Sunday, August 31, 2014

My heart just about bursts wide-open singing this lyric:

"If you're lost and wandering, 
come stumbling in,
like a prodigal child"
-Lift Your Head Weary Sinner/Crowder

I love it because it's a great song and fun to belt this line out...

... but I love it more so because I know what it is to stumble into the Father.

I have come to him all sorts of ways. As a child I came to him with prayers of naive innocence, and ignorance of all he'd done for me.

I've come to the Father in arrogance and pride, sure that my way of coming to him was the only way; dripping with off-putting confidence I had this whole Christian thing figured out.

I've come to him doubtful,  wondering if he was there at all.

All I really know is that when I pray and seek him authentically,  I come stumbling. The weight of my doubts,  fears, and disappointments won't allow me to come any other way. They are too heavy to allow a confident stride. I come stumbling.

And he's so happy to see me.

The peace that passes understanding, the assurance that HE IS, complete forgiveness and amazing grace -  those serve as my fattened calf.  Thank you Jesus for your goodness to tell the story of the stumbling,  lost son,  received with joy.

Click to read The Story of the Lost Son

In summer
Monday, July 7, 2014

Homemade ice cream.

Mornings on the porch with coffee and the dawn song of birds singing.

Visits from family and friends; highly anticipated,  and always better than hoped for.

Floating the river.

Baseball games.

The pool.

Bright nail polish.

Big beach hats.

Georgia awash in green.

Fireflies temping us outside...mosquitoes driving us back in.

Sweet tea in mason jars.

Loud music with the windows down.

Fresh,  sweet tomatoes and fragrant basil from the garden,  devoured with slices of  mozzarella.

My gorgeous kids with tanned legs and golden hair.

Skinned knees and bug bites.

A slower pace,  a lighter heart.

From the time I was a little girl and waited all spring for it to be warm enough to water-ski again, summer has always, always been my favorite. I could go on and on with things big and little that fill my heart in the summer months. These last few months have been hard ones for us (hard is relative of course,  and we are acutely and keenly aware that we have much to be thankful for).  I'm so truly grateful for the timing: that this figurative hard "season" of life has coincided with my literal favorite one. Seeking God and finding Him faithful just comes a little easier to me with the sun warming my face.

As summer threatens to turn to fall, I'm admittedly a little anxious about what our future holds. But I trust He will be there in the turning and changing of the leaves just as He's there in the easy,  natural comfort of summertime.

the ol' noggin
Friday, June 13, 2014


Anyone else fight off ruminating thoughts?  Circular fake conversations in your mind? Dwelling on an issue ad nauseam?

ad nauseam: a Latin term for a discussion that has 
continued so long that it has continued "to [the point of] nausea".

I have.  I think we all do it to some degree.  Here's the thing.  It sucks.  It's not fun to feel trapped in a thought cycle that keeps you awake all night, or leaves you distracted all day with no brain power to spare for the things you really ought to be thinking about.  

How do you get control over the ol' noggin? Because I truly think we can.  I don't think we're powerless over these "ruminations."  

ruminate: 1. To turn a matter over and over in the mind. 
2.To reflect on over and over again.
(And in the animal world to "ruminate" means "to bring up and chew again what has already been chewed and swallowed".  Ewww....and also, this kinda fits the definition for our purposes here as well.)

Here's what I find helps:

1.  Write a [FAKE] letter.  A pragmatic friend gave me this advice, and it's helpful.  Get all those ruminating, circular thoughts organized and out on paper. Be honest.  Be real.  Spew all the thoughts!  Rewrite, edit, make it an eloquent masterpiece. And then, for the love of all things, DESTROY that sucker.  Or at least commit to never, ever, ever, ever sending it. This takes some self-control (in our electronic age that "send" button is pretty darn tempting), but I promise you those kinds of letters are best to never be shared with the party you have in mind while writing it.  When we are ruminating, it's usually over something that we're angry or hurt about, and if you are still in the ruminating phase you are NOT yet in the "Let's talk about it" phase.  You need time and perspective and cooling of emotions.  

2. Prayer.  Talk to God instead of to people.  I know, I know.  Sometimes trying to pray seems futile when you're in the middle of something tough that seems to be commandeering your thought life.  But when you are trying to break out of a cycle of pondering and thinking and thinking some more, God is really the very best person you can talk to.  Because here's the deal: talking to God just naturally makes us take the high road.  In prayer, we're talking to someone who suffered and forgave a greater wound that we will ever, ever be asked to suffer.  He is safe.  He is trustworthy.  You don't have to second guess what you say to him. And you will find that His offer of peace that passes understanding is precious and true.

Talking to friends or coworkers or neighbors can be tricky.  You often leave those conversations with even MORE things to ruminate about!  "Should I have said that? Did I say too much?  Did they misinterpret me?"  You never leave a time of prayer with those worries, because God is indeed able to bear our burden.  Sometimes, in a tough season, you can feel like you don't have anyone to talk to.  Maybe there's just no one it would be appropriate to be vulnerable with.  That feeling of isolation can feel like a curse at first, but I promise you that if it drives you to sweet times of prayers with the One who loves you the most, you will eventually see it as a blessing.

3. Memorize scripture.  Again...I know this is tough.  But to drive the ruminating thoughts out, you'll need to replace them with something.  Replace your thoughts with God thoughts.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up 
against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to 
make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 
(and the reason I know it's possible to stop the dang ruminating!)

 If you don't have much scripture memorized, then ponder the words of a worship song or old hymn.  Most of us know Amazing Grace, right?  Start there.

The fourth stanza is my favorite.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Happy thinking friends.  The space between our ears is important, and we owe it to our Maker and to ourselves to think true, joyful, life-giving thoughts.  When we're ruminating it's usually about something involving me.myself.and.I , and that's not who we're on this earth to serve.  Circular thought patterns are usually wrapped up in selfishness and pride. (Ouch,  I know.)  Get outta that cycle so you can focus on others, serve your neighbor, and love well.  We can do it.

the simple things
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

It really is the simple things that make life sweet.

My boys caught a bunch of tadpoles in a small creek that runs behind our house.  Those smelly, slimy weird looking little not-quite-frogs sure did take me back to memories of myself at their age.  Me and my friend Amy used to spend hours catching these little guys and putting them in Mason jars.  We never could keep them alive (perhaps because we liked to swirl them around and around in the glass jars and create little "tadpole tornadoes") but we caught them by what felt like the hundreds.  Our tadpole catching locale was a small waterfall area at the end of my Grandparent's cove where they lived at the lake.  The flat rock area at the top of the "waterfall" (about a 3 ft drop off with a teeny stream) had lots of shallow areas perfect for tadpole catching.

Unlike Amy and I, my boys could come home and Googled "How to raise tadpoles."
Apparently they like lettuce.
I have my doubts.

Amy and I were at that great age where we could simultaneously catch tadpoles, get into mud-flinging wars, and also talk about what boys at school were cute. Right on the cusp of adolescence. What a great time.

I try to remember that it's these memories that invoke the most nostalgia and gratefulness in me as an adult.  It doesn't take a lot to give my kiddos these kind of experiences. Forcing them off the TV and electronic devices and pushing them out the door was all it took for them to become tadpole-hunters.

I don't know where our family will land next, but I'm hopeful we're in a place where we still have room for my kids to roam, and maybe a creek for catching critters.

Not so rough roughing it.
Monday, June 9, 2014

Though our love of state parks, hiking, fishing, and picnicking is well-documented, we had never actually taken the kids overnight camping.  We remedied that last weekend!

We picked a favorite day trip spot, Victoria Bryant State Park.  Favored for it's great picnic sites and fun shoals, the camping area did not disappoint!  It was a pretty posh set up as far as tent camping.  A raised platform with a roof, water, electric outlets, and a fire pit with a grate for cooking.  Not exactly primitive, but a great way to ease into overnight camping.  Fun, fun, fun!!!  You too can think camping is "fun x 3!!!" when you have someone else who hauls all the junk from the van to the camp site, sets up the tent, makes the fire, puts bait on the fishing hooks, and does all the other grunt work.  If you can get him, I highly recommend Jonathan Cliff as your personal camp-set-up man.

A friend reminded me that "hobo dinners" make great camp food, so we had a fun make-your-own dinner over the fire.  

Hobo Dinner
heavy duty foil
smoked sausage (we like spicy)
diced potatoes
sliced yellow onion
bell peppers
salt and pepper

Place ingredients in a large foil square and wrap up tight.  Cook on grate, or if a fire grate is not available place directly in hot coals.  Cook until veggies are soft, about 30 minutes.

We also saved some leftover diced potatoes and reheated them in the morning to eat with our bacon and scrambled eggs.  Something about breakfast cooked in a cast iron skillet over the fire - yum. 

We will definitely be doing more camping in the future.  The kids did great in the tent; snoozed all night long.  We had one funny moment, right as everyone was drifting off, that Lauryn said, "Mom, let go of my foot."  "Umm...Lauryn I don't have your foot."  Ha!  She thought I was holding onto her foot when really it was just wrapped up tightly in her blanket, and it made for a funny, psuedo-scary moment that gave us all the giggles. Love those memories!

Click here for video of Ryan sliding down these shoals. 

fire = endless entertainment

Looking so cute and grown-up...even while grimy from camp-fun.

The boys brought me a wildflower bouquet picked on their hike.  Bee-you-ti-ful.

Sun and Sea
Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I see God in the wonder of His creation.  I feel His presence and hear Him speak when I am taking in the wonder of what He has made.  I'm glad my worship doesn't stop there; with nature.  I'm grateful, so grateful, for the recognition that I am a desperate sinner, in need of a miraculous way to be reconciled to God.  I believe that Jesus is the way back to relationship with this amazing Creator.  But regardless of what you think about God and Jesus and sin and separation and repentance...don't you see a creative God's hand at work in the ocean? Sunsets? Mountains?  Rivers and lakes? I do.  I hope you do too.

This world is such a masterpiece.  Poets throughout time have written about it with much more eloquence than I can ever muster, but I always leave the ocean feeling like I've been painted a sunset by God's own hand. Glorious.

We were given the use of a guest home in Florida for a week, and it was such an incredible gift during this time of in-between.  Some lessons you need to relearn. Some scriptures you need to read anew with a heart that had been made more tender through disappointment.  God never leaves us?  He never forsakes us?  I read that with awe and wonder.  I know it to be true while wondering how it could be. I'm thankful for the margin granted last week to hear His voice a bit more clearly.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 
Psalm 139:5

All who seek the LORD will praise him. Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy. 
Psalm 22:26

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy. 
Psalm 16:11

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 
Romans 8:28 (Oh how I want to be about HIS PURPOSE!)

I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the LORD says and how he will answer my complaint. 
Habakkuk 2:1

I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding. 
Psalm 119:32

Not even an umph.
Friday, May 16, 2014

The family waited in the car while I ran in the grocery store.

I came back out and started throwing bags in the back of the van.

Then I noticed everyone giggling. "What? What is it? Why are you laughing at me?"

Under that blanket was mid-kid. He never wiggled or even so much as let out an umph when the apples and pineapples landed on him.

Good thing I didn't have a bag full of canned goods.

All dressed up.
Sunday, May 11, 2014

My mid-kid told me he dressed up for Mother's Day... and he was being completely sincere. Cargo pants instead of basketball shorts... so in his mind he might as well be wearing a suit and tie. Love that scrappy kid!

Thankful today for all the Mom's in my life. So many great lessons have been learned from both my own mom and my mother-in-law,  but also from my peers. I'm grateful for the moms I see in the trenches,  performing beautifully in these long hard days. I have learned about being firm,  giving grace,  having serious talks,  laughing hard,  being safe,  and having adventures all from watching my friends who mother so,  so well.  I'm grateful for community and for learning from the best. Happy Mother's Day to all of you!

the good stuff
Monday, May 5, 2014

When you're married a while,  you go through some stuff. Wonderful stuff. Benign stuff. Hard stuff. Mundane stuff.
There are seasons (hopefully short ones) when the things that annoy you about your spouse seem to define your perspective. What may in reality be just little annoyances suddenly seem like big offenses.
Then there are seasons, generally the hard ones, when the little annoyances fall away,  and you don't notice them at all. In those hard seasons you get to see what someone is really,  truly,  about. You remember why you were so head over heels in love in the first place.
I hope that sometimes you let yourself be amazed by your spouse. I hope you reflect on all the things they get right. I hope you step back and just appreciate the heck out of them.
I have had occasion recently to see what my husband is really made of,  and I'm so crazy grateful. 

Beauty in the Northwest Georgia Mountains
Monday, April 28, 2014

We had the chance last weekend to spend a restful few days meeting up with Texas friends in the Northwest Georgia mountains, and also do some exploring in Chattanooga, TN.  (Such a cool city! Who knew?!?)

Rising Fawn, GA

Chattanooga, TN

Goodness.  There is such beauty in the world.  The green hue of the trees around the cabin changed throughout the day, depending on how the sun hit them: bright lime green in the mornings, deep forest green in the afternoon.  So no matter what time you sat on the deck, there was a different view to ponder.  Really incredible artistry.

We sat one morning and watched the mist roll off the water and over the mountains, and it brought to mind some hard truth we learned in a new way this last month:   " do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes..."  See more and get a Cliff Crew update here; we are in transition again, but finding the good in the "in between."

Those two on the bank...big brother inviting little sister down to the lake so he could teach her how to cast a fishing rod...BE STILL MY HEART. These sweet scenes make all the hard parts of motherhood just momentarily forgotten, don't they?

On our Chattanooga day, we went to the Tennessee Aquarium.  Can't recommend this place enough! If you're ever close, don't miss it.  Petting stingrays, touching sturgeon, a room full of butterflies...on and on the list goes.  So worth a trip!

On our way back home, we decided to stop off at Rock City.  I'm not a big fan of heights, and anything named "Lover's Leap" is sure to make my heart race.  The kids heard plenty of admonishes to "PLEASE BE CAREFUL!!!!", which is not characteristic of my parenting but it seemed warranted in this instance.  (The kids scoffs and laughs at my warnings would make it appear otherwise.)

See more Rock City pics here.

See more cabin pics here.

Cliff Familyt

I'm Starr Cliff. A domestically-challenged mom, climbing over mountains of laundry to bring you my stray observations and amusing stories about my kids. (more)



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