Monday, December 23, 2013

The Reality of Christmas

So...I am a cozy, tradition-loving woman whose ideal Christmas fell out of an HGTV Christmas special. Everything perfect. Gorgeous Christmas goodies for all the neighbors. Christmas parties every weekend of December. A warm, crackling fireplace with a sparkling Christmas tree covered in sentimental ornaments.

And I don't think I'm that unusual - especially when it comes to Christmas. Isn't that what most of us wish for?

It's not just a cozy house thing, either. I always feel "lacking" when it comes to the sentimental, worshipful feeling I think I should have when I think about Christ and the "Christmas story." Why don't I tear up and feel warm and generous and thankful inside like I should?

I've been listening to Andrew Peterson's song "Labor of Love" a lot this month. It has struck a chord with me, especially this year, because it focuses on Mary's labor and how uncomfortable Christmas night was for her and yet how God was in control of it all.

Christmas wasn't cozy for Mary and Joseph, or Jesus, for that matter. But what gets me every time is how Luke recorded that Mary kept everything treasured in her heart. She held onto the gifts that God gave her and would remember them for the rest of her life.

I've been working hard at making a habit of counting my blessings - writing them down - to remember the gifts God gives me. Today I was making cookies with my Wild Child and suddenly decided I had to document what Christmas has been looking like in our house this month. You won't find these pictures on Pinterest.

Misshapen cookie dough balls

A new Christmas tree skirt...but rather disheveled. 

The "mantel" with its decorations...and lotion...and game pieces...and random bells that fell off of elf hats...and probably multiple other things hidden in the garland.

The Wild Child taking a moment to poop and
read his Bible storybook at the same time. 

Looking out at the snow through *very* smudgy - not "frosted" window panes, despite what the song says. 

The presents actually NOT under the tree but on TOP of the bookshelf.

This. Whatever this is. Not a clean floor. That's what it's not.

Random ornaments on the TV stand because someone removed them from the tree and now their hooks cannot be found

The poor tinsel

The Wild Child himself

This is what all those goodies and Christmas cards look like before they leave your house

A helper who eats more chocolate than he puts on the cookies

Words aren't enough. 

That, folks, is the reality of Christmas. And it's okay. It's full of precious blessings and unexpected laughter and too much sugar and moments of thankfulness and worship that I choose to give back to God, rather than "feeling" them spontaneously in my soul. Once Jesus was a rowdy toddler. I expect that Mary had just as challenging a time as I do treasuring those moments in her heart, too, until she gave herself the same reality check.

God is good, friends. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Deeper Calling

It has been 6 weeks since I last blogged. Part of me regrets that. The other part of me doesn't care because I've given up letting myself regret things I fail to accomplish. That's been one of the best things I've learned in the past year. However, I've been thinking lately about dreams and that part of me that sits getting rusty while I love my men and care for them.

I was created to communicate. It's as much a part of my DNA as my brown eyes and the freckles on my face. Teaching. Writing. Talking. Praying. Journaling. It flows out of me naturally. Someday I'm going to write a book. Or a children's church curriculum. It's a dream I've had since I was 3 years old drawing the pictures for a Cinderella book my mom had to fill in the captions for me since I still couldn't write. I remember sitting on my playhouse steps as a 10-year-old writing a stories in my notebook. I wrote a fictional book as a young teenager that will never be published for obvious reasons (think - a Janette Oke book written by a teenager). I wrote a discipleship book as an older teen that may never be published either, although for different reasons. From when I was 18 till I left for college at 21 I wrote letters to camp kids on a daily basis. I've filled 15 journals since I was 9 years old. I taught and counseled at camp for around 7 years in many capacities.

None of the desire or ability that led me to write for so many years has left my soul. However, one important element has: time.

I follow a lot of blogs written by moms who have as little time or less than I do. Often my desire to write stirs up and I think and think about it, and try to eek out words again. There is so much in my head and heart that screams, "Communicate me!"

When I dreamed as a girl about writing, I never realized that I would one day be writing a living epistle in the life of a little boy that would take most of the hours in my day, every day.

And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Cor. 3:3

In June my little Rascal will be joined by a second little Munchkin and my days will be even fuller. I don't anticipate pulling out the old notebook again for a while (unless God were to free me from the responsibility of the work I do for others from home and give me that time - or somehow miraculously create more hours in the day). I really did strongly consider starting a book for middle-school-aged kids this summer but never did and the content still swirls in my head.

But something I've been considering is that my life is communication. Everything I do and say is absorbed by my children, as well as those watching me. And I do get the privilege of teaching in children's church every Sunday - possibly my favorite part of the week (although definitely the most exhausting hour of it!), and those children are living letters I am writing as well, in some small way.

Today I've been listening to Hillsong United's song Oceans (link below). The bridge says,
"Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior"

My thought this morning was, "In all of the adventures I've had following the Lord, all of the things he's asked me to do, all of the 'great' prayers I've prayed, answers I've expected, I never imagined that the hardest one yet would be motherhood." You know...I've asked God to use me to change lives - to speak truth to those who haven't heard. I've asked him to stretch my faith and use me to show others that a life lived trusting him alone is possible. But I never expected that living in suburban America as a wife and mom could be that place that is "deeper than my feet could ever wander."

As much as I would love to write a book, until it is clearly God's calling for me, when he speaks to me out of the burning bush, it would not be satisfying, nor would it be accomplished very easily, since I would be doing it in my own strength.

I'm not writing this to bring on a pity party, or to complain about motherhood, or set myself up as some wonderful martyr who is sacrificing her dreams for her son. Heavens, no.

It's just that this is the thought on my heart: when God calls you to do something, it may be nothing like you imagined he would call you to, and secondly, when you ask God to use you, he may choose to place you somewhere you never dreamed. But that place he has for you, that mission he has called you to - it will be for his glory, for your purifying, and for the growth and encouragement of those around you as well.

In my mind, publishing something would be the ultimate joy. But maybe my sights are set too low. God's plans are always bigger than mine.

Where has God called you today? Are you working out that mission with joy, no matter how hard, how foreign it still sometimes seems to you? 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Offering of Worship

I watch my little boy chasing a balloon around the living room. Gasping in wonder, he bounces everywhere the balloon does. He tips over and bumps his head on a chair while missing the balloon. But he just rubs his head and keeps chasing. He drops the balloon and rolls over backwards. The sunshine coming through the window makes patterns on the floor and his shadow chases him around the room as he follows the balloon.

My heart fills with a song. He loves life so much. Everything is a miracle to him. How I long to see through his eyes. He loves purely. Simply. If he wants to be with his momma, you know it. He won't leave my side. If he'd rather play with Daddy, he runs to him and throws him the ball. When his little friends come over, he runs to greet them with delight, arms stretched open wide. He snuggles when he wants to, or when we want to. He's just so free with his expressions of delight or sadness or interest.

So often I'm trapped in my spirit. Worrying what people will think. Wanting to keep others happy. Haunted by the questions of "Is this responsible?" or "Am I doing the right thing?" Preoccupied by the never-ending to-do list of my life.

Lately I've been thinking about Jesus' invitation, "Follow me." He invites us to come walk with him. And not just down the road for a day or two, but for the rest of our lives. To relinquish the grasp we have on things, on perceptions, on responsibilities, on fears, and to just walk by his side.

Someone I was talking to recently said that they felt like Jesus was a boss who would fire us if we did anything wrong. I don't blame that person for their limited understanding. Even I who should know so much better live my life that way too often. I find my life is every day about trying harder. Is Jesus going to be happy with me today?

This morning we overslept and almost missed our 8:45 appointment to the chiropractor. We go every other week, so it's not the end of the world if we were to miss, but it's not ideal. Nate said, "You just go; I'll watch Charles." So I sped off at 8:43 toward the office and realized about halfway there I forgot my id card to swipe for my appointment (Charles had taken it out of my purse). Lately I've felt like I've screwed up every appointment I've had there by being late, or forgetting, or such. The condemnation was pouring over my spirit and I thought about our small group discussion last night.

Being a follower of Jesus isn't about trying every day. It's about dying every day. Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

There is such a difference between trying and dying. Trying means more. Dying means less. Does the idea of less appeal to you as much as it does to me? Every day I'm cramming more into my life. More activities, more attempts at perfection, more people-pleasing, more priorities, then more comfort-seeking to remedy my stress.

When I look at my little boy chasing his balloon I realize his life is full of less. Less stress and more joy. Less worries and more delight. Less failing and more overcoming. He doesn't know anything about following Jesus or dying to himself yet, but he really has no idols to chase after. He just lives.

What are my idols and why do I carry them on my shoulders? Pursuit of perfection. Approval of others. Comfort. They are nothing. Jesus is everything.

I think of his tender compassion and love for me. How he walked the difficult path of life with perseverance, and died a shameful death with unending love, all for me, for us. I want to cry a little in relief. I don't need to try harder.

I get to die daily. And live in the freedom he extends gladly to me.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

An October in Iowa

Anne Shirley of the Anne of Green Gables series said, "I am so glad to live in a world where there are Octobers." I have this feeling that Octobers on Prince Edward Island are probably pretty spectacular. Growing up in Kansas I never quite got the autumn experience you read about. Oh, you get a taste of it, but it lasts about a month and then it's gone. Rake leaves? Who does that in Kansas? You've got that wonderful south wind blowing... Eastern Iowa autumns fill the world with much more color, and the coolness lasts longer. More rain also pours down on us, which I actually love, because it enhances the already wonderfully cozy feeling of fall. Mmmm. Cup of cider and burning candles anyone?

Today my son was wearing me to a frazzle so we left the house in search of something autumny to do. We found a dirt road to explore and a barn with cows to watch. Delightful. We both needed the fresh air.

So thankful for the little touches of beauty God gives us. Sometimes you just have to get outside the city limits to remember them.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Of little hands and bottoms

I get the privilege of staying home with my little son and being a full-time mom. Several days a week, I also get to take care of some of his little friends in our home. Overall, I love it. Overall.

Some days I am pulling my hair out. Other days I probably should be pulling my hair out, but I'm laughing too hard. And I'm always pretty thankful when it's one of the latter.

Like today.

I have two tired boys who won't take a morning nap, thus demolishing my plans to do some writing and note-taking. But after a quiet time they're not grumpy, so they play nicely for awhile as we listen to cowboy music and I scribble in my notebook. Then I start to get lunch ready. Suddenly, they are the World's Hungriest Toddlers, trying to eat everything from raw carrots and celery out from underneath my chopping knife to cheerios they found on the floor to the chocolate chips they spy on the counter.

Chicken and veggie potpie is finally in the oven and we go out to the living room to play. One of the boys loves cars and tractors, so I grab a cookie sheet and make a ramp with a wooden stool. I'm going to be like one of those awesome mom bloggers who comes up with these creative ideas for playing with her children.

Well, little boys may love trucks and cars but intuition doesn't always equal smarts. Both of them were interested in the ramp, but more for sitting on then for rolling their vehicles down. I caught myself saying, "What part of 'block the road' do you not understand?" while laughing as I removed yet another little bum from the sheet pan ramp.

They eventually figured it out and we had some fun races down the ramp. Their favorite was loading all five of the vehicles we had onto the sheet pan all at once so they could race down together. They never did get that if they sat at the end of the ramp, the tractors wouldn't actually race...they'd just stop. I'd have 4 innocent eyes blinking up at me after a pileup saying quite plainly, "I didn't know that would happen."

Then I got this inspiration. If I got all my sheet pans, we could make a road! Then I could actually blog about it! You of those "Activities for a Rainy Day" blogs that gets pinned a million times.

So we made a sheet pan road and I started showing my son's friend how to drive his tractor on it. He sat there, on top of a sheet pan, banging the tractor up and down, when I turned to see if my son might get it. And there he sat, calmly holding a sheet pan and banging it against his head.

I couldn't stop laughing.

Enter lunch. In spite of their ravaging earlier, neither child would eat a single thing I put in front of them. My rascal burned his tongue on a piece of chicken and spent the rest of the meal blowing on the food on his fork and saying, "Hot, hot," while tapping it with his hand to test the temperature, eating about 5 bites in total. His friend ate about the same amount, scrunching up his nose at everything I tried to give him. I eventually caved and handed him his bottle, but even that merely started getting dumped on his tray.

That's when a mom says, "The end. Nap time."

And now they sleep. And I write. And laugh about ideals and silly little boys that know nothing about mom blogs.

Enjoy the moments. They won't last forever.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ruth, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Me

When Nate and I went on vacation last month, we visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder birthplace in Pepin, WI. Loved going there because I'm a bit of a Laura Ingalls Wilder freak, even though the cabin and museum weren't that impressive. I jabbered to my husband all about the Ingalls family and reminisced about reading the books as a seven-year-old. So naturally I fell to reading them again once we got home. Just finished the series and loved them just as much as ever. Every time I read them, something new strikes me.

This time around I was amazed by the Ingalls' family simple trust in God for what came their way. They worked hard, doing their best, and left the rest in God's hands. They weren't trying to be super spiritual, either. It was their way of life. You don't complain. You don't whine. You're just thankful for what you have and make do for what you don't have. You just did life. You worked hard, with no excuses. You performed your chores and housework every day and that was just a part of life. You didn't wish that things were easier, although you worked toward a day when you hoped they would be.

Today as I read from the book of Ruth in the Bible, I read about Ruth gleaning in the fields to provide barley for herself and her mother-in-law. This was the description of the field overseer of her:

She said, 'Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.' So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.

Ruth worked hard. She faithfully did her job.

Sometimes as a mom, it's so easy for me to get stuck in a "poor me" mentality. I have to take care of this exhausting little man all day. I have to do dishes every day. I have to keep the house tidy. I have to figure out how to make our budget work this month. I have to do all this and no one thanks me.

It comes from our culture, that teaches us that we are entitled to the absolute best for us. But I can't blame it all on the culture. I'm guilty of giving in to the voice in my head.

And so I've decided to buck up a little bit. Perhaps housework isn't my favorite activity, but it's necessary, so I'm choosing to be faithful in it. Perhaps being a mom is thankless sometimes. Who says I need to be thanked? God sees and knows every little thing I do, and he appreciates it. He cares.

In a world where everyone lives to please themselves, women who can fulfill their calling with a quiet and thankful heart seem to be few and far between. But that is the desire of my heart. And it's not going to happen on its own.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Whole Grain Blueberry Pancakes

Charles and I are pancake afficionados. Pumpkin, banana, blueberry, chocolate chip, oat flour, whole wheat flour, almond milk, applesauce....just a few of the many ingredients we've tried. I wanted to share these that I made this morning because I fell in love with them. So delicious. I usually use frozen blueberries in pancakes but opted to use the fresh ones I had in the fridge. Boy, was there ever a difference! The fresh ones just burst in your mouth and had so much more flavor.

I didn't post a picture of them because you probably would think I was off my rocker. My food tastes good but is rarely photogenic - ha! My son is, however.

Whole Grain Blueberry Pancakes

2 egg whites (we had some left over from ice cream - otherwise one egg would work the same)
1 cup almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup millet flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

Beat eggs and milk together. Add following ingredients one at a time, beating as you go. Fry in sizzling canola oil and drop fresh blueberries on top of the batter in the pan.

Drool and enjoy with a drizzle of pure maple syrup.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ways My Child has Already Proved Me Wrong

Before you have children, you formulate theories. I-will-never-be-that-kind-of-mom theories. Far from being the exception, I'm probably one of the leaders in this folly. I mean, when you're from an opinionated family like mine, there's no way you can NOT formulate them. Which I realize was actually a very opinionated statement in itself.

So...this list may surprise you. Definitely surprised me. I think the key is being flexible. And willing to eat crow. My child is 16 months old today and he's already proven just about every theory I had about parenting wrong.

* Child-proof locks are for sissy families that are afraid of everything.
   I actually thought of this post while fenagling with the child lock on our bathroom cabinet. Seriously...when you live in a little apartment with nothing to do but get into everything...they become necessary. We even have one on our oven. When I bought the first set of them, I laughed at the one that keeps the toilet lid shut. Can't say I haven't been tempted to buy one myself multiple times since then.

* Only parents up on the latest fads with nothing better to do with their time teach their child sign language.
   Well...when your son screams at you for start to teach him "please," "more," "all done" and "thank you." Out of desperation to keep your sanity. Then, as a stay at home mom going crazy for new activities to keep the boy occupied, you start working on learning other words - "light," "dog," "hurt," "scare," etc.
   It's been so incredibly beneficial I can hardly believe it. Just this evening he made a new connection. He was hitting me on the head with his dog, very hard, and I expressed that it "hurt," and he got it! Actually stopped smacking me. We try to do "love," as well, and he just gives hugs and kisses instead. I'll take that. We're having a lot of fun with it.

* My child will never misbehave in public.
   One word: HA!
   Now...does he have to keep misbehaving in public? No. We're working on it. But I never in a billion years dreamed that my child would be the one hitting other kids with their toys because it was funny or throwing a temper tantrum in the eye doctor's office. Kids are actually rather unpredictable. Imagine that!

* I will not be a pushover mommy.
   When your son looks at you with that mischievous twinkle in his eye and signs, "please," if my reason for saying "no" was in the least bit invalid, it suddenly flies out the window.
   On a serious note, it's also far easier than I realized to just give in to his little tantrums or begging just because I'm lazy and would rather give him what he wants than discipline him. Challenging but necessary to teach him he can't always have his way.

* We will never own noise-making toys.
    We don't own many. But he loves them. So...they're in his repertoire. They do make life a little more exciting for a kid.

I'm sure there are many more, but these are all my tired brain can think of at the moment. Just funny, though, how every day you realize you never knew what you thought you did before. I used to have theories about parenting teenagers, too. Guess where those are now? Out the window, in the dust bin, yeah....gone.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Wisconsin Wildflowers

 My heart skips a beat when I see wildflowers. Doesn't matter if they're gracing the ditch of an interstate, or covering a grassy meadow, or peeking through the crack of the sidewalk. They can be dandelions, daisy fleabane, clover or alfalfa, evening primrose...there's no difference. Wildflowers are magical. I sometimes think I like them so much because they just grow so wildly without a care in the world. No wonder-working green thumb gardener cultivates them. No one bothers to water or fertilize them. And yet their beauty astounds the beholder. You know what else I like? That so often people don't even know their names or that they exist, and yet they keep on glory to their Creator. On display for him if for no one else. And when the wanderer happens upon them, they are graced with the gentle surprise of their beauty.

In Wisconsin camping with my husband recently, I had the chance to steal some photos of these beauties. Of course the photos don't do them justice, but they try.

Another reason I love wildflowers: they grow in natural bouquet combinations. No one arranges them but the wind and the birds that drop their seeds. Yet so pretty and whimsical are the arrangements. 

A rather random patch of spearmint growing beside the creek! Delightful find!

The familiar Daisy Fleabane (below) brought me extra joy with its familiarity.  As much as I miss my Kansas wildflowers at least there were some of the same in the northwoods!