Wednesday, December 17, 2014

{For the Small and Tippy Sheep}

I was tidying up the living room the other day and saw that the wee nativity sheep were in need of some attention. Again. They're small and tippy (not to be confused with tipsy) and it's a wonder we still have all six of them. As I stood them up on their little hooves and pointed their muzzles once again toward the Baby in the manger, I wondered at the truth of it all: for sixteen years we've arranged these sheep around the manger, and for sixteen years not one of them has gone astray.

2011

Wait. I take that back. Perhaps they've gone a little astray. Over the years we've found them under the rocking chair, we've found them strolling across the piano, we've found them buried in the nativity straw, and we've found them mingling with LEGO mini-figs. But they've always been found, and they've always been placed back where they belong, with muzzles pointed quietly, hopefully toward the Baby.


I've been thinking about this belonging-ness, this re-direction, ever since I found the painting. It's hanging in the living room, not far from the sheep. The subject -- a little girl of about six -- peers demurely from under a hat. This month she's peeking at me from behind the Christmas tree, and I can almost hear her little voice asking if she can tell me a secret or show me her new doll.

Last month she was still living in the home of a dear family friend. An estate sale brought me to the house I hadn't visited in years, but when I saw the painting, my heart leapt and I knew she wanted to come home with me. I wasn't sure if the longing had to do with a faint remembrance from my childhood or just an appreciation of the art itself, but I obeyed the impulse and gratefully gave her a new home.


As I often do following a bit of thrift shopping, I decided to do some research on the painting. I was curious about the artist and didn't know the name of the piece, but a quick google search gave me the information I needed. And then some. I clicked on the link and was astounded. So that's why she wanted to come home with me! The name of the demure, 18th century little girl? Miss Juliana Willoughby. (My exclamations were intense and frequent and my family is still afraid that I might shriek without warning.)


A few days later, our pastor was preaching from Luke 10. As he prepared to retell the story of The Good Samaritan in his thoughtful, relevant, and engaging way, he first landed on the staggering truth of verse 20: "Rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." He reminded us that there is no greater joy than this. I marveled. Here it was again: my name. My name that was shared with Miss Willoughby, my name that I shared with a stranger last week who kept exclaiming again and again, "What a beautiful name!" My name that was shared with another stranger the other day . . . whose eyebrows shot up as she said, "That's my name, too!" (We both realized the rarity of it.)


It's as though the Lord really, really wanted to make it clear to me this month: your name is written! It is sealed for eternity! You are loved, and no matter how you stray -- no matter how small and tippy you feel -- whether you land under the rocking chair or bury yourself in the straw, no matter what occurs, I will find you. (And He sounds even better than Nathaniel Hawkeye when He says it.) I will not lose you, but I will gather you in my arms and gently carry you, placing you once again among my dearly beloved sheep, pointing your little face toward My manger, toward My Truth.


Reader, I want to make it clear to you, too. You are loved. The Lord knows your name, and He longs to record it in His Book of Life for all time. As Miss Willoughby peers from behind the Christmas tree, longing to tell me her secret, I too want to peer from beyond the hustle and bustle of this week to tell you a secret: Look to the manger. "For my eyes are toward Thee, O God, The Lord." (Psalm 141:8) Look to the manger and thank the Lord for knowing you, for loving you. Ask Him to scoop you up from under the rocking chair, to brush the straw from your backside, to point your precious face once again toward His Light. Because you know what? He's longing to do it. In fact, that's exactly why He came.



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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

{Thankful for You}

During this week of Thanksgiving as we've gathered around the dinner table, our family has shared with each other various things for which we are thankful. The older the kids get, the more they understand the limitless possibilities of gratitude. They don't feel bound by the conventional "my house, my family, my friends" answers, but venture beyond to acknowledge the broad expanse of God's goodness.



One night as Aidan shared, I sensed that he was getting ready to land on a glib answer: "my family." But he surprised me and changed things up a bit, making quite an impression. He looked first to his dad and said, "I'm thankful for you." Then he looked at me and said, "I'm thankful for you," and continued around the table until he had looked each one of us in the eye and said, "I'm thankful for you."




This year has been full of ups and downs. As I look back, my tendency, unfortunately, is to dwell on the downs and forget the ups. But Aidan helped me to remember that God's goodness is in it all. Because God doesn't simply look down on His creation and say, "I'm thankful!" But He looks at each one of us in the eye and whispers tenderly, "I'm thankful for you."

As I add entries to my gratitude journal, I record the moments when the Lord has shown me specific, custom-made gifts that remind me of His love. Each one is a reminder, "I'm thankful for you."


One such gift arrived at our home yesterday afternoon. Through the extremely generous and kind hands of multiple parties, we have been given a new-to-us piano, a baby grand. Some of the details surrounding this gift are meant to remain hushed . . . but let's just say I was in tears of joy and awe more than once over the course of the last few weeks. Our new "baby" looks like she was made for our living room, made to help Aidan and Avery pursue their musical dreams.

Jamie and I arranged to have it slipped quietly into the house yesterday while the kids were out. (It was fitting that they happened to have piano lessons. Their teacher -- who is also their Noni --- was thrilled to divert them for longer than usual so we could plan the surprise. Oh, the significant glances my mother and I exchanged! The nervous knots in our stomachs!)

Jamie and I delighted in the kids' awe -- and confusion -- when they returned. (Oh . . . what's that?! Where's the other piano?!) They didn't know quite what to think at first.


Of course it didn't take long for them to welcome the new addition with open arms . . . and fingers. Little Miss has been religiously hammering away at "Everything is Awesome" and "What Child is This," an unexpected but endearing combination. Even Bethie, who prefers the guitar these days, has been experimenting with the new instrument, and Aidan's Christmas carols have never been merrier.


As my tea was steeping this morning, I tip-toed out to the front room to see it again. Our new baby was still there, waiting for little fingers to make her sing.


Shortly after, Little Miss sat in the sunlight, pajama-clad, testing out "Pride and Prejudice." And I sensed it anew. My Savior whispering the truth to me . . . to her . . . to each one of us . . . "I'm thankful for you."







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Monday, October 27, 2014

{Welcome to Senegal}

Yesterday afternoon our family had the rare privilege of joining our friends, Joel and Andi McMartin and their boys, for an authentic Senegalese meal. We hadn't seen them in three years. The last time we gathered was to say goodbye, to send them off to Africa, and to make sure they knew we would be praying for their transition to a new life.

What a delight it was to see that their transition, while not without its bumpy roads, has been blessed. The Lord has been faithfully, uniquely and beautifully at work in this family who said, "Yes!" to His calling. They have blossomed and thrived in Senegal, from language learning and cultural expectations to school immersion, community fellowship, and meal preparation.


Joel and Andi especially wanted to share the meal preparation with the many families who know and love them on this side of the world. Because isn't gathering for a meal one of the best ways to live and laugh and learn?



Especially a meal which is eaten . . . from one platter . . . with one's hand. The right hand. Only.


We laughed and learned and dribbled and laughed some more, especially when Mom freaked out over accidentally using her left hand to grab the bread. Major faux pas.



The kids were very excited to eat with their paws (did you wash????), and Bethie beamed over being selected as the table mother. (She would assist any child who might need to have a piece of chicken ripped apart. With one hand.) The kids also liked the idea of not needing to be excused from the table. They could leave whenever they wanted to! (Did you wash????)



As we dined and visited, our experience shed much light onto our American ways of life. Such as the assumption that we should always have a large variety of foods from which to choose for each meal of each day. It's pretty common for a Senagalese villager to have the same dinner every day. How much simpler our lives would be if we didn't have SO many choices. Just cook up the chicken, add some potatoes, bread and veggies, and you're (deliciously) good to go!


Yes, it can definitely be a blessing to have variety, and it's fun to experiment with different flavors and menus. But I wonder how often the plenty turns into a distraction. Something I'll be pondering for a while. (Look out, kids. We might be eating lots of oatmeal, beans and rice in the days to come.)

Another cultural expectation is that of being available to linger and visit. If Andi passes a friend in the street, she is expected to stop and visit for a while. It would be very rude to just wave "hello" and zip on by. In order to attempt to get anywhere on time, people leave their homes with plenty of time to spare. You just might meet a friend along the way.


When visiting those friends in their homes, it is also expected that you will stay for a nice long time (join us for lunch . . . now join us for dinner!) and not move toward the door unless the host has given you permission. I have much to learn about lingering and listening.

We lingered and listened for the afternoon (occasionally asking the boys to speak French because how cute is that?!) but we Americans all eventually had to get to our next commitments. We finally said goodbye to our dear friends, realizing that it will likely be another three years before we'd meet again. Calculating how old the kids would be, we lamented and remarked and hugged and finally loaded up.

As we were leaving, Joel shared a final Senagalese sentiment with us. When guests are allowed to take their leave of a home after a nice long visit, the visitors will say something like this: "May we take the road now?" The generous host will say, "Yes! But you may only take half of the road. The other half is for your return."


And so we said goodbye to our friends, thankful for the road that will take them to their ministry and life in Senegal, and even more thankful for the road that will bring us together again one day.  


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Saturday, October 18, 2014

{Three Bags Full}

When the kids were little, they used to watch a video which included a rather strange version of sheep singing "Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full." The animated sheep couldn't handle much choreography with mere hooves, so it looked odd every time they punctuated the "three bags full" line with determined, outstretched haunches.


The phrase and the motions stuck with us (some things just cannot be erased from the memory), and we still find ourselves referring to a full load as "three bags full." Of course we hold our fists out like hooves to do the song justice, our voices and motions as staccato as possible. Yes, sir, yes sir.

The last couple of weeks have been "three bags full" weeks. Full of emotion, full of new experiences, full of life. I've wanted to write about anything and everything but have hardly had a spare minute. Now that I do, I can't seem to corral my thoughts and will probably end up writing about nothing. Or everything. (You've been warned.)

The tears have sprung to my eyes more readily these days, too. I'm not sure if that means I'm getting old or overly tired. Probably both? But I do know the emotions have been many.

Emotions such as pride-fear-incredulity-awe-denial-love, all wrapped into one. Can you even believe this? I've often referred to this year as the Year of Acceleration. Apt, no?


Nostalgia has haunted me something fierce this week, too, as I think back to this time last year. My sister and I had joined Johnny and Brooke in Slovenia and had one of the more incredible experiences of our lives. I do plan to write more about this trip -- I think I left us in Germany (which, if one must be left, is a lovely place to stay). For now, I've been looking back over my travel journal with a beautiful ache in my heart.





Brooke's birthday was this week, so we snuck in a quick Skype visit -- a balm to my spirit. (Not as perfect as birthday milkshakes in an Austrian castle, but I'll take it.)


And the emotions continued. Joy and longing filled my heart as we soaked in as many hours as we could with my Nanee and Grandpa over the last couple of weeks. Joy in the faithful lives they've lived, joy in the fact that they were able to make the trip from California, and a longing for it to keep on going. I loved listening to my grandparents share stories from their past. From dances and movies to boot camp, the war, and coming to know and love Christ, we covered a lot of ground. It was marvelous.



The three bags got even fuller when my friend Jenae sent me a frantic email early in the week. "Any chance we could do the interview tomorrow?!?!"

Back in June, Jenae had asked if I might be interested in our families joining forces to create a video. The goal was to raise awareness and support for International Justice Mission, in general, and child slavery in Ghana, in particular. Jenae wrote about our experience in a blog post here. I've known Jenae since childhood, and it's a joy and delight to pretend like we're all grown up and allowed to do mom things together. I'm so thankful for her tender, compassionate heart and her ability to eloquently share her kingdom-driven vision with adults and children alike. I'm also thankful that she taught me how to make refried beans in the crockpot. She's a remarkable woman.


Well, our little video made its way to International Justice Mission (IJM). In a series of whirlwind texts and emails, Jenae was contacted by one of the IJM directors in the hopes of arranging a Skype interview with the kids. As soon as possible. We whipped our befuddled kids into shape (or something resembling a shape) and gathered around the laptop at the church on Wednesday. You can see the kids' video and part of the interview here and learn more about IJM's work, too. 

It was humbling and amazing to play even a small part in this incredibly vital work.

* * * * *

The week is wrapping up, and my heart and emotions are indeed full to the brim. So is my stomach. You see, there's something about fall that makes me hang out in the kitchen and bake things. Things with butter and sugar and such.

And so I will leave you with four yummies:

Apple Dutch Babies: We make Dutch babies often, but I had never tried it with apple before. This was a fun variation, and if you like apple pie, it will make you extremely happy.

Earl Grey Latte: Until last week, I didn't know such a thing existed! Oh my goodness, this changes my life. I made one this morning (sans lavender), and it was a loverly way to start the day. I like that it's called a London Fog. It makes me want to snuggle up with a blanket and a book near a crackling fire.  

M&M Cookies: My friend Lauren made these yummies a while ago, and Little Miss couldn't get enough. I asked for the recipe and was surprised to see that vanilla pudding powder was one of the ingredients. Another new kitchen tip for me! Last night I made the traditional Nestle chocolate chip cookie recipe to go along with Family Movie Night (The LEGO Movie), but I used mini chocolate chips and I added a few tablespoons of the vanilla pudding powder to the dough. Wow. Everything is awesome. 

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles: Fall perfection. These are so yummy. So soft. So sweet. Everyone in my family loved them, even those who don't like pumpkin. Or snickerdoodles. (I have an odd family, full of diverse culinary preferences.)


Well, that's all. Have a blessed weekend, dear friends. Know that you are loved beyond measure by the One who lavishes good gifts on His children . . . three bags full!  



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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

{While Shopping}

I don't love grocery shopping. It's something, in my opinion, that one does out of necessity. As Mary Poppins would say, "If we must, we must." Well, we must.

Earlier this week I had to pop into WinCo to grab a few things. The sun was bright and cheery and I had Aidan at my side. For some reason, this combination caused me to slow down. I didn't feel rushed or anxious, and the chore became an enjoyable outing. 

I realized that my slowing down that day allowed me to see things more clearly. Except for the time that I left my cart in the middle of the bulk foods aisle while waiting for the almonds to be ground into almond butter. But that ended up being kind of fun. The woman I was blocking kindly popped her head into my line of sight and said, "Excuse me, please."

I came to my senses and laughed. "I'm sorry! I'm just in my own little world over here!" (Almond butter oozing out of a machine is fascinating.) I scooted my cart over and we exchanged smiles as she passed.

Aidan and I then headed toward the bulk granola bins (oh, blueberry flax seed, how I love thee) and the woman approached me once again. "I'm glad I found you! I was wondering what you do with almond butter." I thought it was sweet that she was looking for me and that we -- two strangers -- could have a little conversation right there in the bins, even if it was just over almond butter. She wondered if I use it in my rice . . . which I don't . . . but the suggestion was one of those moments of clarity. My way (almond butter spread on toasted Dave's Killer Bread) isn't the only way. Huh.

We went our separate ways. Aidan continued to hover at my side, eagerly running here and there to add something to the cart, write the number on the bulk food tag, or cross something off the list. I glanced down the next aisle and saw the woman I was sixteen years ago. She had her baby in the cart and was absolutely in love with that child. She kissed his bare toes and looked ready to gobble the creature on the spot. I remember kissing baby toes. I'm pretty sure I did so with practically every diaper change. Sweet babies. Sweet toes. Sweet memories.

Aidan and I started checking out, and I caught another glimpse. This time, it was my son. I was loading the groceries on the conveyer belt and didn't want to leave my purse unattended. I asked if he would mind standing next to it. He stood guard for a minute and then, grabbing my purse with one hand, he started to unload groceries with the other. He couldn't just stand there and watch me work. He wanted to help. Sweet boy. Becoming a man. 

And then the last hurrah. Our checker -- a woman in her sixties, I'm guessing -- had adorned her hair with fresh lavender. She merrily ran our items across the scanner and commented on the bright fall leaves. That did it. I knew she was kindred. I told her that I loved the touch of lavender and she beamed. "They were in my yard and they smelled so pretty!" And so into her hair they went, fragrant and whimsical.

Funny, the things that happen when we slow down and look. We see things differently. Or we just plain see things that we might otherwise have missed in our haste. We may see a new way of doing things, we may see a life that brings back fond memories, or a life that is developing right before our eyes. And if we're wise, we'll stop and pick a sprig of lavender. Because we just never know if our pause might bring joy to someone else. 
  
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