Mal’s Challenge

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**Once upon a time, my husband started one of those blog things I’d never heard of and would sit in our little one-bedroom apartment taking much joy in conjuring up witty and insightful posts to share.  That was before the hurricane hit and kids started coming (seemingly by the half-dozen) and the 50-60 hour work weeks began.  He’s back today to share something from the heart.**

Guest Post by Jeffrey Hazleton

Captain Malcom Reynolds with his crew aboard Serenity

Captain Malcom Reynolds with his crew aboard Serenity

One of my favorite movies (and this is a rather vague label, as I have no certain list of favorite movies) is the 2005 film Serenity.  This film is itself a continuation (one blogger called it “a [wonderful] impossible fairytale ending”) of the cancelled television series Firefly.

The premise of both the TV show and the film is a “space cowboy” drama set 500 years in the future, Serenity is the story of the captain and crew of a transport/cargo ship.  Space ship, that is.

Their lives of petty crime are interrupted as they are swept up in a massive conspiracy.  Their government (the Alliance) has dispatched an operative to eliminate the threat that one of their passengers represents – a secret that, if known, might bring about the collapse of the ruling powers.

This operative is relentless in his pursuit and beyond remorse in the atrocities he commits to achieve his objective.  After one such event (he wipes out an entire city just so our heroes have no refuge to run to)  Captain Reynolds and his crew learn the origin of the conspiracy, which they investigate and confirm, to their horror.

In one of the defining points of the series, the movie, and the man himself, the captain tells his crew of his intention to act on behalf of those who have been victimized by the Alliance:

“This report is maybe twelve years old? Parliament buried it, and it remained buried, until River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear. ‘Cause there’s a whole universe of folk who are going to know it too; they’re going to see it.

Somebody has to speak for these people.

You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you’ve all come to the same place, so now I’m asking more of you than I have before — maybe all. [Because] sure as I know anything, I know this: they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten, they’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people … better. And I do not hold to that.

So no more running. I aim to misbehave.”
Video of Mal’s Speech

This is my favorite moment of the movie.  The scene gets me every time.  I feel Mal’s outrage at the injustice and understand his need to speak for and defend those who cannot help themselves.

In this speech, he reveals his philosophical difference with the ruling powers:  They believe they can make a better world by making better people.  He knows this is not the case.  You cannot make a person better.  All the evil the Alliance has done and hurt they have caused grows out of this humanistic philosophy.  And he is determined to put an end to it.

 I am determined to put an end to it.  This thinking that I can effect change in others by some strength of character or force of will or marvelous example of how to conduct oneself in life.

Here’s the point:  I am not commanded to do Jesus’ work, only to follow His example and keep His commands.  And that is why Malcolm Reynolds’ speech resonates so deeply with me.  I cannot make.people.better.  Whether it be my kids, my wife, my friends, my co-workers – whomever – I cannot change their heads or their hearts.  That is God’s job.

My job is to lay down my life, to embrace the death of self in the service of my King.  I am supposed to love God with everything I’ve got – heart, soul, mind, strength – and to love everyone else as much as I love myself.  But what does that look like?

In Matthew 9, Jesus

“went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”         Matthew 9:35-38

Jesus loved these people.  Loved them.  The word translated “had compassion” here means that he was moved in His gut for them.  He was touched to the core with concern for the people.  So what did He do?  He served them.  Did what He could to meet their needs.  Especially their eternal need – for a right relationship with God.  He proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom.

That is what I’m supposed to do.  See people as God sees them.  Broken and lost, in need of the Good Shepherd.  And then respond in compassion – serve them and give them hope – tell them about Jesus and the eternal difference He will make for them and in them.

It’s not my job to change people – to make them better.  No man can do that; only God can.  It is, however, my commission to love and serve everyone my life is connected to, to make disciples, teaching them to know and follow Jesus all the days of their lives.

 

 

 

 

One Word: 2014

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one word 2014

What can you do?

When a shiny new year is about to begin and your ambitions for a fresh start with a fresh word and a pretty new journal – when all that is put on a dusty shelf because you’re greeted instead with a high fever on New Year’s Eve and fitful dreams and the flu rages through all but two of your children and drags it out for two weeks.

What can you do?

When 16 days into your ‘new you’ the alarm goes off and your eyes are burning and you’re buried under a sweaty toddler and you hold your breath to keep from waking her but you get up anyway because you made up your mind that this year you will pray.

What can you do?

When after only two days of the new school semester you’ve lost peace along with your temper with kids who’ve seemingly lost their ever-lovin’ minds more times than you can count?

What can you possibly do?

When you start the day with a vow that you will spend it on your knees but you cannot imagine that you will be literally sent to your knees within the hour?

When one short message at 8:30 in the morning can alter your world, send you reeling.

“please pray… Jonas passed away this morning.”

One hand gripped my phone, the other held tight to the back of the chair as the knees found the laminate.  Shock.  Fog. Not even the sting of tears.  Not yet.  Because first you watch it from afar, like it’s not really happening.  You try to rationalize how the news was misconstrued.  How it didn’t really happen. How he’s not really gone.

Because you just saw him.  He was just there, standing on the stage at church, singing with the children in the Christmas program.  Laughing afterwards with friends. Not ever thinking that in less than a month they’d be mourning for him.

But life is a vapor.  And in an instant, a sixteen year old with a contagious grin and a voracious passion for music and an unending ability to memorize large portions of scripture – is gone.

Jonas

What do you do?  When you’ve lost the shiny new start and your peace and temper, and maybe your resolve, and someone who was precious… What anyone who’s lost something does.

You seek.  Seek the Savior. Seek His presence and peace… seek the arms of the Good Shepherd to carry you over the rocky terrain.

You seek Him not for what He can do for you – not for your best life now.  But just to have Him near.  To hear His voice.  To have Him lead you to the High Places.

In this blessed, broken, messy, beautiful, completely messed up, insane, unfair, glorious, precious life – you seek with all you’ve got for what the will of your King is – and you follow Him in it.

“Only one life will soon be past,
only what’s done for Christ will last.”
- Hudson Taylor

Four Ways to Get Out of the Funk

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Four Ways Funk

So, Christmas is … let me check the calendar… four days away now.   I marvel at how the days of December seem to unravel faster than any month before it, but I really believe it does.  And for some, you know what it is. ‘The most wonderful time of the year’.  And for our family, it is a very meaningful and full season.  We have purposed to Have an Imperfect Christmas-time, and our traditions are a little different than the most, I suppose.  So we kind of put our imperfect hands to the task of making it as low-key, yet meaningful – worshipful – as possible.  Singly-focused Christmastime.

And yet I know.   There are many – so many – who do not feel the joy this season.  Feel burned out, overwhelmed.  Some are worse – heartsick, lonely.  Crushed.

And all along the One who was crushed for us stands by, never leaving our side.

But sometimes we feel as if he’s leading us through the desert, like those maggi following the star to who knows where?

I have felt it.  The parched, emptiness.  The bogged down mire.

But I know a few things that help a worn-down soul.  Help pull one up from the muck… help lift the head and heart, even as the feet are still finding their way out.

1. Just Keep Doing It.
This is the hardest when we feel we are set up to fail – like just accomplishing the minimum of each day is humanly impossible.  Too much for one soul.  Just keep doing it.   – Keep trying to have the quiet time, even when the baby wakes up early too.
- Keep trying to teach that young one, even when he doesn’t get it – again.
- Keep cleaning up those messes, because that’s then we’re most like the One who came to serve, instead of be served.
- Keep working at that thing that has been tasked to you – the only one in the universe who’s been asked to do just that.

Even when you fail.  Just keep doing it.  Because how many greatly successful – greatly influential – people failed numerous time before they got it right?  And were used even in the midst of their failures?

Because the enemy loves to whisper to us that we are a failure.  But soul, God has put His spirit in you, and will cause you to follow Him.  And that will be our greatest accomplishment ever.

2. Let Go
Lose Your Idea of Perfect
Because I promise ‘perfect’ doesn’t look anything like Pinterest.  Or well-crafted snippets of life displayed on social media.  Perfect looks like a bloody mess taking the fall for humanity.  Perfect looks like gentleness and grace when it certainly isn’t merited. And Perfect looks like getting on your knees and taking dirty feet into your own hands.

I get it.  There’s something in me too that wants the beautifully assembled gingerbread houses and well-groomed, cheerful children smiling over their professionally iced thirteen-dozen sugar cookies, which we will disperse to our neighbors while caroling in harmony on Christmas Eve, just as snowflakes begin to fall.

Let it go.

I desperately want the house tidily picked up.  The task completed well.  The one-hour time to myself at daybreak in un-interrupted prayer and Bible study.

Let it go.

Learn to have moments of praise in the midst of the chaos.  Like not long ago, when Chris Tomlin’s ‘Angel Army’ popped up on Pandora and my heart wanted to burst.  Sometimes you have to stand there with eyes closed and heart & hands lifted upward – you have to worship – and let the kids scream and the baby wrap herself around your leg, and the mess be made and the tantrum rage – until that tiny spark of worship is fulfilled.  All played out to the fullest. Those moments in the imperfection are a gift to you – accept them with joy!

3. Do Whatever It Takes
Soul, get your priorities straight.  And I have a suspicion that the most important things are few, and they don’t have anything to do with extra activities or social outings (or media) or finally seeing the bottom of my laundry basket.  I have a hunch that the most important things are maybe the ones we’ve overlooked for so long.  Get alone with the Lord and get your priorities straight (hint: they are His priorities) and then do whatever it takes to keep them first.  Like when I looked myself in the proverbial mirror and realized I will cheerfully get up early to meet a friend or go on vacation, but I make lame excuses for not getting up early to meet with my Savior.

4. Enjoy the Bumpy Ride
Because more every day, I realize the silver-haired ladies who stop me in the grocery store are right – this time of being young and having young – it’s so very fleeting.  Every day I grow more desperate to make the time stop.  I will my eyes to remember their smooth skin and the chubbiness of that hand… I will my ears to remember how he used to say ‘I yike dat’.  Instead of cursing the bumps in the day, climb back to the back row of the bus and remember how fun it is to hit the potholes.

They will remember how you rode the roughest times.

And when you fail at how you handle the roughest rides?  Go back to number one.

 

 

 

Secret Sins and Other News

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Secret Sin

Well, I know, it’s been a while.  I’ve been dealing with life with six kids.  Really, does it need further explanation?  I didn’t think so.  And God has been dealing with me too.  A lot.  When you step away from writing – especially in something as public as blogging – for a while, it’s so hard to jump back in.  Like getting back into the pool for the first swim of the season.  But I’ve got my cup of coffee in my favorite old mug and the kids are downstairs watching Narnia with their Padre.  And I trimmed my nails, so I can stand typing more than 2.5 sentences.  So let’s get into the thick of a new blog post, shall we?  The water is freezing, but let’s go for it….

So, this past weekend, the Hubby and I had a real treat.  We left all our chillin’s with trusted friends (note: the first time I was apart from Olivia overnight since she was conceived – that’s huge, folks)… and we went to Houston for the “Love Worth Fighting For” event with Kirk Cameron and Warren Barfield.  Although Jeff was really looking forward to this mini marriage conference, I endured a tiny bit of teasing about my mega-crush.  Girls from the 80′s, you get it, right?  I mean my grandmother literally gave me a huge Kirk Cameron poster for my bedroom when I was thirteen and told me that was the kind of ‘good Christian guy’ I needed to marry.  That is all kinds of funny, people.  Leave aside the fact that he wasn’t even a Christian until a few years later. Ha!!

Show me that smile... c'mon sing it if you know it...

Show me that smile… c’mon sing it if you know it…

So, we started out our getaway date in classic Hazleton fashion – late.  I woke up with a crushing headache and a sinus infection Friday morning.  Plus there was a bee buzzing around in our bathroom that has the only working tub/shower.  If you know me in real life, then you already know that means I didn’t shower until almost 3pm, when I confirmed that the bee had died of natural causes in the window sill.

After dropping the kids off, we had to drive through two different places for food before actually getting on our way.

The conference started at 7:00… At 6:50, we were camped out in our Sequoia under an overpass, consulting Google Maps on both our phones, trying to find a route around the toll, because - of course – the only cash we had on hand was two dollars we found hiding in the console.  We later breathed a prayer of thanks that the toll was only $1.75.

So whatever the first hour of the event held, we missed it.  The whole weekend was worth what came next, though.  Cameron brought a strong, good word. And I hadn’t heard of Warren Barfield before this event, but I have to say he is definitely on our radar now.  The Holy Spirit was all over what that North Carolina boy had to say.  And sing.  And he’s funny, too.  That counts as extra among Hazletons.

LWFF.REVISED

One of the things that Kirk Cameron shared that really stuck with me was about secret sin.  In the context of marriage, of course, when we think of ‘secret sin’, most likely infidelity of some sort comes to mind.  Betrayal.  Pornography, maybe.

But let’s be honest.  We all have some kind of ‘secret sin’ – the thing (things) we struggle with that no one sees.  We like to keep up a good front on this world wide web… we’re all drawn to the things that look good (ahem, Pinterest) and the bloggers who have the answers… We like our Facebook statuses to read like a scene from a good movie.  But we each have something we’re dealing with.  Because there is just a brokenness in us that won’t be quite right this side of Heaven.

Here’s what I loved that Kirk said: you gotta look at that sin for the ugly, lying, deceitful snake that it is… and then you cut it’s head off.

I love that imagery.

It’s so true, too.  We tend to coddle our sin.  Make excuses.  We call it everything but sin.  We start deceiving ourselves until we no longer realize we’re in bed with the devil.  We gotta wake up and put on our glasses.

It’s not venting – it’s gossip.

It’s not ranting – it’s slander.

It’s not frustration – its anger.

It’s not observation – it’s jealousy.

It’s not stretching the truth – it’s lying.

It’s not admiring – it’s coveting.

It’s not ‘fudging’ – it’s stealing.

It’s not ‘complicated’ – it’s fornication.

I don’t know what yours is.  I’ll tell you what my biggest one is, though.  Anger.

Seething, boiling, under the surface, fermenting, stinking, vile anger. Sin.  I’ve dealt with it as far back as my memory goes.

Maybe you deal with it too?  The kids won’t listen and the baby won’t be put down.  The dog wrecks the flower bed again and the electric company shuts off the power and the bill collectors are calling, and the husband works late again.  The three year old tantrums and the toddler breaks the glass vase.  The casserole burns and the friend’s cancer returns.

Every day it’s a battle I wage. I fight to keep Monster Mom and her harsh words at bay.  And at the end of every day, I am battle weary.  I am beaten.

So what do we do?  We call sin a sin.  We confess it.  We see it for the snake that it is. Then what?

“Wage war on that sin,” Kirk said.  ”It’s waging war on you!”  Isn’t that the truth?  Why are we letting that sin beat us to death?

But here’s the cusp… we are powerless to defeat it.  I can say all day long, “I will not get angry, I will not get angry, I will not get angry…” … “I will not yell at the kids… I will not yell at the kids…”

I bet you’ve tried that with your secret sin too – how’s that working for you?  Yeah, me neither.

Because just like I can’t change my husband (believe me, after 10 years, I know), I also cannot change myself.  I am powerless to change myself.

It all comes to my utter childlike dependence on God.  Daily.  Every moment, actually.  I wage war on that sin and I take all the effort and passion and attention that I pour into that sin and turn my attention to my God and pour it all into Him.  And He fills me up my emptiness.

I have to go to Him daily to give me what I need to wage the war against the sin.  It’s not easy.  But it’s worth fighting for.

I see my children wilt under the acid rain of my harsh words and I know that waging war against this snake is a battle worth fighting.

I turn on the computer and I read about a prominent Christian leader stepping down, and his ministry shuttering it’s doors because of his secret sin.  I’m sure that he too would say it’s a battle worth fighting.

I don’t have all the answers, and I have to be honest –  I’m not sure I’ll ever have full victory in this battle before Jesus returns.  But every day I will get up and choose to cut the head off that boa constrictor.

Now you know my secret. There is victory in confessing our sin to one another – that’s Biblical. You don’t need to tell me your secret, but you can confess it to your spouse, your best friend, your pastor, someone.  I bet that someone has a secret battle they’re waging as well.  We’re in this blessed, broken life together.

I have another secret too, but this one’s not a sin.  A project I’ve been working on… I’ll let you in on it in a few days.

Go wage your battles, warrior friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The event

Child Like

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 “And they were bringing the children to Him that He might touch them,…”

 This is what the hard-working man read to us as he was sprawled out on the off-white carpet, the rest of us gathered ‘round in half-circle, listening… some following along in Mark, tenth chapter.  We’d been camped out for weeks in the book of Mark during family worship each evening, taking it in slow and small and steady.

“…and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it He was indignant…”

 And the hard-working man stopped for a word lesson.  Little mouths repeated syllables and simple definitions were explained.

 Jesus was angry.

“… and said to them ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.’”

The Daddy sitting Indian-style looked up at eager faces.  “Now, who was bringing these children to Jesus?”

Voices erupted: “their parents”… “their mamas and their daddies”

“That’s right,” he said. “And why do you think they were doing that?  What did they want Jesus to do?”

There was a thoughtful pause.  Like we had never thought of that before.

 What exactly do we want Jesus to do when we bring our kids to Him?

The blue-eyed girl with glasses spoke up, “they wanted Him to touch them.”

She’d read it herself, right there in her pink Bible.

“Right.”  Her Daddy grinned.  “So when Jesus touched them, how do you think He did it?  Did He touch them like this?”

He motioned for the little blonde boy to come to him, so Carson walked up, eye-to-eye.  And his Daddy poked him on the shoulder.  “Did Jesus touch them like that?”

The room shook a little with giggles.

“Noooo!”

“Well, how then?”

Lilly jumped up, “like this!”  She walked on her knees to her brother’s side.   Pressed her cheek right up against his.  Wrapped her arms around him… another sister walked up and put her hand lovingly atop his blonde head.

And my smile snuck up on me.  Yes, that’s it.  Just like that.  So natural.  How did they instinctively know this?

“Yes,” he said. “But Jesus’ disciples didn’t want the kids to bother Jesus.  Maybe they thought He didn’t have time for this, so they tried to stop the children.  They might have told those parents, ‘take your kids away; don’t let them bother the Teacher.’”

There may have been some finger-wagging.

“But what did Jesus say?” he asked.

“Let the children come to me!” said Maggie.

“Yes!”  he said.

“… Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it…”

 He leaned in for the question.  

“What does that mean- receive God’s Kingdom like a child?”

Silence.

They didn’t know.  Do any of us?

“Let me show you,” he said.  “Bring me one of Olivia’s toys.”

A lovie was fetched and he turned his attention to the little one toddling ten feet away from him.  He called out to her, and showed her his little gift.

Honestly, could it have been a more magical moment?  Like she must have seen a little bit of Jesus Himself sitting right there with her Daddy and the rest of us wore eyes of the blind.  When she turned around and looked at him, the giddiest giggle escaped her smiling lips, her face all lit like that…  Instantly she abandoned what had been holding her attention and she ran to him.  

She giggled the whole way.  Mouth wide open grin.  Arms thrown back.  Face to the Heavens.

My heart warmed.

And yearned.

Is this how you want us to come to you God?  Like this?  This is how we should receive all that you give us?  All of it?  With Abandon.

Joy.

Inhibition.

Radiance.

It’s a rare thing when we call one of our children and they come to us like this.

Rarer still that I go to Him like that.

Why have I robbed Him of that?

And when did I stop taking Him seriously when He said stuff like “whoever doesn’t receive the Kingdom this way shall not enter it”?

How many years have I just breezed over that part?

I want His Kingdom, for sure.  Count me in!  Called, chosen, forgiven, right?

Highway to Heaven, Baby.

I believed and received.  I prayed the prayer and got baptized and now my mansion is waiting for me in Heaven.  I’ll walk the streets of gold with Jesus and have a little Heaven on earth, too, because Jesus makes life better, sweeter, right?

All my troubles…. fade away?

Wait, what?

Was this the Kingdom of God or My Kingdom we were talking about?  It got a little fuzzy.

I got all caught up in my little blessed life and my super-awesome worship team and I forgot that Jesus said stuff like, “I’m sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves… and you will be hated by all for my Name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  (Matthew 10:16, 22)

Say what?  I was kinda thinking I could just have the good life.  Did I temporarily forget Jesus saying something like “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…” ?(Matthew 10:34)

Maybe while I was enjoying my lattes at my 132 different Bible studies designed just for me and my season of life- maybe that’s when I got comfortable and didn’t think it really pertained to me very much when He said “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew10:38-39)

When I started out on the journey to “seek first His Kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you”, was I just seeking God so that I could have the second part – all these things?

Wait.  I know this stage… it rings familiar… these are growing pains I’ve experienced from the other side…

When some of my bigger kids were sweet toddlers they would run to me, cling to me… long to be held by me… reach up their arms to me… in the same way that that sweet baby now presses her face into my knee when I’m standing in a crowd… and she wraps those chubby arms tight around my legs… and then she looks up at me, those eyes piercing, and says determined, “ma ma!”  She knows I will stop whatever I’m doing and pick her up.  It’s her reward for seeking me out and calling my name.

 And that’s all she wants – for me to pick her up, and she rests her head on my shoulder.  Happy.  She has absolutely nothing to offer me.  No work that is handy or useful.  Even her attempts at helping just make more work for me.  She has no real offering of love or devotion.  Not even a promise voiced.

She is utterly dependent on me for everything and all she gives in return is all of herself.  Her laughter, her cries…. her messes, her smiles.  Uninhibited.  And she comes to me only wanting me.

My bigger kids did this too… until they were bigger… and then their want for Mama’s safe arms was slowly replaced by a want for things.  For a toy, a book, an activity.

But I’ll always miss them longing for just me.

Now I’m the child.  And He’s the Father.  And how long has it been since my face pressed in, determined?

How long since I longed?

 “And He took them in His arms, and laying His hands on them, He blessed them.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Only Way to Look is Up

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Recent discovery: the only way to look is up.  Apparently.

Busy times, folks.  Moving is hard work.  At least three times harder than I remember from our last move.  Of course, then we only had two little girls and our life fit inside a two-bedroom apartment.  Apparently we are goldfish, and we grow to accommodate our space… or grossly exceed it, actually.  The main moving day was quite a sight.  Many hands make light work, and those of you who helped us that day were swift and steady, my friends.  But then came the work of unpacking, a job which I feel will be in progress for months to come… and figuring out where things should go- an art at which I am terrible. I still think the piano needs to be on a different wall… maybe… yes… no… I dunno…

Poor Jeff.

I haven’t even begun to hang pictures, and honestly, I really only know where three of them are anyways… We currently have zero curtain rods and I think only ONE set of curtains we had in the old house will work in this house.  People, I don’t even know how many windows we have in this house – maybe we’ll have them all dressed by the time we get the mortgage paid off.

To tell you the truth, these things have been the least of my concerns.

Of greater concern:

We spent the first three weeks in our new home with no hot water.  A first-world problem for sure, but hey – trust me, you want the Hazleton clan to bathe.  And to spare all of you who know us in person, we did make ourselves at home in a few friends’ showers at least twice a week.  For all our other hot water needs – a huge pot found a semi permanent place on our new stovetop.  Getting this issue resolved was no small feat.  Suffice it to say I spent hours on the phone each day for about two weeks.

That literally sapped every bit of my mental and physical energy most days.  (Some of you know how I feel about the phone.)

Exactly one week after we had the hot water heater replaced, the upstairs AC unit quit cooling, and when the temperature upstairs was over 80 degrees at 10pm, I gave up squirting my sweating kids with a water spray bottle and we moved everyone downstairs to sleep on the floor in the guest room.  Two days later, it was repaired, and two days after that it was out again.  And now it’s fixed.  Again.  Our AC guy is super nice, but for all our sakes, I hope we don’t see that tall, bearded man again – at least not under these circumstances.

All our mattresses are still on the floor.  Just- don’t ask.  It’s too complicated.

We went a few weeks with too few clothing rods in closets, so most of our clothes were in stacks in big moving boxes and on the floor and draped over chairs.  Okay, maybe most of them are still that way.  Getting ready for church on Sundays is awesome.  Except, not.

A few days after Jeff installed new closet rods, one of our children – who shall remain nameless and wears cute glasses –  pulled an entire rod full of clothes down on herself.  {I may or may not have a memory of doing the same exact thing at her age when I was pretending to be Mary Lou Retton on the uneven bars. But let’s keep that between us, shall we?}

We don’t have a pantry.

Let me re-state that: We don’t have a pantry! And one side of our kitchen has no cabinets or counters – nothing. Blank wall.  (Where we have temporarily pulled in a big, heavy work table). To make matters even trickier, there are only two upper cabinets on the other side of the kitchen, and they are so high up I can only reach the second shelf, even if I’m standing on a step ladder.  You other cabinets way up there above the sink, you’re useless. You’re dead to me.  In fact, there could be a dead body hidden up there and I’d never know.  I mean, sure, if we bring in the 8-foot ladder I can stash a thousand rolls of paper towels if I ever find them for like 4 cents a roll or something – but otherwise?  Useless.  So I’ve really had to improvise and get creative with very limited cabinet and countertop and zero pantry – cooking for a family of eight.  Yeah.

Carson pulled a dresser down – crashed completely to the floor - when he was trying to get clean socks.  And miraculously it did not fall on him or anyone else.  Disclaimer: He is now not allowed to touch the dresser until it gets secured to the wall.

We found out how fast Olivia can climb the stairs.

We found out how easily Carson can climb the outside of the stair rail.

Amidst the chaos, we’re getting to know our new home and all its quirks.  I now know, for instance, which doors in the house have the old glass doorknobs, and which ones have been replaced with newer hardware… I know which doors stick and which ones don’t latch just right… I know that the third stair from the bottom creaks when I’m trying to carry a sleeping toddler up to bed… or quietly walk up to catch who’s being naughty at bedtime.

What? You thought my kids weren’t naughty?  I fall on the floor laughing.

I recognize the noises of the ice maker and no longer think someone is trying to break in the back door.  Not that I freaked out or anything.  Moving on.

I notice the low, barely audible hum when one of the really big boats is coming through the channel and I can tell all the kids to watch out the window.  Truly, I don’t think seeing the boats go by will ever get old.

Our new home is an awesome blessing, make no mistake.  But ya’ll I am ready to be settled.  This mama is tiiiiired.  There is still so much to do and my brain just can’t compute.  It’s on summer vacay.  I look around and don’t know where to even begin.  So I let the kids dig in boxes and find treasures… let Olivia sit on the floor and entertain herself by tearing up newspaper… I stand in the middle of the kitchen and stare into nothing  while I dive into a bag of chocolate chips… until three of the kids hear me crinkle the bag, and in 2 milliseconds their little noses are all up in my business.

There have been days when I’ve thought: Really?  Can’t this one go easy?  When life is in an unsettled season and  so many inconvenient things add up, even the smallest task becomes wearisome.  I seriously was just complaining – out loud – two days ago when I was peeling a dozen eggs at the sink… and peeling boiled eggs is like the lottery, you know?  Sometimes they peel so easily you want to sing Zipity Do Da… “there’s a blue bird on my shoulder…”  But this time every single egg was stubborn and the shell stuck to the egg and came off only in little tiny sharp bits… and then you have peeled a whole dozen stinking eggs and what you end up with is a mass of egg carnage in the sink and a bunch of mangled-looking reject eggs in the bowl.  Good thing I was making egg salad instead of pretty little deviled eggs.  And yes, I’ve tried the trick about putting baking soda in the water – twice – and it didn’t work, people!

Apparently, you can’t believe everything you see on Pinterest.

{And while I’m on that subject, you people who are pinning Christmas ideas right now?  It’s June!  You are wearing me out. Settle down – you know who you are!}

And it’s while I’m standing there, chained to those stubborn boiled eggs, that I think about the one thing about this house that I noticed first of all.  The one thing that I didn’t like from the beginning - the feature that made me write off this house for half a year before I even considered looking at it – was this: Except for the ones in the dining room and living room – all the other windows in our home are high up on the wall.  I stood there at the sink, muttering my complaints and looked up out the window – all I can see out most of the windows in my house is the sky, the clouds, the treetops.

Looking Up3

In This House

I want to look out and see my territory, my surroundings, my people.  But the only way to look is up. And in looking up I cannot be distracted, I can only see the Heavens.  And in only looking at the Heavens, I cannot see what surrounds me.

I cannot see what surrounds me.

The one feature of our home that I would have changed is changing my perspective. 

And for the first time in my life, I have a real, tangible idea of what it feels like to “keep your eyes on things above.”

And I make egg salad sandwiches for supper while the AC repairman carries his ladder back out to his van.  I walk on the dining room floor that’s only three-fourths of the way completed – carrying the tray of sandwiches – and sit down at the table with my family.  We eat our simple meal. We munch on little golden tomatoes and chunks of pineapple.  The kids – completely unaware of my wrestling with the eggs – gobble down the sandwiches.  The boats go by and in the midst of this chaotic season, we sit in a peaceful moment.

For now we can’t see all the things that clutter and clang for our attention.  For now, if only for a moment – I can grasp it.  That the only way to look is up.

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills… where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth.”
Psalm 121:1 

Long Awaited

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Many things in my life have been long-awaited.

My husband and children (I’d only been wishin’ and hopin’ since I was about seven)…

Healing.

Our adoption process.

We’ve been married for ten years.  I’m thirty-eight years old.

And for the first time in my life {and Jeff’s life}, we can say… this

Hint: that ‘for sale’ sign is no longer in the yard! 

And Then I Came Back… And an Announcement

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One night a few months ago we came home from a date, put the kids to bed, and Hubby fell asleep on the couch.  And I commenced to writing a blog post about Valentine’s Day.

It’s kind of like I went out for milk one night and then didn’t come back for two months.  Or… something.

That post sat unfinished on my WordPress dashboard for two months.  It’s still not finished, in point of fact.  I didn’t hit a wall of writer’s block, or anything like that.  Just… life.

Like…

We decided to come up with a budget.

And actually stick to it.  (What? Doesn’t everyone wait until year ten of marriage to do this?)

We drudged through the trenches of parenting kids who have taken a while to attach to us.

The baby woke up one day and decided to start pulling up and cruising around and eating solid foods, and feeding some of it to herself.

All in the same week.

Then the baby decided to start walking the week before she turns one.  And then to start climbing on things. In the same week.

The three-year-old waited till the last millisecond and ended up peeing all over the bathroom floor. And- his hair. I didn’t ask; I just started his bath.

We decided to keep sticking to the budget.

We drudged through the trenches of parenting kids who have taken a while to attach to us.

We found ourselves in a season where half of our kids are ending up in and beside our bed every night.  Every.single.night. We have issues.

I became so weary that I took a Facebook (& other media) break for a week and prayed for my kids, my heart, our home, and some mamas and kids close to me.

We took our three-year-old to the ER one Saturday after he got kicked on the trampoline and an hour later started crying (read: screaming uncontrollably) and holding his ribcage.  When he wouldn’t eat the ice cream and cake at the birthday party we were attending, I knew it was serious stuff.  Seven hours, one chest x-ray, one abdominal sonogram, and an ER bill later – he was completely fine.  Mystery pain was chalked up to… gas.

Yep.  That’s my life.

We embarked on another journey I can’t quite share with you yet, but hopefully soon.  It’s been a big event for us and has definitely taken up a lot our attention lately.

We (and by ‘we’ I mean) started actually cooking again.  Because

We decided to come up with a budget. And actually stick to it.

Oh, and I finished a major project I’d been working on – announcement coming at the end of this ridiculously mediocre post.

We put the kids to bed every night and tried to stay awake long enough to have a conversation.  Sometimes it worked.

I prayed to be able to hold my tongue and speak more graciously to my children… and found myself taking lots of deep breaths.

And then yelling things out the backdoor that might have sounded something like “no guns on the trampoline!” or “Stay out of the trash pile!”

In the midst of it all the blog sat silent.  All the veins of my creativity feeding other avenues, she sat untouched.  And I thought she might dry up for good.

I just didn’t have energy for more words.

But then in the last day or so I’ve felt the itching fingers and the thoughts welling up again, looking for an outlet.

And I came back.

I even wrote a haiku earlier today.  And as everyone knows, haikus inevitably lead to incredibly mediocre blog posts.

Ah, it’s good to be back.

Oh, and an announcement for those of you who endured to the end!  In the midst of life – God was gracious and I was finally able to finish a project that was on my heart and mind for quite a while – this.

This is the story of how we started teaching our kids the Bible – in a very real life kind of way.

For those of you who were following my blog during our adoption, an earlier version of this book was made available then for those who purchased it with a donation to our adoption fund.  After we brought Christopher and Lena home, the dynamics of our family life changed.  A lot. And as God brought our family through that transition, we learned and grew in our methods of teaching our kids the Bible.  So I went back to the book and labored over it again.  This is the revised and expanded edition.

My vision for this is to get it into the hands of parents who don’t feel like they have what it takes to teach their kids about the Bible  - those who may not know much about it themselves.  So if you could help me get the word out, I’d be so grateful.

Pssst – if you have an Amazon Prime account you can ‘borrow’ the book for free on your Kindle!  :D

And now I’m putting the computer to bed… we’ll see if Jeff and I can stay awake long enough for a conversation….

 

 

What I Had for Dinner

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There are a myriad of things simmering on my mind.

Honestly, it’s taking a while to process some of what God has been showing me, slowly pulling me through the looking glass {or the back of the wardrobe, if you will} … I don’t know if my heart is quite ready to put words to my thoughts and feelings… and when I’m finally sitting down sans children for the first time since 7am (it’s 11:45pm here now) – well, this cup of coffee can hardly get the cerebral juices flowing… 

So I’ll leave the deep end alone for now…

There’s a lot of heavy things going on in the world and sometimes I just miss the Food Network, if I may be honest.  Those days when I could just spend two hours sitting on the couch and watching Rachel Ray whip up something in half an hour - and with the enthusiasm of used car salesman holding a Chihuahua. (Do the math- that’s 3 episodes back-to-back with commercials.)

I cut my culinary teeth watching Rach and Paula and Alton and Giada.  I would cozy up to a bowl of chilled apple slices and a mound of real peanut butter while I watched… and learned.

How to use a santoku.  How to clean my wooden cutting board.  How to use a GB (garbage bowl) – and what EVOO was… What spices to use on fish, and how to smash garlic.

This was my world.  Oh how I loved it.

The world where I could {read: before.having.lots.of.children} experiment with new ingredients and enjoy spending an {uninterrupted} hour in the kitchen pouring love and effort into a beautiful dish.  

These days?  Unless I’ve planned ahead to throw something frugal, simple and in-bulk into the crockpot, then 4pm becomes the mad witching hour, where paces and pencils and various art projects are still spread all over the table and lunch dishes are still stacked up on the counter and children are cranky and hungry and my shoulders are laid low while at least one child is literally wrapped around one leg. 

No, really.

My dear friend told me today that I should start blogging about what’s for dinner, and I cringe to think that anyone would come lookin’ round these parts for inspiration!  Ha!

If you’re a family of 4.5 and love the Food Network, you’ll probably find nothing of value nosin’ around my kitchen…

But if you’re a tired, busy mama with a bunch of littles (who are growing and eating surprisingly more and more) and living on a budget?  Well, then maybe you’re still reading….

Without further adieu, I give you…. What I Had for Dinner (and all the other meals today as well.)…

Breakfast: Oven-Scrambled Eggs & Homemade Bread (from my Mama)
I have given up the skillet for this!!  We eat a LOT of eggs.  They are inexpensive and full of protein and nutrition  - and they’re so versatile.  BUT, I seriously dreaded the mess of the skillet, and trying to scramble 6-10 eggs in one pan, depending on how many people I’m feeding.  So now I do the oven-scramble method, and we love these:

- Whisk up eggs + a splash of milk in a bowl
- Add anything you like (we often throw in shredded cheese, frozen shredded potatoes, leftover ground beef or turkey, salsa – just about anything)
- Season with salt & pepper
- Pour into a buttered glass pan (I use 8×8)
- Place in 300 degree oven
- Check every 5 minutes or so and stir around egg mixture with a spoon, remove before overcooked

Lunch: Apple Slices & Peanut Butter with Granola Bars
This is pretty self explanatory.  Right now I can find organic apples by the bag at Walmart for a good price so I stock up and keep them in the refrigerator.  An awesome friend gave me an apple slicer/corer and it has changed my life.  Seriously.  I slice/core up 4-5 apples in a minute or less.  Cores are thrown in a bowl for the chickens and slices are divided up between kiddos and myself.  We only eat ‘real’ peanut butter, which has nothing but peanuts and salt.  (I don’t splurge on organic, and I always buy it in a glass jar, which I then re-use to freeze chicken stock or things like that.)  We sometimes make our own granola bars, but we had some store-bought ones this time that my Mom had given us – yippee!

Snack: Homemade Yogurt with Sliced Strawberries and Cereal
Another dear friend (God has blessed me with some amazing people) recently brought us a LOT of fresh, raw milk, so yesterday I used some to make yogurt, and then added honey and cinnamon.  Yum!  My crew (and myself included) can go through almost a quart of this in one sitting, so sliced strawberries makes it stretch a bit, and by just sprinkling some almond cereal on top, that box of cereal can last quite a while.  Homemade yogurt is runny (at least mine is), so we drink it in pretty tea cups (I mean, cool mugs for the boys) and call it Ukrainian style yogurt, because it’s exactly like what we ate, er uh, drank there.  The kids love it!

Supper: Tater Tot Casserole
Yep.  It’s not gourmet or necessarily healthy, although we are blessed with good, grass-fed beef (and venison from my Dad.)  But often it’s just a matter of getting an affordable, easy dinner on the table.  This is one of the easiest meals ever.  And my family loves it.  We had to leave the house almost as soon as Jeff got home this evening to go to choral practice, so this was an easy dinner to get us fed and out the door.  Want the recipe?

- 1 lb. ground beef (or venison or turkey)
-  1 can cream of chicken soup
- 1 can cream of mushroom soup (for my friends allergic to mushrooms use another can of cream of chicken or cream of celery)
- splash (1/2 to 3/4 cup?) milk
- 30 oz bag frozen tater tots

Brown the meat on the stove ( I season with salt, pepper, garlic & onion powder and dried onions).
Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9×13 glass baking dish.
Pour cooked meat in bottom of dish, pour frozen tater tots on top of the meat.
In a large measuring cup or bowl, mix together the soups and milk, and pour over the meat and tater tots.
Cook at 350 for 30+ minutes, until tater tots are done and the dish is looking a little browned on top.
This recipe feeds my whole crew with enough left for Jeff’s lunch the next day… but I think we will be moving to two batches in the next few years! :)

So, that’s what I had for dinner – how about you?

Woman of Valor: Teesa

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Okay, confession.  When I was growing up I didn’t have many girl friends.  I think it was partially because I had no brothers, and partially because I was so much a tomboy.   And there was only one girl my age who lived on Aime Street.  I did, of course, have girls in my class at school, but – except for a very few trusted female souls, I wasn’t really part of a big group of girl friends.

Girls did a lot of chatting and fussing about things and wondering who’s class ring they were going to wear…  I did a lot of climbing trees and digging in the dirt and learning how to put a proper spin on a football, and scheming about being Mr. Miyagi’s next protoge’….

So yeah, not a lot of girlfriends.

In the years that followed, God was so kind to me. He began to really weave some wonderful, godly women into my life.  I didn’t even know at the time I was sorely missing out on something.  But through the years that followed some of those young women helped shape me and refine me in ways I couldn’t even imagine that I needed.

It’s such a blessing to have kindred spirits in your life – ones you know God put there.  For better and worse.  In my case, mostly worse.  I had a lot of refining to do.

So, in some upcoming posts, I’d really like to honor some of these gals.

And – completely out of chronological order, I’ll start with this one.


This is Teesa (and her Hubby, Bill).

We met overseas in southeast Asia, and were members of the same team.  We grew into pretty good friends while we lived over there together – I think she quickly spotted that my personality was very similar to hers and she began offering tidbits of advice on marriage, since I was soon to be heading back to the States to marry Jeffrey.  At the time, I thought I knew myself pretty well and was prepared for what married life would bring.  But you know… in the words of an old, loveable Japanese man, ‘someone always know more’.

 

It wasn’t really until Teesa and Bill and their newborn son Sam returned to the States that we really began to be closer friends. She is fun, a fantastic cook.  She is sharp and quick-witted and loves to laugh.  She is loyal.  And she’s one of those friends who will straight-up tell you like it is.

Whether we’re discussing our faith-walk or recipes… or potty-training… or how our babies won’t sleep… We have ‘been there’ through a myriad of ups and downs.  When her son had life-threatening issues (more on that in a bit) and when I had a miscarriage…

And when they were going through the adoption of their daughter from China, I felt like I was living it with her.  I even gave up Coca-Cola as a fast until they finally had their daughter on US soil.

That’s serious friendship, ya’ll. (wink)

Now we have emailed on an almost daily basis the past 6 years – we’re talking – literally – thousands of emails back and forth.  Seriously.  Someone buy us some plane tickets, okay?

I daydream that when we co-write our book together, we’ll be brought on the Oprah show (oh, right, she doesn’t have a show anymore, huh?… well, the Today Show) and we’ll have this big glorious reunion there live, on the air… two friends from across the nation… who haven’t seen each other since their firstborns were babies… get the tissues ready; this is going to be glorious

Teesa and I recently had a conversation about her name, which is pretty unique.  As a result, I decided to do a little research and found ‘Teesa; is a variant of “Theresa”-  it could be derived from the Greek “theros” meaning “summer”, or from the Greek  ”therizo”, meaning “harvest“.

I love this, because if you know Teesa, you know that she is just radiant.  Not only does she have that beautiful Haley Mills blonde hair and fair skin, and that fabulous smile, but she just really shines with love for Jesus.  She loves sharing Jesus with others.  She loves discipling others. So of course, her name means ‘harvest’.  It totally fits her.

Through the years, I’ve watched her go through various trials and come out clutching more tightly to Jesus and more grateful for His mercies.  And six years ago, when they came upon some serious issues with their son, I watched her place herself in God’s mighty hand once again.

She wrote her story recently on another blog, and you can read it here.  Go read it!

What a loving Father-God I have for putting such fabulous women in my life. I’m so grateful that life is about relationships.  Learning from others… leaning on others… encouraging others…  because in this life, one thing is true: ‘first learn stand; then learn fly’.