Thursday, January 15, 2015

{This Little Light of Mine}

When Bethie was first learning to string together sounds to make words and then words to make phrases, she had a knack for mixing her prefixes, suffixes and compound parts, often with humorous results. She would get excited over having "puffincakes" for her snack (muffins), request "overalls" for her taco (olives), slept in a "nightdown," learned to recite her "awfulbet" and was especially eager to dress up like "St. Cheetah" on St. Lucia day. (This event also involved me lighting a real wreathed crown of candles on her head as we stood on our friends' doorstep, she shivering in her white "nightdown," me with a basket of goodies in my arms, and both of us with a glint of fear in our eyes, lest an untimely conflagration spoil our holiday offering.)

We still tease our Bethie about her off-handed remark when playing with Lincoln Logs one day. She had created "The Bending Tower of Paris, or whatever it is . . . ." She had, of course, constructed The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

At the time, if I could have peeked into the future, it would have astounded me to think that this little child of mine would one day venture across the Atlantic with her father, coming -- interestingly enough -- somewhat close to Pisa (not to be confused with Paris).

Today she turns fourteen. In just a couple of weeks, she and Jamie will hop across the ocean to join my brother and sister-in-law, Johnny and Brooke, as they take their Slovene student band and choir on tour through Czech Republic and then into Poland. (A day trip to Italy at some point will be the icing on the birthday cake, and will incidentally wrap up my Pisa reference, if you don't mind the stretch.) Bethie will join the Fusion choir, meeting Slovene friends and forming relationships along the way, with the goal of strengthening her own faith and encouraging her new friends to do the same. She will come home changed.

It will be both exciting and daunting, and right now it still doesn't feel quite real. But a glance at the calendar and the passports in the desk remind us that it's very real . . . and very soon. As my little girl (who now looks down on her mother) gears up for this adventure, and as her name comes to your heart, would you pray? Pray that her vision would be enlarged as she is filled with the newness that she will daily face: new people and languages, different scenery, weather, food, currency, and travel . . . even the feeling of being an outsider. (Thankfully she'll have Daddy, Auntie and Uncle . . . but still!) I know God will use this opportunity in mighty ways as she trusts in Him and makes herself available to serve. Stretching is uncomfortable, but in the long run it's most fulfilling for our bodies and souls to daily come closer to the shape they are meant to hold.

We on the home front will be stretched a bit too, as we say goodbye to a third of our family and picture their adventures as we strive to faithfully do our work here. Thankfully Skype and email, Facebook and Instagram will make it feel somewhat closer, and we're encouraging Bethie to keep a blog as she travels. (I'll let you know if/when that comes to fruition!)

We've been blessed by the swift, overwhelming support of family and friends as she raises the funds to go, and it's touching to see her awe over the kindness of others (some of whom she's never even met). If you'd like to read her own words and even contribute financially, please visit her link over here:

Our Bethie no longer mixes up words and phrases, this tall girl with a warm heart, bright eyes, and sweet goals and dreams. Her once-childish babble will soon be mixed with Slovene greetings, Polish farewells, and maybe even an Italian or German phrase or two. Her world will become larger, and our prayer is that this will be but the beginning of a lifetime of adventures and service in which her light shines, not so much from the precarious candles on her head, but from the irresistible glow in her heart.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

{Now I Know My ABCs}

Last night Jamie and the kids were sprawled about the family room playing "Would You Rather." My dad had picked up the card game as part of Jamie's Christmas gift, and it was hilarious to hear my family bantering and arguing about which fate would be worse: living with fingernails that could never be trimmed or having an extra, teeny-tiny head to deal with.

I hate this game.

And this is why. It's as though this game knows my fragile little personality and delights in tormenting me. Because:

1) I am terribly indecisive.
2) I don't like to be uncomfortable.

Are you beginning to see why this is such a terrible game? Why on earth would I want to think about leaving an inch-deep trail of dandruff in my wake or wearing permanent antlers on my head?!

I let them play, eager for the moment when Jamie would say, "Who's ready for a Little House episode?" (We got Season One for Avery for Christmas.) This is so much more up my alley. The only decision to make? Which episode. (And, duh, we go in order.) The only thing uncomfortable about it? Nellie Oleson. Hooray for Little House.

It is this indecisiveness that led me to come up with my book plan for 2014. Back in January, I scanned my bookshelves and noticed how many stories I had yet to read. Of course it was too overwhelming to decide which book to read and when, so I came up with my little ABC plan. I would attempt to read through the alphabet from A to Z, starting with Austen (I had never read Emma!) and ending with . . . whatever title or author I could find with a "Z" in it.

My only other goal was to try -- as much as possible -- to stick with the books I already owned. (I did end up borrowing a couple from friends and the library.) But I really wanted to develop a spirit of contentment with what I have, and that seemed like a simple way to do it.

This amounted to about two books a month, although I did add other books in along the way, too. (In November I had an Alcott fit and was compelled to read Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. I just couldn't help it. I also had a friend loan me a wonderful children's book, akin to Little House on the Prairie, called Peddler's Summer. Avery and I read it together and loved it! We just started the sequel, Mist on the Mountain. Oh -- and Bethie and I found some of the high school Betsy-Tacy stories, too. Charming!)

I found most of the books in my ABC journey to be thoroughly enjoyable. Throughout the year I've kept a list on the sidebar of my blog and I've tried to keep my list somewhat updated on Goodreads, too. Naturally, there were a few books that I just didn't care for and wouldn't necessarily recommend. But I also found some real gems lurking on my shelves.

Among my favorites from this year are a couple of children's titles: My Friend Flicka and Swallows and Amazons. Delightful reads. (Flicka was hauntingly thoughtful and deep.) I also really enjoyed The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. My dad loaned it to me, and it was a perfect blend of our reading interests. It was as though Louis L'Amour and L.M. Montgomery had teamed up to write a romance. (I later ended up finding my own copy at the church STM sale -- hooray!) Mrs. Miniver, a collection of stories welcomed by the public as a ray of sunshine in 1939, war-torn England, was another wonderful surprise.

Toward the end of the year I found myself running out of time. So I had to make some cuts. My "U" book was changed from my original choice, Uncle Tom's Cabin to the simpler, Understood Betsy. Another children's book. (But I loved it!) And for my final selection I had planned to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, but the whirlwind of the season led me to decide on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz instead. I found a couple of Zs in the title and called it good. (Did you know that Dorothy's slippers were not ruby but silver?)

My book choices this year were mostly fiction, but I did sneak in a couple of great non-fiction pieces that have encouraged me to think thoughtful thoughts as we head into the New Year: Speak and Notes from a Blue Bike. One was a gift, and another came from the library, just when I despaired of ever finding an "X" book. (I bent the rules just a tad on that one. Thank you, Tsh Oxenreider.) I appreciate books that inspire me to think differently and act on those thoughts, yet in ways that are do-able, realistic with my family life, and still kingdom-driven. Both encouraged me to do so.

As 2015 stretches before me, I glance again at my bookshelves. This time, I see many books I long to revisit. I haven't read Wuthering Heights since high school, and it's about time to read Christy and Papa's Wife again, too. Of course I'm starting the year with Little Women, which happens to be written by an "A" author . . . so maybe my ABC plan will work for the New Year, too. We have a family challenge to read through the Bible as well, so I see many hours of cozy reading in my future. Time to put the kettle on!

Happy reading, dear friends. May the New Year bring you many words of hope, encouragement, inspiration, strength and joy.

What titles are waiting for you this coming year?
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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.


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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