Thursday, December 30, 2010

Naming the New Year

What will you name your new year? Have you even considered giving a name to 2011?

Last year, Ann Voskamp at Holy Experience suggested her readers pray for the upcoming year and then name it. As strange as that may seem, I did just that.

With house plans dusted off and sitting on my desk, I felt God speaking that 2010 would be a Year of Restoration. And in so many ways, it has been just that.

Instead of my being dressed in three layers and hunkered over a frigid keyboard, periodically rubbing my hands together when they became too cold and stiff to type, I now sit in a centrally-heated, well-insulated house. It's the home we dreamed for many years, the home delayed for six years by God's hand when He allowed our lives to be sifted by those who sought to destroy us.

With the walls of our home rising up strong around me, we find some large sense of restoration. And I find it such a blessing that the few minutes after a steaming bath is no longer the only time I can feel my toes. Even when the temperature dips low enough to coat the old tadpole holes of summer in a sheet of thin ice, I crinkle them beneath the covers and smile.

I appreciate all these "comforts" that many of you take for granted...and that I took for granted, too, until my seven-year stint living in a couple houses that literally breathed the stifling heat of summer and the coldest of winter when I could see my breath upon awaking each morning.
I've spent much of December thinking of what this upcoming year holds. A week ago while much of the nation huddled indoors and children played in frozen drifts that covered a dormant creation, God sent Louisiana a series of 70 degree days.

Doug and I roughly sketched out where the garage and a few flower beds would go. Then, he did what any good farmer husband does--took his tractor and tilled up the flower bed that will separate our "yard" from the hay field.
A few days later, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, I went to our old home and pressed heel to shovel, unearthing all the red, pink, white, and canna lilies; an old rose; a mound of catnip; and several other plants I had left behind this summer. That afternoon, my parents and I planted everything in two beds. In the back yard, we also put in a live oak and maple tree. When my husband arrived home, he said, "You're putting down roots, huh."

Those were the same words that came to me earlier in the day.

Yes, 2011 will be the Year of Putting Down Roots.

It's time to grow.

"Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers" (Ps. 1:1-3).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Choosing to Be a Slave

Conspiracy? That's a pretty big stretch. Cover up? I doubt it. Mistranslated because of negative societal perception? Now that's a rationale I can buy into.

John MacArthur's newest book entitled Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ explores the mistranslation of the Greek word for "slave" "in almost every English version" throughout history. Going as far back as "the King James Version and the Geneva Bible that predated it," translators substituted the word "servant" where the original text's wording should have been interpreted as "slave."

With the word (in all its forms) mistranslated almost 150 times in the New Testament, it's easy to see how this change significantly impacts a Christian's understanding of how he should relate to Christ.

MacArthur's overall point is that while the early Christians understood this distinction of their relationship to the Master, modern-day Christians' view of themselves as "servants" instead of "slaves" has distorted their relationship to God.

Although MacArthur is extremely long winded and repetitive in sections (and his huge footnotes are extremely distracting such that they would have been better as end notes), he is fairly easy for the layperson to read. He also does a good job of exploring the differences between slavery in Jesus' day versus the slavery in the more modern world. Once one understands in Scripture what slavery meant to Jesus, one can then understand how a Christian is intended to be a permanent slave "of God, for Christ, to righteousness" (175).

I found most interesting MacArthur's description of what happens when a slave is adopted. He contends that even though we are friends of Christ and adopted sons of God, the paradox is that we are still slaves. This section was where I felt he rushed, not fully exploring this concept and merely writing it off as a paradox in a Bible full of paradoxes.

Overall, though, the text was quite enlightening to the reader who only knew of the abuses with slavery over the past few centuries.

**I receive no payment for this book review. Thomas Nelson merely provides me with a free copy of the text.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Simpler Christmas

If it weren't for a few outside-inside toys because of the cold weather, you wouldn't know Christmas came and went today.

Our Happy Birthday Jesus monkey bread "cake" this morning is all but gone. (Yes, the 2 candle is all I could find in the drawers).After two family dinners over the past two days, there aren't many leftovers in the fridge either.

And that's a good thing.

Doug and I decided to have a simpler Christmas this year, paring down to keep our eyes on the true meaning of Christmas instead of stretching ourselves thin in an effort to fulfill some imaginary "to do" list guaranteed to make the season bright.

Although I made several loaves of apple gingerbread for friends and church family, there was no "slaving" in the kitchen all day just so I could make sure I got everything made for us. Not the peanut butter fudge. Or the divinity. Or the cranberry bread. Or the peanut brittle.

We skipped the snow-in-the-park, the Reindeer Run, the lighting of the town Christmas tree, the parades. The only time we went to see Christmas lights was as part of a jaunt to Wal-mart to buy the nine mouse traps that still haven't managed to ensnare our Christmas mouse.

And to the chagrin of our oldest son, mommy and daddy made shopping easier, too. Each child received only one store-bought gift and one game from us while Santa merely filled the stockings with play dough, bath body paint, moon pies, and such. While Wyatt was resistant to this change, by this evening, he was parroting his daddy's words from this morning, telling me he was grateful for the toys he had, that Jesus was our greatest gift. Yes, now if he can just remember that a year from now.

I think my favorite change this season has been taking up a tradition from my mother. When my brother and I were young, the best presents were the ones she made for us. So, this year, I began a tradition of crocheting a "critter" of some sort for the kids. The gingerbread boy was quite a hit.
And Amelia loved her doll, complete with sparkly crocheted shoes and quite a full mane of hair.
At the grandparents' house, I even managed to have a little fun myself today.
I told my husband this was the best Christmas I can remember since the children were born. May this be the beginning of many more simpler Christmas seasons where Christ is first.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Celebrating A Milestone

The coach has turned back into a pumpkin. At least one of the horses has turned back into a mouse (that's another story entirely). The sparkly paste jewelry is tucked back in the white rectangular box, shoved to the dark recesses at the back of the drawer. And the dress I wore seven years ago is again ready for dry cleaning, perhaps to be worn on another future Cinderella occasion.

This afternoon, with children napping and Doug home early from work, I spent more time "getting ready" than I've spent all year. The out-of-production sparkly strawberry-scented skin powder made its yearly appearance for this special occasion--an anniversary date night with my husband. I even had the luxury of fretting over which shoes to wear on a 77 degree winter day.

A few hours later, looking totally unlike the worn-out people who mumble "how-was-your-day" under the covers before turning out the lights, we dumped our three children at their (blessed) grandparents' house and went to enjoy a quiet dinner by ourselves.

For a few short hours, I wasn't "Mommy! Emerson poo pooed in his underwear!" or "What's that, mommy?" (said while holding a huge deer tick) or "What if they run out of bread?!...Well, what if they stop making bread? THEN what?"

I was simply a wife enjoying a tenth anniversary dinner with my husband.It's not the first decade of marriage that I would have planned for us, but I can't imagine where we might be if we hadn't struggled together, suffered together, and survived together by supporting, comforting each other and seeking the Lord together.

I may have no glass slippers, no kingdom, and no royal title to show for ten years' laboring to make a marriage work...and ten years from now, I still may not.

But I have a husband whom I love more dearly than I did a year ago and who loves me, too. Somehow, that's worth a whole lot more than anything in Cinderella's happily ever after.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Decade of Dust

One of the first events Doug and I attended as husband and wife was his Paw Paw's funeral. I stood awkwardly at the graveside, watching my husband mourn a man my heart did not mourn but felt it should.

Paw Paw had only a fifth grade education, but worked in a time when that and hard work was enough to earn him a job as the mail man and, ultimately, the title of Postmaster. He had a love for creating layouts for model trains and making thin-wooden rectangular boxes with his hands.

Although I know many stories about him, he and I were probably only in a room together half a dozen times before he died. And even then, I can't remember him saying anything. I just remember a quiet man with bottle-thick glasses, freckles, and a slow gait.

This past week, I've been getting to know, just a little, the man I never got to know.When we moved to our new house, my in-laws agreed to let us move the red barn with us. While the term "barn" lends itself to grand visions of an immovable structure, this small one-room, simple structure of the depression would hardly impress most people. First used as a corn crib, then as Paw Paw's puttering shed, it's spent the past decade since his death as a storage container for those items no one knew what to do with and just couldn't bring themselves to throw out.

Saturday, I began the process of disturbing ten years worth of dust and cobwebs.In one corner, I uncover a pile of Paw Paw's wooden remnants, some the same thin boards he used to make two boxes my husband considers prized possessions. There are no clues as to what project was next on his list.

Then comes the bag of leftover pieces from the chain link fence project, the same fence I was thankful for so I could lock my children away from the highway.

Red Folgers and green Maxwell House coffee cans line the shelves, some full of ten penny nails, bolts, plumbing supplies. Those lidless containers are a mixture of hardware, each piece individually coated in cobwebs and dead insects, most too rusted to be useful. Along the wall lay more empty coffee cans in case he needed more storage. He was a coffee man for sure.My broom tears through an old bird's nest hanging from a rope, its thick, brittle loops hanging from a rusty nail. Finally making it to the very back, I unearth a messy mouse's nest in the cabinet where a mama cat birthed her kittens a couple years ago. A large metal clamp, rusted closed, and two wooden triangles sit atop the table. But that's all I find here of him.

No papers with plans. No sketchings. If he made any, all that has long ago rotted away.

My cleaning done for the day, I close the door even though it seems silly to do so. A missing board and nails displaced from the rotting cedar on the front won't really keep anything out.With new boards on the front of the barn, a coat of new paint, and a few pieces of tin replaced on top--soon this barn will take on a new life as my garden house and (so I learned this week), Wyatt's "magic tree house."

It just makes me wonder if someone will come after me, searching through future cobwebs for clues about me and what I found important in life. And when they do, what will they find?

Will it be merely seeds, shovels, and potting soil?

I hope it is so much more.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Move Over Webster: Redefining Christians

Besides the stomach flu, my mind has been held captive this past week by tiny letters set on cream colored pages and bound in solid black.

It's been awhile since a book has intrigued me enough to give it room in my thoughts throughout any given day, much less for an entire week. But that's just what Gabe Lyons' newest book has done.

The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America is sure to prompt any reader to disagree, agree, become irritated, and grow excited all at the same time.

Lyons' text looks at trends surrounding those who claim the title "Christian," classifying all Christians into three categories--Separatist Christians (those who separate from mainstream society to avoid the taint of sin), Cultural Christians (those who "inherited" their faith but do not practice it), and the Next Christians.

While his casual, even dismissive attitude concerning Separatist Christians and their preaching of a half-gospel beginning with the fall of man is sure to raise the ire of many, Lyons' main point is important. He argues that when the Christians of the past few generations chose to withdraw from society in order to make themselves holy, they wove a cocoon around themselves that, yes, kept the taint of sin out, but also stopped them from impacting a society they were totally removed from.

The result of that separation is being played out today in modern-day America where Christians no longer hold the influence they once did either politically or socially, where the term "Christian"is synonymous with words like "judgmental" and "hypocrite."

The Next Christians he describes are people who are proclaiming the gospel from creation to Jesus' return and who are learning to live in (not apart from) the world just as Jesus did, working side-by-side with non-Christians in formerly-off-limits areas of society in their attempt to "restore" the world and the people within it to a state of what "should" be instead of what "is". Whereas evangelism was the sole activity of Separatist Christians, the Next Christians see their activity for Jesus as twofold: evangelism and restoration.

Lyons sees this group as the hope for America's tomorrow, where Christians will impact their culture for Jesus, restoring it instead of watching from the sidelines as it continues its downward spiral.

The problem with the Next Christians, as Lyons describes them, is that they seem to fail to evangelize hardly at all, but instead focus on living out Christ's love, grace, and gospel while just assuming that people will ask about Christ or assuming that the beauty they create in restoration will always lead others to Jesus. He says that this type Christianity is working and that "where Christians restore, people get saved." I'm skeptical and wonder how without a concerted effort to add the sharing of the gospel with their attempts at restoration, how one can assume that the person will automatically be pointed to Jesus.

Whether or not you agree with Lyons, his hope for a better future where Christians are active in impacting their world instead of cocooned away, where Christians view their jobs as their ministry, where Christians view every person as God's creation and worthy of grace--it's a hope most would share.

Layperson or minister--this simple book will leave you thinking.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Even When Everyone is Sick

If you peeked in my windows this week and saw what looked like a crime scene, thank you for not calling the police. Somebody would have probably thrown up on their uniforms, and that would have meant yet another load of disgusting laundry for me.

Although I haven't posted this week, nobody is dead, least of all me. It just probably looked that way, if you're a peeping tom (or tom-ette), that is.

The Medusa-haired woman clad in red velour robe and sprawled across the kitchen rug...that was me.

The three still-in-pajamas-at-2 pm-children jockeying for the best "lovins" spot around my trying-desperately-to-remain-still-body...they were mine.

And the commercials on the television that hasn't seen a commercial since the advent of Tivo--I approved them.

I do not want to relive this week--ever. But in my weakness is when God works, reminding me of the good in the bad.

Five days of stomach flu has made me oh so thankful...

For a washing machine that ran for three days straight and didn't give out.

For a dryer that rapidly returned favorite blankets to tear-streaked faces before bedtime.
For soft crocheted afghans that warmed feverish bodies...and were fun to poke little toes through.For a husband who worked all night so he could stay home all day and take care of the children when I was too weak to get out of bed.

For little arms and necks and fingers that wrapped around me and held me close as the minute hand turned round, extra love that their normally active bodies never seem to make more than a moment's time for.

It's not how I intended to spend my week. It's not an illness I would have intentionally subjected myself to in order to make myself see all these blessings.

But in the end, I did survive. And God has redirected my perspective once again to how rich I truly am.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Never Too Young

He and I are so very different.

My days are charted on calendar squares long before my feet touch the sheepskin rug beside my bed. My dreams are lofty and require a lifetime pursuit.

But Wyatt?

Each day, he lifts head from a Thomas the Tank pillow to live in the here and now, asking, "Where are we going today?" His dreams can be fulfilled in a matter of seconds--digging in dirt piles, having a tractor playdate with Opa, or making a gingerbread house with Grand daddy.

He's not even four years old yet. At this point, Wyatt can't imagine a time beyond Christmas.

My heart, though, leaps months and years ahead to the teenager, the young adult, the man I want him to be.

And what I see in him scares me, tugs at this mama's heart with an indescribable ache of concern.

This past week, the problem of lying has returned with a vengeance to our holly-decked house.

Wednesday afternoon, Wyatt lied about breaking a floor tile left on the back porch. We talked about it. We discussed why it was wrong. He was punished. End of subject, right?

Not three hours later, the lying monster returned.

Three precious angels were instructed to "not move" and finish eating supper at the kitchen table while I walked upstairs to grab their Wednesday night church clothes. Still holding pants and a shirt from the first closet, I heard running feet and then Wyatt yelling heavenward that Amelia had done something naughty.

At first, I thought our kitchen had been hit by a sudden hailstorm that silently came and went in the two minutes I was away. Then, I realized a glass platter made of safety glass had shattered on the kitchen floor, leaving no piece larger than the diamond in my wedding ring.

In the cleanup talking, it became clear (as it so often does to mothers) that Wyatt, not Amelia, broke the plate.

Another lie.

What was I doing wrong? Defeated, I sunk by the kitchen pantry and began to cry.

Wyatt didn't understand--this wasn't how mommy normally acted when he did something wrong. Why wasn't she yelling? Spanking? Sending him to a naughty bench?

In that instant, this mommy saw in the shattered glass a vision of a lying child growing into an lying adult consumed with sin and not consumed with a love for Jesus...a child separated from me for all eternity.

And I cried.

My mother says he's a little young to learn about hell. I didn't really think about that as he asked me what was wrong, and I began spilling forth my heart in one huge run-on sentence:

"Mommy is going to heaven one day and she wants you to be there with her. And if you keep lying and being naughty, you can't go to heaven to be with me and Jesus. You'll be sent away from mommy forever to a place called hell."

At this point, his voice grew a bit wobbly, too. "But who will take care of me."

I told him the truth, that nobody would take care of him in hell. I said that people only went to heaven if they loved Jesus and obeyed Jesus' commands as a way to show Him love. Lying was not obeying or loving Jesus, and if he didn't ask Jesus to help him be an obedient boy........

And we cried together.

For now, I snuggle a bit closer to him as we read our afternoon stack of books together. But it's the tomorrow I long to know about.

I can prepare Wyatt's heart to love Jesus. I can teach him Scripture, read him Bible stories, take him to church regularly, involve him in showing others Jesus' love, and live out Jesus' love in my own actions.

But only God can direct the heart toward saving faith in Him.

When you pray, add my children's names to your perpetual prayer list. No person is too young to start praying for his/her salvation.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Making Connections: B.C. to A.D.

If you've ever had the thought, "Why doesn't Israel just give back the land, and then there will be peace." If you've ever wondered why the Middle East is constantly in upheaval with nation against nation. If you've ever asked why Muslims hate Christians and Jews so much.

If any of these statements describes you, then pastor and author Bryant Wright's newest book, Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis in the Middle East is a must read.

When I saw the cover, I'll admit that I expected my head to hurt reading some high-brow critical analysis concerning the intersection of Scripture and history. But nothing could be further from the truth. Wright's style is clear, extremely easy to follow, and at a mere 167 pages, a great education in three-night's read.

Part One explores the Biblical story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and the two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Wright details where the conflict between the three major world religions began in relation to these biblical individuals and then gives a "where are they now" look at Abraham's descendants in relation to the countries in the Middle East.

Part II then explains Abraham's story from the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian perspective, thereby providing the reader with an understanding of the constant in-fighting and hatred that still exists today in the Middle East.

Surprisingly for this uber-critical reader, the only critique I have is that Part One of the book is extremely repetitive. After describing the outline of the Abraham story, Wright rehashes the same ideas in the "Sarah and Hagar" chapter and then again in the "Isaac and Ishmael" chapter. Since there is a Study and Discussion Guide at the end, I understand his logic in dividing the story up into sections to be discussed in a weekly small group setting, but for the individual reader going through the text, it made me yawn, "Yes, yes, yes, you've said that already. Get moving..."

Overall, if you're well versed in Old Testament history and if you've followed the political climate in the Middle East so that you know the who's who of Isaac and Ismael's modern-day descendants, then this book is mere review of the basics.

However, if you are the average person who doesn't really know much about the connection between Old Testament times and the modern situation in the Middle East, I would definitely recommend this as a great "starter" book..

Monday, November 29, 2010

Make This Christmas a Miracle

Today has been one of those days when I wish I had a video camera permanently strapped on my forehead so I could show my children fifteen years from now just how mischievous they really were.

One snapshot would show a crying Wyatt, pink flower boots stuck firmly in the center of the mud as a bootless-mama tentatively wove a path to him without sinking out of sight herself.

The next snapshot, a mere 30 minutes later, would show my face sag in defeat as I realize that while I folded laundry, the twins pulled all the ready-to-pop blossoms off my blooms-once-a-year Christmas cactus.

The final snapshot from right before bath time would show Amelia happily covered in three entire shelves worth of children's books...courtesy of Wyatt.

My children are enough to make me scream--and it's only Monday!But in the midst of it all, they give me glimpses of maturity, of kindness, of an empathy for others that just amazes me.

Last week, Wyatt wanted to write a letter to his Grandma who recently went through knee surgery. As the babies slept, he told me what to write, and I did. Then, he copied the letters.
If you can't read his writing, the last sentence reads, "Hope your knee is better now." I tried to get him to skip the "now," telling him that although we prayed ever night, it would take her awhile to feel better.

Completely undeterred, he insisted on writing the "now" anyway.

Today, he and I spent our afternoon "special" time looking at the World Vision Gift Catalog. Crouched over the small kitchen table, he spent half an hour flipping back and forth through the small twenty-page booklet. I tried to explain what each item was how it could help others, and how it would be our way to show them at Christmas that God loves them since Christmas is about God sending His best gift of Jesus to us.

I was so amazed to see how serious Wyatt was about this decision. As he looked, he would have me repeat the story of some pictures, especially of the one boy with the distended stomach from parasites.

Finally, I asked what he would like to give. First on his list were two chickens (expected since Oma raises them and he knows how good an egg tastes). But after that, he surprised me, asking for mosquito nets to protect a family from mosquitoes, medicine to help them feel better, and clean water so they wouldn't get sick from drinking bugs.

Late in the evening, I had Wyatt tell his daddy what he was "buying" to give and why. I smiled as he actually remembered (1) exactly what he chose to give and (2) that we were giving to others who were in need to show them God's love.

Seeing this child blossom, watching him learn to show Jesus' love to others...these are the "milestones" that I tuck away in my heart.

And it makes me wonder--although my family's gift won't make but a tiny difference in the world, what if we all spent more on others in need this year than on presents for ourselves?

Then, what an even greater miracle Christmas truly would be.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Preparing Your House for Advent

Every year, it sneaks up on me, this starting to remember the Christ child while the calendar still oozes autumn with its burnt oranges and golden yellows.

Perhaps, like me, you'll be surprised to learn that two days from now, Sunday, November 28 starts Advent, the countdown to Christmas.

And perhaps you'll be even more surprised to learn I'm (gasp) prepared!!!

If your family doesn't celebrate Advent, author Ann Marie Stewart's Preparing My Heart for Advent is an awesome book with short daily readings to guide you through the season. The main point of Advent is to keep your focus on the coming of Christ, to truly remember the reason for the season.

Although everyone celebrates Advent a little differently, it is common to have an Advent wreath where you light a candle each Lord's day until Christmas.

A few weeks ago, somehow, in God's sovereignty, He saw fit to have the mail carrier mis-deliver to our home a neighbor's copy of the children's magazine Highlights. When Wyatt saw it in the "back in the mailbox" pile, he pestered me until I read it from cover to cover before returning it to its rightful owner.

In the midst of non-memorable stories was a cute, easy Christmas project for children to make their own Advent wreath. I thought it was a great idea for those of any age who aren't quite mature enough to be trusted with matches, lighters, or anything else they could possibly use to burn down a house.
After tracing Wyatt's favorite leaf collected on one of our nature walks, he cut our four leaves...I cut out the other 40 something. Definitely not equal division of labor in this household.

I was going to wait to "light" the candles with yellow tissue paper until Advent started, but his almost-four-year-old mentality insisted the project wasn't complete until it looked like the picture. I'm still not sure how it's going to go over on Sunday when they're all "unlit" save one.

Although Wyatt's Advent wreath is a new addition to our dinner table, this is a tradition I've had in my family since childhood. I vividly remember my mother having the pink and purple candles lit on the Sunday dinner table.

Last year, she gave me a precious gift, the Advent wreath she carefully painted many years ago.
One year, I'll light those candles just as she did for her children.

For now, though, I'm content to stuff yellow tissue paper into the top of a toilet paper roll as I remind my children of Jesus' birth, of the true meaning of Christmas.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Thanksgiving Eve Funeral

Digging a shallow grave by flashlight wasn't not exactly how I intended to spend the evening before Thanksgiving. Choosing what portion of my yard to use as a pet cemetery wasn't on my "to do" list today, either.

Yet, death doesn't seem to understand it's supposed to work around holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and the like. In fact, it seems as if these events always manages to fall on those over-stuffed days on the calendar, the ones where I've already written in bold blue marker strokes and highlighted the words.

The first kitty Doug and I adopted soon after we married was a calico-Siamese mix whom we named Mia. Today, we had her put to sleep after finding she had an inoperable tumor consuming her stomach, liver, and endocrine system.

Mia was no mere cat.

She was my child when I could not children. She spent the summer in an apartment with me in Montreal while Doug left to attend school each day. She woke me in the mornings and napped with me in the afternoons. Every night, she would come to the tub and drink the water I would let trickle down the sides. And every time I sat at this computer to type a blog entry, she would sit at my feet until I picked her up for lap-time.

Most visitors to our home never saw her portly form because of her overly-shy personality. But anyone on the phone with me could easily hear her motor that sounded like a large diesel engine.

Tonight, Douglas brought her back from the vet so we could bury her.

With his car lights shining on the newly-loosened dirt piled up beside the hole, we all circled 'round. Emerson didn't care about anything but the dirt. Wyatt, on the other hand, was curious. He understood completely that this was Mia's body but that she was no longer here.

Amelia did not. As I lay the blanket-wrapped body in the hole, Doug and the boys began shoveling dirt back in. One pretty abysmally-exposed shot was all I got off as Amelia started to bawl uncontrollably and scream, "Mia!!!!" I had to scoop her up and hold her as she cried those gut-wrenching sobs like I wanted to cry.

As a kitty girl like her mama, all she understood was that we were burying her Mia in the ground. Since all cats go to heaven, I told her that Mia was up in heaven with Jesus, just like her balloon that just last week escaped out the front door of the house and sailed heavenward over the trees. I'm not sure she believed me.

As I write this, I'm lonely. My legs are warm from another kitty's love, but they're not vibrating from Mia's loud purr. And I know when I sign off here and head up for a bath, she won't be waiting for me there either.

Tomorrow, I will celebrate in thankfulness with my family. But tonight, I mourn. And I remember.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Shoes Are Important to God

It seems totally irrational to think that the biggest topic of conversation in my household over the past few weeks has been (drum roll) In fact, I think the dialogue about shoes has sucked up more air time than potty training and the new porno airport pat downs combined. And I know it's been associated with a lot more well as some heart-thumping excitement.

Two Fridays ago, I finally broke down and started trying on shoes in my closet. A couple weeks before, I had discovered I couldn't wear my tennis shoes--my feet had either grown or my arch had fallen within the four-month window since I last wore them.

After sending my tennis shoes to a new home, I waited. I intentionally put off the inevitable not because I thought I could avoid this day. As someone with a narrow heel and a hatred of the modern pinched-toe, insanely-high heeled trend in shoes, I simply was afraid of what the damage might be.

As it turns out, I had reason to fear. It was worse than I expected. Twelve pairs of dress flats and heels. Twelve (sigh).

Sure, I inherited several of them from my mother and the rest I purchased on what used to be fabulous Dillards clearance sales...but that's not the point. Until trends change, they're virtually impossible to replace, a fact I know all too well after two weeks of shoe shopping.

When I had counted up the casualties and noted the huge gap where my church shoes used to be, I had a big boo hoo meltdown. The following morning was no better--my husband made a stray remark about a new can of soup I'd bought for him, and I crumpled to the floor, sobs shaking my shoulders as (once again), my children watched in wonder that mommy could cry just like they could.

Before this past week, I can't remember the last time I shopped for shoes for me. And to say that I've had seriously limited success so far is putting it in the best light possible.

But today, God showed me there was hope.

I went to Wal-mart for Thanksgiving day gumbo-fixings and (maybe) some size 11 sandals for Wyatt since in Louisiana, we can wear sandals with socks all winter...a great invention for dirt pile play.

I wasn't too hopeful, but was making a required pass by the shoe department when on an end cap, I saw a whole rack of sandals. And at the top, the sign said "$1." My jaw dropped as I instantly realized God had heard me this morning. And He had provided.

My mom was with me and quickly realized that these would be fantastic to send to the Mexico orphanage her church supports, so we quickly filled her buggy with the remaining 28 pairs of little kid sandals.

Isn't God just so amazing?

I never asked Him to provide Wyatt a pair of shoes. And there in the glow of fluorescent retail lighting, I realized that I've never asked His help, not once, with finding me some shoes.

Why not? Did I think the God who knows every hair on my head wouldn't care about something, anything that concerned me?

My God is the God of shoes. Of rotten pine trees. Of my husband's eyesight. Of the orphan.

And that is comforting beyond belief.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Making Peace with Santa Claus

Christmas was my all-time favorite holiday as a child and young adult. Sadly, that all changed the moment I had children. After four years spent wrestling with the concept of Christmas in our commercialized society, only now am I beginning to make peace with how my family will celebrate the holiday.

My husband and I grew up in two very different worlds. Mine was filled with Santa Claus, Christmas Eve gift-giving parties with family, and a huge Christmas Day dinner. My husband's was a Santa-Claus-free world with little emphasis on gifts and little celebration of the day itself.

As you can imagine, with Wyatt's birth came a load of emotionally-charged decisions where Christmas was concerned. And then came the guilt. Each time I said the word "Santa," it stuck hard in my throat because I knew many Christians refused to allow Santa a part in Christ's birthday. I respected their decisions and wondered if I were doing right by my son.

Only in the last month have I finally made peace with Santa Claus and his role in my family's Christmas.

I'm teaching my children that Santa is the man who fills their stockings (and only their stockings) with gifts in celebration of Jesus' birthday because Jesus was God's best gift to us. Wyatt, especially, is intrigued by the idea of gifts. And yet, at 4-years-old, it seems like he's learning what I've been trying to teach--that Christmas is about giving. Last week, we practiced his writing skills by writing a letter to Santa. Wyatt told me what he wanted, I would write it on a dry erase board, and then he'd copy the letters on his rather large post card. What caught me totally off guard was how his list progressed.

First, he wanted a teddy bear for Amelia and Emerson, then a fishing rod for me and his daddy. Once his family was taken care of, he asked for our three cats: a tree scratcher for Jonah, a rug for Mia and Tabby, and a toy mouse for Kira. Only then did he ask for himself--a bouncy ball, soft sheets (a complaint about current bed sheets), books, and a mama duck.The twins aren't up to speed on Santa yet. They're too busy playing with the nativity scene placed on a table low enough for small hands to rearrange dozens of times a day. Baby Jesus is most always out of his stable...and is always encircled by shepherds and wise men who have come to worship Him. Amazing how even a two-year-old knows that everyone, even the donkey, must look to Jesus.While I know this is a decision each family must prayerfully make, I finally feel at peace. I finally feel free to celebrate. Since I'm about to enter the end-of-the-semester-crazy-paper-grading time of year, this past week, my children and I pulled out boxes of Christmas decorations, some that I haven't used since the second year of my marriage.It's been exciting to see Christmas through their eyes--to be able to tell the Christmas story almost daily. To explain how the twinkling white lights remind us of the star that led the wise men to Jesus. To show them the red and green plaid ribbon and sparkling white butterflies from mommy and daddy's wedding right before Christmas almost ten years ago. To show them the sequined nativity on the Christmas tree skirt that Grandmama and mommy made together oh so many years ago.In a few weeks, I'm looking forward to sitting down with them and a catalog we receive that provides goats, deep wells, mosquito netting and other life-sustaining, life-protecting items while sharing the gospel of Jesus. Instead of gifts to each other, Wyatt, Amelia, and Emerson will start another family tradition--giving the gift of life to another child in another part of the world.

This is the first Christmas in such a very long time that actually feels like a celebration of freedom, of life, of joy...of Jesus.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When Thank You Isn't Enough

If you've followed this blog for long, you know the story of our three precious miracles.

There's no way to put into words the years we spent longing for children. The years of battling infertility. The suffering through two miscarriages.

I'd like to say I handled that period of my life with more grace than I did. The tears, the anger, the hormonal mood swings caused by medications--I'll always be indebted to my husband for the grace he extended to me when I had none to give in return.

Through everything we endured, we both always knew we would have children. Though at times our faith faltered, we always believed we would one day hold in our arms one we could call "ours."

It was just a matter of when. And just a matter of whether God wanted them to be biological or grafted into our family as we were into His.

Long before Wyatt's birth, one late-night run to Target saw me cooing over little girl dresses, especially those sporting an image from my childhood--Strawberry Shortcake. I could imagine nothing more perfect than my daughter wearing such an outfit.

With Doug's encouragement, we brought home that dress and tucked it away in the back of a closet, unsure of whether we would ever use it.

A few weeks ago, the weather turned cold in Louisiana, and I began hanging in the closet little girl 2T clothes I had bought for the winter. In the mix was that dress bought long ago by a mama and a daddy with hopes and dreams for a family.
Thank you just isn't sufficient for expressing my gratitude. Yet, with all my heart, mind, and soul, thank you Father for hearing, for answering. And thank you that even when our faith wavered, yours did not.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Generations of Courage

Courage is not the absence of fear. It's the ability to complete one's mission in the face of fear.This is not the definition I find in Webster's. But it's the definition I have always been taught.

My father and his father before him. My mother's father. My brother. They know what courage means.

World War II. Vietnam. Iraq.

When the time came, they served their country as their country asked them to. Knowing the risks. Seeing the horrific results of those risks. Days. Months. Years. They dutifully served so that I might live free.

I grew up knowing my daddy was a soldier in a time when men were drafted, forced into service, and then treated poorly when they returned home. Because of that, daddy didn't speak much about his stint in the military. Every once in awhile, though, I guess he would need to remember, so he would bring out stacks of black and white photos of Vietnam and rattle off story after story.

On the rare occasion, he would fire up the slide projector, and I would watch frame after frame appear on the living room's white wall as he narrated. I saw napalm-cleared land, forests of trees, airplanes, and a photo of a cocky young man holding a huge machine gun. It was a glimpse into another world miles away, at another fatigue-clad man with a dark brown moustache who didn't look like the daddy I knew.

As I looked at the photos, I knew my daddy was courageous. His job was to fly in the planes and take aerial photographs so American forces would know where the enemy was located. As you can imagine, a plane makes a pretty good target.

Yet, God kept him safe and returned him home to meet my mother. And to become my father.

Today, the Audubon Nature Institute offered free passes to all veterans and their guests. So, what better way to spend Veterans Day than with the veteran I love best.

The aquarium, the insectarium, and the zoo--my parents, my children, and I toured them all.

At the end of our day, my parents rested with the twins and a cup of Haagen Dazs while I took Wyatt to visit the new dinosaur exhibit at the zoo. As we walked through the door, life sized animatronic dinosaurs lept off the pages of the books we've been reading this past year, literally roaring to life...

Wyatt was instantly terrified and turned around to head back through the door that had (uh oh) closed behind him. I hurriedly touched one to show him it was ok.

"No, mommy! It's going to eat you!!!!"

Eventually, I convinced him they were plastic, not real. Yet, the fear still remained. It was obvious he expected them to come to life (for real) at any second and devour us both for their next meal. He didn't even want to snuggle close enough to any of them so that I could fit him + the dinosaur in the camera's frame.

But, he really, really, really wanted to "pet" one of his favorites--a triceratops. So, I stood back and watched as he sidled closer, closer, stretching out that hand as far as it would go, touching, then yanking it back and celebrating his bravery.
In the face of fear--courage. Just like his grand daddy.

(Top Photo: Grand daddy and Wyatt eating beignets.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Skipping Christmas

It's that time of year again when people start to go a little crazy...ok, a lot crazy. The insane traffic, over-stuffed store aisles, and disco-flashing strings of lights used to start after Thanksgiving. Now? Several of our stores have been sporting fully decorated Christmas trees for over a month.

But if you can imagine fast forwarding..."skipping" all that Thanksgiving and Christmas entails, it will be January 1 next, the time of new beginnings. In the past, I have found it helpful to use a 365 day devotional book, something short, simple, and with dates to keep me on track.

Nothing could be more welcome than Robert Morgan's new devotional book, On This Day in Christian History: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories about Saints, Martyrs, and Heroes.

As Morgan says in his Preface, "Contemporary Christianity is interested in recent trends, current challenges, and modern methods. So am I. But nothing braces me to face these days like visiting the cloud of witnesses that comprise church history."

In Morgan's view, "with no heritage from the past, there is no legacy for the future"--quite a compelling argument for learning a bit more about our predecessors in the faith.

To that end, Morgan provides 365 page-long stories about many greater-known and lesser-known Christians from the infamous preacher Charles Spurgeon to America's first foreign missionary Adoniram Judson. The really neat thing is that each story is "told on the date it occurred" in history. As one would expect, accompanying each short reading is a Scripture for meditation.

When I first received the book, I anticipated reading morbid tale after tale of horrific acts of martyrdom. While the book rightly includes many such stories, I found it to have a good mixture of martyr stories vs. tales of the average Christian who sells out his/her life for Christ.

If you're looking for a devotional for 2011 and want to be encouraged by the stories of those who have gone before you, this book is for you. But beware: instead of merely getting a daily dose of history, these true stories may just move your heart to be more radical in your commitment and dedication to Christ.

**I receive no payment for my review. Thomas Nelson merely provides me with a complementary copy of the book.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ten Thousand Years and Counting

A thin box formed of simple plexiglas is all that separates my fingers from ten-thousand year old mastodon teeth. I turn my head upside down, bend knees, squint my eyes--all the while looking like a circus contortionist as I try to see each side of the teeth.

Granddaddy holds up Wyatt. Thin fingers instantly poke at the glass, getting him as close as possible to objects just out of reach. Like me, they, too, want to feel the smoothness of enamel turned crystal and stone, to explore the mountains and valleys that once ground herbs and grasses to small bits.

After reading Mammoths on the Move (on woolly mammoths and saber tooth tigers) for two weeks, today, my parents helped me take the children to visit a small art exhibit at our State's flagship university.

On the way home, I realized we didn't give the modern art a second glance. What captivated all of us were the objects that gave a glimpse into another time, another world, one filled with fierce-looking allosaurus dinosaurs, saber tooth tigers with enormous fangs, and long-tusked mastodons. Another filled with Civil War memorabilia and a hand-stitched dress with an intricately-puffed hemline that demonstrated skills exceeding those of many fashion artisans today.
This fascination with things old, with priceless antiquities tucked carefully behind glass--I can't remember a time when these objects didn't hold my attention. And now, they draw near my curious children.

On a trip to London early in our marriage, I dragged my husband through every floor and room of the city's famous museums, my eyes glittering like a school girl as they lit on object after object previously only encountered on the glossy-colored pages of books.

I would fly across the oceans, drive through miles of construction traffic--all to see these pieces that have withstood the test of time.

Then it hit me--I own something more precious, something older than mastodons, dresses, or even time itself--the Word of God.

There is no woman watching from the corner to ensure I keep oily fingers off its leaf-thin pages. There is no sheet of plexiglas keeping me at arm's reach from what will fill a thirsty soul.

Thank you God for this living, breathing, eternal "artifact" that beckons me to touch, examine, and explore. Make it my heart's desire to learn as much about it and, through it, as much about you as you will reveal to me. Make that desire exceed even that of learning about other parts of your creation in time's past and present.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Musings of an "At Will" Employee

As a part-time college instructor, I am an "at will" employee. My contract isn't created and signed until after first week of each college semester when the powers that be are sure enough students have remained enrolled in the class so it will make money. I can be terminated, non-renewed, or just plain forgotten for any reason or no reason at all.

In the strictest sense, I have no job security. And yet, this type of "career" has been a blessing since 2006 when I obeyed God's voice telling me to stay home once I had children. Since that time, I have never lacked "enough" classes to teach. In fact, there have been many semesters when I've had to turn down classes because I know I can only grade so many papers each night after my brood goes to bed.

Come this past August, though, I hit my first bump in the road. I was scheduled to teach my normal load of six classes. Yet, a few days before the term started, I learned two of my classes had failed to "make," casualties of our continued slumping economy.

With only four classes to teach, I felt like a failure, not bringing in my fair share to the household's pot. I wondered how my husband and I would deal with my pay-cut on top of his already decreased salary because of his own employer's economy-driven business woes.

I cried. I asked God to just "fix it," to make openings where there were none. During the first week of school, I tried everything in my power to drum up extra classes at other institutions, but as expected, it was too late for this fall.

God was giving me rest, like it or not.

He was reminding me that yes, I am an "at will" employee--but at His will.

Two months later, I've relished in evenings crocheting in front of a good movie, in solid hours where my attention was more focused on my Bible studies, and in a little more time spent with my husband. It's been wonderful.

In the midst of my rest, God sent a small editing job. A lot of work for not much money--I decided to just say no. But, while typing a rejection email, I clicked cancel, sensing that I needed to do the work. Halfway through the project, the hair on my arms raised in eerie awareness that in the dissertation was an answer as to why a full-time online teaching position fell through for me a couple years ago. It was an answer I had never asked for; yet, God provided it anyway.

Now it seems God has opened yet another door, establishing a casual acquaintance years ago as the head of the English Department at another college. It seems my Spring semester will be much busier than this Fall, a busy-ness that, ironically, I'm not looking forward to even though I went kicking and screaming into a semester with less work.

Blessings in a Pay Cut. Just one of those contradictions found in God's economy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Refiner's Fire

My mother and I stole a few minutes yesterday for ourselves. With no "don't touch or eat that" children in tow, we stepped into a local antique store just to browse. To my surprise, in the first booth, I saw the same decorative blue and white heart-shaped plate that adorns my wall.

Only this one didn't have a story to tell.

In my dining room hangs a tableau of eight blue and white lacy-edged plates, each a different shape and size. Then, on an adjacent wall, all by itself hangs a single heart-shaped plate.
After its journey, it seemed to have earned a special place in my home.

During the great move to our new home a few months ago, we emptied box after box in rapid succession as I sought to make this house a home. The back porch became a convenient home for the empty boxes. In a few days, it was packed with different-sized boxes thrown atop each other, some stacked atop each other, towering high like angular skyscrapers. To the artist, it looked like a cubist, Picasso-esque vision of what a city skyline might look like.

In a few days, my mother decided it was time to reclaim the porch. The good boxes were folded down and put in the attic. But the great majority of them, we carted to a make-shift burn pile. Sweating against the towering flames alight in mid-day, mid-summer Louisiana heat, she and I fed each box to that fire for over an hour and then left it to burn itself out.

The next day, it started raining and didn't let up for a few weeks. The remaining boxes started piling up on the porch until one dry day, I walked out to burn this smaller second set of boxes. To my surprise, there in the black ash lay the heart plate, stark white in contrast to the charred pieces around it. We had missed it during the unpacking.

Amazingly, the plate was still perfect other than one small chip on its right side and an almost imperceptible crack ran across its face, easily remedied by a little fabric tape concealed against its back.How many fires has this household gone through? How many impurities burned away? How many chips and cracks from the burnings; yet, no one ever notices?

But how much more beautiful now than before.

"This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.' " (Zech. 13:9).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

For the Fragile

Tomorrow marks two years since the end of six weeks of bed rest, since my body's organs began shutting down and my blood pressure skyrocketed, since the emergency delivery of my perfect 36-week old twins.

Two years--and I still have difficulty remembering.

It's not that the remembering is difficult because of an imperfect memory. It's that my memory works all too well.

Recalling the smell of fear in everyone's voices as they spoke as if I were deaf and dumb. Watching the frantic rush of a dozen or so doctors and nurses as they prepared to deliver the twins. Noticing my doctor's furrowed brow and clenched jaw of concern as he read my charts two days post-delivery. Feeling guilty because my healthy babies were taken away to the nursery for the first 48 hours when I wasn't well enough to care for them.

The infamous "they" say you forget pain...which is why women choose to have more babies after baby #1. But now, two years later, I still haven't forgotten.

I haven't forgotten sitting in that hospital bed, holding my husband's hand, and realizing I may not see my thirty-first birthday. As my numbers continued to increase, I remember crying, telling my husband what to do if I didn't make it, what I wanted him to tell my children.

Even now, it's so fresh, so real.

My brush with death, the thought in the back of my mind that if not for God's hand intervening, my children would now be motherless--it does something to a person.

It did something to me.

Last Wednesday night, I learned that a little girl born three days after my twins' birth is facing the possibility of a leukemia diagnosis. Her grandmother and aunt actually visited me in the hospital as they awaited the birth of baby Grace.

Since then, as I made my twins' birthday cake, as I prepared for their happy party, as I looked through the pictures--I have thought of Grace. I've never met her, but she consumes my thoughts and breaks my heart as I pray for her, thinking it could easily be my darlings.

This life--it's as fragile as the eggs my son collects from Oma's chicken coop.

Even though I am frazzled at the end of most days, even though I'm more than a little ready for the silence of bedtime an hour before it gets here, I am thankful for each day I am given...maybe even a little more thankful than before.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Failed Attempt at Separate but Equal

There's a boat in my bathtub, a lime green washcloth hanging where my purple one should be...and my favorite tennis shoes are in the trash.

All courtesy of motherhood.

I had this oh so crazy notion that once we moved into our new home with more than one bathroom that I would finally have a room of my own. More than that, I thought I would have a throne of my own and a tub of my own.

No more pee on the seat. No more kids' toys falling on me when I bumped them off their side-of-the-tub perches. No more gritty sand residue when I settled in for a soak.

To encourage my three children to love their bathroom, I decided to make it as equally fabulous as mine. I decorated it with a favorite animal--monkeys just like Curious George. Everywhere they look, huge, happy-faced monkeys with long, curling tails mischievously peek out from behind the mirror, hang from the ceiling, or swing from a leafy vine.

But for some reason, my oldest son decided he didn't want to take a "bath." No, instead, he wanted to take a shower with daddy. Such a cute request, daddy caved in at the thought.

And so now, there is a boat in my tub, a washcloth on my bath hook, and small, extremely wet footprints on the bathroom rug.

It seems I can't separate "me" from my "Mommy me".

This concept was hammered home this past Wednesday morning when I went to put on my tennis shoes. Six months ago, they fit. But when I needed them to ford the thunderstorm's rising waters? My toes pushed against the ends.

Blame it on carrying around three children. Or blame it on a heavy, taxing move to our new home. Either way, my sudden possibly-falling-arches-foot-growth is proof positive that every part of my life will literally affect every part of my life.

I really should know better by now--trying to keep separate the various facets of my identity: church life in one room, motherhood in another, Bible study in the bedroom, school work down the hall.

It never works. And it never really will.

I quietly close each door when I exit, but before I'm out of sight, it's already back open, with every room freely spilling its contents into the hall until everything is impossibly mixed together.

In a way, I guess that's actually a good thing, for if each of you dipped into my life and pulled out a scoop-full, each jumbled mess would always reveal the same me--mom, wife, writer, teacher, sister, daughter...devoted servant of God.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Withered on the Vine

In "life before children," my husband would bring me roses to celebrate each monthly "anniversary."

A sucker for flowers, I tried everything to be able to enjoy them for as long as I could. Alas, no matter what I did, I was only prolonging the inevitable.

Tap or bottled water. Plant food or not. Carefully cutting 1" off the stems or just shoving them in a vase: they would still wither and die.

As part of their dying process, most roses open wide in full-blossom, then drop their petals. Gravity presses down, and one by one, they relinquish their connection and fall, breaking free from the source that birthed and nourished them.

Presently, a potted rose on my front porch defies what I've learned about roses.

Several weeks ago, a blossom opened--crimson red and filling the immediate air around it with that sweet aroma unique to old roses.

Knowing how my children love flowers, too, I expected to find evidence of a snatch-and-grab any day.

Yes, I have witnessed several grubby hands (and snotty noses) snatch and grab and smell. And yes, each day, my oblivious children crash their riding toys into the rose's pot.

I've watched the vine shake violently with each car accident, repeatedly smashing the fully-opened rose into the concrete beneath it. Yet, despite their best (or worst) efforts, here I am weeks later and each petal has stayed firmly attached to its source.

This particular blossom has now been on the vine so long that it has started to show signs of age--once smooth, youthful petals are drying up into shriveled, crunchy shells of their former selves...all while still attached to the vine.

Such a compelling image...

No matter how many times life crashes into me or grabs me a little too roughly, I want to stay firmly attached to the One who created and sustains me.

I want to wither on the vine.