Sunday, April 24, 2011

Come and See!

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!
Luke 24:5b,6a

The Easter morning weather was anything but cheerful. Freshly-manicured toes in beautiful new sandals dodged puddles throughout the parking lot. People scurried toward the door; attempting to protect their flowing floral dresses, khaki pants and pastel-colored ties from the pouring rain. In spite of their cheerful attire, it didn't look (or feel) like Easter. That is, until the doors were opened ...

Once inside the church walls, the smell of Easter Lilies permeates the air. The chapel's cross (which had been covered with a black shroud just two days earlier) is completely covered in flowers. Brilliant white banners with gold lettering read, "He Is Risen, Indeed!" While the world outside seemed to confirm spring going missing (again) in the Pacific Northwest, a joyous celebration of NEW LIFE and HOPE had been found-- not only in my little church, but in churches around the world!

As we snacked on fruit and muffins in the fellowship hall, tales of the journey to church were shared among my fellow moms. With the craziness of preparation behind us, we were able to laugh at the trials of getting to our little "Easter Greenhouse." We had improvised on the spot because of tights with holes, dress shirts that suddenly did not fit and missing shoes. Keeping children focused on leaving the house in a timely manner is always a struggle, but the allure of baskets brimming with sugary goodness adds a whole new dimension of frustration! There had been encounters with red lights, the quest for a parking spot and children who had snuck into the family car with jelly on their faces. And yet, we all agreed, it had been worth the daunting trip! No matter how inviting our warm beds had been on a dreary, soggy morning, No matter how many arguments had occurred in the backseat on the drive to church, no matter what personal battles we had waged throughout the week, we knew that the Hope of the Resurrection would be proclaimed within these walls. We feel comfort here. We come, knowing the final chapters of the Easter story. On that first Easter Morning, however, there were far more trials and far less certainty ...

Two women headed to the tomb that first Easter morning, while it was yet dark, to prepare Jesus' body with burial spices. They were not coming to a pretty church with lilies, fresh fruit and muffins, they were going to a heavily guarded grave, in the dark, to prepare the body of their beloved friend. They were not merely frustrated by traffic, they were wrought with grief. They did not know how they would get the tomb opened, nor did they have a guarantee that they would not be arrested for being a follower of Jesus. There was a great earthquake. They saw a bright-white angel who gave them wonderful, yet puzzling news. If anyone had the right to stay away, these ladies were in the clear! But they did not. They took this news to Jesus' disciples, just as the angel had told them to. Though they had experienced a rather frightening morning, they were also overjoyed by the news of Jesus' resurrection!

There are times when following Jesus can bring us to dark, frightening, unfamiliar places. The question is, will we have the faith of these women, that we might "come and see" what God has planned, or will we hide away, as the disciples did?

Jesus, as we celebrate Your Resurrection today, may we remember that the God we serve is the Victor over sin and death! As you bring us to new, sometimes frightening places, give us the strength we need to face your will in our lives!

Thank you, my Risen Savior, for all that you taught me on this 40 day journey with You. As a new season begins, I know that more lessons will follow. Help me to remember that moments of quiet with You aren't just for Lent; for what Your Word can teach us can not be confined to one lifetime, let alone one season! Bless my readers, LORD, that they might enjoy their own journey with You.

Rejoicing in His Resurrection,

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Life-Changing Choice (Good Friday)

... Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19:30b

This is the day when we remember why Jesus came. He did not come merely to be worshiped, to perform miracles or to be a great teacher. This day was not a surprise to Him; for this plan had been in motion since the beginning of time. With His blameless sacrifice, Jesus closed a chapter that began with Adam's fall. The Holy Lamb of God chose to offer up His life as our sacrifice. He knew some would reject His gift, but He carried their sins anyway. The ripple effect of His act of immesurable love can be felt over two thousand years later. One choice changed everything!

I know that many of you are aware of how our family changed on Good Friday seven years ago. For those of you who are not, I encourage you to read the story of a beautiful young woman who made a choice that tragically ended her life. That beautiful girl was my niece, Heidi. You can read about it Here:!heidi's-story

That day could have destroyed our family. It was a senseless, unexpected and avoidable death. I have no doubt that without our hope in a Savior who has conquered sin and death, my brother-in-law could never find the strength to tell Heidi's story to so many young people. I would have no hope of seeing her again. I could never have moved past the despair, anger and emptiness I felt. But the same God who rescued me by the blood of His Son healed my broken heart.

Jesus, You alone know the number of times I have deleted and re-typed the paragraphs of this post. I cannot find the words to express what Your sacrifice at Calvary has meant to me. Thank You for Dying for me, that I might be forgiven. Thank You for Rising again, that I might have hope! Help me to see that words aren't always what we need to see the depth of Your love for us ... we need only look at the cross.

In Grateful Rememberance,

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Committed Love

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:13

At five-thirty a.m. this morning, my husband's alarm went off. Every weekday, that is what gets him out of bed. His wife, however, can quite happily sleep through that electronic nuisance. I was awakened as well, but my wake-up call was much nicer to listen to. "Sweetie, I hate to wake you, but I need you to help me with this bandage ..."

I am so thankful that my hubby is not as accident-prone as I am! On those rare occasions when he does get hurt, however, he seems to posses an amazing knack for awkwardly-placed (usually minor, thank goodness) injuries. If he cuts his hand at work, it will most likely be on a knuckle; testing the stick-ability of any adhesive bandage and taking forever to heal. His latest misfortune happened while training for his second Mt. Rainer summit. When you train to climb a mountain, blisters on your feet are going to happen. In my husband's case, however, they only take place in awkward, painful spots. While he usually tries to tend to all that icky stuff himself (he knows his wife is utterly disgusted by both blood and feet), properly protecting the under-backside of one's pinkie toe would most likely require double-jointed knees and ankles! Seeing as how my husband is not a trained contortionist and I am very skilled at going back to sleep for one more precious hour, I didn't mind helping him for a few minutes. :)

As I carefully wrapped the bandage, I told my hubby I'd just woken up from a dream about him. Knowing that my dreams are often bizarre, he tentatively asked if it was a good dream. I told him yes, it was about back when we were sweethearts. Pulling up his second sock, he replied, "But honey, we're STILL sweethearts!"

Enamoured by his statement, I agreed, but clarified that we weren't just sweethearts anymore-- we were also the best of friends. My hubby and I still hold hands most everywhere we go, but we have a whole lot more in our lives now than movie dates and picnics.

From our first date on, I wanted to marry Alan. That, dear readers, is not even close to committing. A desire to love and care for someone feels wonderful ... but it stops at feelings. I do not doubt that we loved one another before we got married, but with commitment comes a deeper level of love; a love that lasts. You can make googley eyes at a cute boy while sharing a sundae when you're in love, but committed love will touch a yucky toe in lieu of sleeping. A young man can write the girl of his dreams a love poem, but committed love goes beyond words and rocks a colicky baby, so his mother can sleep. A girl in love will spend hours on her hair before a date. A woman with committed love hunts down haircut coupons to stay on the family budget. When I was in love with my sweetheart, he bought me a teddy bear. After he became my husband, he bought me pepper spray to fend off a REAL bear visiting our neighborhood! Lasting love goes beyond words and feelings and ACTS.

Genuine, committed love also remains loyal when it doesn't "feel" wonderful. It wants the best for the other person. Infatuation fades when people don't get what they want out of the situation anymore. When the emotional highs dissipate, there is no payoff. This can happen in many relationships-- not just those of a romantic nature. We see a drastic change of heart from many who were once enthralled with Jesus. My, how things changed from Sunday to Friday ...

On Palm Sunday, they cried out, "Hosanna!" (meaning, "Save us now!") and welcomed him as their King. They saw this great miracle worker feeding thousands of people with a just a kid's lunch, raising the dead and speaking up against those in power. They saw a man who would solve all their problems. Surely, a man with this kind of power and authority could over-throw the Romans, bring them prosperity, peace and a life of comfort. As a hurting people in bondage to the Roman empire, they longed for their messiah to come and make things "right." When Jesus did not fulfill their expectations, they wanted nothing more to do with him. In fact, they wanted him dead.

There were others who truly did love Jesus, but they were not yet committed. Judas usually comes to mind, because he carried out his plan to betray Jesus for money. He was riddled with regret later, because he loved Jesus. But love without commitment will not last. Peter had every intention of standing with Jesus, regardless of the cost. He vehemently pledged his allegiance to Jesus and said he would die for Him. He truly did feel that way. However, when his convictions were tested, Peter crumbled under the pressure three times. All his followers scattered that day, afraid of what was to come. All but Judas would have the opportunity to go beyond affection into commitment after Jesus was resurrected, and there was a special reason why ...

From Sunday to Friday, only One never faltered, doubted or fled-- and He knew more than anyone else why commitment would be so difficult. As He cried out in anguish in the garden, He did not succumb to self-preservation. As the sins of all mankind were heaped upon him, He did not waver. As the people He suffered for mocked him, He forgave them. There is no greater example of committed love than Jesus Christ's sacrifice in our place.

If the story ended there, we would have Jesus' example to teach us how to truly love with commitment and no way to carry it out. But thanks be to God, this story does NOT end on a Friday! We know where the disciples' commitment came from. We know that we share in that same incredible gift, because of what Jesus has done for us!

Father, how I long for the rejoicing of Easter! I want to skip past the pain and suffering of the cross, but I know that without death, there is no resurrection. As I remember Your incredible sacrifice, I thank you for the hope that is to come!

Awaiting Alleluia,

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Puffy Pocket Syndrome

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Psalm 51:10

I'm not sure how I assumed an average Jane in the twenty-first century would hear from God, but I know I didn't expect to feel inspired by the monotonous chore of laundry! While God has the power, knowledge and ability to give us awe-inspiring signs (such hand writing on the wall [Daniel 5:5] and parting the Red Sea [Exodus 14:21]), He also seems to take great pleasure in using ordinary places and people. I've yet to audibly hear the voice of God, but He constantly puts quirky little reminders of His truth in my path. I don't have a "burning bush" in the pasture, and nothing remotely miraculous has ever happened in my barn! Around here, God speaks to my heart in a little room I like to call "my office." (The rest of the world would most likely refer to it as "the laundry room.")

I have taken this room for my own (since nobody else wants it); decorating it with pale pink walls and sassy {"barbie" pink and espresso-brown} polka dots. My hope is to someday have a laptop and a desk in there, so I can write in peace and quiet. Knowing that quiet is still a ways off, God brought me another life lesson doing something far less riveting: sorting clothes.

In our house, separating clothes from whites, linens and towels is just round one of the sorting process. All clothing must go through a series of pocket emptying; lest we have bubble gum, paychecks, seashells, nerf darts, rocks, doggie treats, Swedish fish, chapstick, drill bits, dead batteries, ink pens or expensive electronic devices swimming with our clothes. Sadly, every single object on that list has gone through my washing machine. Sadder still, it was MOMMY who washed the cell phone ... and the swedish fish! While cleaning up the red globs of goo of the dryer was not my idea of a fun time, the loss of my brand new cell phone was definitely the biggest bummer. Certainly, I would have learned to empty my pockets before throwing them into the hamper after that oopsie, right? Well, unless gremlins raided my hamper, sought out my blue jacket and stuffed the pockets with dental floss, chapstick and a pair of nail clippers, I'm afraid I have yet to conquer that habit!

The good news, however, is that I caught these little gems before they went into the washing machine! While the floss wouldn't have done much damage, getting melted petroleum jelly out of daddy's work shirt is not what I consider grand recreation! Those sharp little clippers surely would hare reeked havoc on my beloved argyle tights; causing me to bust out the "sackcloth and ashes" ensemble, for sure! Since I caught those pesky pocket invaders in time, my clothes headed to the dryer refreshed and ready to samba with the dryer sheet.

In spite of being thankful that my laundry was saved from petroleum peril, I felt a little silly for keeping that stuff in my pockets for several days. I had clipped the kids' nails while getting them ready for school, but it's not like they needed to be trimmed again once they came back home! Just what was I going to do with nail clippers all day, head to the neighbor's house and ask them to remove their socks? The floss really didn't need to stick around, either. There's one pack in the car and one in my purse. Emergencies in my house rarely involve tartar, and last time I checked, there was no unsightly build-up of plaque lining my coat pocket. The chapstick explanation was particularly embarrassing; I had found it lying around the house, lectured my wayward children about not putting it back in the bathroom and stuck it in my pocket for safe keeping amidst the morning race to the bus. I carried those three items to the grocery store, church, Cutters Point (my beloved coffee house) and many other places during the week. All the while, I had been completely oblivious to the pointless clutter nestled behind the zipper of my coat pocket.

If I don't empty my pockets regularly, I'm stuck with clutter in my clothes, junk in the hamper and a possible disaster in the washing machine. When I put off giving my burdens to God, my week is a disaster! I trudge through the week, carrying the dead weight of sin, worry, anger and pain. If I took a moment each day to really examine my heart (as I know I should), I know my burden would be much lighter. Sometimes I simply forget to "come clean" about a sin I'm struggling with, other times I keep useless grudges and worries around, "just in case." When that pointless bulk affects my ability to commune with God before bed, I should sense that something is wrong. A heavy heart, however, can make it difficult to discern such a warning. In my worn out state (lugging all that weight around can sure make a gal tired!), I chalk it up to fatigue and drift off to sleep. My family gets stuck with "Supernag" 24-7, my patience and grace have a negative balance and I wonder why everyone ELSE is so annoying! The tail end of this charming week is sent plummeting into the depths of despair ... until Sunday arrives.

As I prepare to hear The Word, worship my creator and come to The LORD's Table (my "spiritual washing machine," if you will), I finally inventory the contents of my heart. I know the renewal, reassurance and peace I so desperately crave requires dumping all my junk. The clutter of one morning is humbling, but the heavy heap from a week gone awry would be something I could never reveal to a Holy God without the boundless grace of my Heavenly Father! He is never shocked by what I reveal. He never says I've stretched the saving work of Jesus' sacrifice too far. Instead, He offers the same "fresh start" I could have had all week, along with the renewal and strengthening of my faith that comes from Hearing The Word, receiving Communion and worshiping Him with my family of believers. Without a single "I told you so," I am given a new beginning and the fortification I need to face another week. :)

If you feel disconnected from God (and, most likely, your loved ones!), perhaps it's time to check the nooks and crannies of your heart for baggage! The sooner you dump your junk, the sooner God can fill those empty pockets with His love, grace and divine instruction. Put on the rubber gloves if you have to, but get that garbage GONE! :)

Gracious LORD, help me to remember that my heart is only as heavy as I insist on making it. Thank You for your endless supply of fresh starts, no matter how much garbage I have to unload, or how old my stains are! Help me to remember that your saving grace is not confined to a building or Sunday morning, because you reside in me!

With Easter Anticipation,

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A loss for words

And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weaknesses; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27

I know a lot of people say they "love" their jobs, but I really do! Along with my non-paying (well, not in money, anyway) duties as CEO of the home, Superwife to my sweet hubby (she also has an alter-ego named "Supernag"-- but we won't worry about her today) and Mama to all other living inhabitants (be they fleshly, furry or feathered), I have a "real" job a few days a week. My work comes to me just shy of 5:45 a.m. in the sleepy, snuggly form of my "rental baby," Kaelin.

He's a big two year old now, but when we first met, he wasn't even on solids yet. Through the wonders of facebook, I met up with Katie, an old chum from the church I grew up in. Our families were friends and we had several friends in common, but we'd lost touch while she was in college. I discovered that she was married, about to have a little boy and less than fifteen minutes from me! We talked from time to time about the wonder and weirdness that is pregnancy, one of my favorite subjects. :) Once Kaelin was born, we talked more often. I was dying to see both of them, but life seemed to keep getting in the way of a visit.

Months later, Katie and Kaelin arrived at my front door. Sitting on the couch with my BFF Jillian (one of the many friends we shared), the years of separation seemed to melt away. While the "man of the hour" had his breakfast, his mommy mentioned their need for a nanny when summer ended. When she'd finished feeding him, she asked a silly question: "Would you like to hold him?"

As I softly embraced the precious blue bundle, he nuzzled his head into the crook of my neck, pulled his knees up to his tummy and wrapped his chubby little arms around me. Well, that did it. There was no way I could go months between Kaelin visits! I turned to Katie and said, "If you don't let me take care of this baby, I'm going to have to take it personally!"

With that, I became "Tante" Amy. When his "summer nanny" went on vacation or had appointments, we had the pleasure of K-bug's company. By fall, he was a twice-weekly visitor. :) His milestones all came on-time or early, something you tend to watch for when you are the parent of a child with special needs. He walked well before his first birthday, ate every kind of food imaginable, had wonderful eye contact and loved interacting with all of us. As the months flew by, my "rental baby" was suddenly a running, cracker-eating, dog-harassing toddler! He spent his mornings "shaving" with Uncle Alan, playing with the boys and "Helping" me in the kitchen. By eighteen months, he didn't say very many words, but I wasn't worried. Mama, Dada, Tante, Nana (Alan), Yaya (Wyatt) and "yeah" were used so frequently, I assumed he was just a "typical boy," embracing activity more than conversing. Physical, social and reasoning skills came easily for him and words would come later. He also had learned several signs (more, please, all done, bye, dog, chicken, eat, drink, cracker, help), which helped him communicate with us. If this continued past age two, his doctor would bring it up and his mommy could decide what was best for him. He was doing so much for a boy his age, there was no need to worry about what he wasn't doing.

As he inched towards his second birthday, the words began to disappear. He could throw and kick a ball, put away silverware (properly!) from the dishwasher, follow three and four-step instructions, and pick up his toys. He loved being read to, continued to eat well and seemed to be happy wherever I took him (except his bed, of course!). Every part of Kaelin was blossoming, except speech. He stopped saying the boys' names and Tante, then Dada, then mama. Every person became "mom." The answer to every question was usually "yeah," or occasionally a shaking of his head "no." He grunted, pointed and signed, but there were no more words. I was becoming concerned; but how would I tell Katie? I remembered how I shut out the urging from my sister to get Wyatt evaluated, and he had multiple symptoms. Was it my place? I prayed for wisdom.

When I finally got up the courage to talk to her, Katie told me she had the same concerns and would be talking to his doctor about it. (I was so thankful that God had blessed this little guy with a mama who wasn't as thick-headed as his Tante had been!) When Kaelin was evaluated, he charmed the socks off every therapist in the room (no surprise there!), while wowing them with his coordination, ability to follow instruction and repertoire of ASL. The verbal portion of his test showed where he was struggling, and why. It's amazing what a trained specialist can learn about your child by using seemingly unrelated methods-- such as asking him to say "aah" and click his tongue!

Much to his mama's relief, they had reached a diagnosis. He was not autistic. He was not socially delayed. He was not "just plain stubborn." Kaelin's words were being held captive by a disorder known as Speech Apraxia, or Dyspraxia.

K-bug's words were being stifled by a combination of poor motor planning with his tongue (he could move his tongue all sorts of silly ways on a whim, but intentional movement was difficult), the words being "scrambled" before he spoke them and sheer frustration of not being able to speak "properly." Kaelin knew he wasn't being understood, and he didn't know why. Signing provided the positive response he craved, he remembered the signs easily and had dexterous little hands. When your tongue and language receptors aren't going to clearly express your desire for a cookie, what toddler wouldn't find another way? Clearly, this only meant one thing: my little rental baby is even more brillant than I had previously thought! :)

I had the privilege of sitting in on Kaelin's very first speech therapy visit this week. His therapist spent over thirty minutes engaging him in the best method for little ones: through play. She instructed us to not pressure Kaelin to "say" words, as this would raise the anxiety level of a little guy who is very eager to please. We are starting with simple acts, such as blowing bubbles, playing horns and putting toys up near your mouth during play, so Kaelin would pay attention to how you form the sounds.

With the blessing of early detection, I have no doubt in my mind that Kaelin's Apraxia will be accomodatable, or disappear completely. In the mean time, we have the gift of ASL. Until he finds his words, his hands will give him a voice.

While goodness knows I am not known for a lack of speech, there are times when the words simply won't come to me. Sometimes I'm too frustrated to talk, other times I don't know how to even put into words what I'm thinking. This is rarely the case with people I interact with, but it often happens when I'm speaking to God. In times of anger, confusion or sheer exhaustion, I don't know how or what to pray. I can't even "think" the right prayer. I am so blessed to have an Intercessor for those moments. The Holy Spirit interprets the groans and cries of our hearts to The Father, because He intimately knows and understands us. I am so thankful for a God who doesn't expect me to wait to come to him with a proper thesis, eloquent petition or a perfectly inventoried confession. There are times when all you can do is look heavenward and shout, "HELP!" And because we are His children, that is enough.

Thank You, LORD, for Your willingness to draw from my heart when words won't come. I wish there was a more fitting phrase than "thank you"-- but then, you knew that. ;)

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Monday, April 11, 2011

Polka Dot Peril

I have become like broken pottery.
Psalm 31:12b

I still remember the day I brought her home, itching to place her on the edge of my kitchen counter. I had found it; something practical, affordable and with red polka dots to boot! She was no ordinary iced tea jug-- she was special! For eight glorious days, her cheery little red spout kept my glass full of iced tea, fruit punch or flavored water of my choice. Then, it happened ...


With a crack of the handle, one gallon of red liquid slipped through my fingers and fell to the floor. Shards of plastic flew; rivers of fruit punch threatened to encroach the carpet. Oy, what a mess! Conflicting thoughts flooded my head as my pink feet ran to the laundry room for towels. Yes, part of me cared about the carpet, but most of me thought keeping little feet (and paws) away from the broken pieces while I cleaned up the demise of my spotted friend. With my oldest helping (from a safe distance) bring supplies to sop up the aftermath, I was able to save the carpet from the infiltration of red dye number 40 (or whatever it was). Armed with my trusty brown paper bag from Trader Joe's, I gathered up the visible remains of my dear little jug. Ever the helper, Alan went around the other side of the house to get my broom and dust pan from the laundry room; making sure his tootsies did not inch into the kitchen until I had finished sweeping. With a final mopping and one more sweeping of the floor, it was done. Letting out a melancholy sigh, I reached for a plastic pitcher and made some iced tea.

I'm not gonna lie, I'm still slightly bummed a day later about my little jug and her Humpty Dumpty-esque ending. While paying the cashier six dollars, I was picturing a summer's worth of use. I am terrible about drinking water alone, but with the help of low calorie flavoring packets to enhance my water, I would keep my body properly hydrated with raspberry green tea, pink lemonade and pomegranate splash-- all in a cheerful, convenient container. But alas, it was not meant to be. The jug is but a memory, as are the six dollars I had spent on something I owned for a mere eight days. If I'm out the cash with nothing to show for it, what's left? Quite a bit, actually ...

Whenever something breaks in this house (which is at least once a month), there is usually a lesson learned and a blessing found amidst the clean-up. I am happy to say that this little mishap is no exception. :)

This experience has certainly taught me a thing or two about plastic jugs-- don't expect too much of those little handles! Had I brought a pitcher of water to the container instead, I wouldn't have three very pink bath towels sitting in Oxyclean right now. When it comes to our daily lives, the same rule applies. Overloading causes disaster wherever it resides. If we have too much on our calendars, unrealistic expectations (for yourself or someone else) or we try to handle life's problems in our own strength, something's going to give way. If we let God guide our decisions, he will fill our lives with exactly what we need, preventing a mess later!

The blessing in my kitchen is, ironically, a clean floor. The threat of a sticky, red mess being tracked all over the house is great motivation for breaking out the mop and cleaning like you mean it! Preventing shards of plastic from poking dear little feet (or paws) is reason enough to sweep thoroughly; complete with moving the garbage can and carefully checking every corner. With a little time and care, the floor ends up looking spick and span-- better than it did before the incident!

When situations in our lives fall apart, we are undoubtedly in need of a good cleaning. God is most certainly in the "cleaning-up" business, but He doesn't stop there. While a shattered jug in my hands is fodder for the landfill, shattered people are never cast aside by God. Broken vessels who place their trust in him become lanterns; sharing His Light with the world!

While I don't always (okay, EVER) enjoy the refining process, being used by God is a privilege that blows my mind on a regular basis! I will continue to crack from time to time, but I know that He has a beautiful plan for me. As I share His light with the world, I am certain to stumble at times; spilling oil all over the place. Cleaning that up is a grueling and tedious task, but praise God, I don't have to do it alone! No matter how many times I break, no matter how many messes I make, He never sees me as beyond repair or snuffs out His Light.

If your life has just hit the floor, know that it has not ended. God loves every jagged little part of you! Wherever you are, however big your mess, it isn't too daunting to Him! If you so much as ask, He will raise you up from the rubble and mold you into something beautiful!

Thank you, LORD, for saving a cracked up container like me! :)

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Memorable Moments with Alan & Wyatt

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:11

While spending last week in Grandma and Papas' log cabin, the dear little mouths of my sons were certainly NOT on vacation! At least once a day, they said something that caused my parents to tightly cover their mouths; their shoulders shaking with laughter. My mother kept mumbling something about apples not falling far from the tree, whatever that meant! Here are just a few choice words uttered by my offspring ...

Community Center Conversations:
Alan: Mommy, when are we going to go to the pool?
Me: Alan, I told you NOT to ask that again, didn't I?
Alan: Oh yeah, I forgot. I am so sorry I won't ask you again!
*stated to no one in particular* Hmmmm ... I wonder what time it will be when we will be going to the pool ...

{While waiting in line at the community center}
Alan: I wonder if I'm old enough to get into the hot tub yet ...
Me: I think you need to be twelve, sweetie.
Wyatt: No, you need to be an old man! ONLY OLD MEN SIT IN THE HOT TUB HERE!"
Me: *looks for a bench to hide under*

Wyatt's Words:
"My feet are nauseous! Does anyone else have nauseous feet? Swimming in the pool always makes this happen to me ..."

"Mommy, I named the free (three) deers that came to see us; their names are Becky, Arnold and "Wiat"- like my name, but with no Y and only one T."

More Adventures with Alan:

{Alan the salesman, pitching mommy once again at the Anchor Avenue Thrift Store}
Alan: Mommy, you have to buy this meat grinder!
Me: Honey, I already have one. I don't need that one.
Alan: *pointing to the box* But mom, it's MADE IN THE USA!

Our week was filled with more unexpected comments than I could possibly remember! I could have recorded them all, but I would have missed out on living those moments. Sure, there were embarrassing and awkward moments, but those make for wonderful stories later! ;)

Now that we've bid farewell to the beach, our lives are returning to normal (or at least our version of it). As I chip away at the last of the laundry, my little men are easing back into the routine of school, chores (something nearly unheard of at "Grandma's House of Spoiling") and their Lenten sticker devotional. Studying the book of Exodus is an interesting subject in general, but the boys are especially enjoying it. Nothing captures a boy's attention like a plague! Rivers of blood, frogs, locusts, hail ... a plethora of disgusting details for my sons to ponder. Amidst the gruesome dialogue of boils and flies, I was pleased to see my kids dig deeper into the story.

Alan mentioned how Pharaoh allowed everyone to suffer, just so he could get his way. Wyatt was highly annoyed by his broken promises to Moses. They both agreed he was a very bad man who deserved to be punished. I was so thankful for the devotional guide, which chose not to focus solely on our need to be "rescued." While that is a very important part of the story, we also need to look at how we resemble the villain of Exodus. With a little help from my trusty guide, we talked about how we can make selfish choices that hurt ourselves, as well as others, and fail to keep our promises from time to time. The lesson seemed to sink in, in spite of the giddy excitement remaining from visions of sticks that turn into snakes and frog-covered floors.

Tonight, however, is when the story gets hard to explain to little ones. The final plague is coming. I've always skated over this part, because Alan sobbed when he saw this scene played out in the movie, "Prince of Egypt" a few years back. I know he's gotten older, but this story is hard for me, much less a nine-year-old. I don't know what Wyatt will think about it at all. One thing is clear, before I dive into the saddest day of the Egyptian empire, I had better spend some serious time with God first. Without His help, the balancing act of speaking the truth in an age-appropriate way is awfully daunting! My buddy Pris was right, older children are VERY good for your prayer life!

Looking back to my last Lenten Journey, I'm sure this "kid chapter" (and the blog in general) feels very different to you. I know it does to me! A year has brought quite a few changes to our household. Wyatt is in school all day, both boys are in Cub Scouts and both have homework! We still have plenty to laugh about in this house, but I'm already noticing that we have less time together. As the boys grow, they don't always let mama share as much, either. There have been many times this year when Alan has said adorable things, realized he'd said something unintentionally amusing and pleaded, "Mom, please don't put that on facebook!" He's caring about his hair, no longer takes attachment objects of any kind to sleep-overs and wants his own room for the first time in years. I was certain this would crush Wyatt. Instead, he responded with, "When can Awan move out so I can put what I want on my walls?

That being said, they still continue to teach me lessons on a regular basis. Yesterday, I was struck by the continuous bond they share, in spite of their quest for more privacy and individual expression.

Wyatt was crying at five in the morning, awakened by worries that he couldn't shake. As usual, the first person in the house who responded to his cries was good ol' "brudder." Since the day I brought Wyatt home, Alan has had very sensitive "sibling radar." Regardless of the hour, if Wyatt is crying, sick or needs help, Before my feet can touch the carpet, I hear the thud-thud-thud (we passed pitter-patter several sizes back!) of a running nine-year-old, usually coupled with shuffling, slightly smaller feet. Alan will pop his head in the doorway, give a brief synopsis of the situation at hand, and usually guide Wyatt to my side of the bed. Monday morning was no exception. I was awakened by muffled sobs and plodding feet. Unable to reach my glasses, I tried to focus on the Alan-shaped blur who appeared in my doorway. With a loud whisper, me reported, "Mom, Wyatt really needs you. He's very scared, I think he had a nightmare. I brought him in to snuggle you, so he will feel better." Having done his duty, the fuzzy blob with blond hair scurried back to bed.

While I had mentally prepared for a squirmy six-year-old with Popsicle toes to join us until the alarm went off, Wyatt was feeling rather brave. Equipped with reassuring cuddles, a short pep talk and a prayer, he announced that he was headed back to bed. Hand in hand, we returned to the room the boys still share (for the time being). As I tucked him in, Wyatt apologized for waking Alan up. Considering how often Wyatt wakes Alan up and how hard I have to insist on apologizing to his big brother, I was caught off guard by this unexpected act of empathy.

Being considerate of the thoughts, feelings, needs and preferences of others is a real struggle for children with Autism. When Wyatt is overwhelmed, bothering Alan (who is a VERY light sleeper) seems to be one of his favorite pastimes (hence Alan wanting his own room)! Wyatt also snores like his daddy and occasionally talks in his sleep. When slumber has been hindered by his little brother, I usually receive an elaborate report (including what time the interruptions took place) in the morning! Nightmares or illness, however, are a definite exception to that rule. Alan has never once complained about Wyatt waking him up because he needed comfort. The caring exchange that took place between my boys touched me deeply:

Wyatt: Awan, I'm sorry I waked you up when I was crying.
Alan: Aw, buddy, that's okay! You had a nightmare. You can always wake me up if you're scared, okay?

I know the separation to different rooms is just the beginning; someday they will live in different houses, perhaps even on different sides of the world. Just the same, I know they will always be there for one another.

Thank you, Father, for the awesome (albeit overwhelming at times) responsibility of teaching, training and loving my boys. Help me look past their love of belching and arguments over who has to shower first, that I might see the seeds of compassion, loyalty and affirmation growing in their hearts. Guide my words and actions, that I might nurture these gifts from you.

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

The Remote Log Cabin

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
Ecclesiastes 3:1

Today I am typing far (well, two hours, anyway) from the land of chickens, doggies, Captain K-bug and my little espresso machine; I am once more in the blissful log cabin my parents call home. I drank one little cup of drip coffee, haven't cared for any rambunctious animals (except for the children, of course) and haven't so much as chopped an onion in over twenty-four hours. Watching deer romp through the backyard, I sit at my mother's table, drinking pot after pot of tea. I love spending time with my parents here in their post-retirement life. I am still taken aback by how calm their house is now. Mama is no longer the hustling waitress, putting her apron on as I pull into the driveway to pick up my kids. Dad no longer feels the constant strain of an unstable job market. Their schedule is still busy, but it is dictated by social calendars, not an employer's watch. Their lives are run much like dad's favorite new "toy."

Anyone who knows my dad is fully aware that he needs precious little to make him happy; my mother's cooking, a comfy recliner and authority over the remote control. This works wonderfully until my father takes one of his "power naps" with the remote in hand, forcing my mother to watch the news. To conquer this little issue, my parents both have their own remote. Mom (usually) only uses hers when dad is sleeping, so this works out wonderfully. I didn't expect anything more than the occasional "volume war," but a little exhaustion on my poor mother's part caused a "blog-able moment."

My sweet mama got up early to get daddy off to Wednesday morning Bible study, then cared for my little ones, while I slept. Having done a speaking engagement the day before, she was understandably tired! While dad mumbled something from the bedroom, she yelled, "What was that, dear?" as she proceeded to mute the T.V. (which was off) and point the remote in the direction of my father, attempting to turn up his volume! Giggling, my mother and I began to discuss how handy it would be if life as a mommy had a remote.

Naturally, I mentioned how handy any volume control whatsoever would be heavenly when two little boys are stuck inside on rainy days, and mother said there were times during the teenage rants of my youth when she really could have used the "mute" button! There are some events when changing the channel would be wonderful! Department of Licensing? Blech. I don't like this show. *click!* Ah, Cutters Point coffee house. Much better! In the event of a toddler tantrum, it's time for the fast forward button! Ooh, my spouse has admitted that I am right! REWIND! The possibilities would be endless ...

Now that my parents set their own schedules, their life is run similar to their DVR setting. They can change their schedules like never before to suit their needs and desires. They have travel options they have waited over forty years to experience. There is no more rushing little girls out the door while shouting, "Good-bye, God Bless you, I love you, don't forget your lunch!" (which rolled off my mother's tongue as though it were one word) We have leisurely moments; which are so precious to me. Even the freedom of retirement has it's limits, however ...

I watch my mother moving slower, with aching joints and a back that simply will not cooperate with all that mama's used to doing. She rests against her will, wishing her tired body would allow just one more outlet store. I hear the clicking of dad's pill holders at the breakfast table and know that his body doesn't always follow his plans, either. I know my parents both worked their bodies very hard to provide for we three girls, pay off their mortgage and care for their aging parents until they went to be with Jesus. I see the price they both have paid for their DVR life, it didn't come without a hefty price tag!

My parents, however, don't seem to have the least bit of regret about the arthritic joints and high blood pressure that have come from their "working" years. As we sit at the table, "rewinding" to my early years, we laugh until tears fall. They don't dwell on how much money I cost them, how it hurt their hearts to watch me struggle at times or how my unpredictable little mouth caused more than one public embarrassment. They look back with fondness, enjoy the present with us and look forward to great-grandchildren. Hindsight brings to light so many important pieces of their lives that would have been much easier to breeze by with a fast forward button.

As much as I love my little vacation here, I know that my darling husband will have to bring me home eventually (possibly kicking and screaming). I know the healthy joints and free-flowing arteries of my thirties serve a purpose-- to build up our family. Thirty years from now, when I have time on my side, instead of youth, will I be able to say that my aches and pains have come from the labor of love, as my parents can? I truly hope so. As much as my inner brat wants a remote to control everything, perhaps it's best to simply "pause" to thank God for wherever I am today, push "play" and enjoy the show! :)

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Return of Ida

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[a] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky ...
Phil 2:14-15

There is an un-wanted guest in our household; her name is Ida. Ida Wanna, that is. She always seems to show up when my to-do list is long, my patience is short and my sleep was less-than stellar. Into the household she creeps, pulling me to the couch, the refrigerator or my computer-- anywhere I can hide from what I should be doing. She does her best to convince me that any and all tasks are too hard, will take too long or are simply a waste of time. Oh, how I suffer when I listen to her! I end up forcing myself into hyper-drive to barely get my tasks done-- often at the expense of sleep, time with my kids and the potential of a good mood. Why do I ever let her in my front door?

Ida's main influence (procrastination) is a problem in itself, but occasionally, she brings a friend along. Nothing sabotages my day like a visit from the life-draining duo of Ida Wanna and Dewey Hafta! Once I finally put myself to work, I do so with a sour attitude. Today, I'm afraid, I've been visiting with both of them all morning. Somehow, they can make any activity seem like a hardship. With deep, Sicilian sighs, I plodded about the house, pouring gallons of "whine" everywhere I went. Oh, how I suffer, cleaning this (spacious, warm) house! I practically do everything myself, it's the only way I'll get it done (to my liking)!It's so exhausting getting all these clothes folded and packed up (to go on vacation)! Oh poor, poor, pitiful me! Where is my violin?

I can see the ridiculous lack of gratitude once it's typed out, but I must admit, I felt so bad for me earlier, I scarcely stopped short of sending myself a card! There are times when I forget that work, even when one is not monetarily paid, is a privilege. I am certain that people who have lost their homes in natural disasters would not see it as "beneath them" to vacuum up dog hair. I know there are childless couples who wouldn't mind cleaning bubble gum flavored toothpaste out of a sink. Instead, they are on waiting lists to adopt a child. Every scraping of the chicken coop should remind me of how blessed I am to live out here and have fresh eggs to feed my family. If Paul and Silas can sing in prison, I should probably be able to scrub toilets without lamenting!

Phil. 2:14 is a verse I commonly quote to my kids; proof that Biblical truths aren't something you ever outgrow! Thanks be to God, it's never too late to turn a rotten day around! Now that my mind is headed in the right direction, it's time to turn off the computer, crank up some good music, grab a latte and get a move on! Beware the influence of Ida and Dewey, lest you throw an embarrassing pity party of your own! ;)

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Elective Blindness

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. John 9:39-41

As a girl who grew up in church, the story of Jesus healing the blind man was certainly not new to me. Our worship director had the music planned today s music around it, the little ones colored pictures of the gospel lesson in Sunday school, it was the theme of the chldrens' sermonette ... let's just say that even without peeking at my program, I saw the theme of today's sermon coming. Being so well versed in the story, I presumed that I would be reminded of truths I already knew. Oh, foolish little me, thinking I'm going to know what God has in store to teach me yet again!

There are a lot of odd parts to this particular miracle, some of which I had hoped pastor would be speaking about. First of all, there's that whole "spitting on the ground, making mud and putting it on a blind person's eyes" part. Wow, that's a little weird! I was wondering if Pastor was going to explain why he chose mud. Um, not really. He explained why the washing took place, but not the mud. Okay, no biggie, there's always next year.

There's the fact that the blind man's parents passed the buck when they were questioned about his healing. That always bothered me. Why didn't they go looking for Jesus to thank him instead of saving face with the religious leaders? Pastor did mention it, but it wasn't a main point. Wrong again.

Then Pastor began to speak about how people said that he wasn't really the blind man who used to beg, it only looked like him. (Having filed this away as a possibility in my little memory bank, I felt certain that Pastor would say that people were simply in denial about Jesus' miracle. Yep, this was going to be a sermon about being blind in denial. Except that I was wrong yet AGAIN-- and his answer hit me between the eyes ...)

Pastor mentioned that people probably couldn't say they were positive it was him, because they had never truly looked at him. They most likely averted their eyes while passing him ... just as we often do while passing those who beg along our city streets. OUCH. I thought of all the times I'd been "stuck" at an intersection where a homeless person walked up and down the sidewalks, hoping for an act of charity. Oh, how I avoided eye contact with those faceless people as I waited for the light to turn green! I gave money to the Salvation Army, donated food to food banks and made meals for our church's homeless ministry, so clearly I had no reason to feel guilty, right? And certainly, giving them money would possibly fund their drug habits, making them worse off. Yes, I certainly had my justifications in order. There's just one problem with that; it doesn't explain why I (who reasoned that I had no reason to feel guilty) couldn't even look that person in the face.

I think about the many ways we can avoid contact with unpleasant realities in our lives. We can screen our calls, drive alternate routes to avoid certain parts of town, turn the channel when we see devastation on the news ... there are so many ways to be voluntarily blind to the needs around us. Overwhelmed by our lack of ability to help everyone in need, we simply look the other way. What else can we do?

I was deeply humbled by a close friend of mine recently, with regards to this very subject. While shopping with her children, there was a man holding a sign, indicating that he was homeless. Instead of averting her eyes, she listened to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and offered to buy the man dinner from a nearby restaurant. When her daughter asked why they did that, my friend explained that Jesus said to take care of people who did not have houses or enough food. Instead of deciding that she could not help his living situation or give him money, she used something she did have- a restaurant gift card she'd received for her birthday. That meal, while not a long term solution, could have helped that man keep warm until morning, or give him the strength to walk to a nearby shelter for the night. All because she took the time to look his way, asked God for guidance and reached out as she was able.

I know that my resources and abilities are limited, but my God is not. There may be times when I am called to act, but I know that I am always called to pray. If I am going to lift up another suffering person to the Father of us all, the least I can do is look into their eyes.

Father, I know in my own strength I become overwhelmed by human suffering. On my own, I simply fall into despair or avoid acknowledging the existence of Your children in need. Show me how to extend compassion to those whom You place in my path. Do not let me live in elective blindness. Open my eyes, LORD ...

In Lenten Love and Friendship,


Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Take Two, They're Small!"

" ...Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
Ruth 1:16b

I will never forget the very first time I met my mother-in-law. I don't remember the date, but I do remember it was just before Christmas. I don't remember anything that I said while standing in her kitchen, but I remember being mesmerized by her earth tone-patterned vinyl flooring. So many interesting patterns seemed to pique my interest, and frankly, I was far too petrified to look her in the eye! Stepping on the squares as though I were playing checkers, I could not stop TALKING! I hear some people get quiet when they're nervous. This is an affliction I am praying for! When I'm nervous, my mouth seems to have a stuck accelerator and no brakes! I can only imagine what she was thinking. Here I was, the very first girl Alan (who was not only her youngest child, but also the shyest) had ever brought home, staring at her floor and chattering like a chipmunk who had eaten espresso beans. Bless her heart, she invited me to stay for dinner anyway. In hindsight, I wonder if she hoped that would shut me up ...

Even though I was understandably nervous to meet the mother of the soft-spoken, adorable cowboy who had stolen my heart, I felt completely comfortable in their home. I think everyone does! Alan's mom has quite a few memorable sayings, like her father before her. If you're in her doorway for more than forty-five seconds, she's certain to offer you a cookie. Barely 5'4", she somehow seems to stretch an extra foot taller when retrieving the vintage Tupperware containers atop the refrigerator. As she lifts off the lid, she always says, "Take two, they're small." She says this no matter what size cookie she's made or how much you've just eaten. It also doesn't matter if you are a small child or a woman on a diet; this phrase is inevitable! Should you politely refuse (and frankly, you are out of your MIND if you do!), she'll gently urge you to have one saying, "Aw, come on. It's good for what ails ya!" Our first meeting was no exception to that rule. :)

After snagging a few cookies of his own, Alan offered to give me "the grand tour" of their home. While walking down the hallway with the most amazing sugar cookie I had ever eaten in my hand, I thought to myself, "I really like her. I sure wish I could have shut my mouth! I hope I didn't blow it."

When dinner came, I did my best to keep my mouth busy chewing, so as not to have another "blab-a-thon." Sensing my unrest, M.I.L. took a candy cane reindeer from a Christmas-themed centerpiece, walked it over by Alan and made it say, "Alan, I want a carrot!" Having grown up in a home where candy canes were not permitted to talk at the table (reindeer or otherwise), I stifled a giggle. Shaking its googley eyes at me, the reindeer asked me what I thought was so funny, while MIL winked at me. My sweetheart looked at his mother, unfazed, and handed the carrots to her. Once I began to relax, I'm sure I talked far too much and put my fifteen-year-old foot in my mouth several times, but I continued to come back. Sure, it didn't hurt that her son lived there and I was too young to go out on dates so we could only go to each other's homes and churches, but I continue to sit at her kitchen table to this day.

I could write for pages just about her homemade cookies, doughnuts, cobblers and pies, but that really doesn't capture her essence. She isn't one to start up a conversation with a stranger, but once she's met you, you are treated like family. She doesn't shy away from sharing her opinions, but usually prefaces them with a wink and a statement like, "But who listens to mother? Nobody. Go do what ya like, hon." or, "What a crabby, bossy old grouch I am. Too bad you're stuck with me, eh?" :) Her mixture of traditional homemaker mixed with a sprinkle of sass and a stubborn streak a mile long makes her a whole lot of fun ... and somebody you don't want to make mad! ;) If she were likened to a television character, she'd be Ethel Murtz mixed with Claire Huxtable with a pinch of Dorothy Zbornack. (If you don't know who any of these characters are, you are either under the age of 30, male or have an aversion to the Hallmark channel. A quick "google" may be in order before you read any farther! :)) I treasure our relationship because I know I am free to be myself around her, yet I will still get a perspective I might not have seen before. She has taught me the art of respectfully standing my ground.

She enjoys decorating for every holiday under the sun-- especially Christmas and Easter. This time of year, there are flowers, baskets and bunnies everywhere you look-- including the bathroom, where the "bendy bunny" is mischievously contorted by her sons when they visit. Many people enjoy "sophisticated" decor for special occasions, giving holidays a "stuffy" feeling. My mother-in-law's decor style is a true extension of her; amongst the doilies from her late mother and candles in dainty holders, you always can find silly decorations that sing, jingle or do something unexpected. Being the mother of three boys (and my poor sister-in law), she seems to enjoy subtle silliness to break the monotony. While that little pink rabbit is usually sitting by a box of tissues or a candle when they first arrive, it isn't long before he is dangling by one leg from a towel rack, has his head peeking out of the medicine cabinet or appears to be scaling the shower curtain. I'm certain she would be disappointed if they left it alone, it's almost as though she's baiting those crazy boys of hers! She's taught me a lot about mothering little boys; the most valuable lesson being that you can embrace the insanity of all that testosterone and still maintain your femininity.

Whether you need to hem a pair of pants or you're too exhausted and overwhelmed to the Lactation consultant alone, she's your go to gal. (Not every one's mother-in-law would sit in on an LC appointment to support their daughter-in-law, even though she'd formula fed all four of her children, but mine did!) If you ever need anything, from a band aid to a needle and thread, it can usually be found in the confines of her purse. She has cough drops, mints, gum, tissues, ibuprofen, snack bags for spoiled grandchildren, paper clips ... and it's not even that big! It's like some sort of "Swiss Army Purse." Her preparedness, she explains, has come from many years of mistakes. While I have gleaned much from her advice over the years, I have probably learned the most from her shared mistakes. Everyone needs a safe place to admit that you just don't have it all together.

From the first meeting, I enjoyed her company, but it wasn't until my wedding shower that I finally knew what to call her. Even though the whole neighborhood seemed to call her "Grandma" or "Miss Phyllis," I had been stuck in this wonky title purgatory. I couldn't just call her "Phyllis;" she was my boyfriend's mother. I respected and loved her, and frankly, I had seen her boys make her mad, and I wanted to stay on her good side! ;) I couldn't call her "mom" yet, I hadn't earned that right. "Mrs. Munson" sounded like a substitute teacher. I often ended up calling her, ma'am, which I'm pretty sure felt awkward for both of us! One beautifully wrapped present changed everything ...

As I sat in the formal living room of my piano teacher (who was also the music pastor's wife), surrounded by childhood Sunday School teachers, ladies from church and immediate family members of both myself and my hubby-to-be, I opened the card from my future mother-in-law. In a sweet, heartfelt card, she added a note that read: "A little something for those nights when you feel like hiding!" I didn't know what to expect, but I opened the package, anyway. As I pulled away the tissue paper, I saw a large Pyrex bowl with something inside of it. Unsure of what the dark green material inside could possibly be, I held it up ... only to discover that she had put silk camouflage pajamas in a salad bowl at my church shower! With a very red face, I turned to her, knowing she had just given me more than her signature practicality with a hint of silliness-- she was treating me like one of her own. The next two words I uttered felt natural and freeing; "Thanks, MOM!"

In the fourteen years I've been "One of her kids," I have been given my share of silly gag gifts, helpful kitchen hints, doses of truth when I needed it (notice, that does not say when I wanted it-- proof that she treats me like one of her kids!), countless meals, and emergency baby-sitting services. I'll never be the "Suzie homemaker" that she is, and she says my schedule makes her dizzy! In spite of our differences, we are bonded in familial love, and in the body of Christ. She didn't just raise a loyal, caring man who makes me laugh, she brought my husband up in the knowledge and love of The LORD. Having that common bond, both in our marriage and in our family, means the world to me. This coming Easter Sunday, I know that as we sit together for the family meal (in spots most likely marked with bunny place cards), we will join in praying, "Come, Lord Jesus" together. I know that as my mother-in-law sips her morning coffee, she will be reading her morning devotionals with my father-in-law at the kitchen table. My children are truly blessed to have four grandparents who not only love (and spoil) them, but they actively pray for them and nurture their walk with Jesus.

As I continue trying to figure out what kind of wife and mother I want to be, I am so thankful for two incredible examples who offer me the best of themselves to learn from, all the while, accepting me for who I am and where I'm at.

Mom M. is not one to make a fuss about anything she does; in fact, this post will probably embarrass her a little. Knowing her, she'll probably thump me playfully on the side of my noggin and hug me when she reads this. The fact that she does so much with so little asked in return can occasionally cause those of us who love her to take her for granted. I want her to know that all those times I drop off my kids while running late for a doctor's appointment, grab a cookie and run out her front door, I'm thankful for a safe and loving place to take my kids. There are so many times when she asks about my life and I forget until the last two minutes of our phone conversations or visits that she's had major medical tests or other stress in her life. I don't tell her I love her nearly enough.

This is why I need my Lenten "pause," that I might slow down and remember. My life is so full of so many giving people whom I often forget to thank, writing about all of them might mean giving up facebook until I'm a grandmother myself! I know I'm not alone in this, we are rushed people. Our gratitude often never leaves our thoughts, a place where it blessed us, but not those who need to hear it most! Whether it's your mother-in-law, a matriarch at church, an extra-special auntie or a caring neighbor, I'm sure there is someone in your life who needs to hear what they mean to you. This post may even cause you to think about writing a card or making a phone call. May we all slow down long enough to thank those who slow down their busy lives to help us!

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Sneakers

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

My two favorite little men were both in need of new shoes last weekend. Wyatt had hand-me downs that fit his feet, just not over his ankle-foot orthodic braces (AFO's for short). I had just taken Alan shopping two weeks prior and let him pick a very cool (and very on sale) pair of hiking boots. They are waterproof (which is why my little "Mr. Practical" wanted them) and work great for playing outside and hiking with daddy, but they are insulated (not exactly ideal for being in a toasty gymnasium) and mark up the gym floor. Oopsie! My darling husband said both boys should get new shoes. A shoe shopping trip with my husband's blessing is something I will NEVER turn down! I don't care if I'm shopping for me, my children, or a HORSE, I'm all about a good shoe-hunt! (But back to the children. Yes, that's right; this story is about the children. Forgive me; I'll switch gears ...)

Children on the Autism spectrum prefer routine, right? Apparently, the "routine" does NOT apply to shoes! As Wyatt and I searched for shoes online, he wrinkled his nose at the orthodic-friendly selection. I can't say that I blame him, as they are mostly clunky, plain and nothing like the "cool shoes" in typical stores. His mommy also wrinkled her nose at the steep price and inability to try them on! (Everyone who is thrilled about the idea of spending $65-130.00 on shoes, waiting for them to arrive, only to send them back at your expense because they don't fit, stand on your head!) I called ahead to several stores, explained our shoe dilemma and visited a few who hoped they could help us. After none of those worked out, I bit the bullet and took Wyatt to a department store known for accommodating kids with special needs. I knew there could be sticker-shock in my future, but I figured they wouldn't be worse than what I'd seen online, and at least they would fit and possibly not resemble bricks with Velcro!

As the grand piano played in the background, Wyatt and I waited for the sales girl to return with a pair of "AFO-friendly" shoes. To our surprise, she returned with four pair, each of which fit his custom-orthodic. Wyatt's eyes lit up with glee when the first pair emerged from the box. To call them a "bright" green and yellow shoe simply doesn't seem to cover it! When she put them on his dear little feet, he didn't "test run" in his shoes, he strutted! As he pivoted and walked back towards me, he shouted, "Mommy, these snazzy shoes make me feel like a MOVIE STAR!" He dismissed the other three option, claiming they looked "stiff and uncomfortable" (Translation: could not be seen from outer space). At this point, I was so thrilled that we had a working pair of shoes he could wear home (instead of waiting weeks for an order to arrive) in a style that made him happy, I probably would have paid just about anything. When I found out they were machine washable, guaranteed to be outgrown before they wore out and cost less than the brick-like shoes we saw online, I plunked my debit card onto the counter and closed the sale.

When we returned home, Wyatt ran to show Alan his "snazzy" new shoes. Alan seemed genuinely impressed and told him they were super-cool. He talked about how green was his favorite color and asked all about the store we went to. While I loved watching my boys connecting, in the back of my mind, I was thinking, "PLEASE don't ask if you can go to that store for your P.E. shoes, too!" I knew Alan would understand if I told him the budget wouldn't allow non-orthodic wearing members of our house to shop there, but I really didn't want to go there if I didn't have to ...

Fortunately, my financial concerns were eased when Alan told me wanted to shop in a store that was close-by, preferably one with a sporting goods section. He even wanted to bring daddy along to help him choose a good, practical pair. Clearly, this was going to be a different shopping experience! I'm certain Alan would have enjoyed the escalators at the department store, but he LOVES sporting goods.

Naturally, we headed there first. As the boys admired the new selection of tents and camping stoves, my darling husband and his namesake discussed the pros and cons of each model. Wyatt tagged along happily, enjoying the comradery with his daddy and brother. As I watched them shopping, I was struck by their similarities (identical hair cuts, matching Carhartt jackets and carpenter jeans)-- with the exception of their shoes. My "Alans" were both wearing hiking boots, as they often do. Wyatt, naturally, was proudly sporting his brand new vibrant-green shoes. My mind drifted to the day when Alan got his boots, and Wyatt said he wished he had some, but he knew his "orfodics" wouldn't fit in there. Knowing how Wyatt always wants to be "cool" like his brother, It made me glad that my boys were in the camping supplies aisle. Hiking is a struggle for Wyatt with his lax ligaments and sensory issues, but camping is an activity he can easily participate in. He adores sleeping in tents, playing in dirt, looking for bugs and, of course, eating smores. I stifled an "emotional mommy moment," loving how my guys could bond without expecting conformity.

Checking the price tag and brand (because of the sale, not because he cares about brands) on each and every pair of athletic shoes, little Alan scrutinized his choices. I noticed him looking at a trendy pair with skateboarding art on the sides and three-dimensional flames on the toes that lit up. Remembering how he had admired his brother's shoes the day before, I asked him if he wanted to try those on. He looked at me, somewhat embarrassed. Having shopped with Alan many times, I understood that while his mouth said, "Um ... those are ... really something ... aren't they?" he was probably thinking, "If I wore those shoes to school, I would either be the coolest kid there or laughed off the playground. This is NOT a risk I am willing to take!"

As he headed to a "safer" section of footwear, I realized that my older son admired Wyatt's individuality as much as Wyatt envied his big brother's ability to assimilate. Alan is by nature a go-with-the-flow kind of child who makes friends easily; probably because of his empathetic, accommodating nature. He frequently notices when someone gets a new haircut or has new clothes on, and makes sure to complement them. He cares far more about people's happiness than their "cool factor."

You'd think a kid who was that mellow about everyone else would be pretty secure in his own style ... not so much. While He'll take risks where it counts in life (such as sticking up for someone who is being picked on or telling a friend he isn't allowed to watch a certain T.V. show), he cares a LOT about what his friends think of his attire. I suppose this is the downside of his caring, empathetic nature.

Alan wears a lot of "safe" clothes, seeing them more as a necessity than a form of expression. I'm sure at times he wishes he had the guts to express himself like Wyatt. Just in case his shoes aren't bright enough, know that the custom AFO's underneath are even more colorful! The plaster-cast bottoms are rainbow paint splotches, the velcro straps are fire engine red and his ankle straps are camouflage! It's fairly obvious that Wyatt worries precious little about any one's opinion, probably because it doesn't occur to him that they don't think like he does! That confidence makes him fearless, but it also often makes him lonely.

If my boys could walk a mile in each other's shoes for a day, I wonder what they would think about the unseen side of their opposing realities. I know that Wyatt wishes he knew how to make (and keep) friends like his brother does. I know Alan wishes he could read and spell like his little brother. While Wyatt envies his brother's "Student of the Month" awards, I wonder if Alan ever imagines how it feels to dance during church while the congregation sings in a joyful, but far more subdued fashion. Two precious little boys; two very different footprints.

While they can't swap shoes for a day, as brothers, they walk together. As they travel towards adulthood, they will help each other and learn from one another. As Wyatt gleans empathy, social cues and understanding from his big brother, Alan will take on some of his little brother's courage, persistence and quest for knowledge. In spite of their constant sibling rivalry, I know at the end of the day that nobody understands Wyatt like Alan, and nobody admires Alan like Wyatt. What a gift God has given them in one another, and what a privilege to watch the adventure of my little "mis-matched pair!"

Father, the journey to adulthood is anything but easy. As I guide my children, remind me to follow in Your footsteps.

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Escape to Girlyville

Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
Song of Solomon 2:12

What a strange and wonderful land I visited yesterday! I was dying for my favorite Italian restaurant, needed to run a few errands and my car was in the shop. Missing my buddy Debi, I called her to see if we could swap her wheels for me treating for lunch. Always up for a driving adventure, she agreed and met me at the mechanics' office Friday morning. Leaving behind the black and white checkerboard decor and the aroma of tires and motor oil, with lattes in hand, we were off to our adventure!

The errands were ... errands. Debi made them much more fun! Our lunch, however, was divine! I rarely remember my waiter's name (and I always get the SAME ONE); he is usually just known in my mind as, "that dear fellow who brings me gluten-free fried calamari and espresso in a teensy cup." We took turns clutching our collarbones in sheer bliss. We were dining in a lovely world of exquisite food, people who whisper "Pardon me, Miss ..." instead of "Moooooooo-ooooooooom!" and beautifully decorated tables that had no begging puppies near our chairs. *Sigh* It was lovely.

Just when I thought our day could not possibly contain another drop of estrogen, Debi introduced me to the loveliest purse and luggage galleria in the known universe. Femininity, thy name art Vera Bradley! Surrounded by floral walls, gingham over-stuffed chairs and lovely sales girls bringing me bottled water with a label that matched a purse near me, I was overwhelmed! Every article I studied was simply beautiful. I tried to take it all in, but there was almost too much cute for my brain to absorb! This mysterious land was void of cammo patterns, dinosaurs and dog hair ... This was GIRLYVILLE! Over an hour later, I left with the prettiest disposable water bottle I have ever seen and a purse that had called my name. (Clearly, not answering would have been rude.) Even then, I didn't want to leave, but I knew if I didn't, I'd be explaining to my husband why I had a coordinated set of purses, overnight bags, luggage, a picnic set, stationary and an entire beach collection, but I'd sold the car. Hugging the sales girl Claire good-bye, I promised to return again someday. *Sigh* It was lovely.

Returning to the real world of waiting for my car at a nearby McDonald's was quite a rude awakening. Joined once more by my charming sons (who were thrilled to see that mommy bought a bigger purse that could hold MORE SNACKS!), I watched them climb through plastic tubing for over two hours. There was no soft music here. There were no gentle floral prints on the walls. My beverage, though bubbly and delicious, was not in a pretty container. Even my house was more peaceful than this place! Playland, I decided, was the "Anti-Girlyville."

Returning home, I was thrilled to have "just my boys" with me! There is nothing like constant screaming from several children you can't reprimand to make a gal appreciate the life she'd been clamoring to escape from. I hung up my dahlia-riffic new purse on the hook by the front door. Hanging there among cammo-clad hats, Carhartt jackets and head lamps, it didn't "coordinate," but it represented my family. It fit there, just as the four of us "fit" together.

Looking at my house, our artifacts seem somehow intertwined in every space imaginable. I find action figures with light-up flaming heads in my yarn bags. My husband's truck has lip gloss and barrettes in the middle console (courtesy of his wife; the "vehicle primper"). My children graciously (a.k.a. they don't have a choice) share closet space with their loving parents. The dogs have generously sprinkled their dog hair throughout the house (thank God for lint rollers!). While my hubby enjoys a good hike or hunting season, the boys love playing with their friends and I love having girl-time, we belong here. What good is a purse without the crayons inside to calm an anxious child waiting for a shot at the doctor's office? What good are the boys' Lego's without daddy to make the biggest, coolest vehicles with them? What good is a hunting magazine without a spouse to jokingly offer the his and hers pistol set in a stunning pink and black? (Yes, it really was a Valentine's Day catalog special the hubby showed me!)

While I do love to "escape" from time to time, I need the differences brought by the people I love and live with. Not just the testosterone that hangs heavy in the air here, but the differing personalities. I need the perspective brought into my life by my dry-witted, introverted, organized hubby, my inventive, dramatic and hugable Alan and my quirky, enthusiastic, endearing Wyatt. I don't always want it; but I need it. Sometimes I'm sure I take them for granted, because they're always "here." How backwards is that? The mall will always be "there." Even if it closes, they'll put up another one. How long will Alan want to snuggle in my bed on Saturday mornings? How many trips will I have with Wyatt bobbing through the grocery store, proudly holding my hand? How many nights will I have in a bed with a blanket I hate, but a man whom I love? Maybe a lot. Maybe only ONE.

Lord, remind me each day that these dear ones you've brought into my home and heart are a privilege. Thank you for time to regroup and relax. By Your grace, show us all how to complement, appreciate and truly love one another.

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wobbly Lines and Circles

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:8

It's a such treat to watch my boys with their father. My boys' loyalty to me is certainly unquestionable; but they also know there are some things this mama just doesn't understand. When I found out my husband let the boys climb the rockery walls on the sides of our fireplace, I nearly plotzed. When the boys talk about bodily functions in a hushed voice with daddy, I risk permanent optical nerve strain from rolling my eyes. When they wrestle like wild dogs on my living room floor, I have to leave the room so I don't worry about injuries. This is why my darling boys have an adventurous daddy! Today, daddy decided it was time for a new adventure for Wyatt-- **gulp** NO MORE TRAINING WHEELS.

Watching from the porch and various windows, I saw my baby first straddle his bike and "walk" with no training wheels. Then he moved up to peddling while daddy held on to the back of his bike with two hands. Then came one hand. A few minutes later, daddy gave Wyatt a starting push and let go. For ten solid feet, my little boy sailed along the grassy pasture ... followed by a swift thud into a pile of dirt. I wanted to run to him and check for bruises, but I saw his daddy ask if he was okay. With a dirt-encrusted grin, Wyatt rose proudly to his feet, gave the "thumbs up" signal and got back on his bike. My brave little trooper was ready to try again! He started once more with a guided push from daddy, then peddled furiously, doing almost a full circle around the south pasture! I screamed with immense pride and enthusiasm in my poor Mother-In-Law's ear, told her I would call back later and ran out to congratulate my big kid. "Did you see me, mommy? Did you see?" He asked. Twirling him around in a congratulatory hug, I told him he was awesome!

While my youngest son had been working with daddy on making it across the yard, my oldest boy was doing figure-eights from one pasture to the next; doing fancy turns in our gravel driveway in between. Watching him, I remembered when daddy had taught Alan to ride his bike. I laughed, thinking about how I insisted on not just the required helmet (which is still a non-negotiable rule with both parents), but elbow and knee pads, tough skin jeans and long sleeved shirts. The whirling blades of my "helicopter parenting" could still be heard in the distance, but I'd calmed down a lot! As Alan breezed past his brother, I thought about how much he'd grown. I remembered the toddler he was when I brought his brother home from the hospital. I blinked and my babies were riding two wheelers. How did this happen?

Every little milestone of their life seemed to start out wobbly. Life with a newborn was wobbly (for mommy), then my days slowly gained a rhythm. I went from staggering about our little house, exhausted from lack of sleep, sobbing with frustration over nursing issues and being afraid to leave the house alone to circling the neighborhood confidently with Alan in his stroller a few months later. As he took his first steps, there was a great deal of wobbling, stumbling and crying. In time, his wobbly little lines became straighter, then faster, and before I knew it, Alan was running circles around me (just in time for me to get pregnant with Wyatt and start this all over again)! In the nine years I've been a mom, I've watched my share of wobbly lines and circles. In the thirty-three years I've been alive, I've lived quite a few of them!

I would love to say that life is like riding a bike, but I don't think that's remotely true. I think life is like learning to ride a bike! There are days when I look at my bloody knees and my battered helmet and can't help but long for a "stationary bike" kind of existence! No falling, no bug swallowing, no having to watch for cars, no crashing into trees, no "helmet hair," no puddles splashing you ... no real movement at all.

It's safe on a stationary bike. You can relax and watch T.V. or read a book, you don't need as much balance, there are no hills and you still get some exercise. Why not live the "stationary" life?

You don't swallow a bug, but you don't feel the wind in your face, either. You don't pass other bikes, but your scenery never changes. There are no flowers to admire, no trees to give you shade, no exhilarating coast down a big hill. The stationary bike is alright on a rainy day, but sometimes you need to pedal on a "real" bike.

As God's children, we are granted the peace that comes from knowing that we never "ride" alone. When we are unsure and wobbly, he holds us up. There are, of course, times when we get cocky and don't watch where we're going, when we try a trail that isn't meant for our skill level, we forget to properly "fuel" ourselves or we begin to doubt God's plan for us. When that happens, we stumble and fall (sometimes rather hard!) Ever our attentive and loving Father, He is there to tend to our wounds, dust us off and encourage us to try again.

I'm not going to start climbing the rockery or belching the alphabet in the near future, but thank God for adventurous little boys (and their wonderful daddy) who pull me away from my "stationary" life! Are you tired of staring at the same wall? Is it time to risk a skinned knee and some helmet hair in exchange for a wonderful new view? Strap on your "helmet of salvation" and go forth!

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Where's My Fries?

"Father, forgive them, for they do no know what they are doing."
Luke 23:34a

Oh, how prepared I was for dinner tonight! I began prepping my sour dough starter for waffles in the early morning, since I was already up with my little buddy. My hubby had a meeting after work, followed by his Tuesday evening hike (he's training to summit Mt. Rainer for the second time!). Since I had so much extra time and one lonely banana turning leopard-esque, I thought I'd add him to the batter. Just as I was getting ready to add more flour and beat my egg whites, I got a text that my mighty mountain man was extra speedy and already on his way down the trail! Normally, that would mean I'd still have 30-45 minutes before he arrived, but today we were picking him up at the trail head! Knowing the munchkins were hungry, I grabbed a scant half-cup of rice flour, a little sugar and whole eggs into my batter, mixed it hurriedly and attempted to make fast pancakes. Did you know that adding banana to sourdough batter without well over a cup of additional flour creates flubber? Flustered, I turned off the stove, grabbed some breakfast cookies and rushed the kidlets out the door to get daddy.

As my family munched happily on cookies, I decided to drop our sweaty bread winner off at our house for a shower while mommy hit the drive-thru. Armed with a snazzy coupon book (I love it when restaurants remodel!), I ordered the healthiest items I could find, (smoothies, salads, sandwich wraps, etc. ) followed by a few "treats ."

Wyatt loves fries. I am blessed with two boys who still regard fries as junk food and split a small fry. Wyatt was such a sad little guy when he heard that most restaurants' fries had gluten in them (as was mommy)! :( They are more special to him now than ever (he went gluten-free just after Christmas); he talked about them the whole way home.

As I distributed our food among the starving masses, I reached for the fries at the bottom, only to find napkins. No fries! Daddy would be sad, but he still had burgers. Wyatt couldn't eat burgers with buns, chicken nuggets (or any chicken at all) or anything sandwich-like. His "treat" had been forgotten.

For any child, this would have been a bummer. For a child with my husband's DNA, it is a disaster. For a child carrying my husbands DNA and a diagnosis of autism, it could have been a catastrophe! Poor Wyatt had been promised waffles, then the plan had been changed to pancakes, then he was shuffled out the door with a cheese stick and a gluten-free cookie and now no fries. Talk about a change in routine!

I was rather surprised by how well he took the news. There were a few tears, but he asked if he could have some yogurt. Naturally, I said yes! I told him I'd tweak the pancakes while he slurped his portable yogurt (a godsend for children with sensory issues who fear jiggly food that might spill or make a mess!), and hopped into the kitchen to do so. Fortunately, with a little more flour, the pancakes were yummy. :) Wyatt sat gleefully munching on a pancake roll up with strawberry jam, not caring much at all about his fries. While he breathed the sigh of a little boy with a contented tummy (for 30 minutes, anyway!), I breathed a sigh of relief.

About an hour later, he looked up at me with puzzled eyes and said, "They forgot my fries, mom." I told him there was a very long line and they didn't mean to, but next time I went I would tell them (nicely). That was all he needed to hear, not another word about the renegade fries were uttered after that.

I know that God has a wonderful plan for my life. I know He loves me, I know He cares about me, I know He listens. There are times when people hurt or disappoint me and I know they don't mean to. When they've done something deliberate, I know what to do. There are even times when I can do it in a semi-controlled manner (we won't talk about the other times, other than to say that I'm a great deal taller from standing on several soap boxes). But where do you put the hurt from people who don't know better? Where do you stash those well-meaning comments that prick your heart? Where do you place the disappointments that come from people who are loving you the best way they know how?

There is only one place to learn how to heal from all that baggage: at the feet of Jesus. From the time He was a child teaching in the temple, He was misunderstood by His family. While going through the greatest anguish of his life, His closest friends fell asleep. He was betrayed, denied and abandoned by those who loved him. When we look to His example, we see this response in Luke 23:34: "Father, forgive them, for they do no know what they are doing."

When you're just not sure how to even put into words what happened, you can always crawl into the lap of your Heavenly Daddy and just tell Him that you're hurting. When someone forgets Wyatt's fries, all I can offer is a hug and a pancake. When someone forgets to be careful with your heart, God has the ability and desire to heal it. It wasn't easy for Wyatt to release his plans for dinner, but releasing our broken dreams and unfulfilled promises are much harder. If we let go of our need to protect ourselves from everyone-- including God, He can fill the painful voids inside us, mend our wounds and help us to love once more.

The world may forget your fries, slap you with back-handed complements and ignore you, dear friends, but they know not what they do. God, on the other hand, always remembers, treasures and tirelessly cares for you-- even when you forget Him. All this and no drive thru line-- what a God we serve! :)

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Caserole Communing

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Eccclesiastes 4:9-11

I'm not ashamed; I have a deep and abiding love of tuna casserole, anything resembling spaghetti- only with a ridiculous amount of cheese and "fun" pasta, overnight french-toast, that brunch egg-thingy with hash browns on top, Chile Rellano... that spells comfort food to me. It also spells less dishes, fewer courses and left-overs; what's not to love there? We all know there are times when people (myself included) can go a little crazy, causing a hot dish gone wrong. Come on, do you need THREE cans of "cream of something" in there? Must we have some sort of potato chip, tater tot or breadcrumb drenched in butter atop EVERYTHING? A person could get a heart valve clog just reading some recipes! And please, I beg of you, do not get me started on why pimentos, Lima beans, Velveeta and corn simply cannot be entrusted to the pantries of some well-meaning, but clearly misguided casserole cooks. Clearly, there must be balance among the sauce (be it creamy, cheesy or tomato-based), starch (be it pasta, potatoes or rice), veggies, protein and toppings, but when it's good, it's goooooooood.

Casseroles can help forgotten, but nutritious and lovely ingredients shine. I must admit, there have been times when I've left out a bag of frozen veggies to make for dinner, grabbed something else, then come back an hour after dinner was over. Those poor little thawed peas were clearly not to blame for my forgetfulness, but they can't be re-frozen. Ah, but there are many recipes where thawed peas can be added at the last minute; becoming a happy little companion to a creamy sauce! Forgotten veggie tray friends, such as celery and carrots, can make your chicken Divan Divine! That sad little nub of neglected cheddar that's too small for a sandwich can add a little oomph to the body of any sauce. A casserole can prevent good food from becoming compost!

Casseroles can also revive tired turkey, ham that's "had it" and "beyond-braised" beef. I would love to say that I always remember to set timers when I have a roast going on the oven, but that is simply not the case! OOPS! Chicken jerky is just not the same as jerk chicken! There are also times when I get impatient with a meat that needs a slower roast, resulting in jaw workout for the whole crew! Nobody likes throwing away a beautiful ham that just didn't cook well, but how much ham salad can a person eat? Enter the forgiving support of sauces, pasta and a little cheese on top, breathing new life back into your "dead" meat! It moistens, tenderizes and enhances the flavor of your leftovers, saving you money in a delicious way! :)

A well-balanced casserole supports all the ingredients and doesn't have a glory-hog syndrome. There are times when there's a little meat and a lot of pasta and cheese, there are times when the opposite is true. As long as the flavors are melding, that's keen! (Yes, I typed keen. It's a nifty word, I'm determined to bring it back!) Casseroles rarely turn out the same way twice in my house. I grab what we have on hand, and that's always changing! Writing out recipes for what we eat is a challenge, because I'm often just making it up as I go! It's how my Grandma Howard did it, it's how my mama did it (and still does), it's probably how some of my great-great grand kids will cook in their kitchens. It's about feeding your loved ones the best of what you have, while being mindful of using the resources God has blessed you with in a wise way.

After talking to my missionary friends, a few world-travelers and watching a lot of food-related T.V., I have come to the conclusion that nearly every culture in the known world seems to have at least one "casserole" of their own. From the affluent to the poorest of the poor, families and communities across the globe are melding bits and pieces together to nourish their families. My heart breaks for the mothers who have never had leftovers in their cupboards, while I coax my children at our table, saying, "Everything you love is in here. Just try it ..." How blessed we are to have variety and excess in our lives!

I've always called our worship team "my casserole," because our goal is to share our gifts and support one another. We vary who leads, working on melding together to nourish our body of believers. I awoke Sunday morning to a tickle in my throat. I had two solos and a lot of high (for me, anyway) harmonies ahead of me during service. I asked people to pray after rehearsal, feeling fatigue already entering my vocal chords. By offertory, my voice was nearly gone. Remember when I mentioned the two solos? Well, one of them was the offertory! When my voice wouldn't come out, my buddy Dawn took over for me. During communion, I knew the high harmonies just wouldn't happen. After completing a beautiful solo, Alyssa had my back with the high harmonies while I sang when I could. Thank goodness for the casserole!

I am so blessed to be part of an amazing body of believers, loyal and loving friends and a phenomenal family. I'm pretty good at thanking them internally, but I forget to tell them! Lord, show me this week how I can bless my fellow "ingredients!"

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wonder Woman Wanna-Be

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
Prov. 31:25

As a kindergartner, my top-two Saturday Morning Cartoons were the Smurfs (who could resist frolicking little blue people in white, fluffy hats?) and the undisputed kings of cool (well, I suppose you could argue with me, but I WILL win!), The Super Friends! No matter how many smurf mugs, figurines and pajamas I owned, Super Friends was the show! Why? It all came down to Wonder Woman!

You see, Smurfette was just annoying! Always whining, "Oh, Papa Smurf! Papa Smurf!" And making all the blue dudes do her bidding. Ew. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, was a force to be reckoned with! Girlfriend had an invisible plane, bracelets that deflected bullets and hair accessories that knocked bad guys on their keesters! Plus, she had something that every female on the planet (especially mothers) can't help but wish really existed-- the lasso of truth! I never had a Wonder Woman costume, though. As a five-year-old, I saw this as mercilessly unfair. As a mother, I see that some things just can't be explained to small children. I don't blame her for not wanting to add bustiers to that list! ;)

In First Grade, I had found another role-model in Princess Leah! I rocked some serious double hair buns and a spangled ensemble (made modestly a la mom) that Halloween. A chick who had amazing fighting skills, snappy comebacks and won the heart the heart of Han Solo seemed pretty cool to me! :)

Fast forward past my "Jem" phase and a LOT of bad neon fashions to 2004 ...

I was a mother a toddler and an infant. (My infant slept all night, my toddler did not.) I was drowning in a sea of dishes, laundry, nurse-a-thons, potty dancing in the grocery store (always at least 1000 yards from the nearest restroom), doctor's appointments and oh yeah-- there was this guy I passed in the hall. The toddler called him Daddy, I believe ... I felt stretched far beyond my abilities, my energy level and eons past any recollection of romance. Was there a super hero with that kind of life? Enter my very first grown-up super heroine, Elastigirl!

Helen Par to most of the world, her super-powers came in handy on a daily basis at home. She was fighting a lot of the same battles I was! A criminal mastermind isn't nearly as hard to figure out as a baby; at least criminal masterminds can talk! She had three children with very differing personalities, tried to find the middle ground between encouraging her kids without creating little ego-maniacs, struggled to feed a hungry (but picky) brood and attempted to keep the flame lit in her marriage while fighting a truly formidable adversary-- two exhausted people!

While most of us (okay, ALL of us) aren't flexible enough to be able to put away laundry and load the dishwasher at the same time; all women feel "stretched" in their daily lives. There is one woman who seems to have it all together; the infamous "Proverbs 31 Woman." I thought I had an "out" for a while when it came to comparing myself to her, Since she had servants. Then I remembered that I have indoor pluming, electricity, appliances and a car. Drat. Foiled again by that pesky, indisputable "Wife of Noble Character!" She sewed clothes, cooked, bought real estate, planned ahead, her children arose and called her "blessed," her husband praised her at the city gate ... She clearly must be a fictional super-heroin.

I struggled with this woman for quite a while; what does she have (besides the servants, I mean) that I don't? Super-human strength and endurance? Endless patience? A calm outlook at all times? Gee, I wish I could have that! Then I remembered, I do-- it just so happens that this power rests inside of me, but doesn't come from me. Phil. 4:13 says that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Perhaps the Proverbs 31 woman clung to her Heavenly Father, instead of trying to be "super-mom" all by herself. Perhaps she worked out of love for her family, not out of her own need to be seen as "amazing." Perhaps her husband and children praised her so because she owned up to her mistakes and gave the same grace to them! If love keeps no record of wrongs, is it possible that there were times when her kids were brats, her husband was demanding and she was crabby, but they made amends and chose not to "air their dirty laundry" outside their home?

Hmmmmmm ... maybe it's not about being super, but serving and living for a God who is beyond any hero-- real OR imagined!

Lord, help me remember as my week wears on how incredibly SUPER it is being Your child! Through Christ, I have been robed in righteousness- and that's way better than a snazzy outfit or a cape! I don't need super-human strength. The weaker I am, the more you can mold me and the more Your strength flows through me! I can't ask for a greater power source than that! Help me, Father, to release my desire to be "super" alone. Let me shine for you, that my deeds might point to You, not me. And now, by Your strength, must move (and fold) a mountain ...

In Lenten Love and Friendship,