Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I have decided that it’s time for some accountability – and living up to what I “preach” at my youth group kids.  For those who are friends of mine, you know that I’ve been faithfully posting on Facebook every day for the last 10 days how much I walked that day, plus whatever other small victories I managed that day (not eating those donuts, actually doing sit-ups, etc.).  It's helped me out so much to have the constant encouragement of my friends.  I guess it really is true that if you make a decision to do something, you basically guarantee that you'll keep it if you tell everyone about it!  Here’s the explanation of my new “journey,” because I think it’s important enough to share.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a lesson in Sunday school for my high school girls on food, self-control, and proper body image.  I’m really big on encouraging them to eat the right kinds of foods, and especially not skipping meals or replacing them with fast food or bad-for-you drinks.   Most importantly I tried to at least get through their heads that if they’re putting junk into their systems, that’s the kind of functioning their body is going to do – junky.  The boys in my class often hear me rant over the sheer amount of chemicals and sugar in a simple energy drink (Sidebar, have you ever seen the amount of sugar in one of those spooned out onto a plate?  It’s scary.). 

But in the day or two after that lesson, I realized that I was being totally hypocritical.  I too often eat something just because it sounds good, or grab cookies or brownies to eat instead of what I know I should be eating.  I tell my own kids all the time that if they have to skip eating something out of their lunchbox on any particular day, it better not be the fruit, because it’s the best-for-you thing in there.  But I wasn’t following the same guidelines myself.

I've had so many times in the past where I've focused only on the weight part of my health, and even lost some weight because of it.  But because I focus on that short term thing, it's hard to keep up.  And then all I seem to do is think about food, which doesn't help my eating habits!  :)  I wanted to be a good example both to my boys (I told them yesterday why I've been walking so much more and trying to not eat as much junk) and especially to the teenage girls in my youth group.  I figure it's not fair for me to rant to them about the crap they put into their systems when I do the same.

I'll admit, I still eat cookies - every, single, day.  :)  But I eat one (okay, sometimes 2) - instead of 5.  I make myself stop and think about what I'm eating instead of grabbing whatever is there, and then grabbing another because the first one tasted good.  And although the weight loss part is a total added bonus, I'm trying to not focus on that too much.  I'm also going for the many fruits and veggies I've stocked up my house with more often than not, which helps tons.

I also have a friend that is my temptation texting partner - we keep the other in prayer when we're tempted by something in particular.  It's funny, knowing that I would probably need her prayer helps me walk away from more things now.  (And, of course, feeling like I need to check in with all of you on FB helps, too!)  My friend and I also have the challenge of minutes per week walking instead of focusing on miles.  When I think miles, it intimidates me.  But minutes, well, to me that seems so easy (we're at 150 a week.  So as long as I walk my half hour at least 5 days a week, I'm doing it!). 

In addition to all this, there is another part of my new journey.  I haven’t been posting my follow-through on this one publicly, because I don’t want it to be a “check list” kind of thing for me.  But after the lesson at youth group last night on making good habits, including spiritual ones, I thought I'd just share that once: part of my new routine includes coming home from my walk and reading my Bible. Right now I'm actually reading "The Story," which is like a novelized version of the Bible (nicely skips over the slow parts, but is still mostly scripture). I'm not going to win any awards for Bible reading, but it does help me start my day better.  I’m hoping with creating the habit, I’ll get back into more in-depth Bible reading, for myself and with my kids, as well.

I won’t ask you to join me on my journey – because this one is mine, what I know God is telling me I need to do right now.  But I will ask you what your new journey, or maybe just new leg of a journey, is shaping up to be right now.  God is always working on us, and never asks us to do something until He has prepared our hearts and lives for it.  I feel like a lot of the things going on lately have pointed the way for me – what are your signposts?

If you’d like to share, or just want a little extra prayer, please let me know (because that’s a continuing part of my journey, praying every day, at every available moment, for those that need it).  I would love to be able to pray for you, too.  And keep me in your prayers (and hey, encouragement, too!) as I keep at my new regime – I’ve heard 21 days makes it a true “habit.”  Most days I’m just happy to have conquered one more day!

Walk with me, friends.  Let’s enjoy the scenery together. J

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

To Strive and Not to Yield

I watched a movie last night called “One Week.”  It was a little odd, but I enjoyed it, in spite of the impending sense of doom that lurked over the entire film.  The story was narrated kind of the way I tend to write and think – in little side notes as the story goes along.  The film itself centered on a man who had just been told that he had cancer, and a max of 2 years to live.  This same man, who was a teacher instead of a writer or a singer (as he’d dreamed but been told he was no good) was also engaged to a girl whom he was happy enough with, but wasn’t quite sure if he was in love with.  Upon hearing his diagnosis, he bought a motorcycle, and decided to drive west, all the way to the Pacific, just because.

I won’t go into all the little side stories or even the ending, but besides the way he told the story, I want to tell you the two big reasons this movie appealed to me.  Because it isn’t the greatest story ever told by any stretch – but it was a good story, and it was told.  I liked it because this guy, faced with a limited amount of future, did what he always wanted to do, instead of the safe thing.  Of course, that it involved a motorcycle is especially appealing to me.  I’ve always wanted one, and though one of my friends has taught me the basics and let me borrow his to learn, I still haven’t really gone and done it. 

The other thing I like is the inclusion of hockey, of course.  Totally unexpected, actually, but I knew when they were talking about Toronto not having won the Stanley Cup in years (which later showed up in one scene -  he got to kiss it for luck, even!), I was gonna like this movie.  So, nothing like accidentally discovering a movie that resonated so much with things I truly enjoy.

In the end, though, what I appreciated the very most about the story was the fact that Ben (that was his name, did I mention that?) was a writer that had been rejected, and therefore refused to write any more because he’d had enough of it.  Now, that doesn’t sound like a very inspiring story, but when combined with the other messages about writing that I’ve heard lately – or actually, tried to avoid lately, because they make me feel guilty and upset.  Because I haven’t been writing.  I’m tired of feeling like it’s going nowhere, and that no one cares to hear my voice.  I don’t like being rejected.  I like having people like me, and by extension, the things I do and write.

I’m pretty sure that most people don’t like being rejected.  It’s not a fun feeling.  I’m also pretty sure that most people don’t like feeling like the things they dream of are put on hold indefinitely because the life they have now, well, it’s good, right?  So what If it’s not the huge things they wanted when they were young and stupid.  But I can’t be convinced that God gives us those things, especially those things that still resound in my heart and mind after years, without a reason. 

One of my good friends posted a whole lot of photos yesterday that I haven’t seen in years – me in a biker jacket, hanging out with a bunch of Christian biker guys from Ohio.  I miss that girl, the one who wanted something a little out of the norm, a future that included something a little dangerous and unexpected, freeing even.  I am not the same person I was then – I like to think my experiences with those bikers helped me let go of my very safe little hold on my world, to be able to try new things that I may be fearful of, but stretch myself to try anyway.  And looking a little different along the process, well, that’s okay, too.

So I think I need to try that again – not necessarily the motorcycle part, though I’m pretty sure that’s going to be part of the equation – but finding my dreams that I’ve put aside.  And stop being fearful of what others are going to say about it.  I know that I cannot just pick up and drive to the coast like good old Ben – but I can write.  And I can ride.  And I can plan and ask God to help me with the things I’ve dreamed, knowing that He will give good things, and He gave me the dreams I have.

One more thing from the movie: a line from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s’ Ulysses: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”  So many people over the years have used that line as an inspirational quote.  I think I’ll add myself to the list. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Swamp Thing

“In ten years, the only things that will change are the books that you read and the people around you.”

I saw this quote on a business sign today, a business, I might add, that regularly puts up different quotes and quips, ones I usually agree with.  But as I passed this one several times in the last few days, I had to completely disagree – at least with the “only” part.  

I disagree mostly because I took a long look at myself and the changes I have been through in the last 10 years.  Ten years ago, I was still basically a newlywed, no kids, enjoying carnival rides and late nights with our youth group and the ability to pick up and go wherever we felt like on a whim.  Of course, it was also about 10 years ago that I got pregnant with our firstborn, beginning the mad descent into mommy-hood and baby brain and all the fun years to follow.  

But beyond the obvious changes (2 kids, a change of scenery from cornfields to desert, a change in church families, getting a permanent place that we were totally in charge of), I’d like to think there’s been a lot of personal change.  Actually, I’m pretty sure that if I haven’t changed a lot in 10 years, there must be something wrong.

I’m convinced that our God is living and active, and the Spirit that we are filled with when we make Him Lord of our lives therefore causes us to be living and active.  If we are not, then we are stagnant, unmoving.  I’ve seen lots of swamps, having grown up in a wetter climate than the one I now reside in – they are pretty, but only if you have a clothespin on your nose.  And only if you don’t look too closely at the decay all around you.  If we are squelching the living spirit within us to the point that we are swamps, well, don’t stand too close if you’ve got a weak stomach.

If I haven’t changed in 10 years except for the people I hang out with and the books I read, then I am a swamp.  Completely content to remain exactly as I’ve always been, to not ruffle the waters or try something new, or follow God’s leading to the very important adventure, however, big or small, that He has ready for me.  I am then saturated in the everyday cycle of keeping up the status quo, doing only just enough to get by, never opening up myself to the cool running stream of the Spirit that will flush out the impurities in the water.  

I am not the same person I was 10 years ago, praise God!  I am stronger in my faith.  I hold tighter to the truth that God has it under control.  I am less stressed (most of the time), less busy (well, a little), less focused on myself.  I don’t have it all right yet, and in the next 10 years I’m certain I still won’t.  Funny how just when I’ve finally conquered one thing, God shows me something else that I need to work on.  

Ah, but that’s what it’s all about.  Working through the rough spots, clearing out the moss, pushing more mud and muck out of my life – some times more slowly than others – to continue to be more like the purified pond fed by a clear running spring; ever changing, ever improving.  And though some days I want nothing more than to wallow in the warm, still water right up to my nose, I know that the small trickle of freshness that tickles my senses will win over the day.  God is still working on me – and my books and people I’m around.  :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Liebster Award Winner

So today, my friend Becky at Daye by Daye sent me a message to tell me that she had nominated me for The Liebster Award.  Wow, what an honor.  And then I actually took a look at the award - and had to laugh out loud, quite literally.  After careful consideration, I decided, oh, sure, why not?....

What is the Liebster Award?
The German word Liebster (pronounced LEEB-ster) means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcoming.  The Liebster Award is given to upcoming bloggers who have less than 200 followers.
Rules for receiving this award:
1.  Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
2.  Then answer the questions the tagger sent for them, plus create 11 questions for the people they've tagged to answer. (I think you can just answer the same questions as the one before you)
3.  Choose several people and link them in your post.
4.  Notify the people you have tagged.
5.  No tag backs.
And so today, just for fun, I am going to follow the rules and accept this award.  Partly because I need a little inspiration to kick me in the rear and get me writing.  Partly just - well, just because.  :)

So here's my random 11 things:

1.  If you've never really looked at my blog name, it's actually meant to be a little tongue in cheek.  The full address is melivinginexileaz.  Actually stands for "Maine (abbreviation for Maine is ME) living in exile, Arizona."  When I was growing up, there used to be a tshirt/bumper sticker you could pick up in tourist traps in Maine that said something like "born in Maine, living in exile." Thus, my blog name.  Forgive me for its silliness.

2.  I love working with teenagers - even though I have none of my own yet, and even when they drive me crazy.  It was an accidental discovery, helping out a friend right after college with his youth group, then taking over when he had to move suddenly.  And now, 12 years later, my husband and I are still working with teens.

3.  I lived in Chicago for several years, first for college, then a couple years in downtown, then a couple years just past the far south side, where my oldest son was born.  We would love to visit there soon, but saving pennies for that takes time.

4.  I love books.  And music.  And any combination of the two, usually.

5.  I also love motorcycles, preferably Harley Davidson.  I have actually taken lessons from  a friend of mine, and when I ever make the time to do so, I fully plan on getting my motorcycle license.  The Harley, well, there's a Sportster for sale in the local paper for only 3K - in case anyone needs a Christmas wish idea...

6.  I often joke that I am the only girl in a house full of boys - even the dog, cat and fish are guys.  But I've gotten very good at doing boy-stuff in spite of my inherent girliness.

7.  However, I hate camping.  I only go because all the guys like it.  And I'm not super-keen on fishing either.  I really only go hunting because I like to shoot the gun, and I like the meat that I (sometimes) get.

8.  I was born and lived for a few years in Germany.  My dad was in the Army, and we were stationed in Wurzberg, Heidelberg and Karlsrue.  Or at least, I was born in the first, my sisters were born in the second, and we lived in the third.  Regardless, I don't remember much of it, because we moved back to the States when I was 5.

9.  I love, love, love hockey.  Anyone who know me at all would say, "duh" at this point.  I'm obviously a huge fan of my local team (Phoenix Coyotes), though I will cheer for Boston because I grew up with them.  However, I have had this love for hockey pretty much my whole life.  I can remember going to AHL games very early on at the good old Cumberland Civic Center in Portland, ME.  I've now indoctrinated - I mean, passed on that love to - my children as well.  

10.  In spite of my girliness - which often includes pink, sparkles, embroidered details and cutesy shoes - I love to play and watch sports.  Not just hockey (as stated above), but baseball, soccer, and football as well - hmm, guess I need to add Nascar, too.  Basketball and golf I'll admit I could do without.  My boys have been amazed that I can actually play as well, which I've proved when I help them practice, and this last year helped coach their Little League team.

11.  Three years ago, I lost a piece of my heart to a country, or more specifically, a town in another country: Esperanza, Dominican Republic.  I had never been on a mission trip before, and went with several friends to see this place they had worked at for years.  I fell in love.  It is a poor place in resources, but rich in love and friendship and hospitality.  I have been back twice more, am now actively involved in the nonprofit mission organization Partnership for Hope that I took those trips with, and look forward to seeing Esperanza and my friends there again.

Whoof, this award thing is making for a long post!  Well, question time, as required:

1.  What is your greatest fear?  Hmm, I think my greatest fear is not being needed.  I often over-schedule myself (and my kids) because I want to help everyone and do everything, a lot because I think I need to feel needed by others.  *I'm getting better at not over-scheduling, I swear!

2.  Describe yourself in three words: Energetic, cheerful, busy

3.  What is your favorite passage of Scripture (verse or book)? Favorite passage has always been Psalm 91, especially verse 2,  "I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
4.  Name something that is on your bucket list: Going to all those places I've always dreamed of going (and list grows longer all the time).  England, Ireland, Scotland, Paris, Germany, Italy, Spain, Peru, Argentina, Australia (see what I mean?)...
5.  Describe what a perfect day would look like to you:  Now, see, that would depend on the day.  Some days I'd like nothing better than to be at the beach (and I mean ocean!) with a good book, a cup of coffee and a nice breeze.  Other days, probably more often than not, I'd rather skip the book and hang out with friends, especially ones I don't get to see very often.  But keep the coffee!
6.  What is one of your lesser known passions?  I like to make cards. Like, stamping, prettifying with sparkles and ribbons, etc.  Don't get to do it very often anymore though.
7.  Share a brief testimony of how God is working in your life.  Wow.  Well, I think God is telling me right now to just chill out.  Wait, I think that's an ongoing anthem in my meager 35 years.  I'm finally getting it, I hope.  I tend to be way too busy, and get way over-planned and stressed out.  God has really been working on me to recognize what is necessary, what He really wants for me to do, and to not have to do everything just because it's there to be done.
8.  What is your favorite snack? Anything chocolate.  Preferably dark, or with peanut butter.
9.   If you could live anywhere, where would that be? I love living where I do, in Wickenburg, Arizona.  Someday I'd love to live in Esperanza, but I don't know yet if that's where God wants us.  I've loved and hated things about everywhere I've lived, so I know I could be happy almost anywhere.
10.   Name 5 things that make you smile:  My kids, my husband, coffee, warm chocolate chip cookies and random messages from friends.
11.  Why do you write?  I write because I can express things more thoroughly and clearly on paper (or screen), and it helps me process thoughts.  I recently very pleasantly discovered that because God made me with that particular strength, I can use it to meditate on His Word, to reflect back what He is telling me, and so much more than just the silly things I sometimes come up with.
Yikes, I have written tons here!  I think I have a tendency to blather on, sometimes.  :)  It's sad, but I don't have the links for some of my friend's blogs.  However, I know that Jessica Evans would be a good one for this award, so I'll mention her and see if she will join the fun as well.  Hmm, anyone else out there blogging that wants to be nominated?   :) 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Vine and the Branches, redux

The following is what happens when you go to a women's retreat and discover that you can meditate on God's Word with the learning strength/intelligence that God created you with.  My strengths are verbal/linguistic and musical/rhythmic, and during a short exercise, we were given a passage of scripture to "meditate" on using our learning strength.  So this is my 7 minute meditation, a poem of sorts that describes what I think the branch may feel like - because, after all, I know what that feels like.  :)

I am connected. 
Green, growing, full of life, energy flowing.  I can feel strength because I am connected.  My power, my life blood flows from my connection to the vine that is firmly rooted in the ground.
My leaves grow as I dwell.  I grow, going through spring, new life, new growth, new breadth and length in my life and existence.
In summer season, I endure, existing on the fluid that I cannot draw up on my own, withstanding in its strength the brutal heat and destruction of the sun.
Autumn comes, and I let go of the things that I hold onto too dearly, knowing that by doing so, He will bring great things.
Winter seems bleak and bare, darkness and no life – but do not despair, for in due season, the promise of life, rebirth and growth, will come forth from where it hides in the cold and quiet. 
It will burst out again as if in song, showing His handiwork as I go through the pain of flowering, growing, stretching a little more toward the perfect shape and form the Vine has already decided I should be, and provided the sustenance for.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Flying Away

I have been putting off writing this particular vein of thought, because I’m one of those types that subconsciously puts off dealing with things until I absolutely have to.  Okay, maybe sometimes not-so-subconsciously.  I don’t like sad things, or things that frustrate me, or things that are going to make major changes in my life.  Which is why today’s subject has been bouncing around in my head for at least a couple of weeks, and I’m just now getting around to writing it down.

It hit me like a sucker punch to the gut on Friday night, as I was standing talking to 2 of the guys from our youth group – or who have been part of our youth group in the past.  I have known these guys for years!  I’ve watched them grow from junior highers that were kind of annoying to intelligent, handsome, mature young men who are about to graduate high school and go out into the world.  And I literally had to check myself to keep from tearing up because I’m so doggone proud of them!  

I’m proud of all of our graduating seniors this year – and we have 4 from our immediate church family, as well as a few more that I know personally from the area.  I have worked with youth for, wow, nearly 12 years now, and I’m nearly as proud as any mama out there as I watch “my kids” grow and become the fantastic adults that God made them to be.  I’m tickled beyond imagination to see them get married and have kids and venture out into the things they dreamed about (and a lot they didn’t!).

I don’t know why this year’s batch is hitting me so hard.  Maybe because I’ve been there through so many of their battles and victories – my husband and I began working with the kids at our church here in Arizona 7 years ago, and most of these are the teens that were here when we began.  It says something about how much you can care so deeply about a person after knowing them so long – something good and bad!  But I have watched the struggles with family and faith and God and school, and I feel privileged to have been an active participant in so much of the journey.

If I’m this bad with these kids that are not even my “own” – how on earth am I going to be with my own kids?  Scary thought.  But you know, I am so grateful to have the chance to be around youth all the time.  They give me perspective: on where my kids will be someday; on how the world and culture works around me so I can’t be content to live in my bubble; on valuing each individual and the way God made them; on learning when to talk and when to shut up; and on knowing how to be passionate about someone other than myself. 

I’m getting to the age when I may soon be classified as way too old to know anything about the world they are in (though I hope not!).  And so I am passionate about being involved with each of these teenagers as long as I can, to show them that living a God-filled life is real – with all its ups and downs and doubts and failures and fantastically awesome victories!  I reserve the right to butt in when necessary – but only because I have earned the right by being there for them, no matter what.

I know that my influence on their lives may not be much – but it may be enough.  To some kids, it’s a lifetime of change.  Only God knows for sure.  So until He tells me to stop doing what I’m doing, I’ll keep doing it.  Showing up for games and concerts and shows, being there to talk to at odd hours of the day and night, hanging around waiting rooms of emergency rooms and providing rides home after every event: it’s all part of caring and loving every one of the kids God sees fit to let me have in my life.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So if I cry at graduation, it’s okay.  And if I’m trying to put off saying good-bye to any of them as they fly off to do their thing, that’s okay, too.   As long as you know that no matter what, I am doing what God told me to: caring about every kid He drops in my lap, no matter where they are at – or where they are going.

God’s richest blessings and greatest mercies to each and every one of you, my current and former “kids”.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Blatant Advertising

 Okay, this one is actually a call out for my friends to support a fellow sister in Christ, who is experiencing an amazing parenting journey and has written a book about it:

The day Gillian Marchenko was told her daughter had Down syndrome, she was standing by her crib alone in the former Soviet Union and let go of of her baby’s hand and ran out of the room. Not only did she run from her child that day, but in the months to follow, Gillian also ran from the God whom she had known on a first name basis since she was 15 years old. Gillian dove into a staggering grief over the child she expected and hid in fear of a brokenness that she had, come to find out, carried with her all her life.

KRASATA (“beauty” in Russian), a Memoir of Motherhood, Down Syndrome, and Surprising Beauty starts with a mother whose faith nearly breaks by the birth of her daughter with special needs. With humor and inspiration, spanning two continents, the story ends with the unexpected beauty of an unwanted child pointing her mother back to what matters most. KRASATA is about redemptive love both between mother and daughter, and child and God. 

Gillian recently won most promising new writer at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in California.


Gillian has an author page on Facebook, and in the quest to get her book published, she needs our help to bring her likes up to 5,000.  Please help a sister out today, and then be prepared to see her book in print in the very near future!  Thanks, all!