A Trip, A Tea Party, & 3 Winners!

Macy’s on 34th
John Piper’s Advent reading plan on the Bible App has been giving me a lot to think about and be challenged by lately. Here’s part of what day 22 said:
“You can read every fairy tale that was ever written, every mystery thriller, every ghost story, and you will never find anything so shocking, so strange, so weird, so spellbinding as the story of the incarnation of the Son of God.”
Urbanspace on Vanderbilt
Thank you, Jenna, for the recommendation!

You can also travel to New York City and take in all of its elaborate window displays, giant Christmas trees, and holiday music playing everywhere and forget to set your mind on Jesus. You can even host a Christmas tea party for a great group of teen girls, make gingerbread houses, create handmade gifts, and eat Christmas cookies without considering the baby born to die.

But we tried not to do that this week.

Mary & Izckra got to try the gigantic doughnuts.

Just choosing to go to NYC at the beginning of a busy week was an opportunity to trust God! I had to fight the temptation to fret over all that was not yet done back home, but the calmer of the seas was providing peace and helping me to laugh at the days to come.

We tried the pistachio-cardamom gluten free bread and the chocolate truffle cookies.

First we had a taco, cookie, and doughnut feast at Urbanspace on 44th near where we parked. Then it was shopping on 5th Avenue – Topshop, GAP, Uniqlo and more.  Later we hit the H&M near Macy’s, of course.

It was a Sweet Sixteen celebration for Mary!

Skating at Rockefeller was the plan, but the girls decided against it once we were there. It was pretty cold and windy out, so we headed underneath the big tree for dinner and more shopping – gluten free Mediterranean wraps, soup, burgers, sweet potato fries and Starbucks. Wandering around in Anthropologie took us about an hour, but no one dared purchase anything due to the mile-long check out line.

Saks 5th Avenue is directly opposite the Rockefeller tree.  If you’ve been there, you know that if you turn 180 degrees from looking at the tree you see the front of Saks. Not only are the window displays beautiful there, but they do a light show on the front of their building every ten minutes. Such fun treat – and a lot to take in in just one spot!
My old friend Mike stopped by Rockefeller for a quick hello and then swiped us all onto the subway headed in the direction of Macy’s. From there we Ooo-ber’d it took an Uber back to our parking spot and enjoyed chatting with our driver who is planning to enter the NYPD Academy in January and shares a love for the show Blue Bloods. How cool that someday soon he’ll be working for Commishioner Tom Selleck.  😉

Saks 5th Avenue Light Show
Wednesday was spent getting ready for the tea party (and tonight’s open house), and Thursday morning we enjoyed having several of Kayla’s friends over for her annual tea party. I just love this tradition!
Dress Code: Pj’s

Some friends have moved away and some weren’t able to make it this year, but just look at how much they’ve grown! When we first started doing this, I could totally envision this past Thursday’s scene in my kitchen – big girls enjoying all the same tea party activities that they did when they were little.  Does anyone ever outgrow a love for decorating gingerbread (well, graham cracker) houses?

Tea Party 2008
Thanks for reminding me of this pic, Virginia!

After decorating our houses, we moved on to the actual tea party part – eating finger foods and drinking hot tea, hot chocolate, and we’ve added coffee in the last couple of years. We used to read a children’s Christmas book together while everyone was eating, but this year we switched to a passage of Scripture. I chose Mary’s song – the magnificat – to read to these girls who are all probably about the same age as Mary was when she was visited by the angel.  We talked about the meaning of “bondslave” and discussed Mary’s virtuous character and love for God as revealed in her song. I pray that each of these young women continues to grow in her desire to know and serve God in the same way.

Next we made our gifts for mom – a coconut oil, sugar, and peppermint hand and/or foot scrub…

 And pocket sized hand warmers – fabric squares sewed together and filled with rice which can be heated in the microwave. I thought I might have to spend a lot of time helping them with the sewing machine, but thankfully (and impressively!) several of the girls knew how to use it.  I hardly had to help at all, because they just naturally helped each other.

The boys hung around for a while before letting us have the house to ourselves.
So nice to have them home!
So nice to also have Ms. Abbott with us – or “Sabbott” as she is now affectionately known.
Even Sabbott got sewing instructions from Jessica!

There was cookie decorating and game playing later and I enjoyed every minute of the morning into early afternoon – even the kitchen cleaning from which I could hear the girls laughing and chatting in the living room. Truly a delight.

Mary’s song always serves to help me remain in awe and worship during this season…

My soul exalts in the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on generation after generation toward those who fear Him… Luke 1: 46-50

Thinking on the Mighty One, the Savior, and His mercy have sustained me this week.

John Piper has given me words to pray in request for a heart that is spellbound by the incredible gift of the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection…

“Oh, how I pray for a breaking forth of the Spirit of God upon me and upon you; for the Holy Spirit to break into my experience in a frightening way, to wake me up to the unimaginable reality of God.”

May your heart be wakened by the Spirit this Christmas to the reality of the God who put on flesh for you, to Emmanuel, the God who came near.

And now for the winners of the giveaway…

(I used this website to help me draw your names!)

For bundle #1: The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield, and the Bird’s Nest Necklace.

Congrats, Itamar!

And for Bundle #2: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss, and the Bird’s Nest Necklace.
Congrats, Angela!

And I decided to add a third prize: The One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Voskamp.
Congrats, Michelle!

I’ll send these your way mid-January and I pray they encourage you as they have me. And if you’ve already read them, pass them along to someone who could use them!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

He Calms the Seas AND the Season ( Plus…A Giveaway!)

Tea Party Prep!
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays always start the same way for the 40-somethings at my house. 
Up early. 
Workout clothes on.
Bible reading with a side of hot tea. 
Out the door for a run – on the nearby rail trail or at the nearby Planet Fitness depending on weather conditions.
(On Mondays we add the special treat of breakfast together at Whole Foods and a “What do you have going on this week?” conversation.)
But last Wednesday I couldn’t do it. 
The homeschooling. 
The holidays. 
The endless (but good!) events, deliveries, visits, houseguests, conferences.
The deep needs of people – both inside and outside of my home. 
The anxiety rising up in the heart of this introvert who could not remember the last time she was alone and not required to either talk or actively listen. 
And the stark reality that Christmas was just 10 days away.

Drove slowly through the snow to see Ebeneezer Scrooge: A Christmas Carol.
In those coming 10 days there would be several coffee dates, doctor appointments, a retreat planning meeting, a trip out of town for a musical, church, a congrats party, a meal delivery, babysitting gigs for the teenaged girl, a trip to New York City to celebrate her dear friend’s Sweet Sixteen, airport pickups, an annual tea party, an open house, a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, and a Christmas morning worship service.

And not one gift had been bought. Not even one.

I should confess that these are all my choices and felt responsibilities and desires. I like to be busy. I like to put extra effort in celebrating the Christ-focused holidays. I like to serve and host. I like people and parties.

But I still don’t know my own limits.

I think I’m fine. I feel strong and full of life in all of this whirlwind of activity and people. And then it hits me, and all of a sudden I’m weary, and slipping into despair. I wish there were clear ways of calculating when this will happen. A formula to follow. (Not that I would follow it.)

So, last Wednesday, I stayed in bed in the early morning hours. The other 40-something brought me a cup of tea before he went out the door to exercise without me.

I was so tempted to grab my computer and start shopping, because….NO GIFTS! How many days do I have left before they won’t arrive in time for Christmas? I had already received a reprimanded by my father who had been calling me daily for ideas and sizes for all the grandkids.

I resisted the urge in my driven heart and restless mind to start crossing things off my very long list, and grabbed my Bible instead. Immediate temptation rose up again – to not read everything I usually do. To skip the advent devotion…or the Proverb….or the New Testament chapter. Or prayer. (Oh, how often that one gets cut short. Prayer is “the greater work…” as someone reminded me last Sunday, and it’s so true.)

So I started reading.
I read everything I was “supposed” to read.
And He spoke. (As He ALWAYS does in this situation.)
And what a gift…

“And He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, ‘Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them ‘Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ And they became very much afraid and said to one another, 
‘Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?'”
 Mark 4: 39-41

“When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, 
but the righteous has an everlasting foundation.” 
Proverbs 10: 25

“So that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” 
I Corinthians 2: 4-5

And I prayed (like, wrote-it-in-my-journal-prayer)…

Lord, I am in need of your peace and your wisdom in the whirlwind of Christmas. There have been so many people and concerts and meetings and even gift-wrapping gigs for CC and more. I fought the tears of the accumulation of input and interaction all day yesterday. Please help me to have faith in your power and your wisdom and not in mine. I don’t know how to manage my time well and factor in my own needs. I want to be poured out for your church, and so I say yes to a lot of people and seeming responsibilities, but then I crash. Show me how to have a better balance, so that I’m not going from one urgent request or need to another with no time for reflection or real prayer. Help me to prioritize that. Show me how to be thoughtful and mindful and how to pray and how to listen to you – hearing your guidance.

I went on to pray for help focusing on and resting in Him, for gift ideas for friends and family, for wisdom in preparing for the retreat meeting, and for protection from the enemy who is truly ramping up his game lately. (Maybe more on this later?)

Small Group Christmas Party
True Highlight of the Season: Amherst College Christian A Cappella concert

And He is answering my prayers. He’s bringing to mind those scriptures and realities…

My faith is not in earthly wisdom. (i.e. Christmas is about gifts! Get an early start!) God is the one with power and true wisdom. (Christmas is about Him. Emmanuel. God come near to be with us.)

When the whirlwind passes (and it will), I’ll still be standing. (Both the Christmas whirlwind, and the eternal judgment whirlwind!)

He has sovereign control. (Over the raging sea AND over this season. It’s all going to be okay.)

Oh, I’m working down the list. The packages are all mailed off. The Christmas cards go out today…all 225 of them. The teenaged babysitter has been dropped off and has already had Starbucks and lunch delivered to her. The trip to NYC is tomorrow, and I’m not even fretting about the tea party for a bunch of teenaged girls which is two days later. It’s really going to be okay.

The Christmas Eve open house for our church members will be icing on the cake, and I can’t wait. We’ve even recruited some dear helpers for the evening. (Thank you in advance, Corey & Yulia!)

After my tea-and-Bible-in-bed-morning, I went out and did some shopping and then had a couple of appointments. I made up my morning run on Thursday morning, and miraculously the earth kept spinning on its regular axis. I even almost finished up the shopping after that morning workout.

That Christ has power to calm the sea, gave me peace all throughout those days. That I’d still be standing on December 26 (and forever), because He promises to sustain, gave me hope.

He even gave me the idea and desire to offer you all a couple of gifts, and I’m super excited about sharing some of my favorite authors and trinkets with you. If you comment here on the blog or on Facebook or via private message with a verse that is sustaining you this advent season (or in the recent past), I’ll put your name in the hat for one of these bundles. There will be two winners – one for each bundle.

Here’s the first:

Bird’s Nest Necklace from JoyWares

And the second:

Bird’s Nest Necklace fro JoyWares

I have not read The Broken Way yet, but I asked for it for Christmas. If it appears under my tree, it will likely consume the remainder of my Christmas day. Ann Voskamp has an intriguing style, and I find it so full of truth and encouragement. Her son makes the necklaces and several other wonderful items for encouraging faith in families. Check out his site, JoyWares.

Ok – comment away!  I’ll pick a winner on the morning of Christmas Eve, so you’ve got until midnight Friday. I’ll let you know via message and will post it here as well.  You can expect your goodies by the middle of January.

In the mean time, may you find peace and hope in the One who presides over the seas and is the very reason for the advent season.

First We Drank The Coffee…

Then we did the things…the dreaming and the planning and the inviting and the shopping and the furniture rearranging. 
Which required drinking more of the coffee.
Why…thank you, Rory.
We found some cute party supplies on Etsy – coffee cups, team boyfriend stickers, and Gilmore Girls Bingo boards. Favor boxes, too.
And we recruited biggest brother to help tape together those favor boxes just an hour or so before he headed to Boston to catch an early morning flight. He’s a keeper for sure, and his Gilmore loving girlfriends (i.e. girls who are also friends) back at Baylor were impressed, I think.
Especially after we sent one of them this photo…

Kayla made the famous and always obeyed sign from Luke’s diner.

We decked the halls with Gilmore Garland…

…and quotes…

…and more garland.

It was a Favorite Junk Food Of Rory And Lorelai Potluck, and just take a look at the feast which our guests put together…

Not pictured is my freezer – full to the brim with Ben & Jerry’s pints – six or seven different flavors. There were two half gallons of Friendly’s Ice Cream, too, because this is Massachusetts after all.

We gathered at 5pm, loaded up our plates with a beautiful assortment of sugar and carbs and Chinese take-out…

…and got all snuggled in for the first of four 90 minute episodes – all 19 of us!
First: Winter
Then: Spring, Summer, and Fall.
And Fall just about Did. Us. In. (see our reaction below) And though it was 1:30am, and there was cleaning to do, and furniture to move, and air mattresses to inflate, I was able to do a little processing of What. Just. Happened. with Lois – my die hard, late night helper. (The younger girls were all processing upstairs in Kayla’s room.)
Yep…that is exactly what we all looked like when the screen went black.

(Well, all except for Mary, who was just plain angry, and then had to leave so that she could go to another Gilmore Girls Movie Marathon the next day with friends from church. She was not too happy about keeping that shocking ending to herself through All. Four. Seasons. with her unsuspecting viewing partners.)

But then I slept on it. I got up the next morning and went for a run before my Sleeping Gilmore Beauties woke up, and decided sometime between the black screen and the breakfast frittata that it made sense. I mean in an Amy Sherman-Palladino, literary, “full circle” kind of way, it made sense.
Funny how we all expected things to be “full circle” in a perfectly, romantic, fairy tale sense. Not one of us expected what happened, but if I could go back in time, I would have stopped the movie just before the Final. Four. Words. and engaged my living room viewers in a Socratic Circle discussion about what was probably going to happen. (They are each classically trained, after all, and I’m certain Gilmore Girls would have been a priority in ancient Greece.) Questions and answers until we came to a sensible conclusion. There were less than 2 minutes on the counter, for goodness’ sake!  What could possibly happen in those two minutes to wrap up a seven season era? I’m convinced that, had we given it enough time and thought, we could have come up with those Final. Four. Words.

There was foreshadowing. There were clues. There was a Rory who was not doing ANYTHING we wanted her to do and all the things we didn’t want her to do. It made sense. Maddening sense, but still.
I got a few text messages the next day about the ending, and so I just started copying and pasting my response:

So, here are a few things I hoped for and didn’t get:

  • More of my favorite characters. I wanted more scenes with Lane and her mom, (though her dad finally made an appearance – ha!), with Sookie and Jackson, with Miss Patty, and with each of the previous boyfriends.  Paris and Kirk were hilarious, though. I loved seeing their fixed, yet aged temperaments and tendencies. So funny. 
  • Flashbacks and more references to past episodes. I was hoping for more picking up where things left off and for more references to previous situations. I wish ten years hadn’t expired, even though in reality they had. In many ways not enough stayed the same, and not enough changed.  There needed to be more of both.

And here are a few things that were highly disappointing, or maybe just one thing. One person, really: 
  • Rory. Though I still love her (and yes, I know she’s not real), she was just plain disappointing. Depressing. Frustrating. Infuriating? Ten years gone by with nothing to show for it. Entitled. Immoral. Uncaring. Reckless. The list goes on.
She was not the Rory who drew us into the show in the first place. The sweet, moral, wise-beyond-her-years, and disciplined young school girl. The kind-hearted, yet determined book worm. The faithful daughter and granddaughter we grew to love in the first few seasons.

That’s me and my disheartened look regarding Rory’s character.
The language was disappointing as well. Maybe I’m not remembering correctly, but the revival seemed to have much more cursing than the originals. But Emily also wore jeans, so clearly everyone was spiraling down.
So, I was disheartened, and I had a living room full of teenaged girls and even some of their moms watching all of this play out. I was really hoping for more, and the risk I took in having a party around movies I had not seen proved to be just that: risky. I probably should have known better.

We did have fun, though, eating our junk food and laughing at Kirk’s new Uber Ooo-ber business and remembering the fun and silly aspects of the show we’ve all enjoyed over the last year or so.

Now that it’s over, it’s time for more coffee.

P.S. I still have the templates for the favor boxes and the Bingo boards.  If you are throwing your own party in the near future and want to use them, send me a message, and I’ll send you those supplies. I’ll happily throw in the “Gilmore Garland” as well.
But they are also really easy to purchase and download here and here.
But maybe you might want to stick with the Anne of Green Gables remake? 

A Week Of Thanksgiving

Last week went way too fast, and had to be highly scheduled as you can see.  Our boys arrived home for the Thanksgiving break Monday night after Robert, Kayla, and I had gone to bed. Cooper picked Kory up in Boston on his way home from Gordon College which was so perfect. Since Kayla and I would be gone early the next morning, I had to leave them a schedule for Tuesday.

The schedule included a list of mealtimes and appointments.  One kid to the spine & sport clinic for a scoliosis check up (all is well!), one kid to the dentist for a cleaning and wisdom tooth evaluation (which led to a wisdom tooth extraction appointment for the Christmas break), and one to the eye doctor, because a much needed prescription for new contacts was being held ransom there until an updated exam was in the books.

When you add in the cooking meals, monitoring of everyone’s checking account, school schedules, social engagements, and summer plans, it really becomes a full time job. The calendar is always up on my phone, and I don’t know what I would do without my iPhone “alerts.”

I decided to include cookies to soften the rude awakening: Welcome Home! Now…get up, get dressed, get in the car, and hurry! Time’s a wastin’!

There was, however, still time for reunions with old friends.  My boys got time with several of their “back home” friends – both at our place and at their friends’ new places. And Kayla got time with her friends at a Gilmore Girls party the day after Thanksgiving.  (More on that soon!) Thanksgiving Day was also a fun reunion of old friends.  That and enjoying lots of new friends, too.

My family still likes to eat breakfast on Thanksgiving Day while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, so I made two paleo dishes: Sausage-Rosemary-Sweet Potato Frittata (from Danielle Walker’s Meals Made Simple) and Almond Butter Blondies. (I double that recipe.) Lots of protein to keep everyone satisfied until our 1pm meal.

I had to make these in our toaster oven, since the big oven had a 20lb turkey in it.
It worked surprisingly well!

Pies and sweet potatoes were all made the day before, but not until the late afternoon, since our backsplash was getting its grout on Wednesday morning. Not having access to the kitchen for most of the day was a bit of a Thanksgiving challenge, but I’m so happy about these much needed upgrades.

This pic is actually from Tuesday when the backsplash was installed.
Our across-the-street-neighbor put it in and gave us a tutorial and a few tedious jobs
along the way. We were so thankful for his willingness to teach us.

Our first guests arrived fully awake at around 10am – can’t you tell? Actually, their mom forced them out of bed, so she could come early and help with the meal prep. Can’t believe these guys are all in COLLEGE now. Just yesterday they were all 7 years old.

From left to right: Baylor, Boston University, Gordon College, UMass)
All gluten free except for the flaky crusted fruit pies which Izckra brought.

 Here they are a little more wide-eyed, because…food.

This year we tried moving our dining room table into the living room and using smaller long tables from church in the dining room.  It seemed to work pretty well.

Our guests were a true blessing. Our worship leader, Cindy, and her family, since she had not yet given birth to baby #2 (4 days overdue at that point!) was here, and local students, too – one from New York, one from Kansas, one from Vietnam, one from China, and one from Kenya. Three from Amherst College, one from UMass, and one from Smith. Each one with a story and each one with a competitive spirit in the after-dinner game of Taboo. My friend, Izckra, and her family as well as our beloved Lois were also able to join us.

This guest book was a wedding gift 24 years ago, and we are only a couple of pages away from it being totally filled up. If I remember correctly, it was given to us by one of my grandmother’s friends, and it seemed like an odd gift at the time. Turns out it was somewhat prophetic, and having a steady stream of guests in our home throughout the years has been one of our greatest blessings. Truly. A blessing to us, and to our kids, too.  In fact, it would not really be a holiday or a Sunday lunch if we weren’t “having people over” to put it in their words. The community the Lord has provided for us over the years is something I am so very thankful for. Each person has left their mark, and we are forever changed.

I splurged on a couple of tablespoons of white potatoes and even had a piece of pecan pie for dessert, but am
still trying to stay on the GAPS/Candida diet for the most part. Feeling lots better, too!
Forgot to get a before pic!
Here’s a pic of the new counter (with appetizers!) and backsplash – though we hadn’t wiped off the haze of grout yet.
Even though it was cold and drizzly on Friday, we managed to pick out and chop down a Christmas tree at our favorite local tree farm. We even ran into friends from church there. (Hi Brett, Jenna, Edison, and Graham!) Wish we had thought to take a picture with them.
It was so nice to be able to chop down the tree all together this year, but I couldn’t help wondering if it might be the last time, and so I was determined to get a photo. They’re growing up and outgrowing home in some ways – ways that are probably good and healthy, but it’s all bittersweet to me.

There was the annual post-Christmas-tree-chopping trip to Starbucks, and then we said goodbye to Kory on Friday afternoon, but not before we put him to work on our Gilmore Girl party preparations (!). Cooper took off Sunday afternoon after having his old friend Cameron over on Saturday evening. Lots of basketball playing, zombie killing, and junk food eating.

All of it making me thankful. A full schedule. A full house. A full heart.

(And a full report on our Gilmore Girls Party and movie marathon is coming up next!)

Thankful: Plants, Pillars, And No Outcries

Last Thursday I drove halfway across the state (which only takes an hour here in Massachusetts) to meet my friend Betsy for coffee at Panera. Betsy moved to the Boston area this past summer and left me without one of my dearest friends in town and my every-Thursday-morning-running-partner. After coffee with Betsy, my friend Christina showed up for lunch. We talked Betsy into joining us for soup and salad, and it ended up being a wonderful morning of catching up and me getting to introduce two of my good friends to each other.

Christina and I had about an hour together after Betsy left, and she asked me how I’d been doing lately. It was a knowing and intentional question, since it had been just over a year that Robert and I reached out to Christina and her husband for some counsel, friendship, and support.  As a fellow pastor’s family, they were so encouraging to us during what had become a really confusing and challenging time. As we drove away from their house last October, I don’t think we realized just how challenging the coming year would become – probably one of the most difficult and emotional years of our marriage, ministry, and parenting. And not because a lot of terrible things were happening at the time, but rather a lot of things had happened in the previous 3-4 (or maybe 7) years that had taken their toll without us realizing it.

As I thought about how to respond to Christina’s question, Psalm 144 immediately came to my mind. I had just read it a couple of days prior, and used it both as a prayer for the future as well as a way to give thanks for all that the Lord has accomplished in the past year.

Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; my lovingkindness and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and He in whom I take refuge… v. 1-2

The Lord had truly been our rock, fortress, stronghold, deliverer, and shield. He used the difficulties to remind us that we are indeed in a war here on earth,
here in Amherst, MA,
here in a church,
here in a family.
here in our own hearts.

He sharpened our battle skills and our weapons. And He gave refuge in the form of Christina and her husband as well as another pastor-turned-friend with whom we met regularly. It was hard, but as usual with a God who is redemptive in all His ways, it was good.

I was telling Christina about how the Psalm paints such a vibrant picture of a flourishing home and family life through what the Psalmist, David, requests…

Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants, and our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace. 
v. 12

…and how my sons and daughter are becoming these things – mature and wise young men who are making good and godly choices and a young woman strong, beautiful, bearing up under trial, and full of integrity.

Grown up plants.

A corner pillar as for a palace.

Our kids have been such a joy to us in recent months. We marvel at their hard work in school and in their part-time jobs. We miss them when are scattered across the country and state. We laugh at their stories. We pray for their mid terms and oral presentations, for their dating adventures and their break ups. We text and SnapChat and Face Time. We share secrets and inside jokes. The kids themselves keep in regular contact and truly enjoy one another as siblings and friends. They are growing up, blossoming, and bearing fruit. They are standing firm and adorning the palace, the household of God. They are a blessing, and I thank the Lord for the privilege of raising them, of knowing them.

Oh, I know it could change in the blink of an eye. Tragedy, sickness, conflict, rebellion, sin. No one is immune to these things, and even I was in a much different place this time last year. It did not feel like a time of peace and abundance last October. I talk with other moms regularly whose kids are either suffering personally, or rebelling against them and God, or both. It is truly heartbreaking, and so I give thanks to God for this season of flourishing in my own home.

Last home football game of his senior year.  So bittersweet.
Freshman Orientation at Gordon College.
Sweet Sixteen and a budding artist in many areas.

I’m also grateful for a husband who prioritized me, my concerns, complaints, critiques, and consternation. He truly made them his own. More than that, he pointed us to Christ.  He prayed when I couldn’t. He pressed in when he didn’t want to. He sought to understand what was really going on and what God was teaching both of us.

Lots of mountain climbing this year… 😉

We just came in from our morning run, and I was able to tell him these things, to tell him how thankful for him I am. It was a hard year, but he was patient and proactive.  And all the while, faithfully (and bravely!) teaching truth to our millennial congregation and training leaders to do the same. I am so thankful for his unwavering faith in God and his faithfulness to me.

He had no choice but to dance with me…as it was John and Olivia’s Grease hit – “You’re the one that I want”

The verses that follow continue to illustrate a desired a time of abundance and blessing…

Let our garners be full, furnishing every kind of produce, and our flocks bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; let our cattle bear without mishap and without loss, 
let there be no outcry in the streets!

How blessed are the people who are so situated; 
how blessed are the people whose God is the Lord! v. 13-15

Though David is asking to be rescued in this Psalm, his prayer is one of hope and vision. Though he’s asking that God scatter his enemies and protect him from their weapons and deceptions, he trusts in God’s ability to bring about justice and blessing. Though things look very grim for David, his trust is not in his current circumstances, it is in his covenantal God. He knows a time of abundance is coming both in this life and even more so in the life to come.

There has been a a lot of outcry in our nation’s streets lately. I read Psalm 144 just after the election, and could not help thinking of the many protests, the school walkouts, the picketing, the boycotting, and all of the Facebook/Twitter outrage. Just across the street from us, Amherst College canceled classes and had counselors on hand. A block in the other direction, UMass sent campus wide emails about “safe spaces” and opting out of mid-terms due to distress. In next door Northampton, MA, Smith College placed “tissue stations” all over campus for women grieving and depressed and fearful.

I had a lot of snarky thoughts on all of these things, but then I remembered Psalm 144. The request/vision of David that there “be no outcry in the streets” was directly related to “how blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.” The people whose God is also the Savior don’t need to be outraged. They don’t need to rant on Facebook and thereby reveal themselves as bigoted as they accuse the other side of being. They don’t need to fear or accuse or blame. (Many of my female, black, latino, immigrant, homosexual friends feel the same, in case you may be inclined to attribute my peace to privilege rather than to Christ.)

They are not without concern, of course. There is work to do especially for those of us whose God is the Lord, for those of us who are the body of Christ. But there is no need for outcry except to God Himself on behalf of a nation who does not know Him, and has no hope except in laws, and courts, and policies. May they come to know real hope. May they come to know the One who loves them and longs to be their fortress, deliverer, shield, and refuge, the One who can and will subdue their enemies and grant peace and hope in the midst of the war.

How blessed are the people who are so situated… v. 15

So, I’m thankful today.  Thankful to be “so situated.” Thankful to have been through a year of challenge and brought into a time of blessing and abundance.

Grown up plants.

Corner pillars.

No outcries in the streets.

My situation may change. In fact, it’s a given. So when that time comes, will you remind me of Psalm 144 and of David’s hope in spite of fear and war?

Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I Love Sundays II

I’m a bad pastor’s wife/church member and always neglect to make myself a name tag, but if I had made a name tag and written something I was thankful for on it, “Sundays” would have been high on my list of choices. Right now I am thankful for so many things, so maybe I’ll write again on Wednesday and tell you more about that.
These cheerful faces often greet me and everyone else who arrives.
UMass and Amherst College each have the entire week off, so the student crowd was a bit smaller than usual this Sunday.  Lots of former members were there, though, because of a wedding the night before.  It was a fun reunion weekend.

Cindy (our worship leader) was at church, but it was also her due date with baby #2, so she recruited others to lead…

 …including a beautiful young lady who helped her mom lead the worship band. Gwyneth was born with spina bifida, but she’s beating all the odds for her condition. Her parents regularly testify to God’s healing and provision in her life. She did a GREAT job on vocals and violin.

 Robert’s sermon was on…the rod. (Yikes!) But it’s difficult to preach a sermon series on Proverbs and not mention it. It was the grand finale of weeks of potentially controversial sermons. The sex sermon was a month ago. Then it was the godly manhood sermon from Proverbs 31:1-9, and last week it was a godly womanhood sermon from Proverbs 31:10-31.

I stayed home for that one.

It’s not that I don’t love Proverbs 31. I do. It’s just that so many don’t, and the possible reactions have come to make me nervous over the years.  Plus, somehow I always wind up being mentioned by my hubby in those sermons, which makes me even more uncomfortable.

 So yesterday’s sermon was on God’s discipline in general and parent’s discipline of children specifically, including spanking. Faith is not my top spiritual gift, and so I’m pretty sure I said something to Robert as he was walking out the door for church like this: “Babe, I’m pretty sure spanking is illegal in Massachusetts.”

“And?” was his response.

As usual, he did a GREAT job with a very uncomfortable topic. The kids sitting in front of me kept looking over at their mom and dad and giving them big smiles and knowing looks. Later their mom and dad let Robert know how encouraging the sermon was.  The kids then brought Robert all of these drawings after the service.
(Pretty sure that’s a cow jumping over the moon in the Nativity scene.)
Want the links to those crazy controversial sermons?  Here ya go:
(This one was preached by Chris Gow, a 2016 Amherst College graduate/football player, who decided to return to Amherst with his new wife, Katie – a UT grad, and serve on staff with Intervarsity there. Really incredibly delivered sermon by such a young man!  We are so thankful to have them in as ministry partners in this town!) 

 Amanda and Kevin got married on Saturday afternoon, and it was such a fun celebration and reunion of lots of old friends and church members who now live in Boston. People regularly leave this area, which is one thing we grieve in this church.  Everyone eventually graduates and moves to Boston, or New York, or Philadelphia, or D.C.  So sad, but to be a “sending church” of sorts is good, I suppose.

Gigantic Jenga and regular table-sized Jenga were the activities while we waited for the bride and groom to take their pictures.
Robert and Gabe set the wedding record at 23 blocks high. It was a nail biter!
Last Sunday’s lunch and small group was a bit challenging without countertops. We are slowly renovating the kitchen, and the granite installers cut this piece wrong, so we had to wait over a week for them to come back with the proper piece. Cookie sheets across the future granite backsplashes were the makeshift serving space for corn chowder and sausage-kale soup two Sundays ago.

This Sunday’s lunch had a brand new and even larger space from which to serve – black “leather” granite.  Not shiny and slick like typical granite.  I love it.

The tile backsplash went in this morning and things are beginning to come together!

Here’s a peek:

A Mexican-themed lunch yesterday…

 And we finished up John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life over the last two Sundays…

 …with drawings portraying the integration of faith and work…

 …and discussions regarding the call upon everyone believers life to be a missionary in one capacity or another.

There’s always one last stack of dishes…
After everyone left, these two stopped by. Brian washed every dish left over from small group that wouldn’t fit in the dishwasher (there were a lot!) while Molly and I caught up over warm drinks at the dining room table. These two, who became dear friends while they were students, moved to Philadelphia after they got married in April.  See what I mean?  Everyone leaves us. Sigh…
It’s always such a joy to be with them. Lots of laughter. Lots of love. They brought Robert coffee and me tea – tea that’s good and soothing to the tummy.
(And speaking of tummies, I am feeling SO much better!  So many of you reached out to me over the candida issue, and I was so encouraged. It was a relief to know you have been through this exact issue or similar ones, or just to hear that you cared and were praying.  Thank you!)

After they left, I put on my pjs and drank some of that delicious tummy tea – ginger, licorice, and turmeric – and dreamed about my new tile backsplash while watching an episode of Blue Bloods with Kayla and Robert – our favorite these days.

I’m thankful for Sundays – overflowing with worship, the Word, friends, and fellow believers – even pjs, hot tea, kitchen upgrades, and Tom Selleck. 😉

P.S. MY boys are BOTH coming home from college tonight to spend the week, and I can hardly wait!

I’ll see you Wednesday, so I can tell you what I’m thankful for and how it all relates to them and to Psalm 144.

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

I Love Sundays

A half hour to read and review after Robert and Kayla leave…
The cutest, smartest Sunday morning co-pilots you’ve ever seen…
 View to my right…
…and to my left. Proverbs 31:1-9 today…on what makes a man.
Self Control. Sober Judgment. Sacrifice.
 Back home and a helper…
 …coffee brewing…three pots.
Real dishes and silverware…I love real dishes and silverware…
 …and fresh, homemade food. (With help from two talented co-hostesses…Laura…and Laura)
Baked Ziti, Butternut Squash, Tossed Salad, Garlic Bread this week.
Pot Roast, Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Veggies, Pumpkin Souffle last week.
 Half of the smiling faces fit around the table…
 A vegan dessert for one of our favorite “Smithies”
Real conversations about spending both life and death for Christ…
 Inspirational viewing…Williams College…Haystack Prayer Meeting…Student Volunteer Movement
“If we are exiles and refugees on earth (I Peter), and if our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3), and if nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8), and if His steadfast love is better than life (Psalm 63), and if all hardship is working for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians)…
…then we will give to the winds our fears and ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness’ (Matthew 6). We will count everything as rubbish in comparison with Christ (Philippians 3). We will ‘joyfully accept the plundering of our property’ for the sake of unpopular acts of mercy (Hebrews 10)…
…We will choose ‘rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin,’ and we will count ‘the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt. (Hebrews 11)”
~ John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life
I even enjoy washing the Sunday dishes, but I usually have some help…
…even from the pastor at the end of a long day.
Catching up with the college kiddos…tests…friends…football…sermon discussions…
…and then he’s off again…an evening appointment with a non-church couple seeking marriage… but learning Christ for the first time…and how can he refuse that?
Self Control. Sound Judgment. Sacrifice.

My helper is off being a helper to another evening Bible study.  She’s watching the little ones so the bigs ones can freely discuss and share and pray.

So…tea that’s good for the tummy and an epsom salt bath for me, and this, that my dad sent and has taken me weeks to finish…

Texas Monthly articles are LONG, and so are Sundays, but I love them!

I Hate My Guts

I really do.

I’m infuriated with my intestines.

I despise my digestion.

My stomach makes me sad.

A page out of Bagels, Buddy, and Me. Sick villi lie flat and can’t digest food properly.

When I started blogging almost ten years ago, I did it because Robert said “All authors have blogs.  You should start a blog about your book.” I wasn’t really considering myself an author, but blogging seemed like a fun idea. Bagels, Buddy, and Me is all about Cooper’s (and Kayla’s and my) Celiac Disease diagnosis. It was all about what happens in your body and to your intestines when you eat gluten. There weren’t really resources for kids at the time. Since then I’ve added lots of recipes here that are gluten free, but more than that I’ve enjoyed documenting our life and sharing it with those of you who read.

This scene has been on repeat at my house lately.

I don’t really like writing about health and nutrition and my own intestinal issues, but it’s something that consumes a lot of my thinking and daily efforts in shopping, meal planning, and cooking. My stomach and digestive tract have been a glaring issuse in my life for almost as long as I can remember, and recently I discovered something that I’m hoping will be the final piece in my healing process. I learned (through stool testing) that I have a Candida yeast overgrowth in my intestines.

See? This is why I don’t like writing about this. “Stool” and “Candida” are such yucky words, let alone substances. The reality is, though, that lots of people – male and female – develop this issue, and I’m thankful or those who have written about it.  (Though I have almost NONE of the typical symptoms.) So, what follows is a bit of my history and current battle.

When I was 8 years old I was hospitalized for stomach ulcers. Evidently, they were sprinkled all over my stomach. I’ve had several “upper GI” x-rays that included delicious barium drinks since that time. (Thankfully no “lower GI” x-rays and barium “drinks” for that – yet.) My mom’s answer to me having chronic stomach pain was to make me drink lots of milk.  “It coats your stomach lining,” was the medical wisdom of the day. She even required the nurse at my small town elementary school to come and pull me out of class mid-morning EVERY DAY of first and second grade and sit in her office and drink a small carton of milk. I was also put on the “Ulcer Diet.” One thing I remember from that list was “grapes, but not the skins.” As if eating grapes was worth the trouble of peeling them. Spicy food was also off limits, and when you grow up in Texas, that’s kind of a big deal.

(My parents also divorced when I was 8, but I wasn’t able to make the probable connections that had to my stomach issues until much later in life.)

Later, dinners out with friends often ended with me lying down in a car somewhere. Regular birthday celebrations and meals at “Miss Riggs'” apartment (our favorite teacher!) all throughout high school often sent me to the couch for a while afterward. Once, on a journalism trip to the University of Texas with my yearbook and newspaper crew I asked my journalism teacher to drive me through the Wendy’s drive through for a baked potato, not being able to eat what everyone else was eating due to having a terrible stomach ache.

In high school I also began taking antibiotics every day for acne. I continued this routine throughout college and only stopped taking them in order to start taking the birth control pill a couple of months before getting married. (And feared I would have acne in all my wedding photos!) For those of you who know anything about Candida, you know this combo of antibiotics and oral contraceptives is pretty much the kiss of death. Oh, if I had known then…

I got off the pill two years later in order to get pregnant with Kory, and never took it again. I hated taking it, and dislike taking pretty much any prescription meds at all, but at times it seemed like the only option. And this was long before the internet and abundance of information on natural health and natural family planning.

My stomach and intestinal issues (pain after meals, bloating, diarrhea) worsened with each pregnancy. By the time I was pregnant with Kayla we did have internet, and the very first things I searched were “irritable bowel syndrome”, “pain after eating”, etc. Part of me thought these things were just a normal part of life and eating, that everyone’s stomach hurts and blows up like a balloon after meals, but Robert would assure me that this was not the case. I can still cause him alarm by protruding my “9 months pregnant belly” after a meal. And just when he thought we were about to be empty nesters…

Turmeric: a natural anti-fungal

The Celiac diagnosis came in 2003, and I have never knowingly eaten gluten since then – except for a very occasional communion cracker. (Strong willed, rule follower here.) Eliminating gluten helped quite a bit, but there were still lingering issues especially after eating starchy things like gluten free breads, pastas, and rice dishes. Fast forward to 2014 when I picked up a Paleo magazine before a trip because it had an article entitle “When Eating Gluten Free In Not Enough” or something like that. It described my symptoms as being associated with eating lots of grains and carbs and advocated the Paleo diet which is mostly proteins, vegetables, and low sugar fruits. To my surprise, Robert decided to join me in this new diet, and it has also helped quite a bit with alleviating previous digestion distress. As for Robert, who did not have any digestive issues, there doesn’t seem to be any going back.  He feels better, has more energy, and won’t go near gluten containing foods anymore.

Last winter/spring though, I had an episode that sent me back to the doctor searching for other potential issues. I ate a gluten free, all-tapioca flour roll (I do cheat on the Paleo diet occasionally!) from Whole Foods with some soup. Cue severe intestinal distress for two days. (The Candida monster loves to be fed high carb, high sugar, so I think the tapioca starch made him really happy!) I ended up doubled over after a women’s retreat planning meeting at my friend Ashleigh’s house. She was sweet enough to bring me some essential oil in water to settle the pain and let me snuggle on her amazing, oversized bean bag until I could get in my car to go home. There was also the tiniest amount of blood in my stool, and that’s always a sign to see the doctor.

Goat milk kefir, store bought bone broth just in case, probiotics, ginger, good pastured butter, ginger root
and cider doughnuts…sadly, for the family we were delivering a meal to that night, and not for us!

The GI doctor ordered a colonoscopy and the FODMAP diet. The FODMAP diet helped (Avoiding short-chained sugars), but colonoscopies have always seemed to carry as much risk as benefit to me with their highly invasive nature, so I canceled it.  Instead, I made an appointment at the Northampton Wellness Center with a more holistic MD. Nine vials of blood and three days of stool collection later, I began waiting on my results. His prediction, though, was dysbiosis which translates into a very unbalanced gut flora, which boils down to way more bad bacteria and yeast than good. And he was correct.  My results came in about a month ago – “marked dysbiosis” and overgrowth of two bad yeasts, Candida Albicans and Rhodotorula. The prescription was to kill off much of the yeasts with antifungals – both over-the-counter supplements and prescription Nystatin, and then repopulate the intestines with a HIGH dose of probiotics. 225 billion units a day to be specific. The anti-candida diet was also prescribed.

As I read about the Candida diet (no sugar/very low carb, which is pretty much how I was already eating) and thought about my history, I realized that deeper healing was probably required, and so decided to put myself on the GAPS diet. I’ve known about this diet for years, heard tons of success stories, and even sent the book to folks I knew would benefit from it. I never really considered needing it myself, but it was becoming clear that my villi and enterocytes still needed the restoration that the GAPS diet promises.

The diet begins with a lot of bone broth. Then it progresses to bone broth with cooked veggies and then added meat. I’ve been drinking lots of it or eating it like a soup or blending it with veggies to change it’s presentation.  Sometimes I add a little coconut milk for excitement. The only other thing really allowed is no-sugar yogurt (or kefir) and lemon-ginger “tea.” I wasn’t supposed to drink any black tea or coffee because of a mold sensitivity and also because caffeine suppresses the immune system and wears on the adrenals. Broth, goat milk kefir, and lemon-ginger water. That’s what my diet consisted of last week – and for most of the two weeks prior with some additions because of travel and other responsibilities.

The makings of GAPS “tea.”

My digestion definitely improved, but mostly because there wasn’t much to digest!  My pictures are black and white, because “gray” is sort of how I was feeling health-wise and attitude-wise. When the antifungals kill the excess yeast, the Herxheimer Reaction begins, and it makes you feel pretty terrible. Then, when all you have to look forward to “eating” is broth and veggies, life becomes a little bleak. And the anti-fungals are supposed to be taken in increasing amounts every three days.  The goal was 6 per day.  I worked my way up to 5, but had to call the nurse yesterday due to extreme intestinal distress (the “D” word), and because I had been feeling awful for days. When I told her about doing GAPS rather than the more lenient Anti-Candida diet, she was okay with it, but said “You can’t starve Candida without starving yourself!  You have to add in some carbs and sugar.”

Those were helpful words.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, quinoa, winter squash, and steel cut oats are the carbs she helped me settle on. Fearing I wouldn’t make it through my appointments yesterday – PSAT and babysitting jobs for Kayla, appointments with two young women from church, seminary assignments, errands etc., I began eating my way through the day. Fried eggs and hash browns for breakfast, an almond milk latte at the UMASS campus center, a smoothie from The Works where I had picked up Kayla’s post-PSAT lunch, some chili from my favorite South Hadley restaurant, and a grain-free peanut butter cookie from The Woodstar Cafe as well as some (real, black) hot tea with honey. I could literally feel the infusion of energy making its way through my body.  Yes, I (and all of us) need SOME carbs and sugar. Anti-fungals + super powered probiotics + a strict GAPS diet was taking a toll on me.
Here’s a few pics from this past weekend.  Robert and I did a little breakout session on dating and marriage at a collegiate conference where I could not eat anything at all in the boxed lunch that was provided.  I made a fast dash to Whole Foods between sessions for chicken soup and then grabbed this appetizing meal for later when we stopped at Five Guys for Robert to get some nourishment before making the trek back home from Cape Cod.

Actually, the color photo is even more depressing in this case.

See? He won’t do the bun anymore – unless they have a gluten free version.

Fish, cauliflower, and green beans. Yum.

Have I mentioned my love for cheeseburgers and fries? (Insert sad, crying emoji here.)

In hindsight, I probably should have thrown the fish out and gone for a Five Guys meat patty and veggies (and stolen a couple of Robert’s fries), but I felt bad about throwing away food I had paid for. At least it would have been warm. My fish dish was about 2 hours cold.  Double yum.

I was feeling pretty desperate on Tuesday before my Western Mass eating spree on Wednesday, so I scoured the internet for a GAPS-Candida-Legal muffin. I just really needed something that was not broth.

These probably don’t look very appetizing to the untrained eye (or stomach), but to bone-broth-veggie-kefir-girl they were a glorious sight. Pumpkin, coconut flour, flax meal, coconut milk, and a bit of honey. I could barely wait for them to come out of the oven. When Robert stopped by for lunch that day he asked if he could have one, and I have to admit not wanting to share this warm and newly created treat. I warned him that he would not like them, but he was undeterred.

I wish I could say that I am better today. The symptoms I called the nurse about yesterday are worse, and so I’ve really cut back on the antifungals and probiotics for the time being.  I’ve incorporated some carbs and healthy sugars, but am still waiting on the turn around. It’s discouraging, because I actually felt much better when I was living with the symptoms that led me to this current journey. So while I do believe things had to get a bit worse before getting better, I’m really anxious for moving past the “getting worse” part.

Oh, and running!  Two weeks ago I was able to run my usual 20 miles per week – or a little over 6 miles three mornings a week. It’s a Monday-Wednesday-Friday morning routine that Robert and I hardly ever break. Last week I was down to a very slow 5 miles on those days, and yesterday I only made it two miles and had to turn around and walk home. I was too weak and depleted, which is also a sign that things aren’t quite right, but movement is always beneficial in the healing process, so I wanted to keep getting out there.

Some morals to this story:

  • Don’t take antibiotics unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Or oral contraceptives. (But really all contraceptives mess with hormones and gut health.)
  • If you do have to take these things, be sure and take a probiotic to replenish good bacteria.
  • Really, you should just go ahead and take a probiotic anyway, or make sure you eat a lot of local, grass fed yogurt and fermented veggies. (Or make your own, which I’m about to embark upon. Yogurt, that is.)
  • We definitely eat too many processed carbs and sugars in this country, but eliminating all carbs and natural sugar is not the way to go.

So, I truly hate my guts, but I hope it’s not for much longer.

(Sadly, I have also come to hate preparing and drinking all types of bone broth at this point. Oh, I’ll probably choke some down in the next few weeks, because it is so good for you, but still.)

A stomach of strength and stamina.

Invincible intestines.

And dreamlike digestion.

The final puzzle piece in my gastrointestinal saga?

This is my hope and prayer.

(Did you read to the end? Thank you so much for your interest and kindness. I would really LOVE to hear from you, but could possibly get embarrassed by public Facebook comments. So, if we could keep the sympathy and bodily function mentions to a minimum? Private messages? That would be so nice. Thanks, friends.)

(Oh, and I know so many of you Plexus reps and about how wonderful the product is. I’ll most likely move to that regimen when this course is finished.  For now though, I think it’s best if I stick to doctor’s orders and tweak his suggested routine as needed. Don’t worry, Plexus peeps, I’ll be calling you!)

My Sad & Lonely Life (a.k.a Holy Ground)

 I have lost count of the number of times I was on an airplane this summer.  It was a lot, but I didn’t really mind. A change of scenery is always refreshing. New places, new faces – I love it. The airport is one of the best places for people watching, too, and I even kind of enjoy/dread seeing who will be seated next to me on the flight. I’ve had some memorable seat-mates to be sure, the most recent of which was the older lady in the aisle seat on a flight from Dallas to Austin.

I considered stealing those eyelashes for the upcoming wedding.

“Are you from Austin? I’m a pet sitter there.” she asked/told me immediately upon buckling in. No “Hello,” just a firm question and statement.

(I never know quite how to answer this question.  Where exactly am I from? The window seat girl was off the hook by saying she lived in Marble Falls and quickly putting in her ear buds.)

“No ma’am, I don’t live in Austin.”

“Well, do you have pets?” she asked. Again, focused and firm. No niceties.

Hanging out in the waiting room while Daddy gets his staples out.

 “No, I don’t have any pets.” I said, feeling bad for not mentioning Kayla’s Betta fish, Buckaroo.

“Oh! What a sad and lonely life you must be living!” she exclaimed in all earnestness.

A bit shocked by her sweeping conclusion regarding my life, I couldn’t speak for a moment, but then my summer flashed before my eyes. Things just passed, and things still to come whirled through my mind, and all I could say was…

“Definitely not lonely.”

“Well, you just don’t know what you’re missing,” was her sharp reply before promptly securing her eye mask and falling asleep before we were even in the air. And though it is a very short flight from Dallas to Austin, she never said another word to me.

It rattled me a bit. 
I noticed that she had been reading some sort of a Christian novel, and even had a bookmark with “Jesus” written on it. A Christian? No wonder we often get a bad rap. She cares more about her business and a pet-less life than the living, breathing soul sitting next to her? Why not ask the occasion for visiting Austin? Or if I had any human family? Or why I had found myself in Dallas? Her eye mask sent the message that she wasn’t interested in further conversation, or I may have gotten past my shock and frustration to inquire about her pet-sitting career.
But any anger or frustration quickly turned to pity.
My sister and niece preparing to host a bridal brunch and tea party.

And the phrase that had been on repeat in my brain for the last couple of weeks started again: Holy Ground. 

No, I don’t have any pets, but I have a lot of humans. Like, A LOT. And no, they are not really mine, but we belong to each other in community in a way. Many of those humans had recently allowed me to be an intimate part of their lives, and to me it felt not sad and lonely, but like I was on holy ground.

Not the literal burning bush, take off your shoes, God is speaking audibly kind of holy ground, but a privileged position from which He allowed me to participate in some of the things He is up to in the lives of human beings. Things involving great fear, deep pain, and long term suffering, and also times of gladness and celebration.  Places of strife, raw emotions, of surrender and weariness, and also places of great faith and much joy.

Holy, sacred ground. That’s the way I was seeing it.

The bride gave us all Kendra Scott necklaces ~ floral robes, too!

A last-minute, nine-day trip to Tulsa allowed me to care for two little boys (one adopted and one about to be), their dad who had recently spent about 35 days in the hospital due to complications from Crohn’s Disease sporting a scar down the middle of his belly, which has now been opened up about seven times, and their mom who is working full time and trying to maintain hope and strength in the midst of it all.

I got to change diapers, read books, play outside, buckle carseat straps, do the naptime routine, drive to doctor visits, and cook a couple of things. I got to see and feel the tensions of marriage and parenting in the midst of great trial. I got to have fun conversations and hard ones. I had to be bold and walk on egg shells. I got to have deep fellowship with two friends who are steadfast believers and watch them walk a path of long term stress and suffering with great faith.

It was holy ground.

Mr. and Mrs.!
Being in Tulsa also allowed for a girls’ night out with a couple of other dear friends and a stop-by-the-house visit from another. These nights were not filled with laughing and chick flicks and junk food, but were laden with each woman’s battle scars and filled with stories of fear and grief. One whose own parents are already (and too early) gone, now facing the brain tumor of her father-in-law. One working, homeschooling, and raising 3 biological children and one adopted – all of whom require unique care in a family who advocates daily for the orphan and widow. And another who lost her dad suddenly and unexpectedly in January, who now has to care for her mother in many ways, who works full time, raises two boys and now faces the recurring stage three melanoma of her own husband who is not even 40 years old. (Major surgery this week. Please pray.)
There were updates, and tears, and shared pain, but even still, hearts full of faith.
My own faith grew from their example. Our 4 hour dinner at IHOP was holy ground for me.
My siblings minus the bride.
(I’m not even telling you about my day trip to Stillwater where I saw two other dear friends and spent the day laughing and crying and catching up. Mexico Joe’s and a back porch with an iced tea and a warm fall breeze. Holy ground, both.)
The California brother and family! (Coop’s surrogate parents from last year!)
 Got to hang with the little guys at the pool and give Mom, Dad
and soon to be little sister a break!

The reason I was flying from Dallas to Austin (really Tulsa to Dallas to Austin) was because I needed to meet up with the rest of my family for my littlest sister’s wedding. Robert performed the ceremony, my other sister and I were bridesmaids, my brother was a groomsman, and my boys were ushers. There were rehearsals, and bridal brunches. There was immediate and extended family. There was drama. There were prayers and fights and teary poolside conversations. There was laughter and reminiscing. There was a beautiful bride starting a brand new life.

It was privileged and holy ground.
After party – Comfy clothes and french fries!
We returned to a church overflowing with students back in town for a new semester.  This is always holy ground. People seeking, people growing, people hurting, people worshipping. I’ve met with at least six different women since being home. They’ve entrusted me with their passion for Christ and desire to serve Him on their campuses. They’ve shared their darkest, most sinful and rebellious moments. They’ve cried tears of deep shame and regret. They’ve reached out for help and hope. They’ve told me their life stories, their salvation stories. I feel privileged each time.
Second Service the Sunday we returned.
If I ever write a book on life as a pastor’s wife, a friend, a mom, it might be called Front Row Seat: The View From Up Close or something like that. A long time ago I took my kids to see the theater production of The Music Man at UMass. We were only three rows back from the stage. We could see the tiny microphones and the sweat running down the actors’ faces as they sang and danced. My kids were mesmerized.
That’s kind of how I feel. I’m mesmerized by the people in my life who take up their crosses and follow Him moment by moment. I’m in awe of the ones who continually deny themselves the option of anger and bitterness and selfishness and embrace His call, no matter how painful it is. I’m struck by the sweat of their service.
First we did brunch after the first service, and then we did a taco bar for lunch after the second.
Long shopping list and a half day trip to Costco. Also, cracking about 200 eggs!

It’s like the Lord always buys me the best tickets to the show. The ones where you can see for sure that those folks are really human. The ones where you see all the tiny flaws and tools for presentation and have your own heart strengthened by their performance.

So, I guess my life is sometimes sad as I watch loved ones walk through trial and loss. But it’s definitely not lonely. It’s filled with privilege and perspective and people truly in Christ.

Maybe my pet-sitting seat-mate doesn’t realize what she’s missing.

I, for one, am thankful for a summer of walking on holy (and human) ground.

Big Kids Back To School

It’s been so fun seeing all of the back to school photos on Facebook lately.  We used to be able to take back-to-school photos, too. Here’s one from about 5 years ago. Chocolate waffles, bacon, and new school supplies greeted my homeschoolers that day. Always a fun morning and a fresh start.
I’ve only got one left at home to take photos of, and here she is the morning before her first day back to Classical Conversations. Kayla’s a Junior this year…
…but it seems like yesterday that she read her first chapter book all on her own. Ten years.  It’s been ten years since she read Dingoes at Dinnertime all by herself.  Today she’s preparing to lead tomorrow’s Challenge III class in a 45 minute discussion on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. A lot happens in ten years, and I’m impressed with this young lady’s discipline and diligence.
Here’s Kayla’s course list:
Advanced Mathematics/Pre-Calc
American History
Latin: Caesar & Cicero readings
Spanish II
Philosophy: Consequences of Ideas
Shakespeare & Poetry
Your Facebook photos really made me want to have back-to-school photos of all my kids, so I sent the two away at college a text message begging and pleading them to please send a photo of themselves on their campuses on the first days of school. I may have promised a cookie care package.  Here’s the first one I got:

Kory works in the athletic department at Baylor, and he loves it. His good friend, fellow student, and athletic department colleague, Paul (also a dedicated Gluten Free Krums reader 😉 ), took this photo. (Thank you, Paul!)  He’s sporting his work and game day uniform here, and I know he can hardly wait for football season to begin. He watches the games from the press box, so that might have something to do with it.  

He just told me his schedule on the phone yesterday:
MWF 10am-12pm: Business Law and World History
T/Th 11am-3pm: Project Management, American Literature, and Social Dance (<—Fox Trot was last week!)
Fridays 2:30-5:15: Human Resources, Talent Acquisition & Staffing
He’s a college Senior this year, but I’m pretty sure we took these kindergarten and first grade photos just a few short weeks ago.
Cooper was not as quick to get me his back-to-school photo, so I sent him Kory’s as a challenge reminder.  Cooper thought Kory’s photo was lame: “He doesn’t even have a backpack on!” And then this appeared via text:
Coop started at Gordon College this year. He could have started last year, but decided to take a gap year after graduating high school. He spent about 8 months in Palm Springs, California living with my brother and his family, working maintenance crew and then outdoor service at Rancho La Quinta Golf Club. He dug a lot of trenches, trimmed a lot of hedges and edges, parked a lot of Porches, and made a lot of big tips. I think he was ready to hit the books again after all of that, but it was a good year and great learning experience for him.
Our week of preparation to leave for college began with this purchase…
…because this one wasn’t gonna do the job. (A little bulky for a dorm room, too.) It was great for learning to type and write papers many years ago, though, and Coop is the fastest typist in our family.
Kayla got to help move Coop into his dorm. It’s a triple (three guys) and it’s tiny! It’s redeeming feature is the suite style bathroom – sort of.  Six young men have to share that bathroom. I can tell you that it already smelled like a boys’ dorm by nightfall. Girls live in the dorm, too, but on separate floors. We went to one of those floors. It smelled like flowers. 
Girls’ dorm floors: flowers.  
Boys’ dorm floors: stinky socks. 
Some things never change.

The Lord provided for a lot of really special things to happen throughout the course of the weekend. For one, we ran into these old friends of Cooper’s at the local Target: Isaac and Lauren. We know them from youth camp and the leadership program, Quest. It was such a nice surprise and really fun to catch up with them.

We also met up with another friend of ours. Rachel was a former church member when she was a student at UMass. She saw that Cooper was going to Gordon and sent me a message saying she and her husband live just a few minutes from campus and would love to be of any help to Cooper while he is at Gordon. When I asked her what town they were in, she said Beverly. I messaged her back saying I just happened to be at the Target in Beverly.  She said: “Me too!”  We met up front at the Starbucks for a mini-reunion.  (Target + Starbucks. Was there ever a better duo?) Cooper got to re-meet her and receive more encouragement and lots of offers of help, food, and laundry facilities.
Two more things: We enjoyed meeting Coop’s roommates and their families – one from Austin, TX and one from Nashville, TN. Upon chatting with the Austin, TX mom, I learned that her son, Sam, had been homeschooled through high school. I told her that Cooper had also been homeschooled. Always fun to meet others who have been on that journey, as the kids tend to keep it on the down-low. 
I told Cooper that Sam had been homeschooled, and when Cooper asked him about it, Mikey, the other roommate was in the room.  Mikey overheard their conversation about being homeschooled and then “confessed” to having been homeschooled himself. All three roommates homeschooled their entire lives.  Pretty cool.  (Mikey may have even been wearing his homeschool co-op t-shirt at the time. Ha!)
THEN I check Facebook and noticed that my friend, Sara, from my college days at UT Austin commented on a photo and told me to tell Cooper to be on the lookout for a guy named Sam from Austin, that she and her family are family friends of his and co-small-group leaders at their church. I couldn’t believe it, and could hardly wait to tell her that Sam had already been spotted on campus – in the bed just across the room from Coop! They both play guitar and love basketball. Small world. Good Father. 

Gordon did such a nice job of including parents in the first two days of orientation and then sending us off with a special worship service. It also felt a little mean of them to have us all worship together, drape our kiddos in special Gordon scarves, and then send us out of the chapel to say goodbye for the semester. It made for quite a mix of emotions, but I suppose I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

He was nervous, but also excited to finally do the college thing. There have been lots of texts and calls about book buying, adding and dropping courses, and how the first week of classes went. So far, he has over-studied and been able to answer lots of questions in class. Here’s his schedule:

MWF: History (Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome), Accounting, and New Testament
T/Th: Discovery (or Gordon College 101 for all freshmen and transfers)

He’s planning to major in business and minor in music, so he’ll also take a non-credit classical guitar lesson in order to prepare to audition for the music school. They only have classical music options at Gordon, but Coop is eager for the challenge. (He just released his first single on iTunes! I’ll post information when it is fully available. Super-talented musician, this kid.)

So, no more wooden blocks and Playmobil guys to re-enact the Fall of Constantinople at our house.  It’s all books and computers, calculators and work-studies, group projects and presentations for my crew now. I do miss the old days, but I have to say I’m really enjoying watching these new academic and life adventures they are on. I’ve loved being their teacher, and I love that they’ll still indulge me with back to school photos and stories even though they are such big kids now.

Cookie care packages on the way. 🙂