Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2013

We sing the songs every year. We know them all by heart. But do we ever really think about the words anymore?

God and sinners reconciled.

The glories of His righteousness and wonders of his love.

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

Let every heart prepare him room.

I add to that words I discovered today:

…he came from heaven to earth that he might send us from earth to heaven. –W. Dyer, from a selection in The 25 Days of Christmas

May these words be real to you today!

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Stupid time change….

I’m noticing more people have finally realized that even though “fall back” is supposed to mean an extra hour of sleep, it means just the opposite for those with small children.  While everyone else is looking forward to the shift, those of us with little ones know it means absolutely nothing besides now the kids will be up at five instead of six.

What I failed to consider was how the evenings would look.  We have a baby who goes to bed at six o’clock at night; on a really good night I might be able to keep her up until six-thirty.  Now, with the end of daylight savings, I have a baby that really wants to go to bed at five.

I know it will only take a few days to get her back to where we were (or at least close to where we were), but today I thought we had hope because she’d taken a third nap and slept until four in the afternoon.  Four!!  Making it until six should be easy; it’s only two hours!

I should have known when she woke up screaming that it wasn’t going to work.  We made it through a very high-maintenance evening (please know, she it not a high-maintenance baby!!) and finally, with dinner over, I was facing clean-up.  She was done.  DONE.  Unfortunately, my husband was done, too, as he was working overtime and had to disappear into his “office” in the basement.  I plopped the baby down in the living room with her bucket of toys, handed her a few of them, and kept talking to her as I ran back to the sink to at least get the leftovers put away.  Dirty dishes could wait, but I wasn’t risking losing leftovers to a sneaky (and astoundingly agile) dog.

Ravioli dished out and put away:  check.

Garlic bread stacked up and put away:  check.

Every last pot, pan, and plate piled in the sink away from potential puppy disaster:  check.

I raced back into the living room, where the baby had never really stopped crying.  I took one look at her and every last ounce of irritation melted away from me as I realized she had managed to reach over and around every single toy I’d attempted to appease her with….and grab her blanket.  There she sat, thumb in her mouth, blanket pulled to her cheek, tears still running down her face.  My poor, exhausted baby!

As I rocked her and nursed her that night I thought about how even a six-month-old knew exactly what was most important to her.  How even she, as an infant, was able to cut through all the “stuff” and reach for the one thing she knew would help.  She didn’t want any of that other “stuff;” she wanted That One Thing that was her comfort; that would get her through until her struggle was over.  She wanted her blanket.

What’s your One Thing?

There’s no thirsting for the things
Of the world—they’ve taken wings.
Long ago I gave them up, and instantly
All my night was turned to day,
All my burdens rolled away.
Now the Comforter abides with me.

He abides, He abides.
Hallelujah, He abides with me!
I’m rejoicing night and day
As I walk the narrow way,
For the Comforter abides with me.

–from He  Abides, Herbert Buffum

A quick note…..

May 20, 2013

On April 19th we were blessed with a 9-pound, 10.7-ounce bundle of little-girl joy.  I’ve spent the past month primarily snuggling a baby, homeschooling a son, and just. barely. keeping up with the house.  (I’m incredibly grateful for a Sunday School class–and a husband–that cook.)  No blogging for me, thanks.

I had a friend post something on Facebook, though, that I wanted to share.  It really hit home for me for two reasons:  first, the incredibly obvious idea–how did I miss it?–that “gluttony” doesn’t just apply to food.  (Duh.)  Secondly, the incredibly convicting idea that it’s not just about getting rid of stuff.  It’s about putting Him first, making sure He is our priority, finding out what He wants from us….letting Him fill us, so we don’t feel the need to be filled with all the other “stuff.”

I’m working on it….

The Socially Acceptable Sin, by Jason Todd

In God We Trust

January 17, 2013

Funny, isn’t it, that that’s what’s written on our money?  It’s like someone knew we’d be needing the reminder.

“Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.”  (Proverbs 11:28)

Let me vent for a moment and I promise I’ll circle back to the important point.

Months ago, I realized that in preparation for our Disney trip I should probably be ramping up our savings; I didn’t want to drain the entire account (admittedly unlikely, but there’s a lot of uncertainty in preparing for a trip that big).  So I did my best to start funneling a little extra each paycheck into our savings account.

That’s when it started.

It began very slowly; so slowly I didn’t even notice for a bit.  But the longer time went on, the more I began to see a pattern:  things were going wrong.  Often.  At an increasing rate.  The phrase “that’s what savings is for” was being thrown around more and more; so much so that I began to tack on an addendum:  “that’s what savings is for….but what happens when it’s all gone?”  The fact that we would be adding a baby into the mix in just a few months didn’t help my attitude one bit; nor did the timing of Christmas shopping.

Our list:

6/15  Husband’s pharmacy license renewed (thankfully, reimbursed)

7/11  Sprinkler repair

7/30  Tax oops (yeah….I don’t wanna talk about it)

9/9  Car battery (mine)

9/12  Bo…last vet visit

9/19  Brake work  (mine)

10/4  Tire  (mine…wow….it sounds like I drive a beater)

10/11 TRIP!!  (at least this was planned for)

10/26  New dog:  Kina!

11/1  Meds for Kina

11/12 Garage door repair

11/16  Kina disaster

11/20  Kina final lab work

12/4  Car repair (husband’s)

12/10  Furnace repair (to get us through the holidays)

1/3  New furnace install

1/18?  Impending new tire (Mine.  Wow….maybe I DO drive a beater!)

Some stuff on that list was known; the trip was a planned expense.  The dog purchase….an arguable expense, but this family doesn’t stay dog-free for long.  Everything else was a nasty surprise, and each time I’d find myself getting more and more worked up about it.  And each time, I could sense God prodding me:  Who are you trusting in?

It’s easy to sit back and blab about how much I trust in God when everything’s coming up roses.  It’s truly hard for me to remember what it was like, sixteen years ago, when we were first married and flat broke and barely making it.  There’s a lot of trust when you’re barely making it.  Now “we’re doing fine”–that seems to be our phrase of choice; not rich, but far, far away from “scraping by.”

That list of problems has forced me back to trust; to evaluate who I’m truly trusting in and whether that trust holds even as bank accounts weaken.

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.  What can mortal man do to me?”  (Psalm 56:3-4)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”  (Proberbs 3:5)

Only one thing is needed

November 6, 2012

On the first of November I logged onto Facebook and, in the midst of everyone’s sweet posts beginning their “days of thankfulness,” I unloaded.

“I HATE THURSDAYS……sorry, needed to vent.”

I don’t actually hate Thursdays.  Three-quarters of the day I love; that’s the day my mom comes over and we play.  We get coffee and run errands if we need to; we have most of the day together to just enjoy each other’s company…..and then she goes home, and I have to face the fact that I played all day and that nothing got done.  Any other day of the week, that would be an easy recovery, but Thursdays are my daughter’s gymnastics night; which means she and I eat dinner together early, and then head out the door for a good chunk of our evening.

This particular Thursday was especially bad.  Mom and I had played that morning, but then spent the afternoon at home with the still-new-to-us dog, since I don’t yet know if I can trust her for much longer than three or four hours.  Mom and I sat together in my living room; she worked on cross-stitched Christmas presents while I tried to coax a GoogleDoc to work for our Sunday School’s class Christmas party.  I would like to say it was a cozy and comfortable afternoon at home; unfortunately I was stressed out from the uncooperative document and an even more uncooperative laptop.

After she left it was a collision of things:  get the kids from school, drop them off at home, run the dog to her first vet appointment, run back home, scarf down dinner, throw my daughter in the car and run her to gymnastics, where I texted some more info about the Christmas party to others on the planning committee.  While I sat with my phone in my lap, responding to texts, it suddenly began ringing, and I recognized the name at the top of the screen as another friend who, I knew, was calling about a meeting we had the following morning.  And I admit it:  I saw her name and I groaned.  (Yeah, I’ve already ‘fessed up to her, so it’s okay to write about it.)  I answered the phone with the statement, “That’s tomorrow, isn’t it?”

That night was so bad my daughter didn’t get bathed.  That night was so bad I actually asked my husband for help.  (He’s great to pitch in….you’d think I’d ask him more often.)  That night it was all I could do to get the kids into bed without a meltdown (me, not them), and crash on the sofa, and unload my seven little words on Facebook.

As I thought about it that night and the following morning, some thoughts began to gel for me.  As I watch people run from one thing to the next, as I see our lives crowded with “stuff” of the time-kind, not just the material-kind, I started to realize something.  My mind went from rambling thoughts to more specific thoughts and finally, I realized, I could reduce these thoughts to two words:

Who says?

Some examples, from conversations I’ve had with people over the past few months:

Who says we have to sell popcorn to the school kids the first Friday of every month?

Who says the high schoolers need a coffee bar, staffed by parent volunteers?

Who says we should have gymnastics practice two nights a week, with competitive meets every weekend?

Who says our class party needs to be a catered affair at a venue instead of a potluck in someone’s home?

Who says we need our kids in every activity our church home offers?  (If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a chipper, “If the doors were unlocked, we were there!”)

Please understand….none of these things are bad.  But every time someone has another “good idea,” that idea has to be carried out and run by other people.  Which leads to well-meaning people being overwhelmed by the amount of stuff they’re doing.

It’s ironic that I’m even writing about this….I’m not a “joiner.”  My kids are in the bare minimun on extra-curricular activities, because I think being home, as a family, together, is more important than most stuff they could sign up for.  (My son is currently involved in–gasp!–nothing.)  I’m not that bad at saying “no;” I had a great amount of practice last month when our trip was closing in and making me feel overwhelmed.  It’s really struck me, though, how easy it is to get sucked in; especially when the ideas are so “good.”  How quickly we become “the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”  (Matthew 13:22)

Or we turn into those invited to the banquet:

“At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  But they all alike began to make excuses.  The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it.  Please excuse me.’  Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out.  Please excuse me.’  Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ ” (Luke 14:  17-20)

I can hear Jesus saying to us, ” ‘Martha, Martha….you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ ”  (Luke 10:41-42)

As I read through the Old Testament, I’m struck by the continued, repeated instruction given to the kings:  Seek Him.  Follow Him wholeheartedly.  And listen:

“They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them.  So the Lord gave them rest on every side.”  (2 Chronicles 15:15)

I realize the verse refers to peace instead of war, but truly….doesn’t rest sound good?

Back to school…

August 20, 2012

So…that’s where I’ve been for the past week.

Doing the last bit of shopping for what the kiddos need, while trying to not duplicate what we already have.

Savoring the last two days of summer break.

Labeling school supplies and loading backpacks.

Squeezing in one last big trip to the library.

Meeting teachers, student teachers (for both kids!), and checking in with past teachers.

Consoling my tearful daughter, often, about going to “all-day” school, aka first grade.  (“Why can’t we just go half-day?  I liked half-day!  I’ll miss you!”)

Settling the kids in their classrooms and then spending an entire day with my mom; coffee, lunch, shopping….

Doing my normal, day-to-day housekeeping things….with an added benefit of kid-free grocery shopping.

Praying for my little ones, as they start this new year.

Tucking notes in lunch boxes, hoping they give at least a bit of encouragement (especially for “all-day” daughter).

And fending off question after question after question, all phrased a bit differently, but all asking the same thing:  “What are you going to do with all your time?”

Truth:  I’m not 100% sure.  Day Three of no-kids and I haven’t approached anything like a “normal” day yet; the year is still too new to have established any true routines.  Even my normal morning routine has been upended this year; forced into something different and still not truly set.  What will my days look like?  What will I be doing with this time?

I’m fairly sure He will show me.

This has absolutely nothing to do with simplifying or organizing….just really felt the need to share.

My two kiddos started swimming lessons today, which has been THE dreaded event of the summer.  Every week or so, someone would murmur about having to go, and I would say yes, you’re going, and the grumbles would begin.  Normally my kids love to be in a pool, but this was the first year (out of four) that they haven’t been in the same class, together, offering each other the unspoken support that only a sibling can provide.  Last year my son moved on, while my daughter didn’t.  So this year, the threat of  impending lessons has caused nothing but misery.

They woke up this morning having completely forgotten about it.  All morning they played, until about 10:00, when I called them up from the basement for snack and told them they’d need to get their suits on so we’d be ready to go….the whole time, praying that the word “swimsuit” wouldn’t result in a total meltdown.  (Usually they are quite thoughtful and take turns having fits; this was one instance I could have had them both explode at once.)  God provided peace; they seemed resigned to their fate instead of rebellious, and we had a good talk about nervous feelings and being brave trying something new and alone.

Thirty minutes later we were headed to the pool, and I was praying thanks to God for giving me fairly peaceful kids in what could have been a really difficult situation, when….wait…there was a familiar car up ahead.  It couldn’t be…. The car turned.  We turned.  No way…..  The car turned into the parking lot, and we followed.  Not possible!!!

Yes.  Friends.  The very first friends my husband and I had here; the friends who were in this city even before we were; friends from my husband’s grad school days who we’ve known for….wow, a long time….two boys piling out of the car and me yelling at their mom “You have got to be kidding me!”  Not a joke…the boys were all in the same class.

Shortly after, my daughter discovered a friend from school in her class.  (Not quite as surprising as the previous discovery….my little social butterfly can’t not find a friend somewhere.)

Leaving the pool, my daughter looked at me with a huge smile and announced, “I can’t wait to come back tomorrow!!”

Proof, yet again, that God really does care about the littlest of things….even nervous kids and swimming lessons….and will provide “even more than we can ask or imagine.”

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  (Luke 12:6-7)

Back to Basics

June 7, 2012

After my post about “How far we’ve come,” I was asked about how I was going to get “back to basics,” what I was going to do to move in the direction of a simpler home.  I could think, immediately, of a few things, but the more I thought about it the more I thought of….so here are some ideas.

First, there’s the obvious:  those moments where I decide that “today I’m going to tackle that drawer…..”  or shelf, or cabinet, etc.  Not an entire closet; just a bite at a time, to make sure I finish what I start.  I’ll go through each item, decide if it’s something we use or if it’s better off blessing someone else, and box or bag up what needs to leave the house.  But that’s only a bit part of the whole.  For lack of a better word, I’m going to call this a “lifestyle adjustment.”  (That sounds really snooty, doesn’t it?  I just mean that there seems to be a need to change how we think about stuff before we can conquer it.)

I also keep brown-paper grocery bags stowed away around the house.  There’s one in our closet, so the minute I try on a shirt I haven’t worn in a while and realize why I haven’t worn it in a while, I can change immediately into something different and add the shirt to the bag.  I keep one in the laundry room closet, so that once I’ve told one of the kids, “Last wearing on those shorts!” (or shirt, or whatever), I can add the item of clothing to the bag the minute it comes out of the wash.  I also have a nice basket on one of the shelves in that closet (about 9×13, and deep), where I put things destined for the thrift store.  This is, admittedly, where fast food toys go to die; but it also holds lots of other things that are preparing to move out the door.

The idea of “one-in-one-out” is gaining ground with the kids; they’ve realized that we’ll take a trip to the used book store if they have a stack of books ready to sell.  This is actually better than one in/one out, since the ratio usually ends up being something like one in/five out; but since they come home with cash they still think they’ve got the better end of the deal.  It’s also become easier with clothing:  we bought you those shoes to replace your worn out ones seems to make a lot of sense to them, and out the trashed ones go.

Finally, though….this is where the “lifestyle adjustment” begins.  I had a friend call recently from a store she was at, offering to pick up water bottles for my kids.  Stainless steel, with the kids’ names on them, on sale for 99 cents.  (99 cents!!)  And I said….no.  Because I know we already have two stainless steel water bottles, one for each kid, plus a Hello Kitty water bottle my daughter kept at school, plus two nice plastic water bottles….you get the idea.  I know we don’t need any more water bottles; regardless of how cool or how cheap (or how thoughtful my friend was).  The reality is, we don’t need a lot of things.  But I have to change my lifestyle; my mindset; my heart about what is a “need” and what is a “want”…..and maybe, at some point, admit where purchasing a “want” might be okay.  I have to change our buying habits; and we weren’t big spenders to begin with.

That’s the hardest part of the process:  the heart change that has to take place to say, “Thank you, Lord, for the abundant blessings you have given me, and now I will be content with that.”  Even better, to say “Thank you, Lord….what would you like me to give away today?  May I be content with less.”

Our legacy

May 31, 2012

I realized mid-May that I was doing a lot of writing about my kids and their “stuff.”  I attribute it to the end of the school year:  I’m thinking more about them because I realize I’m about to spend almost three full months with them, 24/7, and I’m trying to get to a point where I’m anticipating that, instead of dreading it.  (I’m finally there–just in time.  As I write this, my daughter is done and my son’s last day is tomorrow.)

I want to stop a minute, though, and really think about my kids–all our kids, I guess.  I wonder what they’re learning from us, as they grow up in this country where we’re so blessed and where we take so much for granted.  I wonder what I’m teaching them, as I raise them in this home; in this city and this county of copious conspicuous consumption.  I wonder what kind of an example I’m setting in my daily life, through the choices I make; both big and small.  I wonder what kind of a legacy I’m leaving my little ones (who aren’t really so little anymore).

Am I signaling a constant desire for more?  Am I showing that we never quite have enough?  Are my kids learning that if you don’t like something, pitch it, because you can always buy another?  Am I raising a generation dependent on “disposable” junk?  What would my kids say I value most, people or “stuff”?

I still remember one afternoon when the kids were running around the house in big circles:  hall, living room, kitchen, dining room, repeat.  Over and over, until one of them somehow knocked out a shelf in the bookcase in the dining room.  It’s a low bookcase, with four shelves displaying my collection of white pitchers.  Down the shelf went, along with the pitchers, along with my daughter.  She lay on the floor, howling dramatically, and I ran to check on her, and when I surveyed the scene I had a fleeting, laughing thought:  okay, now is the time to make a good choice, or she will forever remember this moment as the time I checked to see if any of my “stuff” was broken before I found out if she was hurt.  Do I want my kids to remember me as someone who thought “stuff” was more important than people?  That moment I chose wisely.  🙂

But not too long ago, I have to admit, I heard my dog gagging on my “brand new” rug, and I freaked out so badly trying to get him outside that my son called down from upstairs asking what was the matter.  (The rug owns me, that’s what’s the matter.)  That moment I chose….poorly.  I truly hope that my good choices outweigh the bad.  I hope that my kids realize that “stuff” is just “stuff,” nothing more, and that there are things much more important in life.

What do I want to strive for?  What do I want them to learn from me?   What legacy do I want to be leaving them?

“Freely you have received, freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8)

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with God’s people who are in need.”  (Romans 12:12-13)

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it….pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”  (I Timothy 6:6-7; 11)

“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I know I don’t always hit the mark.  But if I can encourage them even a little towards any of these things, if this can be the example I set for my children (and for their friends), then I will have created the legacy I want to leave behind.  If I can continue to hold all these things on this earth with open hands, ready to give and share with others, I have lived as an example that I would be proud of my children to follow.

A Grateful Heart

March 7, 2012

Our bedtime routines have always included reading.  Even if it’s something short and sweet on a late night, I try to fit in at least a bit of cuddle-with-a-book time.  We used to snuggle in the cushy chair-and-a-half in the corner of the master bedroom; now the kids are bigger and we spread out on the sofa downstairs.  One night my son had discovered a new book on the bookshelf; one I had slid in quietly, intending to see how long it took to be discovered.

It was an enormous book of fairy tales, with incredibly detailed illustrations on each page.  I’d been talking to my mom about how I wanted just a book of “regular fairy tales;” no Disney, no marketing ploys, just the basic stories, and she had found this and bought it for the kids.  And what did my son choose to read that first night of discovering the book?  Hansel and Gretel.

I hesitated.  Hansel and Gretel isn’t exactly a bedtime story.  Let me read to you about a terrible stepmother who’ll lead kids into the woods to die and a wicked witch who eats children….and now let me tuck you in! might not be the best way to end a day.  But I did it.  (I then ended the night with my daughter’s choice, a short board book of nursery rhymes, hoping to soften the blow a bit.)

Then things got interesting.  As I tucked my daughter in that night I asked her, as always, what she was thankful for.  “Mommy and Daddy and my whole life today” (her standard answer) “and food.”  She continued quickly, before I could say anything:  “Not food like dinner.  Food like, we have food.  Hansel and Gretel didn’t have food.”

I sat there for a moment.  My brain was going a million miles a minute:  all the things in that story, the evil stepmother, the candy house, the wicked witch, cooking children, eating children, conquering the witch and making it home safely, and she walks away with….they had no food.  They were poor and hungry; indeed, they were literally starving.  And she was grateful that she had a house full of food.

I made sure that I included in our prayers that night thanks for a kitchen full of food; thanks that God had blessed us with an abundance and that any time we were hungry all we had to do was open the pantry or the fridge and dozens of choices beckoned.  For the rest of the night I looked at things through different eyes:  we have a sturdy house, to keep us warm and dry from the wind and rain.  We have a furnace that works, and (thank goodness) air conditioning when we need it.  We have running water and indoor plumbing and even a yard to play in.  My kids have their own bedrooms. We are so overwhelmingly blessed in our standard, day-to-day life and we so often take it for granted.  I was reminded of the verses in Psalms:  “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.  I will praise the Lord…” (Psalms 16:5-7).  I breathed prayers of thanks and praise not only for all these material things that give me such comfort on a regular basis, but also prayers of thanks for a little girl that reminded me of it.  And I prayed that God would continue to work in her heart in that way:  to make her extraordinarily thankful for even the most basic things and recognize them as the blessings they are.