Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Hindsight

As I sit here tonight, I still smell our minty Christmas cookies, am finding bits of wrapping paper tucked into corners of our home, and am eagerly relaxing in the glow of many twinkling lights. Christmas is over but much of it still surrounds me as I sink, tired, into the warmth of our love seat.

This season can be stressful, can't it? There are so many expectations, so much that must get done and it all culminates into one twenty four period that feels as though it must be just right. But, when the rubber hits the road, it is rarely perfect... though always real. When we tuck our children into bed that night, the hopes of it fall silent and we are left with what it really was... a day. A day of memories. A day of lessons. A day of laughter and of nostalgia and of traditions. A day of good food, loving family, long history. A day.

So, here we are tonight. We have processed through it and need to find a way to embrace the wonder of what was and release the disappointment of what did not happen as we had hoped. For our family, the day was good. I was grateful to be here with my husband and children and enjoyed cooking and playing and staying in jammies all day long. We took our time and tried to really be present with our kids as they laughed and talked and thought.

Some of our highlights:
1. Watching Noah and Benjamin use our Nativity set to act out the true meaning of Christmas as Josiah and Elizabeth looked on, giggling.
2. Taking time to open presents... even stopping in the middle to eat a huge breakfast before finishing the task at hand.
3. Watching deer walk down the street in perfectly white snow, right in the middle of that big meal.
4. Playing two new games with our whole family and realizing that the kids are old enough now that we can actually play two new games!
5. Watching, in utter amazement, as Noah and Benjamin both assembled HUGE Lego projects... Noah working for almost 5 hours to create his most wanted gift!
6. Smiling as I watched Josiah and Elizabeth create a new way of playing that incorporated both her new Bitty Baby and his new purple light saber.
7. Opening a gift from my dear husband that will help me to share videos with all of you... Yay, Flip video!
7. Listening to our kids process through our traditional Christmas Devotions and hearing the story of the birth of Christ in a new way, in their sweet voices.

Yes, it was a good day. I am tired but when I think it through, I am content. The house was not perfect, the ham was a little dry and I have way too many leftovers. But, the memories we made are worth keeping and the story we told was (and is!) important and it was good.

My friends, think back on your day and release your expectations. Remember the giggles, the early morning start, the look on the faces of your children as they opened presents in jammies with bedhead and tuck it all away. Years from now, we may not remember what presents we fought to find or what menu we slaved over in an effort to make the day "just-so". But, we will remember these simple moments and we will see then, clearer than we may see now, what mattered more than any of the rest.

So, as I sit here in the darkness and rest my weary bones, I leave with you my favorite memory of Christmas 2008. Blessings to you and yours...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blog Rewind: Jesus Left Out

It was totally my fault. I remembered on Friday, on Saturday, and at 3:30 AM on Monday morning. The preschool had sent out a reminder about Monday's show and tell and the directions were simple. "Please have your child bring something that shows the baby Jesus."

It was totally my fault. I had a good plan. Josiah could bring the baby Jesus from the PlayMobile Nativity set and Elizabeth could bring the baby Jesus from the advent calendar we were not using nearly regularly enough. But, the morning got away from us and we left in a hurry and while I felt like we were forgetting something, I didn't know what so we piled in the van and shivered on our way through the 18 degree morning.

Against the odds we were on time for preschool and it was not until I was ready to leave my little ones to their busy morning that I overheard a comment about the show and tell.
Turning to the nearest of the many compassionate teachers, I said, "I completely forgot the show and tell..."

She tried to comfort me, really she did. But, I knew my kids should have this item and it was my job to be sure that they, at 4 and 5, had what they needed for school.

Eager to save the day, I said, "I will run to the grocery store next door and buy a Christmas card with Jesus on it and run it right back for them to share with their class. "
She tried to talk me out of it. I should have listened. She told me that they had old Christmas cards but I said no and ran out the door. How hard could this be, to find a Christmas card with Jesus on it on December 17?

I had a date to meet friends for coffee... a special morning and one which I looked forward to very much. So, I had to hurry to bring Jesus to preschool so I could savor those moments of conversation and caffeine and comfort in the midst of this busy, chilly season.

Into the Jewel I ran... surely a grocery store set in the midst of conservative community would have a Christmas card with a picture of the Holy family on front. Naively, on my way in, I thought maybe I would splurge on a cute ornament that would fit the occasion... not only saving the day but providing my kids with a story for years to come.

I quickly found the "Holiday" aisle and began to sort through all the varied paraphernalia. I found Santa in spades and sports cars (no kidding) and sparkly letters that spelled out JOY. I found houses decorated, and much about Rudolf and starry skies. Christmas cards for photos and money and a good belly laugh... but NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING with any hint of Jesus could be found.

I was perplexed. How could this be? Surely this was an overlook on the part of this one store. So, already late for coffee, I ran to another store... to a strip mall... to another grocery store... to a hardware store... and I swear I am telling the truth when I say there was not one Jesus to be found! There was no ornament or decoration or gift card or representation of any kind that showed the true reason for this most important of days... he was absent completely from all of it. By the time I pulled out of the last store, I was late and frustrated and ANGRY. It is not that I have never lived "in the world". I have and I remember it well. But, even when I lived in that place, I know He was there. I remember him there, even in the days before I knew Him at all.

Something about that made me profoundly sad. I sat in the van, unsure what to do, and prayed.
"My dear Jesus, I am so sorry. I am so very, very sorry. I am sorry that we have left you out, that you are lost in the midst of it all. I am sorry that the world that NEEDS you right now cannot find you in the middle of the time when we celebrate your very coming to be with us, when we celebrate the beginning of your wondrous plan. And whatever my part, I am sorry for that...for not demanding better... for not expecting better... for not remembering today. I am sorry... and I remember now. I see you now. I will not leave you out."

In my sadness, I pulled close to the one who loves me best. In my sadness, my eyes were opened and was reminded how important that central focus really is. I had not really forgotten. I just think I had not really remembered.

One more store. I talked myself into it the whole drive there. It was an old fashioned "five and dime" in the center of town. In I walked and 5 minutes later, out I came with two different Jesus ornaments in my possession to hand to my little ones, waiting at school. I hoped it wasn't too late. That wish hit me deeply... I hope it isn't too late. Suddenly it was not about the ornaments or about preschool or about the coffee with friends that had started without me. It was about a bigger picture. With Jesus in my hand, I rang the preschool doorbell and hoped it was not too late... for my kids... for my family... for this town and this country and this world to know that that which I held tightly in my grip is more important that the rest of it, by far.

It was totally my fault... but in the end, I found the reason for it all and a lesson that I hold inside of me tonight. We cannot leave Him out... not from the stores, not from this season, not from our world.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Blog Rewind: Waiting

It seems a whole lot of my life is spent waiting. I am more aware of this now, as my children eagerly await the celebration of Christmas, counting down the days, the hours, the minutes until the 25th. I think this lifestyle of waiting must be one of those things that you really become aware of once you begin your family.

Throughout pregnancy, you wait. Wait to tell, wait to show, wait to feel that baby kick. You wait to deliver, wait while you labor, and wait to see that little one's face. Oddly, you think that this is the end of the waiting.... but instead, it is only the beginning.

A new little one in your arms, you begin to wait for all new things. You wait for attachment, wait to adjust to nursing, wait for the baby to roll over, to crawl, to walk. You wait for preschool, wait for Kindergarten, and then find yourself crying on the sidewalk in the wake of big yellow bus.

Today, I wait in line to pick up my preschoolers, wait at the door for my school aged kids to come home and wait to see what will become of them all... of US all.

In a society that teaches us to tap our feet impatiently at the very thought of waiting, I want to ground myself in something much more timeless. Especially now, in the season of Advent, I want to seek the heart of Mary who knew, even at a young age, to "ponder these things up in her heart". She knew she was part of something miraculous and while I certainly cannot compare raising my four sweet babies to raising the Son of God, I do not want to miss those miracles happening around me.

Today, Josiah, who was born with an arm that would do nothing but hang limply at his side, waved that healed arm enthusiastically to greet me after a morning at preschool. Today, Elizabeth, who came to us with an ear for Chinese and took her precious time to learn to talk, chatted INCESSANTLY on our drive in the van. Today, Benjamin, who surprised us with a hole in his heart, beat his older brother home, running like a wild man from the bus to our house. Today, our oldest and most shy child came home and talked about how he was given a leadership job in his small group at school and how much he liked taking a position up front. This is the same child who a year ago would have rather stayed home than act as a leader!

There are so many things to ponder during the long waits of my life... so many miracles that surround me as I fly from activity to activity, nearly missing the whole of it to tend to that which likely is not important at all. Today, I choose to sit. I choose to watch. I choose to ponder and wonder and in doing so tie myself to the story that calls to me throughout this Christmas season. Today, I will still my tapping foot, stay present in this one moment, and try to see what is miraculous all around.

This sounds like a full and joyous journey... with room for beauty and story and grace.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blog Rewind: Boots to Sandals

Snow hit Chicago about a week ago. It was the first REAL snow and it stuck! Our kids were bubbling over with winter joy and just could not wait one more second to get outside and run and play and roll in that gorgeous blanket of white.

It was about that time that we realized that our 10 year old son had outgrown ALL his snow gear! The snow pants and boots were way to small and he was going to miss out on all the fun! In addition to missing a lot of play in his yard, he would not be allowed to play outside at school, either. We carefully chose our children's school and one thing that we love is that they are offered 3 recesses each day, sun or snow! But, without the right right supplies, Noah would be watching all the fun on the playground through the windows of his classroom.

So, we packed up all four kids and headed out to find boots and snow pants for our first-born. (As an aside, we were not in the store long before I remembered WHY I do not take all four of my kids shopping at once... even with the help of my dear husband!) We arrived at Target, found the boot aisle and began to shop. Well, we tried to begin to shop. : ) The shelves were nearly empty and the sizes available were not my son's. I found a Target employee and asked for assistance. After three Target employees came to help us, all of them on high tech walkie talkies, AND after they explained that their extra stock was kept at a remote location could not be available to us until well into the next day, we were told that they had NO boots in my son's size in the store or in the mysterious remote location.

Given the fact that the winter season has not yet officially begun and the fact that this was the first actual winter weather to hit our area, I asked what I felt was a logical question.

"When will you be getting more boots?"

In an attitude I would prefer to not see again, one of the Target employees said, "Oh, we will not be getting any more boots in!". She then giggled AT ME, and continued, "We are making room for the sandals!"

Instinctually, I checked the date setting on my watch. Um... it is December, isn't it? I didn't accidentally sleep through four months and miss winter, did I? I said nothing, wrapped my children back up and headed off to Wal-Mart.

I am tired of being rushed from one season to the next. Truth be told, I will never need sandals in December... or January or February or even March! In Chicago, we will likely see little sun or grass until April and in my mind, it is best for me to spend these waiting months enjoying the season in which I am immersed.

In the past ten years, most stores have come to believe that every day is part of a marketing season and I have come to hate the way they sell their goods. A couple years ago, I shopped on December 26th and found Valentine's Day decorations being put up around the store. Still dressed in red and green, with a wilted fir tree in my living room, I could not have been more discouraged. I was not ready to think about February. I wanted to think about today. We are being "marketed" to death and in the mean time, what we need is rarely available at the time we need it. Target would like me to shop for boots in August but I just won't do it. We needed school shoes in August, which I was likely supposed to buy in June.

So, after all of this, my son now has boots and snow pants that fit. I am grateful to Wal-Mart for that. And I am more sure than ever that there is wisdom in a One Day at at Time approach to life. Today is December 11. Christmas has not come and gone but is in full swing. I want to listen to carols, sip hot cider, plan my gift giving and wear warm shoes. I do not want to think about warmer days when the glory of cold, blowy days and snowball fights and snowmen has just come to pass.

Stop pushing me, Target! My kids are only young once and I do not want to be in such a rush to get from season to season that I miss them laughing in the yard, with snowflakes on faces, making angels in the snow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Our Blog Giveaway Winner!

I thought you might like the opportunity to meet Kelli who won the last blog givewaway. I sent her some questions and she has answered them below. Enjoy!

How long have you been married?
I have been married to Scott for 6 years.

How many children do you have and what are their ages?
We have 3 kids, Trott -4, Adri-2 1/2 and Bree-7 weeks

What is your most surprising parenting moment?
My most surprising parenting moment is that each child is so different and that there will be different kind of struggles with each one and what works with one won't work with the other and that I can't control them even though I would like to.

What is your favorite mommy moments?
My favorite mommy moments are knowing that each day I have three smiling children that will hug me, kiss me and say I love you numerous times throughout the day and that I can do the same in return.

What words of wisdom do you have to share?
My mommy words of wisdom is something I have to keep telling myself. Take the time to stop and enjoy them. I catch myself so often saying "just a minute, I have to finish this" Just put it down and go play or listen to what they are saying, it will be well worth it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Blog Giveaway Winner!

After two very busy weeks, I am now able to announce our blog winner! The winner of the Nativity Devotional Set is Kelli! Watch the blog for more information about Kelli coming up soon.

Now, I know mentioned to you that there was something in it for all of you... Here is the deal! If you commented on my blog during the blog giveaway, you can purchase a Nativity Devotional Booklet at the reduced rate of 7.00 and pay NO shipping at all. If you would like to purchase this booklet to use at home with your own Nativity set, contact me through my website ( and let me know. PayPal is preferred for this special deal but I am able to work with you on other payment sources if PayPal will not work for you. Please remember that this reduced rate and free shipping offer is for those who entered the giveaway by commenting on the giveaway posts.

The devotional booklet has not been available for purchase without a Nativity set, until now! Quantities are very limited but I will do my best to fill each order.

Congratulations to Kelli for winning the whole set!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Update on the Giveaway! : )

Happy Sunday! Today is the first Sunday in Advent and the perfect time to send an update your way about the Giveaway!

First, the entry period is being extended until Tuesday night. With all the busyness of the holiday this week, I know it has been hard for me to get to the computer and I am sure that this is true for you, as well. So, come on over and enter once a day by leaving a comment on a blog entry.

Secondly, would you like to know what you are entering to win? The winner of this week's giveaway will receive a Nativity Devotional Set! Included with the set is a 10 piece, family-friendly, Nativity set and a booklet of 12 devotional readings that will help your children to better understand the true meaning of Christmas. Each reading focuses on one of the pieces of the Nativity. When you read about angels, you put out the angel piece. By the time you put out the baby Jesus on Christmas morning, each piece will represent a part of the story for your family. The set is reusable and can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages. I think you will love it!

One more thing... while there will be only one winner... there will be a little something for all who enter! For today's entry, let's reflect on this past weekend... What was the best part for you? Be sure to leave your name so I can contact you, if you win!

Happy Advent, everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Christmas Blog 2: Traditions

Four years ago, our family was preparing for a major change. After processing mountains of paperwork and covering the whole process in years of prayer, we had in our hands a picture of a baby who would soon be ours. Yuan SiJie was living in the Hunan Province in China and the time had come for her to come home to her parents and brothers in the United States. We had no control over the process or the timing or the people with whom we would travel. But, we had a picture of a tiny little girl with big brown eyes who would soon inherit the name that God had planned for her from the beginning of time. Elizabeth SiJie Lise Friesen was coming home.

The information about our girl came to us on October 13th. We anxiously awaited travel information and when it finally came, Mark and I heaved a huge sigh of relief. We would be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family and would leave for China two days later. It all seemed perfect... except for one small thing. On the day after Thanksgiving, we always go downtown Chicago to see the lighting of the tree in Daley Plaza. We would head down in the late afternoon and stand in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, sipping spiced cider from boot shaped mugs and humming Christmas carols in the cool winter air. Mark and I knew that our traditional plans would have to be changed this year. With a trip to the other side of the world impending... and two weeks away from our sweet boys... there was much to do to prepare. We had decided to travel "carry on only" and needed to cram 14 days worth of clothes and various other items into our bags. And, we needed to hold our kids. The thought of being away from them was overwhelming to us...

So, we sat down to explain to the boys (then ages 6, 7, and 2) the plans for the trip. We had no way to foresee what would happen next. Noah spoke first.

"So, we are not going to the city?" he asked.

"No Buddy, we cannot go. We have to get ready for the trip."

"But, it is our TRADITION..." he continued.

And then came the tears. One boy. Then two. Then, watching his big brothers, Josiah joined on in.

Mark and I were stunned. We knew our traditions were important to us but neither of us understood the meaning they had come to hold for our children. Now, some of those tears came from their feelings about our departure... but some of those tears were because we were changing our plans. Noah, now crying hard, tried to explain to us that we would lose our traditions... that they would never again be TRADITIONS if we were unable to see that tree light up in Chicago that year. And there Mark and I sat, overwhelmed ourselves, and unable to do anything about it.

In a stroke of genius, Mark made a declaration that calmed the spirits of our little boys.

"We do not lose our traditions," he began, "unless..." (I held my breath to see what magic would come next...) "unless we skip it next year, too. You cannot lose a tradition in only one year! And we would never miss it next year. It is too important to our family!"

The crying stopped as the boys thought through this new information. Mark and I exchanged brief glances of deep relief and knew we were in the clear. But, we had learned something, too. Those things we do, year after year, they create a structure from which our children learn to hang the details of their lives. It gives them something to look forward to, something to expect and anticipate and use as a tool to process the seasons of their lives. It matters, you see. The little things... the funny sayings... the experiences repeated year after year. It matters.

It is Thanksgiving weekend. My boys are home early from school and Elizabeth is taking a nap. Tomorrow we will gather with family and eat turkey and stuffing and yams and pumpkin pie. We will play a card game around a table and have minutes with grandpa. And then, on Friday we will go the city. We will go and see the tree and we will sip spiced cider from boot shaped mugs. On Saturday, we will drive to Indiana listening to Amy Grant's oldest Christmas CD on our way to the family owned Christmas Tree Farm that we go to every year. We will take a hay ride out to the fields and wander aisle after aisle to find the perfect tree for our house. We will all take a turn cutting it down and will take pictures with the tree and the stump. With it tied to our van, and with our best friends alongside, we will go to Cracker Barrel for dinner together. Tired and full, we will come home then and put our tree in a bucket to be handled on Sunday after church. When we decorate the tree, I will place the first ornament, a Victorian Santa ornament given to me years ago by one of my first grade students. We will talk for a while about who put the angel on the tree last year and this year, it will be someone else's turn. With the tree completely decorated, the kids will lay head first under the tree and look at the lights from the bottom up. By the time they go to bed, Mark and I will be able to sit together in a decorated house and enjoy the beauty of it all.

Today is Wednesday but by Sunday night, all of this will have come to pass. It is our tradition and it matters. What about you? What do you do? What traditions have you set in place for your family that have come to hold warm memories for you? What things would you like to begin to add to this season?

As the holidays begin, it is easy to become overwhelmed by so many things. The economy is a mess and our budgets are tight but the experiences we offer our families do not have to be expensive or huge. Our children are looking for time... for attention... for memories that become what they take with them when they go. Look at these days as a gift... a long weekend given to you to give them what they need. Truth be told, you need it, too. These are the pictures we will hold in our hands when our hair has gone white and our homes are much quieter than they are today. These pictures have no price tag but are worth more than anything we will purchase this year. Priceless minutes that last forever...





Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Christmas Blog 1: Expectations

It's sneaking up on us. A Christmas commercial here, a holiday jingle there. The season is beginning and while I have tried to pretend otherwise, the neon glow pouring out of the Christmas tree displays at every major department store has shaken me from my autumn peacefulness and is building within me the electric hum of holiday stress. So, before it gets the best of me, the best of us, let's take a second to reign it all in and align our focus on the things we want... the things we need... and not those things that have become "shoulds" or "oughts".

There are a lot of pieces of this season that cause us to worry and wonder about our plans and actions but the one that comes first to my mind is expectation. It comes at us from every side; the media demanding that we offer mountains of material goods to children who likely need very little, our families wanting, needing, requesting our time and attention and often calling us out of our homes and onto the road, our children seeking the magic of Christmas all the while being unsure of what that really means, and lastly, our own expectations to provide for our families the lasting memories of family time, of warm scenes filled with the love and hope that are a part of the very core of the season at hand.

It is a lot my friends... it really, really is. Looking at it all can cause the healthiest heart to skip a beat and in many of us begins the building of stress that marrs our annual journey through these days. But, what can we do? How can we break this down into pieces that can easily be handled, one at a time?

Many of you know that Mark and I were privileged to spend 6 years living and working with college students. That experience had a profound effect on our parenting. Each year in August, I would stand in my tiny residence hall apartment and watch mommas say good-bye to their babies. From the outside, those babies may have looked 18 years old, but you and I both know that each of those precious children felt much littler when held in their mother's arms. As those freshman students walked into their college life, behind them trailed memories of sleepless nights, first steps, two-wheeling rides, new shoes, school days, and so much more. We save that all up, don't we? In telling the Nativity story, the Bible says that Mary "treasured up" all these memories about Jesus. Those words make sense to us mommas. We get that. And every year, as college began, I watched hundreds of mothers release their babies into the world... walking away with tears in their eyes and worries on their hearts and prayers on their lips. When they looked at their grown children, they saw babies.... and because I watched.... when I looked at my babies, I saw grown children. Our perspective was changed.

Ask yourself today, "What does my family need from this holiday season?". Don't rush that answer and do not confuse what is needed with what is wanted. On the day that you bring your baby off to college, what holiday memories would you like her to have tucked away? What will matter most to him?

Here is what I know. What I want most for my young family is a season that is fully immersed in truth and love. That has nothing to do with travel or material goods or so many other things that call to us during Christmas every year. My expectation is that we will find moments of peace, that we will claim this season for our family and in doing so, make room for what is most important... a story that is the most true thing I know... a momma and a daddy and a baby that changed the world. If I start here, it becomes easier to see what needs to happen... and what does not.

Several years ago, Mark and I made decided that our holidays needed a make-over. After years of driving and rushing and focusing on goals that were not always ours, we stayed home. I cannot tell you how glorious Christmas has become. Our church holds the Christmas service on the 24th and we always attend that beautiful time of worship. We come home, frost cookies for Santa and go to the Norad website to see where the jolly, old elf has been. We tuck in our babies and finish details for Christmas while watching "It's a Wonderful Lfe" on TV. In the morning, we are greeted, often too early, by the eager faces of our four children who cannot wait to head downstairs to the tree. But, before we open gifts, I load the oven with goodies prepared before church the night before and we gather together in the living room to focus on what we know matters more than anything else. Noah and Benjamin "teach" Josiah and Elizabeth the Christmas story, quoted from Luke 2, using PlayMobile figurines to act it all out. We pray together and begin opening presents. We take our time. We wear our jammies. I drink Christmas coffee out of Christmas mugs and the house smells like egg casserole and cinnamon rolls. When the food is ready, we stop where we are and go to the table to eat. The food is good and cozy and unlike any other breakfast I make all year. The day goes on... assembling toys, laughing together, playing new games. Everyone gets one-on-one time and everyone spends time as a family. We have nowhere to be, nothing to do but be together and play and eat and remember. I make a huge dinner and we usually go to bed early. It is good and it is ours. Sometimes people join us... family members and friends... and we love to share our day with them. We always stress that the relaxed nature of the day is important... our door is open and this is what we do.

It took us years to find what worked... to balance what we do against what we want to give to our kids. But, when looking at the day from the perspective of a momma releasing her baby to college, I feel good about what they will take with them. We struggled with expectations...our own and those of others... but in the end, our Christmas experience has all the elements that we value year-round.

What about you? What expectations do you have for Christmas this year? Are there changes you need to make, encouragements you have to share, ideas that have worked well? In listening to one another maybe we can release the needless stress and find a way to focus on what is really important. In doing so, we may find the joy we hear so much about. That joy is found in a baby and a story that gives us hope. What an important gift to discover!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another Giveaway!!!

Are you excited?? The last giveaway was such a blast, I have been anxious to do it again! So, here we go!

Starting tonight, any comment you leave on a post this week will be your entry. You may enter once a day until Friday and then, I will put all the names in a hat and my precious preschooler will pull one out to find our winner!

So, what am I giving away? : ) That news will come later in the week! Keep reading, start talking and let's spend the week together. I am looking forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blog Rewind: What Good Mommas Do

The Gift of Thursday and What Good Mommas Do
How I love Thursdays! I don't know what your week looks like, but for us, the beginning of each week is always extraordinarily busy! Between shuttling our littlest ones to and from preschool and helping to run our amazing MOMs Group, Monday through Wednesday rush by way too quickly. Oh, but Thursdays... Thursdays are the day we do not have to be anywhere or do anything or rush in any way at all. As the momma of four busy children, the pace of this day is like a heavenly retreat.

I read somewhere that good mommas get up, get dressed and put on their shoes, first thing every day. These mommas are always ready to run out the door and on to the next thing. Being dressed is supposed to get you ready for work and cleaning and accomplishing great things every day. Right now, it is after 10 AM and I am sitting here in my pajamas. I do not want to be a momma who is always ready to run out to the next big thing. I do not want to be a momma who is constantly seeking more work or greater accomplishment. No, I want to be a momma who takes a day, every week, to sit in her jammies with babies on her lap and read a book. I want to look into the sleepy faces of my relaxed little ones and laugh with great abandon. I want to be the momma who can crawl into bed with my children, and share a story or build a fort or play flash light games and not have to worry about my shoes catching on the sheets.

If good mommas have to be ready and dressed every single day, I will embrace being a bad momma and leave my shoes at the door. Today, will look at my children, straight in the face. I will tickle them and play with them and get very little done. For right now, I will let that be okay and remind myself that today is Thursday and it is a gift.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Home from Hearts

Just a quick post today... I am revelling in the memory of three amazing Hearts at Home conferences and while the faces and scenes and stories and laughter and tears of it all swirl around me, sentences become amazingly difficult to form.

For those who came... thank you. For those who are thinking about attending a conference in the future... DO IT. I am grateful, deeply, deeply grateful for the opportunity to speak to thousands of amazing mommas deeply committed to the task at hand. And I am humbled, to my very core, to have had the chance to come alongside speakers (all of whom I respect more than I can say) who have also responded to God's nudging them to share with others at Hearts at Home. It has been an amazing year.

So, if you are new to my blog, welcome! There will be more to read soon. For those of you who have walked me through this year with Hearts, you already know how touched I have been by the experience. In a few days, I will be back at it and happy to share a moment or two from my day to day life. There will be giveaways and conversation and much to share. For today, I am reflecting on God's great plan, His vision for our lives, His gracious release of blessing upon blessing to His dear children who deserve nothing at all. I am grateful and He is GOOD.

Blessings to you all today!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Blog Rewind: Halloween 2007

It's Halloween and we have not yet carved our pumpkin. How is it that these holidays sneak up on us when the candy, costumes and pumpkin paraphernalia have been in stores since the 5th of July? It is true, our lives are too full. With four busy little ones, Mark and I find ourselves running from soccer games to band concerts to play dates, left and right. In addition to the full days of our Friesen Four, Mark and I are also busy with commitments we make months in advance. But, today is Halloween and we have not yet carved our pumpkin. Seems like a sign to me ...

In my deepest Mama heart, I want only to pull my babies close and sit on the couch and read a book. I want to linger over home-cooked meals and listen to the river of words that spill forth from the mouths of the people in this world that I love most. I often wish that I could stop the madness and slow it all down because, in my head, I know all too well that our days with these children are numbered.

Two days ago, we all grabbed rakes and headed outside. The older boys had no school and we were clinging to a day without schedule. Four kids and a mom can make short work of a yard to be raked, so before we knew it the pile was perfect. I made them wait 'til I could grab a camera and then off they ran to jump in their pile of autumn leaves. Truth be told, I missed some pictures because there they were, my four sweet babies, laughing, falling, rolling, playing with great abandon ... and suddenly, my camera seemed wildly unimportant. For just a minute, we DID slow down. For just a minute, all that is most important took center stage and I had time to see my children for who they really are. And as they ran around their backyard, lifetimes of memories streamed behind them and everything was clear. Yes, my days are numbered and they will be grown before I know it and I have to save it up and see it and slow it all down so it doesn't slip away.

Today is Halloween and we have not yet carved our pumpkin. I have no idea if it will get done because I refuse to make a pumpkin more important than Noah, Benjamin, Josiah, or Elizabeth. Today, I want nothing more than to laugh freely with their childhood chuckles, walk slowly as they wander through their day, and store it all up for them ... and for me. Today is Halloween and this momma wants to take the hand of their daddy and follow my children from house to house while autumn leaves rain around them and they giggle and run and do what they do best ... teach me to see what matters most. And that has nothing to do with pumpkins.

Blog Rewinds Begin

When I first became a blogger, it was important to me that the blog was directly connected to my website. So, we found a way to do that and tried it for a good long while. But, the bottom line was that while the website worked great, there were too many problems with the blog and it's connection to my site to keep it there. After months of writing, that blog was dismantled and I started up here at Blogger.

I have loved this site... mainly because it works! But, I wondered what would happen with the blogs I had written already? My IT department (my husband, Mark) was able to copy them all and save them for later and after some thought, I have come up with a solution that will merge my old and new blogs.

From time to time you will find a title that begins with "Blog Rewind". These are writings from my old location, now put here for you to read. I am excited to have everything in one place! The first one will be posted today... and just for the record, our pumpkin is not yet carved this year, either! : ) But, my kids are home from school today and I think we will get to it this afternoon. And, if we don't? No problem for me... my kids are home and the sun is out and we are going to have a great day. I hope you do, too.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Christmas Talks

Perhaps just reading that title causes a bit of stress to enter your peaceful afternoon. Christmas can do that to us, can't it? But, with Halloween coming tomorrow already, the reality of the impending holidays cannot be blinked away.

I used to get overwhelmed by it, too. But, about 5 years ago, Mark and I sat down to think about what was most important to us and to our family in regards to Christmas. Once we had out thoughts clear and communicated, we took a peek at our routines and realized that a problem had appeared. The things that we wanted to offer our family during the Christmas season had little, if anything, to do with the plans in which we regularly participated. Something had to give... and that year it did.

If you could plan your holidays, what would they look like? What do you need from the 6 scant weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas? What is unnecessary? What is missing?

Over the next couple months, I think this topic will come up again on my blog. I would love to hear your thoughts as we process it all together. And, if you are a member of a group that is planning a Christmas tea or dinner or event of any sort and would like a speaker to come and talk about reconnecting to the truth of that season, let me know. A lot of my holiday speaking is booked but some dates are still available and I am running a special on a holiday devotional talk that might be a perfect fit for your group.

The holidays are coming and the time to think about it all is now. Before the rush, before the stress, before the constant playing of Jingle Bell Rock begins. It can be what you want it to be... and it can be what you need it to be. Think of your family and dream a little Christmas dream. This is one of the most important holidays we celebrate.... and it offers great opportunity to help our children see the truth of who He is. What will it look like, for you, this year?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Joy Breaks Through

Last night, I was up to my eyeballs in making dinner and loading the dishwasher when God broke through with a moment of joy. We have had a long couple of weeks. With bills in a careful balance and stress from two mortgages, it seems I am always plowing through the day in an effort to pick up missed stitches and keep us as organized as I can. I can miss a lot with my head down that way... but last night, rinsing a bowl, to add to the the dishwasher already-too-full, I happened to glance out the window.

It was amazing. It is only October and normally we still have our shorts on hand for days that run really warm. But, this year is different already. On Sunday, a storm blew in and a sunny day in the 50s turned quickly into a precursor to winter. The cold stuck. We tried to leave the heat off but by Monday morning, the coolness in the house got the best of us and we nudged our furnace back to life. And then, standing over a steamy sink, I noticed it right before my eyes.

Snow. Lots and lots of snow. It was, truth be told, a mid-December snow falling heavily in our backyard. Flakes as big as snowballs wafting down on a gentle breeze. The darkness of nightfall made the whole thing more gorgeous as the white of the flakes struck a contrast against the navy sky above. It was beautiful and called to be noticed and I stood still, in the kitchen right then, as the beauty and the bounty of it calmed my worried soul.

I know for some that seeing snow fall like that in the midst of an autumn storm would be as unwelcome a thing as weeds in your garden or hair in your soup. But not for me. I love the seasons... the natural rhythm that God sustains and maintains and brings to us in wonder... it is comforting to me and helps me feel a balance to my life that would be lost in a climate without such change. So, there was nothing in me that worried about an early snow or dreaded the shoveling that will come all too soon. My only thought was that it was so... beautiful.

Three of my kids were busy in the house, Benjamin working on a school assignment and Josiah reading a book to Elizabeth. I suddenly realized that they were missing it! I quickly called and they ran to the sliding glass door with shrieks of joy. Grabbing coats, they ran out the door to revel in the short lived snow (and I ran for my camera to catch the moment and share it with you).

Isn't it amazing what joy we can find in watching a child in the snow? The "oh-so-grown-up" thoughts about cold and frustration fall right away when your children are jumping up and down so enthusiastically that you can actually catch a picture of two of them, neither touching the ground!

Suddenly, the dishes didn't matter and I was not at all focused on bills or worries or even fatigue. All that mattered, for that five minutes, was the laughter of my children and the snow on the ground.

It only snowed for a while and none of it stuck at all. With the wind blowing and the kids soaked from the beautiful, heavy flakes, all came inside to warm up and wonder at the gift of it all. Benjamin asked if I would make hot chocolate and I let go of the worry that it might spoil their appetite for dinner. Instead, I pulled the snowman mugs from the back of the cabinet and made three cups of cocoa for my red-cheeked babies.

Tomorrow, they won't remember what we had for dinner last night. They will not be able to recall that the laundry was almost done or that the house was clean. But, they will remember running to play in an unexpected snow and they will remember the warmth of a mug in their cold hands. It didn't take all night and it cost us nothing at all.

Last night, I was up to my eyeballs in too many things, when God broke through with a moment of joy. I got to share that moment with my children and we stored up in our hearts a memory that we easily could have missed. It was just a moment of grace, a time of beauty... but what could be more important that that?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hope Found

It was 1991 and it had been a hard year. I was a young teacher and busy with 24 little first graders in my classroom. They were a good class, the kind you remember for years to come. But, the year had held such heartache for them. Our gym teacher had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of stomach cancer and though we had prayed and prayed for her, she passed away early in the year. I struggled to find words to guide these precious little ones through such real grief so early in their lives. One little girl, who's momma had been expecting a much wanted baby, experienced another wave of grief when the baby suddenly died a month before his due date. There was a weightiness to each day that I had never experienced before that time... and honestly, have not experienced since. Small losses began to hit us hard... caterpillars that went into cocoons and never came out, rained out field trips... it all piled on us as we sought to find the joy in small moments shared together.

It is easy to lose perspective. That year, we did. The loss of our school's beloved gym teacher so early in the year colored our collective experience and my young students asked hard questions about who God really is and where He was in the midst of all this sadness and loss. They asked about prayer and why it sometimes is not answered and as a young teacher, with no children yet of my own, I felt inept as I tried to explain the Yes and No that are both part of an answer.

In some ways, it seemed a bit out of control. And in the midst of such relentless, spiritual questioning, I began to lose my footing and doubt God's compassionate hand working in our lives. There was a hopelessness that took hold in some small part of me... and I will tell you, hopelessness can knock me off balance faster than anything else. Was He really in control?

I was teaching math one afternoon and a mom appeared at the door with a large cardboard box. She motioned me to come speak with her and I headed over, a bit put out about the interruption of our lesson.

Heading out into the hall, she set the box down outside the view of the door, and flipped the top open with great enthusiasm. Inside the box, there were 10 baby ducks. Yellow and fluffy and chirpy they wandered around their cardboard confines, bumping haplessly into one another, falling over and getting back up to do it all again.

She said, "I want to show the kids. Can't we just come in for a minute and show them these baby ducks?"

The ducks were cute and all but honestly, I was in the middle of math. I had a lot to do before the 3:10 bell and I really did not have time for a box of ducks.

Looking up at her, preparing to turn her away, her enthusiasm over this box of birds caused me to reluctantly agree. In she came with her squeaky little friends. The noise from the moving box immediately caught the attention of my students in a way my math lesson never would.

The mom then explained that they lived near a pond and that they had been watching these baby ducks for a long while. Their family had been helping to take care of the ducklings and they were now big enough to share with the class.

My students were barely able to stay in their seats. We began to call them up, one group at a time, to see and pet the tiny, squeaky puffballs in the box. I stood back and watched the faces of my sweet little ones light up with great joy. Chubby fingers petting fuzzy down and giggles coming forth from children who had hurt, lost and questioned far too much.

And as I stood there, fully present in that one moment, it came to me in perfect simplicity. Baby ducks are still being born.

Baby ducks are still being born.

Do you see what that means? God's hand is still working in His world. God was still, and is still, tending with great compassion to the least of these. He is pouring His love and His attention on the whole of creation.

Standing in my classroom that day, I saw with new eyes what my hopelessness had taken from me. We are not alone. If God can care for baby ducks, of course he cares for me. In the midst of that dark year, a glimmer of light broke through and I knew He had never left us at all.

I don't know where you are today. I don't know how you are feeling or what you are struggling with on this sunny Wednesday morning. But, this I DO know. In the midst of a crashing economy and much financial and family stress, God is in control. He has not looked away. We are not alone. The leaves are changing and being colored by the creative imagination of the only Creator. Geese are flying south with His omnipotent hand beneath their earthly wings. The seasons are changing in order and predictability and there is comfort in all these basic things when we see with the eyes we have been given. He is in it all.

It has been a hard season in our family but today, I will look for God's hand all around me... in food on the table and roof overhead, in the tears of my children and their bubbling laughter, in the words of friends and in the silences that heal... He is in it, my dear friends. We are not alone at all. I will set aside fear and doubt and look with the eyes that saw baby ducks so long ago. I choose this today.

So, let's take a collective breath and look outside at all He has done. If God would take the time to delicately color one red leaf, how much more so would he tend to YOU?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nativity Devotional Sets

Several of you have asked about the Christmas devotional set that I had been working on so I thought I would post an update here. The sets are complete and I am so excited about them! I have wanted to write this for many years and now have finally gotten it done. I am selling this set at Hearts at Home but wanted all of you to know about it, too.

Each Nativity Devotional Set comes with a 10 piece, family friendly, Nativity set and a devotional booklet to use with your children during the Christmas holiday. My hope in writing this was to provide a way for parents to help their children to better understand the true meaning of Christmas.

Here is how it works... There are twelve family devotions and each individual reading corresponds to one of the included Nativity pieces. Each time you read a page with your family, you will then put out the piece that you just talked about. By the time you add the Baby Jesus on Christmas morning, your children will know many details about the Christmas story and remember them by looking at each Nativity piece. It is meant to be flexible and can be done on 12 consecutive days in December or spread out throughout the month. It is totally reusable and can be the beginning of a wonderful family tradition.

I am selling the set on my site for 20.00. If you are close to me and would like to pick it up to save shipping, that works great for me! We will sell out of our sets so you may want to place an order soon! The quantity is limited!

Anyway, to those who emailed to ask about them, now you have the scoop! Pass the word! : )

Monday, October 20, 2008


Happy Monday, all!

My mom was in town this past week to attend Grandparent's Day at my boy's school. Last night, Mark and I took advantage of having a built-in babysitter and headed out to the movies. With two houses, we do not often go out so it felt like quite a treat to be off by ourselves. After reviewing the listings at our local theater, we found ourselves reminded how behind we are in cinematic choices. That said, we had heard from several people that Fireproof was worth seeing.

Mark and I both feel strongly that our money, even just "movie ticket money", sends a message to producers about what we enjoy, what we find entertaining, what we are looking for in common culture. We knew going to see this movie fit the criteria in a positive way.

Years ago, Mark's family ran a Christian film library. Back in the day, before VCRs were common to all households, seeing a Christian film took a bit of planning. Churches would order the film from a library such as the one Mark's parents owned, and it would be sent to the church and shown on a projector. Mark has seen all the Christian classics... most of which I could not name... and has his own views on Christian films. Some he loved and still remembers fondly... others less so... but his experience with them is vast.

So in we came, Mark with many thoughts and myself with low expectations but an open mind. We were both blown away. This movie is worth seeing. While it may not be an Oscar nominee come January, the performances were credible and the story hits home. At a time when 50% of all marriages are said to be headed for divorce, it was amazing to be reminded of what is most important to successful marriage. I felt encouraged, humbled, convicted.

This is a hard time for many people... Stress can wreck havoc on our lives and chip away at those things that are most important. Fireproof did not offer easy answers or cookie-cutter prescriptions for sticking together. Instead, it was realistic and gut-wrenching and moving. And it was true.

Find a minute. Trade babysitting with a friend and go see Fireproof. The traier is below. Our theater was packed and word is getting out but movies of faith do not often stay in theaters long. Go and see this movie. It is time well spent. If you have seen it, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Meet the Hearts at Home Book Giveaway Winner!

After spending all of last week together, I thought you might be interested in meeting the winner of our Hearts at Home giveaway. Above, is a picture of Kristie and her husband, Paul. I have asked Kristie to answer a few questions for us and I have posted her answers below. One thing that just amazes me, as I get to know Moms from all over the United States, is that while the lives of many moms may appear so different from our own, we share so many things in common. We all look at the children at our feet or in our laps or running circles around us day and night and see something that cuts to the core of who we are. There is a commonality there that goes way beyond the details. So, enjoy this brief interview with Kristie. You may have fewer children (or maybe more!) but her words rang true for me and I think they will for you, as well.

Here are the questions and Kristie's answers:

How long have you been married?
16 years

How many children do you have?

How old are your kids?
Anna is 13, Katelyn, Micah, Kyle and Daniel are 9, and Kara is 8

What has been your most surprising parenting moment?
Becoming a mother of 6!!

What is your favorite mom moment?
There are so many to pick from! :) What I love the best is being together as a family! I feel very honored that God chose me to be the mother of all these wonderful children. Trying to get one on one time with each child is very difficult, but we do make it happen. Those moments are so special too.

What mommy words of wisdom do you have to share?
Cherish the days when your children are small because they go so fast! Write down cute things the kids do and say because you won't remember all of them! Our kids ask us all the time about things they did when they were little, and I'm so glad I have places to look for that information!

What book did you choose?
I chose the book "Got Teens?" because we are there!

Congratulations, Kristie and let's all look forward to another giveaway sometime in the future!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

And the Winner is...

Are you ready? Are you fired up???

I just came in from outside where I had my oldest boys share the honor of choosing a winner! I had written each name on a small slip of paper. Muliple entries were allowed since you could enter every day. Noah held the bag and Benjamin reached in and chose a name... and that name?

KRISTIE D!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I will contact Kristie and she will choose a book from those published under a Hearts at Home label. I am hoping to get a brief interview with her to publish here, as well.

Thanks again to all who entered and keep stopping back to read and talk together... and to watch for another giveaway!

Have an awesome Saturday!!! I am off to play outside!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Announcement Coming...

Ah... you are checking back in, aren't ya? Don't worry. I have not forgotten. With my kids in school all day, I have not yet had one here to pull a name from a hat. But, I will.

Before we get to that, I just want to thank you. I have had such fun reading your comments and coming up with posts to share. It has been a bit of an extension of the weekend for me and that is a very good thing.

Before we wrap it all up though, there are conferences still coming. If you can make it to a Hearts at Home conference, I really want to encourage you to do so. It is well worth the money and the time with be a gift to both yourself and your family. The conferences that are upcoming right now are:

North Central Regional Conference
Rochester, Minnesota
November 7-8, 2008

National Conference
Normal, Illinois
March 13-14, 2009

I am speaking next month at the Hearts at Home in Rochester and cannot wait to be there! I hope to see you, too! If you are planning on attending that one, drop me a note and let me know. How fun it would be to meet!

Okay, the big announcement is yet to come! Check back later to find who won a free book from Hearts at Home! And, who knows, maybe I will offer a giveaway again sometime soon... I sure had a lot of fun!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

And, on a lighter note....

Last weekend, in Grand Rapids, MI, Hearts at Home showcased the comedic talents of Sally Baucke. She opened with a video that hit home with a lot of the 1700 women who attended. Wanna see?

So, what about you? What happens in your car or minivan that you love? What things drive you CRAZY? : )

This is the last day to enter so be sure to leave your name and comment so that you can have a chance at winning a free Hearts at Home book! Tomorrow I will put all the entries in a hat and pick one of my kids to choose a winner. And after that? I will still be here and we will still chat so be sure to keep checking back!

Have a wonderful afternoon!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Truth of the Matter

Shuffling through my registration papers, I traced a line from the title of the sectional to the room location. Acting without thought, I began to make my way from where I stood on Illinois State University's campus to where I was scheduled to go. I did not know the speaker then... but had heard already many times that if you have a chance to hear Julie Barnhill speak, you have to take it.

A knot grew in the pit of my stomach. It is one thing to hear a well-recommended speaker... It is another thing ENTIRELY if the topic makes you cringe.

I looked down on the paper again. I glanced at the map and wished I was better with directions. Time was ticking away and I knew I would not walk in late. Where was this room? What was it called? Braden... I was looking for Braden. Glancing at room names, now back in the main building, my unfamiliarity with all things ISU was obvious. I was not yet lost but certainly not found and I knew I could not ask the way. Then, they would know...

I had not expected Hearts at Home to be so... well... honest. There was so much laughter, so much joy but I was caught off guard by the fact that people talked about the struggles they had. I had anticipated a lot of sharing about our kids, our successes, our moments of pride. But, this sectional confirmed for me that this was a place about more than all that... not separate from it... but interlinked. The good AND the bad, the beautiful AND the ugly, the moments most proud AND those filled with shame.

I looked down again. The title looked back. "She's Gonna Blow!", it read. And there I stood, just outside the door.

Now, there are no perfect mommas. I know this very well. But I have always wanted to do a good job. I have always wanted to be kind, connected, compassionate. And yet, standing outside of Braden, not knowing what to expect, the reality had hit me full force. In the two years since Mark and I had left Trinity with Noah and Benjamin, our number of children had literally doubled. Our home was too small, my patience was thin and I was juggling the lives of school aged children and babies not yet in school. My frustration with many things had gotten the best of me and sometimes my tone was too strong and my anger too big as I sought to care for our fast-growing brood. I wanted to do better. I wanted to be better. And now, standing outside in the hall, I wondered what people would think if they saw me enter this room? What would my friends, my MOMs Group, my family think if they knew I was going to a sectional about anger?

I stood there for a moment feeling lonely and shameful and small. Surely, this room would hold only a handful of moms who struggled with anger from time to time. Feeling conflicted, I decided that I had come to this conference for help, for support and maybe it could be found on the other side of the door. Grabbing the handle firmly, committed now to the task at hand, I opened the door and could not believe the sight that lay before me.

Braden was not a room. Braden was an AUDITORIUM. It was, in fact, the name of the auditorium that held ALL the mass meetings at Hearts at Home, making the space easily able to hold thousands of women. And, inside, there were hundreds and hundreds of women taking their seats.

I actually, physically stopped then, amazed at what I saw. In even walking through the doors, all these women admitted to having struggled with anger in one way or another. Some had been angry for years... some for a day here and there. But, however it happened that they had come to this place, this sectional, it did not really matter. It mattered that they were here and that they were telling the truth. Sometimes, parenting is HARD. Sometimes, it gets the best of us. Sometimes, we need to admit that we get mad at our kids. For some, seated in that room that day, their anger had turned to rage. Some were just afraid it might. But, what struck me most was that there were so many of us there. And all of a sudden, it became real to me... this is NORMAL.

I love my children with all that is in me to love. I play with them, wrestle with them, read to them, care for them each and every day. I want what is best for them and want to do right by them... but sometimes.... all this closeness and all this love and all this hope and all this planning and working and trying and doing come right up against the unpredictable reality that is child-rearing at it's core. And sometimes, I get mad. Sometimes, I manage that in a way that is good and healthy and sometimes, I find myself regretting my tone, my volume level, my choice of words. And you know what I learned that day in Braden Hall? It happens to you too. And, in letting that truth sink into my soul, healing took place.

There were a lot of people there that day. And Julie spoke such grace and truth to the whole of us. She shared her story and, in doing so, gave us permission to own our stories as well. The room was full of people who are trying to do better. Our kids see that, you know. My kids see that there are more days that I pull them close than days when my voice sends us all in different directions. There are more days of laughter and game playing and working together to cook or bake than days when we fall into bed frustrated and still a little bit mad. More days of laughter, less days of tears. And it is good. Can you see it, too? We are not called to be perfect. What good will that do our children?? No, my friend, we are called to be real. REAL. And in doing so, we help our precious babies to see what life really looks like. In being real, we show our kids what it looks like to fall and get back up, to make a mistake and ask forgiveness, to be sad or angry and find a way to laugh again. That is what they need from us and that is what will impact their every day lives for years and years to come.

Seeing that group of women gathered together on that day impacted me in significant ways. I know what it is like to feel alone but on that day, at Hearts at Home, I realized that I stand in good company with thousands of mommas, just like me. We are all doing the best we can and our kids are blessed by our efforts.

Today, you may comment if you choose, otherwise, just leave your name and maybe your state and, if you would like, the names of your children. And, we will spend this day knowing that the work may be hard but the company is good.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Reflections On Year One--The Blog Tour Continues

I am not sure what I thought it would be... but it might be more honest to say that I had some strong ideas about what it would NOT be. For years, I had been encouraged to attend the National Hearts at Home Conference which is held annually less than two hours from my house. For years, I had politely said no and in my head pictured a small, cute little conference attended by women who were just not me. I knew I had a lot to learn about parenting but, I must admit, I felt like I had to learn it all on my own. It was a lonely place but what choice did I have?

Then, Jill Savage was booked to come and speak at the MOMs Group I have helped to run for almost 10 years. I knew that Hearts at Home was birthed from the vision God had given her to help women professionalize motherhood, but I had no idea how simply meeting her would effect my life. Jill arrived at our group with boxes of books, contagious enthusiasm and a quick smile. We chatted a bit about Mom's Groups, speaking, adoption and parenting. Her passion for Hearts at Home was clear and I knew I would have to check this conference out for myself.

It was perfect timing in my life. I had recently gone from three kids to four and I felt like the juggling of the schedules and the needs of my children was truly consuming me. I booked a couple hotel rooms and corralled three dear friends to head to Hearts for a weekend get-away. I was still unsure so while they all booked the two day option, I booked only one. I looked forward to a dinner out with friends, coffee and facials in the hotel room, but the conference? I didn't know.

I am not sure when I realized how wrong I had been but maybe it began with the multiple phone calls from my friends, already at Hearts, to me... still at home. Maybe I began to see that Hearts at Home was something that would really matter to me when I walked into an auditorium, complete with thousands of seats and a couple of balconies PACKED with women, thousands of women. Maybe I began to realized that this was something I needed when I sat down in one of those balcony seats and Sara Groves' little boys took the stage to introduce their insanely talented momma and then found tears welling up in my eyes as she sang:

"He looks like an angel when he sleeping... There's a little bit of Heaven where he lies..."

Pictures of my boys as babies came quickly to my mind and I could see their sweet, peaceful faces while they rested in their cribs... And I felt suddenly overwhelmed with nostalgia and shocked at the tears that blurred my view of the stage. Sara continued...

He looks like an angel when he's sleeping... But he looks like Charles Bronson when he cries!"

And there I was cheeks wet with tears of remembrance and then, suddenly, laughing out loud at the sight of it... the truth of it... the common truth that I shared right then and there with THOUSANDS of other women... who all were getting it, just like me.

When I talked to Mark that night, I told him that I saw every kind of mom I had ever imagined there... moms in sweats and moms dressed to the nines... moms who were quiet and moms who laughed loudly and with abandon... moms who looked like they could do it all and moms who looked like it had all been done to them. I told my husband that night that the one thing we all had in common was a tiredness that showed around our eyes. They were not something unfamiliar to me... they were me! And from them, the speakers and the moms who came to hear, I would learn and be encouraged and face the reality that is parenting for all of us.

Sometimes I think this is lonely work. Sometimes I find that I hold back what is happening in my life because I am sure no one will understand. I am grateful for a place to be reminded, gently and with great compassion, that the road is hard, that the journey does not happen as the crow flies, and that all of us will fall along the way. Sitting there that night, I suddenly realized that when that happens, I do not have to claw my way up alone. God is using the hands of thousands of women to help me find the way.

That weekend, recharged my batteries in really important ways. My challenge has been to find smaller, regular ways to do that all throughout the year. What about you? What helps you to feel a bit more ready for whatever today will hold? What do you do? Where do you go? What do you EAT? : ) Leave your comments below (I changed the settings so all can comment) and be sure to leave your name. Your comment is your entry for today!

Next post... a glimpse into the sectional that eased my weary soul...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

It's a Hearts at Home Blog Tour!

Hey! You're here! Welcome to one stop on the Hearts at Home Blog Tour! Hearts at Home has just completed another conference and we had a blast in Grand Rapids, MI! Throughout this week, I will share with you some of what we saw and heard. Overall, I am just so grateful for the women who came and for God's hand in it all.

Now that I am home, I am going to do something new on the blog. As a part of the tour, I am sponsoring a giveaway and you may be the winner! All you have to do to enter is stop by and leave a comment or question and that will count as your official entry for a free Hearts at Home book! With the economy struggling, we can all get excited about something for FREE, right? You can enter once a day and I will announce the winner, from a random drawing, on Friday.

Ready? To get us started on this first day, what is your FAVORITE parenting book (or magazine) and why?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Grand Rapids, Here We Come!

In just two weeks, it will be time for Hearts at Home in Grand Rapids, MI. I am getting so excited about the weekend and the opportunity to speak with many moms about the things that matter most.

If you have never attended a Hearts at Home conference, I really want to encourage you to find a way to attend one of the three conferences they offer every year. In October, the conference is in Grand Rapids, MI. In November, it will be in Rochester, MN and in March the National Conference will be held in Bloomington/Normal, IL.

Years ago, a friend encouraged me to attend a Hearts conference and for reasons I cannot explain, I declined to go. Year after year, I politely said no and had absolutely no idea what I was missing. About four years ago, I grabbed three friends and we booked a hotel near the National Conference. We didn't know what to expect but if nothing else, we would enjoy each other's company and have some time away. What we found was a glorious surprise!

We sat in a room with THOUSANDS of other people who knew what we were going through. We walked from sectional to sectional surrounded by women who showed us clearly that there are many ways to go about this "momming" that we do everyday. We laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed and found ourselves encouraged and strengthened and blessed by the many voices who shared ideas and truths about parenting. The weekend was run smoothly, professionally and with such attention to detail that we felt personally tended to even in a room with thousands of other moms. We were in the right place and we were SOLD.

Years have gone by and I am humbled to have been added to the speaker list for Hearts at Home. The place that offered me vision for the most important work I will ever do has given me the chance to share that vision and have it stretched by the voices of the many moms who come and share their stories. It is an amazing gift, truth be told, and I cannot wait for October 3-4 when the Great Lakes Regional Conference will be held in Grand Rapids.

So, what are you doing October 3? Do you need a breath of fresh air, a renewed look at the importance of your work as a mom? Do you need to laugh out loud, shed a tear, think a bit, and come away with many new ideas to help you do what matters most? I know it can be hard to get away but this is not time you will come to regret. This is time for YOU. It is needed and it is now.

Join us in Grand Rapids. You will be glad you came.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How it Happened for Us--September 11, 2001

Noah was four. Benjamin was almost three. I had MOMs Group that morning and was trying desperately to get ready for the opening meeting of our season. The boys were watching Blue's Clues and I was trying to run a brush through my tangled tresses while answering the phone ringing with requests from freshman college students for keys and ideas and notes about classes. We were living at Trinity then, our family of four, as residence directors of South Hall.

I was later than I should have been and needed to get to church. I almost didn't answer the phone but thinking better of ignoring a call, I grabbed it and ran to the back to find shoes for my day. It was Mark.

"Is the TV on?" he asked.

"The boys are watching Blue's Clues..."
He said, "Nadia, we have been attacked. You have to turn on the news. Something bad is happening."

I don't remember hanging up but I remember turning the channel and looking at my boys... those little blond heads... those bright, wide eyes. I saw it then. So did they. The look on Diane Sawyer's face. The tone of Peter Jennings voice. The buildings. The airplanes. We stood still, the three of us and I suddenly thought that I needed to protect my boys.

I took them by the hands and led them their toys. I turned off the sound on the TV and read through the captions instead. I tried to process it all, tried to think, tried to figure out what you do when this happens. I had no idea.

Working on a college campus is a complicated thing. I had a responsibility that morning to my babies playing with blocks and to the 250 freshmen students who lived in my building. We did not have cable and they were in class. Somehow they would have to be told what had happened to their country and without knowing exactly what to say, I typed a sign that we would hang in the building to help them to know that something had changed... that something had happened... that what we thought we were, where we thought we lived, how safe we felt had all become something incredibly different. I did not save that document on my computer. I wish I would have. I know that I typed something about a terrorist attack in New York. I know that I tried to be calm and clear and follow Peter Jennings lead of giving only the information we actually knew. It suddenly felt like we knew nothing at all.

After posting the signs on every door in South Hall, I left quickly for church and the MOMs Group I run. Our opening morning. The boys were uncharacteristically quiet on the drive and I put the radio on only in the front of our truck. As I drove, a building fell. On the radio, they announced that several other airplanes were still "missing" and that they had no idea what to expect. I called Mark from the truck. He works downtown Chicago in a building that is part of our skyline.

"Come home." I said.

He told me that he was not sure he would be allowed to leave and I pleaded with him explaining that he really might not be safe. He talked about job security. He could not see the TV. He had NO idea what it looked like. The video was very motivating.

"If they fire you for leaving on a day like today, so be it. COME HOME."

He agreed and made plans to leave the city.

By the time I got to MOMs Group, the second building had fallen. Into church came moms, at least three with multiples, juggling their children and questioning the day. We had quads, triplets and twins in the nursery, tired mommas drinking coffee and a ministry to run.

Auto-pilot. Two and a half hours of auto-pilot. Welcome. Pray. Wonder. Chat. Wonder. Worry. Chat. Pray.

My cell phone rang as the moms were leaving. Mark was out of the city. We live 30 minutes from downtown and the commute had taken him nearly three hours. By the time he had gotten to the train to come home there were thousands of people downtown, crammed underground, fleeing Chicago in hopes of getting safely home to their families. He said it was scary seeing so many people in one place... knowing we could be attacked and thinking how they sat, waiting for trains, like sitting ducks.

We met at a restaurant and I don't know if I have ever been so happy to see him. Our city was never hit... but thinking that it might be was overwhelming to me. I could not begin to imagine the loss and heartbreak New York was experiencing... they were people just like me... but I had my husband home. I had him in front of me having a burger and thinking through this experience in discussion and exchanged glances and deep silences filled with words we would never be able to say.

By the time I got back to campus, the students were absorbing the news and were overflowing with questions and worries and feelings none of us knew how to process. The other residence directors and I met together quickly while Mark kept the boys away from any media sources. We had to do something but what do you do? No RD training that we had ever gotten had prepared us for helping the students to understand a terrorist attack on our country. We thought through the possible needs and planned to offer a live feed of the president's address that evening available in the college chapel. We called therapists, pastors and history professors to be on hand that night to meet the students where they were.

After the president spoke, we let the students ask questions and I remember trying to answer them... knowing almost nothing myself. Everything about that day was outside my comfort zone. After the gathering, Mark and I sat in our South Hall apartment while students met with someone who could help them more than we could. Some were in prayer groups. Some were with therapists. Some were with pastors. Some were pondering the historical pieces with professors who could shed light on what this all might mean. I sat stunned. Then, there was a student at the door... she was weeping. She came in.

I knew this young woman well and loved her positive outlook and example to students. It was so early in the year that there were more students we DID NOT know than those we did. But this one, I knew. She rushed into my apartment and sat on the couch. She cried and we waited for feelings to flow to thoughts to flow to words. I cried too.

"I don't know what's wrong with me... " she began, "but I just keep thinking about how sad I am for THEM... for the terrorists who were SO LOST that they would participate in such total evil."

Tears again.

We talked for a while about how she felt bad about feeling bad for them... about how her friends did not understand... about how there is no way to know how we will feel about something like this because we never saw it coming and have no way yet to process it at all.

We cried and prayed and then, with fewer tears, she left the calm of our apartment for the chaos of the residence hall. Mark and I talked about how hard it was for them... for the students who had just graduated from high school, just left for college, just been handed their world, only to find it laying in pieces at their flip-flopped feet.

Over time, the words ran out. The campus quieted. Around midnight, we closed our apartment door. And that was it... the end of the day.

For weeks after that day, I begged Mark to stay home again. I did not know how I would ever trust him to go back to the city. If they got New York, they could get Chicago, too. For months I could not go to the city I love so well.... and when I did, I got teary just thinking about the what ifs...

Most people have memories of that time in their lives. We have something more concrete. Because Mark shot video of all campus happenings throughout each school year, we have video taken on campus on September 10. That night we had run a program for roommates to get to know on another better. "Something to Chew On" was a laugh-out-loud list of questions intended to spark conversation between women who were just getting to know each other as friends. The students had come in pajamas and giggled like school girls and eaten cookies with hot chocolate just 12 hours before the whole world changed. It is strange to watch it now... knowing what the morning would bring, knowing what would follow on Mark's videotape next. A presidential address. Prayer groups. Professors discussing. Students embracing. September 11, 2001 in the lower right corner of the shot.

It has been seven years. My boys, now 11.5 and almost 10 still remember that morning. They called it "the day the airplanes knocked over the buildings" for years, though they now know what it all really was. Our lives are different than they were then and I cannot claim they are not. For months following September 11 people said that if we changed anything about our day to day lives, the terrorists won. Such a strange request... to NOT change after having been through such a significant experience. I am changed. Maybe this is their victory but maybe, just maybe, it is mine.

Since September 11:

-I never take my skyline for granted. I love my city deeper and better than ever before and pray for those who lost loved ones in New York every time I drive into Chicago. I am raising my kids to know that we are exceedingly blessed to live where we live and love the city we call home.

-I value my family in a way I never knew to value them before. Finding out that the world can change first thing in the morning on a clear September day gave me perspective that makes me hug them tighter and hold them longer than I might have otherwise done.

-I understand bravery and sacrifice in a way that I never did before. How does a fire fighter rush into a building that will surely fall? How do you help when you know it may cost you everything? Sacrifice no longer means writing a check to help feed the hungry. It means giving it all. Offering it all. And I still stand AMAZED at those who did just that on the morning of 9/11.

-I know now that I cannot shelter my kids in the way I may have thought necessary before. Instead, I have to teach them... to see, to think, to feel, to learn and to build bridges... and yes, to be careful. Sheltering is nice but preparing is essential. I am careful in how this happens but I am also careful to be sure that it does.

Since September 11, truth be told, I am sometimes fearful, sometimes worried, sometimes unsure about what is happening in this world. But, hope is built as I see life go forward, as I watch my children grow up, as I enjoy a clear day in Chicago. We, as a country, were not destroyed. We did not become something dark and sad and broken. We, as a country, as a family, moved on to what was new for us. A new way to live and to love and to trust and to grow. There is hope in that. Can you see it, too?

Seven years have gone by. It is hard to believe. The names are being read. The president is on the White House lawn. We all promise to remember and in doing so, honor the lives of those who were lost on that dark day. And as I sit here now, the faces of so many beloved students flash through my mind... those who walked with us as we found a path we never knew we would need... All of us, the students, MOMs Group, my two blond babies now grown taller, we all are connected in a way that is deeper and more profound than we otherwise would have felt. I am grateful for that because in my confusion and sadness and loss and anger, I did not walk alone. We did not walk alone. And in that small but powerful way, the victory, the blessing, is ours.
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