Thursday, March 27, 2014

{The Trip, Part Five: Germany}

Shall we hop on over to Europe again for a few minutes? After our glorious day in Salzburg, Austria, we took another day trip over the border to Berchtesgaden, Germany. Our first goal was to find a "Maria hill" upon which we could twirl.

Johnny scanned the map and found an area that was pretty close to the original. We pulled the car off to the side of the little country road (I'm rather fond of little country roads) and scrambled out, ready to twirl. My sister and I grew up looking out the car windows for Maria hills. We'd point and say, "That's a good twirling hill!" And we'd picture ourselves in our dresses, twirling and singing, twirling and singing.

Well, we found ourselves a mighty good twirling hill. We twirled. And we sang. "The hills are alive! Ah-ah-ah-ah!!!"

And then Johnny whipped out Kinsley's kite and a sob caught in my throat at the beauty of that perfect moment. I wanted to freeze time. We all did. It was tangible. The majestic Alps in the distance. The lush grass beneath our feet. The dazzling blue sky overhead, the sun warming the earth, the memories behind us and the memories that we knew would be made in the days to come.

The wind danced through Kinsley's hair, the kite surrendered itself to the breeze and leapt into the sky. Suspended perfection, a moment that planted itself in our hearts. And only silent worship seemed fitting.

Silence doesn't last forever, and we eventually tucked the memory and the kite away and headed toward our next destination.

Which happened to be a grocery store. Rather prosaic, I'm afraid, but we were hungry. So we grabbed some pretzels and cheese because it just seemed like The Right Thing to Do When in Germany.

Our ultimate destination was Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Thankfully, we caught the last tour bus. Not so thankfully, our driver seemed to be a bit . . . rushed. I was grateful for both a bar and my sister to hold on to (and Altoids to munch) as we charged violently up that winding mountain. Nevertheless, I took in my surroundings and couldn't shake the somber eeriness of what we were experiencing. Treading the ground where Hitler and his men once walked. Following the path he would have followed. Glancing at the stone structures he would have admired.

We finally (and safely) reached the top. The view was breathtaking. We were among the highest peaks in the Alps, with Salzburg and the surrounding towns and villages lying far beneath us in the distance. (Krista noticed the peak on the map called "Untersberg" which we recognized from The Sound of Music: "The Untersberg kept leading me higher and higher, as if it wanted me to go right through the clouds with it . . ." We knew that feeling.)

The Eagle's Nest itself, which was built by Hitler's men as a gift for his 50th birthday, sits among the weather-beaten evergreens overlooking the valley. Unfortunately we weren't able to tour most of the inside, but the location certainly left us aware of the reality that Hitler admired perfection and desired to reign from on high.

A memorial cross wreathed in edelweiss stands quietly on one of the highest points.

Krista and I stood for a picture, but I hesitated before Brooke snapped the shot. "Do we smile? Is it appropriate to smile?" Brooke didn't bat a lash. "Yes! We smile because we won!"

And, even more than that, true Beauty and true Perfection have already won and will indeed reign on high. For eternity. So we smiled.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

{Tuesday Tip: Clean Your Room}

At the risk of sounding like your mother, I bring you today's Tuesday Tip: Clean your room! Now, before you scowl and stomp your foot, let me explain.

We all know the benefits of having a tidy bedroom, especially at the end of the day when we crawl into bed. The lack of clutter frees our minds to rest more peacefully, and waking up to a clean slate is much more welcoming than being faced with last night's laundry.

But I want to share with you another benefit. When I was growing up, my mom cleaned the house every Monday. I can still remember her donning those blue sweats and an old T-shirt, filling the bucket with Pine-sol and attacking every germ like Wonder Woman. (She even had a way of making it look fun.) After a few hours the house sparkled, at which point we would promptly spread our fingerprints and kid germs all over the place. (Such is life.)

When I became the mom, I quickly realized that I couldn't attack the house in one day. (Homeschooling can be limiting, let me tell you.) So I spread out the tasks over the course of the week. I also realized that I have the most time and energy on Mondays, in addition to the fact that we don't have any commitments outside of the home. Therefore, that's when I take care of the most important job: cleaning my room.

Why is it so important? Because my marriage is important. By taking care of this "chore" right away in my week, I'm giving it priority. If I only have the time or energy to complete one task that week, I want it to be our bedroom. Because that's our haven, that's our place of peace and rest. I want to nurture it, tend to it, and not let it become neglected because no one else really sees it or hangs out in there anyway. It represents much more than just a tidy space.

Now, hear me: This doesn't mean that our room is always perfect. Heavens, no. I have two brown paper bags full of the girls' clothes sitting in the corner right now, waiting to be stored or donated. I have a stack of papers to organize, and Jamie's video equipment has a way of . . . sprawling. (I finally removed the helicopter from the dresser.)

But rather than let what I can't do overwhelm me, I try to do what I can, letting the principle of this ministry motivate me. My Monday cleaning routine usually involves changing the sheets, dusting, vacuuming and emptying the garbage. Sometimes I'm able to accomplish it all at once, and sometimes I do it in spurts. (Like when the kids are doing math and we decide to race each other: "You finish five problems and I'll get the sheets in the wash! Let's see who can be done first! Ready? Set? Go!")

By the end of the day, our cozy space is welcoming, and my week begins with the knowledge that I've spent my time well, representative of my desire to keep my most important relationship first.    

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Friday, March 21, 2014

{So You're Forty Today}

So you're forty today. And you know what? It looks good on you. Decades ago, when I was just a little slip of a girl in Keds and you were that mysteriously intriguing boy in high tops, I never would have guessed that I'd be sitting here, writing to you today. It would have bowled me over to even consider that we'd grow up, get married and talk about being forty, our own kids being the ages we were when I first took a shy glance your way.

I've continued to glance your way for almost thirty years now, and I'll say it again: forty looks good on you. Yeah, you've always had that confident grin that melts me and a sense of humor that makes my sides ache, but I'm talking about something else. I'm talking about the beauty that comes when two people grow up together, hang out in their teens, marry when they're super young and don't think it's at all unusual.

Because those are the kids-turned-adult that actually get to see what forty means. They watched it happen, they watched it become.

I see it in the grey streaks you've earned over the years. Years of joy and ache, every streak tells a story. This patch, just above your ear? I'm pretty sure you developed those flecks when you rushed our Bethie to the hospital, her tiny toddler body gasping for breath. It was croup, and oh, how my heart found rest when I later heard your reassuring voice on the phone. Or perhaps the grey made its way during the graveyard shift you took to support your young family and a wife who was still in college.

This grey streak? Probably the year you started your own business and worked yourself to the bone to make it work. You didn't give up. You fought for your passion and it worked. This grey is most likely from the year our basement flooded (yeah, we laugh now), and you and I spent an entire night trying to keep the water from destroying our home. It worked. Our home wasn't destroyed.

Our homes have never been destroyed.

That's why forty looks good. Because forty works hard and loves like mad and remembers what it was like to work dead-end jobs at 3:00 a.m. and empty the coin jar to buy diapers for the baby and a bag of pasta for dinner. Forty has learned how to really build a home, not destroy it. Forty has earned that grey. And it looks good.

I see the lines around your eyes. You've earned those, too. And yeah, they look good. They remind me of the way you laugh with your brothers about sending your little brother down the stairs in the rocking chair. The story makes us laugh every time. Or the laughter around the campfire when you tell Moscow Pie and we can't wait to hear the ending (even though we already know it), and the way you Lawsons can make a game of cards (or jacks or horseshoes) both fierce and hilarious.    

And they remind me of the way your face lights up when you talk about your kids. Our kids. You would light up when little Drew used to point out over a hundred countries on the world map and we were sure he was the most brilliant child to ever live. He gave us all Thomas the Tank Engine names (I was James and you were Duncan) and planned to dress up every Halloween as a different animal from his encyclopedia. Starting with Aardvark. 

Your eyes crinkled with laughter at my horror when Bethie chopped off her hair and the three-year-old chided, "Mom, it's only hair!" You beamed as she flitted about in her leotard, tutus and tiaras with her rosy cheeks and big blue eyes that had a way of going straight to your heart. 

They light up when you tell the story of racing me to the hospital (you still won't tell me how fast we were going), hoping to make it in time. The story continues to unfold and your eyes shine brighter when you get to the part about those nurses just not believing that I was really that close. I was. And Aidan was born three minutes later.

Your eyes dance every time Avery walks into the room, her defiant chin jutting forward, eyebrows raised (likely wearing a feather boa and sunglasses) saying, "Artists can get away with anything!" You're up for the challenge (because you know you were one, too), and you help her make tin can stilts so she can stomp around the house like Ramona Quimby shouting, "Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall."

I remember when our parents and their friends were turning forty. They had parties and decorated with black and laughed about that hill and how they were goin' over it. I believed it. I thought they really were old and that's what it would mean to be forty. But I know better now. All those years before forty? Those are really just the prelude. Those are the years that get us ready to be who we are. The years that prepare us to be okay with the grey, okay with the wrinkles around our eyes, okay with the fact that we just can't keep up with the twenty-somethings anymore.

Those are the years around which we set up stones of remembrance. They point, again and again, to God's faithfulness. And that remembering, that steady faithfulness, gives us confidence in who we are. In who God has made us to be. It's that confidence which allows you to hop over the ocean to join my brother in Slovenia because you're passionate about reaching students through video ministry.

It's that confidence that burns in your heart until you can't stand it any more and you just have to find a way to teach God's Word again. It's that confidence which jumps at opportunities to join a poet in ministry who is crazy about his God, and it's the same force that will send you to Haiti next month. We look back and we look ahead, and we have confidence. Not because of who we are, but because of who Christ is in us.

So yeah. You're turning forty today. And when I stroke those grey streaks around your temples and kiss the corners of your eyes and tell you I love you, it's because forty looks good on you. And I could give you a thousand reasons why.    

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

{Tuesday Tip: Basket Books}

Every once in a while I think of a little routine or habit that our family has practiced, and it occurred to me that some of you mamas out there might benefit from our trials and errors, bumps and bruises along the way! Some ideas fail miserably (like the time I chopped off Bethie's hair), and some ideas actually work (like having a designated dinner helper). My Tuesday Tip posts will mostly focus on those that work . . . although I'm not opposed to revealing my failings as well.

Today's tip -- surprise, surprise -- involves books. Ever since my kids were able to hold a book, I've made it a point to visit the library as often as possible. When they were really little, we took part in the weekly story time at the Camas Public Library.  Because we homeschooled, it was important for me to find opportunities like this for my kids to participate in structured activities with other children, and it further instilled in them a love and appreciation for public libraries.

Aidan in the lovely Camas library courtyard . . . about five years ago!

One of the highlights in each of my kids' lives was the day when they were old enough to get their own library card. This usually happened around first grade, and it became a right of passage. Oh, what joy to see them carefully write out their name in black Sharpie on their very own card! Their backpacks and cards ready, they hit the shelves. The only "rule" was that they had to be able to carry any books they wanted to check out. Accordingly, they stuffed their bags to the gills.

My kiddos with "The Cousins" at the new downtown library a few years ago.

As they grew, I began to incorporate other "rules" during our library visits. When I noticed that they were becoming too narrow in their focus, rather than telling them that they couldn't choose certain books (although there's sometimes a place for that), I told them that they needed to find books from a variety of sections. This way they were encouraged to explore the many beautiful picture books that weren't necessarily fiction. From poetry and science to mathematics and history, their minds began to expand.

My kids usually make all of their own book selections these days, but in an effort to continue to challenge their minds with wholesome variety, I've set aside a specific place for my very own selections. It's simply a basket in the school room, and it contains the books that I've chosen for them during our most recent trip to the library. I comb the shelves for variety, beauty and age -- those books which have stood the test of time and continue to remain in print. I look for the authors we've grown to love, the illustrations that captivate, and the biographies of people I want my children to know.

The basket sits temptingly in view, and every once in a while (often during school hours) I'll say to Aidan and Avery, "Okay! Time to choose a basket book!" They see it as a mini recess during which they can escape with a gem for a few minutes. Sometimes they prefer to read alone, each choosing a separate book, and sometimes they read together. Aidan gravitates toward the science finds, while Avery often grabs biographies or fairy tales. I gravitate toward the dishes or laundry for those few minutes, thankful that my kids' minds are being stretched and challenged in a way that they see as pure fun.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

{When Mom Bakes a Cake}

When mom bakes a cake, 'tis the most marvelous thing:
When mom bakes a cake, the house becomes clean!

The children, they whisk their belongings in place,
While mom whisks the flour with a smile on her face.

They hustle and bustle 'midst the chocolate aroma,
And mom's lovin' the shape of their sweet, cozy home -- a

More efficient solution she has yet to find,
Than working so diligently with that cake in mind.

So if you have some kiddos and a house that needs fixin',
Just grab those ingredients and commence with the mixin'!

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

{Take Joy}

Yesterday afternoon during the kids' piano lessons, the sun beckoned so temptingly that I was eager to take a walk to the nearby park and back. I'm in a season of life where it's rare for me to find solitude, and at times the noise -- even of just two or three little ones -- presses down so that I can hardly think. So a quiet, thirty minute jaunt through neighborhoods and park trails is often the medicine I need to regroup and refresh.

As I walked, I found myself listening closely to the sounds around me. The rustling grasses, the individual songs of various birds, the distant hum of a lawn mower, the small child attempting to guide his soccer ball down the trail (and assuring me it was okay for me to kick it back to him). There's a reason why the poets wax eloquent when spring is in the air. Life stirs and we humans think new thoughts and pursue new dreams (or revive the old ones) and anything seems possible.

While listening, I realized how easy it is to slip into the habit of forgetfulness. Forgetting to listen, forgetting to walk, forgetting to find joy in kicking a soccer ball to a little preschool boy. Winter can do that. But part of that comes with forgetting how to count. A friend recently shared that her mother had reached over 6,000 blessings in her gratitude journal. I was awed and inspired, and it made me remember. It made me remember that I had forgotten, once again, to seek joy.

My journal came out again. Even with the noise pressing in around me, I forced myself to pull back the veil and look for the blessings.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow.
Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
Take Joy!
~Fra Giovanni 

This morning I was in Luke 23, which chronicles Jesus' journey to the cross. I've read it many times, but this time around, I noticed something new. (Isn't Scripture amazing that way?) Verse 56 simply mentions the actions of the women who had been following Jesus:

Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes.
But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

I broke down the verses and found the beauty in the women's actions. They were in a state of grief over Jesus' death, and yet they were both active and obedient. They did what we women know so well: they went home and prepared. Don't we spend hours and hours doing that very thing, no matter what is going on around us? No matter how difficult the day (or week, or month, or year), we know that our homes are a haven in which we have much to prepare. We have the preparation of food, children, laundry, homes . . . we are constantly preparing. What if . . . just what if we were to let that preparation rise as an offering to Jesus? What if we prepared our homes as the women prepared spices and perfumes: as a fragrant offering, filled with love and deep gratitude?

And then, even in their grief, the women didn't forget: they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. They didn't let the preparations take over. They knew how to find peace in the rhythm of time -- indeed they knew it was essential -- for there is a time for everything.

There is a time to prepare, there is a time to rest. And there is always the time to count both . . . as joy. 

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