How to Begin the New Year?

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I can see it right away, on day one of the New Year. My plans and goals are still hanging on the tree. I know I’m not going to make them happen today, or even tomorrow. 

It’s a week later now, and I’m no closer, hanging onto the laziness of the holiday as if it’s my one last day left of such days for the rest of my life. Honestly, it’s not, that I’m aware of. But the flesh is strong, and I’m not fighting.

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I’m not beating myself up, though. We’re going through a mighty brutal cold spell right now, and keeping warm and safe are the goals of the day. I’ve never spent this many days in my pj’s since my babies were born, and that was over 10 years ago. And not even then.

What does this mean?

Maybe it just means grace. God’s grace, touching me in this little way, a little respite of rest amidst days of running the race. I’m embracing it.

I watch the snow swirling in the wind, creating a misty veil of sparkly flakes. Eventually the wind calms down, too, takes its own rest, and the blowing snow disappears into the rest of the landscape.

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Where are the birds? Remarkably absent on the most bitter days, they know when to rest and stay put.

It’s built into us as well, I recognize. Created uniquely with God’s breath, we’re designed differently from all other creatures God made. He made us in the image of Himself. We have the very breath of God living in us.

If I stop to listen, see beyond the silence of the snow, I’ll hear and know when His grace calls me to a place of rest.

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This grace, it’s a peace.

Grace. Rest. Peace. Maybe it’s how I was to begin the year, after all.

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Words that Live

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 NKJV

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God’s word – it is living. It alive. How can a “word” be alive; after all, aren’t these just letters on a page?

But God’s word is more than simply letters on a page.

It has helped me a little to think of God’s word as a living organism.

What is a living organism? In biology, we ask the question: what makes an organism alive? Here are some answers to the question of what makes an organism living, in a strict biological sense: it moves, breathes, grows, has substance.

In the above definition, even bacteria and plants are living. But there is more.

We can also include: the ability to think, feel, discover, communicate, reason, love.

There is a difference, then. Is God’s word just “living”, or is it “alive”?

My boys love to watch movies with sword fighting. Have you ever seen a sword fight in a movie?  Not too long ago, men fought with sharp swords in warfare and battle, with deadly results.

We are told that God’s word is sharper than any “double-edged sword”. That’s pretty sharp. It cuts both ways, to the person wielding the word, and the person hearing it.

His word “pierces” the division of the soul and spirit. Can anyone see the soul? Can anyone see the spirit? Yet God’s word can reach the internal parts of a man that others cannot see. His word can reach the deep parts of a person that no one else can reach.

His word reaches between joints and marrow. We don’t walk around thinking about our bone marrow, as a matter of course. We know that this part can become diseased, requiring a transplant. But otherwise, we don’t give too much thought to our bone marrow. Yet this is where the red blood cells are made, where our strong bones receive nutrients, like a “central supply line”.

God’s word gets into our supply line. It contains nutrients for our soul.

Moreover, his word “discerns” our thoughts and intentions.  No one else can know me that well. I can fool a thousand people, but not God. He knows the truth. That is a comfort– and a conviction.

God’s word is something of a miracle. Why don’t I spend more time on it? Why do other things cloud it’s importance, its priority in my life?

Nothing can get to me more than this. No other books. No music. No TV shows. No movies. No talks with friends. Nothing else. No other book has this kind of power.

All other books are inspired by man.

But God’s word comes straight from Himself.

It is unique.

Think of it as something alive when you read it; take it in, memorize it, meditate upon it. Let it do its work in some mysterious way in your heart and soul that you cannot fathom.

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Stumbling

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Life is curious.

You don’t know where you’ll end up, or what you’ll be doing.

There are so many things beyond my understanding and beyond explanation.

Relationships, at least one or another, is always is trouble, or in need of minor or major repair.

WE are constantly in NEED.

I’m not just talking about physical need here, though millions in our world are in need of food and shelter and basic necessities. Despite the fact that I am not hungry, I have shelter and clothing, I still feel that I am NEED of something.

But here, I am talking about our spiritual need.

We can’t take two steps in our day (at least I can’t) without stumbling and falling flat on our faces.

But you know, nothing else like falling on my face reminds me of how much I need God. How much I need Him desperately.

It’s the grace of Christ that he lets me fall. And I find that is exactly where I need to be.

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Sharing with The Wellspring and Imperfect Prose
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Is pain essential?

Is pain essential?

The dark and light contrasting pattern on my mom's handmade Log Cabin Quilt are meant to be an analogy to the darker, harsher, wintry days of life, and the brighter, joyful, summery days of life.

The dark and light contrasting pattern on my mom’s handmade Log Cabin Crazy Quilt are meant to be an analogy to the darker, harsher, wintry days of life, and the brighter, joyful, summery days of life.

Perhaps pain is more essential than pleasure. I know for me, it brings me to my knees. I draw closer to the throne of truth and grace and LOVE when I am in pain and in grief.

It’s not that joy pulls me away from Him. I have been through enough pain to be thankful when something lovely and happy occurs. However, pain has  brought me closer to God. I’ve experienced his mercy because I’ve needed it. I’ve experienced his grace because I’ve needed it. I’ve experienced his comfort because I’ve needed it.

We tend to think that pleasure should be the norm, not pain, in this life on earth.

But it seems to me that life is just the opposite—pain is the norm. Pleasure is a gift, a sweet temporary gift that comes in between and amongst the pain, here and there, like a surprise flower blooming or like the first burst of sun at dawn. Pleasure accents our life, propels us press on.

This pain we have– it’s not because God doesn’t love us. It’s because he does. He loves us too much NOT to allow it and to let us know Him.

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Sharing with The Wellspring and Imperfect Prose

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“do not grow weary”

God is putting this verse in front of me lately:

 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9

Discouragement wells inside of me, after the feeling I’ve been given the “grunt work”, the short end of the stick. In my mind, I know that God asks me to be content. Yet, my heart is screaming against what has been unfair and unjust.

And, I wonder too, what is the answer to all of the prayers for salvation of loved ones? It is tempting to grow weary.
I feel helpless at times, being so far away from aging parents. I spoke to someone today who “understood” what it is like to live far away from aging parents. You want to be there and be part of it, but you cannot.

More of it is welled up inside. I wonder how many are like me, holding in the tears like a finger stuck in an old glass soda bottle.

Lost and caught in the daily waves of life, my writing is dusty; I can’t think of what to say, like a rusty piece of metal, I am squeaking out the words on the page. Does creativity only occur in spurts, or bursts?

When I don’t write, no one reads. I wish my writing weren’t so “forgettable. ” Haha.
So, now I just write, and let it be what it is. If I write it, the readers will come. Apparently we are so wired and into social media — I am amazed at how many comments one article could produce, how many likes, etc. So if I write, there will be some readers. What, exactly, I wonder, is the world doing each day? We’re stuck with our noses down into the screen, that’s what.

So the lesson is– “do not grow weary” in writing, either. I have neglected  it for many days and months, losing my momentum, back when I was writing 3-4 times per week.

Do not grow weary in the grunt work. In the un-appreciation. In the hard things. In some very hard things. In praying. In all of it.

Do not grow weary!

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Appointed Seasons

As September draws to a close, I am reminded that not only is there a designated time and season for summer to end and autumn to arrive, but also appointed seasons in our lives. 

I’m in one such season– the years I spend homeschooling. We have a short, fleeting window in which to launch our children. I am challenged to wonder if I am indeed spending my days in pursuit of what is worthy and excellent? As a busy homeschooling mom, in the midst of the daily grind, I have asked this question. Although the work may seem “worthy” I want to make sure it is of eternal consequence.

Is memorizing a map of the world of eternal consequence? What about memorizing history sentences and grammar charts? Some might argue these are not. But, God reminded me to look to HIM for the justification and purpose of what I do, not what others think or say. He also wants me to trust Him. We do not know that which the Lord has planned for our young ones, but this is the good work He has provided for them to do right now—the good work of learning— learning about His created world through the order and beauty of mathematics, through the intricacies of spoken and written language, through the complexities of science and creation, and through the vastness of this earth and its diverse people and places. He is working all of this toward some greater good and purpose that is beyond our imagination. What we are doing is good and of eternal value. We may not see the results of it all right now, but it will yield its fruit in the proper season. So, I choose to place my trust in what God has brought me during this season: these classes, this community, this curriculum, and to trust Him and His plan, and to know it has a good purpose.

This scripture comes to mind:

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

As scripture tells us, there is a time and purpose for everything under heaven (verse 1), and this includes our homeschooling lives, this season of learning. It will be beautiful in its own time (verse 11).

These verses are bursting with promise and hope. I don’t know about you, but scriptural promises like these are words I need to rest upon, on a regular basis. This encouraged me and I wanted to share it with you, too.
Blessings on your week!

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Just God Can

Feeling worn, at the end of August, after a busy month. Anyone? I not only feel physically worn, but also emotionally thin.

Life is hectic, with just the stuff of life, but then there are the relationships, and the myriad of strings and pulls and pushes and cuts at the heart.

When friends forsake or judge or belittle (or think themselves higher and better)… when others behave unfairly– no matter how often these things happen, a person still has to stop and find truth in God’s word. I tell myself and my kids these hardships are building the inner man.

My kids are not exempt to the pain in this world, they’ve had their share of difficulties. And it is building their inner man, when unfair things happen, when other adults are unfair or rude, or when other kids are likewise mean-spirited, and other challenges occur.

We’ve been there.

And yet I see around me others (usually youth) who have not experienced much hardship in their lives. What is the fruit of the lack of hardship? I see shallowness — a lack of depth, a lack of compassion, a lack of kindness and understanding. If parents have shielded a child from hardship, or if difficulties have not yet come along one’s path,  well, that child is going to have to learn sometime what hardship really is. There is an attitude of “I know”…. as opposed to, “I’m learning. God is teaching me.”

I once met a woman who admitted she had not had much hardship in her life… and indeed her biggest concerns were specific things regarding her appearance. Mind you, she was a beautiful young woman, and I can say with almost certainly most of us would agree there was nothing wrong with her appearance. But, as she put it, she “just didn’t like what God had done.” Her thighs were bigger than her sister’s (and there was no need of her to complain). There was a shallowness to her concerns– it was “all about me”. A lack of contentment and gratitude had left her looking in the mirror, blinded to the gifts that were already there. 

Yet I can do the same. I can be focused on the difficulties, the challenges, and see the empty space in the cup. What I think I’m missing out on seems to loom ahead of me, instead of the obvious blessings.

I see Facebook bringing out the malicious side of young people.  It’s the subtle ones that are the worst. You can’t tell by just looking… but I tell you, those who are the targets, they can tell. Moms can tell. Discerning adults can tell. Do the young people think we are getting fooled? We see right through the superficial facade.

So, in the midst of these storms, I find myself hanging onto God and His truths. Sometimes I’m barely holding on. I ask Him for patience, as I wait for the storms to pass. I ask him for understanding. I ask him for wisdom. I ask him to redeem the situation. I ask him for truth. I ask him to lead me. I ask him to speak to me. I ask him to walk with me.  I ask him for something better. If the situation is failing, I ask him for something 100 times better than the situation. If we’ve been rejected, I ask for 1000 acceptances. If we’ve been hurt, I ask for thousands of kindnesses– to be given and received. If we’ve been walked on, I ask for grace and compassion not to do the same to others– and for Him to redeem what was cast down. He is and He can. He is the God of Yes… the keeper of promises. Adonai, He is El Roi…  He is the God who sees. Nothing escapes His attention. His gaze. His eyes. He sees all. He knows. My God is the God who knows.  He is Jehovah Shammah, the God who is always there, my companion.

Really, who else can be all of that and do all of that?

Just God. God can.

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Crying in the Closet?

How can feeling inadequate be a blessing?

photo credit: my daughter

photo credit: my daughter

Feeling inadequate reminds us that we are, in fact, incapable to live life on our own, and to trust God in everything. We aren’t created to be in charge; God is the one in charge. We aren’t created to hold the world on our shoulders; God does that.

Relying on our own strength isn’t going to get us far before landing flat on our faces.  Trust me. I’ve been there. I bet you have, too. We could swap stories.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt inadequate to do something, or when a situation felt way beyond my capacity to handle. When I relinquish control and allow God to determine my steps, give me strength when I feel weak, to hold me up when I can’t, that is when the impossible becomes possible.

Crying in the closet because of difficulties that seem insurmountable? There’s a hope and blessing to be found in that. It’s a moment of succumbing to the realization that we are human and our capacity is limited. We can’t handle the circumstances surrounding us on our own. Yet in the midst of life’s ever-changing tumbling roads, God remains faithful and constant; He remains good and worthy of praise.

And… our silent cries are transformed into songs of praise.

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Sharing with Laura at Playdates with God, Jen at Finding Heaven, Jennifer at #TellHisStory and Emily at Imperfect Prose
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Going Home (a poem)

Going Home

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Sweetness drips, roosts on the
edge of the blade, and my feet
aren’t hurt.
Finding a multitude at any given
moment, I am undone, orbiting on
an imaginary hammock, swinging
and creating my own breeze.  I gaze
up to see the v-shaped geese,
flying to the same place at perfectly
spaced intervals.

I was born when mayflowers bloom
at the tender edge of spring and am
fully alive when the foliage is under
direct siege of the sun. I will walk among
greens, warm my toes on the bare
concrete. I have spent too many days
away from crickets. I’m coming home.
You’ll find me under the Alabama moon,
where my heart still lies beating. Don’t leave
until I can come. Wait for me, I’m coming,
I’m coming home, I’ll be there before
summer ends.

***

With my hand on the door, I push
ever so slightly, and the new kingdom
is there. I see the greens, the tenders,
the lights of endless summer, the
glow of eternal beauty, a delight, a
magnificent feast of flowers in every
color. Look for me here. I’ll be waiting.

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In Which Truth is Attacked These Days

An online friend recently wrote a letter addressing a major current social (and political) issue. She was loving and gracious in her words and responses, and while she is receiving some support, she is also receiving some difficult criticism and verbal attacks from all segments of the Christian and non-Christian community.

She dared to speak truth, Biblical truth, and her own convictions.

But it seems to me, nowadays, when Christians speak up about their beliefs, they get attacked as being non-loving or intolerant. If a Christian has a different viewpoint, why is that automatically considered wrong? Why does this invite belligerence?

It is simply because it is a Christian speaking, simply because it is the Bible being declared.

And that is offensive. It offends the Enemy.

The Enemy is offended by Truth. He attacks Truth when he hears it. The Enemy is cunning, deceitful, and sly. Under the guise of words like “intolerant” and “unloving”, the enemy will attack the Christian speaker, when on the contrary, the Christian believer may truly be genuinely speaking from a motive of love.

Yes, there are indeed many “Christians” who claim to be redeemed and renewed, but are not, and who speak hatred and bigotry. This is not who Christ is and not who Christ asked us to be.

Likewise, there are many “tolerant” and “peaceful” folks out there, who are not Christians, or follow other religions, but also are not fully who they claim to be, either. A “tolerant” person could be tolerant of every other religion or creed– except when it comes to Christianity. It would seem contrary for the tolerant person’s ideology to be against the Christian as well. Yet, this is often the case.

Why?

Because the gospel is offensive. The world does not like hearing it.

One of the more difficult aspects of this is that the attacks are directed against the person speaking the truth. The speaker is the one who becomes the target, when actually this kind of situation is reflective of a deeper spiritual battle, with the enemy pounding and rebelling against God. Unfortunately, well-intentioned people get battered in the process, and start to feel personally attacked.

We are in a war, a spiritual war. The real fight is between the “powers and principalities”, the spiritual struggle that is beyond the sight of physical eyes, though the fights may seem to appear to be among ourselves. The fight is a rebellion against God.

I want to remind my friend that the battle isn’t about her, or against her. The same rival since the days of Eden is still here and spewing lies about the Creator of this world, and will attack and twist truth in any devious way possible.

Yet, in these days, it seems to me that we see a greater harshness and a further movement away from the truth of the gospel. Christianity has always been under attack, but today, are we seeing a greater hostility? I am reminded of these words from 2 Timothy 3:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

I see the above in our world: lovers of self, lovers of money, boasting, pride, abuse, disobedience, ungratefulness, brutality, etc…. having a form of sounding “loving” under the guise of being “tolerant”, yet being abusive as well. While we haven’t yet reached the lowest depths of the abyss we can reach, we’re certainly making some headway.

If you have been attacked from sharing truth, take some comfort in knowing this: the battle is not truly against you personally. It is against God and His truth being spoken, His word being declared. If you speak up, expect a mostly negative response. It isn’t a question of “if”, but a question of “when” the opposition will arise. It will hurt, sting, and wound. But it isn’t about you, or about me. It is about Him, and His kingdom.

Your words, your time on earth, have an impact that you cannot even see. This is not our home. We are here for a brief moment in time, before we are in eternity. While earth and creation groan for the return of the Savior, and long for His coming, the world fights and rebels against Him, against the greatest love offered to humankind. Until His coming and subsequent reign, or until we are in eternity, we are caught in time, caught in this fight. But we are told in John 16:33:

 In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

And that, friend, is some really good news.

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Linking with Laura at The Wellspring, Emily at Imperfect Prose and Jennifer #TellHisStory
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Some Answers to Life’s Problems

I pray for her, for him, for them.

Image Source For the story behind this work of art, please see:

Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer   
(Google Images)

I beg God, plead for mercy for them, for their hearts to be open to truth and for them to know and experience the joy of knowing the Savior, the one who heals and helps and restores and redeems, the Best Friend, the One who Loves unconditionally, unlike anyone else on earth.

I pray to the point of tears… and it is God who moves me. The Lord is the source of the compassion.

I pray and continue to pray for them to know Him.

They do not understand– for the world does not understand. Consider these astounding words:

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. “

I John 3: 1-2

We are called children of God. Not enemies of God. Not far-removed relatives. Not acquaintances. But children… whom the Father loves. “Such we are.”  Before we were sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, friends, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers… we were children of God. We ARE children of God.

Our main identity is as His child. Oh, we are loved, so loved. 

As a Father, He reaches out to us, pursues us. As His child, we long for others to know this kind of love.

We are not yet what we shall be. We are works-in-progress, in preparation for eternity, where we shall be like Him.  We have no need to worry about life after death and attaining some sort of higher state of being — the Bible says it will automatically happen. Searching for perfection, or nirvana? It is done. There is nothing we must attain, no way to earn it, no amount of work or sacrifice needed to make it happen. We are given the assurance and promise it will be so. We have no worry or concern whether it will happen or not– we are given the knowledge and the promise that IT WILL.

Absolutely mind-blowing, isn’t it, that we are children of God, that we are loved so much, that we are not yet who we are supposed to be, that one day we shall be like Him and see Him?

Knowing who I am solves the identity crisis. Knowing my future solves the fear of the unknown. Answers to life’s problems? Found here, in God’s word.

The world needs to know this, too. God’s love is open and available for all.

I continue to pray for those whom my heart is led to pray, for those who are hungry for the truth, empty and waiting to be filled.

“Dear Jesus, please make yourself known to my loved ones.”

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Sharing with Emily at Imperfect Prose
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Road Trip, Part Two: Elvis, a Waterfall and a Ferris Wheel

What do a golden Elvis, a waterfall and a ferris wheel have in common?

You guessed it: the sights of our next stop on the summer road trip, Niagara Falls.

The Maid of the Mist boats, approaching Horseshoe Falls

The Maid of the Mist boats, approaching Horseshoe Falls

After our enjoyable day in Toronto, our sweet friends from said city (the mom and daughter) meet us at our hotel and we drive off to see the Canadian side of Niagara Falls together. It’s about a one hour drive from our hotel.

First, we must find a parking spot. A local hotel offers parking in their lot for about $10 a day… in fact, the lot is so large, I must wonder if this is the bigger part of their business?! We find a spot, it is not too far away, and then walk down a very busy street full of tourists toward the Falls. First impressions? People, lots of people, from all over the world. Secondly, the wacky touristy stuff is here. It made it to Niagara. What amazes me is that a beautiful waterfall actually draws in this size of a crowd and this kind of tourism. The usual is here: the wax museums, candy shops, arcades, restaurants, the Ripleys museum, mini-golf, you name it, it’s here- including a live Elvis impersonator, whom we see later in the day, at nightfall, but here’s the picture since I’m mentioning it:

No touristy vacation is complete without a sighting of Elvis spray painted gold.

No touristy vacation is complete without a sighting of Elvis decked out in gold! He stands on a pedestal and looks like a statue– until he moves!

The Elvis impersonator occasionally moves and dances to his recorded music. My son walks up to him and asks, “Can you also do the Gangnam style dance?” Now, this is getting interesting. This would be fun to see– Elvis doing the Gangnam style dance. Gold-decked Elvis-man, however, says, “No.” And that’s the end of that. :)

But back on the walk to the Falls. Our first stop: the Maid of the Mist boat ride… and it happens to be the stop of about half a million others too, the same day, haha! Though the line is a bit long, it is not overwhelmingly so. We get our tickets for the boat ride and walk in a serpentine-type line. Finally, and I do mean much later, as in about an hour later, when we get close enough, an attendant hands us each our very own royal blue rain poncho. When it is our turn to get on the boat, the top deck is almost full– yet the kids are able to squeeze themselves in an open spot on the edge of the boat for an unobstructed view.

The view of the Falls is much better from the Canadian side. From Canada, both the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls are visible.

As the boat moves closer to the Falls, I put the camera away, as there is too much mist and water dripping. In fact, there is so much water, without the rain poncho, we’d all have been drenched. Our shoes and feet, however, do get thoroughly soaked. Actually, though, our shoes dry out so quickly in the hot sun and it doesn’t bother us at all the rest of the day. (Taking an extra pair of shoes, however, would not have been a bad idea!)

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After the Maid of the Mist ride, we drive to a small town called Niagara-on-the-Lake, where we have an appointment to meet some friends; actually, the aunt and uncle of friends of ours. We’d only met this aunt and uncle once before, yet they called us –twice– to invite us to please visit.

We have such a wonderful time with them. They are babysitting their four young grandchildren, who had just moved from Australia with their parents. We enjoy some blueberry muffins in their backyard and talk about many things. Our common faith and like mindedness make for easy, pleasant conversation.

It’s such a sweet little break from the usual pace of touring and sightseeing. On a trip like this, we aren’t usually pausing for a visit like this. But it makes our visit special to stop and talk like this.

We learn that Niagara-on-the-Lake is a small town with a micro-climate. Though this is snowy Canada, our friends only need to shovel their driveway a couple times per year. Wow– that’s more than where I live, and we’re more south. In fact, there are even vineyards nearby! It is a beautiful, charming town, a place I would not mind visiting again and spending more time. Who knew? We exchange e-mails, take pictures, and plan to stay in touch.

After our delightful visit, we drive back to Niagara Falls. The kids have their eyes on the ferris wheel, so that is our first order of business. They enjoy their ride which offers a gorgeous birds-eye view of the entire area. They literally watch the sunset from high above the Falls in the ferris wheel.

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This is the mini-golf park right underneath the ferris wheel. The elephant? Unlike the Elvis, he's not real.

This is the mini-golf park right underneath the ferris wheel. The elephant? Unlike the Elvis, he’s not real.

The sun begins to set...

The sun begins to set…

A stunning sunset in Niagara Falls

A stunning sunset in Niagara Falls

I don’t like heights, so I happily wait below, and decide to try a famous Tim Horton’s pastry while waiting, which happens to be conveniently located right across from the ferris wheel. After their ride, the kids join in the snack time, and we all enjoy a little treat.

Apparently this place is famous.

Apparently this place is famous.

Enticing, eh? Tim Hortons has much more than just doughnuts and pastries, though. Good stuff here.

Enticing, eh? Tim Hortons has much more than just doughnuts and pastries, though. Good stuff here.

By now it is time for the Falls light show at night and the fireworks. We walk among throngs of others for a view from a bridge on the Canadian side. First are the fireworks from the American side, which we can clearly see– a beautiful sight. After those, barely a moment later, the Canadian fireworks begin. Unfortunately, the mist, coupled with the wind direction and the smoke from the fireworks, obscure much of the view.

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Our evening ends much too soon, and I realize that in Niagara Falls there is much more to do than one day will allow (such as the “Journey Behind the Falls”, the Botanical Gardens, and much more).

We are enchanted with Canada. The kids want to return, and even concoct a sample itinerary that includes Montreal and Quebec City for a future trip.  Getting together with our friends from Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake is also in the plan.

For me, this portion of our trip to Canada proves to be a surprise. I did not expect to enjoy Toronto so much, and despite the touristy portions of Niagara Falls, it is a place of natural beauty and with gems nearby that invite further exploration. Finally, we experience the joy of visiting friends, in two separate places.

The journey continues… watch for part three. :) You don’t want to miss it.

Niagara Falls Family Photo 2

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* The photo credits go to my daughter, N, who took all of the above photos.

Posted in Summer, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Road Trip, Part One: Toronto, Canada*

What do Lake Michigan, Lake Ontario, the Empire State Building, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Alabama blueberries have in common?

They are all part of a long vacation away from home, connected by the highways we are traveling this July.

We begin our driving journey on July 3 by traveling from Wisconsin through Detroit to a neighboring suburb of Toronto, part one of our summer trip.

The next day, July 4, we connect with some old friends in one of Toronto’s suburbs, Oakville, and walk by the lakeshore, historic buildings, and charming downtown area. We also enjoy a nice lunch at an Indian restaurant together and catch up.

From there, we park our cars at the train station, to take the train for Toronto. Of course, there’s no better way to view a large city than by zipping up its largest building, which in Toronto, happens to be the world’s third largest self-supporting tower, the CN Tower.

CN Tower, Toronto

CN Tower, Toronto

The elevator ride up is surprisingly quick. The Toronto skyline goes on for miles.

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While viewing the city below, we see a small airplane land on a tiny airstrip near the water’s edge.

View from CN Tower- the small airport is on the left

View from CN Tower- the small airport is on the left

One section of an enclosed portion of the floor is made entirely of glass. From way up high, we look down to see people looking like ants on the streets, and full-sized cars that look like matchbox cars. We can even see above the Toronto Blue Jays stadium, where the players are warming up for a game!

View from the glass floor of the CN Tower-- look closely on the right to see the stadium

View from the glass floor of the CN Tower– look closely on the right to see the stadium

Toronto is a beautiful city. The buildings and architecture are fascinating. The city is clean and its people are polite.

Reflection of the CN Tower in another building's windows

Reflection of the CN Tower in another building’s windows

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One of the most striking things about Toronto is the people. The people are from everywhere in the world. I hear so many accents and observe so many different cultural and ethnic identities, I don’t even know how many. It is utterly amazing. English (nor French) is not the main language I hear, though it is widely spoken.

The kids also enjoy Toronto. We all find it to be an engaging, interesting place to visit and to be. 

Self-portraits through reflective glass

Self-portraits through reflective glass

The subway/train rides are pleasant, clean, and enjoyable from Oakville to Toronto, and back.

At the mall, every worker seems to be from a different country. One of the small and pleasant surprises of the day is that the manager of the Greek restaurant in the food court makes the extra effort to accommodate us by making a special allergy-free meal for my son (grilled chicken with salad). I don’t eat in malls very often, so I can’t say truly how readily I could get this kind of helpful service in most malls, but my gut tells me that so much of the food is already seasoned and prepared in large quantities with set ingredients, so that these places are not usually able to accommodate special requests like mine. I am so incredibly thankful– since I happened to leave my son’s food in the cooler in the car, which is parked at the subway station 40 minutes away in the Oakville suburb.

My daughter makes a new friend, as she and the daughter of our friend click and enjoy spending time together.

I have to admit, I was hesitant to visit Toronto. I have visited, traveled through, (and lived in) a few large cities in my life (including London and Madrid). Though I enjoy traveling and seeing new places, I thought Toronto would be a concrete jungle (truthfully, it is still a bit of that), but a hard, dirty, ugly place with much that would be depressing.

Instead, I found Toronto to be a vibrant, fun, polite, clean, multicultural, and cosmopolitan city– one I would not mind visiting again and getting to know.

Trips change me. Leaving my usual place and seeing something new shifts the perspective and opens my eyes a bit. Seeing a large place with so many people helps to enlarge my vision. Life has been full of many changes the past few months, and the change in scenery is greatly beneficial.

We arrive back in our hotel late that night, exhausted, but full, happy, safe and blessed… with new friendships, new perspectives, new sights and sounds from another part of this world, and dream about the adventures of the day ahead….

Good night, Toronto. I hope to visit you again one day.

Good night, Toronto. I hope to visit you again one day.

*** The photo credits go to my daughter, N, for her amazing pictures. 

Sharing with Laura at The Wellspring, Jen at Finding Heaven, Jennifer at #TellHisStory, and Emily at Imperfect Prose
Posted in Family, Memories, Summer, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How Rainy Days are Gifts

I love thunderstorms and rainy nights in the summer. Rain in the summer is lovely, dramatic, soft, cozy. It isn’t threatening (usually). Rain in the summer seems to belong.

I imagine water droplets plopping in a lake, and rain soaking deep down in dry and gritty soil, nourishing root systems. I imagine sitting in a porch in the summer, listening to a soft rainfall, like a lullaby.

My parents have a swing on their screened-in porch, and I love to sit there. I don’t actually  take the time to sit there often enough, but when it happens, it is a calm, peaceful place. I think listening to the rain while relaxing on a porch swing should be on everyone’s must-do list in the summer. We all need to stop, relax, and reflect.

My parents' swing... where I grew up

My parents’ swing… where I grew up

A few recent rainy days made me pause and think and pray.

I have been praying over conflicts for the fall schedule. The meshing of schedules and ideas and clubs and plans and classes is all coming to a head. I experienced knots of anxiety this past week that were a new feeling to me. I’ve felt nervous before — but this felt different.

I looked at the schedule for the year ahead, and it was like a puzzle that didn’t fit in any way that I could figure out. 

“God,” I cried out, “I need your help! I can’t see how this is going to work. Please show me what you want. How do you want this to work? Please make it clear, what I am supposed to do.”

I am waiting… and He is answering.

Stopping and listening to the rain made me feel like walking away from the busyness of schedules. For a moment, I thought about just shoving all these plans down the chute and moving to a farm surrounded by trees, with a creek in the back yard, doing my own thing. Oh my, some days, I tell you, it is awfully tempting!

Truth is, though, I really don’t want to give up some of the “good” things that God has brought to life. Maybe what I want is to get away from some of the associated difficulties with being involved.

Truth is, I can’t just pick up and easily move to a farm. My life is already intertwined with others’.

Farm or no farm, rural or urban– I guess involvement is what the Lord wants. He wants us involved– to grow us, teach us, instruct us, guide us. He knows these are learning opportunities for us. The hard things, the bumps in the path– those are part of the journey; in fact, that IS the journey. The life-journey is not a smooth path with manicured perfection on either side of the road. It’s a bumpy ride, my friends, with weeds and brambles on the way!

Thankfully,  He walks ahead, and beside. The rainy days? They are gifts, and the days He waits for us to say, “God, help me. I can’t do this on my own. I don’t have any of the answers.  But I trust you, and will follow you.”

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Sharing with Laura at The Wellspring, Jen at Finding Heaven, Jennifer at #TellHisStory, and Emily at Imperfect Prose
Posted in Faith, Gifts, Rainy Days, Schedules, Summer | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Striving and Seeds

I read these words while sitting among remains of dying lilac blooms, but with the rest of summer on the cusp of its wild verdant growth:

“Glorifying and enjoying Me is a higher priority than maintaining a tidy, structured life. Give up your striving to keep everything under control — an impossible task and a waste of precious energy.”

 (Excerpted from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young)

Seedlings April 2012 001

Here in the upper Midwest, the growing season might be short, but it surely hits hard and strong when the heat finally breaks through winter’s tight grasp.

I can’t control this season anymore than I can control anything else, as I am reminded again. My life has not been a neatly planted hedge of planned events; rather, a messy string of occurrences or mistakes I have caused, which the Lord is using to graciously teach me what He wants me to know. Anything that has happened out of my control is still in the Lord’s hands as He teaches. Thankfully, I don’t exist in a world devoid of spiritual abundance– He is there, always, offering with open hands what the soul desperately needs.

If winter reminds me of that deep void in the soul, summer reminds me of what is possible with God. Summer shows me what seeds of faith can become– flowers and fruit. A life hidden with God results in beauty and wisdom and grace (the flowers and the fruit).

A seed planted does not strive against the soil. It does not jump out of the ground and transplant itself elsewhere. It does not fight against the roots that will soon sprout from its coat. It simply lives, grows, and thrives, nourished by the soil and its environment.

We are like seeds planted by a Master, connected to a rich vine and a water-source that never runs dry. We, like seeds, have no need to strive for tomorrow, or to strain for control.

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Sharing with Emily at Imperfect Prose and Laura at The Wellspring
Posted in Faith, Growth, Seasons, Summer | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

hope for the broken-hearted

They are the ones. You know them. The ones who stand by you, stand with you. They tell you when not to give up, and when it’s time give it all up.

They are the ones who love you, no matter what, and through all kinds of matters.The ir gift is that unconditional belief and hope and love in you– despite the mistakes that we,  in our humanity, make.

Like the swaying of fragile reeds in the wind, so are the whims of those who pretend to be friend… people who live by their own rules, abiding by their own senses and demands for their own justices, without regard to the feelings and hearts of others.

Stung by betrayal, Jesus was, too.

When she sent that letter and it was meant to rip up a heart… the tears were plenty.

When Judas betrayed, I am sure His heart bled, just like ours does.

Hearts ache. They bend, break and bleed. I’ve been there.

Can you see the drips… all around us, you and me, the drips?

If God knows the number of stars and none of them is missing, I am sure he has a place for broken hearts to heal. Sometimes it feels like too much, too much in this world, and we want a place to hide, to go far away.

But no matter where it is, no matter where we go, it is the same. Broken-hearts. We’re all cracked. And so I, you, we all fit in, everywhere we go.

Until we can stop making each other’s cracks bigger and start working on healing, and work on some unconditional love, and grace, until then, we’ll have the gaping holes.

My eyes, they are searching.

So are His eyes searching …His eyes roam and search this earth. When His eyes find me, I am scared a little. But, I am also at peace. I am known.

While my eyes search around me… I know I am called to be different. Not back-stabber, betrayer.

What does “friend” mean? When I had none, I appreciated the sweetness of the word and what it meant. When there was a trampling, with words spoken and unspoken, I clung fast to the vine.

When I finally knew the word “friend”, I understood it much better because of not having it before. God taught me, when I didn’t have, than when I did. Now I pray He teaches me, while I have the gift of friend, that I would honor Him. We all fit, with our broken hearts… we all fit.

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Sharing with Laura at The Wellspring Jen at Finding Heaven,  Jennifer at #TellHisStory, and Emily at Imperfect Prose
Posted in Bear One Another's Burdens, Friend, Friendship, grace, Jesus, Unconditional Love | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

What’s in Your Dash?

She is over 70 years old, slightly hunched, with silver-gray hair and dark rimmed glasses. We’ve gathered on Memorial Day, to pray, to eat, to sing, to remember. Someone asks her to speak to our group. A spontaneous sharing. She has recently arrived from India… and the group wants to to hear a word from her. She sits calmly and smiles, then speaks.

She asks about the dash.

Our dash.

Her own dash.

Dash? What does that mean? A sprint of some kind? Will she talk about running the race with endurance, to win the prize….?

The dash, she explains, is the little symbol “-” which we place between words and sentences… and dates. Usually we place the dash between a birthdate and the day someone passes, like this, for example: 1940 – 2010.

Do you notice it now? The little dash, “-”, between the dates above?

We all have a dash.

In fact, we’re living in the midst of our “dash” right now.

The little dash encompasses all the experiences of a human life: our joys, our sorrows, our legacies… much is wrapped up in that one little line on a page, or carved into a tombstone. All that has happened between our birth and our death, stories galore, are represented in that one little dash.

She asks, “What’s in our dash?”  And I wonder, what is in my dash? Will anyone know my dash when I’m gone– truly know it and be able to explain and share it well enough? Am I sharing it well enough now? Or, are my stories like a fading epitaph, among billions who have gone and among billions who are here on the blue planet now?

I have been thinking about my “dash” since then, and others’, who have stories to tell. Who will tell? Who will listen? Who will share their dashes?

I wonder about the people I see– what is in their dash? What is in mine?

An entire lifetime is represented in that little line. Years are reduced to a little dash.

But yet, if that dash is shared, then the little line on our tomb is connected to a line elsewhere, and so on,. so that there is a web of interconnectedness, then we don’t die alone– but connected, to one another, and to the Life Giving Vine.

What’s in my dash? I don’t know it all. But I do know this. I’ll be more cognizant of mine, and yours, and seeing where we can connect.

***

Sharing with Jennifer at TellHisStory, Emily at Imperfect Prose, and Laura at The Wellspring
Posted in Journey, Life, Spirit, Story | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

on friendship (a post of quotes)

I love quotes… and I like to collect them on various topics. Today I share a blog-post-full of wise words on friends and friendships… enjoy… and may it inspire you to be the friend you desire to have…. I know these words have inspired me.

Source: google images

Source: google images

The dearest friend on earth is a mere shadow compared to Jesus Christ.  ~ Oswald Chambers

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A good friend is cheaper than therapy.  ~Author Unknown

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Love is like the wild-rose briar;
Friendship is like the holly-tree.
The holly is dark when the rose briar blooms,
But which will bloom most constantly?
~Emily Brontë

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When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.  The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.  ~Henri Nouwen

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Friendship is a sheltering tree.  ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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A friend accepts us as we are yet helps us to be what we should.  ~Author Unknown

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A friend loveth at all times. ~Proverbs 17:17

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Without friends the world is but a wilderness. There is no man that imparteth his joys to his friends, but he joyeth the more; and no man that imparteth his grieves to his friend, but he grieveth the less. ~Francis Bacon

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The worst solitude is to have no real friendships. ~ Francis Bacon

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Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit. ~Aristotle

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Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious. ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

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Stay is a charming word in a friend’s vocabulary. ~ Louisa May Alcott

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Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief. ~Joseph Addison

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So long as we are loved by others I should say that we are almost indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

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I value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar, but I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar. ~ Robert Brault

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Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family –but to a solitary and an exile his friends are everything. ~ Willa Cather

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You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. ~ Dale Carnegie 

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A friend is one to whom one may pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away. ~ Dinah Maria Mulock Craik

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Friends are proved by adversity. ~ Cicero

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A friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway. ~ Fr. Jerome Cummings

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Do not save your loving speeches for your friends till they are dead. Do not write them on their tombstones, speak them rather now instead. ~ Anna Cummins

Posted in Friendship, Quotes, Relationships | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

When There’s Violence Against Women

All of these articles highlight a different aspect of the tragedy of violence against women in our world.

NYT: Afghanistan parent debt: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/01/world/asia/afghan-debts-painful-payment-a-daughter-6.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&smid=fb-nytimes&

China, 336 million abortions in 40 years.  http://www.religiontoday.com/news/china-336-million-abortions-in-barely-four-decades.html

India: abortions of girls on the rise.. http://www.english-online.at/news-articles/people/abortion-of-girls-on-the-rise-in-india.htm

Pregnant women in India, abuse… http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/02/the-everyday-violence-against-pregnant-women-in-india/273045/

India’s rape crisis… http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/03/04/op-ed-indias-rape-crisis-needs-you-channel-your-outrage

Violence in India, via Care… http://www.care-international.org/Media-Releases/tragic-rape-in-india-violence-against-women-must-stop.html

How to reduce violence in India… http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2013/0117/India-gang-rape-How-to-reduce-violence-against-women

I have to wonder if the facts they provide are lower than reality.  Women don’t openly share these things. Crimes like these tend to be under-reported.

I’m fascinated by the question of “how can we change this?”

Can things change simply by enough outrage by citizens?

Can the situation change by simply passing a new law? A law is useless unless it’s enforced.

Anyone can make lofty statements, saying this should stop. But how will it end?

In a country like India specifically, where women are marginalized, degraded and not considered worthy enough, how will this change?

A whole paradigm shift in thinking, in the mindset of the people, needs to occur.

At the root of the problem? Not seeing women as persons created in the image of the eternal, creator God. If you see women as anything else, you are not viewing them as God does.

Women in India are sexual objects. Pawns. Servants. Cooks. Laborers. Launderers. The means to a dowry, the means to money. The means to an heir. The means to having a son.

Are women seen as persons with souls, who have minds, thoughts, dreams, and hopes? Persons to be treated with respect and dignity?

Violence perpetuates violence. Children who grow up in the home with it, experience it as adults or become the perpetrators themselves.

Once in the cycle of poverty, abuse, or trafficking, it’s hard to escape. The cycle continues.

What can bring healing? change?

We can offer platitudes. They sound good, and we do need to hear them. We need to hope and we need to hear the voices of those speaking out. (but do they change anything?)

As far as laws? Go ahead and change them. We need to know that the law exists and hope that eventually someone will enforce it… maybe. Eventually. Unless there is a consequence,  however, laws themselves don’t prohibit a crime. Laws+consequence might equal some reduction in atrocity, but not necessarily.

Remember the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.? A law can change what is legal, but it takes longer to change the mindset of the people.

Education? we need it. The world needs to be aware. Tell us, over and over. Remind us, so we don’t forget it. We need the awareness of the issue. Go ahead and report it. But do it over and over. Don’t let us forget. The media shifts from one crisis to another… will we remember this next year? For next year, there will be an atrocity of another kind to hold our attention. Will we forget and move on to the next sensational story?

Go ahead and  institute a national, or international, day for the elimination of violence against women.

It sounds good. We can mostly all agree on that, who would disagree when it sounds so good?

But what is it actually accomplishing? changing?

I can declare tomorrow to be the Appreciate Tomato Day. We can spend the day talking about the tomato, and appreciating it, discussing the different kinds, how we can eat it, cook it, sample it, etc. But will that change anything for the tomato?

So in the case of trafficking and abuse of women, what do we need?

What we really need? Jesus. We know that we need him. So how can we be the hands and feet of Jesus? How can I? As a daughter of India, who by the grace of God, did not grow up in poverty there, I am trying to answer this question for myself. The problem is so vast. I’m asking God to show me how to add my voice to this story.

For a nation like India that claims to be spiritual, where is the change going to come from? from whence?

The situation in India (or anyplace) will change when we start to see women as beloved daughters of God, not as objects to be used, not as worthless, not as liabilities, not as less than human. It will change when we see Jesus.

How to see like this?  Without Jesus, how to see like this?

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Sharing with Laura at The Wellspring, Jen at Finding Heaven,  Jennifer for Tell His Story and Emily for Imperfect Prose

Posted in Jesus, Trafficking, Violence Against Women | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

The World of Speech and Debate

We are finding ourselves more and more immersed in the world of speech and debate. My daughter had been asking to join debate since she was 12; I finally got her in classes when she was 13, and she turned 14 just before her first tournament. She is in her second year of speech and debate.

I saw this picture recently, which helps describe any endeavor that requires effort and hard work:

Reposted from: The Busy Homeschool Mom

The path forward is fraught with bumps, failures, disappointments, trials, mistakes and even complete 180 degree turns along the way– but the general trend is upward.

Upward means moving forward and up, not backwards and down.

It takes perseverance, fortitude, resolve, determination, patience, and hard work to move from one point to the next.

Ultimately each new skill mastered, each new word learned, each new speech, is a step forward.

When we view our lives and whatever we do as unto the Lord, that any success is for His glory, and to relinquish our disappointments in His hands, we open the door to grow and learn and move even more forward.

Each bump in the road is the potential to be a character-producing bump. 

Speech and Debate stretches us, parents and kids alike, in new ways. The students are learning to debate important topics, understand an opposing view, speak in front of a wide range of audiences, learn how to research and construct arguments, learn current events, just to name a few of the skills they are gaining.

As a parent, I am challenged on a new level of parenting and teaching, as my children acquire and practice these new skills. Parents also serve as coaches and volunteer judges, and that is also stretching.

It may sound daunting — but my suggestion is to go and watch a tournament, and that is one of the best ways to understand what this is all about. We participate in the NCFCA league– and tournaments are all around the country. (Go to www.ncfca.org for more information).

It is not easy. It does take time. It requires commitment and effort. It costs time and money to travel to tournaments.

But it is worth it. No doubt, speech and debate is one of the best activities we have done, one of the best homeschool choices we have made.

Posted in Home Education, Home Education Resources | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

What Our Daughters {and we} Need to Know…

Dear Daughters of Eve:

You aren’t defined by the fashion magazines’ ideas of beauty.

You aren’t defined by the clothes you wear.

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You aren’t defined by the color of your hair, eyes, or skin.

You aren’t defined by the number on the scale.

You aren’t defined by the numbers in your bank account.

You aren’t defined by any woman who judged you by your appearance.

You aren’t defined by the parent who called you lazy, stupid, or other names.

You aren’t defined by the man who saw you only as a body, not as a soul.

You aren’t defined by the grade school bully who belittled you.

You aren’t defined by the friend who turned her face against you.

You aren’t defined by negative words others say about you.

You aren’t defined by your children’s mistakes.  061 (4)

You aren’t defined by your parent’s mistakes.

You aren’t defined by your mistakes.

You aren’t defined by any ugly words or deeds against you.

You aren’t defined by what your culture does.

You aren’t defined by your job.

You aren’t defined by how many medals, awards or trophies you own.

You aren’t defined by the number of letters after your name.

You aren’t defined by your marital status.

You aren’t defined by the lies the enemy throws against you.

“For God does not see as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”         1 Samuel 16:7

You ARE defined by God.

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And He says:

You are beautiful. You are made in His image.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. –Genesis 1:27

You are worthy to be loved.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16

You are precious. You are cherished. 

The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing. –Zephaniah 3:17

You are chosen.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. –Colossians. 3:12

You are forgiven.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. –Psalm 103:12

He offers hope. 

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. –Romans 5:5

He understands rejection. Jesus was rejected by men, too.

 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. –Isaiah 53:3

He can heal you. “Give your wounds to me– spiritual, physical and emotional wounds– give them to me. “

 O Lord my God, I cried out to You,
And You healed me. –Psalm 30:2

 “Don’t worry about what you will wear. I am here to take care of you.”

28 So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? –Matthew 6:28-30

You are more than conquerors.

 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. –Romans 8:37

You are meant to be here. You have a purpose. His plans are better than we can imagine.

11For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. –Jeremiah 29:11-13

“You are loved.”

…says God.

 ***

(sharing with Laura at The Wellspring, and Emily at Imperfect Prose and Jen for Soli Deo Gloria)
 
Posted in God's love, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

“What Will a Life Magnify?”

“What Will a Life Magnify?”

As he walked to calvary, as people spat and spurned, did Jesus continue to give thanks to God the father? When he was so greatly burdened, bowed down with the heavy load, bruised, agonizing, and all he could see were the dusty feet of those crying out for his death, what did Jesus feel toward those casting stones at him?

I’ll bet Jesus did long to wash those dusty feet. Indeed, his death was like the washing of their dusty feet… and ours. The night before he died, he washed his disciples’ feet. The day before bowing low while carrying his cross, the master bent low in humble service, giving to his beloved friends, those whom he trusted and those who followed him, those closest to him on earth, but still not fully understanding the mystery about him and what was about to unfold.

I’m certain Jesus was very lonely. No one really understood him. Or what he was really about. Until he was gone.

I wonder… do I understand any better than they? Even with the benefit of the Word written before me, the benefit of hindsight… they didn’t see what was coming, but I see retrospectively. Yet… they walked with him, in his presence, in daily closeness. Whose perspective should be more clear? We’re all seeing through a window muddy and eyes curtained, veiled here on earth, and must ask God to continuously wipe our lenses and hearts clean. For my default is to see not as things are, but as I am, from where I am, from who I am.

He was giving thanks to God, and asking for mercy for those around him. He surrendered his life, in order to give us life and offer us hope.

Ultimate surrender, leading to ultimate joy—communion with the Father. Ultimate grace he pours out, full surrender, willing, arms open wide, hands nailed, carrying the scourge of death and sin and agony of hell, so that we can even have the hope of understanding one iota, one “yod”, about grace, love, gratitude, joy. Without him, we couldn’t understand any of it, much less live it, or offer it.

He didn’t hurl rocks back, spit, cast angry glances, clamor back for the death of those killing him. His death washed the dusty feet of those killing him… his death washed sinful hearts clean of caked sin and self.

The words he spoke and breathed were grace-filled; he committed himself into God’s hands, and prayed in his prayer for forgiveness for those who killed him—words that reveal his heart. Love in that heart, God-love, in human bones and flesh.

Gentle and humble, not proud or vindictive, not even considering himself to be equal with God.

This is Jesus, who my heart follows.

This Jesus, who hung around with the imperfect people, the sinners, the outcasts, the folks who just didn’t have it all together.

I’m one of those he would have spent time with. I’m ok with that. 

Earthen shells, those of us following in his steps, also can be receptacles for this God-love, as we pour out what he gives us—as his love spills over and washes over those around us with a power that can heal.

But, it’s hard, isn’t it, because… it’s hard to wash the feet of those who don’t like us. It’s, shall we say, very difficult, to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us… the natural response is to fight back, hide from the pain, or protect ourselves from further hurt.

But… his surrender. It means open hands and an open heart to do that which we have no human power to do. And his power is made perfect in weakness. I’m glad of it… all glory belongs to Him. And, there’s no way I can do any of this on my own.

I don’t like the suffering. I suspect most of us don’t.

But I want Jesus. And what is the walk in this world of suffering doing, but to transform me into a soul, a heart, like his… being made ready for a more perfect place… a place of unspeakable beauty… and in the process spreading beauty here on earth, until I make it to that real home of mine.

Heaven is going to be some kind of place… with rest for the soul, perfect joy, infinite communion with the source of Love.

How is the suffering of this present world transforming you? transforming me? Because at the end of the day, we should ask ourselves this: “What will a life magnify? The world’s stress cracks, the grubbiness of a day, all that is wholly wrong and terribly busted? Or God?” — Ann Voskamp

(edited, from the archives) 

***

Sharing with Jen at Finding Heaven and Laura at The Wellspring

 

Posted in Beauty, Change, Forgiveness, grace, Jesus, Love, suffering, Thankfulness, the cross, Transformation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

On Having a Seder

037

Seder Plate. Tip: freeze the lamb shank bone to use again for the following year.

A few years ago, I felt inspired to have my own Seder Dinner. I read some materials and planned a whole meal, and invited one other family to join in the dinner. I even bought a special Seder plate for the occasion and goblet for the occasion (pictured above).

035

The dinner table… ready for guests! The seder plates are set, the dinner plates are stacked up.We had a feast!

The next year, I did it again… just for our own family. And the following year, I organized a Seder for our home school history co-op.

A guest's Seder plate

A guest’s Seder plate, with charoset, bitter herbs, salt water, horseradish

For dessert, I made a special treat, that I called “New Life Dessert”. It was a Martha Stewart recipe — chocolate cake baked in new and clean flowerpots, sprinkled with crushed  chocolate cookie crumbles, to look like dirt. For the “plant”, I used fresh sprigs of mint. If you really want to get creative, try to find some candy rocks. (I couldn’t find those… but I do remember searching for the right sized flower pots that year– it was freezing cold!) Doesn’t the “new life dessert” look real?

An edible plant! I saved the flower pots to use again! It looked so real... they fooled everyone! :)

An edible plant! I saved the flower pots to use again! It looked so real… they fooled everyone! :)

At the end, I served the “new life dessert”, talking about the new life we have in Christ.

For a resource on putting together your own Messianic Seder Haggadah, here is one resource: A Christian Passover Seder by John Pontier. I also found many resources online.

Celebrate the new life we have in Christ!

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Truth out of the Tomb

When God gave me words, pen and paper, and now computer screen, he gave me back some fragments of sanity… where would I be without words? For years I have poured out words… since I was 10, I have been spilling words on paper.

Riveredge fall 2010_hole in tree

Words have helped me make sense out of life, have helped me work out grief, have helped me offer thanks to God, and have worked their magical way into doing something in my heart that needed to be done. Without words, I’d be an even bigger mess. Even with them, I’m still like sentence fragments, trying to piece together a complete thought, that will maybe make more sense at the end when God says my life story on earth is done. I seem a far cry from being done.

I’m feeling a bit melancholy, listening to nostalgic, calm piano music late at night, and spring seems far away, though I know it will eventually come.

I’ve believed too many lies in my life, and though I know I was late in identifying some of them– at least it happened. Because lies keep us in a tomb for so long and we need resurrecting… we need to bury the lies, leave them in the tomb and rise like the morning sun.

I was resurrected in Christ, a new self come to life, but some of that old stuff, like lies, stuck on for a while. It took me a long time to see it. Finally truth sank in, illuminated the darkness, and the lies were exposed.

I could move on.

It didn’t change where the lies led me. Circumstances are much more complicated. But in my heart, my life, the truth set me free, and it still is doing its work.

***

Sharing with Laura at The Wellspring, and at The Better Mom
Posted in Lies, Truth, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Empty Vases

Our lives are a thin vein scratch from death, a vapor, a wind, a flower that fades.

cropped-tulips.jpg

I’ve never had anyone very close to me die yet; however, as I’ve gotten older, death is that much closer. I know the day is coming, as the stories of death  hit closer to home than ever before.

I’m thinking these thoughts today because earlier this week, a mother of five, a sister,  teacher, wife, friend, artist, from my church, lost her life.

It started with a headache that turned out to be an aneurysm. That happened in January. And things seemed to be getting better. She was in rehab. But then a setback with another bleed, surgery, and….

It is a bit of a shock to our church community.

A few years ago, Laura lost one of her sons, as a freshman in college. He was in the shower, fell, and died of a brain injury. He was 19.

Now they don’t know if it was the fall that caused the son’s brain injury.

It was standing room only that night in church, when they had a service for him.

The next day, Sunday, his father preached. “Are you sure?” he was asked. “Yes,” he was sure, he said. He preached a sermon… the very next day. About God. How good God is. No matter what.

***

Laura made a beautiful scrap quilt with a cross in the middle; donated it to church a year or so ago, and it has been hanging ever since in the sanctuary.

Tomorrow night is a visitation and memorial service. Empty vases will be on the altar for people to bring daisies and tulips– her favorites.

Empty vases… waiting to be filled.

Lord, fill the hearts of those who are grieving over Laura, fill them with hope, boost their faith when they are weak, and show them testimony of your love for them. Show them in little and big ways, that you see them.

I wasn’t one of their closest friends, but our lives and paths have crossed in various ways over the past 9-10 years.

When I started homeschooling 9 years ago, she invited me into her home, shared her home school journey with me, and even gave me some of her old Bob Jones books. I remember her telling me: she decided to pick a curriculum and just stick with it– and she didn’t waver from it. She did indeed stick with it. She decided to send her children to a local college-prep high school after homeschooling each one through the 8th grade. After they reached high school, she began teaching art– using her degree– in the small Christian school associated with our church.

When my kids attended that same school for a year, where she taught, my daughter ended up with Laura as her 8th grade homeroom teacher. And Laura told me how happy she was to have her in her class. Thank you, Laura. That was a difficult year in middle school.

One of Laura’s daughters, Abby, babysat for my kids years ago. Abby is a remarkable, beautiful young lady, who was studying in Germany this year and who loves to travel. She has friends from all countries in the world. She graduated from college last summer. She is applying for a Fulbright. I hope you get it, Abby. 

They all used to swim– all five of the kids. Each of her five kids was on a swim team. I remember Laura telling me, she just picked one sport for all of them to do together, and swimming was it. They all went swimming together.

The son they lost– he was a promising swimmer. A very promising swimmer.

My kids took swim classes there one year, with a couple of the daughters teaching. One night, we watched their swim team: the “Piranhas”. Formidable name, huh?

Before moving here, they were missionaries in Somalia. When the kids were younger, they moved back to the U.S…. and maybe some were born here? I don’t recall the year they came back.

I can’t imagine how the children feel… to have lost a brother, and now just a few years later, their mother.

***

My mother is having knee replacement surgery in mid-April, and I wonder about her going under anesthesia at her age. It makes me sad that I live so many miles away. And I can’t see her before the surgery.

I know that tomorrow… I won’t be able to hold tears back if I go. I tend to cry if someone else is crying. Well… now that I’m over 40, that’s what it’s like– I didn’t used to be that way.

Nothing stays the same… and yet, some things do. We all grow older, we change, we will laugh, we will mourn. And one day, we will move from this life to our eternal home.

One thing is certain: I know that she is with Jesus. And there are probably an endless number of tulips and daisies, in every color.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Something Big’s in the Stable and #980-1000

“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling to himself, “that the Stable seen from within and the Stable seen from without are two different places.”

“Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”

“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

It was the first time she had spoken, and from the thrill in her voice Tirian now knew why. She was drinking everything in more deeply than the others. She had been too happy to speak.

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle 

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
–C.S. Lewis, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”

I think there is no other story so compelling, so beautiful, than the true story of God’s love for us. It can be retold in different ways, as some brilliant and creative souls have done.

I love the thought of something bigger than the whole world contained in a tiny manger stall. I love that Jesus came as a humble baby, not born in great wealth or circumstances. I love that the works and miracles Jesus performed and all that he did cannot be contained in any number of books, that ink in the world would run dry before it were all told. The oceans themselves are a testimony to the depth of Who he is. It is unfathomable to my human brain.

At Christmas, a story is told, and I defy all logic and common sense and regard it as true. I know it to be true, and so do many other sane adults. This faith and belief is a supernatural gift that is not explained by those who do not wish to understand, by those who wish to deny or disbelieve. A creed is only as good as the ink it is written– it can be erased. But truth? The truth cannot be hidden or erased… nor will it be denied. Truth bubbles up to the surface of any pit of lies.

I celebrate this gift, which the season allows me to do in plain sight of everybody. Sadly, many do not know why this holiday is so special. For many in our culture, it is about the superfluous and extraneous parts (the gifts, the decorations, the treats, etc.)… but not about the true Person.  We have drifted far from the center of where we began; indeed, we as a country, and we as a people of the world. We have moved and I’m not sure how far away we are from Eden now. Flaming swords still keep us out, but those who wish to seek Him will still find Him.

And at the end of this year, 2012, I reach #1000 on my list– my list of thankfulness, which I began on March 7, 2011, right here. I didn’t know when I’d reach this point. It seems fitting it is at the end of a year, as I look ahead to the new corner. I will continue writing in my own private journal, keeping up with the little and big things God does and is, and this blog will continue on and wend its way on the net.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas as you celebrate the big gift of God’s love in a small, humble stable, may He richly bless you in the days and year ahead!

Sharing at A Holy Experience, counting to from 980 to 1000:

980. watching The Hobbit
981. children’s skit
982. Christmas concert with cellos and violins
983. Christmas eve service
984. Taking a walk in the park at night after the first snow with a few friends
985. Prayer
986. Big Christmas party - outreach event to others in the community
987. Attending a surprise party for someone else
988. a spontaneous pajama day
989. basketball games
990. Christmas cookies
991. taking a picture of the kids by a gigantic Christmas tree at the mall
992. anticipation
993. a camera… a most delightful gift!! A very special, long awaited, much anticipated, gift.
994. crackling fire in the fireplace
995. God’s forgiveness
996. thinking about what someone else would enjoy
997. a snow day
998. celebrating my daughter’s birthday on Dec. 24, a special Christmas gift
999. a surprise gift card
1000. a stable, 2000 years ago, containing something bigger than the whole world

Posted in Christmas, God's love, One Thousand Gifts, Quotes | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Gift of No Shadows, and #966-979

 

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.   James 1:17

When the sun is shining full and bright above, and the sun’s light falls upon me, it casts a shadow.

If there were no sun, there would be no shadow. If I were not coming in between the sun and the ground, there would be no shadow. Because I have blocked the sun, a shadow is cast. Yet without the sun, I would not even know a shadow is there.

If I move, the shadow also moves. We– people, that is– are like those shadows: shifting, changing, fickle. We change minds, interests, and even friends.

The language of friendship is not words but meanings.

The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.  – Henry David Thoreau

God is consistent in a changing world. His character is changeless. He does not shift as a shadow, does not turn in unexpected ways. He is constant; can be counted upon.

During this time of year, this verse from James stands out to me:

EVERY good and PERFECT gift is from the Father of heavenly lights above, who DOES NOT CHANGE like shifting shadows.

During this season, contentment may fall to the side, getting lost in the muddled hum of clinking ornaments and Christmas lists. It takes intention to stay focused on simpler virtues in a world that elevates wealth, owning, and winning.

Many around us perhaps do not know that this season is not about the lights decorating the tree or the house, the songs, the treats, parties, or the gifts.

One of the greatest gifts of this season is remembering that we worship a God who LOVES us unconditionally and unabashedly; a God who does not change or shift according to whim. He cannot be influenced politically or socially or economically. He simply loves and gives, without reservation.

This is indeed, a most perfect gift.

***

Sharing with Laura at The Wellspring, Jen at Finding Heaven, Ruth at the Better Mom, and counting to 1000 at A Holy Experience:

966. kindnesses bestowed

967. Consistency of God (James 1:17)

968. hosting thanksgiving

969.  safe and fun trip to Illinois for a practice debate tournament

970. answers

971. questions

972.  a gift

973. paper snowflakes

974. E outgrowing his egg allergy

975.  an empty kitchen sink

976. homemade buttermilk blueberry pancakes

977. watching Sherlock with N

978. eyeglasses

979. stringed instruments

Posted in Christmas, Gifts, God's love, One Thousand Gifts, Thankfulness | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Hope Under His Never and #944-965

I’m not. And I will never be…

forsaken.

Forsaken… like a bride abandoned at the altar… like Jane Eyre left standing in white, when she finds out her beloved Rochester is really married to someone else. Forsaken.

But– I will never be forsaken

by God.

By friends? Yes. Shall I show you the wounds? Jesus had them in the palms of his hands.
By enemies? Of course. To be expected. We don’t expect to be embraced by the enemy.
By family? Indeed. Battle scars, anyone? We’re hurt most by those who are the closest.
By acquaintances? It will happen. They aren’t so invested in the relationship.
By strangers? Of course. Strangers have no attachment to the relationship at all.

Has it happened to you… the forsaking, the being “left out”, the ignoring, the ugly words… and some hurtful, painful deeds of those who had called themselves by the sweet name of “friends”? I have read the honest, raw prose of many blog writers out there, of the many painful times of betrayal or hurt… and I know I am not the only one, and I am thankful for these others who are transparent and share the scars and the healings and the joys of knowing a good God… because sometimes that is all we have… sometimes, there is nothing else in this world but Him standing there alone, with arms wide open. He will not abandon His beloved!

What about Him– the one who walks on water and the one who controls the winds?

He promises -
and He keeps His promises.
He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And I know I can trust it to be true, I know it is true, I know that He cannot go back on His own word. Humans can.

But, God?

He honors His word.

It’s where I find shelter from it all. Under the wings of these promises. It’s where I find hope… under the word “never”

He will never, never ever....

Then my soul breathes, sings, finds a reason and a purpose and a joy. I find it there, the hope under His never… His Never Forsaking.

What joy, my friends! What joy!

You Are Never forsaken.
………..And here is {HOPE}

***

Sharing with Laura at Playdates, L.L. Barkat at On, In and Around Mondays, Jen at Finding Heaven

***

I’m thankful… counting innumerable gifts, on my way to 1,000 with Ann for Multitudes on Mondays:

944. Hearing the answer “yes” to a prayer!
945. That I’m “never forsaken”… such a beautiful gift, astounding grace, unwavering, unflinching love… like nothing else on earth.
946. A child who was not feeling well getting better
947. A fractured finger by one of the boys on its way to healing
948. Tenacity… diligence… that I observe in my kids
949. A new friend… how nice and easy she is to talk to and discuss things with.
950. Thankful that God resides and presides over all the affairs of men. He disposes kings.
951. A fairly successful bake sale fundraiser– a first for us to participate at this scale… and fun to do.
952. The privilege to vote.
953. Finding out someone in my SDG small group lives a couple of hours away. Who’d have thought?? So neat.
954. Reading two books recently. One, a fictional comedy about a woman who “dies”, goes to heaven, then comes back. And the other, a moving novel set in war-torn Afghanistan, about a friendship between two boys.
955. Thankful for gasoline to put in my car, so I can drive places.
956. A small victory of reconciliation… talked with a fairly new acquaintance recently — we started to rub against each other over ideas, but we worked it out very nicely, through prayer and talking. Lovely when it happens like that!
957. Funny cartoon pictures drawn by my son.
958. A hilarious book of silly inventions which had me laughing silly. Sometimes you just need to laugh, no?
959. Josh being welcomed on a nearby basketball team by the coach.
960. Watching a documentary about a Japanese man who has been making sushi all his life, who is now over 80 years old… such a tenacity and work ethic that to learn from. Fascinating look into this person’s life and also the culture in which he lives.
961. My mom’s pecan pie recipe. Sweet taste of home.
962. God’s comfort.
963. Trusting, knowing that if He closes one door, He’ll open another and it is for the good.
964. Sweet fellowship with a sweet group of ladies.
965. The not-so-distant hoot of an owl, calling out at night.

***

Posted in God's love, God's Word, grace, Hope, One Thousand Gifts, Promises, Thankfulness | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Quiet

Sometimes a person just needs to be bathed in it… drenched and soaked.

I close my eyes and hear it all around me… the incessant murmur of the sounds that make up my days. And while those can get truly get loud, it’s the ones in my head that are truly the loudest.

It’s the internal noises — you know the ones — that cause internal unrest or turmoil. The voices. Sometimes critical or hard. Sometimes the voice of truth through the Holy Spirit.

Yes, the clanging cymbals and noisy gongs are out there. I hear them all the time.

But soaking in His word… that brings me the quiet I need, it drowns out all the other voices, sinks them down under the sand.

***

Linking with Five Minute Friday today… with the word prompt “Quiet”. 

Posted in Five Minute Friday, Holy Spirit, peace, Prayer, Rest, Stillness | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

the reality of community, and #936-943

“‎Christian community is not an ideal which we must realize, it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I read that quote somewhere recently, and it got me thinking. Christian community will never be ideal… no community is. Church will never be ideal. No church will ever be– because it’s made up of imperfect people, like you and me.

Community isn’t an ideal– it is a “reality” that we step into. I like how he puts that. It’s “reality”.

And the reality we step into is our messes… the messes of our lives. We step knee-deep in the real stuff, make our way through– but we do it together. The reality is that we’ve all got the messes, and the beauty of true community is that we walk with one another through it all.

I love the thought of that, don’t you?

Some folks make “community” the goal. That is not the goal. Our goal is to glorify Christ.

We can do that through and in our community… but the goal is not only and merely community. We grow in community, we serve in community, we live in community– but our end-goal is to glorify the One who made it possible for us to live in community.

We know that we’re lonely without community. The need for fellowship is woven into our human fabric, whether or not it is acknowledged or realized. We can go from one extreme or to the other– not acknowledging the need and importance for community, to making it the end goal of our Christian lives. Neither extreme is meant to be.

It gets hard in our busy lives to make sure we’re doing this– being intentional about true and authentic relationships.  But– we get to participate in this. What a privilege, a joy. a gift!

It makes it easier to go through reality when we know we’re not alone. doesn’t it?

***

Counting to 1000:

936. One son attended an all-day retreat Saturday, with hiking, football, and devotions. The other son attended a “Heavenly Party” at church, learning about the joys of the heavenly kingdom. We had fun coming up with a Biblical character costume– he chose John the Baptist. He wore a long tunic with an animal skin belt (one of my scarfs with an animal print), sandals, and I sewed feathers in random spots on the tunic. Wish I had thought to take pictures!
937. The play is over and we enjoyed nice time of fellowship at a cast party, complete with chili, and games for the kids.
938. Bible study… going through the book of John.
939. Meeting and talking with a missionary last week.
940. My youngest reading through the Little House on the Prairie series of books. I started reading them aloud and now he’s taken to reading them on his own.
941. Sleeping in on Friday morning… a nice treat!
942. Sweet potato cornbread, black bean and corn salad… new recipes that turned out well.
943. Quiet days in which we don’t have to run to classes or other events. Like today. :)
***

Sharing in these lovely places on the web: Laura for Playdates with God, Jen for Soli Deo Gloria, L.L. for On, In and Around Mondays, and Ann for Multitudes on Mondays

Posted in Community, One Thousand Gifts, Quotes | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments