Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Not to Say

When Landen was 5, we were shopping and he saw a woman whose torso indicated she may or may not have been expecting a baby.

With no social filters in place, he pointed and exclaimed, "Wow! Look how big her belly is!"

Heavens to sunshine, I was mortified. One minute later and two aisles over - in hushed tones - I tried to explain that we never, ever point our fingers at people. And we only say words that encourage.

Cut to the following week's grocery run. Cue extra-large person numero two.

Landen smiles up at me with a self-imposed sense of skill-mastery and finesse. He extends his closed fist toward our fellow shopper of girth, and cheers: "His belly is AWESOME!!"

Just Please.
I know.


Anyway ...
Not long ago, I found myself in a similarly awkward encounter. But this time I was painfully trapped in a downward spiral of verbal inquisition that had no good end in sight.

I was finishing up a wonderful chat with my sweet friend when her husband passed through the room.

"Hey, Cari! Have you lost weight?"

[wanting to remain distinctly honest in all my ways]
"Um. No, not really."

"Oh ... but you got your hair cut, right?"

[again, with deep appreciation for accurate information]
"Well ... several weeks ago."

[are we done here? 
where are some interrupting kids when you wish for them?
nope. round three. ding.ding.]

"Well, you look great! Is that a new shirt?"

[vintage 2008, dude.  *I realize the fact that I do not look forgettable or even mildly repulsive today is coming as an absolute shock to you, you are dazed and confused, searching for a logical explanation ... but please, pretty please, write it in your journal because I cannot deal with this right now.]

"Thanks." I said through a forced grin, then slowly turned to leave.

Along the way home, I pondered the exchange. (His carefree curiosity for my over-analyzed self-esteem.)

At first, I mentally beat myself up for being over-sensitive and reactive. Then I picked myself up with questions of propriety and couth. THEN I started throwing reflective punches again ... for the inability to lose weight, keep a coif, and exude any hint of contemporary stylishness.

I thought a trip through the drive-through might inappropriately soothe my angst.
Fries and a shake and he can kiss my quinoa.

I wisely chose to keep calm and keep driving straight toward home as I continued to process my emotions.

I have since reached a few conclusions that I'd like to share.

1. He gets a pass. He's a male friend - a brother of sorts - who felt familiar enough with me to offer encouragement on what must have been that month's token good hair day. Bless him.

2. We all say unnecessary things. Remarks that range from clueless to careless to cruel. 
Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I've joked (mainly out of insecurity & pride) and mocked health-conscious runner-type people: 
"Take a day off, you're making the rest of us look bad." 
"Come to the dark side, have a donut." 
"You rode your bike across the county on purpose?!?" 

Regrettably, those comments weren't helpful. 
Henceforth, I shall speak blessings.
You have my word.

3. However.
But. Still.
In whatever way.
Regardless of how.

I wish he had NOT asked me about my weight.

Think with me. There are ZERO happy ways out of that inquiry.

Have you lost weight? No. But I guess I looked a lot fatter last time you saw me.
Have you lost weight? Yes. And I guess since I looked a lot fatter last time you saw me, it's noticeable today.
Have you lost weight? No idea, but now I'm wondering if I looked a lot fatter last time you saw me.


4. If I could write a column, (oh, wait) I would sincerely request that the kind people of the planet not EVER ask anyone about their weight. (Unless that person has brought it up for discussion ... and that's a whole 'nother blog, y'all.) Don't ask about weight - Even if you think you're being sweet and encouraging.

I mean if you're in kindergarten and don't know better, then cool. But seriously.

On behalf of ...
no one really.

This is just me. Hear me out. Chalk it up. Change your ways. 
Or don't. But here's my perspective. 
And perhaps I'm just a crazy-head. 
But surely you have other crazy-heads in your life. Be advised;)

I struggle with maintaining a healthy balance of nutrition, exercise, and indulgences. Every day. 
No ... not everyday. Honestly, some days I couldn't even try to care less: "Bring on the sugary-coffee-sofa-time followed by salted starchy snacks for a sedentary sit-a-while!"

But on most days, some of my first thoughts involve frail hope for a healthier future, mustering motivation for a bright and active day, and rediscovering resolve to be victorious in the struggle.  I have been oscillating between variations of fluffy and firm since the 2nd grade. It is real, people.

So if I am losing weight this week. I welcome encouragement.
And if I've recently found the five pounds I lost last month, I need encouragement.

If I spent a precious quarter-hour styling my hair, (loosely ... using that term loose.ly.) 
I welcome affirmation.
And if I am in a ball cap or hallelujah-bun (for possibly the 2nd or third time this week), 
I need affirmation.

And if I wear a store-bought blouse made of anything other than cotton, and I seem - for all the world - halfway put together, I welcome kind words.
But if I choose a boxy, beefy-T from kids camp 3 summers ago that covers a multitude of sin and offers comfort on as many levels, I need kind words.

Encouragement. Affirmation. Kindness.
My needs are consistent, regardless of my appearance.

My inner, soul-level needs are remarkably consistent, regardless of my outward, ever-changing appearance.

Remarkably consistent.

I need to hear that I am beautiful. No matter what.

Because I believe that I am. I just don't believe it a lot of times. 
Philip tells me daily -in his own words and ways - that I am "altogether lovely" and he "sees no flaw in me". And God's Word tells me that I am wonderfully made by a loving Creator who cares very much about the holy stewardship of my body, but ultimately He places a premium on beauty that comes from within.

"The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7
God and Philip. They're on board. But I typically lag behind, wondering if I'm enough.
And that's my bad.
You know? I know.

In this tension of trusting truth; beholding and becoming ...
What wording could we use to encourage, affirm beauty, and show kindness without asking about weight loss? (or weight gain for my friends who battle eating disorders?) 
You can probably think of many more examples - that I hope you'll share with us in order to better equip the masses.
But here are a few for starters.

"I was hoping to see you today!"
"You are so fun!"
"I like how you think!"
"You have the best smile!"
"I like your sense of style."
"You are a super-great ______ (friend, mom, cook, teacher, gardener etc)
"That color brings out your pretty eyes!"
"I admire your strength."
"You do good work!"
"You really know how to brighten a room!"
"I'm sure glad I got to visit with you!"
"What a pleasant surprise ... you're one of my favorite people."

And if you're brave and not the slightest bit creeperish, just go ahead and say what so many are longing to hear: "You are truly beautiful!"

Sidebar: For you "very funny people" who like to prove you've read my stuff by throwing it back at me ... the above phrasing is subject to copyright standards and any infringement delivered with mockery or condescending tone shall be ignored or summarily dismissed with a swift kick of brotherly love. K, Pumpkin?

AND if you 
quiet the compulsion 
to offer commentary 
regarding a person's external presentation ... however shrinking/expanding it may seem to you on a given day...

Can we just stick to "You look great." and move it along? 

"Gracious words are like a honeycomb - 
sweetness to the soul and health to the body."
Proverbs 16:24 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas Can

My father-in-law had a fun tradition of giving the grand kids coins. He would come around the room with a plastic coffee container filled with loose change. He allowed each child (and ultimately each parent - yipee) to dip their hand in, and grab as much money as they could.

I remember one Christmas several years ago, when he brought the can to our house.

In those brief moments of house-wide grabbiness, I thought, "We are a greedy bunch, aren't we?"

Then I looked a little closer. Everyone was giggling and chanting.

My dear, "Freddie", by far, was the most enthusiastic of the lot.
"Git in there, kiddo! Git ya all you can!" he would cheer.

He even offered the littlest hands to dip in more than once.

As jam-packed fists emerged from the can, renegade coins escaped between fingers to go bouncing and spinning along the floor. In full participation, our cozy crowd chased and hollered, and applauded the spectacle.

As Fred happily returned the lid to the can, each Johnson counted his bounty and finally washed up for dinner.

I am so thankful for the kind generosity of my father-in-law. He definitely passed it along to his son, and I reap the benefits and blessing almost daily. I am missing his sweet smile today.

But I am grateful that my Father in Heaven is the generous giver of Life!
He sent along His Son to make all things possible. Life. Love. Generosity. Joy. Peace.
This kindness leads me to repentance.

This Christmas Season, my prayer is this: as the Father offers Himself ... His presence and comfort, and His wealth, I pray we have the confidence to dive deep into His riches, hold tight to His precious promises, and be willing to share with others out of the overflow of His blessings.

"... For everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name."

"But who are we, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand....I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. O Lord, God of our fathers, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you." 1 Chronicles 29:10-18

"But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." Titus 3:4-7

Friday, September 26, 2014

What's a Girl to Do?

Elizabeth Anne is five years old now. She knows her letters and writes her numbers. She can fold towels and help make supper. But she has a secret.

If you know her well, or if you've seen her when she lets her hair down - literally - then you already know.

She's done it her whole life. What started out as cute, has lingered into a challenging cause for concern.

Every day, throughout the day, she sucks two fingers of her right hand while she uses her left hand to twist her hair.

The finger-sucking provides satisfaction.
The hair-twisting is comfortable when she feels anxious or bored.

She sucks until her teeth are protruding and her fingers are wrinkled; she twists until her hair knots up and is pulled out. 
So with gapped teeth, she sports moist, calloused fingers on her right hand, and short, frizzy, frayed hair on her left side. And I love her to pieces!!

Every morning when I brush her hair, we discuss her dilemma.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thou Shalt Have ...

Two stories.

Once upon a time, I was the mother to [merely] two preschool boys. One day I was helping them pick up their room and I quite literally stumbled upon a broken clothes pin - one wooden side with the now-meaningless spring still attached. Just as I was about to toss it in the trash, my son screamed, "Mom! Don't! That's my thingie!!"

Duly noted. Keep calm and tidy on.

Later at the lunch table, I noticed he was having trouble holding his cup. As I tried to help him, I realized he had that silly clothes pin lodged into the palm of his clinched fist. I pried it from his milky grip and assured him that his treasured thingie would be safe on the counter until lunch was over.

Fifteen years later - so like, last week - is the setting for our second story.

Several of us were relaxing in the living room when I began to smell something awful. (This in itself is not at all remarkable.) But, it was a suffocating stench ... thick and nauseating. Others began to gasp and react with eye-squinting puzzlement.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wrap-up: LommoY Challenge

Well, it's day 30. And for some faithful folks, tomorrow morning will begin with a literal "break [the] fast" meal. 

(I won't mention the young, eager beavers sitting in a fast food parking lot right this second waiting to toast their various levels of victory with Mt Dew slushies and a big greasy plate of nachos as soon as the clock strikes 12. Seriously, not one word will I say ... except gross. Gross del Grande.)

On August first we started this 30 day challenge.

I trucked along another week or two. I have tons of excuses for bailing, and they are all pretty lame. I'm sure it can be traced back to a tiny slip, a small stretch of the rules, then perhaps a moderate amount of mis-guided stubbornness. I don't like losing, but if I can't absolutely win big, I am sadly prone to just give up.

I made it to day 19 with the 30 foods, then it became too easy to just give in and eat "whatever".

Honestly, I was never super solid on the daily exercise ... and I was so consumed with the food and movement portions, the Bible reading [for 30 whole minutes in a row each day] received even less attention.

So how do I unpack this? Chalk it up for the loser and move on?

Not just yet.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

LommoY: Day 6 Check-in

Last week, we were excited to begin THIS THING.

So, the honey moon is over now.

Polly Anna has left the building.

Day 5 was a bust.
These were my first conscious thoughts yesterday morning:

"Wow ... that was a good dream. What was it about exactly? I can't quiiiiiite remember ...
it was wonderfullll ... oh yes ... I believe I fell madly in love ... with an oatmeal cream pie."


And that would most accurately describe the rest of yesterday. I squandered every opportunity to exercise. And, when it came to reading Scripture, I found new and ridiculous ways to procrastinate with disturbing diligence.

Over the first five days, the family had collectively consumed every apple we owned. I asked the teenagers to grab some on their way home. They did not. I asked my handsome guy if he could hook us up with some fruit on his way home. He delivered with signature excessiveness: 3 bags of apples and half a tree of bananas.

Late last night as the fellas and I sat around the living room ...

Unnamed fella in a pitiful whine: "I really want something sweet." 
Dad: "Go get an apple."
Mournful Boys: "We don't have any."
Dad: "Yeah we do."
LP with guilt and sadness: "No, I forgot to get some."
(Luke shifts to lounge silently in despair.)
Dad: "I brought some home. They're on the --"

**POOF! SCRAM-ShaZamm!!**

Never have I seen two children driven so abruptly by an apparent love for fiber and pectin.

Thank You, God, for perspective and the chance to get in tune with our desires. You give good gifts! Thank You for forgiving us when we fail. And thank You for new mercies this morning. I loved our pre-breakfast walk together. Less of me - more of You. Let's do this thang!"

Sunday, August 03, 2014

LommoY: Thirty Day Challenge

Our family has accepted a challenge for the month of August.
"Less of me, more of You."
We are joining more than 30 of our friends who have agreed to the following daily routine:

30 minutes studying the Bible,
30 minutes exercising, and choosing to only eat from a list of 
30 whole foods ... for
30 days.

This was day 3 of 30 ... 10% is in the books!

I love the accountability for the exercise. Seven-year-olds can be relentless.

I am amazed at how easy it was to gather most of my kids around to "do our Bible reading together". Some wanted to switch to "30 verses" or a "whole" chapter ...because both options could be quickened and rushed through. Once I established that we would be spending 30 minutes, the atmosphere relaxed. We read a chapter, then each journaled for a minute or two. Then we moved on to the next chapter- taking turns reading aloud. We won't always be able to do that, but that sweet gathering was good for my soul. 

I am not thrilled with how much prep-work and actual "cooking" is involved in eating whole foods. It takes time. And planning. And patience. Everyone is adjusting now ... they know snack options are chopped veggies with hummus or apple slices. And I think we all feel better drinking only water. (I have coffee listed as one of my foods, and it's not nearly as lovable without sugar, but I like the treat in temperature and taste once per morning.)

Now, the LIST ...

Monday, July 28, 2014


Jamey and Cari - 1987

My baby brother turns 27 today. I can remember being on a youth mission trip in Mexico the day he was born. I called home to check on Mom about 9 pm and there was no answer...I knew my parents had no late-night social life, so I assumed they had gone to the hospital to give birth to my new Home-Ec project! I cried when I realized I missed his birth. I missed him...and I didn't even know him yet.

He was such a pretty baby. Dark, plump, and smiley. His first year of life was my first year with a driver's licence. One day I was running an errand in the "good times van" with James harnessed into his new, plush car seat. His seat faced forward, positioned on the captain's chair closest to the big sliding brown door. I say "positioned" because "secured" would be inaccurate.

As I came to an abrupt stop at a red light, the car seat tipped forward until it rested on the front passenger seat. I saw it lunge forward in my peripheral. I panicked, thinking James had been thrown to the floor. I quickly pulled into the next parking lot available. I threw open my door, darted around the van, and frantically opened the sliding door.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Honor and Blessing

My wedding was twenty years ago. 
My baby brother's was two weeks ago.
James' ceremony seemed to bridge old and new 
as we celebrated God's sustaining, redemptive love.

Though our weddings are decades apart, 
they share the same building, 
same pews, same aisles, and many of the same people ... even the same pianist. 

But, the old ring bearer ...is the new groom.

The new groomsman ... is the old groom.

The old groomsman ...

... is the new pastor.

And the old pastor is ... missing ... and missed.

Dad died the year after he walked me down the aisle.
James was seven.
Life moved on from there ... 

... and then sort of returned again. 

Bits of dad's handsome character permeated the places of our togetherness:
All three of my brothers were in the same room with me 
several times over the course of the weekend. 

I could see traces of Dad.

Tim's individuality and passion for the Kingdom, 
and his ability to tell the perfect story - 
"enhanced" in just the right places to pique interest and produce laughter.

Josh's mannerisms - the way he looks through his glasses at you with kind sincerity; 
and his humility - 
he knows so much and is so very smart, 
but he is quick to listen and slow to speak, choosing to respond with more questions than answers.

James' confident smile that brightens rooms and lightens moods; 
and his love for people - 
he consistently chooses to put others first with generous grace and subtle style.

There were other reminders, too.
During the ceremony, my oldest son was an usher - and wore my dad's black Rockport dress shoes. 

The symbolism was sobering and sweet ... of filling shoes and walking paths ... legacy, heritage, and honor.

The day before the rehearsal, I looked in my closet and found my dad's black silk bow tie.
I rushed it through the dry cleaners, boxed it up, and sent it with the groomsmen on Saturday -
to offer James as he dressed for the big day.
James wore it so well! There were no big acknowledgements ... it was our quiet, happy secret. 
Dad's signature touch was sweetly in our midst.

As the service concluded, the minister blessed us with a wonderful gift. He said:

"James, twenty years ago I stood on this stage in your sister's wedding. 
In that ceremony your father shared some words that touched me so deeply. 
In fact, they had such an impact on my life,
 that I have shared his words in every wedding I've officiated over the last twenty years. 
I want to share his words with you now. 

In the few moments we've shared together tonight, 
you've made some very sincere and challenging promises to each other. 
But every day after today - you must choose to fill up your words with Christ-like actions. 
As you make your words come true each new day, in each new way, 
God will be honored and you will be blessed."

Mom couldn't have Dad by her side at James' wedding.
But how precious to have [almost] half of his grandkids on every side!

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
Blessed be the Name of the Lord! 
I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
    through all generations.
Job 1:21, Psalm 89:1-2

God is with us and He is for us.
And He promises as we journey through happiness and sorrow,
that not a tear is wasted. In time we'll understand.
He's painting beauty with the ashes.
Our life is in His Hands.
Casting Crowns, THRIVE

*Photo credit:
Jeannie Walker Gaut

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Common Ground

I’m a griper and complainer. I’m sorry. I try hard not to be, but critical commentary seems to just leap off my tongue if I’m not careful. 

But there are a couple topics you will seldom hear me gripe about in public. 

At the top of the list is my husband. And here’s why. Out of all the men in the world, I chose him. No one forced me to marry him. I did that all by my big-girl self.  

He’s not perfect, but he’s mine. So when an issue arises, my response matters. Very little is accomplished by verbally dogging him. It might make me feel better in that tiny warped moment, but it certainly doesn’t lead to a solution. 

I must embrace that the solution to our problem likely involves me. (I mean he totally needs to change his ways, but …) Maybe I need to step it up. Maybe I need to be more patient. Maybe I need to encourage him. Maybe I need to chill out. Maybe I need to focus on being grateful for all that’s good while we find a way to work together.