Category Archives: Family

Get Your Hearts Ready

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“Advent is for adoring Jesus”

Joy and Peace

We have just begun Advent!!  I LOVE this time of year.  And even though I have not been able to pull myself together and get any Christmas decorations up yet, we are enjoying our nightly candle-lighting and story reading as much as the kids are!  (See this post for what we’re reading).

But Jeffrey and I are also seeking to go a little deeper in our own personal devotion time this advent season, and here is a great way to do it:

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Desiring God (DesiringGod.org) offers two free resources available for download – each with 25 devotional readings (for Dec 1-25). You can find out more by going here.

Jeffrey read the first devotion (from Good News of Great Joy) to us over supper tonight, and it was a great conversation starter and catalyst for priming our hearts to tune into the real focus of Christmas.

Even with all the interruptions from little talkative people, and an animated baby throwing her spoon of sweet potatoes, I was able to glean a meaningful truth from the reading.

Tonight’s takeaway for me? We need to make room in our hearts for Christ.  And in order to do that, I need to de-clutter my heart: take a real inventory of the sin and complacency I’ve let build up, and see with fresh eyes how much I desperately need Jesus. And then he read this:

“Christmas is first an indictment before it’s a delight…”

That part really struck me.  We are all familiar with the delight of Christmas – you can’t walk in any store after October and not be thrust into the full swing of the holiday cheer.  But Christmas an indictment?  Huh?

I explained the definition to the kids: an accusation.  Being accused of a crime and having to go before the judge for sentencing.

Christmas is all because a Savior was born…. why?
Because we needed one!

Christmas is first an accusation of our sin and need of a Savior… and then it is a delight!  Because we couldn’t save ourselves and Jesus came and changed the ending of our story! Christmas is all about the Gospel. The Good News of Great Joy!

When we spend Advent preparing our hearts with this kind of message, Christmas takes on a new depth.  And we experience it with more joy!

So even if we haven’t decluttered the house enough to get the Christmas decor out of the garage, we can begin to make room in our hearts.

Do yourself a favor and let the elf sit on the shelf this year.
And pull something more important into focus for the next 24 days.

It’s not too late to do this!  Trust me, we’re already 2 days behind in our reading of Bartholomew’s passage, but we’ll catch up and it will all work out by Christmas.  (By the way, if you’re interested but you haven’t ordered the book, you can get it on Kindle for $2.99 here!)

Can you tell I really love Advent? :)  Our Advent celebration has never Pinterest-perfect.  But it’s always been worth it.  Jump in with us.  Let’s get our hearts ready.

Keeping Advent Simple

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So we’re less than a week out from Thanksgiving.  I’m a stickler for not even mentioning the Christmas tree until we have appropriately celebrated Thanksgiving to it’s fullest- it remains one of my favorite weekends all year long.

But since we started celebrating the Advent season about seven or eight years ago, I have to at least be thinking a little ahead, since the season always begins shortly after Thanksgiving.

If you’ve never really celebrated Advent, don’t stress. I didn’t really understand anything about it until several years ago.  As we remind our kids each year, “Advent” means “the Coming” – and of course what we’re talking about here is the coming of Jesus Christ – the sole reason we celebrate Christmas.

The season of Advent helps us get our hearts and minds into a joyful expectation for Jesus.

So, there’s a lot out there as far as what you can use during this time to make it fun and meaningful for your family.  But I gotta be honest – for us it just works really well to simply stick with what we know.  I’m often tempted to get on a bunch of blogs I really like and see what’s new or what everyone else is doing… not to even mention Pinterest… but if I’m not careful I’ll get bigger ideas than what we can really attain right now, and I’ll end up making it stressful and hectic – which is the exact opposite of the atmosphere we want in our home during Christmastime.

We found a few things years ago that remain meaningful and traditional in our home – so let me share them with you:

 

advent-books

  • The Jotham’s Journey Series
    This is a series of Advent books written by Arnold Ytreeide.  There are four books (Tabitha’s Travels is not shown above), and truly you can go in any order.  You read one book per year, and each story is about a young boy or girl who has some kind of adventure (sometimes perilous or dangerous) and in the journey, the main character ends up hearing about the coming Messiah… and I won’t tell you what happens :)  Each story stands alone but each story is also interwoven into the others.inside

    Our family has LOVED these books.  Since you read a different one each year, it will be years before you will repeat a story, and it’s always just as enjoyable as the first time you read it.  The book is broken down into sections to be read aloud each evening leading up to Christmas Eve. Even our younger children enjoy listening (Jeff and I often want to read ahead), and we’re always sad it’s over at the end.

    Last Advent we read the new book that Ytreeide had just released, “Ishtar’s Odyssey” and it didn’t disappoint.  We read by candlelight around the table each evening.  At one point during the story, Ishtar enjoys some baklava.  The next day we happened upon a package of the yummy treat at Sam’s and brought it home so we could all enjoy some baklava during the next evening’s reading.  Our kids are still talking about it.  Our older kids ask to get these books off the shelf all year long, but we make everyone wait until Advent.

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  • Getting Ready For Christmas
    It looks like this one isn’t available on Amazon, except as a used book from other sellers.  Bummer. But if you can get it on time, and you have very small children, we found this to be a great beginning to celebrating Advent.  We first used this when Maggie and Lilly were ages 2 and 3 (and still have some of the sweet little homemade ornaments they made while going through this book).  And this year I’ll be using it with Olivia (4) and Carson (6)… and hopefully with Jessa in a few years. :)
    Each day leading up to Advent, there are simple pictures, a short reading, and a verse.  Each day also offers something to do with your child.  Some days it’s helping them with a homemade ornament; other days, it’s as simple as looking at the stars outside.inside-2
    This book is one our little ones have really enjoyed going through with us, and it’s a very stress-free way to begin celebrating Advent.  And this is a way for me to spend some quality time with my younger kids during the day during Advent season.  However, there are some readings in this book where I have to add a bit when talking with my kids in order to connect it to Jesus coming.  So just be aware of that.

These books, which we purchased years ago, along with candles, and sometimes desserts or hot cocoa are all we need to keep Advent season simple, memorable, and most of all, meaningful.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing for Advent this year, or how you keep Christmastime meaningful for your family. Tell me in the comments. I promise not to compare! :)

Here’s some pics from Advent over the years…  eek, they were so little!

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Reading Getting Ready for ChristmasHot CocoaCocoa Mustache

When We Feel Powerless

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I was up past midnight last night working on a blog post… but truthfully I’d have been in bed way before that if Baby Girl would just sleep.  Like, ever.

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This one.  We are having the hardest time getting her to sleep unless she’s on me.  And once asleep she doesn’t stay asleep long.

Last night- like almost every night – it was past midnight before she finally gave up the fight – literally.  She literally fights sleep, and us in the process. In the 6 hours that I was in the bed with my eyes closed, my sleep was interrupted more than six times. Not just the baby… our other kids will wake us up as well… can I have some of your water… my nose is stuffy… I can’t sleep… I had a bad dream… My leg hurts… Can I have another drink of your water… that kind of stuff is pretty routine.

So yeah, six hours in the bed, and awakened over six times.  This is the stuff Monster Moms are made of, you know? And I have to add that Jeff gets less sleep than this on a regular basis.

We really need a date night.  Or a retreat.  Or just a nap for goodness sakes.

Despite all our best intentions and lots of research and failed attempts at restful nights, our kids have historically just been terrible sleepers.

The list of things we’ve tried is long and pervasive and I won’t bore you with it.

This morning for some  insane, ridiculous reason, the kids got up two hours earlier than normal!  I got up feeling achy and cranky from lack of sleep.  This wasn’t the first or fifth or thirtieth time the kids had gotten up before they were supposed to and started playing and being noisy when they were supposed to be following a routine of getting dressed, making beds, etc.  In fact, it’s the third time this week. One of the perks of homeschooling is we get to be more relaxed, but one of the downsides to being a relaxed, laid-back family is that the kids often stretch that to the max and want to be free spirits when parts of the routine are really not optional (like they wish they were.)

I was frustrated and stern.  They were lethargic and discouraged.

As I stumbled like a zombie to the coffee pot, I realized I had a choice to make.  I could rant and rave and berate.  I could complain and whine and feel stuck in my circumstances.  I could bemoan the fact that these kids “never obey”, that I never get adequate sleep or enough free time or even just enough time for necessities.

OR… I could choose to have a better day than that.

I felt like there was nothing I could do to make things work.  I felt (and feel) like this is never going to get better. I felt powerless.  But the truth is I tell my kids all the time that they have the power to change their thinking… to change their attitudes… to change their day.  They really do, and if I tell them that, then I have to live that out too.

So I took my coffee and sat everyone down for a pow-wow.

“Guys, do you get up and dance in the pew at church or blurt out stuff to interrupt Pastor Dustin during a sermon?”

They all looked appalled and laughed a little “no,… no way”…

“Why not?”

They seemed to think it might be a trick question. “Well, … because that wouldn’t be right. That would be disrespectful,” one of them said.

“And we’ve been trained not to do that,” Lilly said.

“Carson, do you drive your cars down the center aisle during church and make loud ‘vroom’ noises?” I asked.

He hid his face like he would be utterly embarrassed to do that.  “no way!”

I started asking them more questions:

  • Do you take off your seatbelt – ever – while I’m driving down the road?
  • Do you practice handstands during a wedding?
  • Have you painted murals on our walls?
  • When is that last time you wore a diaper?

I started to show them just how much self-control they really do have.  Every day.  Hundreds of times a month.

So there is no reason they can’t use that self control to begin their day the right way.  And there’s no reason we can’t all use our self control to have better attitudes.

We all decided to start fresh and work together to make it a good day.

Has it been perfect? Nope.  We’ve had more than a few corrections and attitude adjustments – some of them before breakfast. Some of them my attitude.

But something in the back of my groggy mind clicked:

When I feel powerless, I’m not aiming high enough.

That seems counterintuitive, but when I feel powerless, it’s usually because I have my eyes on the day-to-day goals I’m trying to achieve, and it’s not coming together like I need it to.

 

C.S. Lewis said:

“Aim at Heaven, and you get earth ‘thrown in’;
Aim at earth, and you will get neither.”

Sometimes the day-to-day goals aren’t supposed to be the aim.  I’m looking at schedules and schoolwork and chores …. God is looking at hearts and souls.

When I’m looking at the daily grind around me, I start to roll up my sleeves and think I can do this.  When I aim higher – at cultivating love, patience, kindness, gentleness (in myself or my kids)- I realize this is a mighty battled waged in God’s Country. To survive this kind of battle I need a bow that retains its strength, and arrows that do not easily miss.  I need the perfectly weighted sword with a blade that never rusts.  I need a bit of healing cordial.

In short, I’m never going to survive, much less win the Spiritual battles without the Valiant Lion of Judah going to battle for me.

When I aim higher and the realm is not of this world, I have to rest in God’s doing the work – in His way.  And He never fails.

What does this look like? How does it work?  By constantly talking to God about it throughout the day… taking my frustrations to Him and asking Him to help me see things through His eyes… asking for His help to take my thoughts captive… asking for His help to be gentler when giving correction… asking for His help to know how to handle behavioral issues when they arise.  Looking past the actions and seeing hearts and asking Him to take those hearts in His hands.

So now I’ll go lay down the baby – who is currently sleeping in my lap while my computer is perched on the couch armrest – and hold my breath and pray she stays asleep.  I’ll spread out a large-family-size bag of frozen nuggets on a tray for my hungry tribe. I’ll pull an arrow from my quiver and adjust my aim a little higher.

And hope that between the battles, I can squeeze in a nap. :)

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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

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 

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!  😀

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?

Sometimes You Have to Crawl

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The Real Test

Announcement:   I cleaned the bathroom!

I know. You’re thinking, And??

You haven’t written a blog post in weeks… and you cleaned the bathroom?  That’s it?

Listen.  I don’t think you understand.  I cleaned the bathroom.  Here’s what that looks like in my world:  Sometime around 7:45 yesterday morning, I’m sitting on the couch, feeding a baby, trying in vain to also drink my coffee and read the John Piper devo app on my phone.

Side Note: you need to get the John Piper devo app on your phone!

Anyway, I say “trying in vain” ‘cause let’s face it.  After all the kids are up, coffee and devo is spotty, at best.  

And, of course, since I’m feeding the baby, Carson has to go potty.  Now.  Like, right now.  So I send him off and task the older boy with helping him.

And alas, minutes later, there’s pee on the floor.

::I’m sorry, I know, I said ‘pee.’  This is just going to be one of those posts today, okay?  Nothing poetic here.  If it had been a girl, it would have been ‘tee-tee’, but it was a boy, so there was ‘pee’ on the floor.::

Anyway.  So Christopher (thank God for older boys, am I right?) cleans the pee off the floor, but I decide right then and there to clean the bathroom.

Well, after I finish feeding the baby and getting breakfast into my tribe and drinking only half my cup of coffee and forgetting where I put down the mug… then I get right to cleaning the bathroom.

Two hours and seventy-five interruptions later, I stand back and admire the fruit of my labor.  It’s quite possibly the cleanest and most peaceful room in the house.  I think briefly about shutting myself in there the rest of the day. True story.

But wouldn’t you know, a little while later, one of the kids waits to the very last mili-second to go to the bathroom, so I ended up cleaning the toilet and a section of the floor again.  (This time it was tee-tee. Ahem.)

I stand back and admire my work.  Again.

About half an hour later, I’m helping Carson in the bathroom and this time he makes it like a champ.  No accident.  But – much to my dismay – I notice a smell lingering with the lovely aroma of scrubbing bubbles… It takes me a minute of sniffing around to find a spot I’d missed earlier (what with the seventy-five interruptions, eh?).

So I quickly decide I’m going to spray down the entire area again (you know, with the seat up and all) and make double-sure it’s all extra clean.

After I spray it all down, I call for the older boy to bring me some paper towels, but he doesn’t hear me.  So I retrieve them from the kitchen and when I get back to the bathroom, I find that one of my children is a ninja.

She has somehow made it past me and into the bathroom and because she – like her sister before her- has waited until the very last mili-second, she doesn’t even bother with putting the toilet seat down, and just sat on the rim – sat on the rim, on the cleaning spray for crying out loud – and this does not end up working like she’d thought…

So after cleaning up ‘tee-tee’ again

I stand back and admire my work.

Again.

I have four bank boxes stacked up beside our desk, waiting to be moved to storage, and two boxes of files waiting to be put back in their places… a new stack of school paces waiting to be placed in kids’ folders… and a beach bag full of miscellaneous receipts and photos and study notes, waiting to be filed…

::because – you know – your junk looks less like junk when it’s collected in a bright, pretty beach bag, am I right?::

…not to mention the pile of laundry on the couch, the three baskets waiting to hit the washer, the kids’ closets needing cleaning out, or the floors that haven’t been mopped since before Christmas.

But by golly, the bathroom is clean!

That one accomplishment seemed to take me half the day and was wrought with frustrations.

And the bathroom isn’t the only area of my life that feels like that.

I have a John Piper app on my phone for a reason.  Because some days it’s the only way I’ll get a little Scripture rattling around in my head… and hope it will get planted in my heart…

I can hold that app open on my phone and read a line or two while I’m nursing the baby… and read and think about the next line or two while my phone is sitting there on the kitchen counter and I’m coring apples to go with lunch…

There’s this picture in our bathroom.  A framed 4×6 snapshot sitting on the window sill – of Jeff and me in a different era of our life… we were with half our team, camping out for the weekend on a mountain side in the himalayas.  He’s got me thrown over his shoulder and we’re both wearing our hiking fleeces and our headlamps.  And it was nightfall when our friend Chad snapped us with his camera – caught this moment frozen.  It’s too dark in the picture to see the landscape or the tents behind us.

You mostly see our faces, smiling.  Me thrown over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and him grinning back at the camera.  We’re so young and fresh and energetic.  Full of dreams and plans and ideas for the future.  The world our oyster.  Sure, there would be babies one day.  But they would be bi-lingual and immersed in the culture – and by golly they would be practically leading the masses of local children to the Lord by the dozens.  Our heads were filled with visions of mission work and published works.  And just, lots of works.

Now a decade later, “attempt great things for God” has become trying to get through the day without losing my patience with the kids, and also manage to knock out 3 meals and keep one side of my sink free of dirty dishes.

Sorry, Flylady, check back with me in oh, twelve years?  Maybe then I can work on making my sink shine.

If I can also manage to read a story to my kids and everyone has clean underwear – bonus!

Some days I think “Jesus, in my weakness you’re strong?  Well all I’ve got is weakness… so then I guess all I’ve got is Your strength, right Jesus?  So… how come every day is still a struggle?  Faith of a mustard seed can move mountains… so how come these mountains of laundry can lay my spirit so low?

And some days to think I was going to spin my story telling other souls how to walk with Jesus – it seems preposterous!  I’m the one who’s gone back to crawling.  

At the end of the day, the bathroom is dirty again, and the sink is full and the real test is this – did I love You, Jesus with all my heart?  Did I love others as myself?

Every day that’s what it will come to – this is the season we’re in.  God has somehow, in His way, brought us back to the basics, the foundation.

No matter what condition the house is in… no matter what discipline issues we’re dealing with, or how much ‘orphanage dust’ is flying around here… no matter what learning difficulties one of the kids is going through or how tired we are after 60-hour weeks… no matter how much the baby doesn’t sleep, or how many kids end up piled in our bed by morning.  At the end of every day, it comes back to those two questions:

Did I love Jesus today?  With all my heart?

Did I love my neighbor (the one who’s always blaring the loud music) – did I love the lady at Walmart, my children, my husband – as much as I love… me?

The little embers of those young dreams and visions are still lit somewhere inside me… I hope to walk that proverbial mountainside trail again – to “attempt great things for God.”

But to do that before ace-ing this test I get at the end of each long day – that would be premature.

Because most of the time – before you can walk – you gotta crawl.

The One Who Lost His Way

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I could never relate to that story Jesus told more than I did one night last weekend.

Lazy Saturday.  Family togetherness.  Why not let it spill over into the things that must be done?  The buying of the groceries… because what mother-of-six in her right mind would go during the weekday, with all her ducklings in a row, without the help of another pair of adult hands (and eyes) – and expect it to be anything less than unproductive?

And sure, taking your entire family to buy two weeks’ worth of groceries on a Saturday evening at the newly-remodeled, expanded grocery in town – yes this might not be ideal.  But fun, right?

Or maybe it was just a plain bad idea.

So there we were.  I had the list and a few kids… he had some items to find and a few kids… and we’d split up and come back together and split and come back together….

We did this for a few hours.  I pushed the baby in the stroller, with Maggie pushing a cart behind me (the small kind that I imagine works well for college students or bachelors or couples with no kids – but certainly will only hold a fraction of our fare…)  And the hard-working husband – he pushed a full size buggy in front of his crew.

When we finally had all but one item, we were standing there at the checkout.  Jeff darted down a nearby aisle – and took Christopher with him – to retrieve the final thing on our list.  By this time Olivia was crying in her stroller, so I unbuckled her and lifted her out to hold and soothe her.  I turn around to tell Carson – my active litte almost-three-year-old – that he could take a rest in the stroller (and this would also make it easier for me to keep him in one spot.)

Only, when I turned around, he wasn’t there.  I quickly scanned my crew.  The three big girls were there.  No Carson.  I had only turned around for a few seconds.  How could he have disappeared?

I quickly glanced down aisle where Jeff and Christopher were looking for the right brand of the item we needed.  There were so many people, I couldn’t tell if he had Carson with him, so I called out to them.

No, he didn’t have Carson.

I looked around again, and couldn’t see him anywhere.

I left the girls standing there in front of the checkout, with the empty stroller, and with Olivia on my hip I went the opposite direction, quickly scanning down aisles and and in between check-out lanes.  I paced up and down a few times.  Saw Jeff coming back my direction shaking his head with his hands up in the air.  I re-traced my steps back the opposite direction again.

He’s so small.  So easy to miss…

I kept thinking that he just couldn’t have gone that far.  I had only turned around for two seconds.  If he hadn’t gone that far, why haven’t we found him yet?

Then I caught my breath as a thought occurred to me – unless someone took him.

This is about the time that panic was about to set in.  And I cried out a desperate prayer inside my head.

And then, the instant I breathed that prayer, I heard him.

I heard that familiar screaming cry I’ve heard a hundred times when he’s upset.  I instantly felt relief.  I couldn’t see him yet, but I could hear him, and I followed those cries.

There – a few hundred feet from the exit doors, there he was.  So painfully small in a big, busy supermarket.  A man with his little girl were nearby trying to call him to come away from the exit, and back to find his mama.

But he was lost and scared.  

And I can’t even describe to you the relief I felt when I saw him there.  And I ran to him, and with Olivia on my hip I knelt down and put my arm around him.

Safe.

When I turned my back, he’d gone looking for his Daddy.  But he didn’t know the way.

So He told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?

And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents thant over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’
Luke 15:3-7

There was never a time before that night when I could really relate to the parable Jesus told to the pharisees and the scribes that day.  I left my three big girls standing there by the checkout, and trusted they would be safe – and went searching for my little lost one.

I must have read this passage a hundred times in my lifetime.  And not one time before now did I have an inkling of the urgency that Jesus meant.

Sheep, yeah, I get it.  Shepherds, sheep, yeah.

Only no, I never did ‘get it’ before now.

The urgency and determination of a mother searching out her lost man-child.  Is this how the Father sees the ones He is calling to repentance?

And just last night, that amazing hard-working husband and I talked about this.  How often do we casually overlook those around us, void of real sympathy and concern?

When the Father – He seeks them out.  The ones who have lost their way….

But maybe WE are the ones who have lost HIS way…  forgot His heart for the lost…

Well I aim to remember the way again… because now I know how it feels to look for the lost.