Maine-ly About Turning 17

Summer birthdays can be really awesome or really weird. Parties can be big, all-out shindigs, or altogether nonexistent, because all of your besties are camping or traveling or working odd hours in summer jobs. Fortunately, Kayla is happy to celebrate anywhere we happen to be at the time. Due to its July 28th date, we’ve celebrated her special day in various places…once at the home of an old high school friend of mine while visiting D.C, once in Connecticut at the home of fellow church planters, and this year we celebrated in Maine.

We have been going to the same cabin in Ogunquit, Maine every summer for as long as Kayla has been alive. (She started her cabin stays in a Pak N Play, and has since graduated to a twin trundle bed.) The cabin is a ministry to those in ministry, and a has been huge blessing to our family. Robert and I left a couple of days early and stayed in New Hampshire, and then Cooper and Kayla met us on Wednesday for lunch and the rest of the drive into Maine.

We invited Lars Gren to join us for lunch, since he lives very close to our route. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that Lars is one of the “Saints on Strawberry Cove.” He is the widower of Elisabeth Elliot, and has now been without her for a little over two years. The last time we had lunch with him was on July 15, 2015 – exactly one month to the day after Elisabeth died. I was eager to catch up with him and see how he’s been. Despite a head on collision with a drunk driver last August, and dealing with residual pain of several compression fractures, he’s doing well.  He had just returned from California where he attended a wedding and spent time with the family of the bride – a young woman who had been homeschooled and part of a conference and ministry at which Lars and Elisabeth were often asked to speak.

We enjoyed his stories and sitting together on the patio, though it was hot and I’m not sure how Lars endured it with his long sleeves and sweater.  He also ordered hot water (with lemon) and let us know that he never drinks anything cold….unless it is a 7-up, and then, of course, it requires ice. When we told him we’d be traveling to Greece for our anniversary, he said he also traveled there “years ago, courtesy of the US Navy.” Said he’d trade duties with other officers and take the night watch, so that he could go and explore the various cities in which they docked during the day.

We discussed the family of Jim Elliot, whose brother died in the last year. Lars traveled to attend Burt’s memorial service, which sadly also ended up being a memorial for Burt’s wife, Colleen, who slipped on ice walking up stairs, hit her head and never recovered. Tragic indeed, but in a strange way also very meaningful to celebrate two lives at once and a marriage dedicated to Christ and missions together.

It was a really nice visit, and the Wenham Tea House was just as you might imagine – little old ladies eating scones, salads, and tea sandwiches catching up on all the local scuttlebutt. If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan, think Emily Gilmore and the ladies of the D.A.R.

Then we drove up to Ogunquit, walked across the drawbridge to Perkins Cove for ice cream, grabbed some chicken and veggies at a cute downtown market to grill for dinner, and played a cutthroat game of Spades.

Cooper’s girlfriend, Madison, joined us for the day on Thursday which was really nice, and began with a big breakfast together at one of our favorite restaurants, The Roost.  Gluten free pancakes, muffins, and waffles are always on the menu there.Friday was Kayla’s birthday, and the only day we spent at the beach. It was nice and sunny that day. Since 17 year olds and 20 year olds like to sleep way past 7am, Robert and I went for a run, stopped at The Love Shack juice bar on our way back (beets and carrots and parsley!) and then started working on the birthday girl’s special breakfast – gluten free waffles (made in one of her birthday gifts, a mini waffle iron) and pancakes, eggs, bacon, and fruit. Her other gift was a pair of long-desired Birkenstocks. Cooper gave her a pair of Crocs, so I’d say she’s all set for summer footwear.

After breakfast, we packed our lunch cooler and headed for the beach.

Though it was warm that day, it was not really warm enough to get in the water. (In my opinion, of course.) Kayla kept begging someone to go in with her, but when Robert finally agreed and hit the waves ahead of her, she wasn’t so sure anymore. Eventually, they both took the frigid plunge

She’s planning a waffle birthday party for herself this week while we’re away in Greece, and has lots of other activities lined up for the week without us – babysitting, assisting a wedding photo shoot, and time with friends.

I know parents are supposed to say wonderful things about their children, and especially on their birthdays, but I don’t feel any obligation to exaggerate here.  Kayla is just a wonderful young woman, and I thank the Lord for giving me the gift of being her mom. We’re watching her work out her own call to ministry and seek the Lord for direction about college and beyond, and I’m always impressed by her discernment and wisdom and willingness to listen to God. She’s focused on meaningful things, and though tempted, not swayed by the different choices and direction of others.Saturday morning had me up with the sun and sitting on a bench along the Marginal Way with my Bible and journal. The gift of quiet and beauty all around, I finished the coastal-view walk with a trip into town for coffee and gluten free muffins for our final breakfast together in the cabin.

I hope Kayla looks back on her 17th birthday with happy memories of “the cabin in Maine” and a day at the beach. Maybe someday she’ll even be glad for the time with Lars (though she baked in the sun and wondered if she’d end up in a blog post) and being joined, even if ever so slightly, to the story of their family and ministry. Maybe she’ll even join their ranks as a missionary and hero of the faith.

She’ll be reading this soon, of course, so I’ll sign off by saying…

Kayla, Yes, you ended up in a blog post again. 😉 I love you and thank God for your life of faith and faithfulness even (and especially) at age 17. God has gifted you with a strength and confidence and calling that I know He plans to use for His glory and the good of others. I really love being your mom, and I can’t wait to watch it all play out in His time.

When Every T-Shirt Holds A Memory

“Mom and Dad, can you guys just take these two bags to Goodwill?” he said while we packed up his house in Waco just before graduation.

We agreed, loaded them in the moving truck, and hauled everything to a storage facility in San Marcos. I kept the two white trash bags, though, a bit skeptical about what he’d chosen to give away.

Call it a mother’s intuition, call it a lingering grief over college graduation, or call it hoarding, one of those bags I chose to hold back contained freshly washed and neatly folded t-shirts representing major milestones and special occasions in my biggest kiddo’s life. There was no way I could bring myself to throw them in the Goodwill receptacle.

Robert was now the skeptical one. Were we really going to transport all of those t-shirts back to Massachusetts in our already-pushing-fifty-pound suitcases? (Though he did find some treasures for himself in the other bag. Button down dress shirts? Those were keepers for sure.)

I explained that there are companies that make quilts out of t-shirts, and that Kory’s birthday was next month. This bit of information got him more on board with my vision, and can I just say how thankful I am for a husband who doesn’t squash my seemingly outlandish and almost always inconvenient ideas? 

Back at home, I mentioned the t-shirts to my friend, Betsy, and that I was thinking of sending them off to be made into a quilt. To which she said that she was in the process of making TWO t-shirt quilts for a couple of her kids and that I could definitely make it myself.

Of course Betsy was currently making two t-shirt quilts. What is she ever not doing?

I’ve written about Betsy a lot here. She’s the one who talks me into things like harrowing backpacking trips in the White Mountains, Olympic-length Triathlons, and half-marathon trail races. Challenging things. Epic things. Death-defying things.

I view quilt-making in those categories, but once again she convinced me.

“I’ll help you,” she said.  And she did.  We consulted back and forth with picture texts, and she walked me through the process.
One especially challenging part was that I had loaned all of my sewing tools to my friend Isabelle, who led a breakout session on sewing at our women’s retreat in April. She had everything except my machine, and just happened to be on a camping trip the weekend I decided to start this project. Somehow I found some not-so-good pins, a pair of not-very-sharp scissors, and some poster board scraps I could use for making not-very-straight-patterns.

It was kinda like sewing back in the Little House on the Prairie days, except for my electric sewing machine and iron.

There’s just really not much time for projects like this in my current season of life (not convinced there ever will be), but I was able to work on it here and there for a couple of weeks until it was finished. As you can see, it took up quite a bit of floor space (dining room table space, too), and so it required everyone living here to live around the quilt – eating, walking, watching movies. Not always an easy task.

My goal for finishing was Monday, June 26, and I actually finished up on Sunday night the 25th. This left me plenty on time on Monday morning to get it wrapped and boxed and shipped off to the birthday boy who would turn 22 in Texas on the Thursday the 29th.

This is probably where I should tell you how much I love the post office. Stamps, and boxes, and the same friendly postal clerk I’ve been visiting ever since I was pregnant with Kayla – though I also love the automated postal kiosk when the line is too long. Speaking of, I also love this Jane Austen quote from Emma:

“The post-office is a wonderful establishment!” said she.– “The regularity and despatch of it! If one thinks of all that it has to do, and all that it does so well, it is really astonishing!”

I completely agree, Jane!

I remain totally enamored with fact that I can put a stamp on something and then someone else will deliver it to a person I care about – even someone very far away. Like, right to their home or dorm mailbox or summer camp outpost. I love imagining the other person’s delight upon receiving my letter or care package (because, of course), and I adore finding just the right little surprises to enclose. Getting a note back from them? Well, that’s just icing on my postal system dream cake.

Did you know you can put an address and stamps on a potato and send it to your cousin in Texas because sending potatoes is an inside joke between the two of you from back in your Webkinz days? Well, you can. And just imagine the delight of finding a potato from Amherst, Massachusetts in your Austin, TX mailbox!

But this is not a post about post…or potatoes.

Robert agreed to snap a picture before I boxed it up that Monday, and I had to stand on our picnic table to display the entire thing, It felt so good to have accomplished this project myself. (Thanks, Betsy!)

Mission trips, sports teams, fraternity events, Pine Cove summers, favorite Texas hangouts, memories of home in Massachusetts, Young Life in his high school years, Baylor college days, and more. Leaving him behind in Texas was hard, and this may have been just the task I needed to bring about some peace with that.
For anyone interested, I’m going to post more pics and instructions below. There are several Youtube video tutorials about t-shirt quilts, as well as websites listing written instructions, but I found that many of them left out steps I was stumped over. That’s when Betsy’s texts and photos were a lifesaver.

If you are a real quilter, I’m sure you will cringe at the photos and instructions below.  There was nothing precise about what I did, but somehow it turned out fairly straight, and my “machine quilting” at the end will at least prevent the batting from shifting around too much. Read more at your own risk.

Continue reading “When Every T-Shirt Holds A Memory”

Birthday Gifts: Part 2

Here’s a better view of those Topo Chico bottles-turned-drinking-glasses. Aren’t they great? What a cool gift. I just love seeing them in my cabinet. I love that the “cut” is just above the textured part of the bottle giving them a bit of a decorative flair. And that green tint? Perfect.

While I was uploading photos of Topo Chico glasses, I came across this photo – also of gifts. The gift of two of the cutest nephews you ever did see is obvious, but it’s what they are wearing that was kind of a Christmas gift miracle. See those sweatshirts? Those, along with matching sweatpants, are what we sent to the California nephews this Christmas. (The fact that they live in Palm Springs, CA and have absolutely no need for sweatshirts and sweatpants is beside the point.)

Now, look at their shoes. We did not give them the shoes. My brother texted me this photo on Christmas to show me that the sweatshirts we sent perfectly matched the shoes they already owned! Wow. I’m pretty sure that making these guys the coolest kids at the skate park that day (new scooters for Christmas!) with their matching Nike gear makes us the coolest aunt, uncle, and cousins. I don’t think it’s any secret that the whole extended family is vying for that title, so thank you, TJ Maxx.

This post is getting really off topic, but I just HAVE to show you who I now ALMOST share a birthday with.  It’s the above pictured Nike nephews’ new little sister, born on Monday, just one day after my birthday. Talk about a gift and an answered prayer. Meet Taya…
Okay… back to the main point of this post.  I got to give gifts for my birthday which is what I desired this year over getting gifts. I really am happier that way.  
The gift of preparing communion. The gift of helping with babies.  The gift of shoveling snow. The gift of giving rides to and from church.
I was kind of tickled over how the Lord answered the prayer for gift giving on my birthday right off the bat that Sunday morning, but wondered if He wanted me/us to give any more gifts after those church-related ones. As I drove home to meet the two kids, I prayed this: “Ok, Lord.  Was that it?  Or are there more?”
Immediately after that prayer, I did a quick check of my email (while waiting in my driveway for the kids to load in the van) and discovered one announcing a new (one month early, but perfectly healthy) baby – one whose mom and dad only recently started attending our church. Robert has been meeting with the dad regularly to discuss the Bible and faith.  Together we have spent time with the mom to discuss the couples’ unique situation. I knew Robert would regret not being able to make a baby-visit, since he is traveling, and it seemed pretty obvious that it was the next gift-giving opportunity. I sent an email offering a meal and my cell phone number, and got a text message within the hour.
“A meal on Monday would be so wonderful. Thank you.”
Not my actual birthday, but still a gift to give.
The kids wanted to treat me to a late breakfast, so we all attended the early service, and then drove to our favorite breakfast restaurant in Northampton. The one with GF ginger-buckwheat pancakes. A tiny cafe and a weekend breakfast means waiting on the wooden bench along one wall about two feet away from those already enjoying their meal. 
Shoulder to shoulder on that bench, I couldn’t help noticing the woman on my right.  Alone and slightly hunched over, she stared at the ground, diverting her eyes only occasionally and very cautiously as people squeezed by to get their name on the wait list. A tad disheveled, she exuded weariness and sadness. She seemed relieved when they called her name and she was able to escape the bench and sitting sardine-like next to me. She sat alone at a table nearby and got her coffee right away.
“What are you thinking about, Mom?” Cooper asked.
“What?” I answered, wondering if we were thinking the same thing.
“That’s what you always ask us when we’re quiet,” he explained.
“I’m thinking that we should pay for that woman’s breakfast,” I revealed. “Since you guys are paying for me, I’ll pay for her.”
I thought we might miss the opportunity, since she was nearly finished with her meal before we were seated, but when our waitress came and took our order, we asked if we could pay for the woman sitting alone at the table by the window. Her eyes raised just enough to be sure of who I was talking about, and she nodded in affirmation. She took my debit card to the woman’s waitress.
The kids worried that the waitress would reveal our identity, so I got up to top off my coffee at the self serve counter and on the way there made sure the waitresses knew it was supposed to be a secret.
“So, tell her that her meal was all taken care of, but not who did it?” they clarified.
“Yes,” I confirmed, and we all shared a secret smile.
“What? Really?” were the surprised responses of the woman at the window when the waitress explained that her bill had been paid for. I couldn’t look, but my kids couldn’t resist slyly observing how it played out.
After she left, Cooper said he had also observed that she seemed sad and possibly disturbed by something. 
What a joy to see her perk up a bit upon receiving the gift.
Paul said that Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35), and we were experiencing the truth of that statement.
This post is getting long, but I promised to tell you the rest of the gifts today.  Really there was only one more gift we gave on Sunday – times four.
I drive past multiple homeless people on a daily basis wondering what to do for them. I’d read about this care package idea somewhere a while back. Then, recently, my friend Betsy told me about delivering these packages to folks on Boston Common with teens in her youth group. So, a “theme” was developing, and usually that means I’m supposed to act.
A little more research and a trip to Target on the way home from breakfast led to the next gift. Kayla helped me assemble four care packages intended for those living on the streets. Shopping for and packing them up was the easy part.  I could have done that all afternoon. 
Here’s what we packed in each bag based on great online info about what TO and what NOT TO include in packages like this:
wet wipes
deodorant (not soap or shampoo)
lip balm
tissue pack
beef jerky (not trail mix or nuts)
chicken salad & cracker packs
cereal/breakfast bars (not granola bars – too hard/crunchy)
peanut butter sandwich crackers
applesauce (squeezable)
mints (not sticky, meltable candy)
(There are lots of opinions about what things are best to include. The non-sticky, non-crunchy guideline has to do with the dental issues of many homeless people. Money is encouraged for bus fare, coffee, etc. Also, females have unique hygiene needs, so male and female packs are a good idea.)
I’m estimating that these packages cost about $15 each including the $5. We filled gallon sized Ziploc bags, but you could do quarts and include fewer items.

The next step was more difficult: hand delivering them.

That was the other main suggestion: don’t just throw a package out of your car AT people.

Rather, go TO them. Meet them. Give them the care and attention they deserve.

I thought I might get out of it due to a couple of birthday phone calls I received that afternoon/evening, but my cute little co-packer was persistent that we go driving around looking for folks who might need these care packages. It was about 6:45pm when we finished packing, and Cooper was meeting us for a movie at 7:40.

“If we don’t find anyone, we’ll just keep them in the car for when we do,” I suggested to my eager assistant.

But we drove downtown and there they were. It was dark, and the temperature was in the teens

We parked and gathered our gifts. A bright-eyed, bundled-up young woman was the first we approached. We pulled out our gift and asked if it was something she could use. Her eyes lit up even more as she assured us it was and delighted in the “snacks” that were enclosed. We asked her name and told her ours. We asked if she had a place to stay that night, and she did. The overnight shelter at First Baptist doesn’t open until 9:30pm, though, so she still had over two hours in the cold. She thanked us with much humility and sincerity.

A block away was a man with a sign and another man talking with him. We approached the man with the sign, and inquired again if our little package was something he could use. When he took it, the other man looked on with such interest and praised the gift so much that it occurred to us that he was homeless as well, but we had only taken two bags out of the car.

“Would you like one, too?” I asked. “We have another, and my daughter can run and get it from our car.”

Though he kindly protested, and said not to worry about it, Kayla ran back to our car and grabbed him a bag. While she did, I learned their names, where they were each from, and where they planned to spend the night – one at the shelter and one on a friend’s couch.

As we said goodbye, the men thanked us profusely and kept expressing how thoughtful the gifts were, and how nice that we had come out in the cold, and….and…

There was no denying their genuine appreciation.

As we drove the ten minute route to the warm movie theater where we would sit eating hot buttered popcorn for the next two hours, we prayed for each of gift recipients. Kayla was mesmerized by the encounters (as was I), and uttered these words after a few moments of silence in the car: “They were so nice. They were just regular people.”

Yes, they were. And because of them our hearts were stirred, our spirits were lifted, and what Isaiah says will happen, happened to us that evening…

And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. 
Isaiah 58:10 (NASB)

I like how Eugene Peterson puts it as well…

If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. 
Isaiah 58:10 (The Message)

Yep. My birthday was bathed in sunlight. Giving – even these very small acts of giving –  is the true having, the true receiving. I can see some new habits and traditions forming.

Want to know what happened with the 4th package? Well, it stayed in Cooper’s (who’s home on college break) car, which is the one we happened to be using on our evening excursion. Cooper wasn’t with us, but we told him all about our experience. The following evening, he had to drive out of town and came across a homeless man with a sign at an intersection. It took him a moment, but he remembered that one of the packages was still in his car. The light was green by this time, but despite honks and hand gestures, he reached for the bag, held it out of his window, and waited for the man to come and get it.

I made up four more bags today (and got a better picture of them), and when Cooper saw one of them sitting on the kitchen table, he asked if he could have a couple to keep in his car.

“Maybe our suffering and brokenness begin a kind of healing when we enter into the suffering and brokenness of the world, right through the brokenness and givenness of Christ.” (p. 72)

My own brokenness and selfishness certainly received a bit of healing that day. That of my kids as well.

What a gift that was…and is.

Birthday Gifts: Part 1

“What do you want to do for your birthday, Mom?”  With Robert typically gone to Texas and Oklahoma for the first two weeks of January, my kids are usually left with the burden responsibility of “making mom’s birthday special” on their own. I kind of hate that. I love special days and gifts, but I enjoy giving them more than receiving them. And not because I’m super selfless like that.  It probably has more to do with my unrealistic expectations that all gifts given to me will perfectly match my temperament and desires, reflecting that I am truly known and loved, yet somehow they usually fall short of that expectation.

Hard to believe, I know.

The sad thing is that if you had asked me what gift would be THE perfect birthday gift for me this year, I would not have been able to come up with anything. And if I can’t come up with anything, how in the world would anyone else be able to?

I do love the gifts the two kids left at home gave me: bowls.

I love bowls. I gave away bowls filled with goodies myself this Christmas. I’m guessing what happened is that Cooper and Kayla went to TJ Maxx to get me gifts. Kayla probably informed Cooper that I like bowls. (I could be wrong here. Sometimes he surprises me with his gift giving.) She got me a large white bowl with pretty ridges, and he got me a small white chip and dip bowl with the price tag still on it.  Hers had French macarons, a candle, and a coloring book inside.  He included a Starbucks gift card inside the Anniversary card which he edited to make a Birthday card to accompany his bowl. Both of them wrote me sweet (and funny) notes.  I loved it.

(Side note: Speaking of gifts, here’s one of my favorites from Christmas…

You probably can’t tell too well from this photo, but it’s a set of smallish glasses hand cut and upcycled (and adorably packaged!) by my sister from Topo Chico bottles. If you don’t know Topo Chico and you like your water “with bubbles” you’re missing out!  Check it out here. Such a fun gift!)
Back to Kayla’s birthday inquiry…

“Hmmmm…maybe we can make a couple of special deliveries for my birthday? Maybe hand out some Dunkin Donuts gift cards to strangers like we planned to do with Sarah and Jessica a couple of weeks ago? Maybe take some food to some of the homeless folks downtown?” was my reply to Kayla’s efforts to plan a special day, and she seemed to really like the idea. If you’ve read Ann Voskamp’s new book, The Broken Way, you may recognize this birthday plan. Thoughts I’d had before, she’d actually put into practice, and so I was encouraged to be bold.

“It’s all like a small match to me that could start an explosion. Could there be a better way to celebrate another birthday, than to break through the anxiety that keeps a life bound and small?

learning the art of living is learning the art of giving

For God so loved that He gave

…For God so loved that He gave…Is there any word more powerful than giving? Thanksgiving. Forgiving. Care-giving. Life-giving. Everything that matters in living comes down to giving.

Giving is the true having,” is what Spurgeon said.” (p. 67)

The Sunday birthday approached quickly, and we really didn’t have a set plan. A couple of prayers for ideas and opened doors for giving were lifted up on Friday and Saturday. For open eyes and hearts to see the answers, too.

Prayers the Lord answers quickly and specifically. I’m learning.

We pulled up to church at 8:30am, because Kayla has communion and kid duty, only to find Cindy, our worship leader stuck at the bottom of the incline to the parking lot.  She’d not been able to make it up due to snow and ice, and now her car is stalled and she’s blocking traffic and calling AAA and there’s a newborn in her back seat. So, God allowed us to give the gift of a baby transported to a warm spot and a mama with one less thing to worry about in the moment.

Up the church steps with baby we go, through the…snow.

Snow? Snow on the side church steps. Snow on the front church steps. Snow on the front walkway and sidewalk. 3 inches or so and not the way things are supposed to go.

Oh, but I prayed for this. Yeah, I prayed for gift giving opportunities.

And so now…the gift of snow removal is given to a congregation arriving any moment. First by two hastily recruited, yet very willing volunteers. Then given by me and the one who overheard me worry that the town gets upset about that front walk not being shoveled, not to mention our neighbors, and… “I’ll take care of it,” Brett said.

Him at one end. Me at the other. (Despite his protests.) We meet in the middle with a high five and grab the sand bucket so no one else slides down the incline and needs AAA.

There was…More baby holding. More communion cup filling. Diaper changing. Rides home.

All gifts we got to give on my birthday.

“Just what you wanted to do on your birthday…shovel snow.” Jenna laughs.

“And change diapers,” Cindy chimes in.

“Actually…” I say, “It kind of was…”

No, not kind of. It was what I wanted to do. I’d actually hoped, prayed, and planned for this.

And the answers just kept coming.

We got to give several other gifts that day, and I’ll tell you about the rest of them on Friday.

They were a little scary, but so worth the small risk. Life changing, really.

“…there is no life worth living without generosity because generosity is a function of abundance mentality. And abundance mentality is a function of identity and intimacy.  When you know you are loved enough…you have abundantly enough to generously give enough. And that moves you into the enoughness of an even more intimate communion.” (p. 68-69)

Yes.  Thanks, Ann.

Happy Birthday to me!

(Oh, and maybe on Friday, I’ll have a better pic of those cute Topo Chico glasses!)

Wild Summer. Good Father.

Just returned from this gorgeous scene on Friday night. I don’t know if any U.S. coastline compares to this particular stretch. Maine is just beautiful, and I have to pinch myself when I’m there. Truly the stuff of dreams, I can’t believe this is how we’ve spent about one week of every year for the last 17 years. Between skiing in Vermont every winter and hanging out in Ogunquit, Maine every summer I try and emphasize to my kids that some people only fantasize of this life, but I think it’s lost on my New England-raised-kids. This Texas girl, however, continues to be in awe of my surroundings and grateful to God for all of it.

 Prior to our arrival home on Friday,  I had been in my own home and bed only about 72 hours between July 6 and August 12. Summer is always kind of wild and crazy, but this one may top the list.

I spoke at a Classical Conversations Practicum for 3 days in June. It was wonderful.  Not my speaking, but my worshipping over the things I was learning as I prepared to speak on a Christ-centered, Classical curriculum.  Wow. More on that later…hopefully.

Our oldest turned 21 a week later.  That seemed crazy enough, but then we decided on a Monday to go and surprise him on Friday of the same week. He only has Saturdays off, and so it seemed perfect.  We’d fly in on a Friday evening and spend all of Saturday and even Sunday morning with him.  Turns out it was the worst weekend we could have chosen. It was a staff change weekend.  First half staff was leaving and second half staff was arriving.  As a senior counselor, Kory was required to work all day on Saturday re-training staff on the ropes course and more.  We got to participate in the closing ceremony for that week of campers on Saturday morning and go to the staff meeting afterward, but then we had to say goodbye until around 8:30pm.  We grilled steaks for a late dinner and had a pancake breakfast together the next morning and did a lot of laundry, and our 18 hours together flew by too quickly.  No regrets though!  It was SO good to see this kid in his natural summer habitat!

I could go on and on about the excellence of Pine Cove and the high level training in leadership
and ministry that Kory has received here.  So grateful!

 Then we went to camp again!  Crosswalk Camp at Gordon College.  I think this was year 15 or something.  I know I was pregnant with Kayla the first time Robert was on staff and we skipped a year here and there.  We took our largest group of campers ever this year and had a blast.

 The camp pastor (a.k.a. my gifted husband) did an incredible job of teaching through the Sermon on the Mount…

 …and I had such a great time with all of the female chaperones working through the Sermon on the Mount by using the inductive Bible study method.  Here they are discussing and making posters of their “observations, interpretations, and applications.”

 We got home on a Saturday evening from youth camp and left the next Tuesday morning for this:

 When we got the invitation to Chris and Katie’s Colorado wedding, I knew we needed to go. So, months ago, we decided to make a week’s vacation out of it, and we are so glad we did. It doubled as a 24th anniversary celebration for us, since I would be in yet another state for the actual day. The trip was made even more do-able because of a generous gift given to us by members of our church!

Chris, the groom, has been a student at our church for the last four years.  An Amherst College football player from Texas, he and Katie have been dating since 8th grade. She graduated from UT Austin this May, and their wedding was in Crested Butte, CO – a favorite family vacation spot for her. It would take several paragraphs to describe this incredible wedding weekend, and so I’ll spare you all of the amazing details (I’m still basking in the beauty of it all!), but this is where the “Good Father” portion of my post comes in.

This crew.  Football players.  Groomsmen. Great friends.
And powerful witnesses for Christ on the Amherst College campus.
The handsome pastor on the right enjoys spending every Tuesday afternoon with them in the dining hall on campus.

The above photo was taken at the rehearsal dinner. A literal mountaintop experience. The cocktail hour had a 360 degree view of the surrounding peaks, and the dinner itself  – a white tablecloth affair under a nearby tent –  lingered with the most heartfelt toasts to the bride and groom that I have ever experienced. Both fathers spoke at length about the bride and the groom, but it was each father’s toast of the bride that had me close to sobbing.

Both her own father and her soon to be father-in-law spoke of her beauty, her kindness, her faith.  They each treasured her femininity, her intelligence, her character. They gave specific examples of those things.  They expressed joy in knowing her. They thanked God for her. They sincerely celebrated her. They acknowledged her great worth and delighted in the gift she is to both families.

I could not hold back the tears. (I wasn’t the only one!)

I stole this photo from Facebook. Katie looked like a princess.
The ceremony was at a private river valley resort. Absolutely beautiful.

I went to bed that night still rejoicing over the beauty of that dinner, those toasts, the humility of each father, their great affection for their kids. But there was this underlying sorrow still with me the next morning.

To be treasured like that.
To be built up and honored.
To have your femininity called beautiful and celebrated.
To have your faith and acts of service noticed with gratitude.
To be thought well of.
To be loved and cherished by the older men in your life.

Those are things I have not known from any earthly man but my husband. I’m sure it will sound a bit dramatic to some, but I was grieving the absence of those fatherly sentiments in my own life. (To be fair, those men who could and should be giving it, never received it themselves, and so I understand, but it doesn’t remove the desire.) Just a few days later, a forty-something acquaintance posted on Facebook about a call she got from her dad telling her how proud he was of her, of the family she is raising, and the new business she just started. She mentioned that no matter how old she gets, she never outgrows the craving for fatherly love and approval. Upon reading her post, I felt less silly about my own emotions. The longing is real and deep. And when it is satisfied, there is true rest and security and freedom. When it is absent there is striving and insecurity and bondage.

With a still-heavy heart, that next morning I opened my Bible to what just “happened” to be the next chapter in my reading plan.  It was Psalm 36, and God the Father spoke to me so clearly and specifically:

Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are like a great deep.
O Lord, You preserve man and beast.
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
8 They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house;
And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.
9 For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.

And there I was in Crested Butte, Colorado, literally surrounded by His mighty mountains – unmoving, lifting eyes to the heavens – visible images of His ability and willingness to faithfully and righteously love and protect me. As I was taking in the abundance of His creation, He was also saying so clearly and so personally, that HIS house is like that: abundant in love, a strong, affectionate refuge, and full of delights.
Whatever I grieve as a loss or scarcity on earth, He makes up for in abundance. The fatherly approval I long for He gives extravagantly.  The fact that He had me read that Psalm on that specific morning is only further evidence of His intimate love and affection. I was in tears again.
And when we climbed the highest of those surrounding mountains the next day, it was difficult not to think of His goodness, faithfulness, and unwavering love for me. 
Truly beautiful. 
A gift.

Our flight home was canceled due to severe weather in Houston, so we had to spend another day in Colorado.  Rough life, I know.

But what that meant was that instead of being home for two days before leaving again, I would only be home one day, and that day happened to be Kayla’s 16th birthday.  Not at all the way I wanted it to happen, but we had a fun day celebrating with the time we had.

A nice new camera was what she was hoping for, and we loved surprising her with it. (Well, sort of.  The box was delivered and sitting in our mudroom while we were away in Colorado, and there was no question what was inside, due to the markings on the box.  Oh well…)

We went to the Montague Book Mill for lunch (a great place for picture taking!) and the Esselon Cafe for cupcakes and coffee on the way home. For dinner we drove to West Hartford and her favorite restaurant – P.F. Chang’s. (Passing the airport that I would be back at only about 6 hours later.) I’m so thankful we had at least one day together, because…Sweet Sixteen!  Wow, can hardly believe it.

In total, I was home all of about 27 hours, as my plane to Texas left the next morning at 5:45am. I am always shocked to find hundreds of other people at the airport at 4am, and I barely made my flight because of the crowd. I arrived on a Friday night and was able to attend a bridal shower on Saturday for my youngest sister, Melinda.

I also got to meet the groom’s parents and spend lots of time with them over the weekend ~ such kind-hearted people. The following week, I spent at my dad’s house and helped my sister with a few wedding things – namely going along for the food tasting at the wedding’s resort venue. Not only did I get to eat a lot of delicious food, but then Melinda and I received a complimentary afternoon pool pass. A waiter brought us cold drinks and chips and guac while we sunbathed or floated in the lazy river. Such a rough  life, I know.

The following Saturday Bachelorette Party Weekend happened! It was the culmination of over 100 back and forth emails between 6 bridesmaids to coordinate the activities and venues for Melinda’s last hurrah as a single lady.

First there was a pontoon cruise on Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin…

Then there was hanging out in the singles’ bar pool at the Hilton…

Had I been by myself or just with my other forty-something sister, we would have taken one look at that scene and headed straight back to the room.  Seriously.  But not only did we squeeze into the only two lounge chairs left on the deck, we also GOT IN THAT POOL and stood there in a circle with the other gals, chatting and acting like it was totally normal. Like we do this all the time. I really don’t think I was fooling anyone in my as-much-coverage-as-a-bathing-suit-can-offer swim attire, and I would be willing to bet that I was the only homeschooling pastor’s wife there. And why the massive, expensive downtown Hilton only offers this one tiny swimming pool is beyond me.  Oh, except for that whole singles’ bar vibe.  Now I get it.

And then there was a lingerie shower in the hotel.  Is this not the cutest, prettiest bride you’ve ever seen?

Then, we were off to dinner at a downtown Austin hot spot ~ Second Bar + Kitchen. So good.

I had to come back and edit this post to include what we did after dinner: Karoake at the Highball.  Our reservation was for 11:15pm.  We had our own private karaoke room (complete with pews, stained glass, and pentagrams.  I just prayed) and I cracked up at the group of 30year old former cheerleaders singing “I like big butts and I can not lie.”  Somehow I missed the 90’s rap era, but I’m telling you, it was alive and well until about 2am that night. Ha!

Sunday morning found us at a popular brunch spot ~ Moonshine. Amazing all-you-can-eat buffet. I even managed to go for a morning run along the lake with all the other Austinites – mostly because I no longer have the ability to sleep past 7am.  It was hot, and I thought I might die.  I prayed for Robert and Cooper while I was running, because they were also running ~ the Rockport, MA Half Marathon.  It was the same temperature in Rockport, MA as it was in Austin, TX, and I don’t know how they did it.  I can only run half-marathons in absolutely perfect weather conditions i.e. crisp, cool air with a steady breeze.

Here they are after the race – which was also the morning after Robert did our friend Pedro’s wedding in Worcester, MA. Impressive, huh?

They stayed at an Airbnb rental in Marblehead that night so they could pick me up in Boston the next morning. My flight from Austin to Boston was even earlier than the flight to Texas – 5:20am. I stayed in a hotel by the airport that afternoon (they let me check in at 1pm after brunch!) and overnight. It was a glorious 9 hours to myself. I read, walked to Starbucks, bought a salad at 7-11 for dinner (which was surprisingly good and fresh), had the pool all to myself for a couple of hours. I watched a bit of Texas Game Warden (quite interesting) before I caught up on two episodes of Blue Bloods since my family betrayed me by watching FOUR episodes while I was away – including the episode in which Erin is shot in the courtroom and the secret family code is revealed when Danny begs the shooter “Please don’t hurt my family.” Oh my goodness. More tears.

From Boston, we headed to Maine and our annual stay in Ogunquit. The cabin we typically stay in was only available two nights, and the kids wanted more time in Maine than that (they have come to love that time away), so Robert found a great place downtown and we stayed two more nights.

We had two great beach days and one rainy shopping day up in Freeport. 

The afternoon we arrived home, Robert had to go straight to a wedding rehearsal and dinner for these two. He was home earlier than expected, because the poor bride fainted (it was very hot and steamy) just before the rehearsal and ended up in the Emergency Room. There ended up being no rehearsal and no dinner, but you wouldn’t have known it by the beautiful ceremony the next day.

We had so much fun experiencing a Russian style dinner and dancing, and we are thrilled that these two will be staying around for a while.

Oh, there are so many other things to report on.  It was a wonderful whirlwind of a summer.  And of course I’m only telling you the glowing parts.  There was drama, there was strife, there were doctor visits, there was anger and disappointment, and there were LOTS of texts and phone calls with dear (and much too young) friends facing serious, life-threatening illnesses.  Climbing mountains and running marathons are also metaphors for the difficulty of this life and the stamina required. I thank the Good Father for providing both the glorious gifts and the grace to endure the not so glamorous parts.

Tomorrow is Cooper’s last day at home before leaving for college. There will be a cookout tomorrow night ~ hamburgers as requested, and then we’ll head to Gordon College on Friday morning. My van is currently loaded down with everything Target has to offer for dorm living. Pray for his transition if you think of it!

Kory begins his senior year at Baylor on Monday, which is just crazy.  And Kayla will be a junior ~ doing Challenge III at Classical Conversations this year.  I won’t be teaching at CC this year, but my 6th seminary class begins tomorrow – Christian Philosophy.  I am looking forward to it, and two of my textbooks are books I’ve already read for CC! (Sort of.  One is an almost identical title and premise.)

Robert is gearing up for year 18 of our church and the return of students to the area.  We are excited about being a part of what the Lord has planned for this year.

Thanks for reading, friends.

1 Birthday, 1 Bedridden & 5 Beach Bound

Her complimentary Birthday Chocolate Dome at her favorite place to eat: PF Chang’s.

 This pretty girl turned 14 yesterday!  She started the day with a trip to the gym at 7am.  This was not her preferred wake up time, of course, but turning 14 means that you are now old enough to go to Planet Fitness, and she’s been wanting to “work out” at a gym with mom and dad for a long time.

Only her Daddy could take her and show her the ropes at the gym, because I needed to stay home and take Kory to walk-in hours at the pediatrician.  It is a very long story, but it (sort of) began with him passing out on Saturday evening after our family talked through Ephesians 6, the armor of God, and stood to pray, holding hands.  After we finished praying, Kory’s eyes rolled back into his head, he fell backward, breaking the door of our TV cabinet, and slumped onto the floor. He was out long enough for Kayla to call 911 and give the proper information.  I thought he was having a seizure, and it seemed like forever before he finally came to, but it was probably more like 10-15 seconds.  Paramedics came. Vitals checked out okay. A ride to the hospital was refused, but after they left, he spiked a 102 fever which stayed consistent until this morning around 3am ~ over 48 hours.
Yes, it really happened, as have many other scary and disappointing things in the last two weeks, and I’d love it if you prayed for us. 
(And yes, the paramedics asked what we were doing when it happened. They didn’t skip a beat when we said we were praying ~ that it was even Kory’s idea to stand and hold hands.  They did explain that prayer is not the typical reason for “passed out 19 year olds in Amherst.”  Comic relief was nice at that point.)
Anyway, Kayla returned home from the gym to her requested breakfast ~ chocolate chip waffles, eggs, and bacon.
And gift opening…
Arizona Tea and iTunes (from Cooper), Unicorns, and Taylor Swift Quotes ~ some of her favorite things

And the much desired iPod touch!  She was really surprised!

The weather was really weird yesterday ~ storms off and on all day ~ and so Kayla, Cooper, and I headed to West Hartford and the “fancy” mall to do some shopping with her birthday money and eat at her favorite restaurant ~ PF Chang’s ~ which is also inside the mall.
Robert stayed home to keep and eye on Kory and his fever, get some work done, and begin packing (in faith)  for our vacation to Maine ~ our usual trip to the cabin on Perkins Cove in Ogunquit.

We even had a unicorn sighting at Urban Outfitters.  It wasn’t a very pretty or cute one, though, and no sparkly glitter or rainbows accompanied it, hence Kayla’s disturbed face, but we enjoyed the time away.

Things were not looking good for Kory last night, who said he has never felt so terrible.  Cooper was beginning to feel feverish, too. We prayed for them, for protection, for mercy, and healing last night before bed.  I checked on them in the middle of the night, and they both felt feverish.  Thankfully, Kory’s fever finally broke early this morning and he ate breakfast. When Cooper got up, he said, “I really can’t believe I woke up well.”

So we are headed out with much gratitude, and looking forward to some time away in one of our favorite places.  Thankful, too, for the Smith family who have so generously allowed those in ministry to stay in their wonderful studio cabin for decades.

See ya soon ~ and hopefully with sunny beach photos to share!

Twas The Night Before My Birthday…

Twas the night before my birthday, and all through my abode
Lots of teenagers stirred, friends new and old
The dishes were washed, dried, returned to their places
In hopes that tomorrow would be easy, slow-paced
The electric blanket turned on, the bathwater running
A magazine and epsom salts awaited for soaking
Kayla in her flannel pjs, and me in Smart Wool
Trying to stay warm in weather much, much too cool
When up on the wall, in peripheral view
My calendar loomed scary with activities anew
Check-ups, play practice, lots of chauffeuring
Gymnastics, basketball, grocery procuring
The moon on the breast of the iced-over snow
Revealed work to be done, obligations to uphold
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
but my burgundy Bible and journal so dear
And a short, little book, so intriguing, so bold
I knew in a moment, Daniel had truths to uphold.
In unmistakable clarity a theme was revealed
“There is a God in heaven.” Simple, unconcealed.
Now, Worry! and Anxiety! now Stress and Fatigue!
On Discouragement! On Despair! on Pain and Frailty!
To the Old Rugged Cross! To Christ’s Calvary!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away, flee!
And as leaves that before the wild winter winds fly
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
So to the foot of the Cross, the darkness it flew
With the burdens of grief and tragedy, too
And then in an instant, as I kept on reading
Heroes of faith I just kept on meeting
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, of course
Refusing to bow, not fearing recourse
They were dressed in belief though of outcomes unsure
Cast into the furnace, hearts and minds pure
And the bonds with which they were angrily tied
Were loosed by a fourth man mysteriously arrived
His eyes – how they loved! His protection, how near!
His arms were so strong, His sovereignty so clear!
His glory brought even King Neb to his knees
Declaring His might, instituting new decrees
“How great are His signs! How mighty His wonders!”
Yes, this is the truth I must line up under
He has power, control, and a purposeful path
That sustains through the furnace and worldly wrath
He promises no freedom from the affects of sin
Except be it in found in salvation, be it known in Him
He spoke, it is written, His statutes, my songs
When life feels so hard, when things seem so wrong
His every word, breathed straight to my heart
Hope He teaches, right perspective He imparts
My calendar still swirls fast and furiously
I still look at life much too seriously
But He springs to my side, loosing bonds, taming fires
Assuring me that circumstances aren’t quite so dire
So in the warm bath I sat and breathed deep
Praying that my mind, His promises would keep
And while laying my head down at half past eleven
Came Daniel’s refrain, “There is a God in heaven!”

Apologies for the sporadic blogging to the ten of you who love me enough to keep checking in. I’m not sure how I ever found the time to read, let alone WRITE a blog!  Yes, the calendar is swirling, and never in my life have I felt like I had no control over my schedule like I do now.  Every day seems dictated for me with not a moment for much else but what is necessarily on the agenda that day.  When did I ever cook before?  When did I clean my house?  I have no idea! Blog? Ha! 

Though Robert is out of town for 12 days ~ in TX and OK ~ preaching, reporting, fundraising ~ I did have a great birthday!  It started with time on the treadmill and circuit weights at Planet Fitness.  The kids had breakfast made and gifts on the table when I got out of the shower. Next, I had to take Kayla to her 13 year well-check at the pediatrician ~ complete with immunizations that I’ve delayed for years. (She only got one of the 5 they wanted to give ~ no flu or Gardisil for us!) But we sweetened the deal with manicures and pedicures afterward and lunch at our favorite gluten free burger joint. Then we came home and made a paleo, raw, vegan cheesecake, which sounds horrific, I know, but is really one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth! We took it over to my friend Betsy’s house to eat for dessert after the birthday dinner she made for me.  Played Wits and Wagers and Up and Down the River (interesting version of Spades), and finally got home around 10pm after I made Cooper drive me to CVS to get MORE epsom salts, because yes, God heals and strengthens me through His Word on a daily basis, but He also gave us epsom salt (magnesium) and Vitamin D to help us get through the dark and dreary ~ and ARCTIC, FRIGID, INSANELY COLD (this year) New England winters!

Thanks for loving me and wondering if I’m ok when I don’t blog and for the sweet, sweet birthday wishes I received from so many of you.  (Facebook makes you feel extra important and special on your birthday!)

Life feels like a perpetual furnace sometimes, but there is a God in heaven!

Completing Her Quest

It’s mid-September, the leaves are beginning to change, the apple orchards are all open for picking, the farm stands are selling corn AND cornstalks for seasonal decor, and I am not so happy about all of this.  It’s too soon! I do love the fall (really nothing like fall in New England), but I love the summer more, and it was just too short and went by too fast and had too many activities packed in to truly savor it ~ or blog about it, or read blogs, or respond to comments, or…
But a lot of special things happened this summer, and I’ve not told you about one of the most special.  Some of you know that Kayla was working on a Quest all last year between her 12th and 13th birthdays.  Maybe you read this post about the challenges she was asked to accomplish over the course of the year.  And maybe you also read this one showcasing a few of those completed challenges.
Well, she finished (almost!) ~ and last month we had a special dinner party to celebrate!
Some of the books she read and Bible studies completed as well as some of her artwork.
Kayla made the guest list which contained close friends and a few special women in her life.  We set a pretty table, made a yummy dinner and gluten free cupcakes, put all of Kayla’s special projects on display and sent our guys off to eat dinner out (Chipotle) and watch a movie (Percy Jackson).  After eating dinner, we played a round of The Game of Things (Kayla LOVES games), and then each older woman in attendance shared on one of the following topics, all virtues displayed in the life of the Proverbs 31 woman:
Health and Strength
Skills and Hard Work
Abby shared about the privilege of serving the Lord ~ as well as a very special way Abby herself was served by a woman in India who really had “nothing” to give.

 “Think about God’s love for the least and the lowly. The world avoids the awkward, the annoying, the smelly, but God doesn’t. Listen to the spirit with fearlessness, Kayla!” ~ Abby

Lois also shared about the privilege of serving  ~ both a specific story from her own college days in which she had the opportunity to help a student with cerebral palsy, and also a story about Darlene Rose, who was a missionary to New Guinea during WWII.  It was a raw and compelling passage about Darlene’s husband’s feet which had been bloodied by walking through the jungle without shoes in order to fulfill God’s call, and from a book which Kayla had read for her Quest! Perfect!

Christie shared about rewards, and told a story from her own life about striving for earthly rewards in athletics and the approval of her coach. Then she shared about the reward of knowing Christ now and being with Him eternally.

 Cindy shared about wisdom and told a story about a breakup that she experienced. She explained to Kayla that though it was a painful time, the Lord grew her in wisdom about herself and navigating future relationships.  So perfect and practical!

Izckra shared about strength including specific stories from her own life about losing her parents and other hardships.  She told Kayla “Life will not always be pink,” or “rosy” as we Americans would say, but that pain can be brought as an offering to God, and that His strength is sufficient. Jenna shared about a godly view of work and Sarah M.(via email!) shared about wisdom as well.  Some gave Kayla small gifts that helped to reinforce or illustrate the virtue about which they shared, and one of the most creative gifts was this from Sarah A.:

 Miss Abbott has been Kayla’s Classical Conversations Director for the last several years, and these flashcards are a spoof of the vocabulary cards Kayla had to memorize in her Essentials classes. (Mrs. Plotczik will be proud!)  The set contains HAND DRAWN cartoons (much like the silly IEWriting ones) illustrating different kinds of strength a woman will need and can depend on the Lord for.  So great!

So thankful for all of these very special ladies and their willingness to make such a significant contribution to Kayla’s life as she grows into womanhood. So proud of Kayla for putting in a year’s worth of very dedicated effort to complete all of her Quest challenges.

Next Up: Back to School, A Month of Paleo Living, and a trip to NYC for Fashion Week (really!)
(Well…if I can somehow achieve a balanced schedule now that we’ve started school for the year and there is a bit more of a predictable weekly routine!)

Growing Girl{s}

There were many signs of aging around here last week.  Here are a few examples: 
1. I received a prescription for bifocals. {Sigh…}
2. Robert and I paid our first of many Baylor tuition bills. {Only by God’s provision.}
3. I bought a MacBook {Another amazing provision.}, and registered for a class at the Apple store, just like my almost-75-year-old Dad who loves to tote his DESKTOP to the store on a regular basis.
4. Our youngest child became a teenager!

 And since my aging is not nearly as exciting and certainly not as CUTE as my new 13 year-old daughter’s, the rest of this post will be about her.

We began the day like all birthdays around here with a special breakfast-to-order on the red plate and gift opening.  She got her much desired typewriter and two new pairs of shoes to add to her already-rather-large shoe collection. Oh, and not-real-nerd-glasses ~ a must have for typewriting.  For several days I’ve been hearing what I thought to be light hammering coming from her room, but it is only Kayla pecking away at the manual keys of her new gift ~ writing letters, stories, and more.

This birthday marks the end of Kayla’s “Quest.”  When she turned 12 she was given a list of challenges to complete before turning 13. She is almost finished!  One of the requirements was to hike the Seven Sisters in the Mt. Holyoke range, and so last Thursday we did just that.

It was the perfect day for hiking ~ cool and a bit overcast, but clear for scenic views.  We packed a lunch, and a couple of the books she’s working on, and made the trek to the peak in about 3 hours stopping along the way to eat and read and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.  I think Beautiful Girlhood is such a wonderful book for girls this age.  We read two chapters during our time together: “The Strength of Obedience” and “Making Herself Beautiful.” Originally published in 1922, I’m astonished at how timeless are the unique struggles of women.  You can read it for free here, and here’s an excerpt from one of the chapters we read on our hike:
“A desire to be beautiful is not unwomanly.  A woman who is not beautiful cannot properly fill her place.  But, mark you, true beauty is not of the face, but of the soul.  There is a beauty so deep and lasting that it will shine out of the homeliest face and make it comely. This is the beauty to be first sought and admired.  It is a quality of the mind and heart that is manifested in word and deed.  A happy heart, a smiling face, loving words, and kind deeds, and a desire to be of service will make any girl beautiful.”
Robert met us at the top and drove us home after taking this picture. 3 hours of semi-steep hiking is challenge enough.  We were thankful for the lift home!

 We’ll be celebrating the completion of Kayla’s Quest with a few special older women as well as a few of Kayla’s closest friends in a couple of weeks.  Until then, she’s working hard to complete a few last requirements, and evidently having quite a lot of fun this summer…

Attending youth camp with friends and hanging out at the beach {and Starbucks, and Pinkberry…}

Being treated to dinner and silliness by a long-time friend…

 Performing in two numbers at a dance recital ~ acrobatics and hip hop. She did great!

Really proud of the young woman this little girl is becoming.

Came across this verse a few weeks back, and have been praying it for my now BIG kiddos:

For I will pour out water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground;

I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants; and they will spring up among the grass like poplars by streams of water. This one will say, “I am the Lord’s,” and that one will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, “Belonging to the Lord,” and will name Israel’s name with honor.

Isaiah 44: 3-5

Yes, growing girls here for sure.  Praying that this new teenager and blossoming young woman will be “like a poplar by streams of water…belonging to the Lord.”

Gluten Free Friday ~ Birthday Food, Skiing Food

 Food, food, FOOD!  Now that I look back on these photos I took in the last week, I’m wondering how in the world I didn’t gain 10 extra pounds, because evidently I ate a lot of food ~ and really delicious food at that!  To those of you who have a sneaking suspicion that you should avoid gluten, but resist getting tested, maybe this blog post will serve to assure you that there will still be plenty to eat should you discover a Celiac diagnosis.

I celebrated my birthday this week, and it was such a fun day!  Unfortunately, Robert has not been here this week due to travels and ministry responsibilities in Texas and Oklahoma, but the kids made up for his absence by greeting me first thing in the morning with breakfast in bed:

Eggs over-easy
GF toast with butter
Fruit cup with bananas, blackberries, strawberries AND a candle!
Tazo Awake Tea with agave

They even remembered the “You Are Special Today” red plate and placed handmade cards with handwritten notes on my tray. All of it was delicious and such a sweet encouragement to me.

Then I indulged in some wonderfully filling spiritual food: 2 Chronicles 30 and 31 as well as Psalm 119.  It was good to read about Hezekiah inviting all of Israel to return to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and the joyful worship that it led to ~ especially after all of the evil practices his father had instituted.

Next on the birthday agenda was a manicure and pedicure and Starbucks ~ all by myself!

At lunchtime I met my dear friend Izckra at a local cafe:
China Breakfast Tea
Turkey/Cranberry/Gouda/Apple Slice Sandwich on GF bread 
Side Salad
Sweet Fellowship and Conversation
Later, the kids drove over to the same cafe to eat GF cupcakes with me!  The boys went for the lemon variety, but Kayla and I always opt for the chocolate ones with raspberry icing ~ YUM!
 We came home for a few hours which I had determined would be for reading Les Miserables {mental food}despite the not-quite-finished Gilead sitting on my night stand.  I read until it was time to take Kayla to her acrobatics class, and then read more while waiting for her to finish. I’m sure it will take me a year or more to complete it, but I love being reminded of all of the details that the movie and musical just can not include. I also read the short biography of Victor Hugo and a timeline of his life included in the front of the book.  Whoa.  Talk about tragic and scandalous ~ affairs, secrets, betrayals, mental illness, asylums, and untimely deaths.  I think he outlived his wife, his mistress, and all of his four children.

After acrobatics we all went to another friend’s house ~ Betsy ~ my running/triathlete partner and dear sister in Christ.  Betsy made White Chicken Chili, rice, and GF cornbread.  I wish I had taken picture of that meal ~ super delicious!  Kayla provided the birthday cake ~ a double layer chocolate cake with chocolate icing, and all gluten free.  Didn’t she do well with the decorations, too?

Pretty amazing birthday, huh?  I am blessed.

Last Friday we began a six week session of snow skiing at Mt. Snow near Wilmington, VT.  The kids get an hour and a half lesson, and then we take a lunch break.  After lunch they have 2-3 hours to ski anywhere they like.  Despite losing Kayla on the mountain for 20 minutes that felt like 20 hours {Ugh!}, and a major wipe-out with a minor injury by Kory, we all had so much fun!
Today we’re off to ski again, and I spent yesterday afternoon getting some food ready for our journey.  I always feel a bit of stress about packing lunches for trips like this, wanting to make sure there will be enough for lunch and snacks, that the kids will enjoy it, and that I don’t pack the same old thing every time. Surely there’s a blog out there somewhere dedicated to relieving this very concern?! 
After a breakfast of sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast tacos on the way up, want to know what we’re packing for lunch today? {I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seat!}

Chicken salad with apples, almonds, and onions
White bean hummus with crackers and veggies for dipping
Energy Bites {or “Balls of Energy” or “Mega Bites” which Kayla came up with last week!}
Chocolate chip cookies by Kayla

See what I mean ~ a week of food, food, food.  To be honest, it feels like my life revolves around what the next meal will be, but this week it was easy, fun, and delicious.  Maybe even more so this week, since I cooked so little of it myself!

There’s no going hungry on the GF diet. I promise.