think the sun's warmth acts as a kind of blanket. A blanket of ultraviolet light and Vitamin D. Try to get that at Target.

5. I might faint if you touch my eyeball. I discovered this nifty little factoid two years ago when I went to seen an ophthalmologist. Since I hadn't been to the eye doctor in about, oh, 34 years, they ran a full battery of tests on me, including the one where they put numbing drops in your eye so they can do the glaucoma pressure test. About 30 seconds after the test, I started to get light-headed, nauseous and sweaty. I was able to mumble, "I think I'm going to pass out," to the nurse just as everything was going black. She was able to help me to the floor before I lost consciousness.

Turns out, it's a not-all-that-uncommon phenomenon. My ophthalmologist said his best friend in medical school actually had a guy pass out cold three seconds after the glaucoma test was done. He was so stunned, he just let the guy drop like a rock; he didn't even try to catch him. Not his proudest moment, I'm guessing.

As you might imagine, I'm not a candidate for contacts. Ever.

6. I have never watched "American Idol."
I prefer to remember Paula Abdul back when she was straight up forever my girl.

7. I would live in Narnia, if given the chance. I read The Chronicles obsessively when I was young. I would start on book one, read through to book seven, then start over again -- and I did that for about six years. (Which means I've read The Chronicles of Narnia more than I've read the Bible, I just realized. And that's a little sad.) Aslan was the first real representation of Christ to me. My faith has been profoundly impacted by C.S. Lewis' imaginary world.

And yet, I haven't seen "Prince Caspian" yet. Does anyone want to babysit?

I'm now supposed to tag seven people. I'm going to choose some bloggers old* -- Baby Bangs and The Preacher's Wife -- some bloggers new -- It's Almost Naptime and Sorta Crunchy -- a blogger borrowed -- Naval Gazing, but Sue's address is really Borrowed Light, did you know that? -- and some bloggers whose toes are blue** -- Badgers on the Loose and A Latte Talk.

*bloggers who've been willfully subjecting themselves to my blog for a year or more
**bloggers who also live in Minnesota

The One That Doesn't Segue Well

Spring? Is that you?

It's been 70 -- or above! -- the last couple of days. I can't tell you how good it feels to be outside again.

"What is this light on my face? It's bright. In the sky. Mom? Is it a big light bulb?"

"And this green stuff. Slightly crunchy, a little pointy. Yet I can't stop touching it. It's ... addictive."

"I think I want to eat it. Can I eat it, Mom?"

"Mmmmmm. It just needs drool. And some milk."

Good news: The stomach flu appears to have moved out of the Love Well house. For those of you who wondered -- and for the Google searchers who will doubtlessly end up here -- I was able to get the vomit stain out of the carpet.

When I walked into the kids' bedroom Wednesday night, the lights were off. My sleep-fogged eyes only saw a huge, dark puddle next to Natalie's bed. Since Connor and Natalie share a room, I didn't want to turn the bedside light; I foolishly thought the night light would do.

Big mistake: After five minutes of retching and timidly wiping, I finally turned on the light. And I discovered the damage was much worse than I initially thought. (Funny how much the light can reveal things like that.)

(Hmmm. I sense a sermon illustration there. But I'll leave that for others to glean.)

Natalie, bless her heart, had apparently leaned over the side of the bed when she got sick. The nastiness ran down her sheets, down her bed skirt and onto the carpet, where is splattered onto Connor's bed skirt (bed kilt? bed skirt doesn't sound very manly) and the nightstand.


Many rags later, I had taken care of the chunky part of the mess. And we all returned to bed to wait for morning.

Long story short: I used carpet cleaner, which helped. I vacuumed, which also helped. I Googled (naturally), which gave me some ideas. I called carpet cleaning services, where I learned that orange vomit
(hateful carrots) on beige carpeting is the single most difficult stain to clean.

But in the end, the item that really worked was Dyson Zorb. I got a complimentary bag with my new Dyson at Christmas. (Thanks again, Corey!) Its essentially a carpet powder that works to absorb dirt and other nasties in the carpet. I sprinkled it on liberally -- like Markos Moulitsas liberal -- and then waited 60 minutes for it to work its magic. (Which is double the time suggested on the Zorb package, but since my carpet was damp before I started, I wanted to give it extra time to ... well, zorb.)

Lo and behold -- it worked. The stain was gone, the smell was gone. I was amazed, honestly. And thrilled.

I suspect kitty litter, a frequent suggestion from Google to clean vomit in the carpet, would also have worked this kind of magic. But it probably wouldn't have smelled as good.

The one thing I would do differently is wait longer for the Zorb to do its thing. Since it was still slightly wet when I vacuumed, it gunked up my Dyson's rotator brushes. But I was able to clean those the next day.

A little elbow grease versus $100 minimum for a carpet cleaner to come in and try to get out the stain.

I'd say the Dyson is starting to pay for itself.


After that story, I bet you really want a Dyson.

Sorry. I'm not as cool as Shannon.

But I do have a really great book to give to Jill.

Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:


Timestamp: 2008-05-18 03:47:40 UTC

Congratulations, Jill, your number was chosen by the A.I. that runs Your autographed copy of "What Women Want" will be in the mail next week.

And if you didn't win, but you really want to get something for free, come back next week. I have THREE AWESOME CDs to give away next week. THREE!

I'll even clean the vomit off of them before I stick them in the mail.


Irony is just honesty with the volume cranked up.
- George Saunders

1. My kids have been healthy all winter. Now that it's May and sunny and 70, they are sick. Natalie fell first. She got a medium-high fever last Friday with a side of sore throat. She was back to full strength by Tuesday. Which is when Connor turned ashen during his tumbling class. He threw up twice during dinner. Yesterday, he still had a fever, so he went to bed early. Natalie, meanwhile, sat in her bed until 9:00 PM, making up songs about believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and generally being cuter than a basket of fuzzy puppies.

2. Which is why Natalie was the one who woke me at 2:00 AM with a sweet whisper. "Mom, I just threw up." My first response was, "No you didn't. You're not sick. Are you sure?" Then I leaned closer and smelled her breath. She wasn't joking. (I'm a bit of an idiot when woken from the sleep of the zombies.)

3. When Connor was sick, I could tell when he was getting ready to blow, because his moaning and writhing would increase in intensity. Therefore, I always had a bucket ready for him. Natalie, apparently, has no such Emergency Broadcast System. So there was no bucket waiting for her.

4. Since Connor had a bucket, he threw up things like apples and water. Since Natalie had no bucket, she threw up everything she had eaten in the last 12 hours (shrimp, pasta, green beans, milk, chocolate pudding and carrots -- lots of carrots). I am now on hour 8 of "Mega-Hazardous Waste Clean-Up" and the 18-inch stain by the side of her bed is finally starting to fade.

5. I gag the gag of a thousand hypochondriacs when faced with the smell of vomit. Yet God made me a mother.

6. Because of the illness, both kids stayed home from school today. Which meant the two sick kids had to accompany me to Teyla's four-month well-baby check-up. Which means I took my last remaining healthy child to the doctor so she could get shots, be cranky and run a fever.

7. After the doctor's appointment, the kids decided they felt good enough to eat lunch. They requested microwavable mac and cheese. Which smells like vomit to me.

8. I had all kinds of goals for this week. I've accomplished very few of them. Which is probably why God had me read this quote Sunday night: "I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly realized that my interruptions were my work." (Out of the Solitude, Henri Nouwen)

The Art and Heart of Giving

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel overwhelmed by the news the last few days?

First, it was the double tragedy of the Myanmar cyclone. More than 100,000 feared dead and more than a million homeless, and the government (and I use the title loosely) is more interested in maintaining a tight grip of control than alleviating suffering.

Then the earthquake in China. More than 12,000 people are dead, many of them children.

Meanwhile, in the background, the silent tsunami of sharply rising food prices threatens to kill thousands of people before year's end, thanks to a potent mix of drought, rising gas prices and corn and soy being diverted to make biofuels.

If you have ever given money to any charity at any time in the past, chances are your mailbox (the real one, where you get paper things) is going to be inundated the next few weeks with heart-tugging appeals. Money is needed, and being an American, you have more than most people in the world. You want to help -- but how do you make the right choices?

That was the question posed by Jen at
Conversion Diary a few weeks back. It sparked a fascinating discussion in the comments (as most of her posts do. If you don't already read her blog, go familiarize yourself; I promise you'll be impressed.) And that, in turn, got my husband thinking. He has worked with nonprofits for many years, and his experience has taught him tons of things about how to give -- and how not to give.

So, without further ado, I'm proud to present this guest post from Mr. Love Well (with edits, which he graciously allowed me to make). Our prayer is that it will help you think about how to give, where to give and your reasons to give.


Did you know 24,000 people die from hunger and hunger-related causes every day -- and of that number, 18,000 are children?

It's hard to wrap our Western brains around the number. So let's break it down. In the three minutes it will take you to read this post, 50 people will die from hunger and hunger-related causes.

Here's another too-big-and-horrible-to-comprehend statistic:
HIV/AIDS kills approximately 3.1 million people every year, leaving roughly 13 million children orphans in its wake.

Let's break it down again. In the same three minutes of post-reading, nearly 20 people will have died from this pandemic.

It's overwhelming, isn't it? Staggering. Horrifying. And those are just two of the many areas of colossal need on this planet.

It’s estimated there are more than 330,000 churches and approximately 2 million not-for-profit organizations in the U.S. alone. And if you've looked in your mailbox lately, it might seem like all of them are asking for your money.

Have you ever wondered how to decide who you should give your money to, how you can know that your money will actually be used wisely and effectively?

Having worked with not-for-profit organizations for many years, I frequently encounter such questions from charitable individuals who want to know how they can best make a difference with their donations.

Here are some tips for those of you who are asking similar questions.

The sheer amount of suffering and need in this world is indeed staggering. What can you do about it?

1) Keep in mind that you will never solve all of the world’s problems. Focus instead on making a difference one person at a time. Most of us don’t have the resources to help millions of people, yet all of us can make an impact on at least one individual. History is replete with amazing examples of how making a difference with just one person can cause far-flung ripples that impact countless others in ways we could have never imagined. I should know – I’m a former orphan myself, a street rat whose life was forever changed by the act of one person. (Go here to read more of my story.)

2) Become an advocate for those in need. Let others know about the hurt and need that is in this world, and encourage them to make a difference. While Americans are the most generous people in the world, not all Americans are generous. It’s a tragedy that so many of us are insulated -- fat and happy Americans who go about each day in blissful ignorance as to how truly good we have it. Do your best to educate your family and your friends on what's really happening out there.

What are some points to consider as you decide how to give, where to give or what organization to support?

1) The Great Commission outlines an order for the spread of the Gospel message, beginning locally and then moving out in concentric circles to eventually the whole world. That also serves as a good model for us in terms of our giving. Consider giving locally, regionally, nationally and globally.

2) For many, giving initiates with their local church. That’s a great place to start, particularly if your church reaches out to meet the needs of individuals both within the community and without. Having said that, there unfortunately are those who claim the Bible mandates we should give 10% of our gross income to the local church, and that giving to any other causes must be above and beyond that. Some denominations are so legalistic about this that they actually require tax returns and paycheck stubs to validate how much an individual/family should be giving. Those are man-made rules – not a Biblical mandate. Support your local church, cheerfully and generously, and determine between you and God how much to give – don’t be guilted by man-made rules.

3) As you look to give beyond your church, ask yourself about your passions. What really gets you? What moves your heart? What burden has God given you?

For example, while prevention of heart disease is clearly a worth-while endeavor, that’s not my personal passion. My passion is for those suffering from hunger and poverty – both because of my orphaned past as well as the frequent Biblical exhortations to help the poor, the widows and the orphans. So my passion leads me to support Food for the Hungry, a great organization that attacks the root causes of hunger and poverty by helping people help themselves and become self-sufficient.

One warning about following your passion: Don't give simply because you just received an emotional appeal in the mail.
Unfortunately, there are too many charlatans out there who can write the most heart-wrenching letters of pain and suffering, with most of the donations lining their pockets and very little going to any worthy efforts. Do your research. (More on this next.) Wait a few days before sending a check. Pray. Don't be manipulated. Give because it's right, not because you feel pressured.

4) You may have more than one passion, and therefore, you feel lead to give to more than one type of cause or mission. That’s wonderful. Give to more than one organization. However, be very picky about who you support.

Some good research tools as you consider organizations:
All will help you investigate and evaluate the efficiency of the various nonprofits out there.

Keep in mind that not all nonprofits will be reported on any one system, and no one resource is the end-all. For example, Charity Navigator awards stars as a way to measure efficiency, but that won’t tell you if an organization is effective. There are some very fine two-star organizations I would support before I would support some of their four-star organizations.

As a general rule, a well-run nonprofit should be sending at least 80% of all donations received into their mission, and they should be very straight-forward as to how funds are being used. Do a Google search on organizations as well, to see what stories surface about the nonprofit. If an organization has been in trouble or is questionable, a simple search might uncover that fact.

5) While every organization can use every dollar they receive, here’s something to consider. Many organizations today raise money by renting out their donor lists to companies who then sell these lists to other nonprofit organizations. That might seem a bit odd to you – why would an organization sell the names of people who support them to “competing” organizations who will then ask the same donors for money, seemingly taking away money the donor might give to the original nonprofit?

The logic? Nonprofit organizations only sell the names of their “least profitable donors.” Keep in mind that for many organizations, the average gift size of the checks they receive in the mail ranges from $12-$40. A $50 gift is therefore considered to be a substantial-sized gift, particularly if the donor makes such a gift two, three or more times each year. Accordingly, nonprofits typically only rent out the names of donors who make gifts under $50, keeping the names of the donors who make $50+ donations carefully under wraps. So if you want to limit the number of direct mail pieces in your mailbox, make fewer, but larger, gifts.

Want to test this? Pick two or three nonprofits Send each of them a $5 or $10 gift, and purposefully either misspell your name or use a fictitious name when you send in the gift. For example, if your name is Alex Johnson, send in one gift as Alec Johnson, another as Alexis Johnson, and perhaps the third as Adam Johnson. Note which misspelling you send to which organization. And then watch to see how much direct mail you receive in the months ahead from new nonprofits addressed to the various misspellings. A pattern will emerge.

6) Given that fundraising can be extremely expensive for nonprofits, help them out by making their fundraising more efficient. The larger your average gift size, the less mail an organization will typically send out to you. Again, that may seem odd, but organizations are sensitive to not bugging their more valued donors.

If you plan on supporting an organization for a long time, give them your email address. It’s far less expensive for an organization to send an email than to send a direct mail package.

As much as possible, make donations by check versus credit card, as it costs an organization less money to process a check gift versus a credit card gift. A $50 gift by check might cost an organization $0.20 to process the donation, but a $50 credit card gift might cost them $1.50 to process the donation. While studies show that donors who give by credit card are typically younger and send in larger gifts, both demographic variables extremely important to organizations and therefore they gladly accept credit card gifts, keep in mind a large credit card gift of $1,000 might cost your nonprofit $30 vs. the $0.20 for a check.

7) Finally, make it a point to set aside, if you can, $50 a month that isn’t earmarked for a cause. There are frequent times when you’ll encounter a need that is very real and very worthy – like when the Teen Challenge choir comes to visit your church – and by putting aside a gift each month, you’ll be able to respond to a cause you might not otherwise have had included in your budget. This means you can still keep to your budget (always a good thing), but you have something to give when you come across a worthy organization.

Of course, in the end, all the human-wisdom in the world can't equal the wisdom of God. So above all, pray about your donations. I can give you tips on the art of giving. Only God can help you with the heart.

Have questions I didn't answer? Or maybe I stirred up something you'd like to see addressed? Leave me a comment. My wife promises I can use her blog to answer them in the future. As long as I never hijack her blog again. (OK, so I added that last sentence.)

What Women Want

You know what I want right now?

A big piece of the rhubarb pie that's sitting on my kitchen counter.

A chance to fit 14 hours of sleep in the 8 hours I have in front of me tonight.

A sunny, warm day tomorrow. (Which isn't likely, unfortunately; it's been a cool, rainy Saturday here).

I also want to be passionate about my faith, to love my husband and children with all my heart, to enjoy God (hat tip to John Piper; I'm re-reading "Desiring God" right now) and to be thankful for life every day God grants me breath.

All valid desires. But they differ in intensity.

Authors Lisa T. Bergren and Rebecca Price get this. Their new book, "What Women Want: The Life You Crave and How God Satisfies," digs in deep to discuss what women really want -- and it's more than the ice cream sundae, the silk shirts and the beautiful flowers depicted on the colorful cover.

Obviously, each woman is unique in her longings. But during a nationwide survey, Lisa and Rebecca found a few common themes. Women all seem to want...
  • inspiration and insight that lead toward a solid, growing relationship with God;
  • to know love, peace and balance in life;
  • to find the way to true joy, and be able to remain there;
  • emotional, spiritual and physical health;
  • deep friendships;
  • and to have meaning and purpose.
If you relate to even one of those goals, you'll enjoy this book. Lisa and Rebecca write very conversationally about weighty topics, and they've peppered "What Women Want" with personal stories from survey participants, as well as interviews with some of today's most respected female Christian thinkers. They not only discuss the wants women have, they look into what's keeping us from reaching them. The ultimate goal is God's best in every area of our lives.

Interested? Then leave me a comment on this post, and I'll draw a random name next Saturday, May 17. The winner will get an autographed copy of "What Women Want" for their very own.

And now, it's time for me to get some rhubarb pie. That's one desire I can fulfill tonight.

The Pressing Question of the Day

I have all kind of things I should be posting right now. I have a book to tell you about and an extra one to give away (coming tomorrow), I have a fabulous CD to tell you about and an extra one to give away (coming next week). I have a really interesting guest post from my husband (but I'm not giving him away) and I also have a gorgeous little baby who is four months old today. (She's not going anywhere either.)

Three of my favorite blogging friends have also tagged me in the last month or so with three different (yet all really fun) memes. And I want to do them! I do!

But I can't post any of that stuff right now, because I can't escape this question.

Well, OK. ... Wait. You want a picture of the baby, don't you?

Baby addicts. (Insert eye roll here.) But since you twisted my arm....

This is the face I wake up to every morning.

It's hard to have a bad day after that, I tell ya.

OK. Have you gotten your fix? Are you going to be able to make it until next week, when I do a more complete update?

Good. So here's my issue.

When we moved from our (rather large) house last fall into our (rather cozy) townhouse, one of the things we were most thankful for in our new home was this:

It's a bonus room next to the garage entrance, in our basement, and it's a perfect playroom. This space literally sold me on the development, as most townhouses in our size and price range only had a living room for a communal space. Which would have meant all the toys would have been stacked next to the sofa and I would have gone insane in about 38 minutes, give or take.

But why, since we have this really cool playroom, does my son prefer playing with this:

And this:

And these:

(OK, so that's not my stuff, but the two "super girls" -- who starred in their own post last year -- are from a happy meal a year ago and the skateboard we got from a children's meal at Ruby's Diner in Carlsbad. Quality merchandise, that.)

In fact -- look. Even as I was taking the pictures for this thought-provoking essay, Connor plundered my utensil drawer, and I caught him red-handed.

He'll play with his real toys occasionally. (I also have proof of this, in the form of a 15-car pileup on Route Stairway, which almost cost a 36-year-old woman her life.)

But 95% of the time, he prefers to take our stuff and imagine toys out of them. Those utensils? Lately, they've been musical instruments. The bathroom paraphernalia? Those are his "guys." And the make-up brushes are a family.

(Daddy, Mommy, little boy. But I bet you figured that out, didn't you?)

I guess I should be proud of his creativity. And I am.

Except when I need my favorite tongs for dinner and I find them after a three-minute search under the coffee table and then I get scolded for removing them "because that was the Daddy, Mom!"

Connor is an impish, sweet, magical little boy. (I love four.)

But -- is this normal? Do all kids do this? Or am I the only one having to fight with my son when I want to use my Chapstick (aka the stunt guy who was getting ready to do a huge jump into the sink)?

To Comment or Not to Comment

So there are some great conversations going on at I Should Be Folding Laundry and Fried Okra and Sorta Crunchy about the value of blog comments, which has prompted me to go public with a very personal battle.

Hello, I'm Kelly, and I'm a blog addict.

It's a joke, yes, but I'm guessing for many of us, it strikes a little too close to home.

I'm learning to balance (mega-huge life word for me) this fun and sometimes consuming hobby. To walk away from the computer when my kids needs me -- even if I haven't finished the post I've been working on for the past 45 minutes. To turn the computer off at night when my husband wants to see me -- even if my Bloglines account still shows 32 68 new posts. I'm even trying to train my brain to leave what happens at the computer, on the computer, because I've noticed lately that I have a habit of becoming mindless. My body may be playing Candy Land with Connor or nursing Teyla or drawing with Natalie, but my mind is 1,000 kilobytes away.

And friends? That is not loving well.

So. The conversations I mentioned esteem comments greatly. (Don't we all?) They want people to know that any comments, all comments, even random comments are encouraging and appreciated. Beth compares comments to a paycheck for bloggers, which is a great analogy. Comments are little bits of validation in our In Box. What's not to love, right?

But here's where I'm stuck. I read many, many blogs regularly. (The exact number will be left undisclosed lest Corey hold it against me.) I would love to comment on each and every post, each and every day. But if I did that, I would have no free time, no time to pay attention to my kids, no time to listen to my husband if he should feel like talking that day, and little time to sleep.

Heck, I wouldn't even have time to write for my own blog.

So what do I do? What do you do? How do you balance this whole blogging thing with your real life? Do you comment on every blog? If not, what is the proportion of comments left to read-only blogs? And what tips the scale for you -- what type of post is a "must comment" post?

Note: I realize the irony in asking you to comment on a post about comments. But that's not stopping me from doing it, is it?

So leave me a comment, and we'll continue the conversation.

Little One

Tell me - how does one resist a sleeping baby?

No. Seriously. I need to know. Especially when the sun is setting and her freshly washed body, clothes in polka-dot terrycloth pajamas, sinks into my chest and sighs with trust and her rosebud mouth snuffles out moist puffs of sweet breath onto my neck.

Her skin is satin, fresh from heaven.

She smells like perfection.

And the toes. Oh my word, the toes. I could kiss them all day and never tire of them.

And when she smiles?

God's glory shines through.

How can I bear this sweetness, this innocence, this joy?

Little one. You are grace defined.

Jesus, keeper of this life
You are my refuge, my savior, my guide
Watch over this little one tonight
Guard her every footstep as she travels this life
And in some quiet moment, draw her to your side
So she will come to know you, Jesus
As the keeper of this life

(Lyrics from "The Keeper," written by Geoff Moore and Steven Curtis Chapman; pictures by Kari Layland, January 2008)

15 Years

Disclaimer: I totally meant to post this yesterday. It was all written in my head; I just needed 30 minute to get it from my brain to my keyboard.

However, much like the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker, the cold virus appears to have transformed my sweet little Teyla. She has become The Baby Who Never Naps. (Teyla update coming soon, by the way.) I was so drained last night after dealing with her in some fashion for the previous 12 hours, that I fell asleep before I fell into bed. Yes, that's possible. Just ask my husband.

Now that the excuses are done, let's move on.

Oh! But you have to pretend that today is really yesterday.

<jedi powers>Today is May 1. You will question no more.</jedi powers>

Fifteen years ago today, I woke up in my childhood home for the last time.

It was my wedding day -- the day I had dreamed about for years.

I had planned my wedding since fourth grade, when I wanted to get married on Valentine's Day and have my bridesmaids wear red dresses and carry hand muffs and wear roses in their hair. (I'm a fount of originality.)

And that was before I even liked boys.

The wedding lust continued in high school, when my best friend and I would pour over wedding magazines during our many sleepovers and choose dresses, bridesmaids colors, flowers, cakes and honeymoon destinations with the same intensity as a presidential campaign advisor looking at the latest AP poll.

(If you're a female, you're reading this right now with a knowing smile and a laugh on your lips. If you're a male ... well, you're probably not reading anymore. Never mind.)

But I can safely say, my teenage imagination never pictured this.

Welcome to the 15th Anniversary Love Well Wedding Album.

Is there anything more awkward or boring than a wedding rehearsal? I think not. At least we had some kickin' 1993 fashions to keep us entertained. Lisa, my best friend in the sailor outfit, is especially hot. (And Lisa, you know I have pictures of us both doing our best Paula Abdul impersonations. So don't sweat this picture, OK? ... Plus, look at my future husband. Is that a purple shirt he's wearing?)

Why yes. Yes it is.

At the time of our wedding, Corey and I worked as youth group leaders with our church's senior high group. We were really close to a lot of the kids -- in fact, they set us up in the first place -- so naturally, we had many of them involved in the wedding. This picture shows the menfolk -- groomsmen, ushers, security guards, bouncers. I think we made a tuxedo rental shop very happy.

This is me with a few of my closest girls. I remain very good friends with almost everyone in this picture.

At least, I think I do. (I'm thinking this might bring a few of them out of lurkdom.)

And here are my bridesmaids. If I remember right, we handed out sunglasses to our wedding guests so they wouldn't be blinded by the neon color of the dresses.

But the flowers they carried pardoned that sin. Because, seriously, they were gorgeous. GOR-GEE-US. Here's a closer picture of my bouquet.

The woman who did our flowers went to our church, and she truly went overboard. My bouquet weighed about 10 pounds. By the end of the ceremony, my hands were shaking.

If you got married in a church, you, too, know the joy of a Sunday school changing room. Nothing says, "I'm a woman now" like curling your hair next to a Little Tikes plastic slide.

The obligatory "I'm contemplating the seriousness of this day" shot.

I think it really says, "Don't mess with me. I'm wearing cowboy boots."

Which is true, for the record. New black boots, bought special just for this occasion.

"Would you want me to tell you if there's lettuce in your teeth? Or should I let you figure it out yourself?"

Remember my little brother, Unca Jon? Who had the incident with the women at the gym? He was 11 when I got married. And he was the only person who made me cry on my wedding day.

After the ceremony and the cake reception and the dinner reception and the gift opening, Corey and I were finally ready to leave for our honeymoon. I had managed to hold it together all day -- ALL DAY -- when my Mom came downstairs with red eyes and said, "Jon is upstairs, crying. He wants to say good-bye to you."

I walked up the stairs of my childhood home one last time to find my youngest brother in his bed, sobbing.

"What's the matter, Jonathan?" I said.

"I don't want you to go!" he cried. "I don't want you to leave our family."

(I'm crying even now thinking about it.)

Red eyes, bulbous nose, splotchy face. It's a great look for your wedding night.

Yet, we're still together. Despite everything -- and I can assure you we've faced valleys much more painful and dark than runny mascara.

It is God's grace alone.

Corey, I love you more today than I did 15 years ago. Happy anniversary, my companion.