"'And you've quite given [writing] up?' asked Christine.
'Not altogether...but I'm writing living epistles now,' said Anne, thinking of Jem and Co."
- Anne of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery


Bye Bye Lully Lullay

It's been one of her favorite carols since my brother was little.  I think he was in first or second grade when he sang it at his Christmas program -  the Coventry Carol.  She told me a few weeks back that she looked up original lyrics.  It suprised her - the darkness of that song.  How it's all about babies dying at the hands of a ruthless king.

Lully Lullay.
Thou little tiny child.
Bye Bye Lully Lullay.

That song just won't get out of my head this Christmas.  And, honestly, it doesn't feel very merry.  I don't really feel like decking the halls.  I feel more like putting on sackcloth and ashes.    It's all of these children.  Innocent little ones with such tremendous burdens to carry, such incredible battles to fight. 

It's my sweet baby cousin and all of the precious little ones who have to fight against disease.
It's the beautiful little girl whose own momma can't care for her and all of the dear children who don't know the love of a parent. 
It's the kids who work in sweatshops and the little seven year old boys who climb trees with machetes in their mouths to harvest cocao beans.
It's the children who have been shot down in  my own land and the children around the world who live in the constant shadow of violence - who live every day knowing they may not see the light of another. 
It's the children stripped of their homes and their families and their innocence - their lives sacrificed to fulfill the insane desires of the more powerful.

Vulnerability is so easy to exploit and it happens every day.  Innocent ones suffer at hands greedy for power, for money, for fame...for who can tell what?  And it turns my stomach to think that in so many parts of this world the massacre of kindergarteners is nothing out of the ordinary.  How many 5,6,7 year-olds the world over live everyday life in the shadow of unspeakable violence?  How many kids the world over die before they even see that age? 

And how can we be  merry in the sight of all this?  It's supposed to be perfect, isn't it - Christmas?  Shiny and glittering and happy and...wonderful?  My tree has gaps and it has been bumped into it and lights have been pulled off and ornaments have been knocked off.  The kids throw fits and all of our favorite traditions just don't go the way they should.  And the to-do list is so long.  But every time I spend a dime on someone I love, every time I do something to prepare for our own celebration, all I can think of are all of those lovely people in this world who have never heard, never felt, "I love you."  And it's making me crazy just how much I care about all of the stuff that doesn't matter at all.

And we light the candles:

And that song echoes through it all. Haunting.

Lully Lullay, thou little tiny child. Bye Bye Lully Lullay.

It haunts and it reminds of the baby king who was born into genocide.  God chose to come in the form of the most vulnerable and Jesus was born in an occupied land under the rule of a powerful king who was set on taking his life.  Sweet, innocent ones slain at the order of a madman and the Son of God was a refugee.

How many mothers cried in Bethlehem?  Jacob's Rachel died there and she named her baby boy Ben-Oni, "son of my sorrow".  And her daughters cried tears for their own sons when they were slaughtered at the hand of Pharoah.  How many times does this history repeat itself?  How many times are the innocents slaughtered?  And Emmanuel came to be with us in the midst of it.  Right in the middle of the pain and the anguish and the filthy evilness of this world. 

I've spent all this time trying to feast, trying to celebrate and Rachel cries and refuses to be comforted for all of her dead children and I just want to cry with her.  I'm not in the mood for feasting.  My heart wants to fast.  I want to fall on my knees and cry the tears.  It's my realest response right now. 

This Christmas feels so far from perfect. 

But, then, isn't that the story?  How Emmanuel is God with us in the midst of reality?  Funny how we paint that stable to look so warm and quaint and cozy.  But there are some things that you just can't put a rosy spin on.  This world is a mess and our lives are a mess and Jesus came right into the middle of it all.  Emmanuel.  Is there any more loving response? And we've spent all this time gearing up for the celebration that we forgot about the wait.  We are waiting!

We light the candles every Sunday night and we thank God for all of the hope, the peace, the joy, the love which are ours through the Christ.  We celebrate that God loved us enough to come. 

And other songs play through my mind and don't we notice every year how funny it is that so many of the Christmas songs are in a minor key?  How they always leave you longing for...something? 

And maybe it's really ok that Christmas doesn't feel so merry this year.  Because maybe Christmas is less about merriment and more about joy - about joy that comes when we remember that what we are hoping for, what we are longing for is coming.  Forget shallow happiness that comes with perfect trees and perfect presents and perfect experiences.  I want to live the kind of joy that comes with knowing that God has come and he has promised never to leave no. matter. what. and he has promised to come back and make it all right.   Something unbelievably wonderful is coming.  And joy radiates on even when "merry" is miles and miles away. 

So we wait and pray and fast and groan for his return, for the time when he will forever fix what has been broken.  Rachel named her son Ben-Oni.  But Jacob gave him a new name:  Benjamin.  "Son of my right hand."  And isn't it funny how God just keeps doing that?  Keeps renaming his people?  Abram to Abraham.  Jacob to Israel.  Saul to Paul.  And all of those Ben-Oni, all of those sons of sorrow?  Won't he give them a new name, too? 

Christ has come and Christ will come and we can trust in a God who would be with us here. 

I heard it on the Christian radio station - the announcer talking about how sad it is that there are people who can't give their families Christmas.  And I can't help but shake my head and smile, because who of us can give Christmas?  It is God's gift to give.  I'm sitting here, on my knees crying out for all of the innocents who suffer and in the middle of all this mess, I feel the presence of the God who came and the God who is coming, the God who loves each precious child with a fierce passion.  And up bubbles the joy that blows that elusive "merry" clear away.

We celebrate the hope, peace, joy and love that are ours in Christ and we look so eagerly forward to the day when all hope will be fulfilled and we will dwell forever in peace and joy and love. We wait and we pray, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"


Grace in an Unexpected Package

I've seen the pictures of his birth day.  Little baby boy all hooked up to tubes.  Body misshapen.  Life hanging on by a thread.  I've heard the stories of how the doctors said he would never make it.  He would never make it home.  He would never make it a month...a year...five years.  Knowing him, he probably lived on just to spite them - he was ornery like that. 

All of those things normal kids do - learning to sit up, crawl, walk, feed himself, talk - he never did any of those things.  He got around by wheelchair or log-rolling on the floor or being carried by his family or friends.  When he couldn't live at home he lived in children's hospitals and eventually a group home.  I've heard the stories of how hard it was.  My momma has told me of scars left from all of the difficult decisions that have to be made for the life and the family of someone with severe disabilities.  Sometimes there just aren't easy answers.  Sometimes life just hurts.

I've heard people say that that kind of life just isn't worth it.  You wouldn't find anyone with that perspective among my family - not among anyone who knew my Uncle.  He had plenty of disabilities.  His abilities far outstripped them.  And how could it be?  How could a person who never spoke a single word, never walked a single step make any kind of impact?  What kind of worth does a life like that have?

He died the night after Thanksgiving.  We all went over to his group home that day.  Brought treats and laughed and played with him and his friends.  He was ornery as ever - pulling us close like he wanted to give us a hug or kiss and then pushing us away with a grin.  The next morning my daddy woke me up to tell me that he had died in his sleep.  31 years old when they never expected him to see 31 days and it was still too soon.  I stood up there with my family at his visitation.  What kind of turn out would you expect for a man who never spoke a word to a soul?  The line stretched out the door of the funeral home and the people just kept coming.  I listened while they told my mom and my uncle and my grandparents just what he had meant to them - how he had impacted their lives. 

My grandpa says that he used to pray that God would make his son whole.  He says the answer to that prayer wasn't a change in his son's condition, but a change in his own vision.  Where he once saw all the ways that my Uncle's life was not whole, God gave him eyes to see the way that a broken life can be beautiful.  We can think of all the things he missed - all of the he-never-got-to's.  But what about the things he did?  What about the person he was,  not in-spite of but because of his disabilities?  Some people read that God uses the weak.  Every person that knew my Uncle Craig got to see it. 

The truth is that we are all broken.  The truth is that each one of us will end our lives with a list of never-got-to's and some of those lists will be miles and miles longer than others.  It doesn't make a bit of sense and it's heartbreaking.  And words can't come close to conveying the grief of knowing that all you could dream of for a precious little gift hangs in the balance.  What if that precious baby never walks, never talks, never dances at the high school prom or at their wedding?  Never drives a car?  Never rides a bike?  What if a precious little life is lost before those tiny eyes see the light of day?  What if that dear one has to fight for every breath?

There are not words to comfort that kind of grief.

But life is always grace, always gift.  And for all of our wonderings - for the wonderings of my family as they watched the life of my uncle and for the wonderings of each and every parent who faces uncertainty surrounding the health of their own precious little ones - there is one thing that is sure.  The God who created that life crafted it with love.  That whole thing about being fearfully and wonderfully made?  It was true for my uncle and it is true for each and every person even if they are born with disability or disease, even if their list of never-got-to's is the longest imaginable.  We can trust that God, who loves better than the best of fathers, has the very best in store for his little child.  And no matter what he will use the gift of that life to bless each and every person who touches it.  He works everything out to our good like that - taking what is broken and making it the most beautiful gift of grace that goes beyond all imagining. 

 I first wrote this blog over a month ago after learning that the baby girl my cousin is expecting may be facing some hardships.  I didn't publish it because I just wasn't sure that the time was right and I didn't know many specifics on her diagnosis.  Now another ultrasound has confirmed that this sweet baby has a kidney disease that threatens her life.  If she survives pregnancy and birth she will eventually need a kidney transplant.  My heart is broken for my cousin and his sweet family, but in the middle of all of the tears and prayers for this baby girl, I keep thinking of the name they gave her before they ever knew a thing about her little kidneys - Gracie.  Grace means gift and doesn't she belong in our family?  Didn't we witness once the power of a life that didn't follow our plans and won't we welcome this sweet little gift with open arms, no matter what her life looks like? 
If you are reading this, please pray for Gracie and her family.  That she would be well, that her lungs would be strong, that her kidneys will remain cyst-free as long as possible, and that all of those who love her already can keep open hands to receive the gift God is giving in her life.  She has a fight ahead of her and she could use your prayers.


Happy Labor Day

I don't really know where to pin the blame.  I'm pretty sure it all started with Cap and the way I was seeing him buy into all of those advertising ploys.  That's when I started to stop and notice.  And really it's my own fault for picking up books I knew were going to mess with me.  When I read the description of the book 7, by Jen Hatmaker, I knew right away that it was a book I needed to read (and a book that I absolutely didn't want to read, but I read it).  Then I re-read The Irresistible Revolution and went on to Jesus for President.

All of those things combined with the fact that my husband is a member of a trade union have converged to make Labor Day stand out for me this year.  I read The Jungle when I was in high school.  I have some idea of what working conditions used to be in our country and I am incredibly grateful for a movement that poured blood, sweat and tears into an effort that revolutionized what it means to work in this country.  I am also incredibly grateful for a union that works hard to this day to ensure that my husband works under safe and respectable conditions.  And unions are not perfect and, yes, there are big problems.  But they have done so much good and there is much to be thankful for.  And so, Labor Day is a day for celebrating how far we have come and all of those that have worked so hard to bring us here.

But there is another side to the story.  Labor Day may be a celebration of where we are, but it's also a cry to remember that the battle is not over.  It's a reminder that while our working conditions may be excellent there are so many people out there who are exploited and abused to feed our desires.  And I'm learning that it's not just in the developing world - that there are men and women and children trying to put bread on their tables in the good-ole USA who are working under conditions that are little better than slavery.

And I'm not really trying to make a political statement.  Honestly, I have no idea how to solve the problem or where to start and there are incredibly intelligent people on just about every side of the issue who can make claims about the right course of action and I can't tell you whose ideas will work and whose won't. 

But I do know that the first step is to recognize the problem.  And maybe the second step is to say that it's not okay.  It's not okay that the majority of the toys my children have are made by children in sweat-shop conditions who will never get to play with those toys.  It's not okay that the clothes my baby girl is wearing at this moment were probably stitched together by a person who is dehumanized at every turn by their employer.  It is not okay that I keep crying for more cheap stuff to consume and other people work all of their lives to make that stuff under horrendous conditions.

And so, this Labor Day I will celebrate.  I will remember the people who have gone before and I will celebrate the freedoms we have today.  And this Labor Day I will pray for all of those who work under horrible conditions and I will pray that God continues to open my eyes to injustice and set my feet in motion to stand beside those who don't enjoy the same liberties.


Interesting & Informative Articles, Blogs & Websites

Over the last two years that we have been considering homeschool, I've come across tons of websites that have offered up a treasure trove of information, insight and encouragement.  Here are a few of them that I can find at the moment.  I'll link some of the other great sites I've stumbled across as I remember them. :)

Ann Voskamp has so many good articles on homeschooling and does such a beautiful job articulating why she and her family have decided to homeschool.  I love the way she acknowledges that homeschooling isn't perfect and it isn't easy and it isn't right for everyone, but it is right for her family.  Some of her homeschool posts I have bookmarked are:

Pros and Cons to Homeschooling: Why We Do It?
Home Education
How to Simply Homeschool
A Day in the Life of Homeschooling: 7 Rungs

Here's an excellent article on Homeschooling PreK & Kindergarten.

I really enjoy reading what Kate has to say about homeschooling, or rather unschooling.  While I'm not sure unschooling is the path for us ( I would go nuts!), she has some very interesting things to say about the way homeschooled kids are different and how maybe different isn't so bad.  You can read Kate's perspectives on her journey as an unschooler at Skipping School.

Carisa at 1+1+1=1 is a very large part of the reason we had the confidence to start this journey of home education.  Her website is full of homeschooling advice and especially resources. 

The Homeschool Classroom is a continual source of good advice and information.

Erica at Confessions of Homeschooler has a great series on Getting Started Homeschooling.  Tons of information here!

Peter Gray's blog, Freedom to Learn provides lots of food for thought concerning educational theory.  I can't say that I always agree with his conclusions, but they are always a fun and contemplation-evoking read.

Here We Go!

I woke up this morning to the sound of the school bus driving by our house.  I guess that makes it official - we are homeschooling!  To celebrate not-back-to-school day, we're making a castle out of a huge cardboard box.  We're kicking off kindergarten by learning about knights! And boy, are these kids excited (momma too)!

So, what is our year going to look like?  Here's a little peek into what's in store for us:

Skid is starting Pre-K this year.  He'll be in the same program Cap was in.  There are three reasons we decided to send Skid:

1.  We LOVE the 3 year-old teacher at the school.  She was so wonderful with Cap and had such a fantastic attitude about teaching a hard-to-teach kid. 
2.  We learned so much about Cap's learning styles through that first year of preschool.  We're hoping that sending Skid through the program too will help us get to know some things about how he learns. 
3.  He REALLY wants to go.  He's been begging to go to the school since the beginning of last year.  I had to literally drag the kid out of the classroom each time we took Cap.  He would sneak in to the 3 year-old room and have a seat at the table.

So, Skid will spend half a day at school, 2 days a week.  He'll continue to get lots of learning time at home and will be able to join right in with what we are doing with Cap.  Plus, we've joined a homeschool co-op in our area that has classes one day a week.  Skidamarink will be part of the Dr. Suess story hour there.  So much fun!

Things will look a little different that I had originally planned for Cap.  He wanted to start school back in June, so I let him.  I didn't force him to do any work, but we had calendar time when he requested it and I had work boxes filled up for him to use as he pleased.  What I found was that he didn't really use the stuff in the boxes as I had planned them.  He went above and beyond and was really creative with learning.  Cap is very motivated to learn and seems to do best when the reins are in his hands. 

For example:

I had a box that had some manipulatives to help him do some simple addition.  He didn't want much to do with it.  Later, I found him building a cube out of paper and tape and he was doing multiplication to figure out how many pieces of tape he would need ("I have four sides on my square and I want two pieces of tape on each side, so I'll need eight pieces of tape please, mom.")

I had another couple of boxes with some sight word work and phonics work that he pretty much ignored.  Later I found him laying in the middle of the floor reading a book all by himself that was well beyond where I would have placed him.  He is starting to read some books with little to no help.  He's gotten this far without any pushing from me, so as long as he's willing to pursue it on his own I'll just cheer him on!

And if he does anything with the handwriting papers I give him, it's scribble on them.  But he's spent a good 2 hours this week writing letters and books for people in our family.  He's also starting to enjoy drawing and he really loves to doodle with letters (my favorite was an M who decided to become a cowboy.  M was very good at throwing a lasso.  By the time he was done "drawing" you couldn't tell what you were looking at, there was so much action on the paper.  No matter what the end product looks like, it's great practice!).
So, alot of the plans I had made are pretty much out the window at this point.  Here's the direction we're headed with Cap:

Dad, Cap & I will set some goals of things we want Cap to accomplish this year.  We'll kind of let him take the lead on a lot of stuff and just be on the lookout for how he is advancing toward those goals and how we can resource him. 

We'll also be doing a lot of theme work.  We did a dinosaur theme over the summer and it was a huge hit with both boys.  We made fossils and checked out dino books and movies from the library and wrote our own books about dinosaurs (the boys' favorite!)  Next we'll be learning about knights and medieval times.  We've got that huge cardboard castle we're building in our school room and a good stack of library books have been requested.  The boys are already making plans to engineer a drawbridge for the castle, make some armor and hold a tournament.  We're planning to follow the "Magic Treehouse" series by Mary Pope Osborn as inspiration for our themes. The themes are a springboard for a whole lot of learning opportunities:  history, geography, math, writing, reading, science - the sky is the limit!

 During our time at the homeschool co-op classes, Cap will be taking a P.E. class that is themed around the olympics - they'll learn about and play different sports and glean a little knowledge about various countries around the world.  How cool is that?  He'll also be part of a Creative Drama class, which I am extremely excited about.  If you've read any of my previous posts about Cap and his antics in school, then you'll know that he is a little performer and it tends to get him in trouble.  I was looking into finding a drama class for him as a constructive way to expend some of that energy and this class popped up.  Perfect!

Other things we'll be spending some time on this fall:  play dates with the homeschool co-op, Bible study with What's in the Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible, family game/trivia nights, possibly joining our local Y and getting involved with some sports there (both boys were entralled with the olympic swimmers and really want to give that a go), possibly starting some music lessons (Cap has been pretty interested in piano),  and doing some investigating into ways our family can serve in some local mission work (Cap has long been concerned about the fact that there are kids who don't have homes and some who don't have parents and is very interested in what he can do to help.)  On top of all of that, we've got lots of work to do around here getting "the farm" ready to become an actual farm of sorts next spring:  there's a compost bin to build,  a chicken coop and yard to build, and lots of maintenance work and planning to be done.  The boys are always eager to put on their "work bibs" and help Daddy outside.

It's shaping up to be a pretty busy fall and we're excited to dive right in to this new adventure!


Why Santa Doesn't Come to Our House

I know, I know.  I'm in danger of being the mom in Miracle on 24th street or the Grinch or Scrooge or any other Christmas villain imaginable.  And I started to think maybe I was when my son came to me in tears with this question:

"Mom, *someone* told me that Santa only comes to your house if you are good.  But he doesn't come to my house.  That's because my brother and I are such bad children."

I can promise you that hurt.  Like a punch to the stomach.  Enough to make me think hard again:  Why is it that Santa doesn't come to our house?

It's not that I have a problem with the magic or the pretend play.  There's something sweet about a child pretending that there are elves in the woods or genies in bottles.  There's a willingness in kids to believe beyond their sight.  There is a way that faith-filled-ness seems to be their natural pose and maybe that's just as it should be - belief in the unreal giving eyes to later tell reality from fantasy and letting them see just how much fantasy is really reality.  I mean, the greatest fairy-tale ever told is 100% true and maybe our play as children opens our eyes wide enough to believe the truest wonders of the world.  No, it's not the magic that's the problem.  We can play that a fairy puts quarters under his pillow and he is free to read and play Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings to his hearts content.

The problem, for me, is this:  there is this lie out there that all of us have bought into to some extent.  This lie that says, "all you need is more.  More time.  More money.  More clothes.  More toys.  More space.  More opportunity. More is what will make you happy. More! More! More!"  And, honestly, I can't help but feeling that this lie is extremely dangerous.  And I can't help but think that I need to make sure my kiddos have the opportunity to see the truth.

And it's not Santa's fault, really.  Except that I think maybe Santa, good chap that he was, has been turned into something else.  I mean, all those Whoos down in Whooville may have Christmas just the same without packages, boxes or bags.  But I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be our response.  I think maybe we'd all cry boo-hoo!  It's not Santa's fault.  It's because of that lie, but oh boy can't Santa play right into the hands of that lie if we'll let him.

See, my kids have watched the ads and they are getting the message loud and clear.  My Cap has a memory and he can tell you word for word the Orange Julius commercial playing right now.  But, more than that, he can tell you that he NEEDS a smoothie because smoothies are great and when you put something great inside you, you become great too.  (Maybe there is a lesson in that.)  That smoothie isn't something he wants - it's something he needs. 

And he's watched that mouse riding a skateboard.  It seemed friendly enough.  All it did was tell us that being physically active is a good thing. (And that Chuck-E-Cheese's is "where a kid can be a kid.")  And that friendly little mouse has my son convinced that we need to take every penny we have, empty out all of our piggy banks and savings accounts and head on over to Chuck-E-Cheese's.  Why does he want to go?  He has no idea.  None.  He just knows that CEC is a place you go and take your money.  He just knows its what the tv told him to do.  They didn't even show him all of the games and the pizza and the prizes.  He wants to be there because he somehow picked up on the message that "if you bring us your money we'll make you happy."  And someday I'll get up the patience to brave Chuck-E-Cheese's with my boy and if he wants to spend every dime in his little piggy bank I will let him.  And he will have a blast, I'm sure.  And it will be good.  But we'll also be doing a lot of talking.  Because the idea that you can give someone money and they will sell you happiness is a complete and dangerous lie.

And I've heard him buy into the same lie with Santa.  "I will be so good and I will ask Santa for every toy I've ever wanted and he will bring it to me."  Ah, but that's not how it works, my boy.  And even if "Santa" wanted to give you ever material thing your heart could desire, he can't. Your desires are so big that they can't be filled with all of the stuff in the world.   And here's the thing:  I used to want to give my kids every material thing they could wish for.  The coolest toys in abundance.  All the clothes.  All the opportunities.  Any thing they could ever possibly want and so much more.

That scripture went around in my head as I battled.  Yes, I want my kids to be kind and giving and not overly consumed with stuff, yet
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" - Luke 11:11-13
And I told myself, "See,  we're supposed to give good gifts."  And I let the lie distort my vision and all of a sudden I thought truth was telling me that I should be giving my kids the things they want.  But isn't the truth that I should give my kids the things they need?  Is it possible that, sometimes, when I give them just what they ask for I am really just handing over a snake.  If my kid comes to me and says he's really hungry do I hand over a candy bar or do I give him something to nourish?  If my kid falls and breaks a bone (an experience I hope we never deal with) do I give him a band-aid or take him to the hospital?  They might prefer the candy bar.  They might prefer the band-aid.  But what they need is nourishment.  What they need is healing.  And it would be horrible of me to offer anything less than what they need.

And I think maybe the same is true of all this stuff - of all this more.  They come to me thinking they want this new toy or all of these shining, glistening things on the shelf at the store. But, often that's not what they really want.  I know because all of those things they thought they needed have sat forgotten and unplayed with on shelves and I've heard them say, "It wasn't as good as I thought it would be."  (Once he was dead set that he wanted a game where a dog poops and you clean it up.  Honestly?  I can't bring myself to buy that.  Maybe it's a good game.  I've never played it.  But there just seems to me something kinda wacky about the idea that we would pay other people so we can pretend we are picking up dog poop...)  And it's funny, but it's also really serious.  I can and do buy my kids stuff.  They have toys that they love - their own little velveteen rabbits that are worn real.  And it's good.  But when I pile up the stuff at some point I am in danger of giving a snake when I mean to give bread.  At some point I am in danger of telling them that the lie is true.  That more will make them happy.

But I've seen what more does to them.  How they mass up mounds of toys at Christmas and birthdays and get so overwhelmed with all the stuff that they don't even know what to do with it.  They walk around with a toy in their hands, never really playing.  Just carrying it until they see another toy they'd like to carry.  And they fight with each other, like the one who is interested in the toy they were previously holding has just made the most inhumane of threats against their very existence.  And it's so ugly. 

And I've heard what the lie has done to our society.  I've heard how since the 1950's our nation has had more than ever before.  We've been filthy rich (and I mean just about all of us, middle class included) and the richer we've gotten the unhappier we've been.  The suicide rate in our nation has increased astronomically since the 50s.   The more hasn't made us happier.  It's made us desperate - despair-ing. We bought into the lie that the more could satisfy and it just hasn't and where can we go to have this all-absorbing desire filled? (I know where!)

So, maybe it's extreme.  Certainly it's odd.  But, Santa doesn't come to our house.  And, please believe me, I'm not making any judgment on you if he does come to yours.  This is just how I know to hold that lie at bay.  Because I can't stand to see the obsenity of more ushered into my house at the same time we celebrate the birth of one who gave up everything.  I can't handle the mile long wish lists or the cataloges with every single thing circled as I am trying to prepare my heart for the advent of one who tells us not to worry about stuff, the one who tells us that the more we have the harder it is for us to see the truth, the one who gives to us so abundantly and commands us to make sure that we take care of those who do not have the same resources we have.  It's enough to break my heart, that juxtaposition.  One with power to create the universe lying as a helpless, completely dependent infant in a manger in a stable.  One with power to make the guards and the pharisees and the priests stop and bow before him, but choosing instead to let them spit and taunt and nail and kill.  He has given everything and promised everything and all I ask for is more of what the world has to offer.  All I ask for is a snake when he would give me bread! 

See, it doesn't cost anything for Santa to bring gifts.  He just loads all of those goodies up on his sleigh and drops them down the chimney.  And if there is no cost, surely we can just keep asking for more and more and more.  And more is a lie.  A lie that I want my kids to see straight through.  I want them to see because I don't want them to be trapped in that lie, thinking more is the answer and missing out on the truth which is a million times better.  Less is more and everything is ours in Christ.

So, what do I tell my little ones about Santa? 

That Santa is a story.  A story based on a true story.  A legend.  Once upon a time, there was a man named Nicholas.  Nicholas was a saint, someone who was in love with Jesus and someone who asked Jesus what he should be doing with his life.  Nicholas, the saint, was wealthy.  He had been given much and he knew that what he had been given wasn't for his use alone.  He knew that he was to share with people who did not have.  He knew that he was free to share all he had because Jesus had already given all of himself and God raised him up and gave him more to give and Nicholas knew that God would always give him more than enough too. 

Nicholas loved God and trusted God and he gave to other people not because it made him feel good, but because that love God had given him couldn't be bottled up.  He had to share that love.  So, Saint Nicholas, with the life full of overflowing love saw these people that had a need. 

There was this family.  They didn't have any money.  In fact, they owed other people a lot of money.  And, in those days, if you couldn't pay with money you had to pay with something else.  And since this man didn't have any money, the people he owed were going to take something else from him instead - his daughters.  His daughters would become slaves of other people so that the family's debt would be cancelled. 

Nicholas knew that this was horrible and he knew that he had to help them, but he wanted it to be a secret.  You see, Nicholas didn't want these people to think he was the one they should be thankful to for their freedom.  Because it wasn't really Nicholas's money that was paying their debt.  Nicholas knew that God had given him that money and that God wanted him to save those girls.  No, it wasn't Nicholas who was doing the saving.  It was God who was doing the saving and he was letting Nicholas help. 

So Nicholas snuck to their house in secret.  The girls had their socks hanging out of the window to dry.  Sounds silly, I know, but they didn't have clothes dryers then.  Nicholas took some money, enough to buy their freedom, and stuck it down in their socks so they would find the money when they put on their socks in the morning.  The family's debt was paid and the girls were free.

So, today, we remember St. Nicholas.  Sometimes we call him Santa.  Over the years the story of St. Nicholas has been told over and over again.  And sometimes people changed the story a bit here and there.  They added in fun things like a toy factory and elves and cookies and sleighs.  And we give gifts and sometimes we pretend they are from Santa and we do lots of special things for other people and pretend that we are being Santa. 

But no matter how much fun we have playing about Santa Claus, it's important that we remember why St. Nicholas gave.  St. Nicholas gave to others because he loved God and he knew God wanted him to share that love.  And we can give for the same reason too.  We can let God's love fill us up so much that it pours out for other people. 

And, here's the secret.  All of the kids who believe in Santa will one day find out that it wasn't really Santa putting the presents under the tree and in their stockings and then they might think that Santa isn't real. 

But, I want you to know the truth. 
Santa is real! 

St. Nicholas was a living, breathing person who really walked and really talked and really loved God.  He spent his life working in churches helping other people see God.  And one day, when Nicholas was old, he died.  But we know that death is not the end.  And one day Jesus will make this old, broken world new and shiny and then you could meet St. Nicholas.  Maybe you will really get to sit on the real Santa's lap.  That's the truth.  Now isn't that a better story?


Over and Over Again

Some of my thoughts from back in May about baby girl's health:

It's a lesson God's so patiently repeated to me time and again this month and the last.  I heard it loud and clear on the day they discovered something might be wrong.  For most of the month of March and all of the month of April I struggled with the worry.  The last thing I wanted to hear as a parent was that she wasn't perfectly healthy. 

This little one and I put in a lot of time at the hospital at the end of the pregnancy.  Twice weekly visits to the obstetrician and twice weekly non-stress tests.  Nurses would stand in groups listening to the crazy little beating of her heart.  Amniotic fluid levels were low and the doctor said "bedrest" and "hopefully we can wait until you are 37 weeks".  So we prayed and I rested and I hydrated and I saw the specialist and soon everything looked perfect again.  The doctor said the arrhythmia was "absolutely nothing to be concrned about" and my fluid level soared above where the ob expected and now she was saying "hopefully we can get you to 39 weeks" and we praised God for his faithfulness to answer prayer.

When 38 weeks came the fluid levels dropped again, the doctor said it was time.  She scheduled the induction for the following morning and it was answered prayer in my eyes because I had a feeling she was coming soon and I knew that another doctor would do a c-section.  Our sweet baby girl was born and the doctor made jokes about labor that only lasts 3 hours and delivery that takes only a minute and how next time Jeff could just deliver the baby.  She told me to get a good look and then they rushed her over to the incubator and a whole crew of doctors and nurses who took a good look at her.  She was pretty and pink and perfect and yet that heart still beat out that unusal rhythm.  They ordered an EKG and an echo and told us we'd hear more tomorrow.  And we didn't worry because we were confident that God had already told us she would be fine.

Then Thursday morning brought the pediatrician in and the confidence flew far off. He told us of PDAs and PFOs and frequent PVCs and aortic coarctation.  He told us time would tell and that we needed to watch for the signs that our girl's heart wasn't doing its job.  My tears held off until he left the room and then all I could do was cry and hold my baby and wonder what the future held for her.  All of that knowing what God had spoken was gone and all I could do was worry. 

We could read on her face a much different story than the one I had heard from the doctors. It was the same way when I was pregnant.  The doctors would say something that would bring on the doubt and I would feel her dancing around inside - so strong and extremely active.  And with every movement I heard the message over: "Do not worry."  Now I was holding this baby who was strong and alert and eating so well and everything looked perfect.  And she was speaking with her eyes the same words her Daddy was saying out loud: "Do not worry!"

They said when they sent us home that the arrhythmia was sounding better and that they had high hopes that it would go away on its own.  An appointment was set with a pediatric cardiologist and they sent her home with wires - a portable EKG machine. The machine came off 24 hours later and I was confident again that she would be ok.

Her little life has been like a broken record playing the same tune over and again.  The doctors find something new to worry over and she keeps telling us she's just fine.  Another hospital stay for RSV and she never shows a symptom.  More monitoring of that tiny heart and they say everything looks fine.  We won't know for sure for another month, then another 6 months, but it looks like all is well.  A positive test for Organic Acid Disorder and still she grows and looks so healthy.

This recurring scenario feels a whole lot like God patiently teaching me to trust.  And I can't help but be so grateful for the way he calmly walks me through it all time and again.  The worry springs up and he teaches me again and again, even though this lesson is taking me a lifetime to learn.

The newest update is that the PFO (one of the holes in her heart) is still open, but it's not a big deal - up to 1/4 of the population has a PFO.  The PDA closed! Thank God!  The aortic coarctation was never present - the hospital pediatrician mis-read her chart!  She never showed even the slightest sign of RSV.  The Organic Acid Disorder scare turned out to be nothing at all.  The only thing that has been even the slightest issue was a little bit of acid reflux, which seems to have cleared up.  The PVCs are still present, but only enough to warrant a repeat check in 6 months.  They are far less frequent than they were when she was born.  We have one healthy, happy and extremely content little one on our hands.

Taking the Joy Dare from A Holy Experience: writing down three gifts each day for a year.

January's Joy
February's Joy
March's Joy
During the month of April (an incomplete list, since I was so busy soaking in the joy of a new baby that I forgot to look for all of these specifics):
1.  3 gifts round
white ball of dandelion seeds that delight my boys * candy filling those eggs that wait for Easter joy * sweet little baby cheeks
2. 3 gifts white
new piece of paper all ready for another month's joy * milk mustache * white gravel drive against vibrant green grass
3. 3 gifts surprisingly found
fluid levels even higher * peaceful, quiet lunch * encouragment
4. 3 gifts in His word
living sermons from little ones bringing to mind that we must "become as little children" * conversation with a 4 year-old about Jesus' teaching that "No man can serve two masters" * reading the passion story together , feeling the sorrow and reminding that Sunday is coming!
5.  3 gifts at 11 am, 2 pm, 6 pm
commandments not to worry even when things look bleak * asking forgiveness and recieving grace from little ones * hard eucharisteo - working hard all day and experiencing mess & chaos & disappointment despite it all - yet God is so glorious in all this brokeness!
6. 3 gifts nailed together
nails in the cross and in his hands * nails in the walls holding their pictures and shelves * the screws and nails he drives all day to put food on our table
7. 3 gifts waited for
baby girl * Sunday morning * hearing little voices yell, "Christ is risen, indeed!"
8. 3 gifts rising up
sun rising as I hid eggs in the yard * the overwhelming joy of Christ risen * rows of green shoots in the fields
9. a gift hiding, held, heard
little guy always finding new hiding places * all snuggled up together * hope that we'll be holding her soon
10. 3 gifts opened up
the doctor opening the door to announce it's baby day tomorrow * opening the door to our home where my boys wait for me * opening the menu at our favorite restaurant to celebrate her coming so soon
11. 3 gifts budding/blooming
new little life * pink flowers * surprise lilacs waiting at home
12. 3 gifts worn
my own clothes * dinosaur sticker from Cap on her receiving blanket * precious bow in her hair
13. 3 gifts bright
baby eyes open wide * little boy smiles as they welcome us home * sun peeking through clouds
14. 3 gifts found looking up
her looking up as her brothers smile down on her * rain falling to quench dry earth * no time for looking up when such an amazing gift is lying in our arms
15. a gift in a bag, in a box, in a book
lunch brought by friends * little hospital room that feels so much like a box * him reading for school with her in his arms
16. 3 hard eucharisteos
the not-knowing * blue marker on white carpet * 3 kids by myself with a headache
17. 3 gifts woven together
purple blanket Grandma made for me * pink cardigan passed down * them all cuddled up together
18. 3 gifts inherited
the way she looks just like the boys * long fingers and toes traced back to her great-grandma * generations before who tended their living epistles
19. 3 gifts square
books piled up that the boys are reading to their sister * square pretzels he keeps sneaking off my plate * garden plots laid out
20. a gift stacked, stashed, stilled
books full of baby pictures * plenty of food in the pantry * fears stirring & stilled
21. 3 gifts found in Christ
inheritance of a son * the freedom of being not my own * reminder that he will provide
22. 3 gifts close
little ones held close as we worship * her resting on Grandma's chest * kids all cuddled up on Grandma's lap
23. 3 gifts reflecting
silly boy watching his reflection in the mirror * time to think & new conclusions * beautiful moonlight
24. 3 gifts fragile
tiny little body working just right * tender feelings of little ones * joy shattered by discontent
25. a gift cloth, steel, wood
precious little dress * doorknob turned that's long been still * space in a tree just the right size for sitting
26. 3 gifts moving
three squirmy little ones *
27. 3 gifts "ugly beautiful"
all these emotional growing pains * need fulfilled * dirty mop water - clean floors
28. 3 gifts orange
cheetos on little fingers * carrots-to-be * orange light reflecting
29. 3 gifts in dirt
deep, rich, rain-soaked fields * garden so close to planted * grapes and strawberries planted
30. a gift given, made, sacrificed


Messy Days

Something I wrote back in the middle of May after a really rough day...

There is always joy in motherhood.  But some days can just exhaust.  The days where the almost- 3-year-old runs down a steep hill right next to a road and out of my reach and then runs into a big patch of weeds that very likely contain poison ivy and THEN runs right into the parking lot.  Days when you take 3 young children to the zoo without a stroller.  Days when you have lots of errands to run and a million places to go and it's hot out and everyone is tired.  Days when the almost-3-year-old can't quite make it to the bathroom in time and poops all over the carpet just outside the bathroom door and you clean him up only to find he's no where near clean and you go to put him in the bathtub only to find that it's full of the clothes that you left soaking there last night after they got washed with muddy shoes. Those kinds of days are exhausting.  Those are the days when I feel all used up - like there just isn't any more of me left to give.  Those are the days that I just need to stop and rest.  And yet, they still need and so often there isn't rest.  The 5-year-old puts the flip flops  back on your feet because he wants you to take him outside and that 3-year-old soaking in the bathtub is going to need to be scrubbed and then they'll need attention and dinner and very likely more baths and eventually bedtime will come. 

Right now it all brings to mind just how exhausted Jesus was and yet he saw the crowds and had compassion on them.  He put off his own rest and lovingly met the needs of those who surrounded him.  Oh, Lord.  Give me compassion.  When I just want to scream (or when I actually do scream) remind me that you continually take such breathtaking compassion on me and give me the grace to lovingly look at the mess and put aside my own rest and have the compassion to meet their needs.


What About Grace?

It struck me right away as I was reading: the grace.  The blog post I had read was a little unsettling: a mixture of humor, brutal honesty, some poetic embellishment and lots of vulgarity.  I started reading the comments at the bottom of the post.  They contained a pretty polarized set of accolades and condemnations, interspersed with replies from the blogger.  They were stunningly grace-filled replies, acknowledging the worth and honoring the opinions of people who were basically calling her one of the worst people to ever walk the earth.  These people were angry with her.  Deriding her for her honesty and scolding her for her actions and calling her ignorant.  Most of them didn't get the point of what she had written and some understood, but disagreed.  The comments were nasty.  She could have ignored them.  She could have deleted them.  She could have stood up to them in self-defense.  She could have mocked them for completely missing the  point she was trying to convey.  But she didn't.  She responded to each of these comments with humility, admitting her opinions could be wrong and gently saying that she was just trying to be honest.  She responded with grace, speaking politely and kindly to every person who belittled her. 

It bothered me to read the screen names.  People who were claiming the name of Christ in their online identity were visciously attacking this woman and she, an avowed seeker, was the one offering them grace.  I couldn't get it out of my head.  And that Sunday we sang "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love."  And I wanted so badly to get on my knees and confess that what we are doing is so wrong.  Because, honestly, where is the love?

I really get it.  It's complicated.  And I'm so guilty of it too.  My convictions are strong.  I know right from wrong.  And it's hard to live in a culture that keeps turning things upside down and saying that wrong is right and right is wrong.  It's difficult to watch as cultural Christianity gets washed away and our world seems to set up shop against the cores of my belief.  All of a sudden we're not the majority any more and, instead, we're the weird ones.  There's an impulse to fight, to get angry, to lash out, to guard our territory.  And maybe there's some validity in that.  It can terrify to consider the reality of living and raising children in such a mixed up world and I wonder if sometimes it isn't fear that drives us.  And it's a lesson we have to keep relearning - that fear is the wrong motivator; that there is no room for fear.  At any rate,  I'm pretty sure we're using the wrong weapons of war.

Our culture changes and sin becomes more and more blatant and mixed up people in a mixed up world are unrepentant.  And in our eagerness to stand up against what we know to be wrong, I'm afraid that we dehumanize.  It's like all we can see is the sin.  And we react with disgust to what is wrong in our world and we lash out against it.  And who wants to be drawn in to something that seems to be always attacking, always disgusted, always condemning?

Our vision is so poor without aid.  Don't we know that we once were a people who could not see and our God stepped in to give us sight when we were blind?  He has offered us these lenses that allow us to see the reality of our world.  And we are so very fond of the side of the specs that makes clear what is righteous.  We have the ability to see with such clarity the right contrasted with the wrong, the sin in opposition to the holy.  But, so often, we seem to close our eyes to grace and to love.  We can see that people are doing wrong, but what we seem unable to see is that they are people.  The truth is, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all created by God and we are all loved by God.  We were all made good and we all fell so, so short.  Not only is my unChristian neighbor unrighteous, I'm unrighteous too.  And every good thing I ever did, every good thing I ever am is only by God's grace.

What is it that attracts us to Jesus?  What made the Samaritan woman at the well go running?  Yes, he knows our sin (Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! John 4:29a).  Yet, still he looks on us with love, offering us this unspeakable gift of life that overcomes death.  In all his righteousness, he doesn't turn his eyes from our filth in disgust.  He opens his arms to gather us in, sin-stained and broken as we are, and he promises to re-make us, new and fresh and perfect.  It's his overwhelming righteousness mixed with his overwhelming love for us that makes Jesus so hard to resist.  It's grace that draws us in and sends us running out to tell.  Here is a man who can tell me everything I've ever done and who loves me anyway.  Here is a man who knows exactly how depraved I am and he offers me freedom and friendship and even kinship.  We know from a young age that if we let our real selves show, we open ourselves up to shame and a whole lot of loneliness. Who could love us if they really knew who we are?  But this man who knows it all, this man who has seen every secret sin, who knows the real state of our heart, who has such a better picture of our true identity- he is willing to put his arm on our shoulder and offer to take us home, make us part of his family.  Knowing all, he offers the antidote to shame and lonliness. It's grace that draws us out of the dark corner we've been trying to hide in.  It's grace that makes it ok to admit that we're broken.  It's grace that leads us on the road to who we were meant to be all along.

How can we, who are so dependent on grace, forget to show it to the people around us?  How can we get so wrapped up in the sin we see around us that we forget that the people underneath that sin are no different from us?  Isn't sin the robe we wore of our own choice before we encountered grace and let Jesus change our clothes? And aren't those clothes supposed to include compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and love? (Colossians 3:12)   How can we not show them grace?  Why is it that our first response is to stand up and point fingers and deride and attack and name-call when we see sin in the world? 

He has shown you, O man what is good. 
He gave us vision when we were blind.
And what does the Lord require of you? 
To act justly...
yes, but also
...to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. 
bold print from Micah 6:8

The truth is that God had mercy on us.  The God, for whom nothing is impossible, saw us, who are unlovable, and loved us anyway.  Grace.  We cannot forget that.  We cannot get so wrapped up in holiness that is given to us freely, a new robe to replace the old one,  that we forget that we are only good with God's help.  How wrong is it for us, children born new of grace, to let our actions towards others be so full of hatred, so ungraceful?

It's not to say the we let sin go unchecked, that we never stand up to wrong.  Justice is a part of the package and it is not grace-full to let wrong present itself as right.  But I think our response has to be different.  If we have been given eyes to see the reality, don't we know that hatred and disgust and shame and ridicule don't win the day?  Love does.  Grace does.  Grace that sees the wrong and still finds a way to love. ("True love invites and helps the beloved to become the best the beloved can be. Anything less is selfish affection."- the words of my  husband, Jeff) The truth is, we all know we're not quite right.  What we need to know is that, somehow, someone can love us even when they really know us.  That's what changes things and that is exactly what we have to offer.  Grace.


Welcoming our Girl!

She'll be three weeks old tomorrow. Our sweet little girl was born Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 10:42 am. She was 5 lbs. 15 oz. and 19 inches long. Cap calls her his "little lady" and Skidamarink calls her "sweetheart" and they are both completely and totally mesmerized by her. She looks just like Skid did as a newborn and she's already displaying her own little personality. She's a very laid-back, sweet, strong little girl and we are all crazy about her!


Gifts from her brothers: Minnie Mouse & a sticker

She had to go back to the hospital on her second night home and was admitted for RSV.  Here she is with the flowers her Daddy brought for her.

Cap "Having a cuddle" with his sister and singing "You are My Sunshine!"

Helping Daddy with his homework

Playing outside

On a picnic with her brothers

She almost always sleeps with her hands under her chin like this.

First bath


March Joy

Taking the Joy Dare from A Holy Experience: writing down three gifts each day for a year.

January's Joy
February's Joy

During the month of March:
1.  3 gifts at 3 pm
mercy at the library * their joy in new books * snacks all packed for the park
2.  3 gifts green
 grass turning greener * that silly green hat * green apple tree he colored
3.  3 gifts wore
super hero mask * make-do wedding ring since my fingers are swollen * Skdamarink's tears when he comes to me for comfort
4. 3 gifts hard to give thanks for
words spoken that I can't agree with * friends whose words & attitudes wound & torment * having to leave when I would much rather stay
5.  3 gifts found
lost library book * patience in abundance * something to motivate
6.  a gift bent, a gift broken, a gift beautiful
teacher bending to connect with a student * toys that still bring joy * baby coos
7.  3 gifts in the kitchen
love motivating a meal I don't feel like cooking * Cap baking biscuits * them all gobbling it down
8.  3 gifts loud
baby girl crying out for what she needs * boys giggling together * squeals of delight
9.  3 gifts carved
time carved out for reading * well-worn notches in the table * words in stone
10.  3 gifts in Christ
all this freedom * no cause for worry * ability to acknowledge sin & know Christ breaks the power & removes the stain
11.  3 gifts read
words from a hymn never heard before * a letter on the desk * silly book shared
12.  a gift in wind, in water, in white
all those blustery blasts bringing warm air * whole house washed clean * lace curtains blowing from open windows
13.  3 gifts round
baby belly growing rounder * bright sun shining * green ball the boys are bouncing around the yard
14.  3 gifts found in silence
silence while boys snooze & I work * beautiful bird-song so loud in all this quiet * midnight bathroom trips revealing a house in peace
15.  3 gifts given away
hugs and kisses shared * little boys giving toys to each other * time spent off task
16.  3 hard eucharisteos
late night work when all I want is rest * thanks for work yet undone * words held back when patience wears thin
17.  a gift turned, a gift folded, a gift hung
turning toward friends to talk together * sweatshirt folded behind my back in those chairs all day * the way they are hanging on the windowsill waiting for me to get home
18.  3 gifts red
little red scarf that transforms my sweet Skidamarink into a ruthless pirate * red paint that will be one day * red sheet hanging in the living room - serving it's last night as "tent"
19.  3 gifts eaten
breakfast with my boys * tacos since he can't be here * candy hearts
20.  3 gifts that made you laugh
little girl watching the sonogram * the way I have to keep learning this lesson * so much joy watching boys play
21.  a gift salty, a gift sweet, a gift just right
tears cried when I realized it was his birthday * the cake a friend made with the boys to celebrate * her offering the stay & help more
22.  3 gifts found in his word
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him" * "The joy of the Lord is my strength" running through my head over and again * us all gathered round reading together
23.  3 gifts found in women today
sonogram tech announcing all is well * friends eager to rejoice in the good news * Grandma on the mend
24.  3 gifts spoken
time to talk with friends * shared relief that all is well * little voices bringing so many gifts
25.  a gift sung, a gift written, a gift painted
Skidamarink singing "glory" * his schoolwork getting caught up * another coat of paint on baby's dresser
26.  3 gifts almost gone
night fading into day * cheerios all scarfed down * food left by friends - letting me rest even more
27.  3 gifts redemed
forgiveness shared when they bicker * discontent not ruling * relationships set right
28.  3 gifts entwined
Skid's head and hands peeking through railings to say hi * boys wrestling with their Dad * time to cuddle
29.  3 gifts of his promises
that he will be faithful even when I am faith-less * love unending * his love for her so far outweighing mine
30.  3 gifts uncovered
sillly little boys, hiding under blankets * new knowledge * sweet baby girl, smiling under that peek-a-boo blanket
31.  a gift heard, a gift held, a gift hoped for
friends and family chatting * purple blanket, oh so soft * healthy baby girl to wrap up in that blanket


All of My Best Plans

The fear sets in when the plans come crashing down.  When I prepare and plan and give all my best effort to getting my ducks in a row only to watch those plans fail.  Sometimes everything comes to a halt and there is absolutely nothing left but to wait.  I can't help but laugh a little at the way it keeps happening - the way all the work comes to a sudden end when so much is undone and the waiting sets in and I must learn this lesson all over.

It happened a few months ago.  We set aside the packing for praying.  For two weeks we prayed that God's will be done while we waited for the moment we would know if we were moving or not.  For two weeks we knew that we probably wouldn't get an answer until moments before it was time to act.  The moment came and we went downtown to sign contracts on the house God said yes to while friends and family picked up where the packing had left off.  And we moved that very night.

It's happening again today.  This nesting momma has been given orders not to nest.  It's time to wait.  The not-knowing gnaws.  Baby's heart beats irregular and we wait for answers.  Fluid levels drop and we don't know if it means she'll be here too early or if she'll be here in a few weeks or if she'll stay and grow until the time we were expecting her. 

And the truth is we're just not ready.  The bags aren't packed and the clothes aren't put away.  The cars aren't fixed and the carseat sits in the house.  We haven't bought a crib and are probably expecting a baby that won't fit into a stitch of clothing we have for her.  And my orders are to sit and wait and not do anything.

It can overwhelm so easy.  My plan A comes crashing down when the doctor says "soon" and I make a plan B and watch while it too nose-dives when I hear of specialists and hospital stays.  Everything spins and the only thing that is clear is that I'm not in control and that I won't be in control. 

The fears threaten to well up when the best laid plans crumble.  I know the what-ifs can strangle if I let them.  So I take time to count joy.  I sit all day in that hospital bed knowing that it's not the magazines or the television I need to distract me from worry.  If I seek distraction those fears will still eat their way in.  What I need is eyes to see.  The only way for me to fight the fear that comes with the unknown in the middle of my crumbling plans and spinning world is to taste and see the goodness of God that is surrounding me and even sustaining me in the middle of the chaos.

This storm, it isn't calming yet and her heart keeps skipping beats despite my prayers and things grow worse and there are threats of danger.  Yet I can look around me and see God's love shine brightly and know that even if I'm not in control, God is.  He is here and I know that he has only what is good in store for me - that all he gives me will be gifts and grace and he will work everything out for my good.

And so I am free.  Free to let go of the fears.  Free to let the plans fall as they may and just hold on tight to God's goodness.  Free to experience joy instead of trembling in darkness.  So, today I count gifts.  I record the little glimpses of God's love all around me and offer thanks for them:

Thank you, God, for:
(Starting with today's gifts)
270.  pictures of baby we'll see today.
271.  everything that is going just right.
272.  the way boys grow and even though it can break my heart to see them no longer babies, it can delight to watch them get so big.
273.  Cap's little button nose and those eyelashes resting on his cheeks that remind me that 5 is still little.
274.  a doctor that inspires my trust.
275.  the way tears can bring those endorphins that make it hurt a little less.
276.  the generosity and help of so many.
277.  friends who love me enough they'll even clean my house if I need it.
278.  the patience of nurses.
279.  access to all the water I need.
280.  pigeons pecking outside the hospital window.
281.  the carpet being in and the boys in their room just in time!
282.  a husband who brings me what I ask for.
283.  a husband who brings me flowers from our yard.
284.  a husband who would even put a dandelion in a vase.
285.  a husband who could make me smile by bringing baby's toy monkey for me to cuddle.
286.  pictures of my three little ones all lined up on the tray by the bed.
287.  a doctor who sits right down to chat.
288.  a doctor who knows I'd be more comfortable at home and thinks that's what's best.
289.  getting to go home and take my boys with me!
290.  little boys wrestling and chasing and using up the energy I can't spend.
291.  prayers surrounding
292.  the way words make thought clear and heal hurts.
293.  Jeff taking such good care of the work I can't do.
294.  hugs from nurses.
295.  the fact that cuddles and conversation and stories are part of a mommy's job and I can still do those!
296.  the way sinks will clog and messes will be made and there will be way too much to do at all the wrong times, but it will still be ok.
297.  the secret of contentment - Philippians 4:11-13

(and backtracking to count the gifts not yet typed out:)

Thank you God for:
189.  Cap figuring out how to write my name all on his own.
190.  the way he always wants to be Luigi - putting others first while so young.
191.  pastel heart candy in the frilly crystal dish - the one he insisted I keep because it's dainty & beautiful & he knows those things can inspire joy.
192.  the bold way Grandma will come right out and ask where we stand with God.
193.  them eating their fill of good food.
194.  reminders of the responsibility to teach them to share with those who don't have.
195.  pretty journal full of neat words resting on top of a messy scrawled to-do list - a visual reminder of how he gives me all this joy from  the work he has called me to.
196.  a time for work and a time for rest.
197.  order coming slow but sure from chaos.
198.  motivation and energy to get stuff done.
199.  floors all mopped clean.
200.  the way he points out to his son how hard I worked.
201.  home lights burning brightly
202.  talking on the phone with Captain Silly Wiggles.
203.  time to create.
204.  the boys calling me "mother".
205.  remembering how Cap would ask for a song at bedtime in the old house.
206.  getting to meet Jeff for lunch.
207.  seeing those blue eyes across from me in the middle of the day.
208.  sitting long at the table with my little guys.
209.  the way Skidamarink says "munner" instead of "mother".
210.  how much they miss their Daddy when he's not there.
211.  Skid running into our room first thing in the morning, book in hand.
212.  warm weather.
213.  snacks for the park.
214.  picnics.
215.  watching them run and chase each other.
216.  the way Skid kept looking over his shoulder to make sure I was watching.
217.  meeting Daddy at the park.
218.  watching the three of them play so rough-and-tumble.
219.  the way sometimes Daddy-rules are different from Mommy-rules.
220.  that I get to go home to them.
221.  that he fell where he did and not a half inch closer to the table.
222.  time to just be silly.
223.  baby waking me up with her dancing at 2 am.
224.  knowing that in a matter of weeks when she wakes me up at 2 am, I'll get to hold her in my arms and kiss her cheek.
225.  Skid joining in to sing hymns & retelling the stories he is learning about Jesus.
226.  a time to teach & a table full of students.
227.  little boys sharing what is left of my lap.
228.  Ben spotting a cardinal on his own & pointing it out to us.
229.  a healthy boy who will get the hang of this potty-training thing.
230.  success & jellybeans.
231.  Skid finally getting it!
232.  little hands on my face.
233.  Cap so proud to help in the kitchen.
234.  the way work brings extra joy when it is shared.
235.  two whole days with my niece & nephew.
236.  baby smiles.
237.  Cap thinking of things to teach Skid.
238.  the way the boys love their cousins.
239.  big little guy cuddling that baby girl.
240.  eyes to see the glory.
241.  little green shoots in the yard.
242.  anticipation of discovering what spring holds in this new place.
243.  conversations with a 4 year-old about seeing God's love. 
244. a full table during Sunday School.
245.  bare trees standing black sillhoette against purple-orange sunset.
246.  hearing the phone ring and knowing it's Jeff calling to say he's heading home.
247.  being just plain silly together.
248.  green paint on our noses.
249.  little handprints marking freshly painted surfaces.
250.  the joy of exploring.
251.  pirates in the backyard.
252.  pirates in the car on the way to the grocery store.
253.  kid-sized imaginations.
254.  time with friends.
255.  the opportunity to hear the God-stories of others.
256.  wise words.
257.  a friend so willing to help.
258.  long phone call with my boys.
259.  friends with refridgerator rights.
260.  hard honesty.
261.  conviction.
262.  your faithfulness to answer prayer.
263.  baby girl kicking my arm as I write.
264.  knowing not to worry.
265.  Cap finding his first toad at "the farm".
266.  the carpet fresh laid.
267.  feeling the discontent rise and knowing it doesn't have to control.
268.  things going oh-so-wrong when brothers fight and how it's really an opportunity to teach the things of God.
269.  freedom not to hurry.


February Joy

...or on Fridays. :)

Taking the Joy Dare from A Holy Experience:  writing down three gifts each day for a year.

January's Joy
During the month of February:
1.  a gift found at 11:30 am, at 2:30 pm, at 6:30 pm
the man who shared a dollar & a blessing with each of my boys * the man who passed along his grocery cart * time to all cuddle up and read
2.  3 things overheard today, all gifts
 boys & their Dad playing early in the morning * man at the store getting a chuckle out of Cap bossing Skidamarink * Cap comforting Skidamarink when he needed it
3.  3 gifts found in writing
all those words printed out and arranged for Momma's birthday * the boys not even needing to read the words of those familiar stories * writing letters as he sounds out words
4.  3 gifts found when bent down
little hand on my cheek when I bent to talk * faint little milk mustache * the wonder of a blanket fort
5.  one gift stitched, one hammered, one woven
the red shirt that brings out bright blue eyes * all that work he's doing upstairs * my great-great-grandmother's bedspread
6.  3 gifts found outside
frost hanging from trees * him so big he can run to the house by himself * all those stars we can see in the country sky
7.  3 gifts red
 little heads resting on bring red pillowcases * red stitching on my journal * red scarves on the penguins both the boys play with
8.  a gift broken, a gift fixed, a gift thrifted
the cross with my name that waits for glue * pages taped together in books well-loved * a crib for our girl?
9. 3 gifts that were surprises - unexpected grace!
Grandma & Grandpa stopping by * delight at videos of penguin antics * how thrilled they were with their art work
10.  3 times you heard laughter today
Skidamarink laughing while he plays with his Dad * us all laughing together over a movie * giggles while they ride the Daddy horse
11.  3 gifts found in working
the joy Cap has in getting to do real work * that my work is drying tears & explaining mysteries * the spoils of my labor - dishes to eat on, clothes to wear, places to play
12.  3 hard eucharisteos
discomfort & pain that means baby is growing & my body is fighting illness * their grace & forgiveness when I'm so grumpy * taking time to rest when I need to work
13.  3 gifts found behind a door today
Grandparents ready to love little ones * a room full of 4 year-olds full of joy * cupboards & refridgerators stocked with food to help me show them love
14.  3 ways you feel the love of God
adundance of gifts coming so fast I can't keep track * stopping to look at the way He redeems my captive places through marriage * feeling all these little ones around & inside & knowing He uses me
15.  a gift in losing something, in finding something, in making something
losing track of time in the company of dear ones * books to teach him in the right ways * plans for next year, crafter with care
16.  3 gifts in shadows
the way the shadows are unseen  until the sun comes out & throws all into contrast * spiritual truths from natural laws * the way they lengthen as the sun sets
17.  3 gifts in giving/serving
providing a clean place to play & relax & just be * the way hugs & kisses can count * joy in serving - even when it's not what I want
18.  3 gifts on paper
the power of making lists of all sorts * scratchy little letters while he's learning * seeing that love note on my table
19.  3 gifts that were Plan B's
staying home when we were supposed to be out * digging into "school" stuff early because he just can't wait * helping Jeff get work done
20.  a gift at breakfast, lunch, dinner
everyone up before Daddy left * working through tears & seizing those teachable moments * Jeff home to eat with us even though he had to travel far
21.  3 gifts white
bubble bath beards * the milk spilled & the extra milk bought * him all cuddled up in that white blanket asleep on my lap
22.  3 gifts that changed today
bad attitudes changing for the better * hours on the clock changing to bring him closer to home * tires changed and men who stand up for me
23.  a gift of tin, of glass, of wood
plant markers waiting for spring * sticks in the vase, filling with paper as we count the days of lent * that big window to look out
24.  3 gifts before 11 am
everyone up so early again * beautiful morning drive * time with just the little guy
25.  a gift nearly worn out, a gift new, a gift made-do
paper cutter, falling to pieces from projects past * pink sparkly baby shoes * an improvised lunch
26.  3 gifts seen as reflections
little boy on tiptoes brushing his teeth * words about trust to reflect on * sunlight reflected from Jupiter & Venus
27.  3 ugly-beautiful gifts (see beauty in ugly)
carpet dingy from house rennovations * the way they learn through tough mistakes * grocery store fights & the grace to make something of them
28.  3 gifts from the past - that help you trust the future
despite problems before, the babies were born healthy * God has provided in tougher times * knowledge that my certainty on the future isn't what's important
29.  a gift dull, a gift shimmering, a gift cleaned
worn out old books passed down * bright little eyes * house all picked up