Friday, April 26, 2013

{The Acts, the Judges . . . and Little Miss}

This afternoon I gathered the children around for our Bible reading. Often I give each child something specific to be listening for in the text in order to keep their minds from wandering and their hearts engaged. Little Miss is so very prone to wander that I usually give her some pretty obvious details to pick out.

So today we were in Acts 3. I told her to be listening very carefully in order to be able to tell me what time Peter and John went to the temple and also the name of the gate at which the crippled man was begging. Her ears were perked, ready to catch the details. What she was not prepared for was verse two. I read, "Now a man crippled from birth --"

"What?!" she shrieked. "Crippled from birth?"

I started to explain that he had been born crippled, but her mind was headed in a completely different direction. "That's disgusting! How could a man have a baby?!" Her shrieking continued, and we all suddenly realized that she thought this poor man was crippled from the ordeal of giving birth.

It was some time before I could regain my composure in order to continue the story. (Drew never did. I'm pretty sure he was in muffled hysterics for the rest of the passage.)

Poor Avery. This morning we read about Ehud the Left-Handed Judge. Just when she finally gets her mind wrapped around the possibility of a sword being lost in King Eglon's belly fat, she has to deal with the mental image of a man becoming crippled from birth. But I can tell you one thing: she's not bored. The Word of God is indeed living and active. And pretty exciting, too.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

{Fun Finds}

It's been a whirlwind of a week. (And oh, does that sunshine on my shoulders make me happy!) Spring is in full swing, and in our buzzing to and fro we found a few fun things along the way. Here's a peek at some of our finds:

1. I've been on the lookout for this one: The Wall Chart of World History. I found an older copy at Goodwill this week for a mere three bucks. Yee-haw. Because it's older, the description "from earliest times to the present" means that the "present" is the 1980s. But that's okay. There's a whole lot of history goin' on before that. I'm a very visual person, so it helps to see time spread out before me. We're currently studying the 16th century in school, which in my finite mind seems like ages and ages ago. But to see how close that century is to our own in comparison with, say, ancient Egypt, is fascinating. The kids think it's pretty cool, too.

2. Three books from the 50s. I'm partial to the fifties because that's the decade that welcomed my parents to this earth. I grabbed three books off the shelf at our local thrift shop today, thinking they would make for some interesting reading, and they just all happen to be from the early 50s. I thought that was kind of fun.

I was excited to find that Smoke on the Mountain was written by Joy Davidman, C.S. Lewis' wife. I'm eager to see what she has to say. The Faith of Mrs. Kelleen caught my eye when I recognized that the author also wrote Mrs. Mike, a book which I recently read and found to be quite charming. We shall see. Finally, Exploring Nature with Your Child looks like a perfectly wonderful spring time resource. I'm pretty sure we need to read the section on ducks tomorrow. 

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard

3. Speaking of ducks, we found some parents for our little ducklings. We very quickly found out that ducklings are Stinky and Messy, which wreaked havoc with Bethie's allergies. So it was off to the pond this morning. Last week we noticed a pair of mallards in the wetlands near the park, so I suggested that we try re-homing them over there. I was relieved to find the mallards right away. The tricky part was releasing the ducklings close enough to be noticed by the adults yet far enough away so that we wouldn't frighten them.

We also discovered that one must be Very Patient when working with nature. So the girls and I sat on a log forever this morning, just hoping and praying that those ducks would all find each other. We quickly lost sight of the ducklings, but we noticed that the mallards were pretty devoted to the area. So even though we didn't get to see a reunion, we're hoping that our little ducklings are getting the care that they need. It was pretty special to be a part of that care, even if it was only for a couple of days.

Doesn't she look like a good little mommy?

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

{A Spring Rescue}

You know, the Lord has a wonderful sense of humor. When I last wrote, I shared about my yearning for nature and how delighted I had been to discover The Yearling. As the earth swells with new life this spring, I've been asking the Lord to instill in us a renewed joy for the beauty of His creation. I envisioned hikes and strolls and climbs and campouts.

I did not envision sewage drains. That is, until today.

Yesterday while Drew and Bethie were out front shooting hoops, the ball rolled toward a street drain. Drew chased after it, but was brought to a halt when he heard chirps coming from under the street. He peered into the grate, and there floating among the flotsam, were three little ducklings. Bethie was instantly at his side, her plans for the future quickly escalating. By the time Jamie and I were able to get to them, it had grown dark and the ducklings had waddled forlornly back into the drain pipe. We decided to leave them for the night and attempt a rescue first thing in the morning.

Never have I see the girls jump out of bed as easily as they did this morning. Throwing a sweatshirt on over her pajamas, Little Miss grabbed a bucket and towel while Bethie took hold of our makeshift net. They ran toward the drain, but grew suddenly alarmed to see that a cat was peering eagerly through the slats. They shooed, dropped to their knees, and breathed a sigh of relief to see that all three had made it through the night.

Jamie had already left for work, so it was up to me to lift the grate. (Those puppies are heavy.) The ruckus frightened the poor things, and they slipped right back into the pipe. We waited quietly, eagerly, and finally they emerged. Bethie scooped them up one by one, handing them off to Little Miss who was ready with a warm towel and bright eyes.

Because there were no parental mallards in sight, we made a simple little home for them, Drew googling "how to care for wild ducklings," and the others fetching supplies. Certain supplies, such as duck food, were a bit more difficult to fetch. But there just happens to be a feed store about a mile from our home, so I gave them a jingle to find out what we should do. He recommended the chick starter and we made our way to the Thrifty Feed.

By "made our way," I mean that Bethie and I walked. It was a delightful morning, and we didn't mind one bit that Jamie had the car for the day. After arriving at the store, we found our food and started to check out, but were informed that I could only use my card on a purchase of $5.00 or more. We had spied some tomato plants on our way in, so we added a couple to our total and went on our way. And thus it was that Bethie and I strolled down 40th with two tomato plants, four pounds of duck food and silly, spring-drunk grins on our faces.

Our day has been spent delighting in wee chirps and the feel of soft downy feathers. (The chirps subsided substantially once they'd been fed, poor little things.)

Of course they were named almost instantly, and not much (formal) education took place today.

But we are learning. Yes, we are learning that God hears us, that He delights in us, that His creation is glorious, and that caring for three little ducklings is a mighty fine way to celebrate spring.
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Saturday, April 20, 2013

{Between Books}

The other day, Aidan slowly walked up to me with his bottom lip protruding and buried his head in my shoulder. I cupped his chin, tipped his head and said, knowingly, "You finished your book, didn't you?" He nodded yes. But then I smiled as I reminded him of the next volume, "There's more!" That was all it took, and he was off, eager for more delights on the mountain.

Oh, I know that strange pang that grows with the approaching end of a book. I read quickly because I want to know what's next, but then I slow down and savor because I don't want it to end quite yet. All too soon the book is done and I find myself floundering, disoriented. I want more of the same (assuming it's a good book) but I don't know how to leave the characters I've grown to love.

Claude Monet

The other day I found myself between books. I had just finished The Shepherd of the Hills. I am also reading Heidi to Avery, so I've been in a very nature-ish mood when it comes to reading. I longed for more of that, but wasn't sure where to turn.

Should I take a tangent and explore something completely different? Should I re-read a favorite like Emily of New Moon? Oh, the agony of decision. And then, out of the blue, it hit me. I needed to read The Yearling. It was the strangest, most unaccounted for impulse. Never have I felt a strong desire to read it. (Well, I suppose that's not entirely true because I found it at a book sale long ago, bought it and tucked it away on the bookshelf for "someday.")

Turned out that "someday" had come. I climbed on a chair to reach the old volume which had labored through the years to develop that warm, inviting old-bookish scent which Little Miss simply adores. (This child does have her moments of perfection.) Snuggling under a blanket I began, and quickly found myself swept into the beauty of Rawlings' vivid, rich description of a Florida wilderness I'd never even thought about. I found my mind expanding with new thoughts and ideas just as Jody's own character grew and developed.

I felt an aching twinge of fellowship with Jody as he explored the woods in that first chapter, marveling at the beauty of creation and the swelling, pulsing birth of spring:

A mark was on him from the day's delight, so that all his life, when April was a thin green and the flavor of rain was on his tongue, an old wound would throb and a nostalgia would fill him for something he could not quite remember.

Oh, I know that ache, that throb for the something I cannot quite remember. Occasionally I catch glimpses of it. A scent on the wind reminds me. A flash of rainbow lightning surprises me out of the darkness. I carry on a brief conversation with a chickadee who, I like to think, assumes I'm another little chickadee. We chirp together and I marvel.

I grasp and yearn and crave, yet the complete picture of beauty is just beyond my reach. And then I remind myself that this feels familiar for a reason. I am made for this. I am made to find delight in beauty and complete satisfaction in the Creator of beauty. Like Jody, a mark is on me: I am chosen, chosen for beauty, chosen for God's glory. Therefore, in order to find complete fulfillment, I must remember. I must remember to keep my hand nestled in my Creator's hand. I must remember that His ways are pleasant and His paths are peace. 

When I stray, I'm restless, floundering -- between books, if you will. I forget the remembering and I'm left with a throb of nostalgia for something I can't quite put my finger on. Until I return. Then I bury my head in my Savior's shoulder and He cups my chin, tilts my head and gently reminds me: There's more, honey. There's more! My eyes glisten with hope, and I remember.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

{Dancing in the Light}

This morning when I woke up, the sun lavished its dazzling promises through our loft windows. I inwardly grinned (it's hard for me to outwardly grin first thing in the morning), thankful that the day was starting on such a good note. I snuggled on my pillow and propped my Bible up on Jamie's so I could read while he got ready for the day.

Again, I found myself lingering over one verse in particular:

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1

How easy it is to choose the harsh when I know full well that gentleness is always the answer! I tucked the reminder in my heart and began my day, only to be reminded of yet another promise. As I walked out of our room, I was met with a very familiar sight, one that always thrilled me as a child. The morning sun, when it hits our house just so, streams through the peep-hole in the front door and casts a small circle of rainbow-light at the end of the hallway. 

Jessie Wilcox Smith

I used to dance in that light, like a fairy caught up in a magical swirl of color. My brother and sister and I would giggle when we could catch the vibrant circle on each other as we jumped in front of the rainbow and away again. We could never hold it, but if we were very still, we could momentarily cup it in our hands.

This morning, as I see the color slipping away with the measurable march of time, I'm reminded to hold on to the promises of this day. I know that I will struggle with gentle answers and that my children will do the same. (Especially when, oh, say, my child approaches the computer with puffed out cheeks and I squeeze the cute things, not at all expecting her mouth to be full of tea.) But I also know that we have a Friend who sticks closer than a brother and not only does that Brother dance in the light, He created it. Because of this, we can let our gentleness be evident to all -- the Lord is near (Phil. 4:5). He speaks truth and life and light into our spirits, enabling us to speak with His accent, with His gentleness.

One day we will really, truly hear His voice. But in the mean time -- today -- we have His Word and we have the ability to convey His gentleness in word and deed. May it be evident to all as we dance in the glorious light of His love.   
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Saturday, April 13, 2013

{From the Journal: The Wise Woman Builds}

In my last post I mentioned that I've been working my way through the Psalms and Proverbs this month. It's been quite a feast, I tell you. There is so much going on here.

One of the methods I've used lately in studying my Bible is simple yet meaningful. Although I'm reading through the Bible from beginning to end, my goal this time around has been quality over quantity. In other words, sometimes I read just a chapter or two and really mull it over, and other times I swallow several pages in one gulp. Either way I've feasted and come away feeling satisfied and blessed. 

After I've read, I go back over the verse or verses that really jumped out at me, comparing them in different versions. (I'm currently reading the NIV but refer often to my well worn NAS, which has been marked by my hand since I received it at age twelve.) I then jot that verse down in my journal and the scribbling begins. It's amazing what can come from one verse. I pray over that verse, around that verse, with that verse, through that verse (forgive me -- Aidan and Avery are studying prepositions) and ask the Lord to teach me.

Yesterday I read Proverbs 14, but didn't get very far. In fact the very first line stopped me in my tracks:

The wise woman builds her house . . .

My mind did the pinball thing, and I realized how much was packed into these six words. It was both inspiring and daunting. When I picture a wise woman building her house (and naturally I want to be that wise woman) I think of my dad's days in construction. Building requires a number of things, but this is what I came up with when thinking about how we women can build our own homes.

Walter Langley: Mother Love (As shared over at I Take Joy)

1. Building takes time. Building is a process, not something that just happens. We must continue to nurture our children, to build them up, to train them, to love them . . . forever. This verse is written in the present tense. A wise woman builds. It's an ongoing project.

2. Building takes patience. Because it takes time, and because we (and those for whom we care) are flawed, we need a whole lot of patience to make this thing work. Again, it's an ongoing process.

3. Building takes effort. There's so much emphasis today on "taking care of yourself." Of course I understand that it's wise and necessary to take time to refuel and to make sure that our tank is able to efficiently run. Please do that! But parenting requires sacrifice, too. Years ago I heard a wise, godly woman in our church break mothering down into the simplest terms: "It's my life or theirs." Daily we have to choose, which isn't always easy. However, we have the comfort and example of knowing what our Lord chose while He walked this earth. Thank God He did -- and His spirit ministers to us as we, too, make little (and big) sacrifices throughout our day.

4. Building is most successful when the builder follows a blueprint. You'll forgive the obvious analogy, but unless the Lord is building our house, dear mothers, we are laboring in vain. His Word is our infallible blueprint and it contains all we need for life and godliness. We don't need scores of parenting books, we need wisdom. God's Word and Spirit are ready to provide it to willing hearts and ready hands.

5. Building is rewarding. Building is exciting because we can see things take shape right in front of our eyes. We can see our plans coming to fruition and, if we've received them from the Lord, they will turn out so much more beautifully than we expected. Again, it takes time and patience, but the shaping does happen. 

When my children were learning to speak, we used simple sign language to help them communicate their basic needs. One of the first phrases they learned to sign was thank you. (I see gratitude as an essential need!) It was so cute to see their little hands extend from their mouth forward as they attempted to say thank you through out the day. They all caught on pretty well, but even after they had the speaking part down pat I realized that little people still needed to be reminded to express gratitude to others. It seemed as though I was forever gesturing to them with my own signs, reminding them to say thank you

But I know now that that's a part of the patience required in building. The teaching and building is continual. It takes time to teach not only the "signs" our children need to use throughout their lives, but it also takes time to teach them when and how and that they must do so with perseverance. 

A few years ago we were at the beach, and Aidan was digging a hole with a pathetic little plastic shovel. He wasn't making much progress, and a man nearby offered the use of his metal shovel. I caught Aidan's eye and made the quick sign for thanks as a reminder to him, and he immediately turned to the man and said, "Thank you!" 

At first I found myself wishing that he had thought to say it on his own, but then I realized that we were building together. It became a beautiful moment where I was seeing firsthand the rewards of our work: He knew to look to me for guidance, he understood my hasty sign, he responded right away and was blessed because of it.

And so we mamas continue to build our homes. It can be hard, sweaty work that requires lots of hours and tears, and sometimes we'll see days go by with little reward. But if we keep the blueprint before us, we'll know that we're right where we're supposed to be, doing exactly what we're supposed to be doing. Our homes will grow and take shape, and we'll marvel at how the Lord delights in using a mama's willing hands to accomplish His glorious work.
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

{A Lot of Jesus}

This afternoon Bethie was skipping around the house singing, "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart!" (I love it that she still skips.) I think she was revisiting old piano music, and it just got stuck in her head. I laughed as she zipped through the kitchen, because that song always brings me back several years. Little Bethie, notorious for mixing up or misunderstanding words, thought the line, "I've got the love of Jesus in my heart," was really, "I've got a lot of Jesus in my heart."

Jessie Wilcox Smith

As I've been reading my way through Psalms and Proverbs this month, I'm realizing that Little Bethie was actually spot on. When we have Jesus, we have a lot of Jesus. This is above and beyond anything we could ask for. More precious than silver or gold or anything they could possibly buy. His whole person -- His love, His beauty, His inheritance, His wisdom, His joy -- none of it does He withhold from His family.

We have a lot of Jesus in our hearts, friends. And that changes everything. It changes how we react to cranky kids, it changes how we speak to one another, it changes how we spend our time and money, it changes where we place our hope and where we find our peace. It changes it all for good, for life.

Now, doesn't that make you want to skip around the house, too?  
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Friday, April 5, 2013

{Paths of Peace}

A few weeks ago my sister casually mentioned that she was stepping back from facebook for a while. As she did so, I quickly noticed that, without her voice in my little facebook community, the banter was just . . . different. I missed her sparkly little quips and the lively friends who stepped in to comment on her antics. I didn't quite know what to do with this.  

Enter Lent. I soon found myself thinking, "Maybe I should ease off a bit, too. Focus on other things, you know." I didn't make a proclamation or even develop a hardcore plan. I just altered a few notifications so that I would pretty much just see if anyone had tried to send me a message or if my extended family had any fun pictures or updates to share.

I expected to have more time on my hands as a result, and I did. What I didn't expect was that my brain would calm down, too. There were fewer images flashing across my mind throughout the day, fewer details about other peoples' lives to log, and fewer chances to be distracted by my own perceived inadequacy.

Because social media is so quickly developing, I sometimes feel (especially while raising children) that we're caught in a turbulent storm of information, and it's not always clear when to say "yes" and when to say "no." I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in this.

Lately I've seen several articles written about the dangers of portraying our "half truths" to the world, especially on facebook. (Even here we're caught up in self: the whole world wants to know about me!) It can be harmful to us and harmful to others. As Shauna Niequist shares in a recent post, Stop Instagramming Your Perfect Life,

"Seeing the best possible, often-unrealistic, half-truth version of other peoples’ lives isn’t 
the only danger of the Internet. Our envy buttons also get pushed because we rarely check Facebook when we’re having our own peak experiences. We check it when we’re bored and when we’re 
lonely, and it intensifies that boredom and loneliness."

Sound familiar? 

Not only that, but we can be downright mean. The internet (and facebook in particular) gives us a chance to spout out any information we want without being accountable. Again I appreciate a post written by Heidi St. John who warns,

The Internet has provided a new generation with the opportunity to practice a brand new 
form of passive/aggressive behavior—simply using vague, online hints.

We're also far too ready to jump to conclusions about others in an attempt to assuage our own feelings of guilt or to elevate our personal choices. (Check out Dear Mom on the iPhone, I Get It.)

This swirling, whirling information has caused me to wonder: What if we were to vow with one another to share only the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? If we did that, I would tell you that I'm sitting here in the messy school room with weird hair and no makeup on. I'm not sure yet what we're doing for dinner, and I really need to figure that out. My kids have been squabbling over whose turn it is to play the ukulele, and they've been playing the Wii for far too long today. It's pouring down rain and, as much as I love it, I find myself fighting depression when it gets too gray. I haven't exercised regularly this week, I've eaten too much sugar, and I have a to-do list that still has plenty of to-doing to be done.

But I can also tell you another truth. I can tell you that whenever I let my brain have a rest from social media, it leaves room for other voices. Voices like those of my husband, my children, and my God. This morning I was reading Proverbs, and I was drawn once again to the desire to seek wisdom. In fact, while still in my bathrobe, I grabbed a piece of chalk and scribbled a charge to my family on the kitchen chalkboard:

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding . . . 
[wisdom's] ways are pleasant, and all her paths are peace.
Proverbs 3:13&17

Did you catch that? The way of wisdom is pleasant and peaceful. This means that when we are quieting our minds before the Lord, He will share with our hearts when we need to say "yes" and when we need to say "no." In the listening, acknowledging and obeying, we will find peace. Peace in our minds, peace in our homes and even peace as we portray the truth to others, both through the internet and in real life.

I'm going to be honest. I like blogging and I like facebook. But I want to be sure that I'm using them as tools of peace in my own life and, so far as it depends on me, in the lives of others. Sometimes that will mean stepping back for a while, sometimes that will mean publicly sharing what's on my heart, and sometimes that will mean shutting down my computer and playing with the kids. Each choice has the potential to bring peace, and each choice has the potential to bring glory to my Creator. My prayer is that I heed the words of Solomon and choose wisely.

Blessings to you, my dear readers. I so appreciate you. I enjoy hearing from you, both here and via facebook, and I'm thankful that we get to share "real" together. Have a pleasant, peace-filled weekend, my friends.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

{Once Upon a Time}

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Drew. He had many charming hobbies, such as lining up matchbox cars with precision, pointing out dozens of countries on the globe, and reading -- and memorizing -- his favorite books. He often referred to his mom as "Mother Bear," which only added to the charm of this little man.

He spent his days studying birds (while wearing the bird identification guide at Papa and Noni's house to shreds), observing the routine of the garbage, recycling and yard debris trucks (which often included sleeping with Waste Management pamphlets) and soaking in the world of Thomas the Tank Engine (which meant that *everyone* in his family received a new Thomas-related name).

Another favorite hobby of his was to watch the airplanes come in at the airport or the "mighty machines" work their magic at construction sites. His mom would pack a sack lunch and drive down to the airport or the nearest excavation site where they would sit and watch the machines for hours and hours.

One day, while looking through his favorite animal encyclopedia, Drew decided that he would faithfully work his way from beginning to end, dressing up as each animal for Halloween, one animal per year. He began with "Aardvark" and fully intended to appear as a "Zebra" by the time he was in his 100s (but probably older).

As he grew, it didn't take long for him to realize that it wasn't very realistic to stick with that plan. He pursued other interests and gradually shed matchbox cars, Thomas characters and Aardvark enthusiasm in favor of hobbies such as basketball, writing and video production. He no longer referred to his mom as "Mother Bear," but he continued to care for her and his siblings in many other endearing ways.

Time marched on, and before he knew it, little Drew had become a young man. He turned fifteen, which had once meant that he would be preparing a "Badger" costume for the next Halloween. Of course by this time he no longer held such dreams. Instead he was anticipating driver's ed, joining friends at the gym to shoot hoops, visiting the orthodontist, attending youth group, writing video scripts and working out college plans and career dreams.

There were times when, as he slept, his mother blessed him while fondly looking back on the "Mother Bear" and "Thomas" days with just a twinge of longing. To hear that little voice call her name, to see those blue eyes sparkle as the fire engine roared by, to see those dimpled hands line up matchbox cars once again.

But in waking, as he put his arms across her shoulders and offered to make tea, mow the lawn or tend to a sibling, she knew that this was right. This growing up business was good and beautiful and fascinating, and God had great plans for this young man. And so Mother Bear would continue to hope, watch and pray, realizing that swapping matchbox cars for the unknown is called faith, that trading Thomas engines for the future is called trust, and that exchanging excavators for eternity is called love. 

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