Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Gift of Faith

I can't believe we are already in December. Kind of like, where did all this snow come from? We are in it, up to our knees, fluffy and white. Last weekend, 17 inches of it blew in, over the horizon, at the sound of 30 mph, all day and night. I looked out my window that Saturday morning, and all I could see was white out. No road, trees, or farm fields.

Being snowed in was all right by me. It's been awhile since we had a MN blizzard. I think the last time I even spoke the word, 'blizzard', was when a popular ice cream franchise had them on sale, last summer. I spent the day, inside, cleaning. The hard floors had collected their own little farm of dust bunnies, with the couch hiding the majority of them. In time, I had clean floors, and a mind that was trying to declutter, in the process of it all. Like piles of mail that needed sorting, so the thoughts in my head needed filing...and discarding.

Our budget was on the top pile of worries, for me. It's Christmas time, meaning extra shopping and gifts for the people in our lives. It's winter, meaning a slower pace, and less income. And it's me, the one who tries to balance it all...did I mention that math is not my best subject? For me, the most useful tool on the internet is online-banking. Without it, I would be completely lost.

In my support group, I shared some of these concerns. Call it a prayer request, because that's what it was. I needed the faith to believe that God would take care of this...take care, of us. My husband, calm person that he is, is not overly concerned. I admire his faith in believing God will provide extra jobs, even though it is winter. I'm thankful that he is so solid and peaceful, when I am at times, a little shaky.

Looking in the months ahead, it doesn't add up. On paper, the bottom line reads 'below zero', and I'm not talking about the temperatures here . Still, a chilly number, however you want to look at it. We've decided that eliminating our giving is not an option. In God's economy, this cannot come out of the equation. Don't ask me how it works this way, but it does. So here I am, more motivated than ever to cut our expenses...and then wait and see.

I am delighted to say God hears our prayers. He is always more than enough. Just days later, a check came in the mail. One that we were not expecting, from a place that we thought we had finished doing business with. I called the company, just to make sure this sizable amount was really ours. It was an overpayment that came back to us, at the perfect time. I said to my husband, holding the check, "This is God at work!" He agreed. I feel undeserving, so much of the time, because I know that all that we have is really His. And yet, I can't contain my excitement at how He works out the details of our lives, giving us just what we need.

The last couple of months, I've been in a study with a mixed group of women, from the local area. I love the fact that we go to different churches, and yet, there is a unity of spirit among us. I'm enjoying the homework, learning more about the God who knows me, inside and out. Isaiah 64:4 says, "Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him."

That verse came alive for me, this week. Some thoughts I've considered: If my bible sits at rest, collecting dust bunnies, does that mean the words inside are dead? If I allow the cares in my head to go stir-crazy, with no place to go, does that mean there is no God of the universe, who won't hear my silent prayers? If I walk alone, in my struggles, how certain can I be that there are others out there, feeling the same way?

We are not alone. We have similar needs. To be loved, to be heard, to have a reason for living. God loves you more than you can imagine. So much, that He came in human form, walked among us for awhile, died for our freedom, and wants to live in our hearts, forever. I know this, but sometimes I forget, get distracted, or selfishly go my own way...for awhile. I'm glad that deep within, there is that whisper of a voice, calling me back.

I sincerely hope, for each one of you, that this will be a Christmas to remember. Maybe it's a hard year, ending with devastation and loss. Or it might be over the top, filled with much joy. For many of us, it can be business as usual, getting caught up in the traditions, the hustle 'n' bustle of the season. Wherever you find yourself this year, I pray that you are one step closer to the heartbeat of the Father. He is not too far away. And He does act on behalf of those who wait for Him.
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

That Time of Year

Looking out the window, the snow continues to remain. I think winter is finally here. Although there's talk of 40 degrees tomorrow, whatever melts will likely freeze by nightfall and be covered with more fluffy precipitation, at some point. Now that Thanksgiving is over, I gave into the kids' reminders of putting up the Christmas tree, and all the rest of the decorations. Our house is now aglow--cozy and warm, with the flicker of corn kernels, set aflame.

Sounds like a good place to camp out for the next 3 or 4 months, doesn't it? I did a lot of hibernating when I was on layoff. Too bad motherhood doesn't have a layoff period*LOL* My job was seasonal, so by the time the holidays rolled around, I was on break...until the next holiday, Valentine's Day, came. Then after everyone got their roses, and we were sure we didn't want to see another flower until spring, we were on break, again, until the end of March. Not a bad deal, if you ask me. So while winter is not my favorite season, it comes close to being so because of the slower pace and time to catch up on indoor projects. Also a good time to go cross-country skiing. I've made some tracks already in our snowy fields. Maybe I'll melt away the 'post-baby belly' after all.

I thought that this year, I wouldn't go Black Friday shopping, with the rest of the world, after how tired I was last year. Who really wants to get up at 3AM and stand in line? I heard that some stores were opening at midnight this year. I was tempted to go, but then sleep seemed more appealing by the time I would need to leave.

Instead, I got myself and our kids, on the road, by 10AM. We went to the mall and endured the crowds, lines, and outbursts of temper by both of my children. The screams, kicking and tears were flowing, quite freely, in one children's clothing store. My daughter, crying, wanted me to buy her boy's PJ's. I didn't care that they were boys, but did she really need another pair of footie jammies? My son was also crying because the snowman jammies he wanted didn't come in the footie style, but rather, in a 2-piece set. And he didn't want to give up the seat in the stroller, back to his sister. I think every person in that store could hear us(it wasn't a big store). But I calmly handed my payment to the gal at the register, not backing down on my position. I no longer sit in judgment of parents with screaming children. At times, I am one of them.

I promised them candy, out of the gumball machines, if they were good. I think they did pretty well, all things considered. We ate lunch in a food court that literally had only one table left. We shared a plate of Japanese food. For 6 bucks, the three of us ate lunch, sitting next to a mom and her daughter--out shopping together, getting some girl time. It was fun to talk to them, and not mind that we were strangers to each other. I was thankful that they let us sit next to them. I'm also thankful(not usually)for 25 cent machines that dispense small tokens of sweet silence!

Here's what I find funny, about Black Friday. They send you a paper that weighs about 3 pounds, chalk full of advertisements. The colorful ads promise good deals in the term of "Door Busters". So that somehow gets us wound up to go out at all hours of the night in order to satisfy our need for this or that item. People line up, shoulder to shoulder, at some places. Later on, the evening news appears, showing video footage of all these people and how bad it was that someone almost got trampled, trying to get through the doors of a toy store when they finally opened up.

Here's the kicker: they call it door busters for a reason. For some of us, just hearing it phrased that way may indirectly cause some of the negative behavior we see, played out in the masses. Maybe words are that powerful. What we see, read, or hear influences us, does it not? Or maybe we're just selfish by nature, and turn into tantrum-bound children, under the right environment. Just ask my kids.

I came home with a few goodies. Ironically, I have to go back up to that mall and make another exchange. I'm not doing well in judging how clothes really fit me, these days. All the jeans have spandex in them, which is great, but sometimes that denim stretches to a point of no longer staying on your bumper!*LOL* I'm glad that my favorite store allows returns on worn merchandise. That's how you know its a quality place to shop--when they can deal with picky customers, like me--then you know they're good.

The holidays are a great time of year. I'm so happy that my kids like Christmas music. Some of you may find it annoying because it seems to play earlier and earlier, with each passing season. But I really like it. It puts me in the right mood and helps me focus on what is important. We only get to sing these songs, once a year, so I'm taking in my full 6 weeks of enjoyment. In addition to the sounds, I love the lights, the smells and scents of burning candles, cookies baking, breads full of spice. It's a celebration that invokes all of the senses. No wonder we feel kind of a let down when its all over. A song I heard, recently, alluded to 'if only it were Christmas, everyday.' That might drive some of us a little nuts, but in my heart, it kind of is that way, for me. Without all the commercial fanfare, of course. Well, ok, maybe a little. Retail therapy?

This time of year, we often see family that is, more or less, not a part of our every day lives. That can be great, but it can also be stressful. I enjoyed Thanksgiving. I was sad that I didn't get to see those who couldn't make it, but overall, it was fun. No pressure to bring gifts, instead, making all the food. That's the busy part. The first Thanksgiving I hosted was an experience. I was pregnant, my mom was battling cancer, and I left half of the gizzards in the tail end of the bird!

I remember being so exhausted, trying to multi-task several dishes, all at once. But I was determined to do it. It would be the first, and only time, I could cook for my mom. She was pretty frail, by then. Our house tends to be on the cool side, so we put her chair right next to the corn stove. My grandpa also brought up his little fireplace heater so she could have extra heat while taking a nap. The table we set was so pretty. Guess I made my grandma proud that day. Maybe she was smiling down on us as we ate together.

Enjoy the time that you have with your loved ones. Make it a good memory to cherish and recall, so that when you have one of those days, you can pull out a picture of a good day, in your mind. Happy holiday season to you all. He is my reason for celebrating because He gave it all, for us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


One of things I enjoy, in raising our kids, is reading Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", over and over again. Such a simple story, decorated with delightful paper mache images. Yet in its simplicity, the book communicates a great message to young and old alike.

Now that we're on the brink of an impending MN winter, I thought it would be fun to share this warm tale from one of our summer adventures. Enjoy!

"Last summer, we raised our first Monarch butterfly. It was a great experience; with a few failed attempts, we eventually succeeded. Adrian was so excited to see the transformation from a tiny little egg, to eating machine, to shiny green cocoon...and then, finally, a butterfly! The
whole process takes about a month. We find the eggs on the Milkweed plant, which is prolific throughout the countryside by our house.

Once inside the jar with holes atop, we watched the changes take place, day by day. To think that a creature with this kind of design, and intricacies, is deemed to have "evolved", seems ridiculous. Is there anything on earth, quite like the metamorphosis of the butterfly? The caterpillars know that they can eat only milkweed(occasionally, dill weed), making them poisonous to predators.

Having eaten just enough, these little wigglers shed their skin(multiple times), and when they are so full that they can hardly move, they hang upside down, turn themselves inside out, and become like "jelly"--inside the chrysalis. Once inside, all the cells and DNA are programmed to transform this colorful caterpillar into the majestic orange, white and black Monarch butterfly. The name means "King of Butterflies"--and we get to watch it all happen, right here in our own home. So cool.

This past July, we raised two butterflies--Adrian and Samantha's "pets". Our first one hatched on a Monday, after we got home from a short vacation. All was going well until she fell inside her jar. Normally, Monarchs hang from their empty shell for about a day, allowing their wings to dry and fully extend. Something was amiss with this butterfly. We took her out and let her sit out in the sun, on one of my flower pots, for a day. Next day still no change. She couldn't fly away and her wings seem kinda droopy.

I did some research and discovered that butterflies can be infected with a parasite called OE(short for Ophryocystis elektroscirrha). It's spread from the spores on the milkweed plant and can infect future generations of butterflies, especially if you don't sterilize your containers after the fact. Not for sure, but it could be a possibility. If this was the case, our butterfly would not learn to fly, no matter how hard she tried.

I read up on how to feed this poor butterfly and how long we could expect her to survive. It could be several days to weeks, depending on how much care she receives. As directed, I got a small piece of sponge and soaked it in sugar water. This little creature sat on my finger and drank from it's little straw(proboscis), right before my very eyes. It was amazing.

Even though this creature may never grace the blue skies above, the benefit is how close we've been able to get to her: to see her eyes, mouth--watch her eat, stroke her velvety wings. That would've never happened if she were fully developed and had flown away. The last two days, our Monarch friend has been sitting on my vase of flowers, in the kitchen window. This morning, she was glued to the screen, gazing outside as if she knew that was where she belonged.

While it was fun to have our little friend inside the house, I would be leaving on a trip in a few days: so out she had to go. I placed her on my flower pot and she remained there, as happy as a grounded
butterfly could be, until I left town.

Guess what? When I came home, 4 days later, I couldn't find our butterfly. I looked around the plant to see if she had expired, but didn't see a trace of her. A few days later, we were outside and we saw a Monarch fly by, like an airplane, doing take offs and landings--bouncing along.

As it glanced by, I noticed the lower wings were bleached white--suggesting it my have been our little friend. Because we fed her sugar water, her back wings had wicked up some of the moisture--several times--making the orange color fade to white. It was hard to prevent this from happening, and I wondered if that would make it harder for her to survive. Maybe she figured it out, after all!

I continue to be amazed at how great our God is. He wants to reveal Himself to us in big ways and small. The wonder of seeing this creature, up close and personal, was a teachable moment in our lives. Even though I'm mostly unaware of the changes occurring in my life, I have to trust that He is doing a good work in, and through, me. During those times when it feels like nothing new is happening...learning to wait for change to be revealed. In times when I'm so hungry, taking it all in--and being forced to shed my old ways of thinking, relating, parenting, living. One day, we will look in the mirror and see a reflection--recognizable as a "familiar presence", directing our lives. Until we fly away, it's a daily dependence on a Person who's ways are higher than ours."
(reference for my thoughts:2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Linked in Love

Tonight, my mind is trying to process the many conversations I've had, in several circles, lately. The commonality between them all is the fact that so much of what we make much of, really isn't. Human beings like hanging out with others that think like they do, walk like they walk, talk like they talk. It's a comfort thing, I suppose. We feel safe and validated, knowing that we are among friends. Within 'the bubble', we may begin to believe, simply by association, that our choices are the best...dare I say, the right ones.

The other side of the coin would be diversity. The concept of being multi-cultural within our circles of community, having different life experiences and gaining valuable perspective from one another. What does this look like? What is it supposed to look like? When it doesn't happen, when do we decide to walk away and find another group where we 'fit in' better? We've all been there: on the school playground, in churches, study groups, the workplace, the lunch room, our own homes. How is it that we can feel so isolated within the irony of community?

When I was younger, some of my friends would affectionately call me 'Lizard'. Kinda paints a reptilian picture in the mind, doesn't it? I would often respond to that nickname with my eyes rolling (LOL). Not one of my favorites, as you can imagine. However, in today's world, I will gladly answer to the call of Chameleon. Yes, the reptile that changes color within its environment. The blending in is not to simply fit in, and be unnoticed. No, rather, I see it as finding common ground--whatever that may be.

There is freedom in letting go of your own agenda. You become aware of what is important, and what is not. I enjoy being around different circles of community, so long as I feel welcomed. You can almost taste the disdain when you are not. I remember, not so long ago, when I thought that the way to 'make friends' was to inform people of what I thought about "stuff". These were my life experiences, were they not? Yes, but they were also opinions that sometimes communicated a different message than I had intended: "you are not doing it the right way".

Even in theological discussions, which can cause rifts among us, we have to come back to the foundation. And that is Jesus, of course. Sometimes the opinions we have, about secondary issues, can become barriers if we wear them like a uniform or badge(who do we work for?). A friend once told me, "we all stand the same height at the foot of the cross." No one is on tip-toe, there. At some point, I had to look at the relationships that were forming around me. What is more important? That this person do what I do, or think like me...or, that they are in my life? What would Jesus do, if he were me?

Love is on the agenda. What would that look like, every day? I think it would look something like the Olympic symbol of rings: each one of them, intersecting with another, crossing paths, individual and yet, interconnected. So we can have our circles of familiarity, but allow ourselves to reach beyond that--becoming a person of influence rather than merely a person of opinion.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Family Tree

Several years ago, a friend of mine, from work, showed me this picture of his crab apple tree. It was bizarre seeing a pink branch, blooming off a white tree. Obviously, he had grafted in this unfamiliar branch from another variety. As you can see, the graft took well, binding this new member into its family tree. It's amazing what can be done in the world of horticulture. Many varieties of roses, apple trees, and even some shade trees have been grafted on to different root stocks, for the purpose of giving those plants a better chance at surviving our Minnesota winters--and that, with the benefit of flowers and fruits, not normally suited to our environment.

This past weekend, we had a visit from our Omaha family. My step-dad, and a friend of the family, flew up for a day trip. It's great to have a pilot with an airplane, in your family, when 6 hours of driving and 280 miles are between us. We had lunch together, at our house. I decided to put a roast in the oven, complete with carrots, potatoes, onions--good comfort food. Jim and Linda brought a cherry pie from a favorite Omaha restaurant(thank you for that!), and I also baked the apple pie that we've all grown to love. Oh, and there is still broccoli in my garden. The last of the produce for the season. Every couple of days, I can pick enough to make a side dish for a meal. Gotta have something green, every day, right? It was nice, sitting on the front patio, watching Troy and Adrian in that roaring combine, filling up with corn, ever so quickly. We are having a good harvest, in Minnesota, this year.

When I try to explain my extended family, I usually lose new people in the translation of who's-who and how so-and-so are related to us. Why? Because my family truly is, extended...beyond the threads of DNA strands or even the bonds of marriage. It makes me appreciate the diversity of how we've come to know family, as it is. My parents, both remarried years ago, gave me extra parents--and in addition to my baby brother, a variety of new siblings. Some of whom I lived with while growing up. Others, I maybe have seen a handful of times, in my life. One big, happy family? Well...not always. We've had our share of dysfunction, like anyone out there.

Three weeks ago, I spent the weekend with another part of my family. I took the kids down to see my dad and step-mom, who live in southern Minnesota. You would think that we'd get down there more often, seeing that we live less than 2 hours away. But life gets busy for all of us. And before you know it, 3 months have gone by...or more, at times. Lucky for me, my birthday was fairly recent so I got to request my favorite cake: homemade chocolate with butter box or canister for this yummy treat! It was nice of Terry(my step-mom/Grandma) to do that for me. And on top of that, a present, too! Can it get any better? The kids loved playing at the park, and also the lawn mower rides with Grandpa Glenn: meandering through their little town, stopping at the grain elevator, driving underneath a gigantic field sprayer(whoa!). Getting them to sleep proved difficult: where oh where is the OFF button??

I do enjoy my family--all of the many branches that hold us together. I haven't always enjoyed the pruning along the way. Some lessons are hard-learned. Some cuts go deep. Kind of like the rugged scars you see on a branch from a break, or pelted reminders of hail damage. But the most beautiful branches are the most weathered...and albeit, strong, as well. Some wounds take longer than others, to heal. The fact that there is pain in life is evidence that we are, indeed, alive.

Another community I have great memories with is my work family. I spent a good 8 years of my life with "the gang"--as our director referred to us. When I first got the job, my friend Rob would attest that I was "pretty green", and that was being nice, at best!(LOL) I had so much to learn early on. Not only about the job itself, but more importantly, about the people I interacted with, day in and day out. Yes, we grew trees and shrubs and everything else...but really, it was a people business.

When I think about all the blunders, shaking my head, laughing at all the stuff that went on, its amazing I lasted as long as I did! But you want to know the truth? What happened through all of that is we learned how to live with each other. Those who know me well are aware of my distaste for conflict. I would do whatever I could to avoid it; but when you are it, you can't hardly hide from yourself! We walked through those times, and the reward for doing so was moving past being just co-workers to now, friends.

And then came that day when I would find myself, sitting in my bosses' office...holding that little 6-week old baby boy. I was shaking, crying, and it was so hard to tell him that I was, indeed, leaving. Because while I had grown to love everyone there, this little guy had stolen my heart. It was the end of an era, for me, with new chapters to be written in the days and months ahead. It was hard to walk in the office, after leaving--seeing someone else on the other side of the counter. Took me a few years to get used to that image.

Four years later, its still amusing when I stop in for my own plant orders and see one of our customers, from the old days. The look and the question is usually the same: "Oh, hello! When are you coming back?" I find that humbling, and comforting, too. It will forever be a place where I will feel at home. Walking through that door ushers in a presence that I've never really left. A part of me still remains in that place. It's cute when my kids are in the van, asking for peanuts before we even get there. Can't even count how many times I used to refill that basket, when I was there.

I want to thank God, for being the truth behind the old cliche': Every thing happens for a reason. All good things come from Him. And what is painful, comes from life on earth. We are the branches, grafted in to a variety of family trees. It gives Romans 11 new meaning. Here's to family--the people who go out on a limb, for us.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Here I am

Alone in my heart,
yet surrounded by many.
The anguish of soul,
hidden within.
For so long, an orphan,
panicked for security.
A version of family remains,
yet altered and unaware.

The child-parent figure,
wearing a hat that doesn't fit.
Taking care of those whose
shoes are worn thin.
A lovely burden,
yet hard to shoulder.
What would become of us all?

In the palm of His calloused hands,
holding the balance of our lives.
Carrying the weight of our baggage,
establishing our dwellings.
Visiting the old places,
embracing our present address.
Reaching out for a resolution,
but only what is answers back.

How do we find ourselves in the place where we are?
Painfully, I watch my character develop strength.
From chapter to chapter,
Our stories unfold--one page at a time.
The Storyteller, never ceasing to read aloud...
And I am the ink--but the pen is not mine.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Northern Exposure

Nothing feels better than getting away from the daily grind. There is much work and planning to be had in going away for a weekend, but it is so worth it. I only wish it lasted longer than 2 short days(*sigh*). We just got home from being 'up north', as we Minnesotans like to call it. My husbands' family has a cabin on a lake, about 3-1/2 hours away. We look forward to the trip each fall, taking in the transformation of the leaves, each tree a little different from the next. It is truly beautiful. I think the air is therapeutic in that you feel so relaxed--and sleepy--while you are there.

The guys love to fish and get out on the water. For some reason, time ceases to exist when you step in to a boat. It's like sailing into another dimension or something. What? It's been six hours and you've already eaten supper? That used to be how it was, before our kids stepped in to the picture. Troy has reluctantly given up some of his 'casting time' so he can teach Adrian the rhythms of fishing. I think he's glad our son is also intrigued with the sport. I can see that the two of them will be good fishin' buddies someday. We've also added in other fun things that the kids like: gator rides through the '100 acre woods', flashlight walks at night, playing hide n seek--jumping out and scaring each other! Lots of fun.

The experience of being up north has changed for me as well, now having kids to care for. When I would arrive at the cabin, years ago, I remember finding my spot on the couch and passing out for several hours, catching up on my sleep. I used to work, full-time, at an office that supplied plant material to contractors. We worked long hours during the spring season. It was a fast-paced job, to say the least. I was tired--and the air up there put me into a temporary coma of sorts. This weekend, I felt like I was walking around in a daze. It's hard to get that nap, now that we have little people running around. And then you stay up late, sitting around the campfire, letting the flames mesmerize you. It's interesting to hear what people will end up talking about, when you sit around that fire long enough. 

I went shopping with the girls at the infamous L&M Supply. They have everything there--yes, even clothes, shoes, and toys for kids. We had fun, walking around the store for an hour or so. Eventually, I found myself near the check-out, looking at bags of old-fashioned candies. My ears took notice of a hilarious conversation of old men, standing next to me. It was like a scene out of a movie: four middle-age guys in fishing hats, away for the weekend, without their wives. And what are they doing for fun? They are loading up on candy, drinking their coffee, talking trash to each other. It was so funny. One of the guys was a diabetic and he was the one holding about 5 bags of candy, muttering that he really didn't need any of it. The other guys prodded him on, informing me that they were on his life insurance policy so they wanted him to eat the candy--lots of it! I couldn't help but laugh, as I felt my face turning color. I could totally see my dad, in this bunch. You know, walking around a store, talking to people like they were your next friend in life. If only we all lived like that. 

I brought a book along that I would eventually finish, while away. There were just a few chapters left, so I figured it would be easy to get through it. While I could hardly put the book down, it was like having 'heart surgery', in a manner of speaking. Being away from the routine of life, with all this beauty surrounding me, I felt like I was in a place where change could, and did, take place. Do you ever have those moments when you realize that what you've always thought was true, simply was not so? Or maybe there is some truth to your ideals, but then you realize how judgmental and wrong your attitude has been towards other people...people who are different, but loved by God, just as much as you or me is. It was painful. I felt helpless to do anything about it. I saw my reflection--and it wasn't pretty; unlike the mirror image of the trees against the smooth surface of the calm waters. No, mine was rather ugly. My heart was answering back to me, begging for removal of this part of me that was no longer needed.

While we were at the cabin, the guys(and some of the girls, maybe) pulled this huge log out of the bay. It had been there for years, so I had been told. Apparently, wood doesn't go bad when it's under water like that. It was valuable for something; maybe they would take it back to a relative who does wood-working for a living and see what he could do with it. This log, free from the bark that once clothed it, now looked more like a short telephone pole. It had been in the bay for as long as Troy's Aunt and Uncle had the cabin...which would be a few decades...maybe even longer. It just happened to be in the right position this time, to get it out of the way. I think it was discovered under the dock when they pulled it out. 

On the drive home, I continued to think about what was happening to me, on the inside. Troy was my captive audience, which is the way it is when he is at the wheel. No where to go, except home--so he was my sounding board. I don't think he actually minds much. So long as I keep on topic and get to the point. I was sharing my thoughts on what I had read, how it was affecting me, and what now. We talked about the people in our lives, what we admired about them, how some times we do things differently, and how we fit in, somewhere, in all of that. We enjoy our drive times. It is very productive in that we get in to each others' heads and can gain more perspective that way. We agreed that we need to drive more often. Not really having anywhere to go, but just the distraction of driving helps our conversation along. 

I think what happened to me, this weekend, is that "the log" has finally been removed. I'm sure there will be more, along the way, but this was a big one. It was in the right place where it could now be taken out and evaluated. Some of my struggles: difficulty giving and receiving love, feeling unworthy, self-absorption. All of this, wrapped up inside a barricade, across the center of my heart. Only He can take this away and make something beautiful, in return. I love that being up north helps me feel closer to God. Maybe I'm too distracted, at home, to realize how much I need to spend time with Him. He has pursued me, but I have not returned His affections. Not really, unless there is something I want. Isn't that often how a person prays? I realize this may sound very strange...and it is. My only explanation is that my awareness of how wretched I can be, inwardly, also makes me aware of a love that is beyond human understanding. And that love is the only thing that will rescue me. 

On a lighter note, we made lots of memories this weekend. Adrian told his preschool teacher, earlier this week, that he was going up north--that he was going to sleep in the camper, and eat lots of different foods--LOL. All of this is true! We had jalapeno poppers--wrapped in bacon, mushrooms--wrapped in bacon, Alaskan salmon, northern pike, shrimp. It was a feeding frenzy and it was good. Samantha got car-sick, on our way up there. She doesn't like bumpy roads. Needless to say, her grape juice made it to the surface! Her poor dolly, who seems to need a bath regularly, ended up smelling like soured grapes all weekend long. Oh well. Nothing that the smell of a campfire won't cover over. No one cares how you smell when you're up north. Years ago, before there was electricity and water in place, all of us went several days without a shower. On the last day, before going home, we would wash our hair over the deck with heated water from a portable hot pad. Those were the days. I do like it better with modern conveniences, but there is just something about being away from all of that--you notice nature and not how you look. However, after 3 days without showering, you really do notice nature! LOL

Thank you, to Troy's family--immediate and extended--for sharing your cabin and this time with us. We love you all and look forward to the next time we're together. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Special Delivery

This morning, I slipped out the front door to enjoy my new patio and cup of coffee. The sun coming over the fields was so bright, with the promise of a beautiful day in store. I tried to read a little, but was distracted by a flutter overhead. I looked at the hydrangea tree, newly planted in the landscape. And there it was: a dragonfly, resting on a cluster of petals, as still as could be.

I was off the chair and back in a flash, with my camera in hand. It was still there, not moving an inch. That gorgeous little creature stayed in that spot for over an hour. I got some great shots, at many different angles. If you were to stop by my front door at that moment, you would think I was some nature freak, in her pajamas, with major 'bed head'! I would have been too engrossed to notice the obvious stares...hmmmm, maybe its a good thing my nearest neighbors are not right next door : )

The dragonfly is my favorite flying creature. I like butterflies, especially Monarchs, but the mysterious habit, and elusiveness, of dragonflies have always intrigued me. They fly by so fast and rarely do you get a chance to photograph one while it is still...well, I did earlier this summer, but it had drowned in the baby pool and so I had it 'set up' on different flowers to do pictures. Kind of weird, I know.

 A few years back, I stopped by the booth of a nature photographer, at a local event, who had the most amazing picture of a dragonfly. He had gotten up very early that day, knowing enough about them and where to find them. The photo he took showed drops of dew, kissing the lacy wings, with the sun shining through, just right. The colors were blues, greens, and purples. If there had been $80 in my pocket that day, I would've found a place on my wall for that one!

With each discovery in nature, I am amazed at how great our God is. I am taken aback when people believe that all of this creation had no plan or design. I imagine it would feel something like having designed a beautiful landscape( my front patio)and having people stop by, look at it, and determine that all the plants, paver bricks, and mulch fell into place on their own accord. That it was all by chance that the 'cool outdoor space' came to be and that it was meant for no one in particular. I would be crushed. I wonder if that is how God feels when we don't appreciate all that He has made for us. In the letter He wrote to us, we are told that not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him knowing about it. I suppose that every time my cat kills a mouse, He knows about that, too... I'm glad that my cats like to hunt!

As naive as this may sound, I know that dragonfly landed where it did so that I could enjoy it...on this day, and at that very moment. I've had lots of "visitors" since completing the patio: a squishy toad the size of my fist, slugs that never made it across the rough terrain of bricks, butterflies, cats who won't stop eating the ornamental grass, and ants that aren't supposed to get through the sand we used to seal up the patio...annoying little buggers! But this dragonfly--that was a special gift just for me. I take it as nothing less than that.

I believe that God wants to relate to us on a level we can understand. One of the ways He does this is through creation. His handiwork speaks a language all its own, communicating truth in simple ways that make sense for real life. The bible is chock full of examples on this. I'm not sure how flying insects communicate truth, but I do know this: God loves us. Even to the tiniest details of our likes and dislikes. It is confirmation to my soul of His existence, when I get to see a small desire of my heart, land right in front of me. When that canvas is printed and hanging on my wall, I will be reminded of God's faithful attempts to draw me in to an even closer relationship with Himself. Like a gift given by a dear friend, who knows me better than anyone else.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Driving through the Night

Isn't it funny how life can seem to go smoothly for awhile, and then you hit this rough patch, wondering where you went wrong. I don't know if it's just transition time in to fall or if I should be concerned, but I feel like I've turned in to a crazy, unbalanced person. I find myself snapping at the kids more than being kind. I hide in my office, plugged in to social media, while they crawl on my lap and climb all over my desk.

My mind is trying to filter out so many thoughts. How to deal with anger, unforgiveness, frustrations, discontentment. Before I know it, the clock reads 9AM and I feel like I've been dragging my feet all morning, trying to get ready for a day that has so little plans in it. My son will ask, "Where are we going today, Mom?" Most days, I don't have a good answer. It's then that I realize my need to get out the Map.

How did this happen? I try to put my life in reverse and think through what has changed over the last few months. Did I take a mental wrong turn somewhere? Did I forget to stop for gas or get the oil changed? I'm sure it's likely a combination of many things: I need a tune-up. My children happen to be passengers, looking out the window, simply asking where the next stop will be. I'm in the drivers seat, trying not to ask for directions!

The old cliche of making God my navigator, seems to be a logical explanation here. Thing is, I know He's been riding along the entire time, just waiting for me to ask for help. Here I am, shouting back, "I know where we're going, I don't need directions, thank you." Oh, but I do. Because honestly, I don't have a clue some days as to what is next. I'm such a plan ahead kind of person. I'm no good with not knowing where we're going.

However, I'm learning to be content with this stage of life, but still looking ahead to see what may be next. I want to enjoy the ride--not miss the scenery. Sometimes I can get too focused on the stops ahead and what is in the years to come. Kind of like 'destination vacations'. Simply driving to get somewhere instead driving to enjoy what you may find, along the way. I've dreamed of taking that kind of trip. Just driving across the country, taking the back roads, discovering those old little towns that are not accessible from the highways.

Looking back at the mileage I've logged, I see that there are some practical reasons for my temporary insanity. I haven't had a good night's sleep in over a week. My kids seem to be waking up, every night, tiptoeing into our room, long before the sun comes up. My daughter kicks in her sleep, rolls around, and sucks her thumb with an annoying rhythm that I wish were more silent. And there are the projects that beg to be finished up. The fall harvest that is right around the corner. And school is starting next week. I am happy for that, even though it means a new routine, at least it is a routine.

How about you? Can you relate to being on a journey, not knowing what the next stop is? Or maybe you've had some major detours, taking you off a course that you were certain of. I guess that is the reality of life on earth: potholes, flat tires, speeding tickets and getting lost. My comfort is that I am not alone and that someday, times like these will be memories in the rear view mirror: looking back, smiling..and then 'peddle to the metal'--hair blowing in the breeze, riding in my hubby's Cobra, driving off to who knows where...someday, that will be our reality! For now, we will remain uncool in our minivan, with precious cargo in tow, knowing that this ride will be shorter than we ever expected it to be.

Monday, August 30, 2010

For an Audience of One

I love going to a venue that ended up smaller than expected. Where there are no assigned seats, making it easy to pick one a little more towards the front--you feel as though you are closer to that person on stage who is speaking, or singing. Maybe the attendance was disappointing, but every one who was supposed to be there, came. And it was great. Especially afterwards, when the lines to meet that famous person were so much shorter!

I wonder if this ever happened while Jesus had his traveling ministry. I wonder if people fought their way through the crowds, trying to get as close to him as possible. The woman who had an issue of blood, for 12 years, comes to mind. She knew there was no way for her to get close to Jesus, in plain sight--for she was considered 'unclean'. Yet, just touching the hem of his garment caused power to go out from his presence, healing her instantly. In reality, it was her faith that made her whole. Her belief, confidence, and perseverance that she could have what Jesus talked about. That is was for her, not just every body else.

I try to imagine how it would feel to be famous. People lining up, waiting for autographs, sideways hugs and pictures. Kind of like finding a multitude of friends that you never met. Being told that your latest book or hit song was life changing. I recently met several great musicians and writers. I remember that before we lined up to meet Christy Nockels, my friend next to me remarked at how she felt closer to God, just by watching Christy lead worship. I couldn't agree more. Christy has this presence about her when she is singing. Her eyes closed, head lifted up, sandals off her feet, totally wrapped up in what God is doing, through her. Wow...hearing and seeing that made a huge shift for me on how to view worship. For years, I often felt like I didn't know what to say when people would come up to me, after church, and tell me 'nice job singing' or 'great worship today'. On the inside, I would wonder if it was the christian thing to do to say 'thank you' or should I come up with some kind of reply about how 'it's not about me', blah, blah, blah.

Now I understand that none of the above is necessary. If I am truly focused on God while leading worship, I know that it will not be about me. Just getting lost in the presence of it all, not caring how you appear. That is the moment when you no longer wonder if people are staring at you or if things went well, musically. Sometimes, after what seemed like a difficult run as a music team, people will still comment that they worshiped God and how awesome it was. Just another confirmation that it isn't about any of us, except that we are willing to surrender our talents and abilities to bring people closer to God. And when a person does come up later, with kind words, we know that we succeeded in ushering them in to an encounter with God. Those affirmations are so sweet...and good to hear, from time to time. It's how we build each other up.

I find so much freedom in just living life. Not realizing that you are bringing people around you, closer to Jesus, no matter what they think about him or where they may be at, spiritually. The pure love of God, flowing through you and me will be what moves and shakes the world around us. I'm starting to get excited about meeting people groups that I don't normally interact with. I told Troy that I should go downtown to a certain coffee shop, frequented by more 'free thinking' college students...and see what happens. He looked at me with half a smile and said, 'ok?'. Just think of the stories you might come across, sitting at a retro table with coffee in hand and your heart, open to those around you. Coffee, European style!

I know that I would be changed by that experience. I would be challenged in my beliefs. I probably wouldn't know the answer to most of the why questions about God, but that's ok. I would encounter conflict at a level I have never known before. I can't explain why I would want to do this, but I guess it's in my heart, somewhere. Kind of intimidating, right? But when we play for an audience of One, it doesn't much matter the number of people who are there. All who were meant to be there, came. And it is always awesome that way.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Script for the Day

It was a typical Tuesday morning, trying to get the kitchen cleaned up before heading off to our weekly park date. As I was scrubbing pots and pans, a certain friend was brought to my mind. I wondered how she was doing this week. I should call her...hmmm, maybe later would be better. I was curious how her weekend went, if she was feeling more peace over her difficult situation. And then the phone rang: guess who, right? I invited her to join us at the park, since she was looking for some action for the day.

Nothing close to epic, but that scenario reminded me of how God orchestrates every single detail of our lives. He knows who needs to talk to whom, and how to hook them up for some time together. I've been thinking a lot, lately, about my relationships. Some that are good and growing, some that have waxed a bit distant. I'm realizing that it takes time to develop a good friendship. It takes having no agenda, other than to be a friend. It takes trust and some risk...but it's worth all of those elements for the stories that come into a person's life. Even when conflicts arise, its still worth it for what is gained beyond the initial tension.

It's even worth it for the role you might play in another person's story: maybe your the friend that opened the door for someone to meeting more new people...and you never become much more than that, but your character was vital to their success today. I don't believe there is ever someone that you are not supposed to meet. You may not like them much. Maybe they raise the hair on the back of you neck, beckoning every competitive bone in your body to put up a fight. But there is a purpose for the just might not see it, yet.

Having been one of those needy people for awhile, it's finally come to my attention that a person cannot give much back until they've had much poured into their life. Sometimes it takes years, even decades, for recovery to happen. What is exciting is when you see a change. That person starts to look for ways to get involved, to give back to the community or their church. They become transformed from within. They are starting a new chapter in their life and moving forward, beyond whatever it was that was holding them back for so long. Now I understand why it is more blessed to give than it is to receive. Sounds kind of cliche, but it's true.

Awhile back, I wrote about how boring life had started to become for me. Not in busyness, but that it seemed to lack adventure and discovery. I recently went through a three month layer of grief over my mom's death--she died 2 years ago. It is easy to become despondent and negative over every aspect of life when you are in the thick of grieving. Apparently, this may be an annual thing for me. Spring is not a good time to be thinking of my mom, but it is the time of the year because of my kids' birthdays, back to back, then Mother's Day(crummy, again), and then June rolls around marking the anniversary of the end of her life, on earth. So many markers at once, so many missed events that she will never experience with us.

But now that I've come out of that, I can see that the conflict of my mom's passing was what has propelled me into writing...again. Every time I write, it is birthed out of some tragedy. It doesn't mean that I will always write about that specific event, but the event itself has a way of creating many thoughts and reflections. You become thrown into something that you didn't ask for and somehow you have to find a way to process through it.

The first time I knew I could write was when I was 13 years old. We flew out to Oregon to visit my aunt for a week. No one had a clue of the losses I was internalizing at the time. I had much time to be alone because my mom was spending time with her sister; and my brother was playing with our cousins who were at least 5 years younger than me. There wasn't anyone that I could really talk to or hang out with. We had some fun activities line up where every one was together...but when you're sad, you often don't remember the good times.

So there I was, with a pad of paper and a flood of emotions. They spilled out onto the pages like water going across the counter top--and then along came the 'Brawny man' with his "quilted, quicker-picker-upper"--and absorbed the mess before it hit the floor! Wow--commercials really do sink in, don't they? I still have those old poems today. I don't remember letting too many people read them, but somehow my aunt figured out what I was doing when I kept on asking for more paper. It was brown penmanship paper, with the 2 inch blocks and dashes in between. Must've been for the boys to practice on or something. She didn't roll her eyes at me or shrug her shoulders. No, she recognized what I was only beginning to understand at the time.

She told me I should save every thing I wrote because, one day, it would help me become a good writer. I believed her, even though I didn't believe in myself at the time or could imagine that anything I could write would matter to someone else. But here we are today. Things are different and much has changed, 20 years later. I feel that story has come around full circle and has helped create whatever chapter is unfolding, right now. The idea of story, characters, and creating new memories are things I've learned in a book I just finished. I've already mentioned 'Million Miles', by Don Miller. It probably won't be the last time, either. Such a great book!

Every day is a new day. It is a gift. How will the world change, today? What impact will you choose to make in another person's life? How might someone else bless you, in return? Allow it to happen. Find ways to make make memories that are fun and off the wall. I'm already thinking up random stuff that I can work in to a busy day with a toddler and preschooler. But those are the kind of things I want them to remember! It's food for their dreams that we have yet to discover. And it is food for my soul, as well.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Letter from the Editor

Lately, I've been reading 'A Million Miles in a Thousand Years', by Don Miller. A great read, so far. He also wrote 'Blue Like Jazz'--a book that I picked up in study group a few years back. I really enjoy this author's perspective on God. He is an out-of-the-box thinker. I like those kind of people. Probably because they resonate in me a distaste for sameness and lack of creativity. We are not all the same. There is not one right way to do anything, except keep the Commandments and love God and others. Beyond that, there are many grey skies above us that sometimes cloud our vision.

Since I've taken up writing again, the idea of God writing the story of our lives, has been repeatedly coming back to me. I don't think it's a coincidence that I heard Don speak about 'story', a few weeks back. He has offered me another way to look at life. Did you ever think that maybe you could edit your life? Sounds crazy, right? Yeah sure, I'd love to edit out some of the mistakes I've made, words I've spoken, colorful places I've found myself in! Only God can do that. He tells us that our sins are as far as the east is from the west. But that's not what I'm referring to, here.

This editing thing...hmmmm...I think what it means(so far)is that we choose how we want to live our lives. Every one loves a good story. Some of us might feel that our lives are rather boring and ordinary. That maybe there isn't much to report. I love this quote from Don Miller: The essence of story is this--"A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it." So there has to be conflict in order to have a great story. There has to be ups and downs, the reds and the blues, to make it colorful. As I was listening to Don speak about all of this, it was like I had an 'a-ha' moment. Here is me, the person who hates conflict, always trying to avoid it, taking this all in.

I love my life, for the most part. I have so much to be thankful for. Yes, I've had my share of troubles--who has not? But the one thing I keep hearing from God is the word 'conflict.' I'm still trying to learn how to deal with it. You know what? I think I finally realize that I have to face it head on and not look back. Instead of letting the fear of it hold me back, I need to embrace it as a part of a part of my story. Those dreams that I have that are on hold. Those ideas or 'what-ifs' that turn around in my mind when I'm cleaning the house(who says sweeping isn't productive?); maybe its time to live it out.

Or, when I catch myself coveting another person's success, I can turn around and smile at my own, knowing that today is a gift. I can look at my children and try hard not to blink because someday they'll be twice as tall...and maybe then they won't want 'to hold me', as my daughter often asks. I definitely will buy that used treadmill and walk for miles, as though I were going somewhere...well, trying to 'go away' from 10 extra pounds is a place that I would like to be! My dreams are seeds, planted in my heart from before I ever was. They could small ones or big ones, but every good one come from God. He knows me inside and out. Every life counts. Every life matters and has a role to play.

What I do today does matter, for earth and for eternity. I want to live out a great story--the one that God has already ordained. Its all the in between stuff that makes it hard to wrap your head around this concept. There is no remote in hand or fast-forward button. There is no movie screen but there is a mirror. There is a Book and there is the 'whispering, within'. And there are the choices. Tough ones, easy ones, good ones, bad ones. We need them all as chapters in our story. One that may inspire others to look upward and marvel at the Editor in Chief...and He gets all the credit.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Princess Story

I had the privilege of spending last weekend in sunny Orlando, Florida with some of the best company from miles around. Getting somewhere good takes planning, a little stress, and a lot of effort. But once you're on that jet, a sigh of relief exhales as you look forward to the destination. That describes how I found myself at the Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) Convention, 2010.

Last year, when I first attended this event, I found myself crying like a baby as we drove to the airport. It was hard to leave my kids for 5 days--had never done that before. I felt broken and numb, as the reminders of 'mothering' were everywhere--all too soon for me in losing my own mom. But, God was doing some healing in me while I was away. I traveled with 2 friends who were solid as a rock and kept me going through the weekend. We had tons of fun and came back with our suitcases bulging and our hearts overflowing. We shopped 'til we dropped and soaked up all the music and training that we could while were in hospitable Nashville, TN.

It was necessary for me to experience my first Convention in that way. I had gained a bigger perspective of what we do, as a MOPS group, and how important mothering is in making this world a better place. This time around, I went with 2 friends who were the 'newbies of the group'. It was fun to see their reaction to everything taking place. We had so much fun together--I have to say that nothing is better than being poolside with friends who are like-minded--who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and have a passion for reaching out. It was refreshing to invest in each other with no distractions--no kids, no schedules, no demands of home life. I really didn't want to leave!

I felt like I was in Heaven, for real. The Gaylord Palms is one of the finest hotels in the country. The whole place is beautiful, with its conservatory environment: plants, waterfalls, rock formations and wandering paths, ever where...excellent restaurants, entertainment and fabulous pools! You feel like a Princess from the moment you walk in. There was a well-dressed man, passing by the line of women, waiting to get their room keys. He had a silver platter with individually-wrapped chocolates and candies for all the moms, as well as sweet compliments on how we have the hardest job in the world--so true. There were the fanciest lemonade stands I ever saw: glass and brass containers with golden spickets--how cool is that. Complimentary refreshments that spoke volumes to each of us, on our true worth.

What would be my favorite part of the event? It's too hard to pick just one thing. Since we had a smaller attendance this year, it made it easier to get through the lines and meet the speakers and musical artists that were there. We met our favorite local band, 'Go Fish', worship leader Christy Nockels, and saw Ritchie McDonald(former lead singer of Lone Star) as well as many authors and speakers. The worship time was incredible. I only wish every Sunday morning, back home, had as much volume as we experienced each day, there. Wow.

I was surprised to see Don Miller--author of a favorite book('Blue Like Jazz') be one of the speakers. What a neat guy he is. I love his perspective on God--definitely an 'out of the box' thinker. I love hanging out with people like that. Margaret Feinberg, another excellent writer and speaker, inspired me with her correlations between scripture and nature. She has taken the time to get to know people who take care of sheep, keep bees, and tend vineyards--and how God has used those analogies to give meaning to our every day lives. I just had to show her pics and video of my butterfly who could not fly. I knew there was a reason why I brought that footage along with me. Isn't it awesome the way we are prompted and directed?

The Resource Fair has continued to be a blessing in my life. Last year, I was given a small pendant that had the number 23 engraved on it--as in Psalm 23. The vendor noticed the necklace I often wear that belonged to my mom. She wanted me to have something like it, from their company. I was touched and lifted up by that small gesture. This year, I came back to Union 28, a company that makes 'marriage apparel'--that would be T-shirts(not something else!) carrying unique designs that incorporate phrases like, 'My Husband Rocks' within the logos. I decided that I would buy a shirt for me and one for Troy. The woman at the booth recognized me from last year--we started chatting and in leaving, she wanted me to have one of her CD's--even though I didn't purchase the amount set to get one for free, she said she felt led to give one to me anyway. Wow. Awhile later, I happened to pass by a booth for Care Net--the umbrella organization that has helped our local Crisis Pregnancy Center get up and running. The women who were there knew our CPC director and have been talking to her a lot. I also discovered that Care Net is looking to form partnerships with local MOPS groups so we can together serve women who need support. And we were just talking about doing that, at our last Steering Meeting! God is so good.

Probably the best encounter I had, with new people, was in meeting one of the women from MOPS international. I had heard, last year, that she was battling ovarian cancer. I wanted to meet her, but it never happened. I was just finished getting one of my books signed when I turned around and there she was, right in front of me. I introduced myself to her and asked how she was doing. I went on to tell her about my mom and recap our story through her illness. It was a teary moment that I will never forget. Then along came her daughter, our MOPS emcee for the weekend. I was able to meet her as well and get a picture taken together. I am amazed at how God knows the desires of our hearts and grants them when the time is right. I pray and wish Carol and Kendall, all the best in their relationship together as mother and daughter--that they will have many more years together as a family.

And then the clock struck midnight: our beautiful surroundings would soon be turned back into pumpkins--time to go home! I think all of us were exhausted, getting on that airplane. Sometimes the home-going is not so pleasant. Had to have a little 'heart to heart' with our airline when I got home. Guess what I discovered? I really do have it in me to stand up for myself and for what is right. One of my biggest struggles in life is in handling conflict. I learned, this weekend, that 'God is not afraid of conflict'. In fact, it is a part of life that needs to be had in order to make things better. Duh, right? Some of us learn this more slowly, I guess! I don't think I had ever felt more righteous anger towards anyone--or company--let alone what a suitcase can do to my emotions! But so be it. I learned something and intend on grafting into my life so that I can move forward with no regrets.

Ok, this is hilarious. Speaking of 'pumpkins', we are growing them in our garden and while I was gone, Adrian picked a big one that had already turned orange. Troy sent me a picture of it, on my phone, a day before we left. So when he came to pick us up, at the airport, there was that proverbial pumpkin--sitting on the floor of the van! Hmmm, somehow I find that very significant. Yep, we are back to our little pumpkins--no more Cinderella--until next year!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not So Random

It's amazing what you can think of when you're busy sweeping the floor! Why do messes help us organize our thoughts?Hmmmm...while cleaning up, I had some memories playing back in my mind. One of them was about friends who had come and gone, in my life, over the years. When you meet someone, you imagine that you'll be in each other lives, forever. Everything seems so grand, so wouldn't change a thing...and then, it happens: life changes things for you.

When I was 2-1/2 years old, my parents relocated from Nebraska to Minnesota. We settled into a middle-class neighborhood, in Rochester. My mom was finishing up nursing school at RCC and my dad worked in retail. For me, it was as if the whole world had opened up: there were kids, toys, and bikes going here and there, around the block, again and again. The ice cream man would glide through the streets with his little cart and alluring bells--and instantly, every child would be pulling on their mother's pant leg, shirt, or arm--begging for 50 cents to get their favorite Popsicle--he was like a modern day Pied Piper! I'm sure our parents just loved it when he came around(ha,ha).

I lived next door to the Peterson family. They had a boy named Michael, who was my age, and a little girl, Sarah, who was a few years younger. We had great times, playing together. Across the street was the Sandberg family, with their 4 kids(at that time). I was good friends with their oldest daughter, Allison. Our October birthdays were 2 days apart. Allison's sister, Emily, was also part of our little pack. We would have many adventures together. One of them was climbing the humongous willow tree at Michael's house. I'd like to think that I was the bravest one of the bunch, who somehow managed to get to the very top! We would make bets and dares upon double dare, to see who would win. It was a great time to be a kid!

And then there were swing sets, sandboxes, monkey bars, and my big backyard--which seemed so deep that I was sure a football team might have played there. My mom would comment that it always took so long to mow the grass with our puny little push mower! I recall draping sheets and blankets over the monkey bars in our yard. I would lay on the ground, gazing upwards, imagining that I would someday live in 'an outdoor room'--where you could feel the breeze and see the sky. I think truly, God puts those desires in our hearts so that we will someday strive to make our dreams come true(Did I mention that we have our retaining wall up now? Soon we'll be enjoying our new patio and outdoor room!).

Do you think it was some random, incidental choice that brought my family to this state, this city, and into this neighborhood? Probably not. I've come to believe that everything happens for a reason. Our family went to church and followed the ritualistic traditions that had been passed down for generations. We were a normal, American family by many standards. Were we happy? Did we have our share of troubles? The answer to both questions is 'yes'. But God knew that we also needed Him in the center of our lives. He placed us next to the two families I've already mentioned, so that we could see Jesus reflected from their lives and into ours.

I absolutely loved spending time with the Petersons and Sandbergs. Watching them be together was such a comfort to me because my own family was becoming more and more broken, as each year passed. Although my childhood memory can't recall when and how it all happened, I still could sense that something was not right; little by little, much sadness began to creep into our home. God surrounded us with good neighbors that helped us in so many ways. Even though they couldn't stop the inevitable, they were there to support us through the many changes that would be coming.

And Life did change for all of us. Our family divided into two homes when I turned seven. The Peterson's moved to Colorado, and the Sandbergs--across town--when I was about nine. I remember how devastating it was to lose those connections. Kind of like seeing that big willow tree get cut down, next door. No more shelter, no more tree-climbing. Sadly, those days were now over.

But around this time, I was invited to Camp Victory by my friend Allison. It was there that I discovered who God really was and how much He loved me. And not only that, I had never heard music like I had heard there. No church organs, no chanting, no dismal hymns...well, that's how they seemed to sound to me(I do like some hymns!). No, it was so different. I thought to myself, "Whatever it is they have, I want that in my life." And so began my walk with God, my journey of faith. That was back in 1986. My life was not very secure at that time. There were still many unknowns and changes, but I felt peace because I knew that someday it was going to be ok. And even today, music is a big part of who I am and what I do. I love to sing and use those gifts to praise God. He put that into my heart, even before I chose to trust Him with my life.

Now, here we are, 24 years later! Thanks to the miracles of social networking, I'm back in touch with Allison. My heart was warmed, knowing that her walk with God is also strong today. So coming full circle, God put her in my life many years ago--knowing all the events that would take place, ahead of time. Isn't our God amazing? He definitely has a plan and purpose for all of us(Jer. 29:11). I don't have to despair as to why He chooses to remove friends from my life, for a season. Or maybe I will never see some of those friends again--who knows. But, if I'm trusting Him completely, I know that He will continue to bring new people into my life, as well. Like another old friend once said, "Your heart grows bigger with more room to love all the new people God brings, into your life." So true.

"Into the darkness you shine, out of the ashes we rise.
There's no one like you, none like you:

"Our God is greater, our God is stronger. Our God is higher than any, other. Our God is healer, awesome in power, our God, our God..."(Chris Tomlin song)."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Getting an Education

When I first held my little guy in my arms, 4 years ago, the last thing I was thinking of was where he would go to school and how he might learn. I was in love, and that was all that mattered at the time. I remember thinking that my new occupation--'rookie mom'--was going to be the ride of my life and I wanted to enjoy it for as long as possible. Now jump ahead to today: I have two active little ones and the quiet peace of that hospital room is but a memory now.We are doing the preschool thing, and when that is not in session, I find myself answering all kinds of curious questions. I've added to my resume teacher, full-time referee, macaroni chef, band-aid expert, laundry-lady, dishwasher--I mean "dish stacker", and the list is endless--as any parent knows!

This week, we've had an education in weather patterns. The tornado that almost touched down over our house, decided to go east and visit my husband's parents. Quite an intrusion, this storm was! No warning, just the sound of wind, and then glass and debris everywhere, within a matter of minutes. We are thankful Grandma Suzie was not hurt and that the damage is able to be fixed. Adrian now understands what tornadoes are. He's been talking about it a lot since Wednesday, when it hit. Some of my favorite questions and remarks: "Mommy, do tornadoes live in the woods? Do they have sharp teeth?...Are they boys or girls?...Mommy, Grandpa Jim shot that tornado and now it's dead, lying in the ditch!...Mommy, that tornado is naughty--him needs to go back into the clouds!"

Want to hear something funny? By no intentions of our own, we've had to start educating our kids about gender differences. Those of you who have boys and girls know what I mean. They start asking questions, even at ages 2 and 4 years old. You can't convince me that little kids don't know that boys and girls are different, even from outward observations. In my world, there are many questions about which animated characters are boys, and which are girls. They want to know. Then we have to go one step further by defining which parts these cartoons have! It gets even better: we are out in public and once again, the conversation surfaces. "Mommy, that boy has a______! That girl has a butt and a _______!" Reminds me of the movie, 'Kindergarten Cop'--and here I am, living it out! I had to forewarn my relatives, over the Independence holiday, that they may be told which parts they have and why. It is torturing for me to keep a straight face in front of them and to keep from blushing when in the presence of strangers! Oh please, please, when will this end? I have to take it before God and figure out how to address this in healthy, non-shameful way. We are gradually learning how to do this...'what is and should be private is not to be discussed, in public'. That is my mantra to these curious monkeys I love and adore : )

It's a high calling, this parenting job. Quite often, I find myself asking God for wisdom to raise these little ones up. I have no shame in praying this with them, as we tuck them in at night. They need to know that I don't have all the answers and that I often make mistakes. It is humbling, and in a way, we're already teaching them through this simple act of faith. I struggle with what education choice will be best for our kids. For now, we are a part of the public school system and have had many benefits with our son, regarding his developmental needs. He is doing so well and I feel comfortable with his education team. Each year, God will give us the wisdom to know what to really, I don't have to worry about it.

I am thankful that we serve a big God who is sovereign over every circumstance. Yes, He is even in control of my children's "curious questions and body awareness"! One of the hardest things I've begun to realize, about parenting, is the reality that our kids(like their parents)will have experiences that are painful--and despite our best intentions, we can't prevent every bad thing from happening to them. We have to trust God, the Father and let Him take care of the things we have little or no control over. He is the author and finisher of our faith(Heb.12:1-2)...and He continues to write the story of our lives.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Force of July

After a busy summer, we were finally able to get away to the great state of...Nebraska! We spent the 4th of July weekend, in Omaha, visiting family. Driving around that winding, bumpy road, surrounding the lake brings back memories of other trips, over the years. We often get in late at night and the light is always left on(just like Motel 6!), as we're pulling in the driveway.

Walking into the house, this time around, was better for me than on other visits, since the funeral. I would feel such a personal loss, knowing that my mom wouldn't be standing in the doorway or getting up from checking her email, to greet us. While that feeling didn't hit me, initially, just being in the house for a couple of days made me more aware of the feelings that are still there. It's as if I'm getting closer to the awareness of my grief by being inside the walls that she once called home.

Going to church with family and friends is another reminder of this awareness. Maybe because we are in a place of worship that she called home, here on earth. She is no longer on stage singing--well, maybe she is and we can't see her--nor is she standing next to us. I find comfort in talking with some of her friends--women I see only when I come through those doors. It's a healing time for me to be around them and have that connection, even if for just a little while.

On a lighter note, we had a great time on Saturday, playing volleyball and watching the kids splash around in the water. Sand castles--or canals, rather--were built and after it was done it kind of looked like a little town back in biblical times! Too funny. Adrian loved it. He would say, 'No, that tunnel is bumpy' and then he'd grab some wet sand and slap it in place. Future engineer, maybe?

Samantha loves going out to eat. When she hears that we are going to a restaurant, she says, "I get to sit in a highchair!"My little sanguine. So colorful and full of life. She is all curls, brown eyes and well, to be honest, lots of mischief! But I love her for every minute of joy that she brings. Even when she is in trouble--or should be--it's hard not to laugh at her.

On Sunday, it rained most of the day. Perfect day to surf the satellite channels for good movies. Guess what was on? A Star Wars marathon! They called it "The Force of July". Nice play on words there-LOL! They kept replaying all 6 movies, over and over. So that was my Sunday afternoon. It was fun because those that were there all liked the sci-fi, galactic adventure(for the most part) so that made it even more fun. I still like episodes 4-6 the best. The new ones are ok, but there is something nostalgic about being a kid when the original movies came out. Nothing like that had ever been done, in the area of special effects and what not.

It has been said that half the fun of going on a trip is in getting there. That is somewhat true, in my experience. All the work of packing and getting everyone ready to go is worth it for the journey. We enjoy driving(when the kids are quiet!) because it gives us a chance to catch up on each other's thoughts. You could say that we have a captive audience in each other. I like to tease Troy because I never get to take a nap or get through a chapter in a good book, when he is driving. He will initiate conversation when he is at the wheel, more than at any other place. So I don't get much sleep, but I do get inside my husbands' head, which is worth far more than a nap, any day.

And just like that, 3 days goes by. I never like to say good-bye, but I do like getting home and into my own bed! Like I tell my kids' friends, when they don't want to leave our house, "You have to leave so you can come back, again!" I wonder if 4 yr.olds get that? I usually get some strange looks when I say that--LOL--but you know, it holds a lot of truth. All good things must come to an that we can look forward, to the next good thing.