Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Mess


As I sit here in the sun, I am surrounded by the trappings of it all. Boxes half-empty.  Bags pulled from the attic.  Tiny tufts of pink insulation that traveled down and lie lifeless on the floor.  The tree is up and lights are strung and the mounds of decorations are ready to be placed.  I know it will all  look lovely but for now it is just a mess.

Oddly though, nothing in this mess has a thing to do with Christmas.  Except... possibly... the mess itself.  Because the truth is that a stable is an awfully messy place to birth your baby boy.  And Mary and Joseph's lives... oh, their young and faithful lives... quickly became a mess, as well.  When I spend these minutes thinking about it all... I realize perhaps I have misunderstood faith in more ways than one.  Because sometimes we think that being faithful will make our lives organized, shiny and neat.  That the right of it will clear the wrong of the world.  And yet, The One we seek to be faithful to came into the world in a way that created chaos in His loving parent's lives.

They were faithful and God still led them into a situation beyond what they could comprehend.

They were faithful and God still called them to do a job they felt inadequate to do.

They were faithful and God still allowed them to feel judged by the world around them.

They were faithful...

It had to feel like a mess.  A holy, purposeful, blessed and confusing mess.

And yet, all they had to do was trust. Trust and walk.  Because some messes are not so easily cleaned.  And some cannot and should not be cleaned at all.

So Mary and Joseph settled into their mess and embraced their boy and did what felt impossible to them.  They raised The One who would save us all.  They wiped His tears and met His needs until He grew into who He always was... The One who would wipe my tears, and yours... and meet my needs, and yours...

I think there is nothing neat about faith.  It is, instead, a willingness to trust that even in the chaos, we are not alone.  It is, instead, trusting that somehow His Hand will uncover the lovely beneath.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Carpooling and Surprised by Grace


Sometimes, I am still surprised.  I know that people say that the world is cruel place, that we have to be careful, that we should not go off trusting people willy-nilly.  And so sometimes, I am surprised to find that much of this distrust is unnecessary and much of it is false.

Noah started high school this year and made the soccer team as well.  Our days and nights are full and carefully planned.  There are games and practices and activities and things that draw his attention and ours.  And while all of this is shiny and new, the lives of our other three children are brimming over with things that are new to them.  One is learning to read on a brand new level.  Another is finding the balance needed when homework increases and friends abound.  Another is juggling middle school demands with academic expectations and all of it is important to them... and to us.

As we planned for fall, it became evident that we could not be at everything for everyone.  A tricky thing for us since we have tried, thus far, to be present at those things our kids take on.  So, we jumped into a car-pool and  Noah found himself driving to and from games with 4 of his buddies and one of their folks.  In this group, we take our turn.  Now, truth be told, I was thrilled that we could find a group that was willing to share this load with us.  The decision, at the outset, was practical and good.  So, imagine my surprise when it became far more than that.

Imagine my surprise when a mom comments on my son's character in a way that brings grateful tears to my momma-eyes.  Imagine my surprise when it is my day to drive carpool and another mom offers to take my little ones so they do not have to spend so much time in the van.  Imagine my surprise when being present at a game will keep me from picking up another child from school and yet another mom steps up and offers her home for him to hang out in until one of us can pick him up.  Imagine...

The list can go on and on and I find myself humbled and grateful to be so regularly surprised.

Sometimes, I think we allow ourselves to feel all alone in the world.  Sometimes, we lock our doors and peer out the windows assuming that what is found on the other side is dark and scary and bad.  We assume that those who draw close are planning to take from us in some way and we allow this fear to push us away from reaching out.  And maybe, we have been hurt.  Maybe, you have found that there are those who do not seek to help, who do not speak words of encouragement, who are hard or selfish or mean...

But, here is what I am learning this year... I am learning that what I expect has a lot to do with what I see.  And I am learning that there are good people around me who help because they choose to help.  And I am learning that being near them makes me expect more from myself... makes me want to offer more to others... makes me navel-gaze a little less and look around to see what I can offer to those who are sitting beside me.    Because the truth is, there is a lot of good out there... but we have a part to play as well.

Last week, I found myself across the table from a dear, old friend.  She listened as I told about my work as a speaker and a writer.  After a few minutes, she leaned back and said, "I can totally see you doing this.  You have always been able to talk to a crowd and communicate well."  She went on to reflect on things she has seen in me over many years of friendship.  Her kind words washed over me and, all over again, I was lost in the wonder of kindness.  I was reminded how it matters what we do.  I was reminded that it matters what we say.  And I was reminded, deeply, that the work we do as mommas can leave us hungry for such affirmation.

So today, let's look around a bit.  Let's look at those around us in a brand new way and let God nudge us in the way we should go.  Let's be open to lending a hand, offering a compliment, and being a wave of needed grace in the life of someone nearby.  Because the world is what we make of it... and finding a way to connect to others and allow them to do the same makes it an awfully sweet place to be.  We have the chance, today, to be the hands and voice of God to the people He dearly loves.

It's strange to me to think that those who have taught me these lessons just might read this blog.  I think they will wonder why their kindness strikes me... it seems to be so much a part of how they are wired.  So, if that is you, just know this... Kindness matters and for all your gentle words and times of conversation, for all your offers of help and time spent driving, for all you are teaching me and for all you offer my boy, thank you.  Thank you. It is in the ordinary living of life in community that I am reminded of the richness of grace.

Blessings on your day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Blog Rewind: How It Happened For Us



:::Each year, I post our experiences from September 11.  This is the day, as I remember it, ten years ago:::


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 Christian College 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 to 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 helped to run. It was 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 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 ten years. My boys, now 14 and almost 13 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?

Ten 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. God granted us community.  He spoke in human voices.  He reached out through hands that were cloaked in flesh and blood. Through friends and family and acquaintances and community, God granted comfort to us in our grief.  No, we were not then and are not now alone.  And in that small but powerful way, the victory, the blessing, is ours.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bittersweet Beginnings


I am not sure how it happened but somewhere along the way, I realized that beginning a new school year causes me to look at my children in a way that trumps other touchstones, including their birthdays.  To launch from the lazy, hazy days of summer into a brand new grade, causes this momma to stand still a moment and watch.  And truth be told, that watching often happens from behind unfallen tears.  Beautiful days of bittersweet, it seems...

Yes, we are back to school.  Summer has officially closed and lunchboxes are packed and new schedules litter my dining room table.   My four babies are off to brand new worlds and brand new teachers and almost overnight, they each are growing up.

Elizabeth began second grade and while we know the teacher well (all the boys had her as too), it will be a different walk for our sweet girl.  She will learn to love reading in that room and will make new friends and all of it makes me realize how big she has become.  Our baby girl is learning to do so many new things.

Josiah started third grade and this year always holds a weight for me.  It is a year of transition, a year of development and I know that the sweet, snuggly boy who has been right by my side for his whole life is beginning a new journey of independence.  So much happens in this year... the last year of the younger grades... And to make the transition even more powerful, the first day of school was also Josiah's 9th birthday. I still have him and miss him nonetheless.

Benjamin began 7th grade and his first year of middle school without Noah nearby.  This holds blessings for him but is a strange thought, too.  He will play soccer without Noah, run cross-country without Noah, start track, try out for the play and do so many things that they did side by side last year.  His (and our) feelings are mixed.  It is is nice to have your own space but it sure was amazing to see them doing so many amazing things together.

And then... perhaps the biggest transition of all... Noah started his freshman year.  I am quite sure that no birthday he has ever celebrated has grown him so quickly as walking through the high school doors.  He is playing soccer for his school and taking amazing classes and all of it makes me smile and swell with pride. He talks with us about history and college and teammates and friends and lessons and... well... my first born baby is really, really growing up.

Now the house has fallen quiet and the dog and I wait for the end of each day when they all come home and we collapse together at the dinner table to share our stories and experiences and questions together.  And much like you, I find my quiet is haunted with happy memories of summer and childhood and sprinklers and stories that make me smile with a lump in my throat.  Because all that they are and were swirls here in the silence... all that I know of my four sweet kids is real and present and treasured today.  And as the new school year begins, we will find ourselves discovering new things and my babies will keep growing and I will keep wondering where all the time has gone.

Maybe that is a little bitter-sweet.  But my eyes are on the latter...

May you sense the sweet today.

Blessings on your day.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Blog Rewind(ish): 28

***Today marks the 28th anniversary of the day I became a Christian. That day, in 1983, I made a decision that would change my life. I wanted to share some thoughts about that with you here today. Please read on. ***


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.


"Way down in Crown Point, in Indiana, there is a camp that is the champ of all we know...
It's what we're here for, we're hear to cheer for, the greatest place to learn and play and pray and grow..."

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...

"Everybody needs a little help to get their life together
(And you're no exception)
Everybody needs another hand that they can hold onto.
Everybody needs a little help to get their life together
And I want to give it to you."

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 28 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 28 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.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What's Up With the Blog?

Ahh, how patient you've been! I have heard from many of you over the past several months, wondering where I have been and what has become of the blog. Thank you for your emails. I always love hearing from you and am eager to tell you what is happening around here.

As many of you know, I am the busy mom to four children and love my work with them. The end of the school year held a lot of excitement and a lot of fullness for our family. My oldest graduated from 8th grade in June and we all found ourselves wrapped up in that amazing transition. Throughout the spring and early summer, all the children were involved in sports and games and life was very full. Good, just full.

While my attention and time was turned to my four kiddos, I was also working hard on a book project that I have wanted to complete for some time. Many of you have heard about the Sticks! program in your churches or on this site and it was time to get that book proposal completed. So, I dug my toes in here and worked on completing the proposal in a way that actually felt... complete. Once that was finally done, I was able to pass that work on to a team of folks who are reviewing it. I would love to say that it was on its way to becoming a book. (I would really LOVE to say that!) For now, I know it is being reviewed. When I hear more, I will pass the word. I am thrilled though to have gotten this far in the process and am eager to see this book project through. Having spoken on the Sticks! program for years, I am always amazed at the response. I have gotten so much positive feedback from all of you who have tried it and then let me know how it went. It is my strongest desire to offer encouragement to parents who are looking for a new plan for their families and homes. I am praying that this book might become a tool that is available to those who are looking for that help.

So, the book proposal has been handed off and I am now working on the upcoming speaking season. I have developed a new topic for this year and am eager to start offering that talk soon. As always, if you or anyone you know is looking for a speaker, please go to www.NadiaSwearingen-Friesen.com to check out my topics and then be in touch about what you need this year. Dates book quickly in August, so let's talk soon!

So, what about the blog? With all the hubbub in our family and with all that has happened with the book proposal, the blog was one thing that needed to be set aside. I have loved blogging over the years and am eager to return to this place. I believe there will be some changes but I am excited about diving back in. I hope to offer more giveaways, as well. So, if you have been stopping in, keep your eyes open and soon I will be up and running again.

Now, back to summer we go! Today is August 1 and we have less than a month left to share! What will you do with that time? I have been reminded lately of the importance of spending time... the great importance of finding ourselves face to face with those we love and enjoying that time together. This has nothing to do with money. Nothing to do with vacations. Nothing to do with what we wish we could do and everything to do with what we choose. The full schedule of fall will be upon us soon. Today is August 1. What will you choose to do with the time we have left together?

Thanks for reading again. I would love to hear from you. Leave a post below and let us know what you are doing with these last summer days. How helpful to have new ideas to pursue!

Blessings on your day!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Blog Rewind: Irish Recipes and 'Siah's Story

This morning, I asked my kids if they were ready to eat Irish food today. Noah came alongside me, put his arm around me and smiling said, "How did I get the mom who takes every holiday or tragedy as an opportunity to make me eat food from somewhere else?"

(He is most recently referring to a day of Haitian food--recipes available on the blog--and Canadian food on the night of the Olympic opening ceremonies!)

He gave me a squeeze and I hugged him back.

"Look at it this way, buddy... at least you don't have a chance to be B-O-R-E-D."

"You don't have to spell it, Mom." he replied. "That word is not ACTUALLY a swear."

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you likely already know that the "B" word is not allowed in our house. : ) But, I do love keeping my family on their toes by offering a new meal, every now and then. St. Patrick's Day is the perfect opportunity to expose them to Irish food, something we rarely have in our home.

Last year, I made shepherds pie... and died the mashed potatoes green. We ate cabbage and drank green lemonade and all of it was really fun. This year, we are trying something new. For dinner, we are having Irish stew with colcannon and soda bread. For dessert, we are making homemade shamrock shakes. Want the recipes?

Braised Beef Irish Stew and Colcannon:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (3 pound) beef chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle dark beer
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Calcannon:
3 slices bacon
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
1/4 cup milk, warmed
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Directions

1.Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2.Heat the vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until very hot, and brown the meat in 2 batches, stirring to brown the cubes on all sides. Return all the meat to the Dutch oven, sprinkle with flour, and stir lightly to coat the meat with flour. Stir in onion, carrots, dark beer, bay leaves, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, and cover.
3.Place the Dutch oven into the preheated oven, and cook for 45 minutes; uncover, stir the stew, and cook until the beef is very tender and the liquid is reduced by half, about 45 more minutes.
4.Place the bacon in a large, deep skillet, and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until evenly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon slices on a paper towel-lined plate. Crumble the bacon and set aside.
5.About 30 minutes before the stew is ready, make the colcannon: Place the potatoes into a large pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and allow to steam dry for a minute or two.
6.Place the cabbage into a microwave-safe bowl, and add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and microwave on High for about 2 1/2 minutes; uncover (watch out for steam) and stir the cabbage. Cover and microwave for about 2 1/2 more minutes, until the cabbage is slightly tender but not mushy. Drain excess liquid, and set the cabbage aside, covered.
7.Place the potatoes into a large bowl, and add milk, butter, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Beat the potatoes with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Stir in the cabbage, crumbled bacon, and parsley until well combined.
8.To serve, place a scoop of colcannon onto a plate, make a hollow, and fill with braised beef stew.

Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk

Directions

1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a large baking sheet.
2.In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and margarine. Stir in 1 cup of buttermilk and egg. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into a round and place on prepared baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk; brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an 'X' into the top of the loaf.
3.Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 30 to 50 minutes. You may continue to brush the loaf with the butter mixture while it bakes.

Copycat McDonald’s Shamrock Shake

Ingredients:

•2 cups vanilla ice cream or soy ice cream
•1 1/4 cups 2% low-fat milk or soy milk
•1/4 teaspoon mint extract
•8 drops green food coloring

Directions:

1.Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until smooth.
2.Stop blender to stir with a spoon if necessary to help blend ice cream.
3.Pour into 12-ounce cups and serve each with a straw.

I have a quick story to share with you about the year that Josiah first learned about St. Patrick's Day. He was just 3 years old and attending a local preschool. On March 17th that year, I picked up my sweet boy from school and we started driving toward home. As we drove, 'Siah started talking about how good St. Patrick was.

He said, "Did you know that St. Patrick was a bishop in his church? He was a missionary, too."

"'Siah, that's awesome that you learned so much about St. Patrick today. Sounds like he did some good things." I replied.

'Siah nods his head emphatically and then adds.... "I think he was a leprechaun." :)

Blessings on your day!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tiger Mother? Hmmm....

Mark and I were still awake last night when Nightline did an interview with Amy Chua who has come to fame recently for her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. A review of the book was printed in the New York Times last week.

I am a woman who takes parenting very seriously. I try to be intentional and seek to approach this important work from a place that allows me to see that these four sweet children are gifts and that I have a limited time to help them grow toward the people they are going to become. Sometimes I do okay at that, sometimes I fail miserably. I have to admit, I listened to the interview carefully. The thought of a book that might tell the story of another momma like me will pique my interest every time.

I listened carefully to the stories shared by Ms. Chua, to the questions asked her by JuJu Chan. In short order, I became uncomfortable. There are a lot of ways to approach parenting... a lot of ways that can work... but when Ms. Chua spoke about expecting better hand-made birthday cards from her children, it made me a little sad. But, I needed to keep listening.

A lot of the conversation around Ms. Chua's book focuses on the difference between Asian and Western parenting. There ARE differences between these approaches but the truth is that there are differences between how I parent and how my friends parent and how my family living in and out of this country parent. We all approach this work in a way that is individual and unique. I have hopes and dreams for my family that really might not matter to you. So, I parent to meet those goals. You have your own thoughts about it all and seek to do the same thing.

In addition to this, I carry with me experiences from my own life that inform the decisions I make for my family. There are things I know, things I have lived, things that I feel are important for my children to either understand better or be protected from. You can judge my work here but because you have not lived my experiences, you may misunderstand my motives. We do that a lot to one another... I have done it, too. But in judging the mothering of another, we miss the opportunity to learn from what she is doing. We miss the chance to see a place where our own life with our families can be strengthened, stretched, supplemented by what someone else might know.

The Tiger Mother concept made me uncomfortable, this is the truth. But, as I felt a wall rise in my mind, I was missing a chance to learn something new. In this case, she was FAR more structured in her mothering than I am in mine. While I do not want to torture my children through music rehearsals, I do think that I could approach that in a way that is more "no nonsense" than I currently do. Necessary tasks happen in her home in a way that they do not in mine. Where I experience frustration, she has created an organizational, disciplined approach that works better than our family's way. I can learn from this and yet important point and let some other aspects go.

As we learn about other approaches, we can pick and choose elements that would benefit our families. Releasing our need to judge may allow us to see things in a different light. I can look at the story told by Ms. Chua and release some of it while incorporating other pieces into our life at home. I can respect her work and also remember that there are things that I believe are important to us. I can take her words as a challenge to adjust but remember that raising my kids in a warm environment matters, as well. My kids need to grow and develop into the people they will become, but I know that life is not a checklist of experiences as much as a journey stored-up. As they learn and struggle and mature, I may need to be strict but I also want to be loving. Pieces of Tiger Mothering might enhance what I offer my kids.

That said, I want to remember that it is HARD to grow up. It is hard to learn, to have limited choices, to be less powerful than the grown-ups that are always around. It is hard to become independent, hard to grow in faith, hard to find your way in a world that can be confusing at best. As my four sweet babies walk this path, a part of me wants to hold their feet to the fire and expect them to do well. But, as my four sweet babies walk this path, I also want to open my arms and pull them in close and love on them as they work it through.

In the end, the way I choose to parent my children has an awful lot to do with what I want them to know of the world. I cannot change the struggle they will face. I cannot save them from that pain. Both of these things have a purpose in their lives and keeping them from it essentially keeps them from themselves, from who they will grow to be. But, I can effect how they see it. I can effect how they feel when they find themselves lost and afraid. I can help my children know that when the path is rocky, when life is not what they thought it would be, they have somewhere to go to process that. I can help them to know that, on their very worse day, they do not have to walk alone. I can shower them with love and teach them daily about the The One Who Loves Them Best.

Last night, I learned that I do not want to be a true Tiger Mother, at least not to the extent that Ms. Chua is. That said, I am glad it worked for her and I am thankful for the nuggets of truth tucked into that book that can help me to do a better job. I am not sure what animal I would claim to describe the work I do... though in the end, I think I would rather not be limited by the characteristics of one creature. I would rather think of it terms of what is needful.... what my children need most right now. Today it might be "Teddy Bear", tomorrow it might be "Tiger"... and next week it might be another animal altogether. As a mom to my four, I want the freedom to give them what I believe they need right now. I want to offer structure, opportunity, education and affection. I want to look into their eyes and feel prepared to engage them where they are. Because not only do I love my kids, but I love being their momma, too. I love their sleep faces in the morning, their silly play in the day and their freshly-washed heads at night. I love catching glimpses of their gifts and watching them wrestle their weaknesses. I love the day-to-day walking through this world, the feel of their hands in mine, the knowledge that we do it together.

And I love that they know all of that... that they can go to sleep tonight knowing I am in it with them, for the good and the bad, for the easy and the hard, for the laughter and tears. They do not walk alone.

Hmmm... I guess that explains it best. Today, I choose to be a human momma to my human babies. I choose to be a creature who values and nurtures relationship... not to the exclusion of structure or discipline... but in a way that allows those things to blossom. I choose to discipline and teach my babies with my arm around their shoulders and a tear in both our eyes. Because it is that very thing that sets us apart from so many other creatures.

I have a lot yet left to learn... but I am grateful to have this place to stand. I am momma, hear me roar? Naaaah... Not me.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rambling: God's Unfolding Plan

Sometimes I wish I could see a bigger glimpse of God's great plan.

I wish this when:

-One of my kids begins to struggle with an issue that seems overwhelming... like when we found out one had a hole in his heart or another had sensory integration disorder or another became painfully shy...

-Our finances remain strapped for years and years, caught in an economy that has squashed any sense of monetary security we might have thought we had...

-Job tensions build for my husband and his long and positive work history may end up not meaning nearly as much as someone else's bottom line...

-Things just don't make sense. Sometimes this plays out in ways that are horribly negative and sometimes it shows itself in happy occurrences that make me scratch my head....

Sometimes, I wish I could see a little more of God's big plan... and then, sometimes, just for a minute or an hour or a day or two, I do.

Like when:

-The very thing that has been a struggle for one of my kids becomes an asset in his or her young life...

-Our difficult financial season allows me to look at things that matter far more than nickels and dimes...

-Job insecurity encourages a season of healthy dreaming that might blossom into brand new plans...

-A friendship that may not have made sense is not only a blessing in my life but a chance to be a blessing back...

I have thought about this an awful lot this weekend... how God has plans that reach far beyond what we see right now. I have been reminded that what seems clear today might be pretty foggy down the road. And that very thing might be clear again another day to come. As I think this through there is comfort in knowing that what hurts and what makes me smile might have a point that reaches far beyond where I stand right now.

This weekend, as I watched my kids talk and laugh, as I sat with a friend and her daughter, as I moved in and out of all the familiar places in my small life, I caught grace-filled glimpses of God's Great Hand. This weekend, as I laughed and cried and thought and prayed and hoped and dreamed and wondered and wandered, I was reminded again that there is a purpose to it, even when it is not seen. Even when He is not seen... it is true nonetheless. For me and for you, too.

A rambling post, I know... but maybe you hear my heart.

Blessings on your day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Weary Weekend, A Basement Cleaned

The place was TRASHED. There is no other way to describe it. From one wall to the next, there were toys and pieces of toys literally everywhere. We could not walk through freely and the kids had begun to take over other parts of the house in their search for a place to play. Our basement was out of control.

I am a woman who likes things neat. I think I can handle some clutter and I certainly do not walk around with cleaning products in my pocket but I like my house to be neat. The truth is that each day my four sweet children traipse off to school and I want to feel like there is a place where I can relax and not be overwhelmed by whatever it is they have left behind. And truly, it seems like a reasonable request. Pick up what is yours and I will do the same. If we all do this, the house will be clean, right?

I wish.

Here is the reality...

-My garage is half full of things we have not had time to unpack... in years...

-Some days... okay, most days... my kids' rooms are cleaner than mine. After working to clean common areas, the last thing I want to do is clean another bedroom.

-Keeping the living room, family room and dining room neat often feels like all I can do in a day.

-And in terms of the basement, we gave up. We gave up on that area and it took on a life of it's own. It was using that life to hold us hostage... from having kids over to play or friends over to visit.

So this weekend, we reclaimed our home and dared to dream about what it could become if we managed it instead of the other way around. We all had a three-day weekend and so we chose to hold our kids accountable to their mess and draw a line in the sand. The basement had to get done.

Immediately, we were bombarded with parent-guilt about this crazy use of time. Shouldn't we be doing something fun? Don't we owe our children some fantastic experience with the extra time we all had off? Surely we can't make THEM clean it all?

And then we came to our senses. They made the mess. They did. I never went down those basement stairs and dumped containers of creative toys willy-nilly all over the floor! I never popped some doll's head and arms off or left Legos laying about.

I did, however, work with my husband to choose a house that fit our needs. I did, however, buy said house and move into with my crazy kids. So, when did I decide that it didn't matter what happened to that space? When did we actually give up and allow children to be children and have say over a fifth of our home?

I have no idea when that happened... but it did. Yep, we gave up and gave in and in doing so, taught our children nothing. Nothing about responsibility. Nothing about accountability. Nothing about consequences.

So this weekend, we looked parent-guilt in the face and laughed out-loud. No fun trips. No hours of screen-time. No. Instead, we put on our grown-up pants and sent our kids to the basement to undo what they had done.

I probably should have taken before pics. Except I would never want to show them.

After three days of warning them that The Great Clean-up of 2011 was going to occur (during which no one even thought about getting a head start...), we began on Saturday morning. I think they thought we were kidding. In the past, we have helped them out. In the past, we have done it ourselves. But, it always ended with the basement a mess again. We knew we needed a new plan.

Now, I know you are thinking that either:

1. You would never let your basement become such a mess.

or

2. Your kids wouldn't clean it up.

But please understand, they did not go quietly into this work! No, they fought. They cried. They told us we had no right. They snuck up the stairs to get out of the work. They hid things under furniture. They worked lightly so others would have to work hard and they complained without ceasing for hours on end.

After each of the kids had left the basement way too many times (I need a drink. I need a snack. Elizabeth is not helping. Noah is being bossy. Josiah is playing, not working. Benjamin won't throw anything out.), we told them they would have to stay downstairs til we saw a significant change. This, they did not like.

It was horrible.


More crying. More carrying on. We were weary and frustrated, too.

Then, they had the guts to complain that we were not helping enough. Not a good move. We explained to them that the mess was theirs. That we had helped before. That this happens again and again. And then we went upstairs. The truth is, Mark and I had things to do. I had meals to plan and Mark had plumbing to tend to and the banister was broken and all of it had to be done. So, we left them to their mess and went on to what we had planned.

It was not fun.

By bedtime on Saturday, one third of the basement was like a wonderland of toys. The floor had been found and vacuumed, the dog took up residence in a nice, clear spot. My kids literally rolled around in the space they had cleared and all had smiles on their faces. Utopia... short-lived.

Mark and I called a family meeting. We used the newly cleaned area of the basement to gather our children around and tell them what they didn't want to know.

"You are not done."

We explained that Sunday was the Sabbath and so we would not be working on the basement on Sunday. Now Monday... that was a different tale.

:::Resume wailing and carrying on:::

One even said, "I cannot believe you are doing this to us. I had so looked forward to this weekend!"

(Sometimes, when my kids try to make me feel guilty, I am all the more determined to feel nothing of the sort. )

So Monday morning, they returned. And no one was happy and it was awful and I was tired and I hated the whole of it. Sometimes, being a grown-up is like that. Sometimes, being an adult and being a parent means I have to do what I don't want to do... because it is needful or because it is best. Or both.

We took a break for breakfast and we took a break for lunch. But, somewhere in the midst of it all, I think they began to understand that the basement was going to get clean and that they were going to do it. Somewhere between meals, I think they began to understand that the mess they were cleaning was theirs and that picking it up was not some cruel punishment but instead, a logical consequence. And so they cleaned.

We finally hit a point where we knew adult help would be needed. At that point, Mark and I stepped in to help. After hours and hours of working, there was actually a sense of gratitude when that decision was made and I was aware again that my children learn what I teach them. If everything is easy, if everything is taken care of on their behalf, there is no reason to be thankful because it's just the way it is. But, if they know that work is hard and they know that messes get cleaned and they know that getting it done takes time and effort... they come to appreciate a hand in a whole new way.

By dinner-time last night, our basement was under control. We still have things to work on. But, the space is usable. It is clear. It is inching toward organized. And my kids are THRILLED.

They know now to appreciate the wonder of that space. They remember now the joy in having room to move. And we do, too.

Mark and I have learned that it makes no sense to hand a portion of our home to children without holding them accountable for what will happen in that space. Even as I type that line, I know there will be people who disagree. But, this is our family home and allowing our kids to rule that roost had rendered a portion unusable. For us, that is not okay.

We sat with our kids in that open space and dreamed about what it could become. We dreamed of a day when we could afford a TV for down there, a few simple pieces of furniture. We dreamed about having "teen-space" and "play-space" for all our kids to enjoy. We dreamed together about the things that a bit of neatness buys us... not in pride of ownership but in ways that it might benefit relationship. We talked about having space to entertain friends, room to build Legos with siblings, a place to go and hang out. Because for us, that is what it is all about. I may be a woman who likes things neat, but it is not for neatness sake. I want order because it buys us so many options and affords us so much time... time spent this weekend on cleaning might have been used in other ways...

I don't think this weekend will go down in history as one of my children's best. But, this I know for sure: Last night, I sat upstairs and listened to Noah and Benjamin hanging out in the newly cleaned basement. They had started a game of chess. Noah was coaching his brother on moves that make a difference and extending him lots of grace. They were both laughing and talking about things that brothers talk together about... and it was good. Two boys in their own spot, doing what young boys do.

Two days of cleaning bought us that time... and so many moments like that, to come.

And just like that, it was worth it after all.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Blog Rewind: Dry Erase Markers and Passive Programming

It is a brand new year and yet some of the same old things must be done today.

It's a cleaning day in our house... not my favorite way to spend a morning. Mark is at work and all the kids are busy at school. I am walking, room to room, with a plethora of cleaning supplies and scrubbing bathrooms, bedrooms, hallways and such. I wish I liked it more. I wish I was better at it all. Truth is that it is discipline for me and most of the time I end up feeling a little bitter that I have so much to do. All my kids have chores and all those chores are done every day. But in the end, someone has to scrub it all and that someone is usually me.

Today, as I moved from room to room, I decided it was time for me to think about ways to see this work as an extension of my parenting. While washing a bathroom floor, I found myself thinking about the years we spent as residence directors at Trinity Christian College. It was my job then to come up with ways to extend the education being offered in the classrooms by creating and offering programming for the resident students.

We lived and breathed programming and came to understand that there are many ways to teach students. One way was active... getting them involved in doing something that taught a life lesson that they would need somewhere down the road. The other way was passive... leaving the information behind in places where students would gather in hopes of them finding it themselves. While the latter is less sure, truth be told, it was more effective. When students found themselves in contact with educational material that was not being pushed upon them, they eagerly soaked it up. Is there a lesson there for my parenting? How can I apply passive programming to what I want to offer my children?

In the midst of my cleaning chores, I found myself lost in thought. Grabbing a pack of dry erase markers, I got to work! What do I need my kids to hear from me today? Here is what I did:

We keep a dry erase board near the bedrooms for posting reminders to the kids. Instead of nagging and crabbing at all my sweeties, I can leave the information for them to find. Here is our board today:


All my kids share a bathroom and are in there many times a day. With common culture brewing a sense of entitlement and discontent among the Millennial Generation, I want to find ways to foster positive thinking in the Friesen Four. Here is what is written on the mirror in their bathroom:

(Where do you see God's blessings today?)

Raising a girl is a big responsibility... especially today! It worries me that a whole generation of girls are being encouraged to set aside standards and often disrespect themselves. I want to raise a strong, smart girl who knows that she is beautiful and intelligent. I want her to have a connection to her Creator that leads her to find her own value in Him. Here is what I wrote on the mirror in Elizabeth's room... the very place she stands every day to brush her hair.

(God made you smart and beautiful!)

Mark and I are not exempt from losing our way. Frustrating days and a loud, busy house can lead us to a place where we forget to find value in what's in front of us today. On the mirror in our bathroom, I wrote this:

(You are gonna miss this...)

The downstairs bathroom in our house is used by visitors to our home as well as by our family during active times. Can I remind us that in this place, in this home, we are all deeply loved? Here is what I wrote on the mirror downstairs:

(You are loved in this place...)

My friends, this job of being a wife and mother is big. It can feel overwhelming. We can feel eternally behind or frustrated or stressed. We can lose our way and find ourselves falling short of the goals we set for our time with our kids. But, we must remember this: Powerful moments in mothering our babies are found in the minutiae of our ordinary days. It is the truth we pass to our children. It is the minute we spend with a child on our lap. It is the reminder, again, that they are loved and valuable and seen. It is the tiny things we do that pour into the hearts of our babies every, single day. It matters. All of it matters to them.

What can you do today? What tiny thing can you offer to those you love best that can help them to learn what you know matters most? It doesn't have to be something you say. What can you give them today?

Blessings on your day.
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