The Screens are Off

My kids get two full weeks off for Christmas break this year, which apparently isn't the case for many of my friends, who didn't start Christmas break until Christmas Eve. (In which case, I don't know whether to feel sorry for you or envy you. It's a little of both, if I'm honest.)

All that to say, Natalie and Connor have been home for more than a week now, and the cabin fever is setting in. Yesterday was the culmination of a week of lazy: We sat in front of screens - television, laptop or Leapster - from dawn until dusk.

By the end of the day, I was so antsy and crabby, my skin itched from the inside out. I told Corey before I went to bed last night, "I'M BORED!" (All caps entirely appropriate, trust me.)

Which is often code for: I need a plan. I'm lonely. I'm tired of sitting around.

Today, I woke up determined to do something different. We let the kids watch a few Nick Jr. programs and play a computer game this morning. But as of now, the screens are off for the day. (Maybe the week.) The kids are playing with their new toys. And I'm working on a way to get everyone outside this afternoon. (It's a tad complicated when one doesn't have a yard but I'm not accepting that excuse today.)

I can't say I've shed the cloak of irritability yet. But I think we're headed in the right direction.

Unfinished

I wrote this two weeks ago, but somehow, it feels appropriate to post today, as the Christmas euphoria fades. Funny thing -- my house looks almost the same now as it did then. I promise I picked up after I wrote this! But a clean house waits for no man.

The milk sits on the counter next to the coffee creamer. The bread is still out, next to the still-open jar of peach jelly. The blackberries are on the stove top and the washcloth is on the high-chair next to the soggy Cheerios. The table where I’m sitting with my laptop is covered in small sticky spots that are probably dried milk from breakfast.


The living room is wall-to-wall Little People. Legos and cars and scraps of paper from Natalie’s latest self-invented game cover every flat surface.

Home as metaphor. Life unfinished. A work in progress. Two steps forward, one step back. Messy. Active. Always on the go.

It’s my reality these days.

I love being a mom to four. That sounds a little trite, a little too easy. But it’s true. My heart soars everyday to see these sweet little face. (This despite the fact that I’m so tired, it feels like I wear exhaustion like a wet pair of jeans.)

Kieran is growing so fast. He’s sitting up solidly now (after a few weeks of sitting up and then randomly falling backwards and knocking his noggin). He’s got two toofers. He is starting to get up on all fours and rock (hold me), and he’s pretty good at scooting around the living room on his belly. (Evidence: Last night, I set him down in the middle of the room. Five minutes later, I found him near the Christmas tree with an ornament in his mouth, a pink foam creation I made when I was in kindergarten. If a disease wiped out in the mid-70s is rediscovered in our house next week, you’ll know why.)

And Teyla. Oh my goodness. She grows more Teyla-like every day. She walks around my house, all giggles and sass. She bosses the dog. (“Keh-nole Sami! Keh-nole!”). She bosses her Dad. (“No Dadee! I no want to wear dat. I want dis one!”) She bosses her siblings. (“Kids! Put on yowr shoes now!”) She bosses me. (“I not going to bed Mamma. I play witt my amials instead.”) Her little voice slays me, and her zest for life drives to me consume two cups of coffee a day, minimum.

Combine those two with their older siblings and a traveling husband and a winter that’s come early bearing gifts, and you probably sense why I’m unfinished. I just don’t have enough time. Enough energy. Enough me.

There was a time in my life when I would have been frustrated by this way of life. To wake up each morning brimming with stories and idea and never have a free minute to sit at the computer. To make dinner each night and have most of it get cold before I can eat it. To pick up all the toys after the kids go to bed only to have them scattered hither and yon again before 9:00 AM. To move the items on today’s To Do List to tomorrow and act like that’s the way it was supposed to be.

And yes, I can get annoyed. My inner control freak has been known to grumble at the chaos. I get itchy when the clutter gets thick. And there are days when I rush everyone into bed so I can sit on the couch and hear … nothing for just two seconds.

But most of the time, I don’t live frustrated. I live fulfilled. In the midst of the crazy, God’s glory shines. I see the gifts before me and my breath catches.

My heart’s palette has been retrained by the Holy Spirit to crave the soul-satisfaction of gratefulness. And like manna, that dish is best eaten today. Even in the chaos. Even in the mundane.

My life is unfinished. But God has given me today.
This is God's work.
We rub our eyes—we can hardly believe it!
This is the very day God acted—
let's celebrate and be festive!
Salvation now, God. Salvation now!
Oh yes, God—a free and full life!
What grace.

Where's the Line to Hate the Christmas Schmaltz?

On my way home from Bible study and Trader Joe's yesterday (both a spiritual experience, let me assure you), I heard the semi-new song "Where's the Line for Jesus?" on our local Christian radio station.

I made it through approximately 1.5 verses before I rolled my eyes so far back in my head, I saw my spinal cord.

Seriously people. What is it with the Christmas schmaltz? Maybe I'm turning into a curmudgeon, but I have no tolerance for it anymore. (Hey you, kids wearing pajama pants at the bus stop: Put on some real clothes! It's 5 degrees outside! And get off my lawn!)

I understand Christmas is largely an American, secularized holiday at this point. It's 85% Santa, shopping and sweets and 5% snow and lights and 10% the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. I truly believe you could remove the Gospel narrative from most Christmas celebrations and the majority wouldn't blink -- or even know something had changed. This realization helped me a lot last year when I realized some of my bad attitude about the holidays stemmed from too much blending of the two Christmases in my soul.

But I don't understand the need to make Christmas -- either of them -- a cesspool of sentimentality.

This year, I'm doing my best to enjoy cultural Christmas without losing focus on the original reason for the holiday. We have enough snow to guarantee a white Christmas. The kids and I are baking and decorating holiday cookies. We have a gorgeous tree taking up half the living room. And I'm almost done buying presents to tuck under it.

But I'm also reminding myself every day that advent, the coming, implies waiting. And not just waiting for presents. Waiting for hope deferred. Waiting for the wardrobe doors to reveal Narnia. Waiting for the Promise to come.

It's the farthest thing from contrived sentimentality you can imagine. It's real. It's true.

God's Christmas is so much deeper. It's an audacious rescue, a passionate love story. It recognizes the darkness, the sinking hopelessness that would swallow us all whole if not for the birth of this tiny babe.

Personally, I don't want to go to the mall and stand in line to see my God. Santa can have that gig.

I would rather leave the masses at the cathedrals to materialism and go instead to the humble stable and there

worship.

So We Got Some Snow This Weekend

So we got some snow this weekend.

Twenty-one inches, to be exact.

The fifth largest snow in Minnesota history. The biggest dump since the infamous Halloween Blizzard of '91, one of the classic "where were you" events in Minnesota history.

I know some people hate snow. It's a pain to shovel and scrape. It's cold and slippery and it makes driving treacherous.

I used to share the sentiment. When I was in college, winter held as much appeal as an IRS audit. It was long, bitter and tedious.

But … I don't know. Something has changed in me as I've gotten older. Maybe it's because I lived in snow-free San Diego for eight years. Maybe my inner weather geek is taking over. Maybe I’m turning into my mom, who is more Minnesotan-at-heart than most natives.

Or maybe ... now, I have kids.

And to kids, snow is magic.



Lately, I share the sentiment.

(Extreme babywearing, no?)

All this snow: It's GORGEOUS.

Even if it makes my driveway look like this.

It's crazy. What used to be frustrating now delights me. Instead of being annoyed, I'm amazed. My most frequent phrase this past weekend: Wow. It's so beautiful.

I have a feeling, most of life is, when seen through the eyes of a child.

How NOT to Raise a Pharisee


My oldest daughter, Natalie, is best described with one word: sweet.

She is nine years of sweetness and joy held together with art projects, Puppy Place books, giggles and a fierce love of all things horse. She is compassionate and sensitive, eager to do the right thing and quick to step in when someone needs help.

She’s also a Pharisee.


I can say that, because I’m a recovering Pharisee myself. (I think many oldest children struggle with Pharisee tendencies. That kernel of responsibility planted in us by our birth order often grows into a tree of self-righteousness. For more proof: See the Older Brother in the story of the Prodigal. Notice he wasn’t the younger brother. Interesting.)


A few months ago, Natalie and I were talking about sin on the way to school (not a daily occurrence, I assure you), and she said something like, “Well, I’m glad Jesus died for those people who are bad. But I’m not a bad person. I’m good.”


Inwardly, I smiled with understanding. Outwardly, I reiterated what we say often in our house: We are all born with a twisted heart. No one is really good. Some people may look better than others on the outside. But our souls are infected with a fatal illness. Jesus is the only antidote.


And in my marrow, I was convicted once again that my job as a parent isn’t just to raise kids with good behavior. I want nothing less than changed hearts. Even a Pharisee can look good. Only a God-believer can
be good.

Enter "Spiritual Parenting" by Michelle Anthony. I was given the opportunity to review this book last month. I don’t do many reviews these days, because my life is scattered right now, and I’m trying to maintain a healthy dose of margin.


But this book? The tagline is “It’s not about perfect behavior. It’s about passionate hearts.”


Yes please. That’s a parenting book I wanted to read.
At its core, Spiritual Parenting then is not merely a book on “how to parent.” It’s far more than that. It’s a book about how to view your role as a spiritually minded parent, the God-given role that is yours alone. Essentially, it asks the question, “What is my end goal in raising each of the children God has entrusted to me, and then how will I parent them with that end in mind?”

With that perspective, I can take my focus off a series of day-to-day events and set it on the bigger picture of passing on my faith. Each moment of every day becomes an opportunity to parent toward my God-given goal. I parent in a way that does not simply spend my hours but allows me to invest my days toward eternity.
- Michelle Anthony, "Spiritual Parenting"
Oh my word. AMEN! That’s how I want to parent my children.

Michelle goes on to (rightly) say that we can do little as parents to truly change our children’s hearts. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. But we can give the Holy Spirit room to work. To that end, she details ten “environments” we can build into our home that will allow our children to “not only hear God’s words but also have the opportunity to put them into practice.”

Intrigued? "Spiritual Parenting" is on sale right now on Amazon for only $10.19. Or you could win a copy of Michelle’s book and her corresponding children’s book, "The Big God Story" by leaving a comment on this post. David Cook has graciously agreed to send one of my readers an early Christmas present. I think its wisdom will encourage you, whether you have a Pharisee or a prodigal.

David C. Cook supplied me with a copy of "Spiritual Parenting" and "The Big God Story" for the purposes of this review. My opinions are strictly my own. The links in this post are also Amazon Affiliate links, which means I will earn about two cents if you buy one of Michelle's books by clicking through my blog. Comments will close Sunday, December 5 and a winner will be chosen at random that evening. I will let Natalie draw the winner. Because Pharisees are especially good at rule keeping.

UPDATE: We have a winner! Congratulations to Amy from Occupation: Mommy. Your books will be in the mail shortly!

Thanksgiving Redeemed

It took me two whole days to shake the funk of Thanksgiving. That’s unusual for me. Normally, my natural optimism combines with coffee to right my rose-colored glasses within a few hours of their falling askew.

But this funk? It had tentacles. It dug in. It held fast.

After another walk through the woods, a good night’s sleep (well, as good as I’m going to get with a six-month-old who’s growing teeth) and some heart-to-hearts with God, I decided this particular mood was resting heavy on me so I would learn something.

The lesson is: I don’t want to let another holiday slip by without me being intentional about celebrating it for the right reasons – both for myself and my children. I don’t want our family memories to include only presents and fireplaces and good food. I want memories with meaning.

Enter Ann Voskamp’s brand new Jesse Tree Advent devotional. It popped up yesterday in my Google reader, and I was overcome with grace.

We haven’t done a Jesse Tree until now. But I think this devotional and a few paper ornaments and a small tree and a lot of prayer will do a world of good to soothe the ache in my soul and keep the Christmas season honest this year.

What about you? If you’ve done a Jesse Tree in the past, do you have any tips or suggestions? Or do you have other Christmas traditions in your family that point to Jesus?

When Thanksgiving Isn't

I woke up this morning with a heavy heart.

I know that’s not the sort of thing you’re supposed to admit the day after Thanksgiving.

But in this case, Thanksgiving is to blame for my melancholy.

I had such high hopes for yesterday. For years now, our family holidays have tended toward the cultural and superficial. Nothing wrong with that. I love to cook a Thanksgiving meal, and family time while opening presents on Christmas morning is a warm memory.

Problem is, those events skin the surface of the real reason we are celebrating. These holidays (literally, holy days) are about much more than food and gifts. They are about God and our relationship to Him. They give us a chance to stop and remember and worship. The routine act of eating transforms into an humble act of thanks. The gifts exchanged are but a tiny echo of the Great Gift lavished on us.

In the midst of the cultural celebration, it’s easy for those deep truths to get lost – especially for those of us who have many wonderful family traditions. There’s nothing wrong with the way the day has always been spent. It’s just that I want it to be something more.

So yesterday, we said, “Happy Thanksgiving!” But the family hike in the woods I wanted to do, the one that would be the beginning of countless thoughtful family hikes in the woods on Thanksgiving, never happened. First the baby fell asleep. Then the turkey had to be put in he oven. Then the baby woke up. Then the baby was hungry. Then the guests arrived. And so I found myself crunching through the frosty air by myself at 4:00 PM yesterday, a journey separate from the one my husband took with our older kids a few hours earlier.

And my heart was glad to be outside and thankful for this great gift called life. But honestly? I was also discouraged.

Because by the time the walk was over and I went back inside to warm up, the game of Monopoly was still going on. Dinner was ready and yet the table wasn’t set, so we rushed to pick up the game pieces so we could eat. A prayer was said, but it was rushed because the kids were restless. And then two of the kids didn’t want to eat, having contented their bellies with the appetizers of crackers and cheese, and Teyla wouldn’t sit in her chair and someone started to talk politics and I left the table in the middle of dessert to bathe the baby so I wouldn't say what I’m thinking and suddenly

the day was over.

And we didn’t thank God for hardly anything. We didn’t focus on the many, many gifts we’ve been given.

It was just a day, a day of food and fun. A day of stress and distractions. Not a day of mindful gratitude.

Just an ordinary American Thanksgiving.

And I hate it.

I wanted something more.

Winter has its Pleasures

Four days ago, we broke records for heat. I wore flip-flops to Bible study and threw open all the windows in the house to catch the warm breeze.

Today, I woke up to snow.


Flakes so big, they veil the view.

Thick blankets of white cling to every branch


every leaf

every pumpkin and squash atop a bale of hay futilely trying to insist it's still fall.

Connor and Teyla are in their cozy fleece pajamas at 1:00 PM.


I made homemade sausage for breakfast and two hours later, the smell of crispy pork and dried sage perfume the air.

I'm on my second cup of coffee.

(I want a third.)

The baby is refusing to nap, preferring instead to play and drool and look adorable wearing fuzzy slippers for this very first time.

Winter is not without its pleasures.

Churned

Corey’s eyes met mine across a messy kitchen Sunday afternoon and I pointed to my heart and sighed.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice tinged with alarm.

“I feel churned,” I replied.

It’s an odd word to use to describe one’s condition.

But it’s the most fitting word I can find.

Lately, my heart rides the white water. I am pushed and pulled, slammed this way and that. Sometimes, it’s exhilarating. Sometimes, it’s frightening.

I trust my rafting guide. But he’s not known for taking the safe route, you know?

This past weekend, Corey and I attended the kick-off event for Orphan Sunday. It was an amazing evening, worship-fueled and laced with incredible stories of people loving crazy. I walked away brimming with hope after meeting so many determined to make a difference in the lives of orphans around the world. They have passion and a plan. Stories of adoptions, orphanages, food and water, love. These is the Church determined to not stand by while 18.5 million children fade into the background.

But then I got home from Colorado and read stories from friends in the trenches. Friends like Laura who writes about a girl who picks up a stone to defend herself, a child who has to grow old early, because she is an orphan. I wonder about all the children alone tonight, searching the skies, wondering if rescue is even something they dare believe in. I look into the soul of my own husband and see the scars.

The problem is so huge. It is beyond comprehension. The numbers stagger. And each numeral represents a story, a face, a name, an everlasting splendor.

You feel the churn with me, right?

I don’t know where this journey will take me. I am sitting in the raft, waiting for the green light to do my part. I have learned the importance of waiting on my rafting guide to give me the signal to act. Ultimately, this is His journey. I am only along for the ride.

In the meantime, I pray for the churning to change me.

Did your family or your church do something to mark Orphan Sunday yesterday? I'd love to hear about it. Tell me your story in the comments, or link back to a post you've written. I'll even make sure it gets back to my friends at the Christian Alliance for Orphans, the organization behind Orphan Sunday. I know they will be encouraged to hear how God moved yesterday.

Definitions

Denial: stuffing my almost six-month-old, 20-pound baby into his 3-6 month pajamas because I don’t want him to move up in clothing size.

Cute:


Cuter:


Freaky:


Freakier:



Irony: when my heart is so filled with words, I can’t write.


Frustrating: (see irony)

Peace: Laying in the dark atop a colorful pink quilt, with a sleeping baby sighing on my chest and a freshly-washed toddler curled under my arm.

Grace: my life, every day.

Seven

You want joy?

Joy is a birthday party.

Do you know a child who could have a birthday and not be giddy?

I don't.

Around here, we start planning our birthday parties 11 months in advance. We don't always keep the same plan. But we do plan...

...anticipate

...dwell in joy while we dwell in possibilities.

A few weeks ago, Connor climbed in the car after school and said with purpose, "Mom, I've decided what I want to do for my birthday."

"You have, buddy?" I asked, my blue eyes searching out his coffee-brown eyes in the rearview mirror. "What do you want to do?"

"I want to have a breakfast pajama party, and all my friends can come to our house in their pajamas and we can eat breakfast and play video games and it will be AWESOME."

It was the perfect idea. Connor loves breakfast. He would stay in his pajamas all day if I let him (and sometimes, on lazy summer days, I did). And a morning party would mean we would have the rest of the day to play and enjoy this so-beautiful-my-heart-aches autumn.

So it was that four boys inhabited my house Saturday morning, wearing pajamas and eating pancakes and exuding joy. (If you want a detailed post about how to plan a breakfast pajama birthday party, check back; I'll have the skinny soon.)

Connor is seven now. He is still a jabberwocky. ("Mom? Mom? Mom? Do you want to be the green guy or the red guy, Mom? You can't choose green though, because that's my guy.") He has huge brown eyes and he makes friends so fast, it makes my head spin. He is super smart (he's been reading so long, first grade is a breeze), and he loves to build Legos and play video games and pretend he's a super hero. He doesn't like chocolate but he loves fruit. He is a terrific swimmer. He has a temper and a strong-will (which he gets from his father) and we have had our share of battles this year, for sure. But he continues to bring us so much

joy.

Joy

I've felt it.

The burden of knowing.

Knowing that millions of children are going to bed tonight without a father or mother.

Knowing that a billion people don't have clean water to drink today.

Knowing that, as an American, I am one of the richest of the rich, with access to free education and caring doctors and healthy food and warm clothes and the right to worship and vote as I choose.

It's good to know. It's wise to live with eyes wide open, to feel God's spirit stir a desire to live radical, to taste God's crazy love and want to share with the world.

But sometimes, the knowing feels like a weight in my soul. It makes me sigh. I live bowed low. My steps are wearied and worn.

I think that's because I've forgotten about joy.

I'm re-reading one of my favorite books right now, "The Life You've Always Wanted" by John Ortberg. I often joke it's a great book with a lousy title, because while it sounds like something Joel Osteen might write, its contents directly contradict prosperity gospel.

Instead, John Ortberg (good gravy, even their initials are the same), talks about how ordinary people like you and me can be transformed to be more like Jesus through the spiritual disciplines.

This morning, the chapter I read talked about the spiritual discipline of celebration, a way to grow more of the spiritual fruit called joy.

If you are a disciple of Jesus, you need joy. I need joy. It's not optional. It's a necessity. The joy of the Lord is our strength. (Need some strength? Focus on joy.)

God Himself is joyful, the most joyful person in all of creation.

More joyful than Connor on his birthday last Friday? More delighted than Kieran when he sees his Daddy's face? More excited than Teyla when she spies a butterfly? More filled with laughter than Natalie when she makes a joke?

All that and more. Our children's joy is but a drop compared to the ocean of God's joy.

Maybe you've seen this famous quote by G.K. Chesterton. (Surely, if you are a parent, you can relate to it.)
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be tht He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
Joy -- even though He sees poverty? Joy -- even though His creation is hopelessly broken? Joy -- even though His ultimate sacrifice is rejected again and again?

Yes. Joy.

In fact, joy bubbles up strongest in the midst of suffering. John Ortberg writes, "Friends of Mother Teresa say that instead of being overwhelmed by the suffering around her, she fairly glowed with joy as she went about her ministry of mercy. One of the English officers imprisoned at Flossenburg with Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of him, 'Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive.'"

It seems counter-intuitive. But then again, God's seems to do His best work backwards. He hardly ever works the way we expect Him too. After all, He's not a tame lion.

Which is why I'm starting to understand with a fresh portion of hope that God's answer to my soul heaviness over poverty isn't only action. It's joy.

Because He is good. He has written the end of the story. He hasn't forgotten. He always keeps His promises.
Though the cherry trees don't blossom and the strawberries don't ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I'm singing joyful praise to God. I'm turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God's Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.
Habakkuk 3:17

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!
Romans 15:7

Light-seeds are planted in the souls of God's people, Joy-seeds are planted in good heart-soil.
Psalm 97:11

Life with Four

“So how’s it going with four?”

It’s a question I get a lot these days, especially from people I know. (Strangers just stop and stare when I’m out with the whole family.) The question can be tinged with curiosity or fear or even incredulity that I survive daily life with four little people.

(Read the rest at 5 Minutes for Parenting....)

For the Love of Orphans

(Warning: Cute kid photos ahead.)

These little people?







Oh. My. Heart.

They are my whole world.


There are times I look into their bright eyes and I am overcome.

It is sheer gift that I get to watch them grow, listen to them laugh, wipe their tears, know them.

It is a gift being their Mom.

"This is the way it was meant to be," my soul whispers. "This is right. This is good."

But I know this isn't the way it is for millions of children around the world today.

I know this in my head, and I know it in my heart because my husband used to be one of them.

And it shatters me.

I sometimes look at Corey when he doesn't know I'm watching and I wonder how deep the scars are. How could a boy grow up diseased, abused, neglected and forgotten and now be a man who fathers his own children with tenderness and love? How did he survive? Why is he here today to make jokes at my expense and be my partner and my friend?

The answer is multi-faceted, but it all comes down to this: Someone acted on his behalf. And that changed everything.

On Sunday, November 7, you have the same opportunity. That day, thousands of churches and individuals in America and beyond will come together to stand for the orphan. We will celebrate the love of a God who "sets the lonely in families" (a verse that makes my eyes well with tears) and calls us to do the same. Orphan Sunday seeks to make the Gospel visible as Christians explore and respond to God's heart for the orphan through adoption, foster care and global orphan ministry.

And -- here's the best part -- you have a role to play. Just take the burden God has given you for orphans and make it known. Maybe that means you'll call your church today and see how you can make Orphan Sunday a big deal for the people in your faith family. Maybe you've been impacted by the Compassion bloggers. See if you can share that during the Sunday service. Maybe you are starting down the road toward adoption. Tell others how God has carried you on that journey. See if you could put an insert in the bulletin or share a video during the service. Or make it more personal and request a copy of "Answer the Cry" DVD (hosted by Francis Chan) and show it during your small group or at a gathering of your neighborhood friends or at your Bible study. Or browse the scores of resources available at the Orphan Sunday website and brainstorm your own approach to this day of action.

In the meantime, if you are a blogger, would you add this button to your blog and spread the word about Orphan Sunday?

Orphan Sunday


You can also follow the Christian Alliance for Orphans, the nonprofit behind Orphan Sunday, on Twitter and Facebook to stay up-to-date on developments. (Disclosure: My husband is one of the newest members of the CAFO board of directors, which is nothing short of God showing off his power to make beauty from ashes.)

I am so humbled by this opportunity. It is huge and it is overwhelming. But I refuse to believe the lie that my small effort won't make a difference.

Because someone threw a pebble in the pond 30 some years ago in Korea.

And I am washed by the waves of that decision every day.

Defend the cause of the fatherless....
Isaiah 1:17

I will be posting more about Orphan Sunday as November 7 draws near. Wouldn't it be amazing to have a carnival November 8 and share stories about what we did to make the cause of orphans known?

For more on Orphan Sunday, check out these post by my dear friends Jo at Mylestones and Megan at SortaCrunchy.

Might I Direct Your Attention

My sister is visiting Minnesota this week -- which is a welcome distraction from Corey traveling yet again. (He's been gone 10 of the last 12 days. Bedtime is kicking my tail, my friends. Kicking my tail.)

We are thankful for the companionship. Emily, Luke and their kids Silas (3) and Eliana (1) are a total joy and a huge help.

But it also means we are go-go-go all day every day. So far, we've cruised the St. Croix on a perfect fall afternoon, we visited an apple orchard, we spent about four hours today at the Minnesota Children's Museum. We've eaten at Cafe Latte, Cosetta's, Byerly's (for breakfast, of course) and they brought us back three bags of donuts from The World's Best Donuts in Grand Marais. And all of that? Doesn't leave much time for blogging. (Not does it do much to push me toward losing that baby weight. But that's OK. I can lose it in December, right? Bwhahahaha.)

I did write a little ditty today for 5 Minutes for Parenting about what happens when Mom gets tired. (Are you sensing the theme here?)

I also wrote a piece for 5 Minutes for Parenting last week about why fall is making me slightly nauseous this year, and the week before that, I recorded all the wisdom I've gleaned over the years about breastfeeding. (Warning to my brothers: Do not click that final link. Hey, did you hear Randy Moss just got traded to the Vikings? Go read about that instead.)

And someday soon, I'll be writing here again as well.

In the meantime, if you need to sink into some deep thoughts, go read what my friend Jo at Mylestones wrote about wasting our lives, one list at a time. Or if you would rather party, check out the reason Allison loves a certain gummybear.

I hope you are enjoying your fall as much as me. And that bedtime is gentler to your tail.

Amen.

Thin

By the time I got out of the shower, the tears were falling.

It doesn’t take long to disintegrate when the fiber of your being is worn thin.

And I am.

I am paper-thin. Stretched. Brittle.

I feel impatient and tired and weary. I poured everything I’ve got into making summer fun for my kids. And now that it’s over, I am spent.

I’m not up to tackling a week of solo-parenting.

I. Am. Not.

But I have no choice.

Corey has to travel. It’s part of his job. And I’m thankful he provides for our family. I do not take it for granted.

But six nights of putting four kids to bed by myself? Six dinners with only kids to keep me company? Six days of school carpool, no matter if Kieran just fell asleep in his own bed for the first time all day? Six days of battling my strong-willed son without backup? Six days of dread instead of six days of enjoyment?

It is overwhelming for me right now.

So yesterday morning, I broke.

My normal happy-go-lucky, chin-up, rosy--glasses outlook gave way to a pile of shattered fragments.

I fell to my knees and put my head in my hands and let the tears spill onto Psalms.

And there, in my brokenness, I worshiped.
God loves a lullaby
In a mothers tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah
- Amy Grant, Better Than A Hallelujah
I am inexpressibly thankful God takes us as we are, even when – or maybe especially when – we are broken.

I am thankful the light shines best through the thin.

On Sanguines and the Desire to Do It All

I think I jumped in too quickly. And I'm sick about it.

It’s a pitfall common to sanguines. Bless our hearts, we chose fun over reality every time.

Certainly, I’ve learned. Over the years, I’ve learned the value of restraint and patience. I credit Corey and the Holy Spirit with teaching me to think and pray about a decision before I excitedly yet blindly dive in.

But this time.... Sigh.

It all started when I saw the announcement in our church bulletin that a leader was needed on Wednesday nights for the 4th and 5th grade girls. Natalie is in 4th grade. I love that girl so much, and I miss her something fierce lately. She is always around, but with three other kids in the home – all of them needier than her – I rarely get to sit and just enjoy her. I wondered if stepping in to lead her small group wouldn’t give me some of that focused time with my daughter that I crave and help the church at the same time.

Sounds good, right? Wednesday night children’s programming is a staple in the Midwest. It’s like Sunday school only more fun. The nursery would be open for the younger kids. Connor could be in the Wednesday night program for first graders. And it would give us an out-of-the-house activity for those weeks Corey needs to travel.

Win-win-win.

So I thought about it. I talked to Corey. I prayed. I knew the potential pitfalls, but I didn’t think any of them were insurmountable.

Fun. Let’s go.

And then reality hit.

This past Wednesday was our first night. I estimated we would need to leave our house by 6:00 at the latest, in order to be checked in and in place by 6:30 when the evening’s festivities would begin. I planned an easy dinner (Trader Joe’s pumpkin waffles and homemade sausage; I love brinner) and served it at 5:30, hoping that would be early enough for us to get out the door but late enough that we would still be hungry. (Normal dinner time around here is 6:30 or even 7:00.)

Good plan. But it didn’t work. The kids weren’t hungry. My easy dinner required a lot of clean-up, which I forgot to factor into the equation. Kieran was cranky and wanted to eat. I didn’t have time to feed him and I was hot and flushed from all the rushing.

Thankfully, Corey was home last night, and he stepped in and drove us all to church (through massive rush hour traffic, something else I didn’t factor into my equation). He took Teyla to the nursery while I hustled Natalie and Connor to the Wednesday night ministry where I was supposed to be greeting my girls.

The teaching time itself was fun. The girls are sweet and funny. I didn’t have a lesson prepared, since it was opening night, but we got through OK.

And then it was 8:00, time to go home, and Corey and I gathered up our HYPER children and as soon as we hit the car, the kids started whining, “I’m hungry, Mom. Can we eat something when we get home?” Which, OK, I sympathize with the hungry, but we are already late for bedtime here, and now you want to eat a snack? I don’t think so. And Kieran, bless his little heart, screamed the whole way home because he was so exhausted and once we got out of the car, Corey had to stay on Connor every second to get him to focus on getting into bed. And Teyla was running around like a banshee and she was mad when I tried to nurse Kieran while reading her a story and in the end, it was 10:30 before Teyla and Connor fell asleep. Such was the adrenaline and the general mayhem.

When the house was finally quiet, I fell into a heap on Corey’s neck and said, “I feel HORRIBLE! Tonight was a DISASTER! Why didn’t you warn me? Why did you let my inner sanguine agree to this? Because if tonight was hard, it will be COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE the next few weeks when you are traveling. WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?”

He smiled gently and listened to me freak out and suggested some possible solutions. But he agreed, this might not be the season for me to make such a commitment.

I still don’t know what to do. I hate making commitments and then backing out of them. Hate. It. And Natalie would be devastated. She is ecstatic I'm leading her group. She's talked about it every day since.

But I've also learned that doing ministry at the expense of my family doesn't work. It makes us all miserable, and at this point, I don't even think it's right. My children and my husband are my primary ministry right now. If I forsake them to do something else, can I even call it ministry?

I just wish there was a way to do it all.

So says the sanguine.

Bedtime

Sometimes, the bedtime routine stands on my last nerve and plays hopscotch on it.

I mean, I’ve been Mom-ming all day. I’ve played and fixed and hugged and laughed and listened and now it’s 9:00 and I’m so done.

But I’m not.

“Buddy, focus. Are you supposed to be playing Legos or brushing your teeth?” “Natalie, it’s time to stop reading and turn off the light, honey.” “Teyla. Pick out a book so I can read.” “Here, let me nurse Kieran one more time before he falls asleep.” “Teyla. Really. Pick out a book.” “Connor, how is it that your teeth aren’t brushed?”


I’m edgy. Exhaustion and impatience seep out my cracks.

Finally, lights are out, teeth are brushed, milk-drunk babies are handed to Daddy and I’m ready to lay in Teyla’s bed and read her books, a privilege granted only to toddlers. So we read about a “Good Day” and a squirrel named “Miss Suzie” and about a hero come to rescue us.

And Teyla carefully tucks her doll under her quilt and curls next to my arm. And I inhale her still-wet curls and I hear only the crickets and the scuffing of sheets and the pure sweetness of a two-year-old singing to herself.

“Yes, Jesus wuvs me. For He is strong.”

I exhale.

The exhaustion still lingers. But that last nerve is no longer tingling.

Because sometimes, the bedtime routine grabs my heart and reminds me that this is the best job in the world.

Sisterly Love

Kieran's cheeks are so squishy. I wonder what happens if I do this?


Cool. Do his lips do the same thing?


Hmmm. Those lips are hard to catch sometimes.


What Mom? He likes it!

Mommy Split

“Yet me hep you, Mommy,” Teyla says from her perch on the step stool next to the kitchen counter.

I smile and guide her hand to the handle of the knife. My fingers closes over hers, and together, we slice through the block of cheese on the cutting board.

I’ve missed this.

Summer was exciting. We had so much fun with everyone home. I loved spending days at the pool and evenings outside. Our mornings were relaxed and filled with two or maybe even three courses of breakfast. We would spend hours at the park with friends, playing pirates and super heroes and tag.

But having my attention split four ways – it’s exhausting. I felt like I was always ALWAYS divided. I never had a quiet moment to just sit and focus on one child. I was constantly juggling. “Here, Natalie, can you take the baby? Teyla, honey, I’m opening the cheese for you. Now Connor, what were you saying?”

So here we are, one week into our new school schedule. Both Natalie (4th grade) and Connor (1st grade) are in school all day.

And I feel like my brain is piecing itself back together.

I don’t have to multitask anymore. (Not much anyway. Two kids is a breeze compared to four.) I can focus. I can finish a conversation.

More importantly, I can listen. I can watch. I can adore.

And I have more patience and more energy for Connor and Natalie when they get home from school, since I spent the morning and early afternoon paying attention to the littles.

I’m sad summer is over. But fall feels good.

The Reasons for the Silence

If you write for God, you will reach many people and bring them joy.
If you write for people, you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world for a little while.
If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after 10 minutes, you will be so disgusted you will wish you were dead.
- Thomas Merton

I’m not silent very often.

(If you doubt, just ask Corey. He does a happy dance when I get bronchitis.)

But right now, my little brain is so overwhelmed with big ideas, the words can’t get out.

Two streams of thought have converged to create this mental flood.

First, Compassion has a team of bloggers in Guatemala this week. I follow each Compassion bloggers trip so closely, I feel like I’m spiritually hovering over the team. This trip is especially meaningful. My sister traveled to Guatemala regularly before she got married (so often that, at one point, she was suspected by the DEA of smuggling drugs), so that country already has a story for me. Plus, some of my best blogging friends are on this trip. I am bathing in their stories right now and being convicted again that truth faith cannot have a non-response, that the God I know may need to be redefined in light of the God we encounter in a shanty town, that there isn’t always a neat bow to the end of the story.

Our God is crazy. He dwells with the poor and the orphan and the alien. I don’t know why. But I see it throughout the Bible.

It bothers me. Because I dwell with the rich and the comfortable and the lazy.

I am rich and comfortable and lazy.

I say I want to follow Jesus. But the truth is, I want to follow Jesus and have a nice house in the suburbs and put my kids in Christian school and take a vacation each January to escape the cold. (Even though my house has a roof and a fireplace and running water and a stove where I make food and bake bread at will.)

I don’t want to choose.

But I feel like God forcing the decision. I’ve felt it coming for years. There’s a swell of energy approaching, like a wave in the ocean.

I want to catch this wave. I pray I’m ready when it breaks.

So I’m silent right now, listening to the water.

The second stream of thought is less global. It has to do with my family.

Summer is over. (Literally. Two weeks ago, we lived at the pool to escape the 90-degree heat and blanket-like humidity. This week, I’ve lugged out the boxes of winter clothes to find pants and sweaters for the 50-degree mornings. What is it with September, Minnesota?) It was a great three months, crazy but fun, like a roller coaster, both terrifying and exhilarating.

But the sudden advent of fall punched me in the gut, frankly. It does every year, partly because I’m not ready for winter. (Summer! Don’t leave me!) But more because it is at the beginning of each school year I realize: My children are growing up. And there is nothing I can do to slow down time.

It always makes me wonder: Am I doing a good job? Am I loving my kids the way they need to be loved? Did I take live summer 2010 to its fullest? Because I will never get it back.

For the record, I’m not talking Mommy guilt here. This isn’t a maudlin emotion. It’s about authenticity. I say I love my kids and my family and that they mean more than anything to me.

Yet, if you look at my Twitter stream, you’ll see I’m at my computer a lot. A lot.

To make matters worse, I haven’t found a way to blog or email or even play with my photos without stealing that time from one of my loved ones. I am never alone. There is always a little person who is desperate for my attention. And after they go to sleep, there is my long-suffering husband, who waits patiently each day for just a few moments of my time.

I don’t believe the answer is to chuck my computer. (Especially since I just got a new laptop. Speedy Gonzalez. I wonder if I can get one of these nifty new Intel chips installed in my brain.) That would be too easy. Life isn’t a black and white drawing. I have to work within the colorful spectrum of the real world. Moms need an outlet too, and the friendships that exist between me and my fellow bloggers and Twitterees are real and precious.

But sometimes, I need to step back and re-evaluate my stance. Am I walking the path with grace and precision? Am I watching His footsteps – and only His footsteps? Do I know where I want my story to go?

And sometimes, silence is the only way to get those answers.

If, perhaps, you're wrestling with some similar questions, I'd love to have you join the "Radical" read-a-long being hosted by the fabulous Marla Taviano. And of course, if you're interested in catching the wave of child sponsorship, the children of Guatemala would be happy to teach you to the thrill of riding with God.

Silence

I rarely crave silence.

I am a people person. I am energized by conversation. I am happiest when I'm interacting.

But lately, I want to hit the the internal mute button.

To be clear, it's not you.

It's me.

I'm sick of me.

I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I do not struggle with insecurity. About 90% of the time, I’m comfortable in my own skin.

I do mean that I’m weary of the me-focus and the me-blog and the me-Twitter and the me-me-me.

I want me to be quiet.

Be still.

I'm sure it's just a season - a balance to my nearly constant sanguine.

But right now, it's needed.

And good.

Focus

We were running late for church on Sunday morning.

With only 15 minutes to go until we needed to leave, Corey was getting dressed, I was getting out of the shower and the kids were playing downstairs.

“You’d better get the kids up here,” I called from the bathroom. “They’ve don't have long to get ready.”

Corey shouted down for the kids to come up. I knew, without looking, that Connor was the last one up the stairs. The boy has a hard time staying on task lately, especially when we need him to hurry. “Focus, Connor! Focus!” Corey constantly says. But it doesn’t do much good. Connor is just too six-year-old-boy to focus.

So Sunday, Natalie was dutifully brushing her teeth and Corey was changing Teyla’s diaper and Connor was … well, Connor was doing his usual thing, which is to play good guy-bad guy with his shirt and shorts. “Focus Connor! Focus!” Corey barked.

And so it continued. Corey hurried, Connor tried but failed to stay on task. I know this drill; it’s like trying to push Jell-O.

Finally, we were in the car (and only five minutes late). Corey was obviously frustrated. But he didn’t say: “We have got to do something to light a fire under Connor,” or “Does he not listen? How many times did I tell him to hurry?”

Instead, he turned to me and sighed and said, “We’ve got to give Connor more than 15 minutes to get ready. I should have called him up sooner. He’s only six. I hate riding him like that.”

Corey is a great dad.

Tough Guy

Hey you.

Yeah. You.

Wanna piece of this?


Just kidding! I'm such a prankster.

(Although I do recommend my fist. It's the perfect mid-afternoon snack.)

What's that?

You think I'm cute in my tank top, even with the chubby arms and the double chin?


Get out!

You're the best! I love you too!

The Summer of No Naps

Teyla, bless her heart, has given up napping for the summer.

(Bless my heart, while you’re at it.)

It’s not that she doesn’t need the sleep. She’s a whiny, temperamental drama queen by 5:00 PM most days. It’s more that conditions aren’t right for napping right now. There’s too much noise, fun, craziness, hoopla to sleep in the middle of the day. And I don’t have the time to lay down with her and coax her toward dreamland, as I used to do before Kieran was born.

So she stays awake most days, and we muddle along and give extra grace during the pre-dinner meltdowns and wait for blessed September when routines make their return.

Still, she is tired. (Bless her heart.) If I can time our daily activities so we are driving home around 1:30 PM, she will zonk out in the car for a brief respite. Occasionally, she’ll lay down on the floor right at lunchtime and fall asleep with a Little People figurine tucked under her chin.

Or she might do what she did yesterday, which is to resist the nap all the way until 4:30 PM, at which point she suddenly yawned and curled up into a ball and built an invisible chrysalis around herself, and nothing I could do would rouse her, not even rubbing her back and moving her arms and legs and whispering sweet promises of ice cream into her ear.

She didn’t wake up until 6:00 PM, when dinner was almost ready and her Daddy was on his way home.

I know I shouldn’t have let her nap that late. I should have tried harder to wake her up after just a short snooze. Or maybe I shouldn’t have let her indulge the sleepy at all.

But the quiet. It was so blissful. And I love to watch her sleeping, a sprite with curly hair and peaceful breaths resting on my sofa.

I paid for it later, when she was wide awake and singing at 10:30.

But to be honest, I didn't really care.

Because she needed that. And so did I.

Zucchini In My Kitchen

My kitchen is overrun with zucchini.

And I couldn't be happier.

I know it sounds weird, but the last time I was overrun with zucchini, I had a garden. And I miss my garden.

To quell my veggie lust, I jointed a CSA this past June, which is a lot like buying a share in a local farm. Practically, it means every other Monday, I drive to the chiropractor's office around the corner and unload a box of veggies and drive home giggling that I get to have the bounty of a garden without all the work.


Yesterday, I was pondering Beth's You Capture challenge and I looked in my fridge and saw four different varieties of zucchini just waiting for some attention.

And lo, a light bulb went off over my head. It was a gloomy, cloudy, summer day. Everyone was a little grumpy. I had a bounty of squash. What we clearly needed was cake.

Or should I say, vegetables disguised as cake.

I got busy shredding. (I heart my Cuisinart.)

A globe zucchini. I know it looks like a pumpkin, but I promise. It's not.

A vortex of shredded squash. (Way more than I needed for the cake. Guess who's going to make zucchini bread and muffins later today?)

The cake batter just before I added the shredded zucchini.

The finished cake.

Connor (who wore his pajamas ALL DAY yesterday) eating his veggies.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup oil
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream
2 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tbsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups grated zucchini

Cream margarine, oil and sugar. Stir in eggs, vanilla, sour cream until well blended. Sift dry ingredients together (or don't; I never do) and add to batter. Stir in zucchini. Spread into greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.

Optional topping: Combine 1/2 cups chopped pecans, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1 cup chocolate chips and sprinkle on top.

Notes:
*This is a really sweet cake. So feel free to decrease the sugar a tad if you wish.
*I haven't tried it, but I bet you could replace some of the flour with whole wheat flour without anyone noticing.
*Because I had so much zucchini, I piled my cups high. I bet I put in more like 3 cups when all was said and done.
*The topping is really good. But I have trouble with it. It always sinks into the cake, making it even more sweet. I tried putting on just chocolate chips and pecans last night, and the chocolate chips still sank into the batter while baking. If you want to try it, maybe put it on halfway through baking?
*My oven is anemic, so I always end up cooking it closer to 50 minutes. Just look for a clean toothpick to come out of the middle and you'll be fine.
*This cake is super moist (can't believe I just said that word because I LOATHE it), so eat it quickly or refrigerate it. It will go bad quickly otherwise.
*If you don't tell them, no one will know there is zucchini in this cake. Muwhahahahaha..

This post is part of You Capture: In the Kitchen at I Should be Folding Laundry.

A Psalm

Creation, broken as it is

Drips His glory

Billowing clouds of holy white

Crashing waves on a shore of smooth stones

Dancing flowers cradled by verdant hills

Shining moon

Sharp mountains

Whisper snow

I see

And wonder

And my soul wells up

“Oh creation! Sprout tongue and voice! Cry out! Give voice to the glory He has planted within you!”

But creation is silent.

Its cry is but a shadow.

For as majestic and awesome as it is, it was not made in His image.

Oh my soul.

Rise up!

Unique in creation.

Glory-carrier.

Create!

Shine!

Sing!

Loose tongues designed for praising Him.

Cry out His wonders.

Tell of His love.

Proclaim his grace.

This is my purpose

And my joy.

She's Not Cute. She's Teyla.

Teyla has become quite the literalist.

Lately, if I say to her, "You are so cute in that outfit" or "I'm so glad you're my girl" or "You are getting so big!" she will look me straight in the eye and say, with a serious expression and a slightly furrowed brow, "No Mommy. I no cute (or girl or big). I Te-ya."

It's comical. But it's also understandable. How can one two-year-old be so many things? It's easier to simplify and just be Te-ya.

She's also intrigued by the fact that I'm both Mommy and "Keddy," which I wrote about at 5 Minutes for Parenting today. You can catch the whole story there.

Never Alone

You know what makes me giddy?

An hour at the doctor's office.

No. Really.

Because sometimes, when I go to the doctor, I get to go ALONE. And that brief hour of child-free existence is enough to make my endorphins start jumping around like sugared-up preschoolers in a bounce house.

A couple of weeks ago (which should tell you something; this incident happened a couple of weeks ago and I'm still blissed out by it), I headed to the doctor to get an official diagnosis of the weird, circle rash I've had on my elbow for the past year. It's not red and it doesn't itch and it doesn't react when slathered with garden-variety medicine cabinet lotions and normally, I don't even think about it.

But when it's summer and elbows are exposed 24-7, I'm suddenly reminded that I have a flesh-colored ring on my arm, because my children keep looking at me and yelling (usually across the pool), "Mom! What's that circle thing on your elbow?"

And thanks to Kieran, we've already met our insurance deductible for the year, rendering the rest of 2010 a year of medical jubilee.

Thus, I found myself blissfully alone one Friday morning with my Blackberry and coffee. I traded baby name stories with the nurses and joked with the doctor. (“I think it’s this weird Latin phrase,” he said after looking at my arm, “but I got a D in Latin so I can’t remember the name.” “You could make it up,” I whispered. “Because I never even took Latin. So go ahead. I won’t know!”) I read a few blogs and checked Twitter and let the thoughts that normally swirl in my head at the velocity of a tornado settle down for a few minutes of peace.

It was heaven.

I don’t have a high need for solitude. And that’s a good thing, because my life right now isn’t conducive for much alone time. With all four kids at home for the summer, no grandparents or babysitters nearby and a husband who’s working crazy hours, I might get one hour a week when I’m off-duty.

I might not even get that.

And I’m OK with that. Or maybe I should say: I've made peace with it. It doesn’t mean I don’t have long, hard days. But I didn’t go into motherhood expecting to have extended family in the area, and I was already intimately aware of the long hours and frequent business trips my executive husband puts in at his job. I knew going in that I was going to have to make peace with the constant together and not resent the fact that I’m almost always surrounded by my children. We go to Target together, we make weekly Trader Joe’s run together, we go to the pool together, we make dinner together. It’s just the way it is.

But it does make the scraps of alone time I do get that much more sweet. Which is why I found myself floating as I left the doctor’s office the other week.

Maybe I can sprout a rash on my foot before school starts in a month.