Thursday, November 26, 2009
It’s easy to get caught up in the big things. Big plans. Big changes. Big vacations. Big, big, big. Sometimes, when I am lost in the planning or dreaming of things that are far outside my reach, I miss it. The striving and pushing forward for whatever might come next hides what is happening right now. But not today. I don’t want to miss it today. I need to stand still and look around at the blessings all around me. Blessings that are, not blessings that could be. The wonder of the ordinary right before my eyes.
Here is some of what I see…
I drove my kids to school yesterday in seven year old van that runs. The same van that 10 days ago sounded like a semi coming down our street. This is certainly something to be thankful for! When we got out at school, my children wore warm winter coats and ran through the rain to get inside. A month ago, we were working and saving and preparing for being sure that winter clothes were close at hand. Noah and I walked into school last and he looked at me and said, “I love my school, Mom.” And I smiled and said I did, too. This school that we so love looked fully impossible just 3 months back. I stayed at school yesterday and bopped in and out of their classrooms where students buzzed with excitement about a long holiday weekend and I saw my children singing and praying and laughing and running and soaking it all right up. And for all of this and so much more, I am grateful…
Last night, we had hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls for dinner. All of us home. All of us together. No games, no distraction, no where to be. It was not a gourmet meal but it was relaxing and we enjoyed its simplicity, just what we needed. Just enough. While we ate, Elizabeth wore a necklace made of noodles and Josiah still had pilgrim clothes on from his celebration at school. After dinner, Benjamin curled in a corner reading a book about a boy adopted from Korea and Noah shot baskets in the rain. And for all of this, and so much more, I am grateful.
Before they went to bed, we gathered in the kitchen and the kids cut bread into cubes for stuffing. Our daily bread in a very real way. While Benjamin arranged the cubes perfectly so that they would all dry evenly, Noah learned to pack brown sugar and Josiah and Elizabeth added spices to homemade pumpkin pie. It will not be a catered meal or a fancy meal but it will be something we all did together… something that they learned to do with Mark and I standing right close by. As I watched my family working together, the house smelled like baking and the kids chattered on and even in its simplicity, it normalcy, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of contentment… a sense that all of this is blessing to us… all of this is enough for us… and honestly, right now, we do not need much more… for all of this and so much more, I am grateful.
Working in the kitchen, fingers in mouths tasting Thanksgiving treats. Laughter bubbling forth over a shared inside joke. Family together with no where to be. Completely, wholly, wonderfully ordinary. Sometimes, its good for me to stop chasing, stand still and look around. What about the next big thing? Today I know full well that THIS is the biggest thing. Driving my kids to school to a school they love. Listening to their words laughing and talking and sharing their day. Making dinner in the kitchen with my husband and our kids. For this and so much more, especially today, I am grateful.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
There is a commercial playing right now that makes me mad. As it plays, a young boy is telling his momma all the things he wants for Christmas. From the looks of things, he starts telling her this during the day, continues through dinner, bath-time and bedtime. His list is endless. In the voice-over, the mom talks lovingly about wanting to give her children everything they want. This certain super store can make this possible! By the end of the commercial, I am saddened and angry again.
How did it come to be that we are encouraged to allow unbridled commercialism in our children? When did it become okay to ask for toys all day long? Why would parents even WANT to try to meet an endless list of material things requested by their child?
Is this what Christmas is really all about? Is this what we want? Is it best for us, our children, our budgets, our futures?
My friends, we need to take a breath and really reconnect to the truth about Christmas. This holiday is not at all about materialism run rampant. This holiday began in love and selflessness and hope. Where can we find these things in the Christmas the networks are broadcasting today?
This year, let's reign it in. Let's gather our sweet little ones around and tell them a love story like no other. Let's remember the hope we have... the hope that was born in a simple way, in a simple place, to simple, faithful folks.
I will be sharing some ideas to help us do just this and would LOVE to hear some of yours. What will you do this year to connect to Christmas?
This year, I want my children to understand that presents are just one part. This year, I want my children to remember that God so loved them... so DEEPLY loved them... that He gave them a gift they will never outgrow. This year, I want to make memories and spend time with the people I love most in this world. And in the end, they may have a few new toys but the connections they have formed to family and faith will mean more to them than anything else.
Let's talk together. What works for you? I look forward to sharing ideas!
Blessings on your day!
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
7. Lots of bowls! : )
Blessings on your day!
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Sunday, November 1, 2009
We have found, at least with our kids, that there is a direct correlation between the level of fussing between my four and the amount of time they spend in front of a screen. We have found, at least with our kids, that having an activity to do together can lead to greater connection. With emotions running high, it was time to reign in our screen time, provide such an activity to help our children find their way.
As you know, our budget is tight. Three years ago, we moved from a townhouse to a home and our townhouse never sold. It has been difficult. It has been trying. It has been CLARIFYING. As we go from day to day, we do not have the ability to seek big ticket items for ourselves or our children. We have come to believe that this clarification might be a good thing... a very good thing.
So, when we started to seek a solution for the bickering in our home, our bank account dictated limits. Wandering through Wal-Mart, the fix became clear. For under $10.00, I came home with months of quiet, cooperative collaboration. What did I find to fit this bill? A puzzle. One thousand tiny pieces of lakeside beauty that will take ages to put together. It is not that we are a puzzle family. It is something we have done from time to time, but certainly not with any regularity. But, there is something about all those pieces, something about a project that we all play a part in producing, something about that peaceful, non-competitive, side-by-side activity that makes a world of difference.
My kids, like yours, do not like to be forced into anything. So, after unpacking the puzzle, I mentioned to Benjamin that I had found a puzzle that I thought would likely be way too hard. : ) That was all the motivation needed and within minutes three of my four (Noah was at a soccer practice...) had dumped the box into the bay window in our living room and were enthusiastically flipping the pieces to right-side-up. They began sorting to find edges and sorting by color and scrutinizing the box to make a plan.
I stood and watched for a few minutes and then wandered off to make dinner. As I cooked, I could hear their sweet voices talking to one another... not just about the puzzle... but about their day... about the deer wandering our yard... about school. Josiah and Elizabeth (ages 7 and 5 respectively) worked on it for a while and then Josiah grabbed a book to read to EB while Benjamin found some pieces that actually fit together.
The peace that had been missing from our home was found. It was not the puzzle that created this peace. No, instead it was the distraction. It was the shared work. It was the chance to remember that we are in it together. And it was good.
The puzzle has been in my bay window for a little over a week. It is not done but it gets some attention every day. In they wander, work for a while, and off they go onto another activity. Sometimes they place pieces alone and sometimes they work as a group. And as it all happens, I watch and smile and have just a few minutes to see the relationship between my children grow in a good and healthy way. They are forming bonds that will outlast me and for these few minutes, their connection to each other makes them smile and giggle and work together. And that makes me happy.
Yesterday was Sunday. We went to church, made Sunday dinner, baked pumpkin bars, warmed cider, raked and burned leaves and enjoyed a day together. My four babies laughed out loud while wrestling the dog in the backyard. Just after we ate, I walked through the living room and saw Josiah and Elizabeth playing a card game on the floor while Noah and Benjamin worked on the puzzle.
"I found one!" Noah exclaimed. "This part of the picture goes together perfectly!"
Standing there watching my kids play peacefully together as the smell of spiced cider and burning leaves swirled around, I knew he was absolutely right. This part of the the picture is perfect.
Blessings on your day.
Some of you know me well and some of you know me only from this blog. I have a couple of revelations to share with you to help you understand my on-again-off-again blogging ways...
1. When I am thinking through something new or struggling with something happening in our full lives, I tend to go a bit quiet for a while to really process whatever is going on around me. It helps me to write and sometimes I can do that with you... and sometimes my processing is so full of bits and pieces that I know my writing about it will make no sense. As a reminder... I am currently in the midst a huge parenting change since all of my children are in school full time. This is not bad. It's just different. I am still finding my way.
2. Sometimes, life gets busy. Last month, we had two house-guests who came to stay for most of the month. This was a good thing for us and I am always grateful for time that my family gets to spend with my mom and my uncle. We made trips to the city, spent time together as a family and, of course, did all of our regular sporting events. It was full. It was good. But, finding time to write was trickier.
3. And lastly (at least for today), I have four children. : ) We have been swamped with school transition, kindergarten homework backpacks, first grade spelling lists, 5th grade field trips and middle school sports. I am not AT ALL complaining... I love every minute of it. But, it has been consuming as of late and I am only now feeling like we are really getting back into the swing of the school year.
So, now begins November and as I sit here today, I have many ideas about upcoming blogs. We have had a weekend of amazing autumn activities and as I write this post my house smells like spiced cider and my yard of burning leaves. I am preparing my recipes for holiday cooking and my speaking schedule for my Christmas talk. And here, on my blog, I begin again.
Thanks for reading with me... for being patient when my posts drift off... for commenting and contacting me with questions and comments. November starts today. New posts are coming. The journey continues.
Come back soon....
Monday, September 28, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
How I love cooler days! The changing of the seasons, from summer into fall, always brings in me a deep desire to bake. Over the past few months, I have begun to realize that taking time to bake is a good thing... but doubling the recipe and freezing some of that bounty is a VERY good thing! This week, when the mood arose, I pulled out our cookbook and decided it was time for pumpkin bread. I love this easy quick bread because I do not have to wait for fruit-on-hand to ripen. Unlike zucchini and banana bread, the ingredients needed are easily kept in the pantry, ready to go. This recipe is one my children's favorites and it doubles nicely. All told, I was able to quickly bake two full sized loaves and 8 mini-loaves of this perfect-for-the-season, spicy bread.
3 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 can of pumpkin (not pie mix)
2/3 cup of water
1 cup of oil (cut to half, adding half applesauce, if desired)
1 cup chopped pecans
Another benefit of doubling the recipe is having plenty to share! This afternoon, I hope to drive over to Trinity and bring some fresh baked bread to students who miss home-cooking! Who do you know who would love a home-made gift today?
Blessings on your day!
Monday, September 21, 2009
As we all sat there, the temperatures cooled and the chatter fell away and we made a point of spending a few minutes being deeply aware of the world around us. A gentle, autumn breeze blew through and the tree frogs sang songs from limb to limb. The smell of herbs, ready for picking, rose from the nearby garden the cheerful chirp of many crickets filled the air.
In the momentary quiet, my mind was brought back to other times when the sound of crickets surrounded me.
I remember being little, maybe 6 or 7, and running through the yards catching lightning bugs. I remember falling onto the grass in our small backyard, looking up at the stars and letting that familiar sound wash over my small self.
I remember working at a Christian camp the summer that I was 20. During a week of younger campers, I sat outside my cabin one night, with my best friend June, talking about how we each saw God. "I think," June mused, "that God is someone you can sit back to back with outside Cabin J..." And when she stopped talking, the crickets took over.
I remember the last August we spent as residence directors at Trinity Christian College. The student leaders had moved back onto campus and the freshmen were going to move in the next day. With the arrival of students, campus always took on a frenetic and full feeling. I remember sitting with colleagues in the lobby of my hall that night. The resident assistants were scattered all over campus praying for the students who were moving in soon. I remember hearing the crickets' song flowing freely through the windows and finding myself acutely aware of the noise and busyness that would arrive with the students, I murmured aloud, " This is the last night we will be able to hear that sound."
And then there was this weekend, temperatures cooling, sleepy children seated close, Josiah's sweet hand rises up touch my arm. Contented sighs. Full bellies. Enchanting flames. And that comforting, familiar chirp.
Sometimes, one small thing can tie all the pieces of my life together in a nice, neat package. One scent, one sight, one sweet sound. Then, all the hardships that may have surrounded that same season fall away and I am left with something I choose to embrace. I wonder what will trigger these memories for my four children. What routines and traditions will bring unity to their life-long stories? The smell of Sunday dinner? The sound of a crackling fire? The feel of a soccer ball hitting their foot? The song of crickets on a cool summer night?
We have no control over what they remember or what will cause those memories to rise and fall in their minds. But, I know what I hope for my kids... I hope that they know what it feels like to be loved. I hope that they know what it means to have parents who choose to be present with them. I hope that when they are grown, a rush of warm memories flow easily back to them in watching a fire rise and fall, feeling the cool breeze brush their faces... and listening to the crickets sing them a song.
Friday, September 18, 2009
My children have a book called The Boy Who Stopped Time. In the story, the boy does not want to go to bed and so he reaches into a clock and stops the pendulum from swinging and then everything around freezes, except the boy. He wanders through his house, his town, examining everything in great detail and eventually returns home desperate for life to move and live and breathe again. He starts the clock and is happy to go off to bed. The story has great draw for my kids... the idea of halting time and landing a later bedtime is a dream come true! I like the book as well... though for very different reasons.
Over the past few weeks, my life has changed dramatically. The end of summer always brings a different rhythm. But this year, the end of summer brought far more than a schedule adjustment. This year, when school started, my life as a mother to my four little ones changed completely. For nearly 13 years, I have spent almost every day with someone by my side. I have had a child on my lap, following behind me, knocking at the bathroom door, for well over a decade. I don't say that as complaint. It was a choice. It was a choice to be here, loving on them, reading to them, disciplining them, snuggling them for all these many years. But, a couple of weeks ago, every, single one of my children strapped on a backpack and headed off to school.
I am not sure how to process all of that. I am so right-in-the-middle of it all that I have struggled to find words to share with all of you. Normally, I try to blog about what I know. What I see. But this... this I do NOT know. And what I see is the backs of my sweet babies as they head on into school. The sight is both wonderful and exciting and deeply sad. Not for them you see... but for me.
Is the sadness from the missing? Maybe so... But in another way, the weight of it comes from the marking of the end of one well-loved season. The end of hands-on, all-day mothering. The end of the constant companionship of a little growing person discovering it all in front of me. The end of having really little ones. The end of what I have known and loved for almost 13 years.
Know this... the sadness is okay. I am not crushed. I am not overwhelmed. I have, instead, made space in my life for reflection during this strange time of adjustment. And making that space has been helpful to me... and leads me to a whole new appreciation of the book The Boy Who Stopped Time.
Sometimes, as mommas, we need to find a way to catch our breath, find some quiet and take a look around. Claiming those seconds to step back and really SEE gives us images to recall when the life we are living is chaotic or filled with change. In my head, I see these images today and in them, I gain comfort and perspective.
Noah at 15 months holding tightly to the wall, looking at the couch. Suddenly, he releases his grasp and heads 3 steps to the couch... and learns to walk.
Benjamin at two, pushing a red, plastic chair into the center of the living room. I watch as he climbs onto the top of it, carefully placing his feet on the outer edges of the seat. He lifts his left foot and the chair begins to tip. Quickly he slams his foot back down, rights himself and laughs out loud at the thrill of ALMOST falling.
Josiah at 4 months, cuddled in my arms. He has just finished nursing and is gazing and cooing up at me. His blond hair is all fuzz standing straight up on end and his grin is fully toothless. I remember clearly thinking, "I am happy."
Elizabeth, almost one, sitting on the living room floor. We had been home from China roughly two hours. The boys burst into the house and all my children saw each other for the very first time. Within 5 minutes, they were all laying on the floor cracking each other up. Our family was complete.
Over the past several weeks, I have flipped through images of stopped-time again and again. I have looked at them in great detail and have revelled in the fullness and richness of our shared life. I have been reminded of the importance of the ordinary... the memories we make in our day-to-day life... and how they live longer and in brighter color because they are repeated again and again. And I have come to see that all that is important is not in the past.
This week, I see:
Noah, at twelve and a half, running down the soccer field, dressed in a school uniform. He looks at me, smiles wide, and the sun gleams off the braces on his teeth.
Benjamin, nearly 11, making a face at his little brother during dinner and both of them erupting into giggles that fill the dining room and spread quickly to their siblings.
Josiah, newly 7, making a list of the books he has read this week to turn into his teacher at school. The list is then put carefully into a folder and added to his backpack and he smiles to himself at his preparedness.
Elizabeth, five-years-old, gathering snacks to put in her Kai-Lan lunch box, relishing the organization of it all and the deep feeling of inclusion she feels in finally being old enough to actually go to school.
Stopping time is good. But, I don't want to live in a place where all those images remain stopped. I loved those moments. I loved my babies as babies, as toddlers, as preschoolers and I love them now. I soaked up those minutes and I expect to do nothing less in this new season of life. It looks different. It feels different. It really IS different. But memories are being made in real time today. My children are running and smiling and laughing and we have things to store up right now. This new season of parenting may be unfamiliar but this too, is good.
Today, I will let the clock run but make time and find energy to let myself see this in all it's wonder. The endless job of parenting marches on and I don't want to miss a thing.
Blessings on your day.
Friday, September 11, 2009
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."
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 be safe in the city again. 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 eight years. My boys, now 12.5 and almost 11 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?
Eight years have gone by. It is hard to believe. The names are being read. The president is speaking. 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.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
I remember the room being hot and crowded. It was evening and we had gathered for a concert to be put on by a Christian college band. I remember there were three people in that group... that they could sing... and that I was seated in the front row with my friends Laura and Lisa.
For months before that night, Laura had seen the need for what would soon occur. I did not. I will always be grateful to her for spending a year talking to me, teaching me, leading me toward truth. As a 16 year old girl, my life was about my boyfriend and whatever fun event we could next attend. Laura lived a different life... nicer, kinder, more closely aligned with that which was good... and slowly, as we became friends, she expected the same from me. I knew there was something different about her life but the details of it were lost on me.
At Christmas, 8 months before the night of the concert, Laura gave me a gift. As I pulled back the holiday wrapping paper, I held in my hands something I had never touched before. The book was black and in the lower right hand corner of the cover, embossed in silver, was my name. It was a Bible. A Bible of my very own.
When Laura invited me to go to camp with her that summer, I really had no idea what to expect. I had never been to camp and certainly never a Christian camp but something in me tugged. Something in me knew I needed to go.
I don't honestly remember most of that week. I know that we went swimming and spent time outside. I know there was a couple of cold days... odd for early August. I know there was singing and chapel and a camp ditty that I remember clear as a bell even today.
But, I digress...
Yes, there were camp-y things that week. But in the end, those things meant very little because as I sat in that front row, friends on either side, my life was about to change in a way that would alter everything that I would do or think or hope for from that day on.
The concert was good... and the lyrics were significant. Then came one song, by David Meece, that would hit me hard and clarify for me what true need was... clarify for me what I needed. The chorus went something like this...
As I sat there listening, all these little pieces of my life came together. I understood something about what made Laura's life different from mine. I could see how badly I needed help to pull my life together into something beautiful... usable. But suddenly, I could see how I was fully unable to do that alone. Fully unable to help myself. Fully unable to save myself. Just plain fully unable.
As I listened to that concert, I did not hear the voices of three college-aged men singing a David Meece song from 1978. I heard God. I heard His very voice saying to me... "It's okay. You're a mess. Everybody needs help. I WANT to help you. I can. Let me."
And then, I started to cry. Now, if you know me at all, you know this is not something I am very comfortable with, crying in public. But, it was not a choice, it was a response. It was an overflowing expression of my deepest need; to know my God and to let Him love me. To love Him back. And so I sat, in the front row at a church camp concert, weeping my 16-year-old heart out and getting it for the first time ever.
I became a Christian on August 9, 1983. On that day, I stood up and accepted a gift that God had given to me centuries before I was even born. I am not sure what day in my life could ever be more important than that because all days before and after August 9th have been effected by my choosing Jesus that night and by His unfailing love for me. My wedding. The birth of my children. Everything. The entire direction of my life changed that day and while it has not, in any way, been easy... it has been right.
I have been on this journey of faith, walking with my God, for 26 years. I am humbled by that length of time... humbled by how badly I have needed Jesus during those years... humbled by how loved and tended to I have felt along the way. When I stood that night, tears on my cheeks, and professed aloud what I was learning to believe, I had no idea the change that would come. But, standing here today, I can tell you that the change of direction and the change of habit in my life are NOTHING in comparison to the change of heart. Knowing the Creator of all that is and calling Jesus my friend has offered a peace in the midst of so many violent storms. I have been given a foundation on which to stand when the world around me shakes. And even more importantly... I have hope. I am not alone in these difficult times and I am not abandoned to these troubles. I have hope, my dear friends, that the One who loves me best is at work in ways I cannot see and He will be next to me throughout the times that are too hard. And when all of this life ceases to be... ahhh, then I will know in a brand new way what hope TRULY is. When my days on this earth are done, you will find me in Heaven, where my faith will become sight.
I have been a Christian for 26 years. It has not been easy. It has not been without doubt. But, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and I would not change a thing.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Can you possibly believe that August has begun? As I listen to my children bump around the kitchen making toast and pouring juice, I can sense the stress climbing as I realize that the number of slow and sleepy mornings like this are numbered. There is a part of me that longs for a minute or two of quiet, but I know all too well, that the fall will bring far more than that. Off they will run into the school we love so well and the quiet that streams behind them will fall heavily on my day.
But, ready or not, August has arrived and I am left making lists of things that I want to do and things that I must do in the next several weeks. It looks like this:
I want to:
-go camping one more time
-take the kids downtown
-spend time at the beach
-take the kids to the Chicago Bears Training Camp
-See the new exhibit at the museum where we are members
-relax! : )
I need to:
-finish (read: start) school supply shopping
-find gym shoes sales
-keep on top of speaking engagement correspondence
-complete my new speaking topic outline
-relax! : )
The end of August is always very full for me. My speaking ministry starts up, my leadership training work is busy and my mind is on my babies. There is an excitement that comes with the change of seasons but there is a sadness, too. With a new school year will come so much change, so much growing up in the lives of the little people into whom I pour so much of myself. While this can be an amazing thing to watch, it also reminds me how far we have come... and how quickly it is all just racing by.
So, the sun is out and there will be plenty of time for wallowing in nostalgia soon. Today, I will hook up the sprinkler, take my kids outside and and relish the feel of the sun on our faces. I will call the museum and check the Bears website and instead of counting down the days we left, I will pour into them fully and mark them well.
I am off to take out the hose!
Blessings on your day!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
You ever have one of those days when you really have no idea what you will be making for dinner? Mix that with the tight economic times we are all experiencing and coming up with a tasty meal that your family will eat and that you can afford becomes highly challenging.
I asked for dinner ideas on my facebook page this morning and had a bunch of amazing ideas come in. I wish I could post them all here! I think several of them will make an appearance on another Tasty Tuesday blog post in the future. For today, I needed to find a recipe that would make the most of whatever supplies I had on hand... which were sadly limited. Some of the recipes that were sent in to me include: Chicken Tortilla Soup, Sauteed Shrimp with Lemon, Mozzarella Crusted Tilapia in Lemon Caper Sauce with Ratatouille, French Dip Sandwiches with Oven Fries and Baked Spaghetti. Hungry yet? Of all these amazing ideas, the one I had the most ingredients for is the winner for tonight: Baked Spaghetti. Well... almost... I had to take the recipe that was given to me (Thanks, Lisa!) and tweak it to match what was already in my pantry and fridge. So... here you go! Lisa's dinner tweaked to work for me!
1 (8 ounce) package whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente
2 tablespoons butter OR margarine
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 (24 ounce) cottage cheese
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 (25.75 ounce) jar prepared spaghetti sauce
4 cloves garlic
10 leaves fresh basil
1 (8 ounce) package shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine hot cooked spaghetti with butter; stir until butter melts and coats spaghetti. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese; stir to coat. Arrange spaghetti in an even layer in foil-lined pan. Add a small amount of the pasta sauce, right from the jar. Stir gently. Spread cottage cheese over spaghetti. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Chop garlic and basil. Brown sausage, drain; add pasta sauce, garlic and half the basil, heat until bubbly. Spoon over cheeses. Top with mozzarella cheese and remaining Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil cover and continue baking 15 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle remaining basil on top. Serve with homemade garlic bread* and fresh veggies or salad.
*Not sure how to make garlic bread? Once you make it yourself, you will NEVER buy it again. I am including the recipe that I use but know this... if you are concerned about eating healthy, make a salad! Garlic bread is not really a healthy food. : ) We have tried making it on whole wheat bread but it is not nearly as good. You can try low-cal spreads...but the truth is it is best made with butter. If you eat the final bread sparingly, and are careful with the rest of your meal, it is fine to enjoy this bread. So... here is what I do.
I keep french bread or sub rolls frozen in my deep freeze. When I want good garlic bread, I take out enough frozen bread... no need to defrost. Then,in my food processor, I put:
1 stick of butter (I cut it up into squares)
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 leaves of basil or about 1/2 t of dried basil
A sprinkle or two of powdered garlic or garlic salt
I turn my food processor on until the butter and garlic begin to combine. If you are using fresh basil, the mixture may turn a little green. When you taste it, you will not care that your garlic bread is green... I promise. As the butter softens, I add in a titch of olive oil just to be sure that the whole shebang will be spreadable.
Next, I cut the loaf of bread length-wise and lay it on a baking sheet. I slather the cut side with butter making sure to leave some for the next step. Put this, buttered side up, into a hot oven...400 degrees. The mixture will melt. Leave in about 7 minutes. Take out and flip the loaves over to the other side. Spread remaining garlic butter on the backside of the bread. Put back in the oven for about 4 minutes. Take it out and turn your oven on to broil. Flip the garlic bread back over the cut side. Slide the whole pan into your broiler. Stand there! It will take all of 2 minutes. Burning the garlic bread now would be a tragedy! Watch for any signs that it is browning slightly on top. Take it out and let it cool long enough to be handle-able. Cut into 3 inch slices and enjoy!
So...now I am off to cook. This recipe is quick and easy and my kids enjoy it. I hope you do, too! : )
Monday, July 27, 2009
Over the past year, I have started to read a wide variety of blogs. One thing that has been so interesting to me is following a blog trail... one blog that leads to another that leads to another, and so on... And in doing so, I have landed on a variety of interesting reads.
Perhaps it all began with reading Lysa Terkhurst's blog after hearing her speak at Hearts at Home. Lysa's blog was an extension of her speaking ministry and in that way, I was being encouraged by her written words building on those she'd spoken. I think it was Lysa's blog that led me to Angie's blog. Angie's blog was a new experience for me... raw, painful, faithful and true, I was drawn into the lessons and thoughts she bravely shared after the loss her sweet newborn. Somewhere along the way, I ended up Marla Taviano's blog and was drawn into the day to day living and enthusiasm that she shares regularly. It was Marla's blog that connected me to The Mac's Blog the week that their daughter, Cora, was first diagnosed with cancer. For the first time, I was drawn into someone else's story, not as a memory, but as something currently happening in real time. As I hugged my little ones, they hugged their Cora. As I prayed with my children for dinner, they prayed for healing for their girl. And as I attended a wedding in Nashville, their sweet baby died of cancer only weeks after being diagnosed.
As I read Cora's story, I felt compelled to pray. I prayed for this family, unknown to me personally, as though we were life-long friends. I prayed for healing, for comfort, for peace. I prayed as Cora struggled. I prayed as Cora died. I prayed still today for Cora's parents, Joel and Jess, as they continue to piece together a life that looks nothing like they had expected just 8 months ago.
Blog to blog, connections made. It is all so facinating to me likely because this way of connecting is really pretty new. But, I believe there is value in what is happening this way... value in the world being connected via blogging or facebook or twitter... value in the Kingdom of God being revealed like this. And, at the core, that is what it all feels like to me. A glimpse into the Kingdom that I might not have otherwise seen. A glimpse into the simple, ordinary lives of people just like me... and in willingly taking that glimpse, a bridge is being built. A bridge is being built that helps me to see that Joel and Jess and Lysa and Angie and Marla are an awful lot like me. We have something to share... some ordinary moment, some lesson we have learned, some funny statement or homey recipe or sincere need, that connects us in a way that is very much the way God builds His Kingdom. Because the truth is, I don't know Joel and Jess. I don't know them at all. But, they had a need and I could help. They needed prayer... lots and lots of prayer. They have traveled a road that most of us cannot even begin to imagine and what they need is not another meal or a pat on the back or a sypathetic, spoken cliche. What they need is for someone to cry out for them... pray for them... be WITH them in any way at all... so that they can find strength and be eased from their pain and be comforted by The One who comforts best. I can do that. I want to do that.
I think it was Angie's blog that lead me to MckMama's Blog. Have you heard about it? Oh, my dear friends, there is a family who needs your help. Their baby, Stellan, has an issue with his heart and is very, very ill. With three other children (all very young) at home, MckMama is being airlifted with her husband to a hospital in Boston in hopes of finding some help for their baby Stellan. We cannot make this baby well. But, we know The One who can. Pray with me for this young family and for the doctors who will work with Stellan today.
Every now and then, we can see a little glimpse into what God's Kingdom is coming to be. Every now and then, we look around and see how He has connected us. It may be a new way of connecting and yes, it is very different from meeting over a cup of coffee at Panera... but, it matters. It is why we log onto the internet, why I visit blogs, why you visit here. In some small way, we are sticking out our hands and hoping that someone on the other side reaches out and grabs on tight. In a world that has grown more divided than ever before, the internet can provide a way for us to sit on the porch and wave to our neighbors, though they may be a world away. It's no substitute for java and face-to-face chat, but it does provide a way for us to add on to that. It gives us a way to see something bigger... to meet someone new... to connect in a way that likely could not happen without broadband to tie the knot.
There is something comforting about knowing we are part of something bigger than ourselves. There is something humbling about knowing we can play a part in the life of another. These feelings come from the fact that we are made to be in relationship with one another. We are created to seek connection and to lend a loving hand. Can you see it? If we choose, we can squint our eyes and see a part of the Kingdom we might have missed. It is not more important, or less, than the corner we sit in right now... but it is a part of it nonetheless. As I sit here right now, a baby is being airlifted to Boston. I don't know him at all. But I know his story and I know his need and it is my privilege to pray for Stellan. I hope you will pray with me.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
So much of what happened was little, and standing alone, inconsequential. But, put in a pile, the whole of it was an awful lot. In addition to the general crabbiness that fell on all of us and the impatience that I juggled all day long, I will share some highlights:
-Noah and Benjamin exploded into an argument after a game of INTO (apparently HORSE is too long a word) and Benjamin, nearly 11 years old, stomps off angrily leaving a frustrated Noah behind.
-Shortly thereafter, Benjamin suddenly realizes that it was a swimming lessons day and while he had his suit and his beach towel, he misplaced his goggles. He MUST have his goggles. He searched in absolute vain for goggles that have clearly fallen off the edge of the earth and very nearly made all his siblings late for swimming.
-Elizabeth, having made her sandwich, ignored 3 reminders to clean up her lunch mess and Lexie, our golden doodle, took advantage of the situation and ate an entire package (from Sam's Club) of ham. Three pounds of lunch meat, gone in an instant.
-Josiah, not wanting to complete one of his chores, announces loudly that he doesn't HAVE to do it. He will just not do it. (Mark and I could not have been more surprised to hear this from our most laid-back little one.)
-All the kids spent the afternoon complaining about one thing after another and asking for more screen time. And more snacks. And more activities. And more attention.
-At dinner, a whole glass of sweet tea was spilled everywhere leaving a sticky film across the majority of our dining room.
-At the same dinner, when I asked Mark to please take the children to the library for new books, Josiah announced that daddy should not have to do it since "he does everything".
-In an effort to "help", Elizabeth emptied a tub standing full of water. Hot water. With bubbles in it. The bath I had just poured her.
-There was an insane amount of tattling.
-The children took turns, literally, interrupting my few phone conversations. Each one coming to me individually with different questions, stories, concerns or injuries leaving me fully unable to be on the phone at all.
Ever have a day that leaves you feeling done? A day where it feels like each quarrel, each request, each whine, each complaint literally draws energy out of your very self? Do you ever fall into bed afraid that tomorrow will be more of the same? It happens in our house... does it happen in yours?
This morning, I am weary. But, here is what I know... I woke up this morning and the sun came out. I took a walk with my husband. I heard the birds sing. Josiah woke up and smiled at me. Benjamin and Noah both woke up with books in their hands and stories in their minds. Elizabeth is working hard to start this day differently than yesterday. My children have combed their hair, brushed their teeth and found their shoes. We have eaten waffles and sausage and are ready to start our day. Benjamin has his goggles. No one spilled their orange juice.
Yesterday was not a very good day here. But maybe today will be better. Maybe I will be more patient. Maybe they will bicker less. In that maybe lies a little glimmer of hope. In that maybe I can find a possibility, a chance that today will have more peace and less mess. In that maybe, lies just enough energy for me to pull myself up out of bed and put one foot in front of the other and start. Start today. Start moving. Start parenting. Start loving. Start being.
Sometimes we have a bad day. Maybe today will be better. And the hope tucked inside that 5 letter word is just enough for me.