Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blessed Lesson

We had a stark reminder this week that how you treat people is important. Sometimes we go through life acting as though we are anonymous, that what we do with those we do not know is not important. That is not always true.

We had a great trip to Wisconsin to see Ryan's family. We met at a lodge in La Crosse, which is about 7 hours from us. It's a pretty easy trip, especially having been used to trips from Albuquerque and we agreed that this might have been the easiest in a while. We listened to the "Chronicles of Narnia" CD set we got last year for Christmas. The kids were enthralled. We stopped for supper at a gas station/Arby's combo place and did an all in one stop. There was another family there of a mom with 4 elementary kids on her own. I was admiring her from afar, especially when she spilled her drink and kept her cool. Ryan told the employees that a mop was needed, and also complimented the mom on how well her oldest son had taken care of things while she was in the restroom.

Farther on down the road we got some exciting news. A friend of Ryan's sent an email inviting us to Thanksgiving dinner, but also offering us a van that some of her out-of-town family was wanting to give away. I don't think she knew that we had been looking to buy this very same van in the spring but had decided to squeeze more life out of ours as long as we could. We could not believe God's blessing!

We got home Friday evening and made arrangements to meet them to pick it up and go over how things work. They were leaving for home the next morning and we were just excited to see the van even though we had a cranky toddler.

Imagine our surprise when we met the generous family and recognized them as THAT VERY SAME FAMILY from that random restaurant in Iowa. I was glad we didn't have to be embarrassed at how we had treated them, and that they had felt blessed (however slight) by us in that moment. We all had fun putting together the details and sharing how we had felt at the time.

How incredible is God in his timing, in how he teaches us, and in how he blesses us!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween Fun

This week the kids had a carnival for which I volunteered (read: was cornered) to make 5 dozen cookies. I decided to make a day of it and have some fun and school at the same time. Tons of math: halving recipes, counting dozens, grouping by dozens & counting extras. Reading: recipe. Art: Cookie decorating. We did our reading and spelling assignment to keep up with the week, but the rest of the day was cookies!

The Recipe Reader
The Pourers
First we mixed up these Sugar Cut-out Cookies so the dough could chill in the frigde for a while. We did half of this recipe and got probably 20 pretty big cut outs and a little extra dough for sneaking. They turned out pretty sturdy, but I have learned from my baking past to always grease the pan for cutouts, even when the recipe says not to. We let the dough chill for about 3 hours while we baked the other cookies and had lunch.

I wanted to do the shape cut-outs, but I knew that decorating them with icing would be too much for me. So we used candy corn and chocolate chips and inserted them as soon as they came out of the oven. Lazy, but still cute. Eyes on the moons and ghosts are pieces of candy corn. The ghosts were my favorite.

Then we made these easy Ghost Cookies. We used Vienna Fingers instead of Nutter Butters because of Ashton's peanut sensitivity.

Finally we ventured into Martha Stewart world with these Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. I shied away from choosing them at first, but they turned out to be pretty easy. The batter is pretty runny, but it bakes up well. And adding pumpkin to the filling makes it separate a bit, so if that bothers you skip it. I also added more powdered sugar to the filling.

This pic was when Landis found a way to look at the counter full of cooling cookies. I was so excited to be almost done, I forgot to take a picture of the finished product!

All in all, a fun day, and educational to boot!


There are times that I feel guilty for finishing our planned "morning" school work early. Like today. Language arts, Bible, and math all done by 11:07. Maybe I should fill up this time with more school. Review? Practice? Educational game?

But at the suggestion, my students balk. When morning school is done, they get to play together.

So I relent. Extra recess it is.

And I am so glad I did.

Because right now the three of them are working on a movie set. They are planning on "making" a movie with the video baby monitor.

That is not an educational experience you capture in a lesson plan.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where Were You When

September 11 was a date I had been anticipating for a week or so. It was going to be the first teacher's potluck luncheon of the school year. Endless goodies in the teacher's lounge for hours on end. My first break was at 10:30 central time when my first graders went to music.

The party room was remarkably empty. Undaunted, I filled my plate with a few good snacks and some obligatory vegetables, and sat for the first time that morning. A few minutes later, the librarian walked in, looked at me enjoying my full plate, and declared, "You haven't seen a TV yet." I confirmed I had not. Any teacher will tell you when you close your door in the morning, you create a world separate from reality, limiting your connection to a rare drop-in by the principal or another teacher looking for extra supplies. We likened it to being in a cave.

I remember her telling me two planes had flown into the twin towers and they had "fallen down." I had no comprehension of what she might mean. "What do you mean 'fallen down'?" I asked. "I mean they are just gone," she answered.

While I still couldn't fully understand (I was envisioning the top third of the buildings broken off), suddenly my plate was not so appetizing.

I did not see a replay of that sickening video of the crumbling buildings until arriving home that afternoon. What I remember most clearly from that day was the thought immediately brought to mind: "God you are all-powerful! You are in control!"

How could this be my reaction to such a gut-wrenching scene? Because of the grace of Jesus I understand that my God is more powerful than those who brought on this great tragedy, more powerful that the engineers that designed such marvelous buildings. He is still in control in the most horrific of situations and weeps with those are hurting. He allows free will and the consequences that are brought upon because of it, but he is not overcome by it!

We said then "We Will Never Forget." I sincerely hope we don't. It is a story that I have begun to tell my little class at home. But the lesson goes beyond US history or even the stories of valiant heros who faced tragedy. They are a part of His story.

It is about a God who is all-powerful, always in control.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Passing of Summer

I keep hearing people talk about the weather: how great is the weather, it's so nice outside, I love this time of year. Yes, it's nice, I agree. But with this weather, at this point on the calendar, it only means one thing. Summer is over.

I like summer.

I know it's hot. I know the kids get restless. I know it's tornado season. But life in the summer is just easier!

You get to sleep in. (Okay, well I do. I have trained my kids to allow this to happen.)
You can send the kids outside to lower the noise level.
You can get SOOO much accomplished.
You can do nothing.
You can plan things in advance or at the last minute.
You can fit clothes for the whole family into one overnight bag.
You can suggest to grill and have hubby end up cooking the entire meal!

It just seems that in summer everything is easier. But for me it's more than that.

Summer is the epitome of youth. Carefree freedom... Windows down... U2 blaring.... Every relationship holds mystery and expectant longing.

The smell of a river or sound of the cicada's song diverts me back to a time when life was simple and the possibilities were vast. The humid wind blowing through my hair as I drive seems to clear my head of all the grown-up junk that clutters it, making me feel, if only for a moment, like I am innocent and frivolous again. The giggle or hollered "MOM!" from the back seat that pulls me back to reality does not disappoint me, but rather brings my years of experience and responsibilities back to mind. There is no doubt: I would not trade now for then. But the moment has been sweet.

So with the passing of Labor Day and with the autumnal equinox rushing towards us, I lament the passing of summer. While winter days hold a certain allure for me, they are not nearly as charming as summer.

So, Summer, thanks for the perspective. Until next year....

Monday, August 30, 2010

In Training

I am in the trenches potty training my youngest right now. Yes, he is only 20 months old. Yes, I am quite possibly insane. (Not sure that was ever in question though....) Yes, I do own a carpet cleaner and a great washing machine. No, I did not do this this early with either of my other two.

Some of the my random thoughts on the whole potty training process:
  • Our moms had us trained earlier because washing underwear is not any different that washing cloth diapers.
  • For 2-3 years we "train" our babies to go in diapers. "No! Don't pee on the carpet! Let me put your diaper back on!" Then we want them to just decide to do it differently in a weekend.
  • No matter what article you read, it will be messy.
  • We are told that the best time to start this process is around 2.5. You may or may not realize that this coincides with the TERRIBLE TWOS! "Now that you are realizing you have a free will, I would like to assert my opinion that you should pee in the potty."
  • We are also told not to start if the child has had lately or will have upcoming unusual circumstances (i.e.--teething, new sibling, sickness, trip away from home, company in the home, family transition, holidays.... Read: their entire childhood.)
  • And, yet another thing we are told: we should block off some time in our calendar (anywhere from a weekend to 3 weeks) to devote to this project. Do not plan to go anywhere for a week. REALLY, who can do this? I have never been able to find more than a 3-day stretch to carve out of my schedule, and this doesn't get it done. Which brings me to my next point...
  • If your child does train in a weekend, sign them up for gifted testing. Because they are exceptional. And also, please don't tell any of the rest of us about it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lessons on Church Planting Learned from our Backyard (I hope)

Last fall my family moved from the high-desert dirt of Albuquerque, NM to the humid, shocking-green climate of the mid-west. We had intended to move in the summer, but God eased us into this muggy climate gradually. We moved here to plant a church! We set to our task with excitement, ready to move ahead wherever we could!

This spring the kids and I planted a small garden--our first attempt at green thumbs. I had wanted to do this for years, but finally gained the courage to forge ahead. The previous owners had sustained two entire families with a garden encompassing most of the yard. Surely we could grow a few measly vegetable plants! Plus it was a good end-of-year school project! We used it as a springboard for researching the best plants for children's gardens, the last frost date for our area, and even budgeting for our supplies. We tracked the sun for a few days to find the best spot for our little plot of ground, did a couple do-at-home soil tests, and talked to the lady at Lowe's about what critters we needed to keep out. We picked a good parcel of land on the back edge of the yard, where the grass was flourishing, just in front of the shed where we could store our tools! We prepared the ground, put up a fence, brought out our seedlings. A very good learning experience!

Sar-y, Sar-y, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? you ask. Well..... not so good. Quite possibly.... not at all....

I can blame the tomato-eating squirrel in May. I can blame the torrents of rain that pelted our little plants in June. But really the blame lies with me. (Sigh.)

You see, I thought doing a few days or weeks of research would be good enough. But I didn't really know my yard.

A couple weeks in, we went out in the morning to weed. I commented, "What a blessing! Our garden is in the shade in the morning! We will be able to work without the sun making us too hot!"

A few weeks later, our tiny plants were struggling, at best. Our plot basked in the sun for only a few hours each day. I began to worry.

Yes, the sun continued to shift in the sky as the calendar headed toward summer soltice. Our garden got less and less sun each day until there was none. Shaded from dawn till dusk, it was a spot better planned for two posts and a hammock. We hadn't spent the time in this yard to see what was now obvious.

Which brings us back to our original task: planting a church. Yes, it seems that planting a church could be remarkably similar to planing a garden. (Yikes!) Could our little black-thumbed family do it? Fortunately, we have been able to learn a few of these lessons second-hand from a book called "Church in the Making" by Ben Arment. Ben, as a former church planter, has been coaching Ryan in 2010. His advice: slow down and quit trying to build a church. Rather begin to grow roots in the community. Spend some time getting to know people and letting them get to know you. You know the old saying, "They don't care how much you know... blah, blah, blah."

Our garden is not completely without life now. We have two little pole bean plants who are climbing their way to the sun, I'm sure. A garden remnant, if you will. And one other product of our gardening endeavor: a very rich compost pile. It seems as though God is good at making lush soil with our trash. We know that's true spiritually, too, so hopefully that will make for some fertile soil when the time comes to plant this church.

In the meantime, we sit, we watch, we talk, we plan, we pray, we wait for God, and we look to learn more from our backyard.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

To My Best Friend's Daughter

No, you are not my own daughter. You are the precious daughter of a dear friend. But I loved your mom more that you could have known. And that love that I had for her has poured over into a love for you. I ache now in her absence, though not nearly as much as you. You are paused here, looking ahead to your adult life, looking back at a childhood that seems so long ago. I cannot take away the pain you feel right now.

I wish so much that it was not like this. I wish that she was still here, loving you through these difficult years. I wish that you could share your teenage secrets with her and hear again the secrets that she and I shared during those formidable years.

Your mother was my best friend. She got made at me once for saying about another girl that "she was the best friend I had ever had." I didn't blame her after I stopped and saw the reality of the situation. Your mom had stuck by me through failure, mistakes, and misplaced value, not to mention quite a few passing crushes and camp boyfriends! She much more deserved the title of "best friend I had ever had" than that other girl.

It's odd, now that I look back on it. Your mom was one of the only BF relationships I have had (except my husband) that survived an occasional fight. While many friends would move on, she did not. We were able to forgive and move on. Actually, I can only recall times where I received forgiveness, rather than offered it. Her consistency blessed me over and over!

I remember her coming to church. First alone, then with her brother, then with her mom. Our church loved them all. Her faith was so pure. She knew that God was her Father, that He had picked her as His very own child.

I want to tell you now what she would want you to remember--something so many teenage girls forget. Your worth is not determined by where you live or how you look or who likes you. Your worth is not even determined by how you act or what you wear! God is your Father. He has determined your worth is IT IS GREAT! So great that He paid the price for you with His very own Son, Jesus! You are a blessed child to Him, not just to those who have and will raise you here on this earth! Even a mother's or father's love could not compare to His!! Even in your time of grief and loss, He is there, drawing you to Him. He knows your pain and He hurts for you. But He also knows the plans He has for you, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11). He has not brought you to this place to leave you.

Your mother was a loving friend and mother who we will never replace. In her faith and in her fallenness, she showed that her life was not what she made of it, but what He made of it. Her life was a reflection of His grace--His grace that is evident even now in you. Your mother was His child. She sits with Him even now.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).

Monday, March 15, 2010


I wrote this blog quite awhile ago, but it just wasn't falling into place. This morning, I heard a Scripture that gave me new understanding and completed the puzzle I was trying to put together. (Isn't it amazing how the Word and the Spirit work together to do this for us?) So here it is, dusted it off, polished up, and hopefully a little bit clearer.

One of the greatest blessings I have been experiencing lately is a new understanding of grace. I hope by sharing this with you, I will further understand what God is doing in me, but also encourage you in your search for God.

I have known for years that it is not up to me to make me "good." Which I know is a very good thing, because I will never be able to do that. I have tried. It ain't happening. I can do alright for awhile, but not for very long. The trouble has come for me when I have tried to apply that. How can I let Jesus make me whole, not just after I have messed up, but before? I am still the one making the choices that are good or bad, so....

Lately God has helped me understand he is always offering me grace, in my good moments, and my bad. All I have to do is take it, and then realize it's all from him. I have come to think of it as "Proactive Grace" and "Retroactive Grace." I have needed a LOT of retroactive grace in life and have happily accepted it. I have received a lot of proactive grace also, but I have just recently realized it!! It has completely transformed how I think about my walk with Christ!

To illustrate: One rainy morning (in a string of many) in the fall, I announced to the children that before we started school, we would make a special trip out to go through the nearby Starbucks drive-thru for a pumpkin latte and kiddie drinks of their choice. They opted to get one hot chocolate and one carmel apple cider and split them at home. We brought them into the house so we could pour them into separate cups before they had even sampled a sip. Well, you can see where this is going....

Reed received proactive grace in this situation when he placed his cup firmly upon the table. Ashton received retroactive grace after she set her cup halfway on the table and it toppled to the floor. Sometimes grace comes in the form of a fabulous lid which stays in place upon impact. This day it did not, but rather in a towel and few comforting words.

Both Reed and Ashton know how to place a drink on the table, and each have done so many times with great success. And there have been a few times when they haven't. Each time it has been grace that has made it right.

Titus 2:11-14 offered an even greater lightbulb to me today, helping me see this proactive grace in new understanding. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." The grace I have claimed that has cleaned up my mess so many times has taught me there is a better way. I can say "No" to ungodliness. I have been redeemed and purified. All that really does make me eager to do good!! I want to proactively take hold of his grace that makes me whole.

However, sometimes I don't quite get the cup on the table.
And it spills.

And God is right there with his grace, ready to clean it up.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


...Lympics! What is is about them?? Why have I engulfed myself daily in bobsledding and ice skating and snowboarding and hockey? (Ok, just kidding. I cannot watch hockey. Try as you may, you will not convince me they aren't just skating around and batting at the puck at random...) Why have a I stayed up even later than usual to catch these obscure sports unfold?

I mean, on any given Saturday, if Ryan happens to land on the X games or if there is some ice skating competition on, I an NOT interested. I don't follow of these people in real life. Two weeks ago, I could not have told you Evan Lysacek's name, the life story of Frank Carrol (his coach--come on, keep up now), or that the Koreans disdain Apolo Anton Ohno. I didn't know that the USA player to score the winning goal on the Canadians (in the first game, that is) plays for Vancouver in the NHL. Why have I invested myself in all that recently?

Well, my first thought comes to national pride. In our little school, we have been keeping track of the medal count daily on a graph. The kids are keenly aware that other countries have more golds than we do, but that we are still have the most overall. Ryan has added an app to the itouch to keep us up-to-date on the medal standings. We faithfully cheer for USA (pronounced by Jess "Oo-suh") and despair when we are not even near the podium.

But really, my interest in the Olympics is not just because of patriotism. It is what interests most of us in life: Story. What the Olympics give us is the story about the athletes. It offers a glimpse into what has made them who they are today. How they got here. What they have overcome. That they have lives that have led to this point. Some of them we have come to know over the past few Olympics, seen parts of their story unfold at the games. We see former Olympians in the crowd and realize that there is life after a lifetime accomplishment.

The events in the Olympics are interesting. But what captures us is the story.

We are all in the midst of a story. Mine doesn't play out the way I expect it to sometimes. I try to keep parts of it hidden. Other times I want to give myself way too much credit for the good things. But today, tomorrow, is just one part of the story.

I have a story. You have a story. Your crazy neighbor with the loud kids in the backyard has a story. If we take the time to find out, and share, our stories, we will care more about one another, invest more in each other.

I think many of us who grew up in the church take for granted the stories in the Bible. We know them so well, that we miss them entirely. They are really one story, the story of God. The gift that the Bible gives us is that glimpse into the daily lives of the heroes, if we take the time to see it. Moses parted the Red Sea, but before that, God almost killed him, apparently because he hadn't circumcised his sons. Rahab supported her family with the oldest profession, but knew there was the one true God who sought to save her from what she had made of herself. Samson had the strength of God, but a weakness for women. God used then all in his story.

The Olympics will end tomorrow. But the stories will continue. The athletes will go home, celebrate, hit the talk show circuit, retire or begin training for Sochi 2014. We will see a few of them again, and, after not thinking of them for 4 years, will cheer passionately for them again the next time.

So as the flame extinguishes, remember the stories--theirs, and ours, and our neighbors--go on. God is telling his story in each of us.