Monday, June 28, 2010

If You Can't Beat 'Em . . .

My mind has long been divided on the issue of media in the home. When Drew was a toddler, I thought it would be fun to let him experience some of the shows I had enjoyed as a child. Then I read something about babies and brains and television and how terrible it all is. Our TV was immediately turned off. (When I stumble on a new idea, I don't often ease into it. I go all the way, right away. Without warning.) I religiously avoided the evil box, making sure to emphasize my pursed lips, huffing breaths and eyeball rolling whenever my poor husband wanted to catch a Seahawks game.

The following years mellowed me a bit. I learned that it was counterproductive to scream at my children to turn their heads when walking through the electronics department. I learned that it was slightly rude to get up and leave the room when visiting with friends or family who enjoyed watching a Sunday afternoon game. I also learned that family movie or basketball game nights can be awfully fun and that there are a lot of great videos out there to enhance learning and spark curiosity. (Furthermore, I figured that it would be nice to support my husband who owns a video production company.)

Then last year I was hit with the Wii. Drew had saved his money, and Dad had said, "Okay." I had raised my eyebrows. Hold on. Video games? I'm sorry. We don't do video games. I had visions of my dear boy, sprawled like a vegetable across the couch, eyes glazed, mouth drooling. My husband knew what I was thinking. He gently pointed out that owning a Wii didn't automatically mean vegging out in front of the tube with that horrendous glazed look you hear about.

The Wii was purchased. We agreed to disagree. With the air of a martyr, I announced that the Wii would fall under Dad's jurisdiction. The kids would have to ask him if they wanted to play, because I would always look for a way to say no. And I stoically returned to my pursed lips, huffing breaths and eyeball rolling.

Friday evenings would often find Jamie and the kids jumping and laughing and screaming while whipping around remotes and keeping track of points. Avery would challenge her father to a boxing match. Aidan and Bethie would fall into hysterics with cow racing. Drew would say, "Hey Mom. Want to bowl?" And I'd find that washing the dishes was somehow more pressing.

One day, while everyone was having this wretched fun, it occurred to me that maybe I could actually embrace this difference and enjoy time with my family. I shuffled over and meekly said, "I bowl." They smiled and handed me the remote. Turns out I'm a pretty good bowler.

I'm not a convert yet. But I'm also not opposed to a little bowling every now and then. The other night, when the younger ones were in bed, Drew invited me to try a little Wii archery for a change. It's not often that he and I spend time alone together. So I agreed. We did the thing called "bonding," which I am slowly realizing can actually happen in front of a screen when wisely handled. (An interesting article on video games recently appeared in Focus on the Family's publication, Thriving Family.) The time flew by, and my son glanced at the clock. "It's getting late, Mom. I better get to bed." I watched this responsible young man put the controls away and head upstairs. "Goodnight, honey. It was fun," I called back.

I never would have guessed it, but the Wii actually made it's way onto my 1,000 Gifts list this week. Not because of what it is, but because of the unique opportunities it's given me to bond with my son. Sometimes we bond by shooting hoops in the street. Sometimes we make chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes we pull out a game like Bananagrams or Set. And sometimes, we bowl.

Highlights from this week's gift list:

*Girls in Mama's

*Sunblock on little noses

*Boys catching frogs

*Toothless, grinning boy covered in dust, peach juice and band-aids

*Wii bowling with Drew

*Avery humming "Come Thou Fount"

*Daisy chains

*A full tank of gas . . . and the boy who beg
s to help pump. While wearing his great-grandfather's tam-o-shanter, of course.

*Showing Mama what she learned at the gym

*Turning a jump rope

*Having my nails done . .
. by a four-year-old

*Helping Bethie meet a summer goal: A visit to the Humane Society

holy experience
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Seize the Summer

Last Friday marked the end of our school year. The kids worked hard, especially considering the fact that the location of our school room changed three times over the course of the year. I knew that this week would be a time of rest with very low structure.

But I also know that kids thrive when they are given a predictable schedule. They know when to work and when to play, and they feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of their day. I recently read The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson. I was struck by something that her teenage daughter observed:

Mom, it seems to me that those who really know God should be more loving, more deeply driven with enthusiasm about their purpose in life . . . more creative and more excellent in every way. Shouldn't knowing God change them forever? (Clarkson p.111)

I can't get this thought out of my head. I want to instill in my children a healthy sense of purpose as they grow and mature. I want them to pursue excellence and creativity because we serve a God who is excellent and creative. I want their lives to stand out as testimonies to the One who has given them such great minds and abilities.

I was also impressed by an idea that I found over at Inspired to Action. A reader suggested using Luke 2:52 as a framework for summer plans:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

She found ways in which her children could grow in each of these areas (mental and physical growth along with service to God and others) while embracing the unique freedom that summer provides. What a great way for children to grow!

So I made a chart. (This is what I do when I'm inspired. I'm rather Type A that way.) I don't want us to waste our summer. I want us to live intentionally, fully. Our Summer Goals chart has rows for each person in our family. The three columns read "Places to Go," "Things to Do" and "Books to Read."

Our "Places to Go" will not be extravagant or expensive. For example, Aidan would like for our family to go to the Camas pool this summer. Bethie is excited to visit the humane society. Drew is ready for some disc golfing with dad, and I'm eager to take out the canoe.

For "Things to Do," I've encouraged the kids to think of three hobbies or skills that they'd like to develop over the next several weeks. Drew wants to "fire a gun" (heaven help us) and Avery wants to make ice cream. Bethie would like to work on some embroidery projects, and Aidan wants to perfect his rope tying skills. I've included my own goals on the chart as well, such as completing some sewing projects and going on a family hike (or two . . . or three).

Finally, the "Books to Read" column, which is pretty self-explanatory. Jamie and I have personally chosen larger works of fiction. He's prepared to take on Dickens' Our Mutual Friend, and I've chosen George Eliot's Middlemarch. The kids have each chosen three books. They are taking part in our library's summer reading program, too, which really makes those pages turn quickly.

Our mornings will include a bit more structure -- the "mental growth" we want to develop: reading, piano, chores, and the hobbies that they're pursuing. Afternoons are for exploring and the "physical growth" that rapidly takes place during the summer months. I love to find Aidan up a tree, Drew perfecting his jump shot, Bethie jumping rope and Avery Kate zipping by on her bike. There are frogs to catch, wildflowers to admire, berries to pick and trails to explore.

I know that not every day will be seamless and productive. There will be wild, exciting days filled with youth camps, family visits, traveling, and Vacation Bible School. There will also be days when we need to do nothing but rest. There will be late nights and lazy mornings. There will be days of structure and there will be days of chaos. But God has given our family these days, and I want to use them well. I want to embrace the excellence and creativity that He's bestowed on all of His children, and I want to take delight in the One who has given us the freedom to live, laugh and love, each and every day.
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Lamp, a Cake and a Smile

I've noticed an interesting thing about blogs. Authors share a beautiful snapshot of their life -- say, a newly refinished piece of furniture, an amazing thrift find, a charming table setting, an inspired craft corner, a pristine homeschool room. (Can you tell what I read?) The readers are swept into a picturesque world. And they want. Sometimes I follow the comments. Of course it's natural to ask for the cake recipe or request tips on refinishing a table. But so often the readers seem to be grasping at straws. They look at one little part of the whole, thinking that if they can have that one thing it will make their lives better, just like the idealized life they read about in the blog.

And then I stop and listen to my own mental comments: "If I can just have those beautiful jars to hold craft supplies, my schoolroom will look amazing . . . If I can just find that darling vintage mixing bowl, my kitchen will be swoon-worthy . . . If I can just find that book for our library . . ." I'm doing the very same thing. And I want.

I found myself doing this several years ago when I developed a taste for the shabby chic look. I love vintage decorating, but I lack that certain finesse that is required to pull it off in my own home. It took me some time, however, before I bravely acknowledged this fact. In the meantime, I found myself falling into the trap of thinking that one or two little pieces would give me that look. So I'd find a vase here and a chair there (usually something that required refinishing), bring it home and think, "Now where in the world am I going to put that?" (My patient husband echoed those sentiments.) I had expected for that one thing to work magic. But instead of shabby chic, I just had a pile of shabby.

The other day I stumbled across a picture perfect blog, and found myself doing it again. "Boy. A few knick-knacks here and a lamp there. I'd be set!" And then it dawned on me that I can't just buy a lamp and expect for my entire house to be transformed. It goes much deeper than that. It's what the lamp sits on. It's the color of the wall behind the lamp. It's the lighting in the room. It's the arrangement of books and vases around the lamp. It's the placement of the table that the lamp sits on. It's the flooring, the fabric, the texture. These pieces all work together to make the lamp a beautiful focal point, not the other way around.

But this is so like me. I admire a person, a lifestyle, a habit. So I frantically search until I find a small piece of it to add to my life. I buy new earrings and think, "Well now why on earth is my entire life not transformed?" And I've missed the whole point. It's not the earrings, the lamp or the mixing bowl. Those are the finishing touches on a life that has something deeper and more beautiful going on. It is the deep, inner beauty that I am really attracted to, whether I realize it or not.

The scary thing is that sometimes I do realize it. But it's easier to hit a Saturday morning garage sale and add to a collection than it is to cultivate inner beauty. So I bring home a "treasure" and wonder why I still feel empty.

This morning I was reading C.H. Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. He referenced Hosea 7:8, which reads, Ephraim is a cake not turned. I was intrigued. Cake? I like cake. I read on. Spurgeon explained that,

A cake not turned is uncooked on one side; and so Ephraim was,
in many respects, untouched by divine grace: though there was some partial obedience, there was very much rebellion left. My soul, I charge thee, see whether this be thy case. Art thou thorough in the things of God? Has grace gone through the very center of thy being so as to be felt in its divine operations in all thy powers, thy actions, thy words, and thy thoughts?

When I read words like this I think, Yes! I want to be "thorough in the things of God." And then comes the struggle. I want to be one way -- I want to be like Christ. But like the Apostle Paul I confess,

I have the desire to do what is good,
but I cannot carry it out.

Romans 7:16

I am weak. I am a cake not turned. I focus on adding the externals -- the bowl, the lamp, the earrings -- and live in partial obedience. As a result, I'm half-baked. This is not good. This is ooey, gooey and pointless. This is no way to live. Instead, I want His grace to penetrate the very center of my being, that I may feel its "divine operations" in absolutely everything that I say and do.

The exciting thing is this: I can live this way. Paul gives me the key in Romans 8:9-10.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit . . . If Christ is in you . . . your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

Did you catch that? My spirit is alive. When I allow the Spirit full control, I am able to carry out that which I cannot do on my own. My cake is golden and yummy. The lamp makes sense, because everything surrounding it lives in harmony and focus. The earrings are charming because they complete the look. And my smile is genuine because His grace has penetrated and His Spirit reigns.
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Monday, June 21, 2010

1,000 Gifts

She gave me the journal for my birthday. It was based on a number of books by Sarah Ban Breathnach, who, several years ago, began to encourage others to take joy in the Simple Abundance that surrounds each one of us. My friend and I had read and discussed her philosophy from time to time, so a journal in which I might record the blessings of each day made a perfect gift. The inscription, penned by my dear friend, read, "May your reflections on this year be beautiful memories full of grace and peace -- or if not, may they at least make you laugh!" So I tucked it away, eager to begin chronicling as soon as the new year began.

The new year came. It was 2009. A book full of blank pages awaited my pen. And our basement flooded. So by January 2nd, I had recorded my gratitude for "a hard-working, faithful husband, a sense of humor and the shop vac . . . ." We were up all night, frantically scooping gallons and gallons of water. Our limbs ached. Our vision was blurred. But we kept the water away from the business equipment. And we found the blessings.

I quickly learned that this pattern would be a rather prominent theme in 2009. My friend's inscription was proving to be true. It was not what I would call a year full of grace and peace, but we definitely found plenty to laugh (and cry) over.

Later that spring, I was introduced to Ann Voskamp's blog, Holy Experience. She, too, is a faithful chronicler of blessings, and has invited her readers to join the "Gratitude Community" in listing the gifts that God sends our way. I began to keep my list on Good Friday of 2009, wondering how long it would take to reach the 1,000 that Ann had challenged herself to reach. My spiral notebook sits on the kitchen counter, pen nearby, that I may easily add evidence of His work in my life.

Over the last year, I have experienced the extreme importance of giving thanks to God, no matter the circumstance. When I count it all joy, I see that His hand is so clearly and faithfully at work in my life. I am challenged to focus not on myself, but on the One who deserves my full attention and sincere adoration.

I've not always been a faithful chronicler, but He has always been a faithful giver. Last week, I reached 500 gifts. Drew was the first to notice. He has added to my list along the way (which in itself is a dear gift.) So today I'll share a handful of the gifts that the Lord has sent my way in the last few days. Maybe you, too, could set a notebook out on your counter. You never know what the Lord might have in store for you.


*Toys made of wood

*A chorus of children reciting scripture

*The house finch's scarlet hood


*Witty lyrics

*Using my Noni's china for Sunday brunch

*Fresh, sudsy Louise water

*Iced tea in a vintage Holly Hobbie gla

*A boy and his trophy

*Folding laundry while hearing His Word

*Fourteen years with him

very's sleepover with Noni

ids taking initiative

*A speckled egg

*Puffy, golden scones

*The waving window

*Stretching a dollar

*Kid crafts

*Robin in the birdbath

*Saturday night sponge rollers . . .

*. . . and Sunday morning curls

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

holy experience
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

So What's a Little Rain?

I've lived in the Pacific Northwest my whole life. The verdant forests, towering Cascades and rushing Columbia speak volumes to my heart. Even the rain is a soothing friend, especially when I can steal a moment or two to curl up with a cuppa tea in one hand and Jane Eyre in the other. The miniature river-trails it creates on the window panes are mesmerizing. The sound of its steady rhythm on the rooftop lulls me to a peaceful slumber.

But sometimes enough is enough.

I don't have the stats in front of me, but I'm pretty sure it's been raining forever this year. I'm a die-hard girl from the 'Couv, and I love me some rain, but it's our last week of school and I'm still wearing a sweater. Doesn't that seem incongruent? Aidan had his last baseball game this week (one of the few that didn't get called), yet we were still bundled up, sipping hot chocolate and ready to go home so we could sit in front of the fire.

I was feeling quite grumbly about all this, when it occurred to me to observe how my children were handling The Season of Endless Deluge. I realized that not one of them was complaining about the rain. Instead, the resourceful persons have come up with all sorts of indoor activities, games and crafts. (And the house shows it. The floors are strewn with bits of paper, rolls of tape, balls of yarn, cardboard boxes, newspapers, ropes, books, piano music, game pieces -- you name it. The clutter is driving me crazy, really, but I'm trying to be mature and realistic about the whole thing.)

Aidan and Avery made a violin.

Creativity with fridge poetry magnets.

He picks up a new hobby: knot tying. Not what I envisioned when I bought new jump ropes, but I'll take it!

The most popular diversion of late appears to be tracing. The kitchen nook windows have been adorned with dozens of simple line drawings. My little artists lay a second sheet of paper on top in order to create their own reproductions. Their favorite pages to trace have come from some Amish preschool activity books that we've used since Drew was just a wee thing. The thick black lines show up nicely and make for an impressive finished product.

It's been a good exercise for me this week to watch my children. I've made an effort to be more diligent about jotting down the many things for which I am grateful. Because I've learned that the rain doesn't hinder the blessings. It only hinders my outlook -- and only if I let it.

Next week I'll post a bit more about gratitude and how life-giving it can be to chronicle one's blessings. In the mean time, I plan to enjoy some tea, a good book and maybe even a little bit of tracing.
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I was eleven. Curled up on my bed with pillows propped behind, I turned the key, opened the lock and cracked open my pink diary. With a blunt number two pencil I very eloquently recorded the day's highlights. His name appeared for the first time:

December 17, 1986

Dear Diary,
Today . . . it got around that I like Jamie Lawson. I do! He's soooo cute . . . .

That name was destined to appear in many emotional entries:

September 13, 1987

Today we had the second day of youth group . . . . during class Jamie sat next to me. I'm not sure if he likes me or not but I sure like him.

March 22, 1989

Jamie was wearing a Detroit Pistons hat and shirt, jeans, white socks and black leather shoes -- what a babe!

(You will note that I even recorded the color of his socks. Everything about him was incredible.)

March 8, 1989

We were all excited for the Lawsons to come [to youth group] and they never did. My night is ruined . . . .

May 21, 1989

Today when we were driving to church the Lawsons drove past us. It was so embarrassing . . .

June 3, 1989

I [went] to a work day at church with the youth group . . . Jamie and I went along the street getting trash!!! It was wonderful!

Indeed, my thoughts seldom ventured away from this perfect human as evidenced by countless impassioned entries:

I caught Jamie looking at me a few times . . . .
Maybe he was nervous or maybe he hates me . . . .
Jamie smiled at me lots!!

I wish I knew how Jamie feels about me! Wonder if I'll ever find out . . . .
I was fourteen. I thought it would be romantic to write a letter to myself, to be opened ten years later, just like L.M. Montgomery's Emily.

I was twenty-four. I opened the letter. My fourteen-year-old self naturally wondered if I was married, if I had children, where I lived and, most of all, whether or not I still cared for Jamie Lawson.

Reader, I married him.

I am thirty-four. Another ten years have passed, and here I find myself still marveling over the fact that this man chose me.

I no longer keep a diary under lock and key. But this man's name is still scrawled again and again in a journal that is even more precious -- my prayer journal. It is my joy and privilege to lift my husband of fourteen years in prayer before the One who saw fit to join this blushing girl with the boy she has always loved.

holy experience

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

All Things Wooden

I have an affinity for wooden things. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that my daddy was a carpenter for many years. I loved the smell of freshly cut lumber, each piece stacked and awaiting its turn to take part in the framing of a home. I loved the way the sawdust shot away from the board and caught a glimmer of sunlight as my daddy's strong, brown hands guided the board through the table saw.

(Here I am, loving wood.)

I loved wood when it fueled the campfires our family shared as my brother, sister and I passed marshmallows and stories around it's crackling glow. I loved gathering wood with my sister, pretending we were Laura and Mary adding our share of kindling to keep the glow alive.

I loved wood when it was cut into circles called "wood cookies" at Trout Creek Bible Camp. I strung a plastic cord through the hole punched in the top of my wood cookie and decorated my camp name (Juni) with many flourishes. I wore it 'round my neck every day and felt like I was a part of something grand.

So when I began to have children of my own, it delighted me to choose and receive special wooden toys for them. Drew was given the classic alphabet blocks by Uncle Craig and Auntie Krissie as a ring bearer gift when he was a toddler. He learned to read as Papa placed the blocks into three, four, and even five letter words.

The longest lasting and most popular wooden toys among my children have been the Thomas engines and Lincoln Logs. A few other gems have come our way too, such as the Noah's Ark Animal Bus from Granny and a basket full of colorful building blocks -- a steal from some garage sale.

Our most recent happy acquisitions are peg dolls, Qwirkle, and a beautiful chess set. The peg dolls were inspired my many darling blog and Esty designs that I attempted to copy for Avery. I'm not an artist, but she loves them. She has our whole family (plus some cousins and friends tossed in). I love to hear the click of their little bases as she creates stories for these people and marches them around our home.

(Look at wee Avery Kate in pink. Aidan is the super hero. I'm not sure where Drew and Bethie are lurking, but Mother and Father loom in the background, no doubt keeping a close eye on the five extra children.)

is a mind game that we have quickly come to love. (Thanks for the recommendation, Valerie!). I suppose it would still be fun if the tiles were plastic, but it's oh-so-much more fun to feel and hear and smell those wooden tiles as they click together in their canvas bag. (Don't you think there's an even greater thrill that comes when wooden things are stored in canvas bags?)

So you can imagine my delight when I wove my way home from Aidan's Saturday baseball game by way of several garage sales and eventually found a great, albeit simple, wooden toy. (I'm not sure what they're called.) Each thin disc has eight wedges that can be connected with other discs. Aidan and Avery have played with them nonstop. I love seeing their creativity.

One of my favorite creative expressions is when the kids combine their toys to make something new. The Lincoln Logs become animal cages for the wooden ark critters. The train track then carries the zoo train (the passengers being the peg folk) which weaves in and out of said cages. Avery has also already discovered that her peg people work very well with the wooden discs. I'm delighted. I think we might have another wood lover in the family.

The peg people patiently await their turn on the merry-go-round.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

The Perfect Gift

Remember the last time I scribbled my heart out to Jesus and He showered me with exactly what I needed? Well, folks, He did it again. A similar inky prayer ascended a little while ago, almost like an Anne post-script: Oh, and Lord, would you provide a vacation for our family? Just a little something? Thank you.

The next morning I opened my inbox. There was an email from my mom. The subject line? Vacation. Just the one word. My heart stopped. A friend thought of our family when she realized that they wouldn't be able to use their next allotted timeshare dates in Seaside, Oregon. Since we weren't bound by a stringent school schedule and 9 to 5 job, might we be interested?

Good heavens, yes.

What a blessed gift. (Both the giver-of-the-gift and I were in awe as we marveled with glistening eyes over the way the Lord had orchestrated this plan.)

So we went. And for five days we basked in the majesty of the Lord's Pacific Ocean. Our spirits were ushered to a deep, much needed haven of rest as the waves swept ashore with their unfailing tempo.

The resort was wonderful, and we continued to find the Lord's touch along the way -- right down to the pool. (One of our family goals this summer was for the kids to gain greater confidence in the water. So having a pool that we could visit once, twice, even three times a day? Not a bad arrangement.)

Our family ties strengthened as we rested and played together: books (and books and books -- mama actually finished two!), sand castles, leisurely meals, The Murphy Bed (Avery's favorite, both to sleep in and jump on -- and also just to mention as many times as possible; it's so fun to say, "The Murphy Bed," as though it hosts a distinguished guest), board games, swimming, shopping (antiquing!), stealing away with Avery to play with friends in Cannon Beach (where the two little bread-tossing pixies were surrounded by greedy seagulls), family movie night, people-watching from our seventh-story-perch (of the I Spy variety), beach combing, wave jumping . . . .

My list of thanksgiving goes on and on (which, I am finding, makes the return to normal life a bit easier.) As we spilled back into our home this week with sand in our hair, sun on our skin, and taffy in our pockets, we also felt the swell of praise in our hearts to the One from whom all blessings flow.
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