Monday, December 21, 2009

And So She Danced

She leaned forward on the edge of the plush seat, binoculars in hand. Her eyebrows lifted as she waited. The lights dimmed and she inhaled quickly. We glanced at each other and grinned. It was coming.

And then the familiar Tchaikovsky strain, created long ago, whispered into the silent space. Violins gingerly tiptoed in one by one until an entire symphony of strings swelled with overture. The notes swirled about us, transforming the room into a magical world in which candy canes curtsied and dewdrops danced . . . .

Snow fell, mice threatened, soldiers marched, flowers blossomed. Mesmerized, she followed the story. "Who's that, Mama?" she whispered. "How old is the little girl?" she wondered (Perhaps my age? Could I do that? Mama knew what she was thinking). "Isn't she funny!" Her eyes widened as Mother Ginger took stage. "She's my favorite!" she stifled a giggle. And then more angels, shepherdesses and exotic treats. "They look like they're floating,
Mama . . . . " she whispered with a glow.

The curtain lowered and she sighed. "Can I get up for a bit?" she asked at intermission. "Sure, honey." We stretched our legs in the aisle, sizing up the stage and taking in the scenery.

Then it happened. She couldn't keep the beauty contained. She couldn't let the music stop. She couldn't let the feeling end. And so she danced. Her arms whirled and her toes skipped. She leapt and curtsied, twirled and pranced. The child, uninhibited, became the prima ballerina. And her joy was contagious. Another little girl swept into the aisle, and then another. A small boy tagged along. Each one responding to the beauty, wanting to be beautiful.

My heart ached as I watched the beauty of my child dancing before me, just as I had danced in that very auditorium -- perhaps even on that very aisle -- once upon a time. The emotions I experienced as a child were still with me. I remembered the uncontrollable desire to dance when I beheld beauty. The need to leap when my heart was full. The impulse to jump when my joy was brimming.

My girl danced, and I held on to that feeling, knowing that I want to remain young, even as I age. I want to dance when I behold beauty. I want to cry when the music swells. I want to sit on the edge of my seat, breathless, when the curtain lifts. My leaps may not be as graceful, and my tears may be diverted by a wrinkle or two. But that's okay. As long as there is beauty, this girl is going sweep into the aisles . . . and dance.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009


I'm a list-maker. I derive a great deal of satisfaction every time I pull a solid line of ink through an item on my "to do" list. Sometimes I add items that I've already taken care of, just so I can see how much has been accomplished. And when every single item on my list has been blotted from existence? -- (I'm giddy just thinking about it) -- now that's something to get excited about. I get to toss the whole thing in the recycling bin, never to face that same list again. It's done.

Now, I find that I'm at a crossroads here. It has occurred to me that I can follow this inky train of thought in two directions. One path leads to the blessed reminder that Christ has blotted out every one of my transgressions. When I confess my sins, He is faithful to forgive and cleanse. I write them on the list, he crosses them out -- with His cross -- and they're history. Done. He will never bring my faults before me and say things like, "Oh, but remember that time you got really mad at Avery for pulling apart the puzzle that you and the kids had started?" No. He has removed my sins as far as the east is from the west.

The other path acknowledges that some things are never done -- at least not here on earth. I felt a distinct pang when I realized that my children, although usually polite and respectful, would not automatically remain that way without continued guidance and training. I thought that I had crossed that one off my list: Obedience? Check. But it keeps showing up again and again, no matter how many times I try to triumphantly blot it out.

I am finding, however, that the two paths naturally bend and slope in harmony alongside each other. It is because Christ has blotted out my list of transgressions that I am able to address that other "list" -- the one that never ends. The list that includes attributes and fruit and lifestyle choices. Take "gentleness" for example. I sure wasn't able to mark that one off today. (Remember that delightful scene in which Avery reveled in puzzle destruction? Mama was angry.)

But this list -- this lifestyle -- isn't burdensome. At least it isn't intended to be. When I walk with Jesus, sharing the yoke He has fitted just for me, it's light. I have His Word on it. He is the strong one. He carries the bulk. I get to join Him and experience that strength firsthand. It's when I lag selfishly behind or race impatiently ahead that I place more of the burden on myself than He has intended.

And that is the key. I must daily ask Jesus to draw a line through the sins that keep me from enjoying a close fellowship with Him. As He draws His blood-stained line across my life, I feel the pressure lift. My walk is light. It is as it was meant to be. It is not always easy, but it is blessed by His presence. And I know that one day I will look back with my Savior and proclaim with joy that yes, indeed, my list is done.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009


After tossing my coat and purse on the conveyor belt, I herded the children through the security gate. Little Avery cast an anxious glance toward Mama, not sure why the entrance to this building was so strange. But then she saw a familiar face. And then another. Warm smiles and hugs welcomed her. Finally, she shyly glanced toward Sarah and Paige. They grinned back, twisting and turning on the heels of their matching cowboy boots. Their pink shirts announced the reason for our gathering: "Adoption Rocks." You see, this was a very special day for Sarah and Paige. This was Paige's adoption day.

When all of the families had arrived at the courthouse, we seated ourselves in eager clusters throughout the waiting room. I scanned the faces and felt an overwhelming sense of love and gratitude. It was like a family reunion. A dozen children were buzzing with excitement as they became reacquainted with each other. Many of the families there had been dear friends through a small group ministry at church. These friends had lifted the Thielbar family in prayer for a number of years as they faithfully relied on God to bring children, one by one, into their home through adoption. Our small group had watched Sarah grow, and now we had the amazing privilege of watching her new sister, Paige, officially join the family.

After a short wait, the judge invited the family into the courtroom. Zeb and Amber scooped up their girls and emerged through the double doors, beckoning their family and friends to follow. We timidly entered the room, assuming that it would be most appropriate to quietly sequester ourselves in the back. The judge, however, had different plans. "No, no!" he ordered. "Everyone come forward." We slowly inched toward the stand. "Keep coming!" he commanded with a grin. "This is an important day. We want everyone to be a part of it." We weren't about to disobey a judge. So there we all were, clustered around the family, as if each one of us was about to be sworn in.

Now a courtroom is generally considered to be somewhat solemn. But today was different. With two preschoolers seated atop the stand bantering merrily with the judge, there was little room for solemnity. But there was plenty of room for awe. As he carefully questioned the parents and became acquainted with the girls, we onlookers marveled at the beautiful picture before us. Parents promising to care for a child, to raise a child, to nurture a child. A child looking into the eyes of the judge and pointing with confidence, "This is my daddy. This is my mommy."

My eyes brimmed as I held Avery on my hip and watched the other parents, my friends, gently bouncing their babes and toddlers, entranced by the holy drama before us. Did our children see it? Did they catch a glimpse of the divine here in this room? Did they see that this is how it's supposed to be? That this is true fellowship? This creating of a family, surrounded by families that love and pray? And did the children see how important the life of a child is? Important enough to stand before a judge and declare, "This child is mine, and I will guard her with my life?"

The parallels unfolding before me were so vivid, I couldn't help but feel a flood of gratitude for the One who has chosen me and sealed my life with His own. And not only that, but has surrounded me -- surrounded Zeb and Amber, Sarah and Paige -- with a community of friends and family who have likewise been chosen by God and sealed by His life. Sealed by a Father who has given everything to care for us and nurture us that we might point to Him with confidence and say, "Yes, this is my Daddy."

I brushed tears from my eyes as the judge invited Paige to join him for one last proceeding. Would she care to hold the gavel? Why yes, she would. So the family of four ascended the steps and approached the bench. Paige climbed into the judge's lap. The room was completely still as the gavel was placed in her little hand. Down it came with a crash. It was official. Paige had a family.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rip City Romp

Submitted by guest writer, Drew Lawson

"Wake up Aidan!" I exclaimed excitedly. "Today we're going to the Rose Garden!" Yes, Aidan and I were taking a filming trip with Dad and Tim Denison to the arena of the Portland Trail Blazers. Dad was going to interview Larry Miller, president of the Blazers, about the Z-Man Scholarship with the Portland Police Bureau.

What did we expect? For Dad to shoot a video, outside the arena, of Larry Miller. But as we arrived with video equipment and hot chocolate from Tully's, Officer Chuck and Officer Chris from the Portland Police introduced us to another guy named Chris who led us to the corporate offices.

There a lady who appeared to be the secretary kindly looked Aidan in the eye. "Would you like a bobblehead?" Aidan shyly nodded, thrilled that somebody who worked for the Blazers had offered him something. She went back to a storage area and returned with Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge bobbleheads. Apparently she had noticed me, so we both got a keepsake that now sits on our desk.

After we thanked her, Chris took us on an elevator and outside to another door. He explained that this is where the players enter the arena. "How cool," I thought. But even Officer Chris and Chuck (who worked at Blazer home games) were not expecting what happened next. Chris led us through a door, showed us the press conference room, then took us into a larger room.

"This is the locker room." The locker room! What a thrill! I noticed large lockers containing practice jerseys, shoes and drawings from young fans. Aidan quickly hurried to find Brandon Roy's locker and peered inside. Officer Chris told me to go stand by my favorite player, pointing out that it must be LaMarcus Aldridge, because of the bobblehead. However, I walked over to Rudy Fernandez's locker, explaining that he was my favorite player. Aidan just stood in awe, Mr. Denison snapped pictures at a furious rate, and even Dad seemed thrilled as he admired Greg Oden's montrous shoes.

Chris then led us through the dark tunnel and out onto the court. It seemed surprisingly small as Aidan and I ran around reliving our favorite Blazers moments. Then Larry Miller came in. I realized that this was the man that I had seen on T.V. Aidan and I sat quietly courtside, staring in wonder.

Dad and Mr. Denison shot the video, then Dad introduced us to Larry Miller. I shyly shook his hand, with Aidan doing the same. Larry Miller seemed like a very normal person -- short, quiet, dressed casually, a guy you might run into at WalMart. He was pressed for time, so he soon left. He walked down the visitor's tunnel, disappearing into darkness.

It was time to go. We picked up the video equipment then walked out, bobbleheads and all. After thanking everyone, we climbed into the car and drove away. I was still in shock over our experience that day. Soon we arrived home. Aidan and I walked in with shining eyes, ready to tell about our adventures. We knew that we would never, EVER forget our Rip City Romp.
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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Best Way to Learn

I was feeling rather claustrophobic. A purple fleece coat girl was piled on my lap, squirming the way only a four-year-old can squirm. We had an hour to wait. I would have been content to sit and quietly watch Bethie's gym class, but Avery had other plans.

She opened her book bag and pulled out Gossie and Gertie. I like Gossie and Gertie. We read and smiled, then put the book away. I watched a Bethie stunt or two, then felt another book land in my hands. Poppleton. I like Poppleton. We read and smiled, she squirmed and wiggled. I glanced again toward Bethie and gave her a thumbs up, only to be attacked by a volume of Henry and Mudge. I like Henry and Mudge. We read and I . . . tried to smile.

By this time I was even more claustrophobic. She couldn't possibly get any closer to me. Her big shiny black boots were grinding into my thighs and her hair kept flying into my mouth. That's close. I attempted to peel the child from my lap. I succeeded only in that her rump landed on the chair next to mine. Every other part of her body still overflowed into my lap. Well, at least I could breathe.

Now it was my turn. I pulled out a book. "Avery, you get to read this one to Mommy now." She hesitated, linked her arm firmly in mine, and took a dive. "I w-w-w" she began. "Want," I prompted. "I - want - a - pet," she completed the first sentence. I smiled and kissed the forehead with pleasure. "Good job!" She grinned and continued, slowly tackling word after word, page after page, until the very end. My heart swelled. Maybe I don't mind the lack of personal space quite so much, after all.

I recently read in Catherine Marshall's book, Christy, about the importance of physical touch in a child's life. Of course I've heard this before, but it's fascinating to consider touch as it relates to learning. Christy recounts,

After I had been teaching for a while, I began to realize how hungry my pupils were for love expressed in physical contact. They were forever reaching for me, touching me, squeezing me . . . . At first I had not realized the significance of this yearning for touch . . . . . But then I stumbled on the link between the need for touch and a child's ability to learn. Three of my beginners . . . were having a great deal of trouble learning to read. When I would take them one by one on my lap and give them a lesson, they learned twice as fast.

I'm making a conscious effort now to touch my children as I teach -- not only the academic courses, but life courses as well. As we pray together in bed, Bethie snuggles up to me. I rub her back or stroke her hair. Avery burrows into me like a little bunny, claiming that she has to smell me (I hope that's a good thing). The boys like to hold hands in prayer, all three of us in a mini circle. These tender moments are developing a habit. A habit that I hope will deeply instill in them a love for their siblings and a love for prayer.

Tonight I was doubly rewarded for my gym hour of claustrophobic long suffering. Finally showered and snuggled in bed, my girls were ready to pray. And as I prayed, I noticed a little Avery hand gradually stealing toward her sister. She began to gently scratch her back, knowing that a back rub is exactly what her big sister likes best. Not only is my baby learning to read, my baby is learning to love.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Happy Hands

It's one of the more tricky hours of the day. That hour just after rest time, just before dinner. Stories have been finished, pictures have been sketched, and children begin to emerge from their curled-up-with-a-book positions. Everyone is expectant, hungry and a bit restless. And they all look to me. I look back (with an eye on the stove and a spoon in mid-stir) -- and panic.

The older ones are learning patience. I'm not as worried about them. But the little ones still start to melt during this crucial hour. Every imaginable discomfort and offense surfaces. Much tending takes place. I must quickly put out smoky fires among my babes, while taking care that no burning takes place on the stove as well.

If I act quickly enough, I can disarm the little time-bombs before any damage takes place. These little bundles of energy simply need to be directed. Like Colonel Brandon keeping watch over Marianne, they are silently begging, Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad!

Tonight as I faced this frightening hour, I was reminded of a phrase learned as a child from my dear friend, "Uncle" Ron. His smiling, rich voice taught my siblings and me that "Busy hands are happy hands." We used to laugh and giggle and clap our hands over the chant, eagerly taking on whatever task came our way.

So the minute I saw Avery's face begin to contort this evening, I knew it was time for her little hands to have an occupation. I pulled a chair up to the counter, opened the flour bin and glanced her way. It was all the encouragement she needed. Aidan was quick to follow, dragging his own chair around the kitchen island, hoping to crack an egg or two.

Disaster averted. Just in time. Dinner was late because it simply takes longer when six hands are bumping into each other. But those hands were happy and those hands were helping. Eventually, six more hands joined ours, and the kitchen became a bustling mess of activity, each one helping in his own way.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Colossians 3:23

And lest you think, dear reader, that our Lawson hands are
always gentle and kind, let me dispel that myth right away! We've come up with our own little chant (complete with silly, exaggerated motions) to help during those times when hands insist upon flying in the direction of hurting rather than helping. The frowns gradually lift into smiles before the poem reaches its end:

These hands are for . . .
(fists "build" like blocks)
Playing, (hands clap)
Helping, (open hands extend to mama)
Praying. (hands come together in prayer)
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

It was a criss-cross evening. The children, exhausted from a long weekend filled with much food, much excitement and too little sleep, finally crashed into the wall of yuck. And so did their mama. Books were fought over, couches were not big enough for two, responsibilities were ignored, voices were oh-so-whiny, and tears spilled from more than one pair of eyes.

The immediate need, as the mama well knew, was rest. Fatigue can turn a house upside-down in no time. Though there were many other issues to address, the most crucial was to stop and sleep. The mama scooped up the little ones, holding flailing arms in an embrace that was firm but compassionate. She so understood the impulse to flail about, enumerating the injustices of the day!

But along with that rest, they all needed just one more thing. They needed peace. Thankfully, the mama had learned something from a dear friend. She had learned to keep her Bible open on the kitchen counter. Now, mamas spend a lot of time in the kitchen. So if a mama is putting away the Pyrex and happens to glance toward the Book, she'll be reminded of the important things. Things like, Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth (I John 3:18). Those words, read often enough, will stick in the mama's heart.

So when the mama's heart starts to feel that pull toward the wall of yuck, she'll have something even stronger pulling her back. She will hear the words of her Lord. She will remember the words that were shared from the pulpit that morning. The chorus of words will mingle in harmony. And she'll have a decision to make. It will be hard. She will have to fight. But she can do it. She can do it because she is born of God. And everyone born of God overcomes the world (I John 5:4).

That mama, born of God, can ascend the stairs and choose to pray with her children, even as they continue to resist slumber. That mama can pray for her own heart to be kind and gentle, even though she is feeling quite the opposite. Those children will hear that their mama is struggling, but asking her God for help. Those children will finally rest as their mama kisses each forehead, praying that the hurting ones would lie down and sleep in peace (Psalm 4:8). And that mama will witness the miraculous transformation of a criss-cross evening into a peace-filled night.
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Friday, November 27, 2009


My song of Thanksgiving continues today as I reflect on the countless blessings in my life. They've always been there, but I haven't always acknowledged them. When I take a quiet moment to be still and know that He is God, however, I see more. I hear more. I feel more. I am more aware of His goodness, more overwhelmed by His grace, more humbled by His sacrifice.

As I walk hand-in-hand with Anniebeth down the Salmon Creek Trail, pointing out rose hips and herons, I savor the gift. As I watch Drew's interest in the mileage that we accomplish and the ecological efforts taking place along the creek, I savor the gift. As I watch Miss Avery Kate barrel down the trail on her noisy training wheels, leaving smiles on the faces of fellow trail-wanderers, I savor the gift. And as I watch Aidan take the lead and veer toward every single mud puddle in sight, I savor the gift.

The gifts will continue. I know this, because my Father delights in bestowing gifts on his children: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights. My prayer is that I continue to acknowledge these gifts, savoring these blessed glimpses into the Lord's heart for His people.
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Song of Thanksgiving

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is He who made us, and we are His;
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise;
Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100

May our song of Thanksgiving be lifted this day to the One who is worthy of our praise, the One who continues, day after day, to give beyond measure.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

His Story

"Tell us a story, Mommy!" she begs. "Yeah -- about when you were a little girl," her sister chimes in. "A story, huh?" I lie down next to my girls. They eagerly huddle together in their nightgowns just as my sister and I huddled once upon a time on the very same Strawberry Shortcake pillowcases. "About camp." They qualify the request. My mind begins to zip around, searching for a memory on my brain's fading microfiche sheets.

Ah -- here's one. And I begin, focusing on a favorite camp experience: horseback riding lessons. I am eager to wax eloquent. I have been saving the horse stories for a special night. The girls, ever fond of horses (all girls go through a horse phase, don't they?), give my choice their hearty approval.

Not far into the story, however, the questions bubble to the surface. "What color was your horse?" I scan the file and answer. "Did you trot? Did you gallop?" they continue. I squeeze in a few more words, they force in even more. "Trotting is fun," she interjects. "I had to learn the parts of the saddle at my lesson," the child goes on. "How much did it hurt when the horse stepped on that girl's foot?" is sister's redundant concern. "This much?" she spreads out her hands.

I try to find my place in the story again. After a sentence (or was it half a sentence?), I receive further comments and questions, now straying in all sorts of directions. We are clearly getting nowhere in this story. I quickly decide to pull together my thoughts and end the tale with a sappy, sweeping finale in which I "trotted happily back to the barn and couldn't wait for a new day of lessons to begin. The End."

I kiss my satisfied audience goodnight and smile at their interpretation of a "story." It was really more like a conversation. Delightful in its own way, but it got me thinking . . . .

I'm so like my girls. I crawl up into the Lord's lap and beg, with wide eyes, "Tell me a story!" He smiles warmly, eagerly, and prepares to weave an intricate tale. Not only do I get to be in the story (another dream of every girl?), but I get to be the daughter of the King. He opens the Book, and His rich voice draws me in. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth -- "

Suddenly, I interrupt.

"But what about . . . ?" I interject, afraid that He's missed something. Then I briefly calm down. "Okay -- what happens next?" I'm ready for more story now. "But wait, Lord, it was supposed to be like this . . . ." And I continue to babble until pretty soon I'm the one doing most of the talking.

Now wait a minute. Who's telling the story here? Would I presume to edit the story of the Master storyteller? It sounds ludicrous. But I do it anyway. It's habitual. I interject my fears, my concerns, my preferences, until sadly, I can hear only myself.

Oh how much richer my story would be if I handed it over to my Creator! He knows the beginning, the middle and the end. His word choice is perfect. His plot, setting and characters? Inspired. What about conflict? He's got the resolution all taken care of. There is simply no need for me to barge in and force words into His masterpiece. It's counterproductive and shows a great lack of faith.

And so I ask the Lord to whisper to me in tones that I can hear and understand. To remind me when I speak too much or fuss too often. To comfort me with the words He's brought to my heart so many times: Be still and know that I am God. For when I am still, I get to listen. I get to listen to the world's most captivating storyteller, knowing that my name is boldly written in His matchless book.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rushing Away

I almost missed it. As usual, I was in a hurry -- on my way out the door, rushed and flustered. Yet the questions continued to fire in my direction. Why do they not see that I need to go? Why can't they ask their dad for help?

"Mom? How do you spell spaghetti?"

"Mom? Can I send my email now?"

"MOM! Can I put this clip in your hair?"

I rattle back the answers, trying to maintain composure. "'S-p-a-g-h-e-t-t-i,' Aidan. Yes you may, Bethie. Sorry, Ava, not now. Mommy has to go." Her face falls. She glances down at the purple barrette cradled in the palm of her hand. I see the look. Something hurts inside. I sigh and kneel down.

"Okay, honey. It sure is pretty." I tilt my head toward hers. And I wait. It extends my delay by maybe two minutes. A drop in the bucket. But so rich is that drop. And to think that I almost rushed away from it.

The way her small hands fumble with the clasp and reach for a lock of my hair. The way her gentle breath feels on my face as she focuses on her work. The way her long brown curls brush across her waist as she leans into me. The way her bare toes grip the floor as she stands tall to adorn her mama.

I kiss the dear, pink cheeks. "Thank you, sweetie." She smiles, content. And I know once again that to unnecessarily rush a child is to risk missing out on an irreplaceable, holy moment.
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Autumn Angst

Look at the way she desperately clings to that last bit of color. The golden hue does look beautiful compared with the death that surrounds, but she has to let go sometime. And sometime soon. It's the only way to live.

Her brothers and sisters have relented, dropping their leaves according to their natural rhythm. They will sleep for a time, barren and bleak, their limbs etched in jagged charcoal streaks across a still gray sky. The earth will wait.

But does she not know what she's waiting for? Does she not know what comes after this death? Has she not felt life surge within her before? A life that can be birthed only through a dark, wintry death?

She must release the beauty for a time. She must give up the external. She must experience the pain of exposure, the reality of the ugly and the discipline of sacrifice. She must let go.

But only for a time! As the earth slowly emerges from death and draws near to its source of light, beauty will be born once again. She will feel a new strength coursing within her. She will be startlingly vibrant. She will be stunning, mature, and full of life.

As long as she first chooses . . . to let go.
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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Children Shall Lead

Monday's sunshine beckoned warmly through towering maples and birches. The vibrant display of yellow and gold made it impossible to stay indoors. So I rushed the children through their afternoon schoolwork with one eye on the trees, the other on Aesop, eager to embrace the woods out back.

This Woodcreek hiatus has been an incredible blessing to my family. As we wait for our next home, we pilgrims find rest here at my parents' -- a refuge on our journey. Here we find peace and quiet. The woods embrace us, and we are comforted by its strength and beauty. An occasional airplane drones overhead, but other than that the only sounds that penetrate our world are the chattering of busy squirrels and the quarreling of territorial jays. Even the deer step by gingerly, as if to say, "We don't mean to intrude, but may we bed down quietly here for the afternoon?"

So Monday we joined the deer in a romp through the woods. The children tossed on sweatshirts and rubber boots, while I grabbed a pair of old tennis shoes and a jacket, hoping they'd be sufficient for the stroll.

Now the kids were apparently prepared to head all the way down to Salmon Creek. They promised to lead the way, the boys fiercely taking on the roles of Aragorn and Legolas. I assented, naively expecting to follow a nice, winding little path through the autumn foliage, which would lead my merry party to the banks of a sparkling creek. So my hand found Avery's eager grasp and we shouted, "Wait for us!" as the others bounded ahead.

The leaves were thick underfoot, blanketing the forest floor with a distinct soggy brown. It had rained heavily two days before, but the sun seemed to have filtered through the canopy above to begin the process of drying the ground below. We trudged on, carrying ourselves deeper into the thickening trees.

As we rounded the first bend we encountered a crude but charming little footbridge. As no troll barred the way, my billy goats tramped gaily across. (I seemed to be the only one who noticed its rather slippery surface and the presence of a surprisingly deep gully.) We continued our descent toward the creek.

The boys remained in the lead and soon called back, "Grab onto the rope!" As Avery and I caught up, we saw the rope tied to the base of a large fern. Apparently its purpose is to guide travelers over the rather steep slope. "Dad put it here last time," was their encouraging commentary. Not one to back down in the face of a challenge, I led Avery along the path, showing her how to hold the rope and then reach for Drew's hand once she reached the bottom. Without the slightest hesitation, my baby shimmied down that rope.

Although a bit more challenging than I had expected, I was finding the hike to be exhilarating. The brisk air that filled my lungs felt rich and pure. I regretted not having boots, but so far I had been able to maintain fairly steady footing. Maybe we could make it to the creek after all.

We rounded another bend, and the children narrowed into single file ahead of me. "It's a bit muddy here, Mom," they called back. "But not bad!" I followed their lead and found that it was, indeed, rather muddy -- and sloped. They had the benefit of rain boots, and squelched merrily through the gooey mire, not minding an occasional slide.

I, with Avery in tow, stopped to assess the situation. The problem before me was not so much the mud. The problem was that there wasn't much to hold on to. I tried to grab a couple of branches, but they were either rotting or too flimsy. Avery would need my help, but how could I lead her down a narrow, muddy hill if I didn't have a way to steady us?

"Kiddos!" I called ahead. "I'm not sure if Avery and I can make it. It's too steep and muddy." Bethie looked back, and with steady eyes turned to me and solemnly said, "It's like Pilgrim's Progress, Mom. It's the hard but right way."

I smiled at her association, and realized that she was probably right. I might get a little muddy. I might even land flat on my backside and pull Avery along for a ride. But it wasn't impossible, and it was in no way dangerous. It was just hard. And it was the only way to get to the creek.

So I grabbed Avery's hand and stepped forward. My shoes sank. They would never be the same. My pants were soon splattered with unique mud patterns. But we kept at it. I clutched at a branch here and a bush there, thinking all the while how crucial it is to have something -- Someone -- firm to hold on to, especially when undertaking the guidance of a child.

We finally made it out of the mud and into a little clearing. The children joyfully announced, "We're almost there!" It seemed we merely had to duck through some decayed blackberry bushes and climb over a log or two. After conquering the slough of despond and choosing to remain on the straight and narrow path, I figured it would be foolish to stop now. So with a timid caution to look out for poison ivy (whatever that looks like -- lots of plants seemed to be chanting, "I have leaves of three, so let me be!"), we tackled the final leg of our journey.

The children dashed ahead and soon called back, "We made it!" Avery and I came puffing up behind, and sure enough, there it lay before us. Salmon Creek shimmered below, its swollen waters pulling the tips of thick, arching grasses into its current. The sun was just beginning to sink beyond the trees, casting a rose hue over the graying landscape. I breathed deeply, savoring the heady aroma of leaves and mosses. And we stood there together, my pilgrims and I, gazing contentedly over our Beulah.

Thank You, Lord, for guiding us faithfully. Thank You for giving us Your strong arm to grasp hold of as we traverse the straight and narrow. Thank You for the promise of beauty to come, and the presence of beauty here as we journey toward the Celestial City. And thank You for my children, who step bravely ahead, challenging me daily to follow the hard but right way.
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

His Name

My mama ears instinctively perked up at the sound of his name. "Drew?" she called out. He answered and followed the instructions. It was my son -- responding to the name that his father and I chose for him. His teacher was merely asking if he'd turn out the classroom lights. It was by no means a monumental request, but my heart skipped a beat, nonetheless. For it was his name.

The power of a name spoken aloud amazes me. I still get a girlish butterfly thrill when Jamie calls my name across a crowded room. I inch a little closer to join a conversation when I hear that friends are using the names of those I love. I feel loved and treasured when my dad calls from California with his familiar, "Hello, Julianna," as he warmly draws out the name that he and my mom created for me.

I am also aware of how precious my name is to my heavenly Father. Isaiah 49: 16 still astonishes me as it takes this familiarity a step further. I am so precious to Him, that I have been engraved on the palms of His hands. There I am held, there I am permanent, there I am protected.

I have mulled over this revelation from time to time, marveling at its vastness, knowing that I will never on earth fully grasp its import or be able to appropriately respond to its depth. But when I heard my son's name called the other day, my mind suddenly visited a question that I believe carries an even greater significance.

How does Jesus respond when I call on His name? Does His heart thrill when I lift my voice in adoration, ignoring the chaos of a crowded room? Does He inch a little closer when He hears me join my friends in a conversation about our blessed Savior? Does He feel loved and treasured when I call with my familiar, "Hello, Lord," as I warmly draw out the Name that He alone can claim?

The answer? A resounding yes. And how do I know this? Because He assures me again and again. The words of Zephaniah 3:17 are beyond incredible:

The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.

It's more than my human mind can fathom. Not only does the Lord save me, but He rejoices over me and He sings over me. So what happens when a girl calls on the powerful Name of her Savior? He absolutely loves it. And so will she.
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Moment of Gratitude

Choosing gratitude yesterday when . . . .

Driving home from grocery shopping, crunched for time, music blaring, and I look in the rear view mirror to see my Aidan and Avery singing with all their might. The song? Jesus Paid it All.

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow.

And then their voices hush. They simultaneously gaze out the window as the Columbia River zips by, a blue-grey ribbon twisting through the gorge, bordered by dazzling splashes of orange and yellow. Their eyes have carried them away. Yet their lips still move, silently proclaiming the everlasting truth:

Oh praise the One who paid my debt
And raised this life up from the dead.

My heart swells. Thank you, Lord. I continue to choose gratitude.

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Monday, October 12, 2009


I sharply sucked in my breath in an attempt to compose myself. Anger had risen to the surface at a surprisingly fast rate. The children had been put to bed. Finally. It was quiet. It was my time. (Oh, self.) And then like little pinballs they took turns spilling from their rooms, bouncing from door to door, stomping on that hardwood floor at a cringe-worthy decibel.

After herding them back to their rooms, I returned to the kitchen. My solitude did not last. Once again, the unmistakable step of a barefoot boy sounded in the hall. He avoided my gaze. "Guilty," I silently sentenced the child. He walked right past me. Going to feign innocence, are we? I watched. The nerve! And then I realized what he was doing. Grabbing a pen, he squatted in front of the dishwasher to add to the list. My eyes closed and I sighed a deep, weary sigh. Back to bed padded the child.

I approached the yellow poster, and a wave of the guilt that I was so quick to assign washed over the deserving one. We had started the list several weeks ago. I didn't think they still used it. But as I began to read, I realized that they had not forgotten. "Thank you Lord . . ." read the title. And then the entries sprawled kid-style across the worn page. Many I had not seen.

"Thank you for giving Aidan clothes for school." "Thank you for giving us money when we needed it." "Thank you for protecting (our friend) Sophia when she could have died." And then, "Thank you for having a nice Mom." (Ouch.) "Thank you for protecting Aidan." "Thank you for giving us a new home to move to . . . ." The thanks continued, but I felt heavy-laden.

When did I cease to give thanks? When had I forgotten? At what point in life's tension did I buckle and decide to choose anger over thanksgiving? It was a poor choice. It was selfish and life-draining. And it accomplished absolutely . . . nothing.

But thankfully, I can choose again. Each day I can choose gratitude. Each day I can choose to die to self and gaze instead on my Savior's face. Each day I can respond to my Friend's irresistible invitation: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Indeed, my soul will find rest. For that -- and for countless other blessings -- I am grateful.
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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Just in Time

This evening I pulled out the flour bin to whip up some banana bread in honor of the brown fruit waiting patiently on my kitchen counter. I smiled as I pulled back the lid. There was my missing measuring cup. I smiled not so much because it had been found, but over the reason it had been lost.

Five days ago I was scooping flour when my sister called. "It's time," she announced with mingled joy, apprehension and a wealth of relief in her voice. And there the measuring cup stayed. The chocolate zucchini cake would wait.

Two hours later, after praying my sister through the agony and the ecstasy, I cradled my beautiful niece, Clara Julianna. Our eyes met, and I was not thinking about the chocolate zucchini cake left undone. No, I was thinking about how drastically -- and wonderfully -- life can change at a moment's notice. A life bound by a divine sense of timing that God, in His unsearchable wisdom, has set into place. One minute I'm measuring flour, the next I'm coaching my sister through one of the most important days of her life.

The reality of this further struck me as I was going through the neglected laundry pile the next day. It was like sorting through a time capsule. There was the blouse that I wore to my birthday dinner . . . . Ah yes, my birthday. The day that Clara was supposed to be born. It was, after all, her due date. How perfect it was to be! But the day slipped by.

And here was the top I wore to my sister's baby shower. (The shower that was planned, I'll have you know, with a newborn in mind, not an overdue mommy and her sympathetic fan club!) The shower that was planned on the only day we could find, the day when both grandmothers would be in town. Nana just in, Noni on her way out . . . . And two more days passed.

Oh, and this one? This was the shirt I was wearing the day I said a tearful goodbye to my parents. The day that was supposed to have taken place well after little Clara's arrival but sadly preceded it. Two more relentless days had passed.

And finally, the top that I threw on before heading to the hospital. Nine whole days had passed, each one painfully ticking by. My parents were in California, bravely embarking on a journey that they did not choose for themselves. A journey that involved a single diagnosis with a million questions*.

Nine days is an eternity for the burdened and overdue (I lay claim to a mere fraction of the stress. My dear sister endured the overwhelming bulk of it.) But when I look at a stressful week in my laundry hamper, it adds up to the same amount of clothing that I wash every week, stressful or not.

Here it all was, piled heavily before me in the domestic form of lights and darks -- the divine passage of time and the questions that arose as a result. We thought we had God's timing figured out. Surely this little one should have come sooner. It was arranged so perfectly. Noni would take part in the delivery and then go to California, not participate via Skype and then fly back for a "visit."

I wonder how God views His piles of laundry. We who are filthy without His cleansing. We who would die without the ultimate blood-washing. We who are sorted and tossed by the world, crammed indifferently into piles, waiting to be made clean. We who arrogantly say, "On such and such a day, my sister shall have a baby," and arrange things according to our own timetable.

But no. This is how I view God's laundry. He doesn't dwell on the filth and depravity, the piles and stains, the slow passage of time. He sees the work that's already been done. Laundry day has come and gone. His timing was perfect. The terrible washing was taken care of long ago. The blood was spilled, and we are . . . beautiful. We are dressed before Him in radiant, spotless white. Eternity is here.

And yet still we wait. Each day we add another garment to the laundry pile, wondering when the big day will arrive. But each day He reminds us that it's already clean. And each day He shows us the splendor of His Son and we have the opportunity to say, "Ah, yes. It's been done. And it's beautiful." And we know that His timing is perfect.

I'm not sure that I'll ever fully understand the strange, stressful circumstances surrounding the last couple of weeks. But I do know that God's timing was not derailed by the passage of nine days. Neither was my chocolate zucchini cake. I finally finished it. And it was delicious -- especially as I sat last night with my mom, my sister, and my precious niece. We ate that cake, and we quietly cherished God's perfect timing.

*To follow my father's prostate cancer journey, please click on his blog link to the right.
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Thursday, September 10, 2009


For the entire first year of her life, we were attached like a pair of koalas. She snuggled contentedly against my heart, her entire body wrapped in cloth against mine. Her tiny spirit was calmed by the rhythm of my life -- my breathing, the murmur of my heart.

As she grew, she slowly began to emerge from the chrysalis. First, her dimpled face and the impressive crown of thick black hair. Widened blue eyes blinked at the faces that smiled into her world. "Look at those eyes!" they said.

And then she was ready for kangaroo style. The little joey, still wrapped against mama, yet now facing away, facing toward the world. Arms were now free. Other hands touched hers. She reached beyond the chrysalis. "Look at those darling rubber band wrists!" they said.

I'd never thought of it in those terms. But yes, the irresistible rings around the chubby wrists did look something like the impression of a rubber band. I wondered when baby wrists lose their rings. I glanced at Aidan's. His were already gone. I determined to pay attention to my baby, to witness the transition into girlhood.

And then one day, she spread her iridescent wings and emerged completely. She toddled back to the chrysalis every once in a while for a snuggle, but she no longer depended on it. "Look at her walk!" they said. But I checked the chubby wrists, just to make sure.

The wrists were still chubby, but it was time to pack away the chrysalis. I gently folded the cloth that had bound us together and tucked it into a box.

Year three whirled by, my butterfly flitting hither and yon. The chubby wrists were decorated with flowing ribbons and streamers as the little ballerina danced before my eyes. "Look at her twirl!" they said. Yes, she could twirl.

One day, the butterfly said,"When will I be four, Mama?" And the mama said, "Very soon. It's almost time for you to be a big girl so you can help Auntie Krissie with her baby." The pink face beamed at the special responsibility.

And then she turned four. We sang, she blew out the candles. She demurred then glowed, and she hopped on her new bike. "Look at her go!" they said. She zipped around the neighborhood on her bright pink bike with her bright pink helmet and bright pink light-up shoes. Her long braids danced in the wake of childhood bliss.

She was tired. I wrapped my baby in a towel after the bath. She wore her new nightgown. We rested together in bed, and she snuggled contentedly against my heart. Her arm wrapped gently around my neck. My spirit was calmed by the rhythm of her life -- her breathing, the murmur of her heart. And then I saw it. Her wrists. My baby had become a girl.
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Friday, September 4, 2009

September Peace

It's been a long, mind-wrenching week mingled with the anxiety of preparation and the inevitable eagerness that ushers in September. September -- my favorite month. Freshly sharpened yellow no. 2 pencils, crisp morning air, cable-knit sweaters with plaid skirts and brown Mary Janes, stacks of books, apples hanging heavy on limbs.

Soon, my kitchen table will be surrounded by four children who are ready to learn. Their binders are filled with paper and dividers. The living room basket is bulging with library books about penguins and Ancient Rome. Closets have opened their doors to welcome back-to-school clothes.

Yes, they are ready to learn. But am I ready to teach? Endless "notes to self" are stacked on my nightstand. The kitchen counter has been invaded by mountains of curriculum. The plans look okay on paper, but how will it all pan out?

My mind whirls. Each year is different. I've never done it with four. It's hard to anticipate how the day will flow as I attempt to juggle sixth grade math, third grade spelling, first grade science and preschool reading. Realistically, I know the only way to figure it out is to jump in and go.

I also know that I will begin to second guess myself as the year progresses. It's my nature. Doubts will creep in. Are we covering the right material? Are the children engaged in the topics and still eager to learn? Am I adequately preparing them for life beyond the kitchen table?

Soon, I'll allow the life-sapping doubt to ooze its way into other areas of my life. What do I know about raising four children? Why can't I be more patient? Am I doing enough? How can I possibly mold a successful child?

Wait a minute. Stop right there. It's not my job to mold a successful child. I climb from the ooze and begin to refocus on the truth. My goal as a parent is not for my children to be well-mannered, eloquent, always-ironed geniuses. No. My goal is to see my children live for Jesus. To love Him with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength. My goal is to be able to daily hand my children over to the Lord so that He can mold them into His very image. Oh, that is so much better than the frayed, homespun pattern I've tried to cut out for them.

I can see that He is at work in my children, and I praise Him. I see it when Drew asks to read Psalm 111 at the dinner table because it's his favorite chapter. I hear it as Avery hums Come Thou Fount while playing with her dollies. I see it when I pray with Aidan at bedtime and he doesn't want it to end: "Aren't you gonna pray for more stuff?" I see it when stumbling across Bethie's notebook, inscribed with an original praise song entitled My God, Wonderful God. Yes, the Lord is faithfully at work. It brings me joy. It fills me with peace. It gives me the freedom to step back, let go and crack open those school books with confidence and delight.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Contagious Words, Part II

Bethie was in desperate need of a diversion. Now, I love words. So when my children lack enthusiasm (I shan't call it boredom), I invariably suggest some type of word game. To relieve Bethie of her despondency, I racked my brain for something new . . . and found something old. It was called, "Hinky-Pinky."

Bethie was quick to catch on, and soon the whole family was a part of the word war. The rhymes leaked over to Papa and Noni's house, reviving the embers of that campout from long ago. Soon emails were exchanged, leaving cryptic clues such as "single biscuit," "feather dress," and "steel teapot" (that was Bethie's!) in various family inboxes. Heads hit pillows once again with elusive words spinning and dancing.

Last week I popped into Costco with the kiddos. We had been throwing around rhymes all morning, and Bethie was still stumped as we approached the customer service desk. "Okay. Think about it -- the clue is 'female ringlet,'" I reminded her, while turning to the woman behind the counter. I managed to carry on two conversations at once -- one with Bethie guessing words, the other with the Costco employee.

"What's another word for female, Bethie?" I hinted. Aidan offered his help, too, but they were both drawing blanks. "Now you've got me curious!" came the voice from behind the counter. I spun around and quickly filled her in on the rules. She was hooked. "Girl!" she shouted, temporarily ignoring her keyboard. "Right!" I encouraged my new student. And then the words rushed and tumbled as everyone figured it out at the same time: "girl curl!" We laughed together, happy to have shared words with a not-so-strange stranger.

I wonder how often my words are heard by strangers. The Psalmist worships with the words, I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. Could you imagine what it would be like if we were to take this literally? What would those around us think if only pleasant, edifying words were to fall from our lips?

When Jesus walked this earth, those in His presence were mesmerized by the truth of His word. We who have joined Jesus in His walk have the amazing privilege of sharing in that same truth. And as that truth spills from our lips in the way we speak to our children, address our spouse or even conduct a simple transaction at Costco, someone just might pull us aside and say, "Now you've got me curious!"
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Contagious Words, Part I

It all started thirteen years ago. Jamie and I, newly married, joined my family on a camping trip to Rainbow Falls near Chehalis, WA. The Beaudry and Donahue families met us there as well, adding yet one more memorable adventure to the many stories our clans had shared over the years. Each evening around the campfire we looked forward to swapping stories and playing games.

One evening, amid s'more building and insufferable puns and jokes from the patriarchs, Jenae and Katie Donahue announced, "Hey -- we have a new game!" Every eye zeroed in on the girls. We loved games. We were ready for this one. "It's called, 'Hinky-Pinky.'" Katie went on to explain the rules. "The idea is to come up with a rhyming word pair, such as 'glad dad.' Don't tell us the words, but instead give us a pair of synonyms that serve as a clue to the rhyming words. For example, I would give the clue, 'happy father,' and you would try to guess my rhyme, 'glad dad.' Okay?"

The game was an instant hit. It didn't take long before our clan was ensconced in a thick, smokey whirl of rhymes, eyes and embers sparking simultaneously. At first we tested the waters with simple clues like "warm pan" (which really meant "hot pot") and "distant automobile" ("far car," naturally). Then, we got serious. One syllable words did not suffice. Two and even three syllable words raised the bar considerably.

Words volleyed more quickly than the chips and marshmallows. The escalating volume attracted the attention of nearby campers. We became ruthless as to what constituted an actual rhyme. No, "goose" does not rhyme with "tooth!" Yes sir, it had to be an exact rhyme. After countless word pairs, we finally retired, laughing, to our tents. Our heads hit the pillows and slumber overtook us (only to be disturbed by dreams filled with odd images of "cheap sheep" and "nice mice").

We continued to toss around word pairs for the rest of the weekend, until it was time for a final goodbye. With the new game tucked away in our memories, we parted ways. The game cropped up unannounced every now and then as time wore on, but for the most part it remained rather subdued.

Subdued that is, until last month . . . .
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Big Game

It was destined to be the highlight of Drew's weekend. Thomson Acres (a.k.a. Poppy and Granny's house), was the destination of our big family camping adventure. The kids were thrilled at the prospect -- sleeping in tents, roasting marshmallows, singing songs around the campfire, eating at picnic tables -- we were going the whole nine yards.

Or perhaps I should say the whole nine innings. For in addition to these camping must-haves, we planned an impressive assortment of physical activities: water balloon wars, tetherball, an obstacle course, a giant slip-n-slide, ladderball, horseshoes, ring toss, croquet . . . Oh -- and also a family baseball game.

It was the baseball game that gleamed resplendent on Drew's idyllic horizon. He'd been thinking about it all week. How perfect it would be! A huge field with the entire family shouting and cheering, sliding and stealing. He would help coach the younger siblings and cousins while tossing around cool baseball jargon and stats with the adults.

With his eye on the prize, Drew began to prepare for the big game the minute his tennis shoes hit the field that first day. His well-worn glove came off at mealtimes and perhaps while sleeping, but otherwise it was his constant companion. Cousins were recruited for numerous practice sessions. Siblings were drilled on speed and the recollection of various terms. It would be a game to remember.

By Saturday morning, Drew was ready to get the game going. The only problem was that the game hadn't actually been scheduled to occur at a specific time -- just "sometime." But Drew wanted the sometime to be now. So he determined to begin herding the little people.

Little people, as we all know, have short attention spans. As soon as Drew had convinced Aidan and Justis to warm up with some throws, Bethie and Olivia wandered off to practice the three-legged-race. While Drew patiently gathered in the stray girls, Aidan and Justis saw their opportunity to sneak in a little croquet. Meanwhile, the flower-gathering pixies, Avery and Braelynn, wove their way in and out of the ball's path, creating a significant (albeit charming) hazard.

Drew finally realized that he needed some help. Adult help. He appealed first to the womenfolk. Mom, Granny and Auntie Jo could get the ball rolling. They were sympathetic and enthusiastic, and they knew all about organizing little people. The first order of business, he learned, was simply to schedule a time and a day. He still held onto the hope that the time and day would be now, but he was open to other options.

Unfortunately for Drew, the men were already engrossed in an epic ladderball battle. So I took my son aside, putting my arm around the shoulder that had somehow sprouted up over the summer. "Drew, I know you're excited to play this game," I began. "So am I. But I think you'll have a lot more fun if you wait patiently for the right time to come. If you force it to happen now, not everyone will be ready to play, and it won't be the game you've been hoping for. Talk to Dad, and he'll help you figure out the best time."

Drew, as the oldest sibling and cousin on both sides of the family, is accustomed to waiting. And now, once again, I was asking him to temporarily set aside his plans. My son rose to the occasion. He understood that waiting would be better in the long run. "Okay, Mom," he said. "I'll ask Dad." And so he ran it by Jamie and the other adults, until it was determined that the game would take place Sunday afternoon, on Granny's birthday.

The sun peered out from behind the clouds just in time for the first batter to step up to the plate. Every family member was on that field. Poppy, the ump, dutifully kept the plate clean and called 'em like he saw 'em. The dads kept alive the brotherly tradition of impressing the crowd with endless home runs. The boys followed in their fathers' footsteps with some pretty impressive smacks of their own. The girls screamed and cheered and giggled (and sometimes fielded the ball). The moms cast aside their dainty facades and wielded the bat with surprising authority.

And Drew? Drew beamed. It was just as he had envisioned. In fact, it was even better. The whole family was there, and everyone was having a great time. He didn't have to coerce, beg or bribe. He could simply throw his heart into the game and play. He was a carefree kid, glowing in the realization of his highest aspiration for the weekend.

Like Drew, I am learning to wait. I struggle daily with the desire have my own, impatient way. I frantically try to pull details, schedules and goals together, glibly expecting my life to glide smoothly along on a placid, undisturbed sea. But my Father has asked me to be patient. Be still and know that I am God, He gently murmurs to my heart. When I take this first step and still my soul, I realize that His timing is perfect. And guess what? The game always turns out even better than I had envisioned.

Photo credit: Josie Lawson
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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Some Traditions Are Meant to Be

I'm a mom who likes traditions. Some are grand and involved, such as the annual Thanksgiving shadow puppet theater (which seems to grow more complex each year). Others are small but still meaningful, like serving tea and scones every Sunday afternoon and commissioning my creative girls to provide the centerpiece.

Some traditions have been in the family for years (Mom's ravioli on Christmas day), and some are on the brink of becoming embedded into the system -- just a little more persistence on my part, and they'll be sucked into the Lawson family calendar for good.

Such is the case with a more recent diversion. The kids, admittedly, are still wary. Drew is slightly embarrassed. Bethie? Blushing. But sometimes you just have to jump in and try something new. Like, say for instance, the Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trials. Yes, I said Sheepdog Trials.

You've seen the movie, Babe, haven't you? You know, the one with the talking pig who learns to herd sheep? Well, I happen to love that movie. You might even call that a tradition -- my family watched it more than once growing up, eyes glistening every time the unassuming Farmer Hogget danced Babe back to health.

So you can imagine my delight last summer when I happened to pass a sign in my very own town, pointing the way to the local trials. I did a little bit of research and found that, sure enough, the sheepdog trials were quite open to the public. Jamie happened to be out of town that week in August, so it was up to me to introduce my children to this local phenomenon . . . and perhaps even begin a new tradition. We prepared the night before by watching Babe (of course), and then loaded up the next day, anticipating a brand new adventure.

It was a very hot, sticky day, but our enthusiasm waned not. We were at the Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trials. We were among the very few at the Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trials. The dogs and sheep were doing what dogs and sheep do, and they looked very much like my beloved, cinematic "Fly" and "Ma."

Now, I have to admit that the events weren't nearly as intense and polished as they are in the movie. Not once was I tempted to bite my nails. But that's to be expected. Real life isn't scripted. It was definitely a treat, however, to witness the real deal so close to home. We stayed until the kids were at the melting point, and then returned to our Little Brown House with a new phrase in our vocabulary -- I beamed every time my toddling Avery referred to "the sheepdog trials" with clarity and authority.

This year, as August neared, I started to think about the trials again. Would they be back? If so, would this be a tradition worth pursuing? So last night I hopped online and goolged "Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trials." Sure enough, they'll be back in town this month. I scrolled down to get all the spectator info, and lo and behold, there was a picture of my very own family at last year's event. Well that settled it. If we're in the annals, it's officially a tradition.

So in a couple of weeks, you'll find my family watching Babe, anticipating a new year at the sheepdog trials. My children will probably laugh and roll their eyes a bit, and my dear, obliging husband may choose to refrain from comment, but I bet this will be a tradition we won't soon forget. It will be just one more strengthening chord that further defines who we are as a family, and who our family is in Christ. Not because of what we do, but because of the sacred unity that grows in these shared moments.

That's the whole point behind traditions. They can be silly and simple, or stately and extravagant. It doesn't really matter, just as long as they happen. I generally tend to steer toward the simple -- it's easier for me to keep the traditions alive that way. But this year I just might branch out a bit more. Perhaps I'll rope in some extended family to make the sheepdog trials a serious tradition. I'm sure there will be plenty of hay bales to go around.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Abundantly Beyond

I saw it coming. The large steel door began to close just as my baby's dimpled hand reached toward the hinged edge for support. In that eternal split second, I thrust my hand out to rescue hers, but it was too late. I braced myself for the scream and the dreaded unknown. Scooping her up in my arms, I quickly examined the little hand. "Can you wiggle your fingers, baby?" With tears streaming, she showed me that she could. I sighed with relief. But then the swelling began. I quickly scanned my surroundings, looking for help.

This was supposed to have been a quick trip into Trader Joe's, but the restroom detour was proving to be quite unfortunate. Thankfully, an employee was immediately at our side (Avery wails are hard to ignore). "Could we please get some ice? She pinched her finger in the door." A look of concern spread across his face. "Let me see what I can do." And he was off.

I comforted Avery while Bethie strategically veered the shopping cart toward the penne pasta samples. When the employee returned, I nestled Avery into the cart and surrounded the throbbing finger with the bagged ice. But he wanted to do more. "Would she like a balloon?" he wondered. A perfect way to divert her attention from the pain. "Yes, thank you," I said. "That'd be great." Once again he left, and quickly returned with a bright pink balloon and two rolls of candy. I thanked him for his kindness, and the girls beamed over his generosity.

We quickly zipped through the aisles in an attempt to finish our shopping. Every once in a while, Avery remembered her pitiable condition and let out another wail. I kissed and soothed. (Rather loudly, I'm afraid, and with dramatic emphasis. I somehow felt it necessary to assure the gawking shoppers that she was not throwing a tantrum. She was injured. "Oh honey. I know your FINGER still HURTS, but the ICE will help the SWELLING." My pride! Always at work.) I popped a raspberry candy into her little pink mouth, and assured her, "We're almost done." The sweetness helped, as did the bobbing balloon above her head.

I was relieved when we finally got back to the van. The swelling was down, and her finger already looked much better. But Avery's concerns began anew. "How will I get into my car seat?" she moaned. I assured her that she would still fit. "How will I get out of my car seat?" Once again, I promised, "Mommy can help you." Back at home she was unsure about the porch. "How will I get up the stairs?" I smiled to think that one small finger could cause so much fear and apprehension. But, with the balloon still soaring overhead, she conquered those steps. Then suddenly, all was forgotten. Daddy was home, and so were the boys. They would surely be impressed by her bag of ice, the balloon, two rolls of candy and a fancy bruise. Into the front door she burst, ready to tell her story.

My little Avery has unwittingly given me a precious glimpse into the heart of our heavenly Father. Like my child, we all have wounds. We all need healing. Those wounds hurt, distract and sometimes even draw attention to ourselves. But when we bring them to the Lord, realizing that He alone can minister to our hurt, we find the gentle, healing touch of a Physician whose skill greatly exceeds our expectations.

However, it doesn't stop there. Just as the employee desired to do more for Avery, so our Lord wishes to draw our attention away from ourselves and the wounds that threaten to overwhelm, by lavishing His goodness upon us. The pink balloon drew Avery's gaze away from the pain toward something bright and beautiful. The raspberry sweets on her tongue were soothing and pleasant. Likewise, our Healer tilts our chin toward the beauty of His Son and pours from His Word a sweetness that satisfies our every desire.

We may come with burdens that seem impossible and insurmountable. Yet our Father, as always, is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). And it is His delight to do so. We are created to come to Him for healing and comfort. We may doubt. We may wonder if we'll ever get out of that car seat or if the porch steps will prove to be too difficult. But then we'll remember. Our Daddy is home. And we'll burst through the front door, ready to tell our story.
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Friday, July 3, 2009

Not in Vain

There we sat in the Wal-Mart parking lot, waiting for Miss Avery to buckle up. (It takes at least three minutes to conquer that five-point harness every single time we pile into the van, but she definitely prefers to do it without help. I've gotten to where I don't even turn on the ignition until I hear the final, triumphant "click" that announces her success.)

So there we sat. We sat and people-watched, always a fascinating diversion. This time, we were amply rewarded for our patience. Weaving slowly in and out of the parking lot aisles was a white patrol car -- a handicapped parking enforcement patrol car. The amber lights flashed rhythmically as the vehicle hovered around parking spots clearly designated for customers with physical limitations.

The car slowed to a stop, and from the passenger's side emerged a woman, probably in her eighties, to inspect the first vehicle. She peered through the front window, squinting the blue parking tag into focus. Good. She then examined the license plate, saw the blue symbol. Good. This one was okay. She slowly shuffled to the next car, a slight curve in her back, silver hair gleaming in the sunshine. Again we witnessed the same routine: Parking tag? Check. License plate? Check. And then again, and again, and again the rhythm repeated itself. Each and every car in that section received the same meticulous inspection: Parking tag? Check. License plate? Check.

When it was time to move on to the next aisle, she eased herself back into the car (chauffeured by an aging gentleman who bore a matching crown of silver hair), and prepared herself to revisit the checklist. This routine continued, car by car, until I heard Avery's "click," when I knew it was finally time to head toward the pet store. I cast a last glance toward the faithfully patrolling couple and left the parking lot, wondering if their work ever felt tedious.

Once at Petsmart, I again waited in the van, this time for Drew. His errand was to run in and fetch crickets for Leona, his leopard gecko. While we waited, we people-watched. To my delight, the patrol car was not far behind us. Into the lot it came, its occupants eager to fulfill their duty. They slowly approached the first vehicle. Suddenly, they screeched to a halt. They stared, blinking, as if to confirm what they dared not hope. Something definitely wasn't right. They both worked their way out of the car, breathless with anticipation. Parking tag? No! License symbol? No! With a collective gleam in their wizened eyes, the pair unleashed their expertise on the unsuspecting violator.

She whipped out a clipboard, feverishly scratching out pertinent information, as if the state of the union rested on this report. He produced a tiny digital camera, hobbled back a few feet, and proceeded to snap shots with the stealthy enthusiasm of a paparazzo. The two were unstoppable. That poor violator didn't stand a chance. I smiled in admiration and inwardly applauded their triumphant moment. After countless aisles and vehicles, each one carefully scoured, they had finally found what they were looking for. They had fulfilled their mission. Their work was not in vain. Back in their car, details were exchanged. They eventually drove on, this time at a stately pace that hinted of satisfaction in a job well done.

Once Drew was again clicked in place, we headed homeward. But the victorious patrol team stayed in my thoughts. For days, actually. They had been specifically trained for this task, and although it appeared to be painfully monotonous in the beginning, their steadfastness paid off. Had they rushed through their work or paid little heed to the details, they might have missed the big one altogether.

It's easy to be discouraged by the menial chores that seem to have no earthly value. I think of the many things that I do over and over and over again. Always the same. The laundry hamper is always full come Monday morning. The bathroom mirror mysteriously attracts toothpaste within minutes of being wiped clean. The dishes need washing every single day. Little tummies require food with a frequency that astonishes me.

But what if the faithful completion of these tasks is preparing me for something bigger? If I ignore, rush or grumble through the little things, am I running the risk of being ill-prepared for a critical kingdom assignment? It's a sobering thought. I don't want to miss out on the things that God has in store for me. I know that he is preparing me for His work, be it in my home or in my community -- an amazing opportunity could be waiting for me just around the next bend. So I'll determine to press on with my little flashing amber light. I'll faithfully patrol my home, tending to my flock and meeting the needs that come my way. And I'll be well equipped for His service, knowing that my work has not been in vain.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

If You Give a Mom Some Laundry

If you give a mom some laundry, she’s going to want a tidy dresser drawer to go with it. So, she’ll go to the boys’ room and open the drawer.

Opening the drawer, she’ll notice that some of the clothes are too small. So, she’ll go down to the basement to get the storage bins.

Rummaging through the storage area, she’ll notice how hard it is to maneuver in such a messy place. She’ll want a shelf to put things on. Right away. So, she’ll run up to the computer to see if there’s anything on Craigslist.

Finding two storage shelves in Vancouver will make her so excited that she’ll hop in the van and go pick them up.

Coming back home again, she’ll determine that the games should go on the large shelf. Arranging the games on the shelf will inspire her to organize the toys, too. She might get carried away and rearrange every shelf in the basement.

When she’s done, she’ll probably want to take a nap. Thinking about naps will make her wonder if the boys’ beds have been made. So, she’ll run back up to their room.

Seeing the beds will remind her that the sheets need to be washed. She’ll have to wad up the sheets and haul them back down to the laundry room. When she opens the washing machine, she’ll see that there’s already a load waiting to be dried.

Thinking about dry clothes will remind her that she still has laundry that needs to be folded. So, she’ll run back upstairs to her basket and fold the laundry. And chances are, if she has a basket of folded laundry, she’s going to want a tidy drawer to go with it.

Content inspired by my crazy life, rhythm inspired by Laura Joffe Numeroff's irresistible children's book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Food Edition

I find comfort in the knowledge that my children, if left to their own devices, will not go hungry. While up to my elbows sorting through the kids' summer clothes yesterday, the dinner hour slipped by. Aidan, not wanting to disturb me, made a "salad" for everyone to share. The ingredients? Rice cake crumbs, pretzel twists, banana chunks and a sprinkling of chocolate chips. He passed around spoons, pleased with the fact that he was feeding his siblings and not putting pressure on mom. They enjoyed their little feast on the front porch and then merrily continued their play with no further dinner expectations. I was tempted to call it good. After all, the "salad" did include items from three food groups . . . . Not to worry, though. We eventually had a real sit-down meal -- Jamie furthered the kind gesture by picking up Papa Murphy's. I love summer.
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Saturday, June 20, 2009


The stomping of eight little feet was followed by a sudden crash and then an ominous silence. Jamie and I listened (snickering, I’ll admit), waiting for penitent children to find us and confess. As we waited, we were given an interesting glimpse into the personalities of our fascinating and remarkably diverse little people.

Drew, ready to take responsibility, commandeered his troops with the charge, “C’mon, guys, we need to go tell Mom and Dad.” Bethie, the minimizer, downplayed the catastrophe: “Well, at least we know it can be fixed . . . .” (Hmm. It must have been Avery’s picture -- it’s happened before.) And then there was Aidan, who came up with the brilliant, panic-laden suggestion, “No -- we've got to HIDE it!!!” (Oh, my son . . . .) Finally, Miss Avery Kate (I can just see her with hands on hips) prepared the crew with the dreaded reality, “Mom’s gonna be ANGRY.”

Well, it was the picture, it was repaired, and it was confessed (well, actually “tattled” is the more appropriate verb). Mom was not so angry after all, but instead painfully aware that a little bit of extra training might need to happen in the area of taking responsibility for our actions!
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Because I Love You

The slip of paper caught my eye as I hastily gathered a stack of mail from the kitchen counter. I grasped the message and read again. How could I have forgotten so quickly? How terribly human I am. It had been so profound, so life-giving at the time. It brought me back to that morning in early June . . . .

I had come downstairs, expecting to find solitude. Instead I was greeted by my Aidan-boy, sitting in the sunny kitchen nook with a smile on his face. Not a bad way to start the day. As I prepared water to boil and scooped the usual two cups of oats, I noticed that I had a shadow. A shadow shaped like a happy six-year-old boy. When I turned, he turned. When I stepped, he stepped. "Do you know what I'm doing, Mommy?" he asked, giggling. "What are you doing, Aidan-boy?" I smiled in return. "I'm following you because I love you." My mother-heart melted. "Oh, Aidan. I love you, too." I could have gobbled the child up on the spot.

And then his words struck something deep within. Because I love you. Of course. We follow because we love. I grabbed a piece of scratch paper and recorded Aidan's words, eager to revisit the thought later. But, according to its custom, the day meandered on. We ate our oatmeal, we moved forward into the day, the week, the month, and somehow that piece of paper, that glimpse of truth, got mixed up in the mess of life . . . and I forgot.

I forgot that I follow because I love. I follow not because anyone has told me to do so, not even because I've decided on my own that it's the best thing to do, but because His love compels me. He has made His love so attractive, so completely holy and desirable, that it is folly to follow after anything else. I know the oatmeal mornings will continue to slip by one by one, and I know the weeks and months will continue to startle me with their brevity. Yet I also know that the Lord will gently nudge my forgetful, human heart that I may proclaim again and again, I'm following You because I love You.
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