Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Easter Book Worth Buying

For all you moms out there who have been looking for a book about Easter that doesn't merely talk about bunnies and chocolate eggs and new life in nature, this book is for you!

I picked up my copy of Eyewitness Animals: The Story of Easter at our local thrift store, hoping it might be cute enough to read occasionally so that my children would remember the story of Easter. But to my surprise, my then 2-year-old absolutely loved this book. And one year later, he's still bringing it to me to read again and again.

What makes this book unique is that each part of the Easter story is told from the point of view of an animal. No, these animals' stories aren't mentioned in the gospels guessed it, animals can't really talk. But these characters do present the truth present in God's word, and the animals help keep a young child's attention throughout.

For example, Clip Clop donkey is present at the triumphal entrance to Jerusalem, Whiskers Mouse witnesses Jesus wash the disciples' feet, Digger Mole is hiding in the garden when the women learn Jesus is alive, and so on.

While the concept is unique, what makes my son keep coming back to this book is that throughout the seven short stories, the text actually prompts you to have the children make noises, touch their ears, open their eyes wide, shake their heads, and other actions that help them pretend they're the animal in the story.

It wasn't intentional, but it seems reading this book has become a tradition in our household. Sometimes, though, those traditions that start by chance are the ones that become the most looked forward to throughout the years.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Extra-ordinary

Before bringing my firstborn home, I made a decision this would not be a co-sleeping household.

I realize it works for some mothers, but I also know myself--I am an extremely light sleeper who is at her absolute grumpiest, meanest, snappiest when I don't get enough sleep. It's seriously like a Jekyll and Hyde kind of thing--ask my poor husband.

Yet, since I wanted Wyatt near me, I compromised by putting a bassinet right by the bed. Not even one full week home from the hospital, I realized my son was a light sleeper like me. I would wake up with his smallest sigh, and he would wake up when I would shift positions.

We were both miserable. So, off he went to sleep in his crib.

And we never looked back...until last night when Wyatt was bit by his first real stomach-emptying bug.

Even with bedpan in hand, he would still manage to throw up everywhere but there. With the waves hitting him almost every hour on the hour from 7 pm until 3:30 am this morning, it was obvious I would be listening to the monitor for cries of another round more than I would be sleeping.

So, I made a pallet by my bed with some purple towels and his special Thomas pillow. Then, I covered him with his daddy's John Deere blanket. Sick as he was, the small, exhausted smile on his face said, "I am special. I am loved."

I understand that smile. It's the out of the ordinary acts of love that make my heart so tender, that make me really, really feel the love from others.

It's a random sticky note from my husband. A homemade birthday cake. A hand-made doll from my mother. A snail mail "just because" card from a friend. An image of Jesus hanging on the cross.

Those unexpected, undeserved acts. I take them all in.

And I know....I am loved.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Little Bit of Pixie Dust

If I were three years old again, I could imagine the thick layer of yellow dust on the backyard picnic table was pixie dust. But my grown up self knows better. With each breath, my allergies say I'm inhaling the tiny yellow molecules of pollen that both fall from the trees and rise from the flowers beneath my feet.

However, what many people don't realize is it's not the pollen you see that's the problem--it's the pollen you don't see.

What is seen is heavy enough to fall and stick on a horizontal surface without incident. Yet, what is unseen is light enough to remain suspended in the air until it clings to hair and clothes as well as enters mouth, eyes, and nostrils. And then? Allergy attack.

Such is life. It's all about looking past the easily visible to discern the unseen. To block out those larger than life voices that blare like a fog horn for our attention so that we can focus on the small stuff that really affects us--for both good and bad.

Yesterday, Emerson saw a small mound of dirt in the wide expanse of grass...and picked up a handful of ants for closer inspection. What I had ignored as being "too small to worry about" caused lots of damage to a little boy's hands.

In the light of the setting sun, Amelia and Wyatt gathered bundles of the clover flowers I had ignored in favor of my brightly colored petunias. And there was much beauty in those weeds.And my small find? A young boy's "collection" tucked inside his castle away from little toddler hands . A selection of large rocks. A few sticks. A leaf. And a bit of tall grass used for making Easter nests. Surely not worth much, but a sign to this mama of his growing love of the outdoors, of God's creation.
My children are experts on seeing the small and ignoring the big mama yelling "NO!!!!" at the top of her lungs. It's a characteristic I would do well to emulate a little more.

"And Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3-4).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Another Adventure in Photography

This morning, we donned our Sunday best and arrived 15 minutes early at the studio to take our Easter pictures. I thought that was a good sign until I realized we would be getting the children dressed in the chilly parking lot. Thankfully, they're still too young to care about being modest.

Overall, it went well. The children still made me grind my teeth since 100% of the time, at least one out of three would be doing something not-picture worthy--hands in the mouth or covering the face, twirling, running, bouncing, looking anywhere but at the camera.

But the really good news? My children are now officially not the most defiant, bouncy, high-strung children in America! The photographer said so. Are you as excited as I am?

Somehow in God's grace, He arranged for an overactive two year old boy to have his photo session the same time as ours. It took three people to just try and get him to cooperate. The mom even commented if she got one good photo, she'd be thrilled because she had none of his fast-moving body.

After the vision of that little bundle of energy, I could only thank God for my brood. They are anything but sedate, but they've made rapid progress since Christmas photos.
The smile on my face doesn't reveal the hours spent shopping for a purple dress--one that didn't make me look like I was a grandma yet that didn't have a plunging neckline better suited for lingerie than a church outfit. Who knew that would be such a difficult request?
Princess Rose in a white organza embroidered dress I snatched up at the Thrift Store. This is one of the only times you'll ever see her in a bow. She constantly rips them out and turns them into chew toys.
This was Wyatt's first adventure in wearing a tie. He looks oh so grown up (and just as handsome as his daddy).
Emerson's blue eyes are going to make some girl fall over herself one of these days...but hopefully not for a long, long time.
Photos like these are enough to make me want more children...until I see the other 90 outtakes and realize God gave me only three for a reason.

**All photos are property of Portrait Innovations

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Emily Meets Jesus

My children are blessed with train genes passed down through two great-grandfathers from both sides of the family.

When we were dating, my husband and I would compare notes on our grandfathers' train rooms with the detailed layouts, buildings, people, faux gravel. I remember one summer visit up north found my Grandpa John had cut a hole in the side of the basement wall so the train could go outside through some bushes, weave around the track and then return indoors. Sure, my own daddy's small N gauge train layout fascinated me, but cutting a hole in your house was taking play to a whole new level! To a kid, this was as cool as cool could get.

With this background, it was not too surprising that early last year, my oldest, Wyatt, suddenly fell in love with trains on a chance meeting with Thomas the Tank engine at Barnes and Noble. The boy who should have been enthralled with a whole store full of the books he loved was more excited about the wooden track glued to a small table and the small trains he could lead across trestles and through tunnels.

This one encounter with trains was all it took. Several purchases from EBay and Craigslist later, Thomas and his friends entered our lives, making the train table the main focus of our living room and the names of each engine a part of my daily vocabulary.

From listening to my daddy and Wyatt watch train whistle videos on YouTube to grumbling over another engine left invisible on the busy rug for my bare feet to stumble over, trains are a normal part of my family's life.

The same is true with my family's belief in Jesus. Loving Jesus is not something we do just on Sunday. He is a part of daily life, of everyday conversation, of the books we read and of the songs we sing.

This everyday-ness of God in our lives that I merely take for granted was made strikingly clear to me a few weeks ago in a most precious way. One afternoon, I walked in to find Wyatt had parked Emily and her tender in front of the tomb where Jesus lay tucked inside, waiting for Easter and for the stone to be rolled away.

While the image made me laugh, he thought nothing of combining the two together. As he played, I watched pudgy little hands slowly, carefully remove the stone to take out Jesus and the angel. I listened to him have Emily ask Jesus why he died and then have Jesus respond that he was alive and in heaven up in the clouds.

The story of Easter, as told through a wooden train engine and a plastic Jesus.


But still as powerful as when it was first told by the angels who announced Jesus was alive.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Samson's Hair: Saying Goodbye to Babyhood

With my first son, Wyatt, I fought to keep him looking the part of a baby as long as possible. The other vestiges of babyhood like the bottle, pacifier, and crib were gone without much notice (or tears) long before I cut off that beautiful brown halo of curls right before his second birthday.

Perhaps my love of baby hair, with all its God-created highlights, was caused by the images I've seen of my brother's curls when he was a toddler. Or perhaps it was my mother's heartfelt stories about loving my brother's curls. But whatever the case, Wyatt's curls somehow came to represent everything beautiful, innocent, and sweet about my baby boy...all things I felt would somehow vanish like Samson's strength if I were to cut his hair.

So, I spent almost two years trimming Wyatt's bangs and letting the wispy curls grow into small, gold-tinted ringlets surrounding the nape of his neck...until one bath time when, unbeknownst to me, Wyatt's daddy decided to "help" by trimming the baby hair so that it was "evened up".

I am quite certain my husband still recalls the emotional bomb that fell on our household the following Sunday morning as a very-twin-pregnant me went to brush Wyatt's hair. One minute, the Sunday rush getting ready for church--the next, I'm breaking down in sobs and then locking myself in the bedroom once I discover my baby's long, beautiful curls are gone and (what's worse) washed down the tub's drain.

Needless to say, my husband hasn't thought again about severing even a lock of hair from our children's heads. But this week with several patches of fuzzy, frizzy baby hair making it difficult to get a comb through, the time came for my second little boy, Emerson, to get his first haircut and leave that part of babyhood behind. It's not like he's still a baby anyway. He can steal from his sister, covet what his sister has, and then lie with those big blue eyes as he pretends to not understand why she's crying. He can make demands with a blossoming vocabulary of words along with some very toddler-esque crying tantrums. And his attitude that "if I don't make eye contact, then I don't have to obey" definitely screams toddler.

But as I took pictures of my little explorer this afternoon, I felt like I was looking at my little boy rather than my baby boy.It's one of those bittersweet moments we mothers treasure in our hearts.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

No Photo Available

The shutter rapidly flashes open and closed, each time holding still a moment, a memory for me and my children to look back upon when they're older. It has been a blessed week outdoors--just me, my children, two cats, and the camera.

After a hard, cold, ugly brown winter like this one, when springtime comes, God's creation just begs to be photographed. The changes we've been waiting for these past months seem to come overnight.

From last week's burgundy hint of leaves to come on the tips of wiry tree branches...
To this week's full blossoming of almond branches being worked by the bees...
Even from up under the seemingly-barren earth, life springs forth. Small onion flowers and violets unbend their heads and turn tiny flower faces to the warming sun...before my children search them out to pick with wild abandon, attempt to eat when I'm not watching, and stuff in several plastic cup vases on my back porch and across the kitchen cabinet.
And as if their bodies also know spring is here, each child has had a sudden growth spurt. Chubby baby faces now reveal little boy and little girl expressions. Shirts leave not-so-trendy belly-gaps, onesies no longer snap at the bottom, and pant legs look like we're expecting another flood.
All creation seems to be be telling of God's glory and new life: "the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands" (Isaiah 55:12).

But in the midst of my picture taking, I've realized something is missing, or should I say someone.


On the computer screen, I scroll through dozens of photos from the past few years; yet, it's rare to find a picture of myself. It's not that I delete them because they show an unflattering view of my around-the-farm bad hair days or less-than-perfect post-twin body.

It's simply that I'm the one always behind the lens--framing, zooming, and clicking to hopefully capture the smiles, the laughter, the beauty.

The nature of being a stay at home mom is that I am privileged enough to be a part of the life shown in each picture...but still always as the invisible party.

Perhaps this is a concern for each mother in some way: will my children remember those events from their childhood when there are no pictures to jog their memories?

Will they remember walking hand-in-hand with me around the yard in search of God's newest wonder? Listening to me lovingly sing the same sleepy time song to begin each nap? Jockeying for the best lap position as I sat on the floor to read another book?

Even with my image absent, will they still see in the photos just how much I loved them?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review: Patsy Clairmont’s Kaleidoscope

Women of Faith speaker Patsy Clairmont’s newest book stands out on the shelf with its vibrant cover and intriguing title--Kaleidoscope: Seeing God’s Wit and Wisdom in a Whole New Light. The text, itself, explores Proverbs, an oft-ignored book of the Bible.

Thirty devotional chapters adhere to an easy-to-understand structure intended for the personal or group setting. Each chapter begins with a verse from Proverbs and is followed by a short devotional, a series of questions to help readers personalize the chapter’s opening Proverb, and then a list of several Scriptures on the same topic for additional thought.

I decided to review this book because the back cover asked a question I have long had—“how can we make sense of all the disjointed pieces” in the book of Proverbs. Although I expected this question to be the main focus of the book, I was disappointed to find only Clairmont’s first and last chapters addressed it; the rest of the book appears to be a selection of thirty random verses from Proverbs that she seeks to help us understand.

As always, Clairmont is very funny. From the other reviews I’ve read, most women liked the book. Yet, I found many of the chapters spent the bulk of the text developing a funny story only to all-too-rapidly conclude with little effort to tie back in to the Scripture being examined. In many cases, I had to keep turning back to the actual Proverb and reminding myself what verse I was supposed to be understanding. That is my main criticism, that the focus seemed to be less on Scripture and more on Clairmont's witty turns of phrase.

With that said, the first and last chapters were my favorite. Clairmont states that we need to seek to understand the book of Proverbs (and God in general) like we view images through a kaleidoscope—with the knowledge that the wisdom we will receive is endless as the light of God hits a verse in different ways. This concept was precious to me, not just in relation to the book of Proverbs, but to my understanding of Scripture in general.

* I receive nothing for my review except for a complementary copy of the book from Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

From Destruction to Construction

I rummage through the tool chest, searching for a Phillips head screwdriver, a hex wrench, and an adjustable wrench. Somehow, that's way too many tools--and yet not enough--to dismember a fixture in my house for the past three and a half years.

Taking down the baby cribs has been on my "to do" list for quite some time, one of those things I have wanted to do...but not really. Yet, the carpal tunnel in my wrists has been inflamed the past few weeks, partly because of the repetitive dead lifting of 28 1/2 pounds each time little hands raise and I hear "up."

So, armed with my father's help and husband's tools, I separate Bolt A from Slot B and stack the pieces outside against the wall.

My family and I still call them "the babies;" yet they're anything but. Their growing bodies, increasing vocabulary, and blossoming skills show my twins to be very much toddlers, little people.

This afternoon, when I placed Amelia and Emerson in their "new" toddler beds, they looked so big, so grown up. Although I expected chaos to reign during nap time, after one false start with Emerson, nap time perfectly and silently fulfilled its definition.

It's an understatement to say I hate change. So, I'm always fearful when I make changes around here, expecting my DNA in them to result in the same characteristics.

But Amelia proved me totally wrong again. After her bedtime cup of milk, she and I always read a book, point to each family member in the hall photo, and laughingly grin at ourselves in the long mirror.

Not tonight.

Instead, she promenaded down the hall, haughtily looking over her shoulder at me and my attempts to get her to come back for our routine. I finally gave up, following to her bed where she quietly climbed in and lay down.

Mommy is a bit sad she's in a grown up bed. But Amelia? She doesn't have the words to say so, but her actions show she's proud of it. So, I put the blanket over her, turn off the light, and walk back down the hall to review today's pictures.

And I smile. I see more tools, this time not taking apart, but putting together--men carefully placing one board after another to create my family a new home. A place for my children to grow from toddlers to teenagers. A place for my husband and me to grow old together.

This change--it warms me with promise, hope, and evidence of God's faithfulness and love

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Waiting for Another Earthquake

A late afternoon knock on the back door by a nice young man in a hard hat isn't exactly an everyday occurrence at my house. Neither is said man telling me sometime tomorrow, I will be greeted by a huge sonic boom that will "sound like a jet engine" as his company works on the main gas line.

At the end of his speech, he placed a bright red sheet of paper in my hands, said not to worry, and left.

Hmmm....nope. Nothing about this situation screams "no danger" to me.

First, they chose flaming red for the notice--not an "it's-all-going-to-be-okay" powder blue or some other encouraging, comforting pastel color. Red. Then there's the time-consuming door-to-door messenger, spreading the word that it won't be as bad as it sounds. And finally there's the fact that the messenger had to wear his hard hat just to tell me about the noise.

It may not be a dangerous situation, but it sure just doesn't scream "no danger" to me. In fact, it seems so much like how the cataclysmic events seen on the news are dealt with.

Earthquake in Haiti. Earthquake in Japan. Earthquake in Chile.

There seem to be two schools of thought for dealing with these devastating geographical events.

The one side says it's just a shifting of tectonic plates, that large earthquakes occurs every 25 to 100 years in Chile anyway. So no cause for concern--it just happens on a kind of schedule throughout history. No danger.

The other side says it's caused by global warming (or climate change, depending on whether you've shifted from the old verbiage to the new, more fashionable terminology). And we can stop these problems by using fluorescent light bulbs, regulating our cars' and factories' emissions, and switching from fossil fuels. Again, no cause for concern--we can fix it.

Again...sorry, but nope. Neither answer screams "no danger" to me. My life textbook says differently.

Sin is the cause. Earthquakes are the effect.

I'm not railing about pacts with the devil or anything like that. But I am talking about sin. Breaking God's law. You know--those ten commandments?

Time and time again, God uses earthquakes to meet out His judgment for sin. I can't just ignore the 20 some odd times Scripture uses the term "earthquake" or the equal number of times it uses the word "shake."

Well....I guess I could. But would that make the danger any less real?

Other people see climate patterns, climate change. But I only see God's judgment.

That's real danger, eternal-life-separated-from-God kind of danger...and not something we can fix by permanently parking our cars or shutting down all forms of industry or charting the next one on a graph. That's something we can only fix by individually falling to our knees and begging God for mercy while turning over our hearts and lives in obedience to Him.

But do you know what I'm waiting for?

The big one.

The earthquake caused by my Lord placing His feet once more on Terra firma.

"A day of the LORD is coming when... the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south" (Zech. 14:1a, 3-4).

Yes. I wonder how the news media will explain that one away?