Thursday, September 29, 2011

No Time for Parties and Fun

The other night before bed, Avery Kate chose two Little Golden Books for her story time. I have a fondness for Little Golden Books. In fact, I kind of collect them. Especially those illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. I digress.

One of the stories she selected was Walt Disney's 1950 version of Cinderella. Now, in my opinion, Cinderella is one of the greatest princess stories ever told. Of course it's been altered quite a bit over the years, but I really appreciate Charles Perrault's original adaptation. Cinderella is kindhearted and completely selfless, serving her family with joy. In the end, she is rewarded beyond her wildest dreams and lives happily ever after. It's a great story.

So I'm reading the 1950s version, which introduces us to Cinderella's many woes. Of course she lives in a faraway land with her "mean old stepmother" and cruel stepsisters. Her duties? I'll share: "Cinderella cooked and baked. She cleaned and scrubbed. She had no time left for parties and fun."

I stopped. This job description sounded awfully familiar. Where had I heard it before? Oh, yes. That's right. This is MY job description. I cook and bake and clean and scrub. I have no time left for parties and fun. Woe is me.

However, if we keep reading, we see that the next line changes everything for Cinderella:

"One day an invitation came from the palace of the king." And the rest is history.

An invitation from the King is all it takes, my friend. One word from Him and everything is turned around. It removes the servant girl from the pitiful plight as one who has "no time left for parties and fun" and elevates her to the position of heir. Royalty.

Of course, the job description might not change a whole lot for the time being. There will still be cooking and baking and cleaning and scrubbing. But to know that we've been noticed by the King? Even loved by the King? Whoa. That makes it all worth it. It might even cause us to take on a joyful Cinderella countenance as we go about our duties. The singing and humming and all? Not a bad idea, now that I think of it.

And we don't have to worry a bit about the apparent lack of parties and fun. The best is yet to come. Because as we all know, the prince and princess always live happily ever after.
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Sitting. For Thirty-One Days.

"Mommy, I just have one question, and then I'll go away."

Yikes. Ouch. And oh, dear.

Have I really been that bad? Yes, it appears so. She was being very sweet and matter-of-fact. Not acting neglected or whiny. Just calling it like it was. I obviously didn't have time for her, and she didn't want to intrude. Just one little question? Please?

Lately I've been thinking about sitting. Remember how I mentioned a couple of posts back about teaching my Miss Kate to tie her shoes? We've worked on that like, maybe . . . twice. Now, it's true that her delicious new brown boots may have something to do with that. They don't require tying.

But laces or not, children do require sitting. With their mother.

That said, I've been mulling over a post challenge recently. It's a challenge suggested by Emily Freeman over here. The idea is to post every day for the month of October about something that makes us come alive. The topic I've selected? Sitting. That's right. Sitting. Very lively, huh? Sitting for one month.

Now, lest you picture me in a non-stop yoga pose for 31 days, I'll quickly explain myself. We are in high gear now with school and various activities vying for our attention. I often eat breakfast and lunch standing up. I sit down only to throw some math and grammar at the kids, and then I'm up and running again. This is not ideal.

Last weekend, I had Miss Kate all to myself. We enjoyed our time together immensely. One thing I noticed, however, was how hard it was for me to sit still with her.

During lunch, she took her time. She'd take a small bite, and talk. Then she'd take another really small bite. And talk some more. If her brothers and sister had been around, I'd have left the table and started in on the dishes. But I couldn't leave Little Miss all by her lonesome. So I sat. And sat. And sat. She chewed and talked. And chewed and talked. My legs did the impatient dance under the table, but I made it through the whole meal.

And I thought, "This shouldn't be so difficult. Something is wrong."

Hence my desire to learn the art of sitting. And sitting not only with my children, but also with my husband and with the Lord. I'm not sure exactly what my October posts will look like. But I like the challenge of reporting how and with whom I chose to sit each day. Some posts will likely be very brief; it would be wiser to spend blog-writing time with my family instead. Other posts may speak of regrets or failure. I hope they are few.

However it all comes out, my desire is to learn a little bit about the art of sitting. God's word has so much to say about waiting and resting and listening and quieting. I can't ignore it. And I have a feeling that a bit of sitting will show me how to really live.

So I'll take a small step this week, starting on the first of the month. If you're game, join the challenge with me. Perhaps you don't have sitting issues and you'd like to create your own challenge. Either way, I'd love to have your company.

Just imagine what can be accomplished in thirty-one days. It's enough time to start a pretty good habit.

Illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith
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Thursday, September 22, 2011


Aidan and I approached the checkout counter. While the checker unloaded my groceries, he lowered his voice a bit and leaned forward, confidential like. "So . . . are you glad the kids are back in school?" (This accompanied with The Knowing Glance that tends to come with such a question.)

I hesitated. "Actually, we homeschool." Then I added, "So, yes. I am glad." Smile.

He thought it prudent to switch gears. "Oh, that's . . . oh . . . so, were you a teacher before you had kids?"

"No, an English major . . . " I started to explain, apologetically.

"Well, that's sort of close. Do you write books?"

"Well, no. I have written a few articles . . . ." I somehow felt the need to defend myself. (Oh, hello, pride.)

The conversation continued in this fashion as he s.l.o.w.l.y. rang up my items. And I somehow got the impression that in order for one to claim a profession ("I teach my children" or "I pursued English in college") this must mean that I had attained a certain status or reached obvious goals (certified teacher, published author).

But the truth is, I am a teacher. I am a writer. And I don't need a certificate or a diploma or a paycheck to prove it. I pursue these things, I enjoy them, I feel that the Lord is blessing them, and I claim them as my own. That's it.

My guess is that many of us would like to claim to be something. A singer. A dancer. A writer. An actor. But we feel like we can't really say it out loud because the world hasn't made it official. We're not paid to do it. We don't walk into a room and have people point and say, "Oh, look! There's that artist!" So we apologetically say, "I'm a mom. And sometimes I like to . . . paint?" Blush. Stammer.

Last night I snuggled on the couch with my Bethie-girl as we read a chapter from Beautiful Girlhood. We read about the dreams that a girl has as she stands on the shore with a bright future stretched out before her. Her bare feet wriggle in the sand, her long hair dances on the breeze. She shields her eyes from the bright sun with a delicate hand and looks forward.

She dreams of love, she dreams of a family, she dreams of a having a purpose.

I remember standing on that shore many years ago. I wanted to be a mother. I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be Jamie Lawson's wife. (I had some very specific goals.)

Many of my girlhood dreams have come true. (But not the one that involves a silver dress, a stage, and a microphone. Or the one where I appear in The Brady Bunch. Rats.)

They've come true not because anyone is paying me or giving me a title. But because I have claimed them as my own. I have embraced the pursuits that bring me joy and those which I feel bring glory to God.

I know that you, dear reader, have dreams, too. You have interests and talents that the Lord delights to see in you. They have been breathed into your being for a purpose. First and foremost, that purpose is to bring glory to God.

I think of Eric Liddell's classic line from Chariot's of Fire: "I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure."

When your goal is to bring glory to God, there's no need to apologize.

So put yourself on that shore once again. Look forward and let yourself dream for a minute. What do you see? What brings you joy? When is it that you truly feel the Lord's pleasure?

Now, keep your eyes fixed right there. Keep a firm grasp on the Lord's hand, and go for it.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

There Will Be Grace

Remembering grace when . . . .

*The washcloths are all missing and it's bath time. Because they make excellent shoulder pads for boys who want to play football in the back yard.

*Avery wants to pretend like she's a dog. This means lapping up water from a bowl on the kitchen floor. It also means rolling around on the bathroom floor after a bath with brother trying to dry off her "paws." (This is rather unfortunate because my bathroom floor is not the cleanest place in the world right now.)

*School takes longer than anticipated because Aidan just has to finish his bridge.

*Mud is tracked into the house because little people love to work in the garden.

*I come home to a messy living room because the kids can't stop thinking and learning and creating and exploring.

*I find tweezers on the front porch. Again. Because someone must have been listening when we read about insects today. (It also explains the jars of creepy crawly creatures on the nature table . . . .)

*Bedtime takes forever. Again. Because there's a law that sisters must whisper and giggle before falling asleep.

* * * * * *

The house is finally tidy. The children are finally asleep. I finally have a bit of quiet.

I know it will only be a matter of hours before the cycle begins again. The washcloths will disappear. There will be mess and mud and mistakes.

But there will also be grace.

I will need to fight the urge to hurry, the constant drive to cross items from my list. The instinct to race through the day and miss the beauty in the mess and the mud and the mistakes.

Because there will also be grace.

I will need to remember that I just taught Little Miss how to tie her shoes. She can't learn it in just one sitting. I'll need to sit with her tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

I'll remember that sitting with my daughter while the world spins and jolts and rushes about me is the very best thing that I can possibly do. Because she'll figure out those shoes in no time. She'll skip away to embrace even bigger challenges. Challenges that will often be messy and muddy and full of mistakes.

And in those moments, I'll be ever so thankful . . . for grace.
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Meet Maizy

I am not a dog person. So, several years ago when my children started to hint that they'd really, really, really like to get a dog, it seemed safe to say, "When everybody's potty trained, I'll think about it."

Half of my children were in diapers at the time, and you know how it is. When you're in the middle of something tedious (especially diapers), it seems like you're destined to be there forever. So in my mind, we'd pretty much never get a dog. I was safe. (I obviously didn't carry out the logic far enough to explore the ramifications of my children never being potty trained.)

Fast forward a few years. The youngest was about to turn six. They'd all been wondering for quite some time, "So, um, where's that dog?" I continued to come up with excuses. Finally, they decided to take things into their own hands. They started saving up. I started to get scared. They were potty trained. And serious.

What's a mother to do? She prays. Yes, even about a dog.

I asked the Lord to provide just the right dog for our family. I even took one of those pet-finder quizzes to determine which breed would be ideal for our family. The quiz came up with a corgi as a 100 % match. Wonderful with children, very easy to train, affectionate, etc. Oh -- and the Queen breeds them. Not a bad recommendation.

I had been on Craigslist daily, hoping to find some cute, cheap little doggie that didn't bark, chew, shed, drool, whine, smell, disobey, or do anything else that would make me feel even slightly uncomfortable. Because, you know, I'm not a dog person. I hadn't once seen a corgi come up. I felt safe again. It would take the kids forever to save up $600 to buy a corgi from the local breeder. They only had $65 so far. I could rest easy.

The day before Miss Kate turned six, I decided to hop on Craigslist again. Just in case something turned up. Well my friends, something turned up. A corgi had just been listed. She was only eight months old and needed to be re-homed right away. Because the need was somewhat urgent, the owner was only asking . . . fifty dollars. As if that wasn't enough, she lived only fifteen minutes from our home.

These details seemed far from coincidental. I picked up the phone.

Three hours later, we had a dog. I was in a state of shock. I felt that our home had been invaded by a hairy creature, and I had no idea what on earth to do with it. What if it cried at night? It was terrifying. To top it off, we were headed to the beach the next day for Miss Kate's birthday. But I couldn't ignore answered prayer. It seemed like a rather obvious fit. So Miss Kate turned six, and Miss Maizy strolled alongside her in the sand, loving every minute of it.

You know what? This hairy creature is the sweetest, most affectionate thing ever. Sure, she has her moments. But the kids have done a great job caring for their dog, and she's working her way into my heart, too. It's hard to resist melting when that little left ear flops over just so and the tail wags eagerly, and the little cocked head begs, "Love me?"

Lately, I've even caught myself calling her sweetie and puppers and other terms of endearment used only by deranged dog lovers.

Oh, dear. Maybe I'm turning into a dog person, after all.
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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Your Six-Year-Old

I just read about a series of books that highlight, year by year, the developmental progression of children.

Starting at age one and continuing through the teens, parents can learn about each stage in order to understand how to best relate to their child.

I was not surprised to find that the sixth year book was entitled, Your Six-Year-Old: Loving and Defiant.

I will be picking up a copy tomorrow.
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Monday, September 5, 2011

Upon Reaching One Thousand

Like many around the globe, I've been mesmerized by the tally of grace. For the last few years, Ann Voskamp has challenged thousands to seek the thousands: To chronicle one by one the beauty in every moment, the grace in every heartbeat.

Last week I reached the big mark. One thousand.

When I started my notebook months and months ago, I was convinced that reaching the thousandth gift would be a huge milestone and worthy of much celebration. I couldn't wait for the joyous penning of #1000.

I was a rather inconsistent chronicler, but as the numbers soared and the gifts poured, I indeed felt the joy. I loved having a record of God's goodness in my life. My heart raced as I entered the 900s. I was almost there. I knew that my day of celebration was just around the bend.

But I was wrong.

You see, my gratitude journal is also a scrapbook of sorts. Each page contains not only my list of gratitude, but also my kids' memorable quotes, event ticket stubs, programs and brochures, pictures and sketches.

But this page in particular, this page on which I reached #1000, happened to hold just one piece of paper. A program from a memorial service. For a baby. Dear family friends whose daughter lived for a mere twenty days.

How could I record praise alongside death? How could I express gratitude when life seemed so unfair?

When I first started my gratitude journey, it was easy to focus on the beauty. The sunset glow on apple blossoms, the verdant forests, the taste of summer strawberries. What's not to love? It's easy to give thanks when "God's in His heaven and all's right with the world."

But what about when things aren't at all right with the world? Where is the joy in that?

This, dear reader, is the great paradox. The mysterious shift. The kingdom that makes no sense at all but is somehow absolutely perfect.

How do I know this? Because I've seen the greater, deeper joy that comes through loss. The joy that comes out of brokenness. Perhaps even a sliver of the unexplainable joy that Christ wraps around His children as they work their way through the agony of death.

You see, this thousand-mark page also recorded another series of events in my life. Time shared with my grandparents.

Just months ago, my grandmother lay in a hospital bed in Southern California with a dangerously low heartbeat. I cried and prayed and wanted desperately to hop on the next flight out. But I couldn't. So I kept on praying.

God intervened. Her heart and body miraculously gained in strength. As she healed, she ministered to those at her bedside, giving God the glory. We rejoiced to hear that she and my grandfather would indeed be able to make their annual trip north.

So for the past two weeks I truly reveled in the moments my Nanee and I shared together. As she recounted the events surrounding her hospitalization, she drew special attention to a word that the Lord used again and again throughout her healing.

The word? Joy.

My eyes filled with tears. There it was again. The eucharisteo that Voskamp writes about. The grace we receive from our Father, the thanks we give because of it, and the indescribable joy that fills our spirits when we dwell in a spirit of gratitude.

Because of my grandmother's experience, I was that much more aware of how precious our time was together. We came too close to not having it. So for the whole two weeks, we crammed in as much togetherness as we could. We lived in the moment because we knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that every single moment was a gift.

My eyes were wide open, that I might not miss a single gift. Especially the gift of now.

Throughout their visit, my grandmother demonstrated yet again the way she has perfected the art of living in the moment. I watched the way her eyes sparkled as she wove stories for my children. I watched the way she deftly pulled together darling outfits on our annual girls shopping trip. I watched the way she engaged in conversation with others, treasuring their company.

I watched her live and delight in the moment, the way she always has and the way she always will.

This, my friends, is the only way to live. In moment by moment gratitude. This is the lens through which we must view life in order to experience true joy. Yes, even joy in brokenness, even joy in loss. The lens that goes so far as to enable a young couple to treasure every single moment of twenty priceless days with their daughter. To treasure the little fingers, the little squeaks, the little pink bows and the little pink dresses. To store up in their forever memories the snuggles in mama's arms, the last waltz with daddy. And to count it all joy.

It's true that as I recorded my one thousand gifts I wasn't counting on brokenness. I wasn't counting on loss. But because of them, I've tasted the true depths of joy.

And the result? I simply cannot stop at one thousand.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011


Her brown hair danced in the wind as she raced, barefoot, down the shoreline. A brand-new birthday kite clenched in her fist, soaring above, Daddy running alongside, close and strong.

My heart, it soared, too. Soared with love for this child, now six, who amazes, delights, challenges and lives life to the fullest.

My dreams, they soared, too. My throat constricted as I dreamed of the future and remembered the past and I didn't care if that meant that I was crying right there on the beach.

Beauty has a way of doing that.

My prayers, they soared, too. Complete, utter gratitude lifted to the only One who could orchestrate the beauty before me. The beauty of a child becoming. The beauty of a life placed in eternity, placed here alongside my eternity.

I longed to dwell in that moment. To keep it, bottle it up and hold onto it with fists clenched tightly as though the kite might get away.

Because the truth is, it will get away.

It will soar on the wind, caught up in a dream that will dance on the wings of wild ambition. My fists cannot contain it.

But eternity can. The One who holds eternity can surely hold a kite string.

So I can let go. I can praise with open hands. And I can let my baby soar.
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