Monday, December 28, 2009

Home as Spa

By Mary Beth Lagerborg

I don’t suppose you think of your home as a spa. But then your spa-thoughts probably run toward the fluffy bathrobe, ice water with a floating lemon slice, and that Enya-esk music. But on this week after Christmas, when the chaos of a holiday season can leave us longing for some peace, your home as a spa could be the perfect thought.

Your home is a spa – it needs to be – if you think about it. When I think of my home as a spa I’m thinking about eating a couple of chocolate chip cookies (plus any broken ones in the jar) when I get home, pouring a glass of iced tea topped off with cranberry juice, and slipping on my jogging pants, a sweatshirt and slippers. Then I’m comfy and I can best relax. I shed stress with my heels and binding clothes.

We all need home to be a place where we can let down, rest, be accepted, go without make-up, and wear the really old sweats. Because home is where we refuel, so that we can make a difference outside its walls day after day.

It doesn’t really matter how large or small our home is, or how nice our stuff is. Because home as spa looks different for each of us, and is a matter of making the most of our resources, whatever these may be.

Granted, the concept is complicated because generally other people live in our homes too. And they each want home to be their spa. And they have different ideas of what home as spa looks like. But taking this all into consideration, how to we maximize our home as spa?
  • Recognize the home as spa needs of each family member, and give room for them. Give thought to how each family member likes to rest and to play at home, and mentally “give them permission” as much as possible.
  • Think about how you use the spaces in your home, and purposely create spaces for play – like with a game table or craft supplies – and places to rest, like with comfy throws. Lighting can make a big difference in creating a playful or a restful space.
  • Create your own “away space,” even if it’s a favorite chair in the corner of your bedroom.
  • Identify the times and places at home where you feel most energized, and capitalize on those. For me, that would be taking a shower or a long, hot bubble bath. Inevitably that hot water releases my best ideas and solutions to vexing problems. So I try not to have to shower too quickly in the morning.
  • Create some oases of beauty in your home, because beauty is restorative. When our three sons were young, we had what I call two pretty rooms: the living room and the master bedroom. These were the only two rooms with “good” furniture, and I tried to keep the bed made and these two rooms picked up. No matter how chaotic the rest of the house sounded and felt, I knew I could step into either of these and experience some order and peace. I could take a deep breath.
We have great adventures ahead outside the walls of our home. So I figure it’s a good investment of my time and my thought, to make the best of my home as spa.

Mary Beth Lagerborg is co-author of Once-A-Month Cooking Family Favorites, the ultimate do-ahead dinner technique, and eight other books including Dwelling: Living Fully from the Space You Call Home. She is former Publishing Manager at MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers), and writes and speaks on topics related to creating the well-lived home. Find her online at and

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mary and Minute Rice

By Jonalyn Grace Fincher

I've been identifying with Mary lately, pregnant with a firstborn son, experiencing the inconvenience of travel in my 7th month.

In modern terms Mary's journey to Bethlehem would be tantamount to my husband and I flying stand-by to Alaska for tax registration a week before my due date. The kicker-- there's no room in any inn, so I’d have to give birth in the janitor closet of a Motel Six.

If that was what God had in store I'd wonder, "Couldn't you, the Maker of all things, orchestrate the arrival of your Son a little more majestically?"

Mary got one dream from the angel Gabriel explaining this Holy-Spirit-produced baby in her body. Joseph got at least three dreams, explaining where to move, when to leave, how to find safety and what God was up to. I think I would have felt a little gypped, but Mary didn't.

How did she do it?

How did Mary have the strength to bear the Son of God and the serenity to respond to Gabriel's shocker of a newsflash with, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me according to your word"? (Luke 1:38).

Mary was not just a teenage woman pregnant outside of marriage. She was a Jewish woman who knew the God of Israel.

Mary’s serenity came from a relationship few of us tap today.

Around Christmas time, I notice women running around with lists of things to do. Minute Rice put together an advertisement in 2008 that summed up the way we often feel around the holidays. Surrounding a package of Minute Rice with a Santa Hat are hundreds of things we try to get done.

get decorations out of the attic
write annual holiday letter and try to sounds modest while bragging about the kids
drop off food at church
hang candy canes
try not to eat candy canes
clean house
keep tinsel away from cat
shop online during lunch hour
drive around and look at lights
plan menu for Christmas Eve
have patience when visiting in-laws
read "Night Before Christmas" out loud
attend candlelight service with family
remember reason for the season
pray for peace on earth.

That last item on the list makes me stop and wonder, "How can you pray for peace when peace is an afterthought?”

Can I recommend another to-do list, one that I imagine Mary relied on as she awaited the birth of Immanuel?

Micah 6:8
"He has shown all you people what is good. What does the LORD require of you?
To act justly
to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God."

What would it look like if we acted with justice, loved mercy and walked humbly with our God this Christmas? Would there be more peace on earth?

Let me unpack the first item.

Even though I'm a fan of the work for justice and social equality for others, one way I see women refusing to act justly is in the manner in which we make time for ourselves. Women are perhaps the worst at taking a day off, of honoring the Jewish law of the Sabbath. We do not treat ourselves with justice.

When Jesus says, "Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:33), we don’t know what he means. How can we love ourselves? There’s just no time, have you seen how much we have to get done today?!

We do not let God love us one day of the week so we can love others the other six.

I don't think Mary had this problem. If Mary had a Minute Rice list, she scrapped it so she could make time to process the reality that the Son of God was going to enter her life.

As soon as Mary found out she was pregnant, she took a retreat. Not for a weekend or even a week, but for three months. She spent this time with her cousin Elizabeth. I'm sure they cried and talked and grieved and laughed together. I imagine Mary did a lot of processing.

One thing is certain, after her time away, resting and thinking, Mary sings a song that has gone down in history as Mary's Magnificat--a testimony to Mary's experience with the God of Israel (read it in Luke 1:46-55). It seems likely to me that Mary's time of rest provided the margin for something like the Magnificant to bubble out of her.

If we want the serenity Mary had, we must begin to take time to do justice to ourselves by accepting God's gift of rest.

Open the present marked out for you to relax. Like Mary, let the God of Israel bring you peace on this earth. Invite him in with this simple prayer at the beginning of your day off, “Jesus, I receive your peace.”

He does a better job than Minute Rice!

Jonalyn Grace Fincher is a female apologist and co-founder of Soulation (, a non-profit dedicated to helping others become more appropriately human. From their home in the Rocky Mountains, she and her husband, Dale, work as a national speaking/writing team. Jonalyn’s first book, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home (Zondervan, 2007) uses her M.A. in Philosophy (Talbot School of Theology) as well as her degrees in English and History (University of Virginia) to delve into the woman’s soul. She is joining forces with her husband for their second book Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk (Zondervan, 2010) on how to share your faith in a post-Christian culture. For Jonalyn’s ongoing musings visit her blog at After long days behind her laptop Jonalyn loves snowshoeing with her husband or curling up with her three corgis and watching re-runs of The Office.

Monday, December 14, 2009

HERstory: Jennifer Grant

By Jennifer Grant

In her book Dangerous Surrender: What Happens When You Say Yes to God, Kay Warren tells the story of how she became an advocate for people affected by poverty and HIV/AIDS. As you probably know, Warren is the wife of Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California. And, for years, Kay Warren felt that her gifts were overlooked while her husband was ever in the spotlight. But, ultimately, she found her calling.

Warren writes,

“…I’ve found that discovering God’s will often resembles looking at an undeveloped Polaroid photograph. When the camera spits out the picture, the images are gray and shapeless, but the longer you look at the picture, the clearer it becomes.”

After I read those sentences, I laid Warren’s book down in my lap and let the words sink in. A fuzzy Polaroid picture – Warren so precisely put words to the moment I’m in.

I’m 42 and I’m in transition. After 13 ½ years of full-time motherhood, my four children spend their days in school, and my life has freed up a bit. New opportunities are opening up to me as a writer and recently I’ve had the privilege to cover stories I care deeply about. From a young age, I witnessed what life is like for people in some of the world’s most resource-poor settings and now my imagination is stretching its legs a bit, restless to find what is next for me, and how I can make a difference in this world.

A few shapes and colors started to emerge from my blurry Polaroid picture on a recent trip to New York City. The trip was a homecoming of sorts. Although I’ve lived most of my life in Wheaton, IL, my husband and I lived in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn for several years before moving “back home” to start our family. I still miss my Brooklyn neighborhood: the Farmer’s Market at Grand Army Plaza, Lime Rickeys at Tom’s Diner, letting my dog off the leash in Prospect Park, street fairs, the West Indian Carnival, and the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. It didn’t wear off for me, the novelty of it all.

And there was something else about my recent trip that felt like a homecoming: I spent my days there immersed in conversations about HIV, about cultural practices in Africa, and about how best to empower women. My job, pre-motherhood, was with The Population Council, a non-profit health organization with headquarters in Manhattan. My years there educated me about HIV, female genital mutilation, and gender-based violence. Like Warren, I sometimes held my fingers over my eyes as I looked at photographs or read reports at my desk. I was, as she aptly puts it, “ruined for life.”

Warren writes that on her first two trips to Africa, she encountered a reality she could barely reconcile with her life in Orange County. Warren encourages her readers to be “seriously disturbed and gloriously ruined” as we learn how “the least among us” live in so much of the world – whether the person is dying of AIDS in rural Africa, lies forgotten in a nursing home in Wheaton, IL, or is a child whose promise goes unseen in a ravaged urban neighborhood.

So last week, I attended the 5th Annual World AIDS Day prayer breakfast, hosted by World Vision. I met with advocates for those affected by AIDS in the organization’s New York offices. I was introduced to the work of Golf Fore Africa and World Bicycle Relief. I was inspired by World Vision’s multi-faceted humanitarian programs.

Before working at The Population Council, I’d already been spoiled for life, if not ruined. My parents traveled extensively when I was young. My mother was a college professor and writer; my dad, among other things, an independent filmmaker whose work included making promotional films for organizations such as Compassion International. We traveled to Africa, to Latin America, to Eastern Europe, to southeast Asia.

As a young girl, I remember the sensation of sitting on a plane, secretly wondering where it was we were off to this time. These trips afforded me the chance to see firsthand the contrast between people in some of the world’s most resource-poor settings and my family with our big split level house, our cupboards stocked with food, and our closets full of clothes and toys. We weren’t wealthy by Wheaton standards, but I knew we were rich.

That travel also injected me with a lifelong case of wanderlust. Volcanoes and lush forests in Quito, Ecuador. Spirit houses and ornate shrines in Bangkok. Mist coming off of Victoria Falls. Is the afternoon I spent playing with kids in a dusty yard outside of their orphanage in South America somehow related to the adoption of my daughter, born 30 years later in Guatemala? I don’t know.

Now, with older children, I give more time to my writing. I have the chance to hear women’s health advocates make innovative plans to improve the lives of families around the globe, and I wonder…what is the work I should do? The picture is blurry and I’m waiting for it to come clear. Waiting is hard - as a culture, we quickly dispensed of those old Polaroid cameras when One Hour photo booths began popping up in parking lots and, later, when the little screens on the back of our digital cameras gave us immediate gratification after we clicked the shutter.

But, this Advent, that is just what I’m doing. Waiting. Waiting for the image to develop. Walking forward with faith, giving that blurry image a shake, tentatively entering what feels like a new part of my life. God knows what awaits me there.

Jennifer Grant is a journalist and mother of four who writes for the Chicago Tribune Find her online at

Other website's Jennifer recommends: (, World Bicycle Relief, (, World Vision (, Kay Warren (, The Population Council (

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Human Advantage

By Sally Morgenthaller

What are your advantages?

I know. It’s hard to think about our good sides. Our best moments. Let’s face it. It’s just not “Christian” to pat ourselves on the back. But let’s not just target religion. In this perfection-crazed, ”you’re never enough” culture, we’re literally propagandized into low self- esteem. Forced to zoom in on our deficits. It’s like using the 10x macro function on facial pores.

It’s ridiculous. But it’s what we do. You don’t think so? Remember that talk show you almost never watch? “Apply these five interpersonal skills and you’ll be making six figures in three months.” That magazine cover at the check-out stand, the one you almost never read? “You’ll find true love and eternal bliss if you lose fifteen pounds.” And that online pop-up you almost never look at? “Learn how to Twitter like Ashton Kutcher and you, too, can build an empire in eight short weeks.”

In truth, self-improvement is generally a good thing. But, just for the next sixty seconds, imagine that you are enough. No. More than enough. Imagine that you have qualities – whether intellectual, emotional, physical, or spiritual - that other people would give their back molars to have. Qualities you’ve developed over (gulp) decades of conscious (well, mostly) life in this world.

Next, engage your memory. Remember something you did that you’re still over-the-moon thrilled about. The project you and your team-mate helped save from the depths of disaster. The time you facilitated a routine committee meeting and instead of the usual monotone “get through the list” experience, it was two hours of amazing, collective innovation. Think of the day you spent an entire afternoon strategizing next-steps with your depressed, unemployed friend (yes the same friend who is now a corporate executive. Now, where did you put that strategy list?? The red-letter day your middle-schooler came home and, without hesitation (because he trusts you), spilled the beans about what his best friend was involved in at the park down the street. Two hours before the police showed up at his best friend’s house.

I realize that this little, “I’m more than enough” exercise might have been a stretch for some of you. But you did it, and I hope you made at least a mental list of your (ok, admit it) stunning qualities and accomplishments. If you can take a couple of minutes right now, write that list down and tape it to your bathroom mirror. (If you’re hesitant, just look at it this way. Better to zoom in on your list than your facial flaws.)

Now that you have your list, it’s time to get real about a third-source of self-doubt and self-denigration. As Christian women, we not only deal with the false religious message, “It’s not Christ-like to love yourself.” We not only struggle with the pop-cultural propaganda blasted out to every single human being regardless of age, ethnicity, or gender: “You’re not enough as you are.” We deal with a third and exponentially more defeating message: “As a woman, you’re limited. You’re only a shadow of the default human prototype: male.” This view of women may be on the wane. But if we’re honest, many of us still believe this old message, somewhere deep down in our core. And if it’s true that actions follow belief, we advance that view of ourselves wherever we are: in our jobs, in ministry, in our networks and families.

There’s an old adage, “We’re our own worst enemies.” If that’s true of you, I’d like to propose one more statement for the list on your mirror. It’s a Jesus-quote from Luke 1:37: “Nothing is impossible with God.“ Did you get that? Nothing! Which means, there are no limitations on what you can accomplish. There is no such thing as “lesser than.” With God, there is no boundary to what you can learn, the talents you can develop, what you can imagine, what you can offer the kingdom.

If we are victims, ultimately, we are victims to our own disbelief. We don’t believe who God has made us to be. And we certainly don’t believe Jesus’ words in Luke.

Perhaps today is the day you can start looking at your biggest advantage: you are a child of God, created in God’s image. God expects great things of you, because that’s the way God wired you. Imago Dei…which is really the human advantage: the ability (and calling) to do the impossible, regardless of what erroneous mp3s play in our heads: false religious humility, pop-cultural self-hatred, or inherited views of gender limitation.

Right now, you have the opportunity to live your life faithfully, and by Luke 1:37 standards, outrageously. To make the most of having been fashioned in the image of God.

The human advantage. Sure beats macro lenses, navel gazing, or whining.