Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Pursuit of Beauty

I gave him a sideways glance and said, "Hey, Drew. You wanna join in on the challenge? Knowledge, Health and Beauty?" (Wink, wink.)

He laughed and dismissed me. "Beauty?" He was not inclined.

But then I suggested that "beauty" comes in many forms. It doesn't all have to be rosebuds and sunsets. "What about that three-pointer at the buzzer?" I suggested. "Or a freshly grilled, juicy steak?" We had just finished playing catch so I added another: "Or the sound of the ball smacking squarely into your glove?"

I doubt he'll keep a checklist, but I did get his attention.

Pursuing beauty this summer will look different for each one of us. I was recently inspired by a friend who is ever-so-clever at making her husband feel loved. She planned a darling surprise patio meal for just the two of them and went all out with the menu and ambiance. This is beauty.

I have another friend whose voice is absolutely gorgeous. When she sings, I am surrounded by beauty, and I don't want it to stop.

Beauty is the mother who shows up to every single performance of her daughter's first play (yes, that would be my mom). It's the sister who knows my heart in a way that only a sister could. It's a stroll on the beach with my grandmother. It's the friend who prays for me and writes powerful words of encouragement. It's the friend at the piano, the friend at the canvas, the friend with the knitting needles, the friend laying out spreadsheets, the friend canning green beans and applesauce. It's the friend with the calico squares and the friend with the gemstones that will somehow morph into beautiful jewelry.

It's the friend who teaches me about wildflowers and the friend who makes me laugh until my sides split. It's the friend nursing her newborn, the friend organizing her home, and the friend with a special needs child who joyfully gives and gives and gives. It's the photographer, the gardener, the dancer, the actor, the preacher, the chef. It's the bargain hunter with a knack for decorating and designing and the ability to create something from nothing. It's the nurse, the foster parent, the seamstress, the sculptor, the model, the musician . . . . It's the writer of words, the spitter of poetry, the creator of story. It's the teacher of children, the encourager of hearts, the older guiding the younger . . . .

Do you see it, my friend? It's you. You're beautiful.

You were made for beauty. You were made to seek it, to create it, to enjoy it. You are, after all, made in the very image of the Most Beautiful One. So how about letting each day become a celebration of that beauty!

Want to join the Knowledge, Health and Beauty challenge? We start on Friday . . . . I'd love to have you on board!

Paintings: John Singer Sargent, Degas, Waterhouse
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Pursuit of Health

Today we're focusing on the pursuit of health as we seek to strengthen our minds, bodies and spirits during the summer months.

(To catch up, check out my posts here and here. And if you're in, drop me a line -- I'd love to hear from you!)

I'll be brief today because . . . I'm pooped. You see, Vacation Bible Camp started this week . . . .

Three areas come to mind when I think of health: eating, sleeping, and exercising. I'm sure we can all think of ways to strengthen our bodies, and having a checklist each day might help you reach a personal goal.

I'm not fond of exercising. Not at all. (Unless it's in the form of dancing. That's fun. My sister and I could share a routine or two with you. For a small fee.) But I do like to walk. So I've tried to create a regular routine that takes me around the park for a thirty minute jaunt. I always notice an increase in energy on the days that I choose to do this. Definitely a worthwhile pursuit!

Doesn't this look like Jamie and me?

Sometimes the best thing I can do for my body is to get enough rest. I find that if I write it on my checklist: "Bedtime no later than 11:00!" I'm more likely to do it. At other times I need to focus on my waking up. (I frequently tell my husband that if I could instantly change one thing about myself, I would wish to suddenly have the ability to merrily hop out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off. This hasn't happened yet.)

Adequate rest is not always easy to come by . . . .

Now food, food I do like. Sometimes too much. Especially when it's chocolate. Or ice cream. Or both. So I appreciate my father's sage advice: "Moderation in everything." Sometimes my checklist encourages me to skip the sugar. (My sister has an excellent blog featuring tons of yummy recipes without refined sugar.) Other times I try to make sure I'm getting enough water throughout the day, or I plan to increase my intake of fruits and veggies. You know what your own body needs. Try to do a little something each day to nurture it!

I know just how this girl feels . . . .

So that's it! A little something each day to reach toward the goal of healthy living. How will you pursue health this summer?

Illustrations: Pierre Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Jessie Willcox Smith
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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Pursuit of Knowledge

I'm excited to have a number of you on board for my "Knowledge, Health and Beauty" challenge! It promises to be a great summer, folks. My plan this week is to post a few thoughts on each topic as we lead up to our July 1st starting date.

(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out my Knowledge, Health and Beauty post here. I'd love to have you join me!)

We'll begin today with knowledge -- the expansion of our mind. Keeps things nice and chronological. Which I like.

* * * * * * *

The other day Aidan wandered into my bedroom. I nabbed him. "Hey, Aidan! Would you listen to my verses?" He raised his eyebrows. This was a new request.

"Sure!" he smiled obligingly.

I handed him my Bible and haltingly worked my way through the first four verses of Colossians. He smiled in praise and then surprised me by saying, "Now go to Philippians. I'll do my verses." He jumped into chapter four, verse four: "Rejoice in the Lord always . . . ." and continued on through verse eight. He had worked on this passage during the school year, and I was so pleased to see that the words were taking root.

I was even more pleased when he said, "Now go to Psalm 1."

I flipped back and said, "Go!" He proceeded to recite a chapter from last school year. The words are still there. In his heart.

Why do I share this with you? For two reasons. The first is this: my actions inspired my son to desire the same for himself. When he heard me recite, he, too, wanted to recite. It's no secret that children act upon what is modeled in the home. He snaps at his sister when he hears his mother snap. Likewise, he shares Scripture when he hears his mother share Scripture. Which do I want for my child?

The second reason I share this is to point out that the words we hear as children stick with us. Again, for better or for worse. These words of Scripture they memorize? They are nestled in their hearts. And because it is the powerful Word of God, the words are living and active (Hebrews 4:12). We have the opportunity to fill our children with the living and active Word of God. And isn't life what we all desire?

I can still quote one verse in particular from my years at Vacation Bible School. It stuck with me because I saw my own name in print alongside the powerful words of Scripture: "Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate Julianna from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:39) Just this week I spoke with a childhood friend who remembers the same verse for the same reason. I love it.

As I pursue knowledge this summer, one of my goals is to work on committing more of His Word to memory, not only for myself, but in order to set an example for my children, as well. I'm tackling Colossians -- as much as I can. I've copied the first few verses on index cards, posting them above the bathroom sink, near the kitchen sink, and in my wallet. So far I'm only four verses in, but even if I'm only able to get through ten, I can know that His Word will have an impact on my life. Time spent in Scripture is never, ever wasted time.

This is only one of the many ways in which we might pursue knowledge. Perhaps you've been wanting to tackle that heavy Tolstoy volume for a while now. Why not start with chapter one? Each day that you add a chapter (or even just a page!), you've chosen to expand your mind, to pursue knowledge. Perhaps a new knitting pattern or a new recipe? An art technique to brush up on? The possibilities are endless. And believe me, your mind will thank you!

How will you pursue knowledge this summer?

The Book by Mary Cassatt
Reading by Jessie Willcox Smith
Girl Reading by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
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Friday, June 24, 2011

A Day Off

Earlier this week my wonderful husband suggested that we all take a day off. As a family. No phones, no computers, no cords of any kind.

We said, "YES!" and this morning we headed to Eagle Creek in Bonneville, Oregon. It was glorious.

(Although Little Miss Avery Kate wasn't so sure about the exertion required to make the trek.)

Following in Bethie's wake, I was transported back about 25 years. I was once again hiking behind my ten year old sister, Krista, with Johnny and our little dachshund Herbie racing ahead . . . Dad clicking pictures and drawing our attention to trail markers . . . Mom gathering huckleberries for pancakes . . . .

(I still find myself calling Bethie "Krista" every once in a while. It's a happy mistake.)

And now I've birthed a new set of sisters. I love my girlies. Just love them so much.

And then there are boys. Boys have a thing for rocks. The bigger, the better.

See what I mean?

Cuteness at Punchbowl Falls.

Drew, while dreaming of rafting down the creek, settles for wading.

My peeps. My favorite peeps.

(Did I mention that boys have a thing for rocks?)

This is one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever taken. The forest floor is carpeted with dainty mosses, bleeding heart, maidenhair ferns and miner's lettuce. I draw the little ones near, pointing out the delicate blossoms. Around the bend I face the roar of the fierce rapids, the sway of the mighty evergreens, and the plunging depths which leave me dizzy (and in prayer). I draw the little ones near, grasping their hands, keeping them close.

I catch my breath. Once I'm safely planted on a rock, with my chicks safely pecking among the pebbles, I think of Mr. Beaver describing Aslan: "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good."

No, it's not safe. But I would never choose to avoid it. Because it's good. It's a feast for the eyes and a balm to the soul.

Turns out this day was just what I needed. It wasn't safe, but it was good. My heart is full.
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Knowledge, Health and Beauty

Last summer I wrote about our plan to seize the sunny season with purpose. I plan to implement many of those ideas again this year:

(Seize the Summer)

In addition to guiding my children through goals and dreams for the summer months, I'm eager to focus on my own intentional living. It's easy to adhere to certain tasks during the school year. Checklists and schedules are a given. But what about during those lazy, crazy golden days? Shouldn't even our fun and relaxation be somewhat driven by intentionality? Even if the intent is merely to rest? Shouldn't our days be filled with purpose, no matter the season?

I've already tested out my idea, which is based on a post over at A Holy Experience. It's flexible yet enriching at the same time. And guess what? I want you to join me! Here's the gist. During the months of July and August, I plan to keep a little checklist that charts three areas of growth. (A template can be found here, if desired.) The areas I've chosen to pursue are knowledge, health and beauty. Each day, my personal goal is to include activities or pursuits that meet each of these areas of growth.

Here's an example. On any given day, the pursuit of knowledge might be anything that stretches my mind (which, let me tell you, doesn't take much!) -- reading Scripture, taking notes on a Sunday, memorizing Scripture, testing out a new recipe, putting together a puzzle, writing a letter, reading to my children, playing a board game, etc.

is any pursuit that strengthens my body. Exercise, a decent bed time, and healthy eating patterns would fall in this category.

The last is beauty, which is pretty broad, but I love the "command" to seek after beauty in my day. It might mean working on a craft or organizing a shelf. Perhaps it's giving my girls pedicures or putting together a vase of flowers. Maybe it's a freshly mopped floor or a basket of laundry put away. It doesn't have to be elaborate or time consuming or even artistic. Just the pursuit of something that adds beauty to the home.

So that's my plan. To embrace the golden days in the pursuit of knowledge, health and beauty. The point is not to keep a rigid checklist, but to live in daily freedom and growth. There are no rules, and no one will be hovering or keeping score.

I'll be starting on July 1st. I'm convinced that taking this journey with a few fellow travelers would be an amazing blessing and source of encouragement to all involved. That said . . . who's with me? I'd love to seize the summer with you!

Illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Spark

Yesterday I was seized by "The Spark." This is the name that my mother has given to the condition that suddenly comes over a person, filling them with the desire to attack a less than desirable duty. Such as cleaning the garage. My experience has been that the garage is not a warm and comfortable place to hang out. One does not naturally keep things orderly and quaint and bedecked with eye-catching trinkets. Indeed it requires nothing less than The Spark to whip such a beast into shape.

Well yesterday, I whipped. We've lived here for over a year, and I figured it was about time to finally eliminate those last few, nay, several boxes that have been filled with who-knows-what for who-knows-how-long. Such as the bag of paperback book remnants that I discovered. I have a hard time throwing things away that might one day prove to be useful. I must have convinced myself years ago that loose pages from an old Thomas the Tank Engine book might eventually come in handy. Perhaps for a collage. Or a lovely notecard. You just never know.

My former Thomas fan is no longer four. He's thirteen. Boy it felt good to toss that bag into the recycling bin.

This "spark" which led to a clean garage was, er, sparked by a new determination: I want to be content with my surroundings. Novel, huh? Let me explain. We've rented for years and will likely be renting for at least a few more years down the line. Because renting feels so temporary to me, however, I have a hard time embracing. I don't appreciate what I have. Instead I look ahead and place my hopes and dreams on a future home that doesn't even exist. I decorate something that is only in my mind.

It recently dawned on me that this is the only childhood that my kids will look back on. (I'm slow, but I do catch on.) They don't care whether we rent or own. They just want a home. They want to feel safe, loved and content. And they'll sense that safety, love and contentment as long as it comes from their own mama. No matter where they live.

We've been blessed with a lovely, comfortable home. It's time to settle. To use that "spark" as a starting point for maintaining peace and focusing on contentment. As I tend to this home and the lives within, I desire to love the here and now and to see the beauty before me. I want to embrace and embellish my surroundings with love, creating a warm haven that ministers to all who enter.

P.S. It's not too late to retrieve the Thomas pages. Anyone wanna make a collage?
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

{From the Archives: Anniversary}

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-five. Several more 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 fifteen years in prayer before the One who saw fit to join this blushing girl with the boy she has always loved.

From the archives . . . .
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Monday, June 13, 2011

Now What?

My last child is now a reader. The Bob Books and board books are packed away, the three letter words, once haltingly sounded out, are a thing of the past. She's reaching for the big stuff now. And I feel like something in me has died.

Perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic. But I absolutely love teaching my children to read. I've eagerly taught all four, spending hours curled up on the couch with little minds ready to be molded. And now I'm done.

I recently spoke of this with an admired homeschool mentor, and she agreed: it's like a loss. We teach our children, they learn it, and they move on. Another phase done, another goal reached. It's fine when a couple of other kids are in the queue waiting their turn for the "sat, bat, cat" chant, but what about that moment when the last one slips through? We're so eager to guide them forward, that we don't realize the flip-side of achievement: once they've learned it, they no longer need their mama in quite the same way.

This morning, as with most mornings, it took a great deal of guidance for me to get my Little Miss Avery Kate through her routine. Sitting down for an entire meal is tricky. Brushing teeth is not high on her priority list. Taking a bath usually sounds like a terrible idea. (Until she gets in. Then coming out sounds like a terrible idea.) So I prompted and prodded her through this and that. She finally huffed in frustration, "Why do you and Daddy always have to tell me what do do?"

It was a fair question. She wasn't being belligerent. She really wanted to know. And so I explained, with yesterday's sermon fresh on my heart: "Well, Sweetie, it's our job. Our job is to teach you to love Jesus and to love people." I was about to explain what this had to do with obeying Mommy and Daddy when she countered, "I already love Jesus, and I love everybody!" And off she dashed to play with her dollies.

I smirked over the irony. It's one thing to shout it out on a childish whim. But it's a completely different matter to live it. And an even greater sacrifice to live it daily.

So maybe my last pixie knows how to read. Maybe I'm done with that phase, closing yet another chapter. But my job? Oh, no. It's not done. Perhaps my job description has changed a bit, but the overriding life goal is the same. These children are still learning, as are their parents. They are learning to love Jesus and to love people every day. These are not skills that, once acquired, are complete. They are ongoing. Daily we submit, in love, and proclaim the words of Isaiah, "I belong to the Lord." And our job, our mission, is to display that truth in word and deed, no matter how old the kids are or how many goals they've attained.

I'll admit that I still feel a sense of loss. But I know that this "ending" only signals a new beginning. This is still a time to faithfully walk forward, to rejoice over the growth, and to use that knowledge to live in the awesome, everlasting truth of the gospel.

Now is the time to live. Now is the time to love.

Isaiah 44:5
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Monday, June 6, 2011

Lost and Found

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to find my tweezers in the microscope kit. I mean, it's perfectly natural that such a versatile instrument should be allowed to do more than just groom mother's eyebrows. Did you know that tweezers, according to Aidan, are perfectly designed to dismember insects? I'll never pluck in peace again.

My tweezers are not the only household objects that have traveled beyond their place of origin. I've started to notice other misplaced items, such as a dolly wedged in the cupboard on the blender stand or a strawberry stem wilting in the knife drawer. You know, normal stuff. It's starting to become rather comical.

For the longest time, I couldn't find my tape measure. We eventually found it in a suitcase. Not somewhere I'd think to look. On another occasion, I was searching for the salt. One would think it should reside conveniently alongside the other baking items in the cupboard. But if one is thinking this, then one is not considering that little boys sometimes like to kill slugs. If one happens to remember this, then one will run out into one's back yard to retrieve the salt. Because it makes a lot more sense to run outside to grab an ingredient than it does to simply open the cupboard right above the mixer. How else would we get our exercise?

Try as I might to remind the children that food must remain at the table, some people, whose initials are something like L.M.A.K., like to wander. This is evident when I find little surprise scraps, such as a half-eaten cheese stick on the piano or a baggie of green beans in the toy basket, both of which occurred last week. Bless her heart.

Tongs have also been known to exit the kitchen with alarming regularity. The barbeque tongs were confiscated from the doll cradle, while the salad tongs were hanging out in the boys' closet. Did you know that a bin of crayons and a pair of tongs are just what is needed when one wants to serve "spaghetti" to one's dolls?

Yes, it's humorous. But it can be frustrating at times. Consider the mother who is frantically pulling together dinner. She reaches for the garlic press. Nothing. She opens the drawer a bit more. Surely it must be here . . . . And then she remembers the play dough adventures from that morning. She finally retrieves the garlic press. But something is amiss. The holes are neatly plugged with the crusty remnants of pink dough. Mother grabs a toothpick and begins to make miniscule stabbing motions. With love in her heart. Dinner will be a bit late. And hopefully it won't taste too salty. But maybe that wouldn't be so bad, after all. It will save her a trip to the back yard.
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Friday, June 3, 2011

Taste the Poetry

Before the work of the day, taste the poetry of the day!
Our poor, battered minds and spirits need the dawn. There is the calm of nature, the sanity of the earth, in each breath of scented air on a sunrise in June.

~Edwin Way Teale~

May you taste the poetry of this day, my dear friends!

Summer Woods by Joan Wolbier
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Enough is Enough

I'm not quite sure why it is that children ignore the need to use the bathroom. I suppose they're just so caught up in what they're doing at the time that the hassle of leaving the room and taking care of business is just too much work.

I had an interesting conversation with Miss Kate yesterday about the importance of regular visits to the powder room. It went something like this:

Me: "Avery, I want you to be sure and go potty right away when you feel like you need to go." And, feeling the desperate need to include a consequence I added, "If you keep yourself from going potty, you could get an infection."

Miss Kate: "And?"

Me: "And we'd have to go to the doctor."

Miss Kate: "And?"

Me: "And you'd have to take some medicine to get better."

Miss Kate: "And?"

Me: "And isn't that enough?"

Miss Kate: "Not for me it isn't."

This girl likes her information, and she wants as much as she can get.

Lately we've been praying for several friends and family members who are struggling with illnesses, disease, emotional turmoil, and even death. It's been a season of aching as we carry the burdens of so many to the Lord. Miss Kate's little ears have been perpetually perked up to catch any details that she can. She's fascinated by specifics and asks us to tell her the stories again and again, especially if it involves a child. She wants to see the pictures, learn about the procedures, understand the process. A pat answer is never enough.

Hmmm. Sounds familiar. I've been processing Psalm 46:10 for months now. It's a familiar verse, yet the more I think about it, the more complex it becomes: "Be still and know that I am God . . . ." Upon first glance, I am comforted. I picture the gentle mother lulling her fretting baby, "Hush, my child. Mama's here . . . . "

Yet when I read the words in my New American Standard version, I find that it carries a very different tone: "Cease striving and know that I am God . . . ." I no longer picture the gentle mother. I picture the God of the universe with something that sounds almost -- dare I say it -- like a reprimand: "Stop trying so hard! Don't you know that I and I alone am God?"

And I know it's so. I'm trying too hard. I'm trying too hard to be good, to earn points, to keep my ducks in a row, to keep control of the situation. Like Avery, I'm given a single piece of information: "Trust me, child." And, like Avery, I'm not satisfied. I strive and ask, "And?" What else can I do? What else can I know? How hard can I try? It can't be enough just to trust.

But if I strive against the trusting, where does that leave my faith? I run the risk of living a life that suggests that perhaps God isn't to be trusted, after all. The work He has done, the things that He has promised, the words He has spoken . . . are not enough. I strive. And in so doing, I try to replace God.

This is a terrifying place to be.

I continue with the Psalm to gain some perspective, to get my feet back onto firm ground: "Cease striving and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth." Do you see it? The confidence? The promise? "I am . . . I will . . . I will . . . ." Our God is not timid or passive. His glory and honor do not depend upon my acknowledgement or upon my trust. They will remain forever regardless of my actions. And I am a fool if I suggest that anything or anyone else deserves such exaltation.

The words of Spurgeon come back to me with a healing affirmation of that which I've always known to be true:

My faith rests not upon what I am, or shall be, or feel, or know,
but in what Christ is, in what he has done,
and in what He is now doing for me.

His track record is perfect. He is the God of the universe, and His desire is to wildly live and love through my simple little life.

I can cease striving. I can trust. That is enough.
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