Yesterday was a gloriously odd Monday - I had nothing to do. Two of my children were at school, but the one who requires me driving her back and forth had the day off. Bible study was cancelled because of Easter. It was a perfectly beautiful, completely empty-of-duties type of day.

My first thought was - I should write. Words are stirring again in my soul. Lately, it's the lack of time more than a lack of desire that keeps me absent from the page. But when I sat down in front of the computer, the muse hid her face. Nothing grabbed me. I spent two hours halfheartedly rearranging paragraphs and tinkering with words (and checking Facebook and reading blogs and my favorite news sites) before I gave up.

I decided to give my brain a break and work with my hands.

This is a lesson I've learned slowly, but it has become solid truth for me. Those of us who play with words, who talk, write and read for a living, sometimes the best thing we can do is walk away from the letters and create with a different medium.

Gretchen Rubin, in her inspiring and fascinating book, The Happiness Project, writes:
Long ago, I read the writer Dorothea Brande’s warning that writers are too inclined to spend their time on wordy occupations like reading, talking and watching TV, movies and plays. Instead, she suggested, writers should recharge themselves with language-free occupations like listening to music, visiting museums, playing solitaire or taking long walks alone.
So yesterday, I did just that. I turned off my computer, which is more serious than simply walking way, and I stepped outside into the gorgeous sunshine. I grabbed my garden shears and my green gloves with the hole in the finger and I set to work cutting back the dead plants in the garden. I snapped off tall hydrangea limbs, brown and brittle, topped with delicate chestnut mop heads. I cut down spires of autumn joy sedum and discovered tightly coiled green shoots right below them, ready to burst forth. I clipped the grasses that stand as tall as a sentry mid-summer, but which now bend crooked and worn after a winter of too much snow. I stopped to rub my back now and again, because I'm 42, and when Kieran said, "Mom, there's a worm!" I walked over to find a baby garter snake on the cover of our pool, desperately trying to make the climb to the surface but unable to scale the near-vertical wall. (We got him out and deposited all five inches of him down near the creek. I only shuddered once.) (Hashtag Minnesota mom.)

At lunch, I came in and decided - nope, still too many words. So I did some laundry and I washed and stored the kids' winter gear - which means, yes, I've cursed the entire Midwest to a freak late-season blizzard. I'm sorry. It was me. I laid Kieran down for a nap and I slept a bit myself. I went back outside and just sat in the sun and listened to the birds sing, carefree in the care of God. I flipped through a magazine and admired the pretty pictures, sort of a nondigital Pinterest.

By day's end, my body was spent - but my soul was oddly filled.

It was a good day for a writer, even though I hadn't written a word.

Mourning on Easter

These are dark days for those of us walking the milestones of Jesus. The final week, the last supper, those torturous hours in the garden. It is darkness and dread and fear and suspicion. The air is thick with shrieking evil, and though our eyes perceive it not, our soul knows full and well: this is the end.

Have you grieved through Easter? I have. And Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, they were cool balms on my raging wounds. They reminded me that it is not all celebration and happy endings and easy answers in the kingdom. No, there is plenty of despair and desperation here. Even the Man-God cried out for relief from it.

We are not alone.

We are not alone when we sob into the carpet, we are not alone when we think, "I can't do this! I can't stand one more minute of this pain!" We are not alone when we are numb and lonely and the fog hides us from life, from love. We are not alone when the easy answers make us spit with rage, when we shake our fist at heaven and shout, "How dare you? HOW DARE YOU allow this?"

This is why Jesus came. He came as Emmanuel, God with us, and he entered our torment because he couldn't stand to see us being crushed by it. He took the burden on his own shoulders, and even now, he stands with us - with you - right under it.

Yes, Sunday is coming, and Easter's glory outshines our pain.

But the celebration is flat without the agony of the shadow weekend. It is the darkness dissipating that makes us fall to our knees in wonder and relief and worship. The deeper the wound, the more deeply we are filled with joy, and we learn firsthand what Jesus' first disciples knew: that sorrow is the depth that adds dimension to our rejoicing.

Blessed are those who mourn.

San Diego Spring Break, Part 2

Part two of the memories, stories and lessons from our spring break trip to San Diego; part one - including how travel is getting easier for us these days and the simple joys of being outside in March - can be found here

Not everything on vacation has to be about us.

I love taking our kids on vacation. I love anticipating the fun and making plans. I love being in a different setting - especially when that involves escaping winter - and I love the memories and connections that happen when we have time to be fully together.

But I do worry that vacations will becomes just one more extravaganza for my kids. We have so much already, and I will fight to my dying days the entitlement that privileges seem to breed.

So when Corey told me his organization, Feed the Children, happened to be hosting on a charity event when we were in San Diego, I jumped at the chance to take a day off from focusing on us and focus on others instead.

Thus, our second full day in San Diego, we found ourselves standing outside in the bright sunshine in a parking lot just a few miles from Mexico, loading boxes from Feed the Children into the cars of 800 military families who had been preselected by the Armed Services YMCA.

Two Feed the Children semi-trucks were the backdrop - along with a battalion of Navy and Marines servicemen and women. We worked alongside them to hand out a trio of boxes that contained food, household supplies and a special box from Avon for the women of the house.

Truth: our kids were a little intimidated to be surrounded by so many "soldiers," and yes, there were a few moments of "I'm hot, I'm hungry, how much longer?" But for the most part, spending a morning serving others was a great adventure for our little tribe, and hopefully, by taking their focus off themselves for a few hours, it made the fun to come even more meaningful.

My ideal trip is a mix of familiar and foreign.

I discovered something on our trip to San Diego. The perfect vacation, for me, combines familiarity and discovery. Traveling to a city that's completely unknown is too much chaos at this stage of life to enable relaxation. I like going to a place where I already how to get around town, where I already have a few destinations in mind, where I don't have to scramble just to find a place to grab lunch.

San Diego is that sweet spot for us. We know the traffic patterns, we know the cities, we know the locale of our favorite restaurants. We have friends to visit and favorite haunts to swing by. But since we stayed with my brother in northern San Diego County, about 45 minutes north of where we used to live, there was also plenty to explore.

My brother's neighborhood, in particular, delighted me to no end. I took a walk every day; one morning, I even walked to Trader Joe's, which sits at the business end of the mixed-use development, and bought cream for my coffee. I mean, really. I walked to Trader Joe's. I constantly poured over the variety of housing styles in his neighborhood. On Facebook, I showed off four of my favorites. We visited new beaches, new parks, new restaurants. We made memories and discoveries without the stress that sometimes accompanies exploration.

Maybe best of all:

Staying with family on vacation is the frosting on the perfect vacation cake.

This isn't always possible, but for the record: I highly advise having family live in popular tourist destinations. My brother, Michael, and his lovely wife, Kristen, were impeccable hosts - letting us use their house, their kitchen, even their laundry. Our kids adored having cousins to play with, not to mention all the new toys to play with - including this dream playhouse in Michael's backyard.

Because we stayed with family, we were able to pack healthy lunches for our adventures, instead of eating out every meal. Because we stayed with family, we were able to swim in the neighborhood pool and have floaties for everyone. We used their toys when we went to the park, their towels when we went to the beach, their fridge to store our leftovers.

And the crowning glory: because we stayed with family, our kids had extended time to play with their cousins and get to know them. That was the real joy of this trip - building new connections with family.

Up next: a few of our favorite things to do in San Diego.