Dec 21, 2013

Where it all intermingles

It seems as this Christmas season ticks away, there seems to be swirling around me in different waves, moments of joy and moments of sorrow.  I place the creche up on my carefully decorated mantle, and carefully fill out my Christmas cards. As I fill them out, I am overwhelmed by the bountiful blessings of friendships that have poured into my life over the years. Many cards bring memories of laughter. Many cards are going to friends and family who have grief and sorrow swirling around them this season. My heart is heavy as I address some and wonder how this Christmas season is feeling for them.  Then my daughter calls and I get a silly little delightful moment with my middle child, who is writing Lizzle the elf a note, leaving me smiling at her innocence and sighing that it is passing.  Knowing that there is no sure thing in this life.  So I collect this moment with Ainsley as a precious bead on a string of happiness to be pulled out and treasured in other times.  Joy and sorrow.  Little precious moments butt up in contrast against tough monumental life struggles.

It seems to me that joy and sorrow do meet often and that they are strongest when they do.  The line between them at times seems so thin it's like a screen door, full of holes, where the air between them mingles and intersects.  The warmth from inside feels much warmer in contrast with the clear, cold blast from out of doors.  A taste of sorrow intensifies the warmth of joy when it comes.  And sometimes the air is so intermingled, you can't pull them apart or tell when one starts and one stops.

Mary must have felt that way as an unwed girl, laboring in a cattle stall, having a Son who is God, in poverty, having rough shepherds crash in on you during the night to talk about angels, and later, having kings visit with lavish gifts only to have to flee that night with your toddler across the desert.  Joy, pain, poverty, suffering, hope, chaos, love and wonder.  No wonder in Luke 2, it says of Mary that she treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart.
I ponder these things as well.
I wonder did Mary's joy and sorrow ever feel as if the separation between them was a solid as a heavy door rather than a screen?  Did seeing her son on the cross feel like being cut off from the source of joy?  Did she cling to the promise of hope and moments of wonder when the pathway to joy seemed to be slamming shut?  When Jesus's ministry years where spent rather opposite of what she had thought she had raised Him for, Mary and her other sons were embarrassed and tried to get Him to come home - and He publicly refused.  Did hope and joy mingle with confusion and pain?
And I ponder these things as well.
Do I limit God in my search for joy?  Do I miss that He is always at work?  Do I cling to Him when I cannot see?  
I do not blame Mary if she had these thoughts at all.  I want to be like her.  I want to ponder, treasure and seize the little moments of joy and let them be sacred in their smallness.  Small pinpricks of warmth breaking into the cold, until the door is flung wide open and you are enveloped in it.  Sometimes joy is like that I think.  Sometimes it rushes in, and at other times, it's barely pinpricks into the darkness to remind us that joy and hope are just on the other side and closer than we think.  "Smallness" versus "bigness" don't seem to have a place in God's vastness.  To the Giver they are the same.  Therefore, the bigness of the sorrow does not make a small joy flippant or irreverent, rather it is a pinprick to be cherished.  A hope to cling to, a promise of more to come.
Like tiny little pinpricks of Christmas lights flung celebratory into the darkness.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Dec 20, 2013


I mentioned in my last post that I broke out all the decor for Christmas in readiness for the Savior.  We celebrate around here!  However, our "extravagant" decor is done with hand-me-downs, handmade kid crafts and nothing too expensively over the top.  But we make sure the season is special with every corner of our house welcoming the Savior.  I'll open up the front door to you and let you step in and see our little decor we have around.

This how we welcome Christmas into our lives each year:
I have verses posted year round above my shelf over my couch.  With the blackboard doing double duty as a star, I thought it would be fun to post verses from John 1, speaking of Jesus coming as the light for men, full of grace and truth.
I just got this canvas this year to put in my entryway.  I'm pretty super in love with it.  This is my kid's very favorite Christmas verse and we say it every night of advent (though this year we have also added in reciting Luke 2).  Ainsley was heard to quote at the beginning of the season, "And He shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Quiche."  We've got her straightened out now though - that being a Prince of Peace is much better.
I have a lot of stockings collected over the years so the kids picked out their favorites and I made little tags so we knew who was who.
Christmas kid's books abound in baskets that get pulled out at Christmas.  We have been working our way through them.

Here is our main living space.  Not fancy by any means, but kid friendly with Christmas cheer to the max.  I may or may not have picked a leaning tree this year.  No matter which angle we look at it, it appears to be leaning a different direction.  The poor saggy thing is struggling to support my tin angel. But hey! Bright lights, ornaments galore, wood beaded garland and red icicles can hide a mulitude of problems.
If you turned right around from the above picture, you would see my front kitchen windows.  Burlap, gingham, lace, polka dots... aww happiness.
We drink coffee every morning and hot chocolate often makes an appearance during school time for the kids.  Banish the everyday mugs, bring out the Christmas cheer! How about some marshmallows and a striped straw to go with it?
My desk.  My perpetually messy desk next to the kitchen table.  The dumping ground for all paper that comes into the house.  The place where the laptop lives while we do school in the morning.  It's right smack dab in the middle of our living space.  Therefore, it has to be pretty too!
Why does this little wooden bird and this sweater bird house make me so happy?
I just stuck this right on an old vintage globe for the holiday season and tied on some baker's twine.  It's supposed to be tape that peels easily up.  Here's to hoping that's true when the season is over....
If you send us a card, we'll display it next to my aprons hanging with Santa hats on a clothesline.  To the right is our school command center.
The centerpiece.  That napkin holder is two stands found in the dollar spot at Target and glued together.  How about that jolly vintage snowman tin plate?
Tessa is bound and determined to lose every stinking piece in this Nativity set this year.  The lid comes off the stable and they set in there.  She is often mixing it with our Veggie Tale nativity set.  Which is totally fine because we keep losing one or both of the baby Jesus' so it puts the odds more in our favor that we will have at least one at any given time.  We never seem to have two so it works.
This is our Jesse advent tree.  We are reading through the Old Testament to find out how the stories point to Jesus.  Each story has a corresponding ornament until Christmas day when He arrives!  That advent calendar behind it has 24 individual board books which tell the Christmas story as well.
One always needs wool blankets for couch reading at night.  These live here during the winter. If you back up you can see our little kid's table.  Tessa uses it for crafting and eating and pulling up her baby dolls and stuffed animals. Above it are chalkboard magnet trays hung on the wall and a cloth nativity countdown from when I was little.  They like moving the date everyday.

I'll show you one circle.  I put up our pictures of the kids through the years at Christmas.  They all wore that Santa suit in their first year.  In this circle, Hunter is on the left, Tessa is on the right.
A happy little kid space.
And there you have it.  Christmas at our house.  I am finishing up my Christmas postcards.  I made my own design in photoshop this year, used Vistaprint where I could get 250 postcards for $25 (including shipping), and they even let me put my own letter on the back for free.  Then I could mail them at the postcard rate, $.33, yippee!  I mailed 60, am handing out tons, and using the rest for crafts and that made Christmas cards $40 total this year.  I cannot tell you how excited it made me to realize that Christmas cards for all our friends were in reach this year by doing it this way.  We skipped last year due to cost and that made me sad.
And if you are reading this and perhaps somehow didn't find yourself on our Christmas list this year, just know that our family is sending bushels of love your way, and the wish that you will also celebrate the birth of our Savior in the best way you can.
To Him be the glory, forever and ever, Amen.
Merry Christmas!

Dec 11, 2013

Why I Like Extravagance in Christmas

It seems like every post I come across is about keeping Christmas simpler, pairing down, keeping focus, wishing for less extravagance.  I'm all for that....except the extravagance part. I'm writing this blog post sipping gingerbread tea and listening to Bing Crosby. Clearly, I'm all in when it comes to the Christmas season.

While I'm also "all in" for keeping the meaning of Christmas all about Jesus's birth, this also follows for me that this season is perfect for celebrating in extravagance.  To me, there is no other way to adequately celebrate such a gift without going all out.  Deck those Halls.  I did.  Five big totes came out of the garage so our living room and house could basically throw-up Christmas all over every surface and wall.  When we got the tree all finished, the kids stood in front of it and just gaped.
              "It's so boootiful Mama!" Tessa exclaimed after turning off the main lights.
I agree.  It's beautiful.  So why do I think that Christmas should be done in extravagance since Jesus came to a poor stable to poor migrant parents?  Because even though Jesus came to the poor, it seems like God himself pulled all the stops to celebrate complete with angel choir, a crazy star and rich kings with elegant gifts. There is no more extravagant gift in all this world that the gift He gave to us that night. I can't turn around without being reminded of it this season.  And if you know the story of the first St. Nick, then even Santa Claus is a reminder of how one gives sacrificially to others.  I do know that we are supposed to celebrate every day, all year long, in the joy of Jesus's gift to us, but we should be grateful for a lot of things everyday.  That doesn't mean we do or even can in every moment.  It's the reason we have holidays and the reason God himself gave holidays for His people to celebrate.  It's a time out to reflect and enjoy celebration.  I thoroughly enjoy a season to celebrate, be gaudy, add surprises, and give to others. And while most of the activities we participate in over the season are focused on the nativity, there are few that are just plain fun and imaginative. There isn't even a redeeming tie-in to the nativity.  Yep, I am not even feeling guilty for adding in a little fun that is just for fun itself.  Elf on the Shelf, anyone?
While I say I want extravagance (and I definitely do!) this does not necessarily equate with materialism.  Yes, I love giving gifts at Christmas as this is symbolic to me of receiving the greatest gift of salvation and God with us.  However, we choose to not go crazy over here and keep it pretty simple when it comes to the gifts under the tree. We give two.  But by the time the extended family is done giving to our kids, it's pretty extravagant it seems to me.  I could probably rephrase my meaning better if I added the little word, FOCUSED extravagance.  Extravagance for it's own sake is just plain silly and selfish.
There are seasons for somber reflection.  There are also seasons to celebrate in an all out act of worship.  This is what Christmas represents to me.  All of it.  The lights we put on our house, the tree, the nativities, advent activities, all the Christmas baubles we set around.  It's a month long celebration of appreciation and worship.  We purposely focus this month in all of our activities.  In advent every night, we add a figure sticker to the nativity scene, we memorize Isaiah 9:6, we say Luke 2, we add an ornament to or Jesse tree (which walks us through the Old Testament in anticipation of Jesus' coming), read a devotion, and then we add a fun figure to our winter scene.  Sometimes we play the piano and sing carols. I read to the kids every night a Christmas book from my collection.  I just finished reading to the kids, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."  Have you read it?  You should.  Hunter about died from laughing. But in the middle of the laughter, there is also a few tears at the end as I tearfully choke the words when Leroy gives the baby Jesus his Christmas ham (which just so happened to be the only thing this poor kid had to give).  
It's a time to celebrate others in an extension of God's extravagant love to all.  That's why there are Christmas parties, acts of sacrificial giving, acts of service to the needy, gifts to friends.
So no, I don't like the materialism of Christmas at all....but YES please, let me keep the extravagance. Give me a season to shout "Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King!"
Merry Christmas from our house to yours.  I hope you are able to celebrate with focused extravagance this holiday season.  Celebrate on!

Nov 20, 2013

On the Freedom of Love (Part 2)

If you missed yesterday's Part 1 on Freedom, I suggest you read it first. Now on to today's post:

I enjoyed Veterans Day this year.  I went to the zoo for a fun day with the kids.  Does anyone else find it ironic that I spent a day celebrating the people who gave us freedom in a place filled with cages? I mean, I'm just sayin'. OK, that was just an awkward side note.

 However, I did have the presence of mind before we left the house to grab the flag and take a picture of my kids holding it.  We all know why they can hold it up proudly.  Because of the veterans and troops today that have protected it.  I sent it as a text message thank you to all the veterans in my family.    Ok, pretty lame, but it was the best I could do upon waking up and remembering why the mail hadn't come.  Wait, I just sounded even lamer considering. They gave something that took quite a bit of sacrifice on their faith that our country and it's freedoms are worth it.

Yesterday, I finished up my post on freedom with the words:

"What does this new (free) life look like? It's not slavery to sin. It's a freedom from laws. It's good. It's life. But it's not works we do. How exactly does that fit together?  Glad you asked."

Actually, you probably didn't ask, but I'm still going to write this post, mkay?

So today, my thoughts are flipping to the book of Hebrews before I return to Ephesians and Galations from yesterday.
In Hebrews, there's this neat little chapter about those who had faith and are a good example of faith.  So if I want to know what faith looks like, I should look at this neat little example left for us here. It's very inspiring as the author was trying to pump up whoever the reader was to keep chugging forward in their faith. In Hebrews 11, there is the list of all the people in Old Testament and what they did by faith.  So it's an example of those who were called to action by faith because they realized God and the new life and freedom He offers is worth everything.
You know, kinda like on Veterans Day, we celebrate those who were called to action to promote freedom because they thought it was worth everything.  So we have parades, speeches, flags, animals in cages (K, that last one was just me this year).

That being said, we also are told in the Bible that it's not the things we do (works) that save us but faith. (Ephesians 2:9)

So huh? I just read a big ol' Biblical parade about all the things these people did out of faith.  What for? Gosh, for years I was so confused about how this fit together.

A little phrase in Galations 5:6 sums it up.  "faith working through love."
This is what faith looks like.  It's the love.  It is a call to action, but not a call to follow a bunch of religious laws.  It's certainly not obeying a list of laws to gain favor. That is not freedom.  That's trading one form of slavery for another.

Galations 5:13-14,16,18
"For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.......But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law."

 Cue an Ah-Ha moment. It's not the freedom to go back to former bondage of sin, but rather that we finally do have the power to choose love instead of sin.  And that ability to choose love is freedom.  Not only that, but I have the Spirit of God dwelling in me.  That power now breathes new life.  All the qualities of God (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law - Gal. 5:22-23) are available to me.

As our church likes to say, if you're just caught up in religion but fail to grasp this idea of freedom, you will fall into "try hard, do good, fail.  Try harder, do good, fail. Try harder, do good, fail, burn out, give up - syndrome".   It's a deathly disease in church's today.

It's not about trying hard and being "good".  It's about grasping the freedom of love.  We can never "try hard" enough to love the people around us.  We'll fail.  Daily, I fail.  My kids and husband will attest to that.  But I can attest, that each and every time I have the choice to dig into love and the source is not from me.  I can always look to the source.

I used to fall into "should" syndrome.  You know..."I should do this, I should do that...."  It's not a very free way to live.  I would much rather live each moment as a prompting to accept the freedom to love at that moment.  I might not make that right choice, but at least I have a choice, and the source for the power to make the right one lives right in me.  

God doesn't demand the perfection of your life, but the direction.  It starts with digging deep into the character and personhood of God with time spent at the source.  Little by little, bit by bit, the direction is turned as I learn to choose the freedom of loving and turn away from my old master, sin.

As James 2 says, "Faith without works is dead."  That doesn't mean that I have to try hard and save myself by my works.  No, no.  James is not saying we have to work to get our salvation. Here is what he is saying:   If you cannot choose love, the question begs, aren't you still a slave to the old master sin?  Are you really free?  Have you found freedom?  Freedom means that we can start choosing a different way of living that was cut off from us before.  It is now open to us.
James 2:26 "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."
I mean if you aren't going to start exercising your freedom, then you are showing that you are still dead on the inside, in slavery.  Choosing to stay in that zoo cage when the door has been left wide open.

So, get out of the zoo.

Dig into the source.  You can have freedom to choose love over self.  True love comes from the source, and points to the source.

  While by no means perfect, I'm out of the zoo, and it's very very freeing.

Nov 19, 2013

On Freedom (Part 1)

So Hunter was just introduced to the wonderful world of Tolkien.  Yes, my nerdy passion for all things Tolkien was just passed down to my son this month who I deemed worthy (old enough) to join this "club" with me.  For the record, Tone has not joined this fan club despite all my best efforts.  It's just not his "thing".  Whatever that means....because Tolkien's world just sucks you in to a fascinating world of elves, hobbits, orcs and wizards with a great adventure at every turn.  I'm not understanding how it wouldn't.  But the sad fact is, that for Tone, it doesn't. When we were first married, the movie series was just coming out and so for my birthday, Tone bought me the map of Middle Earth which I framed and proudly hung over my craft table (next to my map of Narnia of course). You are free to let the mocking commence.  I realize...I'm in deep. Even though Tone does not share this love of Tolkien, he loves me, and fed this obsession.  But now that Hunter is ready for Tolkien...oh boy! I've moved on in my recruiting to focus this on my child.  It's a Mama's right.

Hunter devoured it.

Several late nights in row, we finally finished up the series and my buddy and I are anxiously waiting for the next installment of "The Hobbit".

In the middle of introducing Hunter to Tolkien, I have also been reading through the New Testament.  I was reading Romans, Ephesians, and Galations the week we watched "The Lord of Rings" series.  We were also celebrating Veterans Day.  I think the trifecta of Tolkien, Romans, and Veteran's Day helped me think through some thoughts on freedom.  Oddly, in the chaos that sorts itself into impressions in my brain, they ended up making connections for me.

While we were watching the movies, it was the Orcs that left a great impression on the mind of Hunter.
Peter Jackson did a great job of giving viewers the heeby-jeebies and helping the viewer feel sufficiently scared and creeped out as you watched.  I was rather worried Hunter would maybe have some nightmares after watching.  Uh, he may or may not have slept in my bed after one particularly late night of Tolkien viewing. The orcs were shown as being slaves to Sauron and all decisions they made were under his complete control.   Hey, I've read the books a million times and watched the movies, but  every time I see them, I still get a fun little shiver of fear running down my spine. It's thrilling.

So upon thinking of Orcs....and their slavery to Sauron....

One of the problems people have said they have with Christianity is that they are afraid that they will feel like they are slaves to a system of rules and laws.  Unfortunately, this couldn't be more opposite.  I suppose some churches do try to trap people into this false brand of religion, but this is far from the truth of walking with Jesus.

I would like to point out that BEFORE Christ, we are actually the slaves.   We were slaves to sin.  We were like the Orcs on the inside.  Truly that bad.  Or worse. And while we lived, moved and breathed in apparent freedom throughout our lives, in actuality, there was no life in us.  We were masters to sin and helpless.  Oh sure, there are many "good" people who do wonderful things for the world...but whatever those deeds are, they were only a shadow of true good.  True good is doing something as praise and glory to God as His created beings.  True good points to God.  A good person who doesn't point to God with their goodness is pointing right back at themselves, and therefore, that's not true goodness.

The Orcs, I'm sure, could have done something good as they traipsed across the land, but the reality wouldn't have changed that they were still under the ownership of Sauron.  So likewise, people can do good things, but it doesn't change the fact that they are under the ownership of sin and selfishness. In fact, we are told we were dead.  Goodness that doesn't point to the source (God) counts for nothing.  It's a dead goodness.  Can I get super nerdy on you?  It's kinda like in the Tolkien books, the Orcs were created as a knock-off to make a mockery of the beautiful, free elves.  Whoa, yeah.  You know who knows her middle earth Tolkien history?  This girl.

Ephesians 2:1
"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (Satan), of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest."

Can a dead person actually make ANY choices, good or bad?  Nope. That is not good news for "good" people.

But someone might argue:
So in Christianity, does one just trade one set of slavery for another set of rules and regulations?   No!

I will ask you to think of it this way:

Freedom means we are free to do the good we were created to do.  

We now have the freedom to not sin.  Only God has ever been completely free to not sin and do good.

Galations 5:1 "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be a subject again to a yoke of slavery."

So we are free!  We are free to choose from right and wrong. And when we choose right, it is the true right as God intended - it always points to Him. It is not about following a bunch of laws, being perfect, or earning our way there.
Read on:

Galations 5:4 "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace."

Ouch. So actually, if you are doing everything you can to prove your salvation by following the law, you really are not free at all.  You are stuck under a very heavy burden.  The law itself is slavery.

So now what?
We are free from the slavery of sin, but we are not stuck under a slavery of following laws.  Why are there laws in the Bible then?  To simply point out that we are slaves and not good.

Ephesians 2:4-10
"But God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast."

What does this new life look like?  It's not slavery to sin.  It's a freedom from laws.  It's good. It's life.  But it's not works we do. How exactly does that fit together?  Glad you asked.  Part 2 is being posted tomorrow.  Otherwise, this post will get much much much too long.
Tomorrow, grab your coffee and read along with me. Polka dot jammies are optional.  But I super dig mine.
I also recommend some Chai tea steeped in milk and a comfy chair.
And socks.  Definitely socks.
But I always have cold feet.

Nov 6, 2013

Thankful purging

Do you ever feel sabotaged by your own stuff? Things that you think should be blessings are actually the things that are sabotaging your joy?
As we are in the season of Thankfulness, one should be feeling more thankful.  
However, as I looked around my house today, I just felt overwhelmed by "stuff".  It seemed like every toy bin had thrown up it's contents. The sink was holding far too much in the way of dirty dishes. It seemed like organizing and containing the chaos could seize most of the day if I let it.  I wasn't thankful for any of this stuff.  I should have been because having it all is a gift.  Somehow, I'm just feeling more glutinous than joyful.   More stressed by possessions that blessed by them. Overwhelmed by keeping them, but reluctant to let them go.  Somehow, this blessing wasn't actually giving me a heart of peace, or praise, or thankfulness. Usually, I do feel it about this life I have been given. But I had turned a corner into disorder, and when that happens, I know I need to let "stuff" go.  
So I called for a purge.  We purged.  I asked the kids for toys that they no longer played with.  I got a few in a pile.  Then I sent them back for more. I looked at the pile ....and asked for more.  I went back to their rooms and looked around and it still looks like too much.  I seriously want to do a whole house attack.  I informed them tomorrow it is happening.  They went to bed in fear of what would be sent away.

My living room is in chaos with old toys thrown willy nilly where they were sorted and assessed.

And I'm wondering now.  Sitting here wondering where my balance should be.

As homeschoolers, we keep a lot.   My kids have a lot because this place is their home, school and world.  We spend all day everyday here.  This is their playground, their classroom, their experimental zone into art and play.  So we keep a lot.  There is the massive art area where the girls spend a good part of their day gluing, taping, cutting, coloring, etc.  We have scores of toys for imaginative play - which is dragged out all day every day.  I have toys for different ages and genders since we have a span living under this roof.  I want to give my kids the tools they need to explore and pretend and discover.  We are an extremely creative family and everything can be kept and used for some project or game - and it often is.

But I also feel that those "things" can become just possessions that trap us.  They rob us of joy and the delight of a life of simplicity.  The care and clean up can be time-suckers and joy-stealers.

I have to be honest, drawing a line can be hard. Finding that line is even harder. 
To sort it out, I have to go back to the drawing board.  What is most important?
To myself, I answer that by saying:
Children, whose hearts are uncluttered, full of love, learning to become all that the Father has created them to be.   

I have to find the line between a cluttered heart and a heart that has a place to explore and create and discover - because in this, we also find God.

So tomorrow, we purge.  We assess.  And hopefully, we find blessing in letting go. We find thankfulness for what has been given to us in abundance, and we find joy in the giving.
There is another lesson in giving.  My children went to bed in fear of what they will have to let go.  Tomorrow I get to lead them into a heart lesson.    There is fear in letting go.  There is joy and a lightness after you do it.  None of them will be asked to give up something very precious.  However, I do want to them to give up the "what if" things.  "What if" I want it later? "What if" I later find a use for it even though I don't right now?  "What if", "What if".

Don't we all do that?  On a grander scale, God provides for the now, we can trust Him for the future, and we don't need to worry about the "what if" of hoarding.  This is great season for learning to hold our possessions loosely.

So today was stressful.  Prying our hands open to give up our possessions is stressful.  Tomorrow may get worse.  Learning lessons in joy can first bring on stress because it is just that...a lesson that our hearts have to be bent to learn.
Lord, please bend us, break us, of the grip of possessions and let us learn to hold our possessions loosely and live a simple life, Amen.

Oct 30, 2013

From Where I've Been

I haven't posted since the beginning of the month when I posted a fall photo dump of all the fallish things that had been on my mind.  However, soon after that post we flew to Hawaii for two weeks and all thoughts of fall fled my mind for a couple of weeks.  Or rather we tried to fly to Hawaii, but being that we fly standby we had five days of not making flights and had other adventures like a trip to Vegas in between....but that's another story.  In all, we did manage to spend nine nights there after all.  We just got back.

We have taken the kids there before but Tessa was just a few months old last time.  This time she got to experience it all for herself as well.  I have so many photos that I will post later, most likely, well maybe, because everyone loves seeing other people's vacation pictures, right?

I think what is most on mind right now to post about is the fact that I was reintroduced to Tessa and the joy that she is.  Which really sounds strange since I am a stay-at-home mom.  I have to say though, that this kid has, in the past, had the tendency to suck me dry.

That sounds aweful to say...out public.  But that fact does not have anything to do with the deepness of my love.  It has to do with how my personality meshes with that of Tessa's.

I actually don't know how to put this.  Tessa's first year was a stressful blur as she was a colicky, needy baby.   She was still super high-strung and needy the next year and I adored her and constantly felt stressed by her in a confusing jumble of emotions.  Then last year, I went to work and missed a lot of her and felt the pang of separation greatly.  This year, we are getting back into the swing of things around here at the house, and at three, Tessa has definitely come into her own.  I thoroughly enjoyed her this trip.  Every bit of her without feeling stressed out by her....and that may have just been the first time.

Tessa has a stubborn, loud and demanding and completely endearing personality.  More and more over the summer, I have grown more in love with the little person she is becoming as parts of her personality and mannerisms unfold.  It's a funny thing about love.  It begins wide and grows deeper.

This one morning in Hawaii, I woke up and our window over the bed faces the sunrise.

Tessa was in a little bed by ours and she always woke up first.  But this time I beat her by a couple of minutes.  I watched the sunrise and then her sleepy little head popped up next to me.  I hauled her into bed next to me and we watched it together, totally delighted with the bright morning colors.  That's the thing about Tessa.  She will always let you know how she feels.  Her giggle is infectious, she gets easily embarrassed and runs to hide in my arms, her nose wrinkles in disgust as she makes a little "tsk" sound, she shrieks with anger, she keeps her face very straight when she does not agree with you as if a sign of emotion is a loss for her.  She's got an extremely crazy and bold side.

 One day we went to this beach with crashing waves and a strong undertow.  The surfers were out and only adults were brave enough to swim the waves....and Tessa.  She shrieked as the waves pulled at her legs and tried to sweep her out.  Tone and I just held on to the back of her life vest and let her body surf the waves.  She thought that beach was the BEST fun.  The people around us were very entertained by this bold little three year old who thought strong waves were so so fun.

She has serious thrill issues.

Oh Tessa.  From where I've been with you to now, I am just really delighted to get to be your Momma. I'll be sad when your cute chubby arms no longer fling themselves around my neck in a death grip with the strong command to "tickle me Momma!!!"  She's always draping herself aggressively over me in her enthusiastic display of love and affection.  
I want to bottle up her little three year old self forever.
Except that four was always a favorite age with the other two....I'll bet four will be pretty delightful too.

Oct 7, 2013

Fall Phone Photo Dump

I just thought I'd post some photos that were taken with my phone documenting the glorious return of fall.
This week I've had a not so glorious cold which has meant homeschooling from the couch with a wool blanket and plenty of tea.  Vanilla Chai is my favorite in case you were wondering.  It's a slight addiction this time of year.
I bought new boots and have finally gotten to wear them.  This is a truly awkward photo in which I tried to take a picture of myself.  My hips look really wide.  What do they say about horizontal stripes?  Oh.
I also decorated my mantle for fall.  I truly need to get out my "good" camera and take a half decent photo of this display...but nah.  You get the idea.  Here you go in all it's instagram fuzzy glory.  Squint.  It looks better.
This next little treasure deserves a post all on it's own. Tone and his dad made me a bench for my table.  When I put the leaf in, I am two chairs short, so I requested a bench.  And I received.  Mmm hmm.  Bench loveliness. All three kids like to line up here.  Isn't it a beauty?
Tea and poetry has continued with a few poems and a reading of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  The kids love laughing at poor mister Ichabod Crane and the descriptions of the area around the Hudson River where Hunter was born.  It also felt sufficiently spooky to read in October.
We went to an A's game.  I'm pretty sure I didn't get to watch a lot of it since I was entertaining small people who could have cared less.  Also, Tessa decided a Superman pajama shirt was the only thing acceptable to wear that day.  I went with it.  They I'm calling it a good luck charm.  That's my story about the shirt.

Where else can you do math in jammies on the couch?  I'm just pointing out a perk.

Welp, so there is fall so far around here.  It's looking like a pretty good one.

Oct 4, 2013

Teaching the greatest truth

I asked my kids why they thought were born.  Seriously.
Yep, I went there with an 8 year old and a 6 year old.  I know, I know.  You're thinking, "Geesh.  That Plumb lady doesn't mess around."
And that's true.  It seems kinda deep for just a 4th and 1st grader.  But honestly, it seems to me like a kind of obvious question. Because it seems to me that that question drives everything else that we do and all the fundamental questions of our lives.
So what is the single most important reason for us being born?
Is it to be a good person? Be successful?  And what is successful?  What is good exactly?  Is it to fill a place in this world in a positive way?

Out of the mouths of babes, Ainsley nailed it with her answer.
"That's easy Mommy.  It's because God loves me and wanted my love."

And there you have it.  The reason you and I were born.
Simple. Profound.

You were born because God loves you and desired you.  That's it.  You exist to love Him.  That's it.

Anything else is just, well, extra and unnecessary.
So I've been thinking a lot about how this translates to how I raise my children and how we interact as a family.  Because this simple truth can turn my goals and focus inside out.

It seems to me that I sometimes make rules for the sake of "goodness".  Whatever that is.  But sometimes I want my children to be "good" and somehow that doesn't translate to loving.  It just translates to following some rules and being obedient.  Now I'm not saying that rules and standards aren't important, because they are, but sometimes I feel like I get caught up in teaching my children the "right" way instead of the "loving" way.  It seems to me though, that if I just teach standards and rules, then I am teaching them that following those is what gives my children their value.  Meaning that only if they are "good and obedient" then they have value.  What a false message this is!  When it comes to God, following a set of rules is NOT what brings us our value to Him.  We have value simply because He created us and then He bought us with a price.  A very expensive price.

I've been reading a lot lately in the New Testament.  In fact, I'm doing this class where I have to read all the way through the New Testament in about three months.  It's a lot of reading.  What I keep coming across over and over again is this simple fact that love trumps everything.  It trumps rules and systems, it trumps "should's" and "oughts", it trumps success, and it trumps culture, race, age, and anything else you could tack on to that.  It means taking each moment and looking at another person and meeting their needs and treating them with value.  It means being wise and discerning towards others in the moment.  Quite frankly, you can't always boil this down to a set of rules.  Sometimes it's harder to parent this way because it means discerning and teaching to the heart and seeing each moment as unique.  It means teaching a set of morals and values (which don't change) and applying them to unique situations which do change in a discerning and unselfish way which communicates to the other person that they have value and are loved.

Sometimes I wake up and my heart just seems armed for battle that day.  I trip over toys on the way to the kitchen where I find lazy children lounging around with breakfast cereal all over the floor and their favorite cartoon blasting.  Do you have those days too?
  Hey, I'm not going to tell you that it wouldn't be OK  to say, "Come on guys! Put away the toys!  Clean up, get dressed, TV off."  But I am going to say that you should have probably checked and explained your reasoning ahead of time.   And by checking, I mean your own heart.  
Having a way you do things as a family shows love, value and respect to everyone living in the home as long as those systems are made with serving each other in mind rather than selfish serving of self.   Do these systems show everyone that we value them and their unique personality?  Are we patient and helpful when those systems clash with a personality?  
I kinda have a new rule for myself.  And that new rule is about making house rules.
One: I cannot lay down a new rule or system without first explaining to the kids how this will help the family show each other that we are caring for and valuing each other.  If it doesn't show the family love, and it's only because of my personal preference, the rule has to be discarded.
Two: The rule has to be somewhat flexible.  Rules can be tweaked to fit and changed as we work them.  I realize that you can't keep changing them because that would be confusing to kids.  What I mean is that after doing the rule for a while and I find that it isn't really promoting a loving atmosphere or action towards each other, then a pow-wow needs to happen.  We discuss, "What needs to change about this?  How can we do this different so that we are loving each other in this area?"  But once agreed, we stick to it.  I've found that arguing about it when an infraction incurs usually stems from selfish reasons anyways.  Then we have another pow-wow.  "Hey remember why we are doing this?  Are you thinking about loving the other person right now?"
I'm finding that teaching to the heart is difficult.  Our hearts don't like to be molded.  We resist loving.  We embrace selfishness.  The child that nailed that answer at the beginning of this post really stinks at loving.  In fact, we all do in this family compared to God's love.  But when we catch that glimmer and begin to show it to each other....Wow!  It's transforming and powerful like no other force on earth. Showing love with no strings attached is tough. But more than anything, I want my children to catch this message:
"I love you for who you are, and not the rules you obey or don't obey, and so does God.  You were made because of love, and you were made TO love. If you learn to love, there is nothing else that truly matters."

Sep 5, 2013

School Wars

Navigating the world called, "where to put my child in school" seems to put me on the front lines of what I like to call "The School Wars."  Dun dun dun.  I have launched into another school year which is completely different than last year's, and I have no regrets for what we did last year and no regrets that we have moved on to homeschooling this year.  I confuse most people with my choices on schooling.   Have you ever encountered the school wars?  Ha! If you are a mom or someone who has even thought of perhaps one day having a kid and that kid eventually getting to school aged years, then you have encountered the school wars.  Lines are drawn in the sand here, people.

"What? Homeschool?  Aren't you worried about their social life?"  Often so gently said but inwardly the thoughts go like this:
"What!!! Are you cray-cray!  You are going to be the people in the long skirts who make their own BUTTER and are so out of touch that your kids will struggle to have conversations in normal society because all they can talk about is their latest goat milk science project.  For the love of all things normal, consider their social standing!"  Uh huh.  I hear that in their little sniffs as they ask that question to me ALL. THE. TIME.  Seriously, you guys, this question never lets up from the public school crowd.

For the record, we meet with other homeschooling families and teach classes on Thursdays in a little tiny schoolhouse.  Very few of the children are socially awkward or odd.  I would say about the same amount as I encountered in public school. Here it is.  I love it.  I'm not sure this is helping this stigma type.

I am still holding the memories and lessons learned from last year tightly.  I fell in love with a bunch of dark haired, brown eyed, 2nd grade children.  We grew to love people in the community who lived in tiny little old houses with pretty gardens surrounding the school.  We made friends.  We were sad to leave.  My kids were definitely the minority in that they could afford to bring their own breakfast and school lunch, their clothes were new and they had blond hair and blue eyes.

The questions from the crowd were just as gently asked.  "Oh public school, huh?  Where?  A low income school?  Aren't you worried about how they will fit it in, the poor education they will receive, and the things they will pick up from the other kids there?"  Also, so gently said.  But I heard it.

"What?!  Are you CRAZY!  Throw your kids to the WOLVES why don't ya.  Ruin their education.  Turn them into a bunch of heathens by letting them run with the....(I'll be nice and not print whatever it was they were thinking). Do you KNOW what they are exposed to in those schools?"

Yep. School wars.  And to tell you the truth, it's hard to not get sucked in, make a camp, stake a claim and hold to it.

Can I just point us back to the last command that Jesus asked of us?  "Go therefore and make disciples of every nation."

What does that involve exactly?  To make a disciple you have to do two things.  You have to introduce them to this amazing Jesus person who is also God, and once they love Him too, then you have to actually disciple them by showing them what exactly it means to be more like Him.  Seems to me that there is two steps:  Evangelism and discipleship.

I think we are called to both but there can be seasons when we focus on one more than the other.  Last year we focused as a family on introducing others around us to this amazing Jesus.  We talked about how to love our school friends, our classmates, and our school staff.  We struggled with how to do that in a public school environment with kids that were different from us and a culture we were unused to.  It was hard.  Then it became easier and we learned to love and be loved in a community.  We learned we are more the same than different.  We were stretched. It was a great year for personal growth and every child in my class knew that I loved them and that they were created to be something special.  We really focused on that.

This year is a discipling year.  This year our focus is different.  We are pulling back, taking time for pouring into our children while we can.  To disciple them.  To raise them up with diligent, focused school lessons and family time that really teach who our God is.  Bible time in the morning can take 45 minutes.  Literature, science and history have a focus on pointing us to God and who He is.  I am working with other Christian families in our co-op where I teach classes, and I also took a part time job this year as the children's coordinator for our church's kid's program.  I'm working with teachers and helping them learn how to disciple children who come on Sundays to their classroom.  This year, we have a different focus.

Now I have a question for you?  Which environment was more "sacred"?   Which one was the "right" one?  Ha. Gotcha.  Right answer: Neither.  God had a focus for us at that time and we were called to it.  I am not in the business of just raising well-educated children, though that is obviously a goal of mine.  I am in the business of raising children to be all that God intended for them.  Sometimes that means we will be called to different places.  Scary places.  Places that aren't a good fit for someone else.  God points the way, and we follow.

As I was thinking about this, I also thought that when there is a focus on evangelism or discipleship, you have to be intentional to fit in the other half.  What I mean is, last year, we really had to work hard at the discipleship part because it was hard to fit it in the day between school, homework and activities. I found that the half hour drive to and from school was the perfect opportunity.  So instead of always just listening to the radio, I told Bible stories (We managed to work our way through the whole Old Testament in a year), listened to Christian music and talked about how God would think about our day. Evangelism and discipleship go hand in hand.  If you don't pair them, they really don't work out that well.  How effective would we have been at showing God's love if we didn't have time to really study His Word and reflect on His point of view of our day?
Likewise, this year, we have to be intentional to not stay in our safe little homeschooling/church bubble.
We are seeking ways to stay in the community.  We are staying in Scouts and little league.  We visit the convalescent home regularly.  We are helping lead a Good News Club in our friend's school on Friday afternoons.  Without finding a way to share God's love to outsiders, Christianity stagnates and becomes hypocritical and judgmental and small.
You see.  Two parts, but inseparable and just one command.
So back to the school wars.  Lets not stake a claim on which is the "right" or more "sacred" way.  Let us just be faithful to go into all the world and make disciples.  God points us all in different directions and which ever way you have been pointed, I implore you to be faithful to both evangelism and discipleship.  To be intentional with both and be at peace with the idea that God's best direction for your life is not the same for your neighbor.  I want to encourage you that someone else isn't going to get this confusing schooling "thing" more right than you.  Be intentional where you are and rest in the fact that you are doing very sacred work.  
Be faithful to that sacred work.  Wherever that may be.

Aug 25, 2013

The Playroom Poster

 Remember when I showed you this picture of the playroom?  I just wasn't sure yet to hang on those pretty gold boards next to the clocks. I thought maybe school work?  Nope.  Mind changed. Today I thought of what I wanted up there.  I've been meaning to frame this puppy for over a year but haven't been able to find the right frame or place for my house.  It's going here.
 Isn't it lovely?  I just love the words.  You know I've been thinking a lot lately about need vs want.   I read a news article today about the war going on in Syria. Last week my sister-in-law remarked that when she spent a summer over there a few years ago, it was such a beautiful people and country.  Today I saw pictures of children killed with nerve gas.  My brain did a little shift in perspective.  What does this have to do with a house rules poster?
For a while, we've kicked around moving in a couple of years to someplace bigger.  Which is fine, but not when it makes the current place you are in look too small, or makes me fall into the "what we have makes a house a home" game.   Because it doesn't.  The people who are streaming across the border into Iraq want one thing. Peace, safety, a place to make a home.  What home am I making for my family?  I have been granted peace, safety, and a house.  It's my job to make it a home.  I do not want to squander the peace I have been granted on the alter of "want".  I want a home.  It welcomes all.  It screams of happy, meaningful moments in the pictures and items around the room. There is a place here for all.  We respect all, are considerate of all, it is a haven for all who enter.  There is joy here.  My home is a gift, may I focus on the things that matter.

I think sometimes we deny ourselves of beauty because of guilt. We become a sparse, cold, shriveled up form of the Gospel. We ask, "Should I have it when other's do not?" and deny ourselves. We often error on the side of denial or gluttony. Sometimes I ping pong back and forth not really sure what the true response to my surroundings should be.  I believe that the Gospel explodes with beauty and creativity, but this is not based on materialism.  I think many people believe beauty can only be bought. The best brand, the best quality, the bigger house.  It becomes a "deserve" mind game.  So I ask, Why do I have this or that?  Did I deserve it?  That's the wrong game to be playing.  No one chooses where our little red target of influence will be placed when being put on this earth.  Deserving, or, not deserving.  The truth is, what we have doesn't seem to be based on the type of humanity I am. The deserving and undeserving, from my limited viewpoint, seems to be pretty mixed up with what you actually receive from life.  As humans, we all long and try to create a home.  Some are able to create it, some are stripped of the chance.

It seems to me that my duty and gift to God and humanity is to make the most of what I have been given but to not exploit it for my own means alone.  That seems a tricky balance and one only each person can answer for himself.  For myself, today, it means not dreaming of bigger houses and kitchens that are grander than the builder grade I have been given.  It means taking that beauty and creativity and skill that God places in each one of us and seeing what I can do with the raw material. From home decorating, to meals, to the atmosphere in our home, how can stretch the gift that has been given to me to it's fullest? For me, it means sticking red contact paper on tiles so that I see a happy kitchen without taking money to replace cabinets and countertops.   It means rejoicing in beauty and creating it around me without equating that with something purchased or more expensive. It means hanging up a poster to remind us all of the kind of home we want to create together.  I do not mean to say that there is not a time to paint cabinets, get a bigger home, or buy something nice.  But I am saying that our heart should not be lying to ourselves saying we deserve it.  It means seeing those things as gifts from a God who lavishes love on us, and not falling into a "grass is greener" syndrome.

 But, Oh, I can be so guilty of it sometimes.

So I hung a poster.