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
lotion
bandaids
deodorant (not soap or shampoo)
toothbrush
toothpaste
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)
socks
mints (not sticky, meltable candy)
$5
(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.

Dress Alterations and “All Those Republicans…”

I did not sleep well at all last night. It was cool outside but warm in the house, and the window unit in our room doesn’t think it should cool our room in that situation.  I was hot and achy and tossed around all night long. I’m telling you this, because what follows might just be a result of my sleep deprived crankiness today. I don’t know. I’m asking for forgiveness ahead of time for any rash words.

(Also, I’ll be outing myself politically, though I’m sure it will be no surprise to most. I’ve revealed my leanings on my blog before, but try and stay away from talking about them in church and on Facebook, etc.  I truly want people to hear about Christ first and foremost, and I know that politics, especially conservative politics, is often something that keeps folks from truly understanding Him. Robert, too. We agree on politics, but we also agree that they should not be tied to sharing the Gospel in any way.)

Today was Kayla’s first day of Classical Conversations.  She’s a junior this year and in the Challenge III level with one of my sweetest friends as her tutor – Aimee or Mrs. Gould. (I am not tutoring this year, and though I love CC, it’s so nice to have a break.) I knew I would be dropping Kayla off this morning at 8:15am, so a week ago I made an appointment to have the bridesmaid dress for my sister’s wedding altered just after getting Kayla settled in for her first day of class. My appointment was at 9am, so I read my Bible at Starbucks for a few minutes over hot tea before heading over to the appointment.

Ours is the strapless one on the left. With pockets!

I was greeted by a lovely petite woman with white hair in her late fifties, I’m guessing. Really, she was just so pleasant. I could even tell from her website that she was a gentle and kind person. It’s part of why I chose her shop. We took a look at the dress, and then she left me alone to change.

When she came back in, she began pinning and chatting some more. A few years ahead of me in having a crown of white hair, she asked me if I was highlighting mine.  When I said no, she went on and on about my hair – it’s color (or non-color), it’s cut, it’s length.  It was so sweet, and I love it when people are so free with their genuine and complimentary thoughts. (Though hard to receive!) It’s something I’m trying to get better at myself.

Then the conversation turned to the wedding.  She mentioned hardly ever seeing wedding party dresses with floral prints, but when I explained the outdoor Texas venue, she thought it would be a perfect match. And after telling me about her niece who recently moved to Dallas, she said something about Amherst being so liberal.  At first I couldn’t tell if she thought that was good or bad, but then it became all too clear…

Me: Well, yes, Amherst is very liberal, but I think what pushes it to the far left of left are the colleges and the university.

Seamstress: Yes, because young people finally leave home and get educated.

(I could have been mistaken, but she seemed to be glad that the education led to the liberalness.)

Seamstress: I don’t know if I could live in Texas with all those Republicans. So many Republicans there. It’s so diverse here.

Me: You know, I am originally from Texas, and I find Amherst to be much less diverse than where I’m from – ethnically, ideologically, and politically, but I also lived in the cities of San Antonio and Austin for many years, so maybe that’s why.

Seamstress: Oh, you’re from Texas? Well, I mean we have so many nationalities here because of the colleges. I guess if you lived in a city in Texas, you had some diversity. Dallas seems to be all white Republicans though, or at least the area my niece lives in.

Me: Well, my husband and I both grew up in very small towns in Texas.  He was one of the few white kids on his football team.  Many of my closest friends were Mexican, my head cheerleader, Rhonda, was black, as was the cheerleader, Bernie, from whom I inherited all of my cheerleading uniforms.  My computer science partner, Takeru, was Asian. So was our valedictorian.

(Or something like the above comments, but I’ve tightened them up here for effect.)

Seamstress: Really? Well, I guess it just depends.  There must be a few pockets of diversity there.

Me: Yes, and there are Democrats, too, but I don’t find quite the same diversity of ideals and politics in this area. Everyone here seems to vote the same way.

And then we got to talking about our kids, and being in-laws, and grandparents.  When she heard my oldest was 21, she said not to worry, that kids these days get married really late – even after they’ve bought a house together and settled in, which is nice, because then they often pay for the wedding themselves.

As lovely as this woman was, I couldn’t help but think that this type of presumption and narrow-mindedness is part of what has gotten us into our current polarized political and cultural situation. (By the way, I will be heartbroken if my kids buy houses with their girlfriends or boyfriends and then get married years later. I wonder if she knows how high the divorce rate is for those folks.) And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a similar situation since moving here. Don’t get me wrong. I know it happens in Texas, too – or wherever there is a majority of one ideology or ethnicity. But no one is exempt! Liberal New Englanders don’t get to look down their noses at Conservative Texans and create a narrative about their obvious ignorance and lack of relationships with people of other colors. (We moved here during the 2000 Bush election, so being from the same state as the president automatically meant I must be an idiot. A downtown restaurant changed it’s menu to mock the administration at that time. Diverse? Tolerant? No, not at all.)

So, yes, I am a registered Republican from Texas. I think the government is too big and controlling. I think taxes and spending are out of control. I don’t want babies aborted or laws that encourage it. I desire traditional marriage to be upheld, because I believe it’s by original design and what’s best for kids, and the culture. I want freedom of speech and religion. I think people are better off when they are given a hand up rather than a hand out. For all you political scientists and junkies, I’m sure it all sounds rather simplistic.  (And I’m sure it is maddening to some, too.)

However, I have not voted for the Republican nominee (or the Democratic one) in the last two elections, nor do I plan to vote for the current nominee. (Or his democratic opponent, to be clear.) I have indeed voted in every previous election, but in my opinion, the Republican candidates have not been true conservatives, and I’ve felt pretty discouraged and disillusioned by it all. Voting has been no fun at all. (And my vote doesn’t count for much in this state anyway.)

I’ve never prayed for this country like I have in the past several months.  Prayers of confession mostly – in the same vein as Daniel on behalf of the rebellious nation of Israel. We are truly a mess. It grieves me and causes me to hope for heaven more than ever before – which is our only real hope anyway. So many Christians forget that – including me.

I have been watching and reading up on the election and candidates as much as I can, depressing as it is.

(I honestly thought the Democratic National Convention was very well done – as if that counts for anything. Michelle was the wise woman, wife, and mother she usually is, and Bill was as eloquent as ever. He left a few glaring issues out of his speech, but Slick Willy has never been so convincing.)

I have to thank my friend Josh Torrey for keeping me abreast of great articles on the topic via Facebook. (Thanks, Josh!) Here are a few I’ve read that cause me to think that it’s okay to keep voting in a non-traditional way. If we say we want change, then I think this is what it’s going to take. (And yes, I know you can find articles that say the exact opposite.  I’ve read many of those, too.)

How Not To Waste Your Vote: A Mathematical Analysis

Conservatives Don’t Owe Trump Their Ballot

Four Issues To Consider Before You Support Trump – What Is Really At Stake

Al Mohler and Russell Moore Explain Why They Can’t Support Trump

Though I don’t know if I’ve ever been overly presumptuous (mostly because I’ve never been overly comfortable with religious and political conversations, so be gentle if you choose to comment), my 17 years in New England have helped teach me that presumptions (which are really judgments, and discriminations in disguise) are not helpful. In fact, they are hurtful. Even my sweet seamstress has fallen prey to the narrow-mindedness she accuses the other side of having, but I really don’t think she’ll take it out on my dress. She did like my grey hair after all.

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.

He Asked For Her Number: Part One

It was several years ago that we were alone in her new kitchen unpacking boxes and talking like only sisters can, when I knew I needed to ask her a question. The divorce papers had been filed, and she had moved to a new town, gotten a new job, and moved into a new house. We’d registered the kids for their new schools and put new shelves in the pantry closet, but there was one new thing I thought she might not have considered yet.

A bit hesitantly, I threw it out there: “What are you going to do when someone asks you out on a date?”

She’ll admit even today that the question sort of stopped her in her tracks.  Indeed, it was a new thing she had not yet considered. In fact, I really don’t think she thought it would happen anytime soon and she tried to brush it off as unlikely.

I tried to point out the obvious: “But, you’re beautiful. You’re kind and compassionate. You’re fun. You’re creative and intelligent. It’s going to happen, and you need to be prepared for that moment.”

She tucked it away, and I was vindicated when a stranger walked up to her at the Central Market sushi case and asked her out not too long afterward. A complete stranger. Maybe one of his criteria for soul mate was “must love sushi,” but my guess is that she could have been in line at Taco Bell and the same thing would have happened.

Fast forward a few years from that moment to this month. This time we weren’t in a new kitchen, we were at an away track meet. This time it wasn’t my sister, it was my daughter. And this time my foresight in asking preparatory, probing questions was missing. Or maybe I’ve just been in denial.

We noticed the guys from the other high school hanging around our daughter and some of the girls on her relay team at the meet a couple of weeks ago. Actually, Robert noticed it sooner than I did. When I saw them, I simply thought “What nice, friendly boys. How refreshing.” I think I might have even chalked it up to good sportsmanship.  You know, congratulating the other team and stuff.

Those were not my husband’s thoughts, of course. And honestly, I don’t know what happened to my “shrewd as a snake” instincts, because typically, I am the suspicious one, the discerning one, the skeptical one. I can usually size up a person or a situation in moments, and know exactly what’s up, but not this time.

I didn’t think about it another minute, until we picked Kayla up back at the high school, and took her to eat at her favorite downtown burger restaurant. She had gotten a PR in the 100 meter dash and qualified for the Western Mass meet, so a celebration seemed appropriate. While enjoying our burgers and bottomless fries, she casually mentioned that one of those guys had asked for her number. Others had overheard and she received some friendly teasing from her teammates on the bus ride back to town.

“What did you say to him?” we asked.

She had given him a smile and a polite “no.” And then lied and said she didn’t even have a phone, which he knew wasn’t true, which then probably landed him some friendly teasing.

We sort of laughed about it for a few minutes, but I didn’t sleep much that night.

We have spent a TON of time talking to our kids or reading books about sex, dating, male/female relationships, marriage, etc. Just ask them. They will probably roll their eyes in acknowledgment. So, it’s not like we weren’t expecting this or preparing them for this, but somehow I was caught off guard, and the incident had me awake grieving something like a loss of innocence in my little girl. My little girl who will be 16 in two short months.

Physical beauty. The attention of men – good and bad. Attraction. Romance. All these things swirling through my head and dreams all night long. Why hadn’t I thought to ask my teenaged daughter the same question I’d asked my grown-up sister: What would she do if someone asked her out, or asked for her number? She’s almost 16. She’s beautiful. She’s kind and compassionate.  She’s a ton of fun.  She’s creative and intelligent. It’s bound to happen and she needs to be ready for it.

The problem was that I wasn’t ready for it.

I mean, she’s homeschooled and she has limited exposure to guys her age. (Running for the high school track team has brought plenty of exposure to all kinds of sexual things though, believe me.) But that’s the thing. The quantity of exposure doesn’t matter. Men are men. They are created to be attracted to feminine beauty. It’s a gift of the Creator Himself, and it’s a very good one. Unfortunately, the fall of man and the entry of sin into the world make this a very complicated thing. So, how do I help her navigate this very good thing that can possibly turn into a very bad thing in a heartbeat?

Just a few days ago she was on a walk with a friend and two guys in a truck passed by shouting their approval and a hearty hello. It’s just inevitable, and I know it from her experiences, from mine, and from the tell-tale coffee dates with hundreds of young women throughout the years. My denial can no longer be an excuse for putting these conversations off with my own little girl. She is still my little girl though she hovers over me by about 4 inches now.

What do I want my daughter to know so that she will be well-equipped to handle herself in future situations which may not be as easy or friendly? How can I encourage her to maintain the humble confidence which is already in her? An ability to receive attention or compliments, but to keep focused on Christ and wait patiently for His perfect timing and for the right man? How can I help her enjoy friendships and relationships with young men, but protect both her heart and her body?

I truly think she’s fairly well-equipped and mature already. She amazes me with her wisdom and understanding many days. But even the best of us fall into traps again and again. And it’s not always the end of the world, but sometimes it’s close.

The biblical gender role dance is so exciting and beautiful, and illustrates the gospel itself. Christ and His bride. The strong and sacrificial lover and the chosen and cherished beloved. This is what I want for her even though I know it will never be perfect.

So, I’ve thought of a few things to say to her since the track meet incident, and I’m hoping to write them down here in the next day or so.  Stay tuned. And feel free to send me your own thoughts and ideas in the mean time.

PURE Fun and Inspiration

Yesterday I returned from a wonderful weekend in Texas! There were just so many great things about it  ~ from the sunny and 80 degree weather, to the PURE conference, to time with my sisters, to meeting some new friends, wonderful speakers, a beautiful resort and even more!  It was also Melissa’s (middle) birthday, which added some extra celebration.  One more year before the big 4-0!
The above photo is of me with my two sisters enjoying a wonderful dinner on one of the patios of the Lost Pines Hyatt Resort.  Our view was of the swimming pool, golf course, and fire pit, and it was a perfect and beautiful evening after a full day of conference speakers and activities.
 I found out about this conference from my friend, Laura Wilcox ~ pictured in the middle here.  Laura was the first Bible study leader I had in college at the University of Texas 22 years ago.  Laura had connected with the founders of PURE through her ministry with Campus Crusade and Priority Associates.  Laura led one of the breakout sessions on the topic of the pure heart.  She also recently published a Bible study entitled Capture my Heart, Lord.  (The pretty red-headed lady on the right is a childhood friend of Laura’s ~ also a blast from her past!)
 It was especially fun to meet Margery ~ one of my sister’s friends who went along with us and shared a room.  What a special lady she is, and how fun it was to talk food, theology, and men with her!  🙂
 I think the highlights of the conference were hearing from three women in particular.  Lysa TerKeurst spoke three times on the topic of saying yes to God.  Her testimony is an incredible account of Christ’s ability to redeem women from the sins of promiscuity and abortion as well as a religion of rule-following. She was extremely funny and yet incredibly passionate in her relationship with the Lord.  Her story of how the Lord led her and her husband to adopt two teenage boys from Liberia (while parenting three young biological daughters) was so precious and miraculous.
Another woman was Lisa Luby Ryan ~ a prominent interior decorator and community leader in Dallas, TX.  I was in awe of her bravery in telling her story ~ one of extremely horrific childhood sexual abuse, multiple abortions, forsaking a husband and children through adultery, and THEN the redeeming and restorative power of Christ after it all.  Absolutely heart wrenching and beautiful all at the same time.  You can see her and hear some of her story here.
Allison Shigo did a short presentation during the Global Ministry session of the conference.  Her love for film making, but her restlessness over the worldliness of the business led her to leave a job with a production company(hostile and anti-faith atmosphere), take a job with a documentary company (“at least these stories would be true”), which led to her coming across a Times article and National Geographic feature on obstetric fistula. The documentary that she produced, called A Walk to Beautiful, on this African epidemic led her to begin a ministry to the women who suffer from it called Healing Hands of Joy.  The work she now does there with the women in Ethiopia is truly beautiful.
My one regret from the weekend is this:

 

I missed one of Cooper’s basketball games and his first points scored in a game.  And it wasn’t just one basket he made ~ it was THREE, one of which was a three pointer!  I kept getting text messages like this:  Coop just scored.  Then a few minutes later: Scored again.  And finally: 3 pointer for Coop! Fortunately, Robert got it on video via his Blackberry, and sent it to us at the resort.  And yes, that would be my husband whooping and hollering in the background noise!

Cousins, Cookouts, Country, Cape Cod…Craziness!

Our kids love to have house guests, but none have been more anticipated than these…..the Etheredge cousins from Texas! I think they started the countdown way back in January when we left THEIR home in Austin. I was equally excited to be able to spend time with my sister Melissa. We missed you, Melinda! Yes, we are ALL “Mel” and we have a “Stu”, too…..an old minister friend of ours just used to call us “Mel, Mel, Mel, and Stu when we walked in the church doors. 🙂
As soon as they got off the plane and we made the hour long trek back to our house, we had a cookout to celebrate Kory’s 14th birthday. We invited a few other friends to join us as well – so these are not ALL cousins! This is Cody – one of Kory’s good friends and fellow homeschooler.
Cooper provided the campfire music in his effortless style….Journey, Bon Jovi, and Greensleeves! He continues to amaze us with his natural guitar ability. (Cousin Jonah and Cody also got their turns…lots of talent here, folks!)
Next morning we took advantage of living nearly ON TOP of the Norwottuck Rail Trail which is a wonderful bike trail accessible near our house. It conveniently passes behind Whole Foods and Barnes and Noble, so we stopped for gluten free ice cream sandwiches, iced coffee, fraps, and book browsing before heading back home.
On several evenings there were performances by all of the cousins serving as either actors and actresses, writers, stage managers, or directors. The performances were usually held on our trampoline and were like variety shows – short vignettes, skits, music, and poetry – the Alcott family would be proud! They did a wonderfully creative and witty job on each.
The next morning Cooper and Jonah went on their “Quest” hike – a requirement on their list of challenges to complete before turning 13 next spring. They hiked 6 miles from The Notch to the Summit House of the Holyoke Range. It took them about 4 and a half hours. Us moms met them at the top with lunch and taxi service back to the house. Robert and friend JJ were the fearless guides.
Saturday was the 4th and we enjoyed the town parade. Highlight: running into the street to gather as much candy as possible that is thrown from the various police cars, tractors, and firetrucks!
Later, it was volunteering at the carnival before the fireworks and collecting donations for next year’s show. (Our church always provides volunteer staff for this!) Then we all gathered for a picnic dinner and waited for the show, which I think is always very spectacular for a small town, and this year even more so, since we were celebrating our 250th year!
The last few days of our time together as the big HIGHLIGHT as well was……getting to go to Cape Cod for 4 days! We stayed in the wonderful vacation home of some sweet friends which just happens to have a pool! Imagine our daily dilemma: Pool or Beach? Oh well…how ’bout both! We’ll swim in the morning, eat lunch, head to the beach, and then swim some more when we get home. Tough life, I know….
(And pictured above, those sweet friends are treating this entire crew to ice cream! Thanks, Dan and Sarah!)
The beach was wonderful and we actually had SUNSHINE! WE haven’t seen our friend the sun in quite a while here in New England, but it seems that the Texans brought a bit of their heat to share with us and we were VERY grateful!

Not sure why…but Kayla loves to be buried every time we go to the beach. She’s the one with eyes closed near the ground! Kory and Robert didn’t make this trip with us, since Kory had a baseball tournament and Robert was preparing 6 sermons for a youth camp we’d be heading to in a few days.

And then the dreaded day arrived! We had to say goodbye…and it seemed they had JUST arrived. Can’t believe how quickly 10 days passed. Robert and I took them to the airport without our kids, so that we could get a coffee date in on the way home. While sipping our Starbucks I got a tearful phone call from Kayla….”Mommy, I miss them so much already. I feel so sad. Can you come home and snuggle with me? I need a hug.” And then the next day….”How long do you think I will feel sad, Mama?”
What a blessing! To have close relationships with family, to long to be with them, and to grieve when they leave. And to have a sister who is a kindred spirit in many ways. And in the ways we differ in temperament, I learn so much from hers!

We miss you guys, and can’t wait to see you in January!

Recent Tidbits

Lots going on here, as usual. Haven’t had much time to write about anything, but just though I’d share a few recent highlights. The first is that Kayla managed to trap Mr. Groundhog over the weekend. We don’t really know how long he’s been around, but he sure did enjoy eating fresh veggies out of our garden last year. He has a nice little home through a tunnel under a tree in our backyard, but he dashes there so quickly when we approach, that we never get a good look at him. Well, now we’ve had the privilege of seeing him up close! Kayla placed this trap outside near his hole with a carrot in it for bait inside. Poor thing must have been pretty hungry to sacrifice his freedom for a carrot, but he did, and we got our look after all. I think she really regretted putting him in this scary situation, and released him quickly after a few photos were shot. Actually, this required the help of her Daddy. Traps aren’t quite as easy to release as they are to set – especially when there is a frightened critter inside!
And we continued our Patriot’s Day tradition of going to Boston to watch the Boston Marathon. We did NOT go to the re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington and Concord which takes place at about 5:30am on the same day…just decided to take it a little slower and sleep in, getting to Boston around noon. The best part of the day was getting to see an old high school friend run the marathon! We thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Brad and Mindy who both attended the same high school as me – such a sweet couple and fun treat for us! And Brad’s time was pretty incredible – right at about 3 hours!
I’ve been meaning to post this one for a couple of weeks. My very talented and beautiful sister appeared on her local Fox morning news show and had the opportunity to play and sing a song she wrote called “Music From Another Room.” Two other women from her guitar class joined her for the segment, and then the anchor interviewed the directors of the music school she and my nephew attend. They were able to publicize their upcoming show. The segment doesn’t seem to be archived on the Fox site, but you can listen to her song right here!
And here’s my super cool, talented, and sweet nephew, Jonah performing at the music show later that week. Jonah and Cooper are only one week apart – both turning 12 in the next week. They are definitely two of a kind! Had to up my cell phone package for ” texting” so these cousin buddies could keep in better touch! 🙂
We also attended a marriage conference at our church over the weekend. Ryan and Christie, our new staff couple did a GREAT job leading it. Robert and I led one session together as well. Robert and I have learned even more about each other through the temperament tests we took, and are equipped with new understanding and ideas about how to better love and serve one another. Thanks Ryan and Christie!

Sunny California!

Just returned Tuesday from a wonderful trip to California to visit my brother, Stu, along with my two sisters – Melissa and Melinda. Yes, that’s Mel, Mel, Mel and Stu. And he also could have been a “Mel” as our dad and grandfather are Melvins! I think he’s happy with Stu.This was the first thing we saw as we got off the plane. (I happened to be on the same flight as my sisters out of Dallas!) Palm trees and mountains could be seen from this open air gate at the Palm Springs, CA airport! And it was probably 90 degrees! Hurray for warmth and scenery!
One of the first people we met was Trax – my brother’s new black lab. We picked him up at the golf course where my brother works as Superintendent. (Actually, he has a WAY more fancy title than that, but I can’t remember it at the moment.) What a cutie Trax is at 4 months old, and he went everywhere with us drawing quite a bit of attention, as you can probably imagine!
We stayed at the home of good friends of my brother’s – the Rowells. They are a precious gem of a family – hospitable, sacrificial, warm and authentic, and loving my brother as their very own son. Theirs was a beautiful home on guess what….a golf course. The Palm Springs area has about 100 golf courses. You might be hard pressed to buy a home there that is NOT on a golf course. We had a wonderful evening of taco salad and card games on the patio. The next morning we girls sat on the patio in our pjs in the warm breeze and watched the sun rise over the beautiful course…….very luxurious indeed.
After our leisurely breakfast, we headed to Southwest Community Church where Stu attends and is very involved in the youth program. He leads a weekly small group Bible study for high school guys, chaperones skiing and camping trips, stars in crazy promotional videos for upcoming events, and even preaches/teaches in the large high school worship service on a regular basis. The kids love him, and I could not be more proud to have a brother who gives his life away like this. Here he is sacrificially playing Guitar Hero with one of the kids on Sunday morning before church – it’s a tough job, really. Below is the music portion of the service – amazing time of worship and praise.
That afternoon we drove up a mountain to a town called Idyllwild. We just strolled around looking in shops, art galleries, and drinking coffee. Melissa opted for a Coke as the trip up the mountain (with NASCAR speed and precision – even around the curves) gave her a bit of motion sickness. Stu is really in to rock climbing, and actually climbed the peak you can see to the left of his right ear!
Monday, we headed for Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica. In the Ralph Lauren store on Rodeo Drive, we were tempted to purchase this patent leather, royal blue jacket, but at $1998.00 we thought we might rather have new laptop computers, or plane tickets for another visit, or a month’s mortgage payment, or maybe even a nice used car!
The Santa Monica beach was really beautiful, and we enjoyed walking down the pier in the perfect weather.
We finished off our day with an amazing dinner at the Tommy Bahama Cafe – halibut, tenderloin, New York strip steak, and shrimp and scallops.
I am so blessed to have siblings who love the Lord and each other – what sweet fellowship!
Miss you all already.
Thank you, Stu, for making it all possible.

And more pictures can be found here.

My Amazing Sister

I am so blessed to have a sister who is a faithful wife, loving mom, authentic friend, and gifted artist. Over the past few years, she has taken some opportunities to develop the artist part- something that was always there, but not always valued or encouraged by others, and then just placed on a back burner while devoting time to her other precious callings of wife, mom, and homemaker.Here she is, in the recording studio, and it is with much excitement and pride that I introduce you to her and her first recording – “Music From Another Room.” Listen and be inspired!

And you can check out her blog here.

Sugar Substitute Envy

Are ya jealous, sis?Friend from church, Michelle, let me get in on her food co-op last month. This is one gallon, and it cost only $25.00!
Been using it in squash dishes, and hot tea so far – yum!