Category Archives: God/Christianity/Church

I traveled to Portland…

My friend Kathy told me I need to write more.  So, I comply.

Though I struggle with feeling irrelevant in this age of blogs that are perfectly photographed, engagingly-written by self-assured experts in every imaginable topic, she tells me that I do have a niche, and I fill a role…  I’m still not 100% certain what that role is, nine and a half years after I started blogging.

I’m also going to — at Kathy’s urging — start to journal more on the things about which I cannot write publicly.  I find that, as my children grow toward adulthood, I can’t really disclose to the faceless masses — or even friends I know and trust in real life — many of the things that truly weigh down my heart, as they are often not my secrets to divulge.

Then, when all of these thoughts and feelings and words are teeming in my mind, considered but unwritten, everything else seems like fluff — truly irrelevant and not worth the time invested in writing a blog post.

This, however:  Worthwhile.  To me, at least.

I did something this past weekend that I’ve never done before:  gone on a girlfriends’ weekend with no kids and no husband.  Well, I haven’t done anything like that since I’ve been married.  For Mother’s Day, my husband surprised me with a trip to the Portland area, to see some dear friends.  I had been semi-planning this trip for, oh, about a year…  But, with my oldest son’s high school graduation, my second son going to Civil Air Patrol Encampment in June, a house that sucks up our remodeling budget and most of our discretionary income, a family camping trip to plan, and more — always more — I was certain that it wouldn’t work out.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband had been scheming with my friends.  He’s a good man.

So, while my headcold-ridden husband stayed home with our six children, I flew to PDX, and went criss-crossing southern Washington and northern Oregon with three friends for four days.  Mountains!  The beach!  Gardens!  Farmer’s market!  City!  Country!  We packed a great deal into a short period of time.

One friend, Dee Dee, traveled up from the desert — though not the same flight as me — and we met our two friends who used to live here, but who now live in the Portland area.

This time is a treasure to me.  I have no great love for the Phoenix area… Yet, as my husband says, it is the land of our anointing.  It’s where God has us, and where He has blessed us.  We have not plans — not any hopes, even — of ever living elsewhere.  There are far too many attachments here in the desert:  our beloved church, my husband’s job of 24 years, nearby family (though no one remaining who actually lives in the Phoenix area)….  So, it’s a hard balance, something I’ve struggled with — with varying degrees of success:  I long for green, for water in creeks, for rain, for tolerable weather…  Yet, I cannot give in to discontentment.  It wants to eat my heart, and I can’t let it.  I won’t.

So, any trip outside the desert is a delight, and this one was particularly so.

In my absence, my husband bought me a second-hand rototiller, so all things considered, it might have been the Best Weekend Ever.

at Salmon Creek

At Salmon Creek — on a little hike shortly after my arrival.  The only imperfection was that I forgot my binoculars at home, and there were many birds calling out to me, reminding me of my poor eyesight and forgetfulness.

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Mt. St. Helens — beautifully stark, profound in its impact, awesome in the recovery of the land.

We four:  Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.

We four: Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.

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At Oregon Garden in Silverton. I was quite amazed that, in its original state, Oregon had many hardwood timber forests. This particular oak was over 400 years old. The whole garden is very worthwhile, with both sculpted vistas, extensive veggie gardens, and acres of more wild, native greenery.

Upper Ape Cave.  This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lava tube.  Otherwordly and a priceless experience.  This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the cave.

Upper Ape Cave. This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lightless lava tube. Otherwordly and a priceless experience. This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the otherwise COMPLETELY DARK cave.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon.  What a gorgeous beach -- with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools.  I *think* I saw a puffin.  I also realized that this sweater I dearly love makes me look pregnant.  Love/not-love.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon. What a gorgeous beach — with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools. I *think* I saw a puffin. I’m holding sand dollars.  I also realized that this sweater which I previously really liked makes me look pregnant. Love/not-love.

My other favorite times:

  • Hanging out in Allison’s home, with her hubby and their two sons.  The living room is on the second level, and it is like being in a tree house, with massive windows on two walls, tall trees surrounding the property.  We curled up, kicked back, scritched the ears of her two Westies, and chatted for hours.
  • Eating.  Every restaurant in the Pacific Northwest has a gluten-free menu, and even the gelato at the grocery store (Chuck’s, I think it was called) was labeled as g.f.  We also ate at an Iraqi restaurant, which I wish I could transplant here.
  • Kathy made a delicious dinner for all of us, which we ate in her back yard.  As we waited for the meal, we had hors d’oeuvres of fresh blueberries, plucked from the bushes in Kathy’s yard.  Blueberry bushes.  In her back yard.
  • Just the friendship of other women who know and love each other and have similar values…  I feel rich in the blessings of friendship.  And we laughed a lot.  And exclaimed over the same things.  We’re all alike enough to enjoy most of the same things, but different enough that conversation is enlightening and lively, and we learn from each other.
  • On Sunday morning, as we drove to the Oregon Garden, Allison — the driver — made an executive decision that we would worship and pray aloud.  We did, for about an hour — praying for each other, our families, our churches — three represented by the four of us…  And we listened to the Housefires.  Time flew.  And then right at the end, as we were drenched in the Spirit, someone up the way started backing a 60-foot Winnebago into a driveway, and a lady strode purposefully onto the two-lane blacktop highway and held up her 5″ palm, telling us to stop.  This struck all of us as hilarious, because, really… we couldn’t see the Winnebago, and we would have been lost without her direction.  We were so grateful.  (Much laughter.)

I must return.  We’re already making plans, the four of us, to do so.

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A crazy-busy season has passed, and a regular-busy season is here!

I truly still love writing.  I’ve just been insanely busy.  My load right now is somewhat lighter, which allows me the luxury of reflecting, here in my neglected blog.  (Note:  I have no idea why the sizes of fonts change throughout this post.  Rather than taking the time to figure it out, I’m leaving it.  Sorry-not-sorry.)  Edited to add a few more things about Fiala, and to note that you may click on each picture to enlarge it, if you care to.

  • obscuredMy oldest son, Ethan, did receive the scholarship he was hoping for, to attend Arizona State University.  I am part of a couple different groups where homeschooling parents support each other, especially where prep-for-college is concerned.  I’m struck again and again how, as a homeschooling mom of a senior, it seems like the college admissions process is WAY more about how prepared and organized **I** have been as my child’s mother/teacher, and much less about how well-educated my son is.  I’m happy to report that, even though I have discovered, in retrospect, that there are a hundred things I could have done better or differently, what Ethan and I did, together, was exactly right for what he needed.  I’m feeling the mercy of God on that one, because truly, I’m not kidding about those “hundred things”.  Ethan turns 18 this month.  He isn’t altogether eager to transition to adulthood;  it’s challenging for all of us, to be frank.  I have told him, “We’ve never parented an adult before, please bear with us.”  We’re all learning.  It’s funny, because I have often urged him to DO HIS OWN RESEARCH AND MAKE HIS OWN DECISIONS, because, even though I’m complimented by the fact that he still likes the things I choose for him — it makes me feel like I really know him — it’s healthier for him to be at least a little more independent than where he’s comfortable.  So, in light of this, I turned over to him the plans for his birthday party.  And, whaddya know?  He has planned it for a day when I’m going to be out of town.  Not purposefully;  that’s just the date that works best with his friends, who are hosting.  However, it’s kind of good news/bad news, “You took charge?  GREAT!  But you left me out of it completely??  Sad face.”  LOL!
  • Grant is the second face from the right.

    Grant is the second face from the right.

    Grant is my son who will be 16 later this summer.  I don’t think I’ve blogged about this, but what I’m going to write about here, about Grant, is kind of a big deal to me.  Grant is the opposite of Ethan;  he has known for YEARS where he’d like his future to be, what he’d like to do, where he’d like to go to university…  He really can’t wait to get on with his adult life.  A big part of that includes his plans to attend the United States Air Force Academy.  To be completely honest, up until nine months ago or so, I kind of blew that off.  It’s hard to get into the USAFA.  Really hard.  It’s even harder for homeschoolers.  And, they don’t just look at academics; they look at the whole person.  I had decided, in my own mind, that the chances of Grant getting into the AFA were incredibly slim.  However, early last fall, I started to feel convicted.  I remember having dreams while in high school, and feeling like no one wanted to help me achieve them.  I remember what it felt like to be blown off.  So, I started checking things out, what I could do to help Grant gain ground on his goals.  I decided that I didn’t want to be an impediment to his hopes;  I wanted to assist him in every way possible.  So, I signed him up for the Future Falcons at the USAFA website — which is kind of a Big Deal, as it is super-official;  you need the child’s Social Security number, even!  I downloaded the 21-page “Instructions to Precandidates” pdf and we mapped out his sophomore to senior years of high school accordingly.  And, I looked into getting Grant involved in an Air Force-related program.  I first thought of Junior ROTC…  But, then, I heard about Civil Air Patrol Cadets from some other homeschooling moms.  Long story short, Grant has only been in CAP Cadets for a little over six months, but he is excelling.  He’s actually at a week-long semi-boot-camp experience called “Encampment” at Fort Huachuca as I type this.  Grant still has a long way to go, and many smaller goals to achieve before we can even apply to the Academy.  But, all of us feel pretty good about his chances, which is 180° from where we were, about a year ago.  In this coming school year, Grant’s junior year, he will be taking two classes at KEYS — a two-day homeschool co-op — and the rest at home.  Grant will be taking Honors Chemistry and College Lit and Composition.  Frankly, these are two teaching-intensive classes, and I was looking to outsource the most mom-dependent classes for Grant.  Additionally, we’re looking at having Grant take all of his classes for his senior year at a local community college, and we wanted to ease his transition.  Other than American History, Grant won’t need much from me in the coming school year;  his other subjects — French, Economics, Algebra II, and a couple of others, won’t need a lot of input from me.  I’m totally OK with that.

  • Wes and Jeanie

    Wes and Jeanie

    My son Wesley will be in 9th grade in the fall, which hardly seems possible.  He’s the youngest of our three sons, and it is a challenge for me to not think of him as “little”.  He has had a massive growth spurt this past year, and his voice has dramatically deepened.  Whether I’m ready or not, Wesley is no longer little.  He is an excellent big brother to our toddler, Jeanie.  He’s in the teen youth group at church.  It just feels odd to me, still.  Through much thought and research and prayer, we have decided to try Wesley at an “brick and mortar” school for this coming fall.  None of our kids have ever gone to a “real” school before.  But…  I have long felt that I just don’t quite speak Wesley’s educational language.  He hasn’t suffered under my instruction, and testing shows he is on course or ahead for his grade level.  However, I don’t feel like I’m best-suited to maximize his potential, since his potential is in areas where I’m not strong.  There is a charter school (publicly funded, privately run) less than a mile from us;  I have checked them out before, and I like their literature-based, liberal arts approach.  It’s a small school:  this coming year, they’ll very likely have less than 150 students, only 9th – 11th graders.  Most kids bring their own lunches (which seems trivial, but with Wesley’s celiac disease, dairy allergy, and peanut allergy, I didn’t want him to feel like he’s the odd man out, bringing his own lunch every day).  And then, a good friend of ours took a job as the English teacher there.  This man is everything you’d hope for in a teacher:  brilliant, kind, patient, thoughtful, a good leader….  I do believe he’d be an excellent teacher for Wesley for English, which has long been Wes’ poorest subject.  The daughter of that teacher, as well as another friend of Wesley’s, will also be attending the school.  My husband Martin and I have discussed, toured the school together, talked on the phone with the principal, e-mailed back and forth with staff, read every click on the school’s website, and PRAYED.  However, neither of us have felt any strong inclination or direction from God.  We both feel like He’s saying, “All right.  It’s up to you.  You can give it a shot.”  I’d feel a thousand times better if I had heard something more specific than that.  But…  It’ll do, for now.  This next week, I’ll be enrolling Wes.

  • Artsy, funky, fun, LOUD Audrey

    Artsy, funky, fun, LOUD Audrey

    This past year was our busiest ever, for school.  With Ethan as a senior, Grant as a sophomore, and Wes in 8th grade, there were far too many days when Audrey (who just finished 3rd grade) and Fiala (who just finished 1st) would just do seat work — phonics, math, journal, and a couple of other subjects where they can work largely independently, with little help from me.  In other words:  the bare minimum.  I have no doubt that the girls’ educational skills are up to par, or perhaps beyond their typical peers.  However, I want a richer, more robust school experience for them.  With Ethan at college, Grant working mostly-independently, and Wesley enrolled in a charter school, I’m VERY MUCH looking forward to a hands-on school year for the two “big” girls:  art projects, science experiments, field trips, actually READING THE READ-ALOUDS in our curriculum!  It should be a wonderful year.  As stated in the caption of the pic at left, Audrey — who turned nine years old a couple of months ago — is artsy, funky, fun, and LOUD.  All the boys did Rosetta Stone French this year, and Audrey joined in, as well.  I am tickled to hear her lovely little French accent.  It’s charming.  Fiala, who is six years old, is loving, thoughtful, intense, unique, and can be petulant and impulsive.  She loves swimming, loves playing dress up and changing her clothes in general — her clean, folded laundry stack is ALWAYS taller than anyone else’s.  She loves waking up earlier than any of the other children and coming into my bed to “snug” with me.  It doesn’t usually happen like that, but it’s a good day for Fi when it does.  All in all, she is a delight of a child, my little green-eyes-freckle-nose, as I often call her.  If Fiala was in a public school, she would have been in Kindergarten this last year, as she has a late-fall birthday.  That seems crazy to me, as she was well-ready for first grade work.

  • Fiala, me, Jean

    Fiala, me, Jean

    Jean will be two years old next week, which also seems crazy.  I tell her that if it wasn’t for her screeching in restaurants and playing with her poop, she’d be a perfect child.  Seriously:  up until now, my sixth child, I have had NO children interested in their poop.  Jean, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to understand what “gross” means.  So, when she takes a nap, I have to put this ONE outfit on her, every time — it’s a BabyGap long-legged, button-up, one-piece, short-sleeved cotton romper.  It’s the only thing that doesn’t allow access to her diaper area.  Actually, “Pull-Up area”, as she is nearly completely potty-trained.  We went from cloth diapers to early potty training in December, and I rejoiced, but it has taken her A Very Long Time to be serious about it.  She just isn’t serious.  She is a joyous little bundle of… everything.  She’s still chubby and overall large for her age.  She has a passion for Bubble Guppies, swimming, and dancing.  She is bossy.  Charmingly bossy.  “Hum!” she will demand, which is Jeanie-speak for, “Come!”  She will pull on your hand and do everything she can to make you comply.  Or, “Hi!  Hi!” she will insist, patting the seat next to her.  For unknown reasons, “Hi!  Hi!” means, “You sit HERE, NOW!”  Or, “Tiss!!” meaing, “Kiss!”  Then, “O’er side!!”  Meaning, “I want a kiss on the other cheek, as well!”  We all adore Jean.

  •   This past spring just about did me in.  I always felt like families who couldn’t eat dinner together were doing something wrong.  Well, guess what?  We became that family in 2015.  Sunday nights, Martin often has events at church to attend.  Monday nights, I take Grant to CAP Cadets and usually sit in a nearby coffee shop, grading papers for the 2.5 hrs of CAP.  Tuesday nights, Martin led worship at a weekly small group.  I was leading worship just on Wednesday nights, until a group got too big and needed to multiply, but didn’t have a worship leader.  I agreed — just for the spring — to lead worship in that group, as well.  So, from the end of February to the beginning of June, I was gone both Wednesday and Thursday nights.  Additionally, I started hosting a CSA/farm share again for a local organic farmer, every Wednesday.  I had kind of taken an six-month hiatus, but started up again in April.  And, Ethan works three nights a week at Sprouts.  Martin has a fairly long commute, and often isn’t home until 6:00 or so…  It became like passing the baton, and the 30 minutes we’d have together before one of us needed to head back out the door was usually not at the dinner table.  When you have a family of eight, dinner is loud and usually fun, but it really isn’t the place for Martin and I to connect.  I’d have dinner made, but we usually didn’t sit down together.  Homeschooling, church, CAP Cadets, three weekly small groups, the CSA, Martin’s commute, Ethan’s work…  Lordy, I was stretched.  But, small groups take a break for the summer and school is DONE, so my load is infinitely lighter.  I feel much freer!!
  • My other big things for the spring are:  my garden — which is a scaled-down version of my original vision.  I have one 8′ x 12′ bed in, and it’s growing wonderfully.  I’m working daily (or nearly so) to put in a walk around the bed, and hope to have a second bed ready for mid-August planting.  It is so hot here (yesterday hit 115°!!!!) that there is little that will grow in the heat of mid-summer.  The bed that is growing, I planted in late April.  I can’t really sow anything else until there is hope for cooler temperatures.  I have sunflowers, two kinds of melon, Armenian cucumbers, okra, two kinds of heat-tolerant green beans, summer squash, and a winter squash growing, plus a variety of flowers.  I also have way too many volunteer tomato plants, whose seed came from my compost, I suppose.  I have transplanted as many as possible, replanting and giving away about 20 tomato plants.  There are still far too many tomato plants growing in the garden — growing too closely with the other plants.  It’s not really the right time to grow tomatoes here — ideally, I would have had them in by January or February.  But, I can’t bear to yank them.  We’ll see what happens.  My garden gives me joy, exercise, and a sense of fulfillment.  It keeps me sane.  To me, gardening really is a kind of therapy.0618151352Of course, all of this is barely scratching the surface.  There is much more happening in our home…  An upcoming camping trip, me traveling to the Portland area for a girlfriends’ weekend, sewing projects, lots of canning, Bible studies, small and large challenges and triumphs, a continuing home remodel, birthdays — including my own, baseball, me going low-carb again to lose weight, books to read, and more.  But, I will call it a day and go swimming with my kids.Blessings to you and yours.

The plan of God

I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I think this might be the plan of God.

I have a reset button.

chub-chubWhen one of my teens (I have three, now!) is causing me grief — it does happen, to tears…

When my eight year old is crying that she didn’t get enough chocolate chips, and I’m thinking, “You have WAY more chocolate chips than you had a few minutes ago when you had NONE.  Get a grip!”…

When the the five year old is crying that she didn’t get all her spelling words right, and is inconsolable, even when I tell her that she spells amazingly and is doing better at spelling than any five year old I know…

When the tasks before me for the week seem impossible, and stress is at my doorstep, even on a Monday morning…

When I just can’t seem to learn the things that God has for me to learn, even when the things He wants me to learn are “simple” things like how to be at peace and trust Him…

I go upstairs for a few minutes before Jean’s nap time.  I nurse her and snuggle her chubby self;  she is a very satisfying baby.  I dig my face gently into her chest and belly and she howls with delighted giggles.  Her face lights up and she loves me completely.  The oxytocin is flowing, and peace returns to my heart, however briefly.

I am certain that this is God’s plan.  He has provided a bit of calm in my everyday thunderstorm.  He who created the ends of the universe even provided for a mama’s endocrine system.  Perhaps that sounds weird, but knowing how intricately I’m created, and how even “just” hormones work for my benefit is a balm to my battered emotions and sleep-deprived strength.  I feel cared-for by my almighty God, that He would create such a plan to reset my soul.

And, I’m just happy to be the mother to a chubby 15-month-old named Jean Marjorie Joy.

—————

On a semi-related, please do read this wonderfully-written piece on extended breastfeeding by a mom I knew when she was just a girl.  It is honest and lovely and real.  Even if you think you have zero interest in the topic, you’d be blessed, I think, to read it.

“Here I stand…”***

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My husband Martin holds baby Jean to the sky. We’re at Saddle View Point, on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

My husband and I are nearing 19 years of marriage.  I have been reflecting on our history recently.

That is partly because my own parents divorced after they had “celebrated” their own 19th anniversary, and I have had to say, “SHUT UP!!” to the enemy keep my thoughts captive regarding this particular milestone, and have been purposefully dwelling on the successes of our time together as a family.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.
Psalm 137:3-5 (NLT)*

It’s a pretty common understanding in the Christian culture that children are a blessing.

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My family: 12-year-old Wesley, 7yo Audrey, 14yo Grant, myself holding baby Jean, almost-five-year-old Fiala, Martin, and 16yo Ethan.

Confession:  For a long, long time, I did not feel that blessing.  I felt overwhelmed, not up to the massive task appointed to me.  I saw my every flaw replicated and magnified in my children.  I felt like I was endlessly disciplining, when I really didn’t WANT to discipline;  I wanted to snuggle on the couch and have everyone love each other, and everyone respect each other, everyone defend each other, everyone exuding kindness and loyalty…

I don’t feel overwhelmed anymore, and though I do see my flaws in my children, I am less horrified these days.  Instead, I see that as the provision of God to accent my need for His holiness and his character, in both myself and my children;  it shows me what I need to work on.  However, I still feel, oftentimes, like that last sentence in the paragraph above.  There is not enough kindness and love in our home.  There is not enough of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  There is not enough of His peace.  His patience is frequently far from manifest in the lives and hearts of every member of our family.

HOWEVER.

I am still starting to get a picture, a revelation, of how much BLESSING I live in.

It is dawning on me from a number of different horizons.

To wit:

  • A mother came up to me after worship on Sunday and told me how she had seen my 14 year old son, Grant, enter right into exuberant worship and praise — nothing rote — and he urged a friend to do the same.
  • I am meeting more women — it’s my age, I guess — who do not have the family they envisioned for themselves, earlier in their lives.  They don’t have as many children, or none at all, or they don’t have a healthy marriage, or none at all…  It’s not that my marriage is flawless, but I do have a good marriage.  And I have six children, which feels… complete for the first time in my motherhood.  It doesn’t feel as if anyone is missing.  I am realizing how easily what I presently have could have never been.
  • I do long for more loyalty and kindness in particular between my children;  every time a child throws a sibling under the bus, so to speak, by tattling, my stomach hurts and my heart aches.  But, there IS a lot of love present in our home.  I am trying to treasure all these things in my heart — to remember the loving, tender moments.
  • People whose perspectives and opinions I trust are increasingly encouraging me, pointing out the good fruit in our home.  A maternal uncle visited this past weekend.  He left a note for my husband and I to read.  Part of it said, “You have accepted the challenge of raising a Christian family at a time in history when our culture, society, and even our government fights you.  Good job.  Keep going.  You are being watched by people you don’t even know, and they do so with a yen for what you have.”**
  • At my step dad’s memorial service last Saturday, many people came up to me to congratulate me on the good behavior of my children, and extended their blessings to our family.
  • Baby Jean seems to have brought a new level of tenderness in our family — especially in my two other girls.  My pastor’s wife keeps noting it to me.  It has opened my eyes to the reality of the Father God blessing our family, specifically through this chubby, sweet-smiling three-month-old infant.
  • Just in general…  People keep encouraging me, especially about my motherhood and my children.  I should keep notes and read on a day when I’m discouraged.  🙂

I’ve always kept with the notion that those who compare themselves among themselves are not wise.  Therefore, I often take lightly the compliments of others, regarding my children.  I see the best in my children, but I also see the worst, and I can’t help but often think, “If you only knew...” when someone says something flattering about one of my children.

But, I’ve decided this:  It would be more repugnant to live in the blessing and not realize it.  I think my perfectionist self rather disqualifies my motherhood, disqualifies my children, even, from receiving compliments and blessings.  This makes me sad.  I want to believe it!  I should believe it!  I want to embrace a life of blessing.  I want to ENJOY being blessed!  I think it would score one for the enemy if I really did live a blessed life, but didn’t have the revelation of it.  What a waste that would be!

I’m feeling an increased longing for more of God’s presence in our home.  In short, I’m longing for His blessing, His hand on our lives and in our hearts.  I’ve always wanted this… but it seems like God is bringing me to a place of urgency in prayer and in seeking Him for this, and I have, a number of times in the last month or so, been brought to tears with HOW MUCH I LONG FOR this, long for Him.

So, that’s my new goal:  To enjoy the Father’s blessing, which, indeed, includes my precious children, and to look for and acknowledge His blessing.  I am a blessed woman, indeed, to have six children and a loving husband.  Perfection is a long, long, long, long ways off.  But I am still very blessed, and I want to have an increasing revelation of that, and live in its peace.

———–

*For the curious, our family is not “quiverfull“.
** I was telling my pastor about how I was basking in this blessing from my uncle, and then, I looked over and saw my seven-year-old daughter, Audrey, CHEWING on the note.  CHEWING IT.  She explained, “I’m pretending to be a puppy!”  My pastor said with a laugh, “And then reality set in!”
***There is an old worship song by John Barnett called “In the Blessing.”  Its words are:  “Here I stand/In the blessing of the Father’s love/Washed in blood/Sweet forgiveness for a life undone… Knowing that Your love is all I need/To get by/Knowing that Your hand is over me/All my life/My Father, I love you…”  I couldn’t find a recording of this song — which has often brought me to tears — to add to this post.

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Lovely Audrey holds baby Jean, who doesn’t look too pleased here. But, really, Jean *ADORES* her siblings.

A guitar, a crib, a dashboard, and a book club (reflections on a year in a small, weekly home group)

The school year is winding down.

Among other things, that means the small group I’ve attended for the last 9 months or so will come to a close, too*.

A few reflections on “my” group this year:

  1. As a worship leader, I don’t get to pick my group.  Each August, I hear chatter between friends, “Whose group are you thinking about going to this year?  What night is it?  Whose house is it at?  Who is the leader?  Wanna go together??”  That sort of thing.  I don’t get to participate in those conversations.  I go where I’m assigned.  That’s good news and bad news.  If there is someone who goes to a group who is a particular friend of mine, it’s totally by coincidence.  I’m often assigned to groups that I wouldn’t have personally chosen, for one reason or another.  BUT… that also means that, each year, I get to grow closer to a bunch of people who, even if I wouldn’t have chosen them for myself, God has chosen them for me!!  He knows what I need, even when I don’t.  It seems that, usually, God uses that year’s group to challenge me…  God knows that I need stretching and growth in a particular area, and proclaims to me, “Here is your opportunity!  And you can’t escape it!  Hahahaha!”  Yes, I envision God laughing at me like that.  He has a funny sense of humor.  However, this year, the group I’ve been in has been such… comfort to my heart.  Such comfort.  It is filled with thoughtful, caring, tender people, whose hearts overflow with love.  Usually, during ministry time, toward the end of our time together, I am playing my guitar, covering the environment, praying or singing over the interactions taking place in front of me.  In all my past groups, I’d rarely be the recipient of prayer.  I’m totally OK with that.  But, it has blessed me to tears that virtually every week, someone will come over and lay their hand on my shoulder and quietly speak a prayer of blessing and encouragement over me…  I feel un-forgotten.
  2. A family in my group this year has gone through something I can’t even imagine.  It has rent my heart.  For the past three years, they have fostered a baby since he was only a few weeks old.  Initially, they thought (due to the proclamations of the mother) that they were blood-related to this baby.  They didn’t find out until the baby was two, I believe, that he was actually of no blood relation.  However, they have loved and cared for him and cherished him as the son of their heart.  This past year, a distant blood relation of the child decided that they wanted the boy.  And, in what was a blow to all of us, the courts decided in favor of the distant blood relative, rather than in favor of the parents this baby has had for literally his entire life.  The mother approached me a few weeks ago…  “When he goes to live with his new family, I’d like you to have his crib for your new baby, if you want it.”  That killed me.  My heart has been so knit to this family through their struggle to keep their little boy…  And the crib is REALLY NICE.  Really nice.  I’m sure they could sell it on Craigslist and recoup some of the money spent.  But, they’d rather I have it.  They said they’d be honored.  Oh, my Lord.  *I* am honored.  The day their son went to live with his new, permanent family, about a week and a half ago, they brought the crib to my home.  So very, very bittersweet.  ~sigh~  But that crib will now be a reminder to me of that little boy who, in my estimation, should still be with the parents who raised him for more than three years.  It will be a physical reminder to pray for him, far away now…  And to pray for the parents whose hearts have been broken and broken and broken over this.
  3. On a few occasions, our group takes the opportunity to bring food and ministry to various families in need in our local area.  The last time was almost two weeks ago.  I was with a group of four others.  Usually, we have names and addresses and specific people expecting to receive us.  This past time, though, we were just sent out with bags of groceries and instructed to just pray about where to go.  The group I was in went to an apartment complex.  However, after walking around (up and down stairs) for about 30 minutes, I started having contractions and I could feel my ankles swell rapidly.  So, a man in the group and I went back to someone’s car to sit while the others finished.  This man had had a stroke five years ago and doesn’t walk well, himself.  So, we sat in the car and chatted.  I asked him all sorts of questions about his past, his stroke, his recovery, his relationships…  I kept asking and he kept talking.  It was a lovely evening, with cool breezes wafting through the open windows of the vehicle.  I kept thinking, “This is such a treasure.”  It’s hard to explain, but I had the thought, “Would I normally have 30 minutes to sit down and chat with a 60-something man?  No.  Would we ever go out to coffee together?  No.  But is this so valuable, such a blessing to the both of us??  Yes.”  Once again, it was like God saying, “I know what you need, I know what he needs, and I’m going to use this little opportunity that wouldn’t arise any other way to knit your hearts together.”  And I just kept thinking, “THIS is what being the Body of Christ is about.  THIS IS IT.  This is Church life.  This is what God does.”  He brings us into deeper and more sincere relationship, often with people we would not have chosen for ourselves to be our “buddies” but in the end, it turns out to be JUST what we needed.  God is smart like that.  🙂
  4. Lastly, I have been part of a small book club for… five years I think it has been.  Our group started out with eight women, all from “my” church.  As time has progressed, about half of us no longer go to the same church, but the group has persisted.  However, a couple of women have moved out of state, and one more is heading imminently in that direction, and on Saturday, those who remain had a little discussion:  “Whom should we invite to join us?”  And I was delighted to suggest a woman who is in my small group.  I just know she’ll be a good fit for our small group of diverse, thoughtful women who meet every other month to discuss a book which has (as is our goal) “Good Art + Good Message.”  We’ve read a great range of fiction and non-fiction, contemporary works and classics, poetry, memoirs, novels, and more.  The thing is this:  This particular woman whom I offered as a potential member, up to the other ladies…  Well, I NEVER would have known her, if it hadn’t been for small group.  We’re of much different ages, we don’t typically relate in the same circles of people…  We’re just in different walks of life.  But, after going to small group with her on Thursday nights, I know she is insightful, humorous, kind, and thinks deeply.  I very, very likely wouldn’t have discovered that, had it not been for small group.  And I look forward to getting to know her better through the book club.  And it’s good for HER, too.  We all want to be known.  We all want to be wanted.  We all need friendship.  We all long to be noticed and appreciated…

So, once again, I find myself thankful for my God, who knows what I need — and even what I want — well before I do.  And He is kind enough to set me up to “discover” it for myself.  He gives me those things, like gifts…  And I am sincerely thankful for His care over me.

————————

*My church has small home groups that meet throughout the school year, and then summers typically see a variety of special classes or Bible studies that last 2-8 weeks

Hyper-nesting, time well-spent (or not), and hearing from God…

I have a one-ish track mind.  I tend to bunch my thoughts, my efforts together in one spot…  Right now, even though I’m 26 weeks pregnant, and one might think I have, “BABY BABY BABY,” going through my mind, it’s not.

Actually, that’s somewhat of a good thing.

Historically, I start nesting somewhere around five weeks pregnant and it’s all I can do to remain focused and engaged with the rest of my life, responsibilities included, for the whole pregnancy.  I tend to spend eight solid months with a nearly compulsive bent toward thinking, dreaming, planning, preparing, for my new baby.  I put a huge amount of emotional investment and TIME into it.  On one hand, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing.  But, when I have other children who need mothering and schooling; when I have a home that needs cleaning and maintenance; when I have a husband who shouldn’t have to fight for my attention; when I have responsibilities at church that need me to NOT be thinking, “I sssooooo don’t want to be doing this;” when I have friends who merit attention, my hyper-nesting isn’t that great of a thing.

So, for me, the fact that this is on the back burner of my mind:  I’m going to be adding an 8th member to our family in three months or so…  is rather a blessing.  I’m not struggling like I usually do with wanting to drop everything and become a hermit in my home and feeling VERY CRABBY that there are other parts of my life that are calling.

I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone.

I, for one, though, am very happy to feel ENGAGED with the world at 26 weeks pregnant*.

No, this is not me. It’s Emily Robinson from the Dixie Chicks, playing a dobro.

  • We’re still doing school (though I am REALLY looking forward to our Easter Break next week).
  • My home is quite tidy (most of it).
  • I’m still leading worship in a weekly small group (though I joked that I might need to obtain a dobro sometime in the near future to accommodate my expanding belly).
  • I’m still leading worship twice a month for SuperChurch (the 6-12 year-olds’ Sunday morning service).
  • I’m still singing with the “big church” worship team two or three Sundays a month (I keep telling myself that I probably look ridiculous dancing…  Oh, well.).
  • I’m still hosting the weekly CSA at my home, and even just decided that I’m going to do at least another 12 weeks, shortly after the current season ends on May 1 (even though I’ll have to find an alternate location for while I’m in labor…).
  • If anything, I feel MORE connected to both my husband and our five children during this pregnancy.  I also feel more peaceful.  This is probably my happiest pregnancy ever.

Knowing my history, I wasn’t sure, three months ago or so, that I should do the CSA.  I often start well, but don’t finish strong.  I get all fired up for one project or another, then start to lose steam…  I was more than a bit concerned that this would be a similar endeavor, and then, when I lost focus and dropped the project, not only would I pay for it, but so would the 25 or so other people who were counting on me, and their families…

Also… and this is hard to communicate;  I can’t grasp the right descriptive words…  But, I was uncertain if the CSA was where God wanted me to invest my time.  I long to be fruitful.  I want the things I do to have lasting impact.  I want my time to be well-spent.  I want my involvement with others to have more than just a tinge of “ministry”.  I mean… not that I’m trying to make this The Christian CSA with a prayer corner, worship music in the background, and Bible verses plastered all over my fridge — not that at all.  But, I wanted this to be worthwhile in every sphere, and I wasn’t certain if hosting the CSA was a good choice in how to spend my time — time which often feels spread too thinly as it is.

So, I prayed about it.  “Is this where you want me, God?  Is this OK?”

I got no discernible response.  I’m not saying God didn’t speak, but if He did, I missed it.  I didn’t even feel vaguely “led” one way or another.

I asked my husband — who is well-acquainted with my tendency to rush into projects hard and fast and then feel overwhelmed — what he thought.  Honestly, I was a little surprised that he seemed to think favorably about the whole thing.

It didn’t seem like God was telling me, “No,” although a nice, clear, resounding, “YES!” would have made me feel much more confident.

So, I went with my husband’s approval.

Well.

I guess I had previously felt that I was hosting the CSA for my own personal benefit.  I mean, from the bottom of my heart, I truly want to equip others to eat better.  But, I was kind of compelled more by the fact that I would get roughly $40 worth of local, fresh, organic produce for FREE each week, plus earn $1 per person, per week for what seemed like very little time.

I was wrong on nearly all accounts.

In the six weeks the CSA has been operational:

  • A couple of weeks, I’ve gotten much less than $40 worth.  The remaining time I’ve received FAR more.  We’re rolling in veggies, which pleases me to no end.
  • I anticipated making around $40/week, thinking we’d have that many participants.  However, we started with only 16, and are now up to 24.  So, I am not making even enough money to pay the midwife each month, which was my thought going into it.
  • It takes much more time than I realized it would.  Not only do I devote time “on the ground” from 2:00 – 5:30 every Wednesday, but there is a lot of communication and planning involved, too.  I probably spend an additional 3-3½ hours weekly, often more.  Seven hours total every week may not seem like a lot to you, but in my world, subtracting seven hours from other things that I could be doing??  That’s huge.  That’s a big commitment.

Much more significant, though, is how I have been absolutely surprised by the positive feedback I’ve received from so many of the participants.

I was thinking recently about how, when I started blogging more than seven years ago, I was just compelled to write.  It was 100% for my own benefit.  I saw blogging as an online version of journaling:  simply documenting the time and thoughts as they passed.  I wasn’t trying to gather an admiring crowd.  I wasn’t trying to change the world.  I wasn’t trying to impress anyone or even benefit them.  I just wanted to write.

Similarly, with the CSA:  I just wanted some veggies.  Some free, organic veggies.

But with both endeavors, I have been very taken aback by the genuine thanks, the more-than-occasional encouraging note, the thoughtful gestures that have come my way…  I never thought — not once — that hosting a produce-pickup was going to make a difference in anyone’s life;  I entered into it as rather an indulgence in something of significant interest to me.  But, similar to how I am now compelled to continue blogging by the random e-mails that will start off, “Thank you for your post on ______________ .  I was in tears because of my situation of __________.  I stumbled upon your post, and it was just what I needed, and here’s how it affected me:  ______________.  It was just what I needed and I can’t tell you how thankful I am.” — I am now compelled to continue the CSA due to letters like this (shared with permission):

You’re a good friend Karen – even if “long distance”. I don’t think I would have stepped into organic thinking without your help and encouragement. The rest of my extended family think I’m nuts…a super picky eater or whatever. But I have strong convictions to take care of the body God blessed me with and it brings joy to my heart hearing my kids happily talk about healthy vegetables during mealtimes! It’s sad. I never knew any fresh vegetables except iceberg lettuce when I was a kid…nothing but canned and always over cooked. Surprisingly I took after my grandma it seems in how I feel about my health and she lived to be 70 even after smoking for 20 years of her life! She found Jesus, quit smoking & drinking cold turkey and lived a life of joy I still remember this day. I guess I’m sharing just to show my appreciation for you Karen. You have made a difference in my life too. I Love you friend.

That made me cry.  It also made me think that maybe why God was so silent was because He knew that I was just looking for Him to say, “Yes, it’s OK with me that you have this interest, and yes, it’s OK with me that you invest your time here.”  I was just looking for permission.  But He was setting me up.

I sent an e-mail of thanks back to my friend and asked her if I could put her story on my blog.  She didn’t immediately respond and I got nervous.  But, when her reply came, the tears flowed anew.

I would be honored to be a story in your blog – Please feel free to write whatever you wish! Amazing…Our Lord God never fails to love and “push” us into His most blessed plan if just choose to submit! Love you,  your thoughts & prayers are never wasted.

“Never wasted.”

I’m an ISTJ on the Myers-Briggs scale…  If you click on that link, at least 95% of it is me, to a T.

  • They have a strongly-felt internal sense of duty, which lends them a serious air and the motivation to follow through on tasks.
  • They place great importance on honesty and integrity. They are “good citizens” who can be depended on to do the right thing for their families and communities. While they generally take things very seriously, they also usually have an offbeat sense of humor and can be a lot of fun – especially at family or work-related gatherings.
  • The ISTJ will work for long periods of time and put tremendous amounts of energy into doing any task which they see as important to fulfilling a goal. However, they will resist putting energy into things which don’t make sense to them, or for which they can’t see a practical application.
  • Once the ISTJ supports a cause or idea, he or she will stop at no lengths to ensure that they are doing their duty of giving support where support is needed.
  • Traditional and family-minded, they will put forth great amounts of effort at making their homes and families running smoothly. They are responsible parents, taking their parenting roles seriously. They are usually good and generous providers to their families.
  • They are very hard workers, who do not allow obstacles to get in the way of performing their duties. They do not usually give themselves enough credit for their achievements, seeing their accomplishments simply as the natural fulfillment of their obligations.

It has actually been quite a while since I reviewed what I’m “supposed” to be like as an Introverted Sensing Thinking Judger.  But, re-reading that descriptive page makes me appreciate God more:  He who made me knows who I am.  He knows what I need.  He knows what brings me joy.  He knows what will surprise me.  He knows how to stretch me without breaking me.  And He knows just the right time to bring encouragement to me…

—————–

*It recently came to my attention that I never stated what this child will be:  SHE IS A GIRL.  My husband was 100% right.  Not only was I pregnant, but the baby is a girl.

 

 

Can’t we all just get along?

I love NPR.

In one of my favorite YouTube videos ever, Blimey Cow posted the hilarious “You Might Be a Homeschooler If…” video last year that went viral, at least among the homeschool community.

In it is a line that says something like, “You might be a homeschooler if your mom listens to NPR and votes Republican.”

HA!  That’s so me.  The radio in my truck is almost always tuned to 91.5 FM, KJZZ, which has acoustic jazz in the evenings and NPR programming in the daytime.  I appreciate the in-depth reporting and the broader perspective than the snippets of typical radio or TV news provides.

Anyway.

In my Facebook feed this morning was a story I was really pleased and surprised to see from NPR:

Study:  Diet May Help ADHD Kids More Than Drugs

The story was pretty basic, and referred listeners to their doctor for further help, which is kind of a laugh, as virtually all MD programs in the United States are woefully inadequate on the connection between diet and behavior — or even diet and basic physical health!

However, it makes me pleased that this topic is receiving national press and attention:  What you eat can affect your body and mind.

The link for this story has been shared on a number of different health-and-diet related pages to which I subscribe, on Facebook.

What has been interesting to me — and a bit distressing — is that I have read a fair amount of argument about WHERE to start with dietary changes for children, and WHAT diet is the best.  Everyone has an opinion and many are strident about it and have rude, unkind words for those who don’t agree with their particular beliefs.

I understand that.  I really do.  After seeing the monumental changes that came about in my young son’s behavior and health after being diagnosed with celiac disease more than ten years ago, and seeing the positive effects that have come about in our family’s lives as a result of my ongoing search for ways for us to eat and live more healthily, I UNDERSTAND.

If you see dramatic improvements firsthand, it alters your perspective.  And, in a way, you can’t help but think that EVERYONE should do what you’re doing, because you begin to think that EVERYONE would benefit.  And, you think philanthropic thoughts about it.  You think, “It would be BETTER for everyone.  It would be BETTER for the environment!  It would be BETTER for our nation’s health.  It would be BETTER for our farmers.  It would be BETTER for our economy.”

And, you might even be right!!

But, at a certain point, it becomes divisive.

And repulsive.

Literally, repulsive.  It repels me when someone tries to proselytize me to Nourishing Traditions and insists that there IS NO OTHER WAY.  I’ve un-liked certain Facebook pages and un-followed a number of blogs which routinely state that I’m a fool if I’m not eating/doing/making/following their way.

That’s the part that bothers me:  The insistence that one person/method/diet is THE ONLY WAY and that I’m clearly an uneducated rube who is throwing away the health of myself and my family if I eat even one thing outside of that method.

That really bothers me.

I was thinking of it, just a bit ago, along the lines of Christianity.

I go to the Vineyard — Vineyard Church Phoenix, which is a kind-of non-denominational, Holy Spirit-filled, fairly casual, high-involvement church which prioritizes worship (“contemporary” worship with a full band — guitars, drums, et al) and healing ministry.  I really love my church.  I ADORE my church.  I love the “DNA” of my church.  I love my pastor.  I love the people with whom I serve and learn.  I could bore you (or perhaps scare you) with how passionately I enjoy my church.  I wish more people would attend it.  I wish more people would experience the benefit I’ve received by participating in the Vineyard for the last 23 years.

However, I’m aware that my church is not the ONLY way to worship.

I have a dear cousin, an amazing woman — younger than me — who is a Benedictine nun in the Catholic church.  We couldn’t possibly be on more divergent Christian paths, but there is a kinship, a core identity, we share.   Everything I hear from her — her comments, our rare conversations, stories I read about her, makes my spirit soar.

But, again, how we practice our Christianity is extremely different.  In fact, if we sat down and compared fact sheets regarding our respective Christian practices, I’m sure we’d find much over which we disagree.

I have observed, in my advanced years 😉 , that one’s practice of Christianity, what speaks to one’s own heart, will vary greatly depending on history, personal preference, personal priorities, personal convictions, personality, and more.

I mean… I WANT more people to join my church and share my experiences;  I want others to benefit like I have.

But on the other hand, I cannot say, “My church is the only way to worship.”

There is more than one viable, healthy way to practice Christianity.

There is also more than one way to eat healthily!  There is more than one way to live healthily!

I don’t necessarily have to be a card-carrying member of the gluten-free, GFCF, Feingold, Nourishing Traditions, WAPF, Paleo, GAPS, organic, WHATEVER to be healthy.

And, honestly, it really turns me off when anyone — who is not Jesus Christ Himself — says, “My way or the highway.”

But… on the other hand…

I do believe that there are basic truths.  I do believe in the God of the Bible.  I do believe that there are basic tenets, basic laws established by God that exist.  There is truth.  Not all roads are equal.  It does matter what one thinks and believes and how one lives one’s life.  I don’t believe that everything is relative.

So… it sometimes feels like a hard balance to find:  Having beliefs with conviction which express themselves in practice, in daily living, and knowing in my heart that it is WORTH the effort and WORTH telling others about.  Yet, not being the guy on the corner with a megaphone screaming, “Follow my way or DIE!!”

And not thinking ugly thoughts about those dogmatic folks on the corner with their megaphones…

Ugh.

In which I plea too earnestly

Note: If you do a Google image search for a mom talking with a teen, there are LOADS of fabulous mother and daughter pics chatting effortlessly away, but the ones of mothers and teen sons?? Weird. Or scary.

When your children are toddlers, you can write pretty much anything about them in a blog, and they just won’t care.

Not so much when they’re teens.

I had a conversation with my oldest son today — he’s 15 — and I will freely admit that I did about 98% of the talking, so it was more like a talking-to than a conversation.  I don’t want to call it a lecture, because as I told him a number of times, “I’m not mad.  You’re not in trouble.”  Maybe it was more like an admonishment.  I want to call him up.  I long to help bring out in him the potential that exists in him.  I do want him to “man up.”  I do want him to “put away childish things.”  Not that he must be serious all the time, but as he grows into an adult, it’s so important to me that he recognizes potential pitfalls in his own life and has the Godly strength of character to avoid them… not because of the threat of some discipline I might impose, but because he can discern right from wrong and make some of the hard choices for himself.

It all sounds so cliché, I’m sure.

I was thinking though — and told him about — my own teen years.  I really had so little guidance.  My mom, a single mother, worked full-time.  By the time I was a senior in high school, I was working (usually) 30 hours a week, and that was during the school year.  I hardly saw her.  I was the oldest of three children at home at the time.  I actually went to two different churches (my mother’s, and my church of choice), for a total of four times a week, and I was very involved… but I wasn’t really discipled.  It was more like — I received teaching which did my best to apply, but it wasn’t… personal.  It wasn’t one-on-one.  My mom uses the guiding paradigm of, “You’ll learn from your mistakes.”  While that often works, she gave very little guidance, very little input, little correction, virtually no advice, no direction, no admonishment.  I felt like I was just tossed out into the deep end and she didn’t even watch to see if I made it to the side or not.  I’m sure she cared, but I didn’t feel it, and I know that she felt a vast measure of relief when I reached adulthood, like, “Whew!  Glad that’s over!” and that she could step back from directly mothering me, except that perhaps she started three-ish years too early.  Part of that was us just not seeing each other that much.  Plus, I’m sure she was just plain tired.  Our personalities are extremely different.  We almost never fought outright, but we just didn’t share much.  Virtually never.

I was very much my own boss from about age 16 or 17 onward, very much aware that if I stood or if I fell, the results were entirely on my own shoulders.

This wasn’t really a good thing, for a variety of reasons.

The odd thing was, I was probably more mature about my freedom than most 16-year-olds;  I didn’t get into trouble;  it was important for me, even from a very young age, to do the right thing, as best as I understood it.

But, I truly had no one who spoke into my life who said, “You need to trim those weeds in your heart.”

Part of this, too, was due to (unknown at the time) flaws in my character, where I rarely saw fault in myself.  I didn’t know any weeds existed!  I was an excellent student, very responsible…  I was often receiving various awards, commendations, and compliments.  It never really occurred to me that I might have areas — VAST AREAS — in my heart that needed tending, some molding, some shaping, some pruning…

The first person who really did that for me was a friend’s mother, starting about my senior year of high school.  She was probably the first person who truly counseled me, probably because she was worried about my influence on her daughter!!  Honestly, though, that woman cared for me the way no one else had before, and I believe her input radically altered the course of my life, and greatly for the better.

She’s the wife of my pastor.  I’m 39.  I’ve known her since I was 15, and have had good relationship with her since I was 17 or so…

Lordy.

Time flies.

Back to my son…

It seems like the blessing and the curse of motherhood is the “gift” of extrapolation.  I have insight to see, “If this attitude/behavior/viewpoint/sin/whatever continues on a similar path, OH! the damage it could cause!”

I’m never sure how much to step in and bring direction:  “Is it too little?  Too much?  The wrong time?  The wrong way?  Will he understand?  Am I over-reacting?”

I don’t want to bring condemnation on my children, ever.

Yet, I will not just toss him into the deep end and walk away.

I do the best I can, praying for wisdom, praying for the Spirit to impact our conversation, to give me the right words, for the good seed to sink down into the soil of his heart, and the overwrought chaff to drift harmlessly away.

I tend to… earnestly plea.

I wish I was a better encourager, to more potential good and know how, exactly, to bring that out, like Your Mother, the Motivational Speaker, communicating with aplomb, humor, wisdom, and interesting anecdotes.

Instead, I end up talking too long, and pleading too earnestly.

Ugh.

I continue, though, because truly, truly, truly, from the bottom of my heart, I wish that I had known in my teens the million-and-a-half difficult lessons that I had to learn the hard way in my 20s and 30s.  I wish I had had some direction in my teens — especially my mid-teenage years — from someone — my mother, especially — to help identify problematic areas in my character and help me nip them in the bud…

The good news is that, in the end, I checked in, and he did not feel condemned, and didn’t feel like I was angry with him.  But, he did feel discouraged.

I think we both need an injection of encouragement.

(NOT THAT I’M SOLICITING YOURS.  What I mean is that it’s hard to give what one doesn’t own.  On one hand, I’m happy that in my personal life and in my mothering, I have steered clear of feeling and communicating condemnation, and that is GROWTH right there, let me tell you.  But, taking it one step further, to learn how to tend blossoms until the branches are dripping with fruit, filled with hope and expectation and excitement for the future….  I’m not so great at that, neither in my personal life and relationship with God, nor in my mothering.  Not yet.)

 

Jack the Bulldog

If this came in little-girl sizes, I’d likely get this for Audrey.

My six-year-old daughter Audrey just may end up a vegetarian.

I read Charlotte’s Web earlier this year to Audrey and three-year-old Fiala, and the story impacted Audrey so greatly that she can no longer eat pork.  She deeply empathizes with Wilbur.  At first, my husband Martin thought this ridiculous — actually, he still does — but I could see in her tears that she was abundantly sincere, and we’ve decided to let her eat according to her conscience.  Anyway, many people don’t eat pork for a wide variety of reasons.

Fiala, little stinker that she is, uses this as ammunition.  “Aaaaaauu-dreeey,” she sing-songs across the table with a chunk of meat on her fork, “I’m eating piiii-iiig!”

Audrey bursts into tears (yet again), and I correct Fi, admonishing her on the graces of kindness.

Audrey’s tender heart toward all creatures great and small has changed the way I evaluate books.  “How many moments in this story,” I search my memory, “will bring Audrey to tears?”

A week ago or so, I decided to read Little House on the Prairie to the girls.  It’s not in the curriculum we use, and I think its omission is a travesty.  The book is a must-read, in my estimation, for any American girl.  I discovered the series when I was eight, and read it non-stop, much of it secretly by night-light, until I was finished with all nine books within a week, an experience that left me exhausted but completely satisfied.  Shortly afterward — weeks, in fact — it was determined that I needed glasses.  I’ve read that eyestrain cannot cause one to become near-sighted, but my experience makes me suspicious.

Anyway.

The Ingalls family, in the early pages of the story, sets off in the 1870s to parts West, possessions in a covered wagon, their dog Jack, described as a beloved brindle bulldog, trotting tirelessly under the wagon.

Completely as a side-note, in the last 18 months, our family has dog-sat both an English Bulldog and a French Bulldog.  I cannot see either of those lazies trotting tirelessly anywhere.  Jack must have been the longer-legged American Bulldog, or maybe even a Boxer.  That’s just my own theory, though.  🙂

As the wagon fords a creek, suddenly the water violently swells and rises, sweeping even the mustang ponies off of their feet, threatening to upset the wagon.  It’s quite a tense moment.  When the family arrives on the other side of the creek, it is discovered that Jack is missing.  Laura — and Audrey right along with her — is completely distraught.

I sat there as the chapter ended, a sobbing six-year-old on my left, an unmoved three-year-old on my right.  Fi had sat contentedly through the whole thing, brushing a dolly’s hair, and was now happy that the reading was over and that she could get up and play.  I put out my hand to hold her back, my mind racing.  It had been a long time since I’d read the book, but I thought I remembered that Jack was discovered later to be completely fine and wholly alive.  I surreptitiously flipped through the next chapter, and found, to my relief, that Jack’s “resurrection” happened in just a few more pages.

“Audrey,” I asked her, “would you like to keep reading?”

“NNNOOOOOO!!!” she emphatically wailed.  “I never want to read that book again, EVER!!”  She started to bolt.  I caught her back.

“Little daughter,” I told her as gently as I could, “I know you’re very, very sad for Jack right now.  I don’t want to leave you sad.  Will you let me keep reading?  I think what happens in the next chapter will make you happy again.”

“Nothing can make me happy!” she continued, very dramatically.  “JACK’S DEAD!!  HE DROWNED!!  PA CAN’T FIND HIM!  HE WASHED AWAY IN THE RIVER AND HE’S DEAD FOREVER!!!”  In her tone and in her eyes, she was dripping with accusation:  How could I read such horror to her?  How could I even consider that she’d want to read about the death of a dog??  What was wrong with me???

I looked over again at Fiala, and marveled that there can be such different personalities in one family.  Fi appeared to really not give a hoot what had happened to Jack.  Those two little girls are opposites in nearly every way, the same as my oldest two boys, Ethan and Grant are.  Grant is the anti-Ethan, and Fiala is the anti-Audrey.

In spite of both girls’ wishes, I convinced both of them that they’d be best off, listening to another chapter.  They settled in again, Fi back to her dolly-brushing, and Audrey with a grumph and a pout, tears still streaming down her cheeks.  I resumed reading.

It’s also funny, what a blank slate children are.  What is cliché and so very transparent to a long-time book reader like myself came as an absolute shock to Audrey:  The “wolf” who threatened the Ingalls’ camp that night was not a wolf at all, but an absolutely worn out, mud-crusted bulldog named Jack.

Audrey squealed with relief and joyous shock, literally jumping up and down at Jack’s resurrection.

Crisis cut short, tender feelings soothed, normal life and hope in good books and a mother’s heart restored.

I shared a slightly abbreviated version of this story with my friend Kathy on Monday, figuring that, as an intense co-animal-lover, she’d appreciate Audrey’s tender, powerful feelings toward Jack.

Instead, she cocked her head and looked at me.  “Is that what God does with us?” she mused.  “There might be something in that.”

Thrown for a bit of a loop, I think I stood there with my jaw slack.

We had just finished an epic conversation on what God does with us, when things are pending, unfinished, when the results are not easily seen, when the light at the end of the tunnel is a pinprick point, too far to fathom, and we are battling the fear that our heart’s desires might be low on God’s priority list…

“Is that what God does with us?” she posited again.  “Read the next chapter in our lives just a little sooner, out of mercy for our tears?”

I thought of my interaction with Audrey, and could clearly see the parallel.  I had felt it important to not just flat-out tell Audrey, “Jack lives.”  In those moments when Audrey was dissolving in a puddle of emotion, I made the decision that it was important for her character, and just for the appreciation of tension in literature, and to experience the coming joy, to not reveal the outcome in advance.  Yet, I didn’t want to abandon her to her heartsick, out-of-control self.

She was so sincerely broken for Jack’s death, yet I knew that Jack didn’t actually die!  I tried to soothe her, knowing things would truly be better — and very shortly! — and was almost unable to do so, because Audrey was almost violently upset at both the book, and at me.

I know that not every sad story has such a joyous outcome.

Still, though, is that what God does with us?

I’d never considered it before.

I’m learning to trust that He has my heart in His hands, my tender, short-sighted, and often mistakenly-distraught heart.

I have 100% iron-clad, unwavering confidence in the God of Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

My NEEDS.

I know He’ll supply my NEEDS.

I have a 100% iron-clad, unwavering confidence that He’ll supply all of my NEEDS.

But my wants?  The deep desires of my heart?  The things that I long for, that stir the deepest part of me?  The things that speak peace and beauty to my soul, and satisfy my emotions??

I’m much less confident of that.

I’m very aware that, very often, He’s much more concerned with building my character, molding me into the person of Jesus Christ, than He is with answering every whim of a prayer, every emotion-sotted plea.

Trusting my Father God with my heart is much more challenging than trusting Him with my needs.

Yet, does He sit with me on the little sofa in the quiet room, reading the story of my life to me, tenderly calming me by — on occasion — compelling me to sit still just a while longer and listen, because He knows that the outcome, which currently looks so bleak, will actually be filled with JOY, the kind of joy where I squeal and jump up and down with elation and relief and unabashed surprise???

Perhaps He does.

I think He does.

I think I may be experiencing a bit of that, right now.

My heart can scarcely believe it, but I’m picturing Him, right now, turning those pages, gentle voice and all-knowing mind drawing me back from the brink, longing to return to me the hope that I have almost abandoned.

Harder, indeed, to believe that, than believe that He’ll meet my needs.

But, thanks to Jack the bulldog, and an insightful friend, I’ll listen more carefully — both now and in the future — for my God to scan those pages ahead, and do more than console me, but reveal the truth that was hidden, a truth that holds satisfaction, and which does meet the desires of my heart, the heart He created.

Integrity vs. Loyalty

Sometimes, I worry that my children won’t learn enough.  Or, rather, that, as homeschooled children, they won’t learn enough of the “right” things.

Of biggest concern is my high schooler, Ethan.  He’s 14, and a freshman.  He’s currently doing Sonlight’s Core 200, which is actually SL’s sophomore year program.*  Since the bulk of the history portion of this program centers on Christian church history and apologetics, I’m unsure if I can actually count it as a history credit.  In addition to church history, he’s also reading some serious lit:  Jane Eyre, Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, Oliver Twist, and Robinson Crusoe are all books he’s read this year.  Still, I sometimes wonder if we’re on the right track for him.

Then, some days, like today, I’m certain that — no matter if it is the “right” thing or not — there is SUCH VALUE in homeschooling.  We discuss topics that, in all likelihood, never reach the ears of a typically-schooled child.

The curriculum assigns readings from an anthology of poetry.  I have long held that poets are at least as interesting as their writings, and we’d be remiss to not become acquainted with each poet from the book.  This extra discussion makes the “poetry” section of his day take extra-long.  I don’t feel badly about this, but we’re just now finishing out week 16 of the poetry assignments, while the rest of his work is in week 30.

Anyway.

James Henry Leigh Hunt 1784-1859

Today had us read one of James Henry Leigh Hunt’s poems, Abou Ben Adhem.  The poem is all right;  not fabulous in my opinion.  The basic premise of it is that even if you don’t excel at loving God, it’s all right;  as long as you love others splendidly, God will bless (and ostensibly love) you the more for it.  That warrants discussion in itself.  However, we didn’t much discuss that.  What we did discuss was the nature of balancing integrity with loyalty.  Too much loyalty without integrity reaps a harvest of brown-nosing and spin-doctoring, sweeping sin issues under the rug.  Leigh Hunt, though, seems to have erred too much on the other side:  integrity over loyalty, which is rather ironic, given the topic of Abou Ben Adhem.  In other words, he was fond of speaking the truth, but not in love, not out of necessity, and often biting the hand that had fed and befriended him, publishing scathing critiques of his contemporaries’ works, and writing exposés of famous people of his day (leading, at one point, to a two-year jail sentence, for criticizing the Prince Regent)…  Unsurprisingly, he (and his wife and his ten children) frequently found themselves friendless and penniless…

Ideally, one would have family, friends, employers, et al, to whom one could be loyal, yet still retain one’s integrity.

I presented to Ethan the best example of both loyalty perfectly balanced with integrity that I know:  his father.  In our itinerant society, my husband has remained with the same employer for more than 20 years.  An integral part of our church (and on staff at said church) for nearly 23 years.  Married for 17+ years.  Each of those take commitment and loyalty.  Yet, he is also integrous to the nth degree, sometimes exasperatingly so, as he seeks to follow both the letter and the spirit of a law.  I was particularly pleased to show Ethan that one can excel at both integrity and loyalty.

It was definitely one of those learning experiences that I know Ethan wouldn’t have had elsewhere, and it made the whole day feel worthwhile.

—————-

*It’s not that Ethan is remarkably advanced;  it’s that we have already so extensively covered American History, which SL slates for freshmen, that I wanted him to learn something different.

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