Thursday, March 31, 2011

Feet on the Path to Easter

All the plush bunnies are carefully arranged and rearranged on tops of furniture and in five little plastic-woven baskets. Plastic eggs for squealing hunts in the grass rest center on my kitchen cabinet. And at the foot of the stairs for our family to see first each morning is a cobalt vase of silk yellow daffodils and white irises that stand tall by the tomb, rock firmly rolled in front of its opening. In the foyer, the retro shimmering pink Christmas tree has been re-purposed as an Easter Resurrection tree, complete with children-hung eggs, stained-glass butterflies made from soda pop bottles, and leftover yarn "eye of God" ornaments. Even the back french door is covered with floral and butterfly clings that keep moving around when I'm out of sight.To the naked eye, my house is prepared for Easter.

But I know my heart is not.

My ladies' Bible study group is four weeks into a study of Revelation, looking not into the "when" but rather the "what" of Christ's return to earth. The further I've progressed through the prophecy, the more I realize I'm not ready for Him to return. There's so much left to do, so many who think they know but who really haven't even started down the narrow road.

It all begins here--at the cross.

Sure, Christmas may get all the hype, what with the wonder of Christ leaving His throne and choosing to encase Himself in the humble flesh of humanity. Yet, Easter should hold equal importance in the lives of Christians.

Lest we forget, the death and resurrection are as much a part of the equation as the birth.

Christ's birth


Christ's perfect sacrifice on the cross


God the Father accepting that sacrifice for all my sin and your sin


Christ's ultimate triumph over death in His resurrection


Eternal Salvation for all who believe.

It's two weeks until Palm Sunday. Three weeks until Easter. At this point before Christmas, most of us are busily baking, wrapping gifts, attending parties, and checking off an assortment of other holiday traditions.

But what about Easter? Are you getting prepared? Are you ready to meet the resurrected Lord?

If not, consider joining me and many others @ Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience. For the month of April, she's offering The Trail To the Tree, a 17-day Easter devotional to remind us of why we needed a Savior to come and redeem us all.

Let's prepare our hearts, tag along with Christ on that final dusty journey to Jerusalem, to the cross, to the tomb, and to life.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Life-Changing Journey

Imagine a mother and her nineteen-year-old daughter accepting a wager from the fashion industry to walk 3,500 miles in 7 months from Spokane, Washington to New York City. The women have no male to protect them, no map, no money, no friends along the way...oh, and it's the late 1800s.

Such a tale sounds like the substance of fiction, but like many other inconceivable stories, this one is truth.

In Jane Kirkpatrick's newest historical fiction novel, The Daughter's Walk, she tells the story of Helga and daughter Clara Estby's cross-country walk in an attempt to earn the $10,000 wager to save the family farm.

A year later, Helga and Clara return home to find their home forever changed and the family they left behind so angry about the failed trip that they forbid any word of it spoken--ever.

Confused and angry, herself, Clara goes on a second journey in search of her identity, exiling herself from the family for twenty years.

Weaving together researched history with fiction, Kirkpatrick explores the concept of what makes a family, what makes a person.

Overall, I enjoyed Kirkpatrick's fictional retelling of what likely happened before, during, and after the journey. Unlike so many Christian authors, Kirkpatrick doesn't stop the narrative to "preach" at you; she simply lets the story reveal the moral truths, itself.

The one thing I was disappointed in was the ending. While there is a sort of reconciliation between Clara and the family, the novel touts itself as a story about "what exile and forgiveness are truly about." Yes, the novel does a good job exploring the struggles of the soul that Clara faced in her self-imposed exile. Yet, I found it fell short in teaching lessons of forgiveness--the text gave more a lesson on just forgetting and letting others repress the past for the sake of reconciliation.

If you want a quick read and an interesting snapshot into an incredible woman of the late 1800s, pick up this book. Enjoy the journey.

Friday, March 25, 2011

35 Years (or less) From Now

My parents' van pulls around the corner of our long drive, and I laughingly tell husband my mother is trying to rid her house of me. This is just one more trip, one more box of a past she wants me to carry forward, to collect dust in my house, not hers.

This divesting herself of everything "mine"--I unconsciously fight against it, not because I don't understand it but because of the finality of it all. My brother doesn't have this problem. Whereas his room looks virtually the same as when he left home for a career in the military, mine looks nothing like the eggplant-purple-carpeted room I played and studied in from kindergarten through graduate school.

Within a year of my getting married, my mother had moved out the bed, ripped up the carpeting, added wood plank flooring, and converted the space into her sewing room. All my "stuff" was tucked away in boxes, then stuffed in closets, under beds, and other assorted hiding places throughout the house. I've never asked, but perhaps that was her way of emphasizing to me that marriage was a forever thing--no turning back.

Since husband and I moved last July into our "new" home with its own attic, she's constantly been encouraging me to relocate all remaining vestiges of my pre-married life. When I don't respond to that prompting, she sometimes brings out boxes for me to "go through" or even delivers whatever it is to my doorstep.

This visit, it is my wedding dress.

My daddy set the huge box in the downstairs foyer before going to help husband diagnose the problem with the back porch swing. And there it sat for a whole week filled with sickness, grass-watering marathons, and random growth-spurt-defiance-craziness.

Surprisingly, nobody asked about the huge box. Once, I found a few Little People animals lined up across its top, but other than a cow, a chicken, and a horse, nobody stood on it, sat on it, or attempted to open it. It was just there.

Last night, I called the children together to see, me carefully unwrapping the memory from its mummy-like cloth.

My oldest son was the only one who appreciated the dress, itself: "It's be-au-ti-ful," Wyatt squealed, followed by "Why is it in that big box?"

Husband descended the stairs and peeked in, too, adding, "I wondered what was in there."

I tried to tell them of the lace butterflies I beaded by hand and sewed on the train and shoes, but nobody heard.
I'd love to tell them the story of finding the dress on clearance when the store Parisian was eliminating its bridal department. I'd love to tell them of stepping into this one dress and knowing it was the one...of convincing my mother to spend a couple hundred dollars on the first wedding dress I'd ever tried on, the veil, and the shoes--even though I was years away from an engagement ring.

One day, they'll listen. But for now, they're more interested in the veil...something even the boys want to try on.The sight of two boys' heads encircled with beaded tiara and tulle netting only deepens those laugh lines around my eyes.

Then, there's Amelia. The vision of her in all white, saying her forever vows to the man God has sent her--it elicits more of a sad smile.
Too soon, too soon, I'll be the one delivering boxes of her childhood memories to her house.

As she smiles for the camera, I call her daddy.

"Maybe in 35 years," he says matter-of-factly, and marches three sets of small feet upstairs for bed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tipping the Scales Back from Failure

Ever since daylight savings time started a little over a week ago, my children have morphed into "those children" I see now and then when out shopping or at a restaurant.

You know the ones--the "(sigh, eye roll) thank God those aren't my children" kind who blast out impatiently "Where's my fork!?" at the dinner table, who say "No" to ever statement or request, who fall down kicking and crying when not getting their way, who deem daddy's new rule "ri-di-kew-lus."

While I'd like to blame all three of their attitude problems on the time change or sleep deprivation, my maternal instincts whisper that the timing is mere coincidence. Their increased food intake this past month, Amelia's outgrowing her shoes, the twins both learning to ride their tricycles in the last few days--these are clues that they have entered yet another season of defiance brought on by a growth spurt and mastery of new-found skills.

This spreading of wings towards independence is tough on their mommy...and them, too, learning to soar without flying past invisible boundaries.

As I sent someone to the naughty bench for the umpteenth time this week, I shook my head in defeat with images of them as delinquent teenagers flashing before me.

Then, as always, I caught a glimpse of progress--Amelia seeing Emerson hit his head and repeating, "You okay, Emerson? You okay?" until he responded, "Yes, I okay, Amelia." Emerson packing Amelia's pink clogs across the yard to her so she wouldn't get in trouble for taking them off (again).

But Wyatt--the most belligerent, can't-shut-his-mouth-to-save-his-life child...he's the one who really showed a tender awareness hidden beneath the frowns.

While I jerked 100 feet of garden hose around the yard for two hours watering the new sod, he brought out his birthday camera to take pictures of what he deemed important.

Flowers first.
Then the new thornless blackberry vine daddy planted Saturday.
The raspberry vine.His brother. ("Stay still Emerson! Mommy!!! Emerson won't stay still!!")
10 or so pictures of his artwork (chalk colored on freezer box turned "play house.")The large rocks he walks like a balance beam around my flower beds.
Streams of water.Mommy ("Say cheese!!")...minus half her head.
With no direction from me, he shot frames of what is important to him.

The world through a little boy's eyes shows a love for God's creation is taking root in his young soul.

And the scales tip.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Looking Among the Thorns

"You'll never guess what I found today!"

Eyes bright, I greet tired husband, minutes in from the office. "We have a crown of thorns bush growing by the place where the wild violets are! [not that he knows where this is] You know, like Jesus wore! A 'God hat'!"

As I bubble over with news of my treasure, he waits for me to breathe. "Does it make those white flowers?"

"I don't know. I don't think so," I continue. "But I need you to cut down a couple of trees--they're pretty small, maybe five inches in diameter, growing right in the middle of the bush, keeping it from...."

We've been together long enough for me to know when his eyes are laughing out loud even if he has his mouth carefully under control.

This flash of a twinkle, the slight crinkling around the outer edges of the eyes--they stop my lips, and I have to smile, myself.

It's obvious that once again, this farm girl by marriage is showing herself as the true transplant she is by making a very un-farm-like request.

And like always, husband's eyes speak his kind-hearted amusement, knowing this is one in a lifetime of things he'll be challenged to look at differently in our small corner of the hay farm.

His voice crackles slightly with nearly-unrestrained laughter. "When I was younger, Mr. Raggs would pay me each summer to cut down every one of those thorn bushes around his field and paint Roundup on them. Those things can really tear you up, you know."
I should have guessed--what I see as beauty is what a hay farmer puts in the "must die" category.

Since moving to his family's farm four years ago, husband has been exposed to creation through my untrained eyes. Much like his dad learning to see purple weeds through his grand daughter's eyes, husband has had to learn to see some things anew and to see others that never before crossed his farmer radar.

Where once he would mow everything flat, now he leaves patches of clover and other wild flowers until they go to seed, steers around night roses growing beyond the protective borders of flower beds.

He's even moved and has been working to restore his grandfather's small red "barn" for no other reason than his wife liked its history, its weathered cedar planks.

Even this time, with visions of a saw and Roundup in his head, he doesn't tell me "no," only smiles and finally chuckles a little. He'll cut the trees out of the bush's way, I'm sure.

The next day, the children and I walk towards the white flowers he pointed out in the fence row behind our house. It's another crown of thorns bush--this one in full bloom.
How could I not have known they bloomed?

I only remember the circlet my mother brings out each Easter, a crown of thorns she had made from a crown of thorns to remind us of Christ's sacrifice.

As I tell my children the Easter story in the shadow of the thorns, I can't help but think how perfect this "weed" is to represent the Resurrection season...the flowers among thorns, the beauty among pain.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ignoring My Limits

I grimace with each step as I descend the staircase, but it's better than yesterday. Then, I would yell "Ow! Ow! Ow!" in time to my footsteps on the treads, making my oldest son run to the bottom and watch curiously as his mama hobbled towards him with some invisible injury.

Living on a farm in the country, there is always a list of things that need to be done. And living at a house that hasn't seen its first birthday yet only adds to the list. With a husband who works in an office five days a week, I'm used to working more like our ancient women ancestors than women of today...and waking with a corresponding tinge of stiffness in various muscles.

For instance, Friday morning, I spent four hours shoveling, moving, and spreading out rocks around the utility area of our house in my attempt to stop grass from growing in an impossible to mow section. The next morning--an almost imperceptible twinge in one shoulder. In other words, I was good to go.

But by Saturday evening when my parents arrived to see the fruits of our labors, I'd gone well beyond the limits of physical exhaustion.

It all started with husband deciding to sod our yard with St. Augustine, one of the few grasses that will crowd out the Alicia Bermuda grown in the hay fields surrounding the house.

To make the project inexpensive, he said we would sod it the "poor man's" way--him taking a machete and cutting up each piece of sod into 6 or 8 pieces, then me planting it every 4 to 6 feet around the entire 50-foot "yard" we had measured off surrounding the perimeter of the house.

As planned, Friday afternoon, husband brought home a truck-load of sod. Even from my short height of 5'3", the stack of pancake-thin squares looked deceptively small. It sounded small, too, sold under the name "one pallet. And besides, it was only grass. Grass--yeah, real shaking-in-your-garden-clogs kind of scary.

Saturday morning, husband and I went to work. After wielding the machete, myself, to cut apart one square of sod, I quickly fired myself from that job. From the looks of it, my attempt was more of a mauling than a cutting. The sod breathed a sigh of relief as I turned away.

I then tried my hand at using my dad's Mantis tiller to rough up the ground and create a shallow "hole" for each of the 1000+ squares of sod...but that felt like I was like holding an energetic bloodhound in place as I forced it to dig down when all it wanted was to race forward across the field after an imaginary fox. After I labored a half hour or so digging holes, husband said I looked like I was going to fall down, so he took over that job, too.

The remainder of our 8 1/2 hour marathon was a simple repetition for me--bend down, stand up, bend down stand up...once for every time I spray painted a dot every four feet around the house so husband would know where to dig, for every time I worked freshly dug earth back around the small square of sod.

By nightfall, the yard looked like it had been attacked by a hoard of angry gophers. Success.

But also importantly, by nightfall, I had reached and surpassed my limits--not a good thing. Within an hour of calling it a day, I was too nauseous to sit upright and my temperature had risen two degrees, sending me huddling under several blankets to counter the feeling that I was freezing.

By Sunday morning, I was almost back to normal...except for a few unhappy muscles running down the tops of my thighs and insides of my knees.

As I prepared for morning worship, I dwelt on the thought that the pain was really my own fault. Halfway through the afternoon, I had known it was time to stop, but husband wanted to keep going and finish the job because rain was coming Monday (1/2", praise God!). And so, I ignored his words to "quit" as well as my own body's warning bells to keep pressing forward.

At heart, it's not really a stubbornness problem but rather a listening problem, one God has to keep reminding me of.

Listen to the body. Listen to the Spirit within.

If I don't, the repercussions may be much worse than a few sore muscles.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Not Just Weeds: How to See Beyond the Obvious

Look closely. What do you see?

A birdbath? Some bushes? Mulch leaves? A field of purple flowers?

My father in law sees weeds...lots of them.

Not as many as he saw in a field he passed heading north last week on his way to a piece of coconut cream pie at Lee's. As he tells it, that field was covered.

I listen as he crosses his arms, telling me he's heard the weeds are getting resistant to the few remaining chemicals the government allows him to spray. He shakes his head at the thought..nothing really works anymore, not like the old chemicals did anyway.

It's a conversation "Opa" and I have at least once a year--me a staunch advocate of the "purple weed" that grows each winter while the hay lies dormant, him equally adamant about plotting its demise before it goes to seed.

It's just part of life when you live on a hay farm filled with acre upon acre of tenacious Alicia Bermuda grass. In the farm's economy, weeds lose. Grass wins.

This spring is the first year I've been able to look out my front door and enjoy the haze of purple flowers rolling out from my doorstep and across the field like a Hollywood red carpet.

It's also the first year Opa has had his grand daughter picking and bringing him these purple weed flowers, too.

Last week, he sprayed the fields, but for the first time, he left untouched the corner behind our Amelia could enjoy the flowers.

This falling in love with weeds--it may sound absolutely crazy, but it's something I'm trying to teach my children...and myself--to look past the obvious to find the extraordinary God has given us.

To look not only at the blossoms that will turn into berries, but also at the tiny leaves bursting forth almost unnoticed in their shadow.
To look deep in the monochrome brown straw and leaves to uncover a tiny tip of hyacinth bulb reaching for the warming spring sun. To see not merely naughtiness in a little boy yanking mommy's few pansies off their stems, but to see his growing love for creation, too...a love that demonstrated itself for the first time today when he marched (singing and chattering) upstairs to bring me his first flower.
There's hope for all of us to just look at our world carefully, closely, more observantly this weekend....hope even for an Opa.

As I look at the purple haze still vibrant in my backyard, I smile and think maybe, just maybe, a grand daughter's love is helping him see beyond the ordinary, too.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Just Needing to See

We didn't quite beat the storm to our front door. It came too quickly, that red-purple blob on the computer map marching from left to right across the screen, with us right in its path.

Sheets of white rain poured down two-and-a-half inches on already water-logged soil. Then came the house-shaking thunder preceded by bright streaks that lit up prematurely-darkened skies. Somewhere in the background sounded the familiar horn of the tornado warning.

As I rapidly ushered my three children indoors from the van, I continuously prayed under my breath, "Keep us safe, Father." Once inside, I breathed a sigh of relief only to find now, the children were upset, excited, anxious. Moments before, they had been calmly sitting and singing while I white-knuckle-gripped the wheel. What had happened?

Thankfully, I realized, not too many crazy minutes later, that their anxiousness didn't come from the storm. Instead, it came from not being able to see what was happening.

And in the unseen, there was fear.

Wyatt kept screaming, "The house is in danger!!!" Amelia cried and immediately ran upstairs for her blanket, returning with it wrapped over her head like the old Sunday School pictures of the virgin Mary. And somewhere in the chaos, Emerson found a teddy bear to cart around.

Then, I removed the curtain from the back door and let three small bodies jockey for position, noses and hot breath smudge the glass, large eyes watch the storm rage on the other side of the panes.

In that instant, although the storm continued to worsen, they were at peace because they could see. After one particularly strong gust of wind nearly flattened the gardenia bush, Amelia yelled, "No blow leaves off tree, God!" But other than that, the trio just stood and watched, then moved on with their other pursuits.

It must be genetic--this fear of the unseen.

How often over the past decade have I struggled to see the storm raging through my family's life, believing that if I could just see exactly what was coming, I would be ok...but in truth, I was already resting in the safety of my Father's arms.

I just needed to remember where I was in relation to that storm, to shift my focus and see the walls of protection around me.

I am the one yelling, "Oh no, lord, what shall we do!?" because of my short-sightedness.

Instead, may my prayer be, "Oh Lord, let me see you."

"Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (2 Kin. 6:17).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Disappointing Dragon

Where did this fascination with dragons come from? Perhaps it was the two library books that made it home with us. Or maybe it was my fault, re-discovering a two-year-old-rarely-played-with birthday present and giving it new life with my imagination.

At night, this mommy is fierce. She roars. And she just might breath a little puff of fire. As the children scream with delight, I sail red dragon through the air, its wings flapping, jaws opening and closing as they approach little arms, necks, and legs that run the other direction, then turn back for more. They love it. And I can't help but smile, too.

With a dragon living right across the hall in the boys' room, I was thrilled to see Donita Paul and Evangeline Denmark's newest book, The Dragon and the Turtle Go on Safari.

In the story, Padraig the dragon and his friend Roger the turtle want to spend the entire night on "safari" in the backyard, which they rename "Mount Sillymanborrow." Throughout the night, their imagination literally runs wild, transforming routine animals like a dog, raccoon, and squirrel into a giraffe, elephant, and a rhinoceros.

When one friend grows afraid at a particular sound outside the tent, the other comforts, encourages, or distracts him until dawn breaks, ending a successful safari! After this main story is a short three-page story that Roger made up but didn't get to tell while on safari because Padraig thought it might be too scary.

Illustrator Vincent Nguyen did a fabulous job with this book--I can't emphasize that enough. The pictures are just truly amazing--my children (and their mommy) really loved them.

The actual story, though, leaves a lot to be desired. For the age child this book is aimed towards, the jokes just weren't funny. The dragon's name "Padraig" also might be neat for someone of age to read Harry Potter books , but it doesn't roll off a young child's tongue well and is quickly forgotten.

Even the small three-page story in the end was way over their heads--it talks about a silly man who walks north, east, south, then west to get to his neighbor's house when he could simply have walked west and been there immediately. I tried to explain this story several times to my son and got a blank stare each time--not age appropriate humor.

The biggest flaw, though is that the book's cover says its primary lesson is to teach that "the dark might be frightening, but their friendship is stronger than fear." children didn't get that. All they understood was camping out is fun (marshmallows!), it's cool to use your imagination, and there's really nothing frightening in the dark.

On the last page of the book is a Bible verse: "Do not be afraid...God goes with you; he will never leave you." I was surprised to see it there. Although I realize a Christian book is not what the author intended, the book actually may have had more impact and focus if the author would have taken this stance instead of trying (and failing) to prove that "friendship is stronger than fear."

**I receive no compensation for my review other than a complementary copy of the book from WaterBrook Multnomah publishers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Beautiful Mess

Dusty blue chalk footprints lead inside from the front door and around the corner, marring the glossy cleanness of last week's labors. It's no crime scene mystery, though. I sat on the threshold and watched my youngest son make those steps, me saying nothing in complaint as he skipped light-footed, unaware of the cloud of blue that rose up behind him from the dark planks and swirled visible in the brightness of late afternoon sun .

Somewhere beyond the prints is a happy little boy--running outdoors, free from coats, hats, socks in the eighty-degree sun of spring (?).

I grab camera first, wet rag second.

It's a learning process, this trying to find the beautiful gifts God sends in the midst of chaos. These footprints, they are a gift, reminding me of beautiful little feet that I have been entrusted with to grow in time, likely to his daddy's size 13 or larger.

Likewise, the mirror in the hall may seem like proof of my imperfections as a house cleaner. But looked at from another angle, it's just more evidence of the three beautiful ones who live...who really live life to the fullest within these walls.

Smudged by a thousand fingers and noses that have stopped to glimpse an imaginary life as a monkey, honeybee, or fireman--the mirror shows them not only who they are, but who they can become if I'll extend them the freedom to be a little unsure and messy.
Many days, I only see the mess, not the beauty. I fight feelings of failure and inadequacy when I don't measure up to the perfection I once owned.

Now, toys litter the floor, the laundry is left unfolded or still in piles waiting to be put up, and dust bunnies reproduce, well, like dust bunnies, despite my best efforts to vacuum them away.

I fail shamefully...more than you look beyond what is obvious to the beautiful gifts God has provided for such a time as this.

But when I change my focus, when I slow down to really look for Him, I can find Him.