Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pre-Move Ponderings

Well, praise God, Don and I actually own a house! We were finally able to close on Thursday, and planned to move over the weekend, but three straight days of New England snow successfully hindered our plans. Although it was disappointing not to be able to move in right away, the extra week is actually a blessing, because it has given me more time to pack, clean, and prepare for the move. Now as I sit surrounded by boxes and miscellaneous unboxed items, I am pondering what I will miss about our cozy apartment, and what I am looking forward to about our very own house.

I will miss having a master bathroom. Our new house has just one bathroom, and the toilet's flushing capabilities are questionable. Looks like we will be spending some of our Christmas money on a new toilet.
I'm looking forward to having a third bedroom. As our family grows and Don has the opportunity to telecommute, it will be great to have an office or nursery...or maybe someday a girls' bedroom.

I will miss our mail carrier - he's a friendly older man who always takes time to answer Donny's questions as he sorts the mail.
I'm looking forward to having our own mailbox at the end of our driveway. Bundling up the children to hike to the community mailbox (only to find junk mail, most likely) gets old very quickly.

I will miss having maintenance just a phone call away. It's nice to know that if a drain is clogged or an appliance malfunctions, it will be serviced quickly, and we don't have to pay for it.
I'm looking forward to being able to paint. After spending a few years with white walls, white trim, and white fixtures, I am eager for some color to brighten up our home. I have been having fun with the software on the Behr and Benjamin Moore websites that allows me to virtually paint a room - if only real color changes were that simple!

I will miss being able to vacuum our entire home from one outlet. The nice thing about living in a small space is that there are fewer rooms to clean.
I'm looking forward to hardwood and tile floors so that spills and toileting accidents are easy to wipe up. I certainly won't miss scrubbing milk and other unnamed fluids out of the carpet.

I will miss the open layout of our apartment, where it is always easy to hear what the children are doing, and from the kitchen I can easily talk to the children in the dining room or my husband in the living room.
I'm looking forward to storage space. Having an attic, basement, and a shed means I won't have to store the double jogging stroller in the living room anymore. And maybe my husband will stop complaining that our closet is packed to the brim with my stuff.

I will miss our friendly community and its convenient location, where I can walk to stores and restaurants. As far as apartments go, this is a very nice community, unlike the first apartments we lived in that smelled like grease and cigarettes, and the neighbors were constantly swearing at their yippy dog.
I'm looking forward to privacy. I won't miss seeing the parking lot six feet away from our windows, or hearing the neighbor's children make dinosaur noises at 10pm.

I will miss our low rent payment. Thanks to a state program, we qualify for reduced rent that has allowed us to save regularly while living comfortably.
I'm looking forward to building equity. How exciting to know that every payment we make will be deepening our ownership of our home, instead of just carrying us through another month in the apartment world.

I will miss this home, because memories were made here. Hayden has transformed from a fussy infant to a joyful, vibrant two year old here, while Donny has grown from a not-quite-baby into an intelligent four year old who understands almost as much as he says. We have entertained friends and family who were willing to make the long drive to see us, and Don and I have had time alone together to deepen the bonds of our marriage.

I am looking forward to our new house, because the memories there will be even more plentiful. I am looking forward to letting our boys play in our own yard and welcoming new children into our home. I am looking forward to entertaining our extended family and actually having room for everyone to sit down. I am even looking forward to the challenges of home ownership, because this exciting step is going to strengthen our marriage all the more. The boys love it when Daddy gets out his tools, and I have to admit, I enjoy watching my capable husband solve issues with a screwdriver, some wires, and his bare hands. Maybe I won't miss having on-call maintenance so much after all. :)

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. - 2 Peter 3:13-14

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This House

...should be ours tomorrow! I will be amazed if it finally works out after months of waiting and not knowing. Whatever happens, I take comfort in knowing that God is in control.

For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.
- Hebrews 3:4-6

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Needing Him Every Hour

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:16

I had anticipated a busy day of visiting, or perhaps a busy day of having visitors, but it was not to be. Instead, we had a quiet day of chores, a few errands, some making and eating of decadent desserts (Donny's cherry chocolate cheesecake pie, to be specific), and a few serious conversations.

In the evening solitude, while Don was out with the guys, I reflected on the day's events. I became painfully aware of my own inadequacy, and how desperately I need my Savior at every moment. I need His wisdom when I don't know what to do or how to help. I need His comfort when I am burdened with pain and sorrow. I need His Spirit to guide me when temptations and selfishness distract me. I need His Word to instruct me, encourage me, and even rebuke me so that I follow in His ways. I need His nearness in my daily tasks of cooking and tidying and reading books and tucking little ones into bed, to remind me that I am serving Him by serving His children.

As I contemplated all this, my heart was filled with the words of this precious hymn as though they were written for me:

I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
no tender voice like thine can peace afford.

I need thee, O I need thee;
every hour I need thee;
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby;
temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.

I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;
come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

I need thee every hour; teach me thy will;
and thy rich promises in me fulfill.

I searched online for the history behind the fitting song. Both on the Cyber Hymnal site and this helpful blog, I read the account left by Annie S. Hawks, the author who penned "I Need Thee Every Hour" in 1872. She wrote,

"One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks. Suddenly, I became filled with the sense of nearness to the Master, and I began to wonder how anyone could ever live without Him, either in joy or pain. Then the words were ushered into my mind and these thoughts took full possession of me."

Isn't that just what I should be - constantly filled with the nearness of my Master? His presence was discernible to me tonight, as it was to Mrs. Hawks more than a hundred years ago. My Lord has given me a much-needed reminder that He is always with me, not just because He loves me, but because I need Him. Though there have been countless hours - even days and weeks - when I was consumed with my own thoughts, sorrows, pleasures, and activities, there has never been an hour when I did not need a Savior. Every hour of every day He gives me, I need my Lord.

Years later, after the death of her husband, Annie Hawks wrote,

"I did not understand at first why this hymn had touched the great throbbing heart of humanity. It was not until long after, when the shadow fell over my way, the shadow of a great loss, that I understood something of the comforting power in the words which I had been permitted to give out to others in my hour of sweet serenity and peace."

Thank you, Lord, for the words of this song that touch my heart. In moments of peace and of moments of chaos, moments of joy and moments of sorrow, moments of hope and moments of discouragement, may I ever remember that You are near, and You alone will fulfill my every need.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Butter, Creams, and Hayden's Health

I buttered my toast today.

For you, perhaps, hot buttered toast may not be a thing of excitement, but if you have ever spent a period of time without dairy products, you can understand my sentiment. Just four weeks ago, I tasted butter for the first time in seventeen months. And while extra virgin olive and coconut oils made a decent substitute for that time, now that I can eat butter again, I am enjoying every excuse to spread it on something.

Hayden was just five months old when he was diagnosed with food allergies. He had screamed through much of his early life. We suspected colic, reflux, teething, even allergies, but the three week elimination diet I tried seemed to have little effect on his symptoms. The eczema on his cheeks became infected and increasingly severe. Five different doctors diagnosed the oozing, crusting disease as impetigo and prescribed more than half a dozen medications, including topical and oral antibiotics that only made him scream more when we had to force them into his mouth. We even tried baby Zantac for possible reflux, but Hayden's irritability never ceased, and his skin only became more raw and infected. We had to swaddle him, even at four and five months old, to keep him from scratching his face; if a hand got loose, he would wake up bleeding. Finally, after the family doctor admitted he was "out of ideas," and there had been more than a few particularly bloody scratching episodes, my husband insisted that we drive an hour into Boston to the emergency room at Children's Hospital. In retrospect, it was the best thing we could do for our miserable little guy.

The doctors at Children's Hospital were a true gift from God, as they actually had the knowledge to properly diagnose and treat Hayden's ailments. They supplied us with prescriptions and specific instructions for the care of his eczema, such as daily daths and frequent use of emollient creams. The dermatologist faithfully kept in touch with me through email as we worked out a cure for Hayden's delicate skin. We ended up using Protopic, an ointment that was not normally recommended for children under two, but any possible risk proved to be far outweighed by the benefits. Meanwhile, they also scheduled allergy testing for him, since there is often a link between eczema and allergies. The skin prick test exposed Hayden to approximately sixteen common allergens - and he had positive reactions to seven of them. Since he was still exclusively breastfed, the allergist instructed me to avoid all traces of milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts in my diet. It meant strict adherence to a limited menu and a rigid skin care routine, but the result was well worthwhile.

Once his skin was mostly clear and the allergens were out of his system, Hayden's personality seemed to change. He was happy instead of fussy. He laughed instead of shrieking. No longer did I have to spend evenings pacing back and forth in our small apartment, bouncing him on my shoulder in a vain attempt to hush his cries. No longer did I have to cover his hands with socks to keep him from scratching himself while he cried through car rides. Any sacrifice of time or taste on my part paled in comparison to the charming gummy smile and kissable cheeks of my youngest son.

In fact, since I enjoy baking, the challenge of allergen-free cooking became a bit of a hobby. I experimented with different recipes and substitutes in order to make cookies, pies, breads, and other yummy treats (though a few not-so-yummy concoctions did end up in the trash). In fact, eating at home was not much of a problem at all. I quickly replaced my nightly dessert - a big bowl of Breyer's ice cream - with popcorn popped in coconut oil and sea salt. I cooked with rice milk and coconut milk, and I ate more meat since I could no longer get protein from dairy, eggs, or nuts. The hardest part of the elimination diet was eating at restaurants and other people's houses, when I often had to ask for ingredient lists and then say to a well-meaning waitress or hostess, "Oh, I can't have that." But when Hayden started solid foods around nine months, it was easy for me to know what to feed him in spite of the limitations - after all, I had already been following his dietary restrictions for months!

Since I believe breastfeeding is one of the best things I can do for my children's health, I am committed to exclusive breastfeeding until they start solid foods, and continuing breastfeeding as a valuable source of nutrition throughout the first year and beyond. In Hayden's case, since he had few other options for protein intake and his diet was so limited, I was all the more committed to nursing him for as long as possible. It may have been easier for me to wean him on his first birthday so that I could eat dark almond bark and mozzarella sticks, but what would be the result for my precious little boy? I made it my goal to nurse him at least until he turned two years old, and I praise God that I was able to meet it.

I nursed Hayden right up until his second birthday, spending the last month weaning him because I was pregnant (which is a subject for another post altogether). Now he enjoys drinking rice milk from the green Klean Kanteen cup we bought for his birthday. And I can enjoy a varied diet, so free from restrictions that I feel spoiled with all the choices available to me. Sometimes Hayden still asks, "You gonna share that with me?" and instead of being able to freely offer what is on my plate, I have to reply, "No, I can't share this because it has butter on it." Hayden is so good, though. He usually accepts what he can't have without protest, and he knows the word "allergic." Even at his young age, he seems to understand what is off limits, perhaps because he has never known any other way.

It's interesting to me to reflect back on the ordeal with Hayden's health that seems so distant and forgotten now. I know it was nothing compared to the trials so many parents face with children who have special needs, chronic health conditions, and even life-threatening allergies. (Praise God, though we were prescribed an EpiPen for Hayden, we have never yet needed to use it!) Yet I feel honored that God chose Don and me for the task of raising this special child of his, and that I was privileged to be able to make some small sacrifices in order to promote his health and well-being for so long.

And today, as we celebrated Donny's fourth birthday, I was able to taste-test the chocolate cheesecake that Donny requested. Donny got to lick the egg beaters (the ones covered with cream cheese, eggs, and condensed milk) while Hayden licked the spoon I used to stir the chocolate. Chocolate, you ask? Yes, during the course of my allergen-free days, I discovered that Ghiradelli semisweet chocolate chips do not contain milk (or soy flour, as some "dairy free" chips do!). I made sure to use those particular chocolate chips for today's dessert so that everyone could partake in some way. After our baking project, I was of course careful to wipe Hayden's face and apply Cetaphil cream to protect his skin.

And when I wake up tomorrow to enjoy a buttery fried egg on buttered (store bread!) whole wheat toast, I will be thanking my Lord for two wonderfully healthy, happy boys. He is so good.

Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Psalm 103:2-5

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Card 2008

I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.
Jeremiah 32:39-40

May God so bless you and your family this Christmas season
and all year through!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cinnamon Christmas Craft

With the busyness of the Christmas season and the homebuying craziness, any attempt at structured learning has been put on hold here. This week, though, the boys and I found time to create some cinnamon ornaments, and they are so easy to make (and great smelling) that I had to share. This is great project if you want to fill the house with yummy baking smells, without all the sugar and empty calories!

Combine in a bowl:
- 1 cup ground cinnamon
- 1 cup applesauce
- 1/4 cup white glue, such as Elmer's

1. Mix ingredients thoroughly, knead dough, and allow to rest for a few minutes.
2. Flatten a ball of dough between two sheets of wax paper to about 1/2" thick.
3. Open wax paper and use cookie cutters to cut shapes out of dough.
4. To make ornaments, use a drinking straw to cut a circular hole in the top.
5. Transfer ornaments to a lined cookie sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours, flipping over halfway through.
6. Allow to cool and dry thoroughly before decorating.

I made half of this recipe and we ended up with about eight ornaments, which I imagine will become keepsakes for our family. My parents actually have a few ornaments like these that I made as a child, and twenty years later, they still have a pleasant scent. If any of your creations break while peeling them off the wax paper, don't throw them away - place them in a drawer to make everything smell delicious! I am thinking about turning one into a magnet, too. I was impressed that my children followed the directions not to eat the glue-filled dough, so maybe we will even do this craft again another time!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Check Out What's In Store!

Just in time for holiday shopping, I have finally started setting up the Lambs in His Arms store, where you will find books, music, toys, diapers, and other great products of interest to moms and homemakers. The store is completely powered by Amazon.com, so you can start there and continue shopping in other areas of the Amazon website if you desire. I am still adding to the collection of my favorite products (and a few from my wish list), so check back regularly for more recommended items. If there's something that you would like to see offered in the store, leave me a comment and let me know. I appreciate your support!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Give and Take

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD. - Job 1:21b NASB

This is a wordy Wednesday, as I attempt to summarize the give and take of the past several weeks in a single post. To borrow an idea from the book of Ecclesiastes, it has been a time of prayer and a time of praise; a time to break and a time to repair; a time for coming together and a time for falling apart. And in all of it, our Lord is faithful.

Take the laptop, for example. Getting the computer to charge had become an increasingly difficult task, until the power cord only worked if Don rigged it up in a precarious tripping-hazard fashion, and no one dared breathe on - much less move - the sensitive piece of equipment. We finally managed to take it to a reputable repair shop (as opposed to the local place known for repairing laptops by pouring hot glue in them), only to discover that it would be weeks before our computer would be fixed. To our surprise, it was actually ready in only one week, and just in time to prevent Don and I from running out to buy a replacement laptop rather than go without for weeks on end.

We returned from a long weekend away with our (mostly) functional Gateway in tow, only to discover that a power surge had fried the desktop Don built himself in high school - our other computer. The next day, though, his computer turned on as if nothing had happened. We currently have two functional computers, and after a few scares, Don and I are certainly thanking God for giving them to us.

We had car issues, too. We will need a bigger vehicle when our third child is born, and my dad told us that when we need it, we can have his minivan. Isn't it wonderful how the Lord provides? But just after stopping by my dad's house dropping one frosty Sunday (to drop off our laptop, in fact), our little Neon started puffing and chugging like a train, and a warning light indicated that continuing to drive could cause severe and irreparable damage to the engine. Our one vehicle was in danger, and we had two tired boys with fevers in the backseat. Praise God that we were only five minutes from a relative, instead of stranded in the middle of the highway on our way home! We took a chance in driving back to his house in order to get our children to a safe and familiar place. My mechanic brother was able to diagnose the issue over the phone, and when he finished work for the day, he brought the necessary part to repair the damage (don't ask me for specifics - I don't pretend to know anything about cars). God was so good to us!

And of course, there's the house. The exhaustive details will have to wait for a future post. The condensed version includes finding a house we love, two months of waiting, moving on, finally getting word on the house, and a flurry of high-stress arrangements to meet the demand to close within six days. I rarely get excited about anything before it happens, and this situation proves why: as of this morning we were set to close on Friday; as of this afternoon, we are not. It turns out that a lien on the property has to be settled before the house can be sold, and it probably will not be resolved quickly. We do not know if we will close next week, or next month, or if the house will go into foreclosure and we will be forced to start looking again. Once again, we are waiting...waiting to see what God will give.

It is easy to worry right now. I like to have a plan, and it is difficult to plan without definite answers. Still, I have to trust the Lord knows best. He gives. He takes away. And however it ends, we know God is in control, and we thank Him for His provision. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
1 Chronicles 16:34

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Technical Difficulties

Were you wondering if I had fallen off the face of the earth? Well, I haven't, and thankfully my lack of posting has not been due to morning sickness, either. However, my laptop has been needing repairs for several weeks, and the only place Don trusts to fix it correctly has a three week turnaround. Since it is difficult to type on the desktop, I probably won't be blogging much in the near future. Hopefully I'll be able to catch up on some sleep, reading, and household tasks in the meantime!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Happy Hayden's Second!

Today's Wordless Wednesday is brought to you by chocolate crazy cake and by the Number 2.

They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
Psalm 145:7

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

For Fresh Air, Freedom, and Fifty

Since I have been tired lately and not always feeling well, it has been easy to focus on myself and my perceived needs. For a little perspective, though, I would like to share a few things I am thankful for today. It is amazing how counting our blessings really can change our outlook!

I am thankful for my sweet husband, who stayed home to take care of the children on Monday while I laid in bed with a migraine and nausea. He even gave them their baths, washed the dishes, and did the laundry - all tasks which are usually my sole domain. It was such a blessing to be able to rest, know that the boys were having fun with Daddy, and not worry about the house falling apart.

I am thankful for Don's job, which gives him enough sick time to be there for me when I need him, and pays enough for us to live comfortably. He has wonderful benefits there including vacation time, bonuses, and good health insurance. I am ever grateful for the opportunity to be home full-time with our children because my husband works so hard to provide for our family.

I am thankful for our children, who make me laugh and make me grow, challenging me to be more gentle, more patient, more creative, and less selfish. I am excited that God has chosen to bless us with another pregnancy, and trust that He will give me the strength I need to meet the challenges of each new day as our family grows.

I am thankful for fresh air, because when I manage to overcome the lazy desire to shut myself indoors, the crisp fall air and sunshine work wonders for my mood. The beauty of nature reminds me of the Sovereign Creator who designed each intricate detail of the natural world. I realize how insignificant I am in the vastness of the universe, and yet how precious to the One who made me for His own glory.

I am thankful, especially since today is Veteran's Day, for the many freedoms we enjoy in this country, and for those who fight to protect them. Though America's future seems uncertain, I can rejoice that today I can worship God freely, teach my children to walk in His ways, and enjoy my liberty without fear of persecution.

I am thankful that no matter what happens, God is in control. He has control of the little details and the world events, from what house we buy to what President will lead us. I am thankful for the promise that Jesus will return, and for the guide book He has given me so that I can prepare myself for that blessed day.

And I am thankful for my blog, neglected though it may be while I lounge around feeling sleepy and uninspired. I love being able to share my thoughts with my readers and reading your encouraging comments. This is my 50th published post! So thank you, Lord, for many blessings, and for friends who share in my joy.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire." - Hebrews 12:28-29

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Lentil Soup for the Soul

I have read that pregnancy cravings can reflect a nutritional deficiency in the mother: a craving for steak means mom needs protein and iron, while a sudden desire for strawberries can signal a lack of Vitamin C. If such reasoning is true (and I am not convinced that it necessarily is), apparently my body is short on sleep and sugar.

You may have noticed my lack of posting lately, which is thanks to the early pregnancy fatigue that leaves me struggling to stay awake during my usual evening blogging time. Even with a daily nap, I find myself too tired to type a coherent blog post. And while fruit and meats have gained little appeal to me, I have been consuming gingerale and chocolate chip cookies in never before seen quantities. Normally, I bake with honey rather than sugar, and avoid any products with high fructose corn syrup, but lately those very items seem to be the only ones that will settle my pregnant stomach.

Since I am slightly nauseous and growing a baby, I feel comfortable giving in to the sugar cravings - in moderation. I am realizing, though, how quickly giving in to desires becomes habit, and habits become expectations. This can happen with a cookie (or two, or three) to quell queasiness, or with a destructive and sinful habit (such as, say, self-centered thoughts that revolve around one's own physical comfort). Yet the reverse can also be true: good deeds become habits, which in turn become expectations. I have a habit of daily Bible reading, so reading two chapters every morning has become my expectation.

Even with good habits in place, though, I have been convicted that I am craving cookies more than I am craving God's Word. I am ashamed to think that I set temporal pleasures - even those as innocent as snacks - above the desire to know my Savior. Shouldn't my greatest longing, the one that consumes my thoughts, be to know and love the Lord my God? Why does my mind desperately seek ways to comfort my flesh instead of ways to nourish my soul? The Lord Jesus said, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6). If I allow Him to fill me with righteousness, maybe I can stop thinking about myself for long enough to experience a truly satisfied hunger.

As far as my eating habits, thankfully I have managed to sneak a few nutrients into my sugar-laced pregnancy diet, even beyond the whole wheat flour I used to make cookies. While browsing through my recipes this week, I found some ideas for lentil soup, and the vision of a hot bowl of soup on a chilly fall day inspired me to break out the bag of legumes I had nearly given up on. My prior experiments with lentil recipes have sometimes been edible, but never anything the other members of my family would touch. This time, though, I managed to concoct a meatless soup that actually tasted good enough to share the recipe.

Lentil Soup
  • 16 oz. Kitchen Basics chicken stock
  • 16 oz. water
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/2 cup long grain brown rice
  • 1 chopped onion (I used frozen)
  • 1 cup chopped baby carrots
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. sea salt

Combine ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, and then simmer until carrots and rice are tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. In my soup, the lentils broke down to become a protein-rich broth, leaving me with a tasty chicken and rice soup, with some carrots thrown in for variety. Yum!

And it wasn't just Mumma and baby number three who enjoyed the soup; my picky boys - including Donny, who refuses any normal meal that could be classified as dinner - ate their entire servings too. Even my picky husband managed to choke down a few bowls without complaint. A nutritious, inexpensive, and easy meal the whole family will eat? I think this is a first - and definitely a meal to make again!

Well, I'd like to write more, but it is 9:00pm and I am just about ready for bed. First, though, I need to update my grocery list: we need flour, raw sugar, and red lentils. And I need to spend some time with my Bible, too. In spite of my drooping eyelids, I'm hungering for a few more morsels of God's precious Word.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reminders from God

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.
You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.

James 5:7-8

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beneath the Pine

The glory of Lebanon will come to you,
the pine, the fir and the cypress together,
to adorn the place of my sanctuary;
and I will glorify the place of my feet.

Isaiah 60:13

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Secure Dwelling Place

If you make the Most High your dwelling—
even the LORD, who is my refuge-
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

- Psalm 91:9-12

If you asked me what my greatest fear is, I would not know how to answer - and it's not because I am fearless. In fact, it is not difficult to make me uneasy. As a young child, I lost sleep over movies like Honey I Shrunk The Kids that others found harmless. To this day, I cannot watch TV shows or movies that contain suspenseful music or screaming characters. I admit that I do not understand the Lost phenomenon; just hearing that show from another room bothers me. And even a few minutes of watching shows that flash through crime scenes and cruel acts haunt me with disturbing images.

For some, it's easy to brush off the horrors of Hollywood with the thought that, "It's not real." Maybe I identify too much with the characters, so their trials seem as real as if they were my own. Or maybe I remember that even if the murder or rape or terrorist act on the movie is scripted, such violent crimes are committed in real life everyday, and they are not the good and lovely things that my Lord would have me dwell on. People really do contract deadly illnesses, lose loved ones, and suffer at the hands of others, but the frequency of such events does not make them any less painful for those who are afflicted. It seems that slowly and subtly, "entertainment" has built up a tolerance in most Americans for the sin and suffering that plagues this fallen world. But 1 Thessalonians 5:22 tells us to avoid every kind of evil, and I believe that applies to our choices in entertainment. I do not like to think about evil things, and I certainly do not want to be plagued with images of wickedness when I am alone in the dark.

As Don and I pursue purchasing a single family home - and one that is surrounded by woods - we are considering my safety in being home with the children while he is at work. Should we get a big dog, an alarm system, or a shotgun for my protection? Or is locking the door enough to keep harm at bay? In our worries and actions, we have to find the balance between guarding our family from potential evil and acting out of fear. It think it's easier for my husband - he fears nothing except the wrath of God. For a petite young woman like me, the world can be a scarier place. And while I know that God is watching over me, I also know that I am not immune to the effects of sin. There is no guarantee that I will never find myself in a frightening or dangerous situation. My guarantee, it seems, is simply that I will never be there alone.

I was thinking over this subject as I contemplated this week's "In Other Words" hosted at Writing Canvas. The passage from Psalms above is a timely reminder for me that God is a protector whom I can trust. Beyond a secure home with fences and deadbolts, I need to make the Most High my constant dwelling place. When I am dwelling with Him, His Word says that no harm will befall me. He even commands His angels to guard me and hold me in their hands. How many times, when my mind has wandered to the thoughts of all that could go wrong - car accidents, robbery, injury, and so on - has the Lord been sending angels to protect me? These guardians are more than the gold Cupid-shaped birthstone pin I wore when I was ten. Real angels, powerful heavenly beings, are at the disposal of the Most High. If He sends them to protect me, they go. I need not fear disaster, for the Lord says it will not come near my tent. And if a cloth tent can be secure, surely the Lord will protect me inside walls of wood and Sheetrock.

At bedtime tonight, I turned to the comforting words of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" in our treasured hymnal. The lyrics of the third verse, especially, stood out to reassure me that so long as the Lord is my refuge, I need fear no evil. His everlasting arms will hold me in this dark, distressing world, and lead me safely into eternal life, where there will be nothing left to fear.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Autumn Learning Adventures II

Today I am continuing to share what I have learned in the past month of teaching my children at home. If you missed the last post, you can catch up on the first three things, then read on as I delve into the deeper lessons that God is teaching me this autumn.

5. We cannot learn it all...yet. With each topic we discuss, I realize how much more in depth we could go, and how much more there is to learn. I have wondered if I should spend several weeks studying apples instead of trying to cover all kinds of growing things in just two months. Sometimes my inner perfectionist finds my laid-back approach to preschool education frustrating because of its lack of definition and completeness. At the same time, I am content that this is just what we should be doing. Our informal activities give me an opportunity to connect with my boys while fostering their love of learning. They will have many years to discover the intricate details of phonics and photosynthesis and physics. For now, there is a joyful freedom in taking our time as we learn through reading, play, and everyday life.

6. The adventures will only increase next June, when we welcome a new baby into the world. I have been wondering for a while when God would bless our family with another child, so I am excited to have this glimpse into our future. The Lord continually reminds me that even when it is not what I would have expected, His timing is always the best. And I know that throughout this pregnancy - and when I have three young children to care for - He will be faithfully teaching me to rely on Him for guidance, wisdom, and strength. The lessons in God's faithfulness and grace in spite of my own inadequacy are, of course, ones I will be learning for life.

7. The most important teachings are found in God's Word. If my children can identify letters and count to 20 and explain how an oak tree grows, but they do not know God, then I have taught them nothing worthwhile. So in addition to reading theme-related Bible stories, I have printed out relevant memory verses for us to study. Our art activities include decorating the verses, which I preserve by slipping them into sheet protectors inside a binder. The children love to look at their handiwork in the book of verses, and even little Hayden has memorized the keys words of Scripture. Our first verse, the one that we decorated with apple prints, was Proverbs 7:2:

Keep my commands and you will live;
Guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.

If they learn nothing else, I want my children to learn to keep God's commands. In fact, it is the most important lesson I can learn, too. As I guard the Bible's teachings in my heart, I am learning all I need to know.

So what have you been learning? If you would like to play along, just share six things that you have learned this month, and leave me a comment so I can come check it it out!

Autumn Learning Adventures

Our September apple picking excursion was the unofficial kickoff to our first season of informal homeschooling. Considering myself a dedicated (though inexperienced) homeschooling mom, yet uninterested in rigid curricula, I have been putting my college education to use in creating my own simple lesson plans. I wanted to base my curriculum on seasonally appropriate units that would be of interest to my two preschoolers, so for September and October, I decided to study Things That Grow with a fall-themed focus. Since there were so many subcategories to address, I broke the unit down into weekly themes of How Plants Grow, Apples, Fruits, Vegetables, Pumpkins, Harvest, Flowers, Trees, and Leaves.

When I saw this "Six Things I've Learned" game on a friend's blog, I thought it would be a perfect way to summarize our adventures so far. So, in the name of home education, here are six things I have learned in the past month:

1. Apples are the best fruit. You can pick them, eat them, and bake pies and crisps with them. They are available year-round, and stay fresh in the refrigerator for weeks. The children and I are fascinated by the star in the center of the core, and we had fun decorating Bible verses with prints made from halved apples.

Papayas, on the other hand, are not so wonderful. We learned how big a papaya is (Donny wondered if it was some sort of misshapen watermelon) and that slightly under-ripe ones do not taste good at all. We discovered that they are filled with slimy, edible black seeds, reminiscent of a pomegranate. I concluded that if we are going to experience foreign fruits as a sensory activity in the future, it might be prudent to buy a smaller fruit (like a mango?) to avoid excessive waste.

2. I am not a big fan of Brussels sprouts, either. I had little experience with the mini-cabbages until I requested some while they were on sale during our Vegetable Week. My dear husband came home with a giant Styrofoam tray, neatly covered in plastic wrap, and overflowing with supplies for our "Try a New Vegetable" activity. While a few Brussels sprouts would have been a fine learning experience, an entire tray full was far too much for the taste buds of my family. I once again wished that we had a rabbit, dog, pig, or compost pile, because after choking down as many as possible, the leftovers ended up in the trash. Leafy green things may be full of useful vitamins, but give me an orange vegetable any day.

3. Speaking of which, I also learned that pumpkins are quite useful, especially for someone who should buy stock in canned pumpkin because she uses it so often. I originally purchased a pumpkin for the sensory experience of scooping out the seeds, but my Donny missed out on the fun because - not at all unlike his mother - he did not want to get his hands sticky. Hayden and I managed to fish out all of the seeds, though, and after a generous sprinkling of salt and 10 minutes in the oven at 325 degrees, we had a tasty snack to enjoy. We cooked the pumpkin according to The Nourishing Gourmet's recommendations, which was really no different than cooking a butternut squash, and I saved the puree to use in baking. Because Hayden is allergic to eggs, I often substitute mashed bananas, or more frequently, canned pumpkin, in baked goods (about 1/4 cup pumpkin or mashed banana equals one egg). I had always been under the impression that cooking a fresh pumpkin was a lot of work for a stringy, watery mess, so I'm glad we tried this experiment. Certainly, the effort required was more than opening a can, but it was worthwhile for the bonus seed snack and the hands-on learning experience.

Since this is getting long, I will save the other three things for next time...and don't worry, not everything I am learning is about produce!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

June 2009

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:15-16

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Upside-Down, Staring at the Sky

Lambs In His Arms has existed online for only four months, but it has been growing in my head and heart for much longer than that. About a year ago, I actually typed out a few posts for my imaginary blog. This entry was originally written October 2, 2007.

This is what God the LORD says—
he who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:

"I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand. ...”

Isaiah 43:5-6a

I did two things today that I have not done for a long time. Not wanting to waste a beautiful fall day, I took the boys out in the double stroller, and afterwards we went to the playground near our apartment. While Donny busies himself burying his toy dump truck in the wood chips and Hayden naps in the stroller, I sometimes hang off the monkey bars, but never for too long. Ever self-conscious, I am always afraid that some neighbor is going to get upset that an adult is using the playground equipment that is tatooed with "Ages 5-12" stickers. While this fear is probably completely unfounded, since few of the local parents even watch their own five to twelve year olds, I can’t seem to get the idea out of my head that all eyes are upon me whenever I dare to do anything out of the ordinary.

But today, instead of just holding onto a bar and swinging, I folded my legs over the top of a ladder, leaned back, and let go: I was upside-down. Children do this daily, my husband has made a hobby and career out of gymnastics, but for me, being upside-down is usually quite unsettling. For a brief moment, though, it was fun. My head was just inches off the ground; I knew I wasn’t going to get hurt, and I could just enjoy the unusual perspective.

As I type this out, I realize how ridiculous it sounds. Letting go of fear takes many forms, and for me, I had to take this small step of hanging upside down to get over my fear of being uncomfortable, undignified, and unsettled. The moment was over quickly, I managed to dismount without injuring myself, and no nosy neighbors walked by laughing and pointing. In fact, Donny was so busy with his truck that even he did not seem to notice his mother's playground antics. It’s funny how those of us who are prone to introspection can have these deep and significant moments that go completely undetected by others around us.

As I reflect today's event (insignificant though it may seem), I wonder, are there areas of my life that I am gripping too tightly, afraid to let go and let God give me a new perspective? Is fear of possible pain preventing me from experiencing the adventure He has planned for me? Don has told me several times that he wants me to experience gymnastics or amusement parks rides so that I get used to the feeling, and then it will no longer be a big deal. As with anything, practice makes perfect. If I spend more time being physically upside-down, maybe I can avoid the uncomfortable rush of blood to my head and crazy sense of exhilaration when I let go. And spiritually, I could use some practice at letting go of whatever I am leaning on, surrendering myself to the loving hand of an Almighty God. Who knows what sights I will see when I let Him show me the world from His perspective?

And speaking of sights, the other highlight of the playground trip happened when I glanced up at the sunny sky and was surprised to see a distinct white semicircle. I pointed it out to Donny, asking, “What’s that?!” Of course, he excitedly replied, “The moon!” I studied the clear outline framed against the cobalt blue sky, wisps of white cloud blowing past, and realized: It has been a long time since I really looked at the sky.

I spend most of my time indoors, and when I am out, I am often too busy getting exercise or getting to an appointment or chasing children to notice what is above me. The loss is my own, because for me, the sky has always been such a powerful reminder of the amazing splendor of God. I do not understand how anyone could gaze up into the heavens, with the countless stars and ever-changing clouds and a sun that is so bright we cannot even look at it directly, and say that there is no God. The vastness of the sky tells me in no uncertain terms that I am tiny, insignificant, a mere speck in an unfathomable universe. And yet, the Creator of all this beauty loves ME. He made all this just so that you and I would know that He is God.

So I am going to think about how I can let go of my fears as I cling to my Lord. I must trust that He is holding my hand through every silly worry and every exaggerated experience. And next time I step out the door - whether it is a sunny day or a starry night - I am going to take a few minutes to look up to the sky. If one element of the Creation is this breath-taking, how much more awesome is the Creator Himself!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Of Wings and Waterfowl

It was a ducky sort of day. Considering his recent behavior, I realized that Donny would benefit from some focused attention from me. I was tired (as I often am lately) and there were things to do (as there always are), but I forced myself to slow down a bit and keep him by my side. Like a mother bird, I gathered him close under my wings.

And after a bath with his favorite rubber duckies, my imaginative little boy transformed into a duck. He requested that we build a nest, so I obliged by constructing a cocoon of blankets and quilts on our couch. He gathered an armful of toys (despite my protests that ducks do not have plastic cars and trucks in their homes) and settled himself to spend a large portion of the morning in his cozy nest. Naturally, I was appointed the Mumma Duck, while Hayden was the Baby Duckling, and Donny himself was the Brother Duck. I was amused by the game, especially since "Duck" is the nickname I have affectionately bestowed on my husband - you know, being named Donald and all. But although Daddy Duck was at work during our play, the duck family continued to grow, as Donny petitioned the Mumma to lay some eggs in order to supply more ducklings.

Did you ever notice that the requirements of parenting include becoming an instant expert in every subject? In between asking a myriad of questions about fire trucks - inspired by the battery-operated toy in his hand - Donny taxed the limits of my knowledge on the ways of waterfowl. He demanded to know "what else" they eat after I had named all the duck treats I could think of. He also said something about the Mumma Duck taking the baby for a ride, so I explained that the babies don't ride on the mother duck's back; they have to fly on their own. "What if the mumma duck doesn't teach them how to fly?" Donny wanted to know.

"She does," I said. "It's part of her job to teach the baby ducks how to fly."

It seemed like there might be a metaphor behind my simple statement. As the mother duck of this family, I see to it that our ducklings are warm, fed, and safe in the nest. But eventually, the ducklings must learn to fly. My thoughts were fitting for such a day, as I pondered what it is that Donny needs from me. Besides meeting his physical and emotional needs and providing a nurturing home, Daddy Duck and I must teach him how to maneuver through this dizzying world. And though I make no claims to be a duck expert, I am confident that Mumma Duck does not use lectures to teach her young to fly. She shows them. And they fly together.

My thoughts reminded me of another duck-themed post that touched my heart, and another source of my limited knowledge of duckish ways. "What a Mother Must Sacrifice" taught me that mother ducks line their nests with feathers plucked from their own breasts. They sacrifice bits of themselves to support their young. They give, not of ragged old feathers from the ground, but of their own soft, warm down. Is this not what my little ones need from me? Not my leftover scraps of time for training and teaching and play, but my sacrifices. They need my attention so that instead of just telling them how to live, I can show them. I can strengthen our relationship with times of imaginative play and incidental learning and demonstrating the sacrifices that are inherent in real Christian love.

As I tucked my own ducklings into bed that night, wrapping them up in pieces of our morning nest, Hayden requested two songs. "Jesus Loves Me" came first, and then one of his favorites, "Six Little Ducks." Normally the merry tune of ducks wibble-wabbling to and fro seems unsuited for a lullaby, but this time, I agreed to sing about the little duck with the feather on his back. My sweet little ducklings, what a privilege it is to tuck you into our nest and watch you drift off to sleep in peaceful contentment. And Lord, help me to give willingly of myself, my time, my attention, my example. Help me to mold these precious ducklings into men who fly on eagle's wings.

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. - Isaiah 40:31

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fall 2007

The LORD upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
Psalm 145:14-15

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Child's Grace

The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. - Luke 2:40 NASB

It was a difficult morning with Donny. By difficult, I mean two ear-piercing tantrums that left me wondering what sort of out-of-control maniac had possessed my three year old. It was during the second of these outbursts, when I had exhausted all coping and discipline methods that seemed Biblical and reasonable, that I cried out to the Lord for wisdom. What, oh what, could I do to help my struggling son?

In His mercy and grace, God reminded me of a blog post I stumbled across yesterday about bringing our children to the Gospel. So when Donny had finally calmed down and joined us at the table for snack, I began to retell the old, old story of the Saviour who died for our sins. I reminded him that God is perfect, but we all sin sometimes and need God to forgive us. I hoped that someday he would ask God to forgive his sins and let Jesus be his Saviour so that he could have the Holy Spirit in his heart. And the Holy Spirit, I explained, would help him to have all those fruits in the verse we memorized, like love, joy, peace...and self-control, the fruit I fervently pray for him to develop. I told how because of Jesus' death on the cross, we don't have to go to hell; we can be forgiven and live with God forever in heaven. It was probably, in my limited experience as an evangelist, the most comprehensive explanation of the Gospel I have ever given at one time.

Of course, Donny replied to my heartfelt synopsis in true preschooler fashion. In a voice that bordered on the edge of tears, he whispered, "I hope they have Legos in Heaven."

Ah, the mysteries of God. Not only do I have to explain the Being we cannot see or hear who lives in the mystical place that we cannot drive to, but now I have to convince him that the unseen place will be even better than an eternity of colorful connecting blocks.

Later he said, "Did you not know that one time, I prayed to God and asked him to be my Saviour?"

"I did not know that," I replied honestly.

"I prayed in my head one time," he told me. After some more discussion, he realized that we forgot to pray before snack. So we held hands, and this child, who has whined and complained about every meal I have served to him this week, prayed, "Dear God, thank you for forgiving my sins. And thank you for all the yummy food so we don't have to eat manna and quail like the Israelites. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Apparently not all of my words of instruction have fallen on deaf ears. It was several weeks ago that we learned about the Israelites eating manna and quail in the desert, and how we ought to be thankful for the great variety of food we have to eat. Is it possible that little lesson, instead of getting washed away in the daily rains, actually took root in his childish heart?

I would love to tell you that everything was wonderful after that discussion at the table, but it would not be true. The remainder of the morning was still challenging, as I am certain many future mornings will be. Still, I thanked God for that little glimmer of heaven-bound hope that I caught during morning snack. He may not understand it all yet, but maybe his heart is beginning to grasp what his head cannot. And maybe, with plenty of time and loving discipline and continual heapings of grace, the Gospel will sink in to my firstborn's fragile soul, and the Holy Spirit will bear some precious, long-awaited fruit.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fall 2006

The LORD will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.

Psalm 87:12

Friday, October 3, 2008

Friday Homemaking

I love Fridays. Some people look forward to Friday as the last day of the work or school week, or as pay day, or date night. For me, Friday is more than just the precursor to the weekend. Friday is my cleaning day, the day I restore our home to its proper state of orderly cleanliness.

I used to divide up my weekly chores between days - I would vacuum on Wednesday, clean the bathrooms on Friday, and wash the floors on Saturday mornings. Over a year ago, I found a much more gratifying system that allows me one evening to relax in the luxury of a clean home. Besides accomplishing the week's major tasks in a half day's work, Friday cleaning also ensures that our home is ready for weekend guests (a quick tidy of toys and dishes is much easier than attempting to polish every room in a last minute scramble). And on the weekends we spend visiting family, I know that I will return to a peaceful place of reasonably sanitary rest.

My routine begins during Friday morning chore time, when Donny helps me pick up toys, baskets, and small furniture off the floor. Then I roll out my Kenmore Progressive, plug in to the kitchen outlet, and commence vacuuming. One advantage to living in 850 square feet is the ability to vacuum every corner of our home without changing power outlets! The boys like to help me use the floor tool in the bathrooms and kitchen. (They also like to operate the powerhead on the rug, but safety concerns and my own impatience with the inefficiency of toddler vacuuming usually prevent this from happening.)

I tend to save the dining room, with its abundance of crumbs, for last. I am convinced that the genius who invented carpeted dining rooms never had children. Any parent would surely realize that even shabby schoolhouse linoleum - that wipes clean with a damp rag - would be preferable to scrubbing spilled milk, spaghetti sauce, and pureed sweet potatoes out of chocolate mousse colored carpet. And on that note, I must say that I am very thankful, especially since I have no choice in the matter, to have brown - or "chocolate mousse" - carpets rather than white, beige, or any other easily stained color. Should I happen to spill tea or, say, apple pie filling, on this rug, no one will be the wiser.

Later, during naptime, I listen to Grace to You online while I wipe down our two bathrooms with vinegar and rags. I then move on to scrubbing the floors (again with vinegar, water, and rags), though if I dawdle too much I may end up with two helpers who think my bucket of water is their sensory table. Then I hang fresh towels (the dirty ones having been washed in that morning's laundry) and step back for a few minutes to enjoy the atmosphere. Within minutes, of course, the boys will splash soapy water all over the bathroom counter or dump their Cheerios on the aforementioned chocolatey rug, but the cleanliness is nice while it lasts.

Please understand, despite this and a previous post on a similar subject, I am not your typical clean freak. You won't find me washing windows, dusting bookshelves, or scrubbing cupboard doors unless - about once a year or so - I notice that something looks dirty. However, I do have an appreciation for order and the peace that comes from knowing that I am not going to step in something sticky. In some ways, cleaning is something I do for myself, because I can reap the rewards directly - short lived though they may be. At the same time, I see it a job that I do for the Lord.

Even if my messy boys do not see the charm in a shiny faucet or crumb-free carpet, I know that my work at home is blessing them. I am doing what I can to promote their health and hygiene, and at the same, I can teach them a valuable work ethic as they work alongside me. Can I honestly say that scrubbing toilets is fun? No way. But do I look forward to scrubbing the toilets so that they can be a little cleaner for the coming week? Absolutely. The outcome makes the task worthwhile.

The other tidbit you should know is that I was not born a clean fanatic. I grew up with the idea that vacuuming and bed making were the things one does right before company arrives. And while I was in charge of cleaning my own bathroom since the age of nine, I certainly never relished the task the way I do now. Loving cleanliness is a trait I have developed, and along with it, I have found a joy in the work that brings about such rewards.

This is one of the many (many!) reasons that I thank God and my hardworking husband for allowing me to be a homemaker. I am privileged to do a job that I love. It's not that I love cleaning per se; if I were forced to go out into the working world, I would not be applying with the Merry Maids. But I love doing exactly what my job title says: making home. I love making home a clean, comfortable place for my family to live and laugh and dream together. I love creating an environment where we can welcome guests or have a pretend picnic on the freshly vacuumed rug. I delight in doing this job that my Lord has called me to, because it is my privilege to take the house, apartment, or basement bedroom that we live in, and turn it into a home.

My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.
Isaiah 32:18

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bedtime Brothers

Well, it's not exactly wordless, because this picture needs an introduction. Last night I ventured out -something that, quite frankly, I never do - to meet a friend for some caffeine-free tea and interruption-free conversation. My dear husband was entrusted with the task of putting our children to bed. I hoped to find Donny asleep in his bed upon my return, though I fully anticipated that Hayden would still be wide awake even at 10:30pm, waiting to conduct our familiar bedtime routine. As you can imagine, I was surprised to walk in and find that both children were already sleeping...and even more surprised when I opened my bedroom door.

Well, Daddy DID put them to bed. I guess I never specified whose bed they should occupy.

And occupy is exactly what these brothers did to our bed, until their loving Daddy gently tucked them into their own sleeping spaces. As I drifted off to sleep, I thanked God for an evening blessed by a dear friend, a capable husband, and a precious set of twins in my bed.

But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster. - 1 Kings 5:4

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


There was nothing left to do, except...wait.

It's a line from a poem I wrote in high school. I cannot remember the rest of the poem, nor even what it was about, but the words keep popping into my head this week. Wait is a frustrating word, full of hope and promise for the future, yet overshadowed with long expanses of nothingness and the possibility of an overdue disappointment. And it seems, right now, that I am waiting for so many things.

There are the small and short-lived waits - waiting for naptime, waiting for popcorn to pop, waiting for my husband to get home from work, waiting to finally have a Saturday at home to catch up on errands.

Then there are more intense forms of delayed gratification, like waiting for a phone call. Waiting for an answer. Waiting for a home of our own, or at least some idea of when it will happen and where it will be.

Our life this year has been filled with waiting, sometimes much longer than I originally anticipated. We have been waiting to find out when another baby will join our family. Waiting for a raise or a shift change at Don's work. Waiting to get involved in a church. (It's hard to be involved when you move often and spend half of your weekends visiting family in another state).

In fact, it seems like most of life is made up of waiting for something. Sometimes it's vague and long term, like waiting for retirement or the opportunity to adopt a child. Other times, it is a more acute waiting, like the wait that is currently causing a spontaneous nervous twitter in the pit of my stomach.

Right now, I am waiting on some answers from God. I am waiting for some blessings from His hand, knowing that if I ever receive them, it will only be by His grace. But one thing that need not delay is my relationship with my Saviour. I can grow in grace and knowledge with Him every day as I anticipate His return.

Instead of being consumed with earthly timetables, I pray that the Lord would find me daily waiting upon Him. May my greatest hope be found in the knowledge that He is coming back to save the world, and that I can spend eternity at His side. As I look forward to answers and events in this life, I must trust that His timing is perfect. And I must remember that sometimes the wait is the refining fire that makes me ready for the destination. May I wait patiently as I trust in the Lord my God.

I wait for you, O LORD; you will answer, O Lord my God.
Psalm 38:15

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Counting the Cost

I have spent the day in a sea of phone calls, real estate listings, good faith estimates, and Excel sheet calculations. As we examine the cost of home buying - from the closing costs to the staggering monthly payment - Don and I must consider what we are willing to sacrifice for the dream of home ownership. Is it worthwhile for my husband to work evenings, weekends, or holidays so that we can make ends meet? Am I willing to take in someone else's children in order to have money left in savings at the end of the month? And even if we can scrape together enough to pay the mortgage, how will we pay for other things? Supposing we are fortunate enough to find a place that needs no repairs or updates and we even like the color of the walls, there will still be expenses. If we buy a home with a full size living room, we will want a full size couch instead of the Styrofoam loveseat that fits perfectly in our cozy apartment. And we might like to have a table for the dining room that seats more than four people...or a fence for the yard...or a refrigerator...and those things will cost money. I guess I am hoping that our future home will include a money tree in the backyard. Without it, the prospect of home ownership on a single income seems daunting.

As we look to the Bible for wisdom, I find Jesus reminding us to consider the cost:

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'
- Luke 14:28-30

But Jesus was talking about more than towers or single family suburban homes. He spoke of the cost of discipleship, a subject that has been a recurring theme for Don and me this year. We have listened to John MacArthur preach on it. We have examined our own spiritual walks: are we really willing to give up everything to follow Christ? And the Lord has impressed on our hearts the magnitude of true Christianity. Yes, we knew that salvation was more than saying a prayer or believing that the Bible is true. We were both blessed to be raised in the church, so we know all the text book answers about God and the Bible. But when we committed our lives to Christ, did we really count the cost? Consider the preceding verses in Luke 14:26-27:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

I knew, as a teenager dreaming of marriage, that wives are called to be submissive. But did I know that submission might mean giving up a dearly held dream or desire to replace it with the dreams and desires of my husband? I knew that I was called to love others. But did I consider how difficult it might be to love those who hurt me? I knew that Christian love is patient, but did I realize my patience would be tested to the limits when I fulfilled my calling to mother young children? No, I certainly did not know the specifics, but I can see how the Lord is refining me through every struggle. And as I bear the burden of my cross, I am not alone, for He is right there with me. Being Christ's disciple comes at a cost, but it is accompanied by the blessings of being considered His friend.

For the true Christian, God must be all. He demands my everything - every thought, every desire, every action must be submitted to His Will. He deserves nothing less from me. I do not want to be the foolish man with the half-built tower. My Lord has laid a firm foundation in my heart, and I trust that He will continue to build me up in Christ until I am complete.

Houses are expensive, and the price of home ownership is great. The cost of discipleship is far greater, because it cannot be paid with cash or credit. Jesus paid everything for me through His death on the cross. I owe Him nothing less than my life in return. If I am to be a true follower, He must come before houses, before children, before my husband, and before any dream that springs up in my human heart.

When I look up at the steep and winding path before me, and consider the cost of following my Shepherd, let me put my calculators and my selfish desires aside. May my heart be wholly His as I simply count it all joy.

Growing Tall

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:15-16

Monday, September 22, 2008

House Hunting

Now that we have saved a modest down payment and the housing market crash has resulted in lower prices and rates, Don and I have been looking more seriously at buying a home. I confess that I am a bit hooked on Realtor.com and other websites that allow me to browse through hundreds of homes until I am having visions of wallpaper and hardwood floors as I drift off to sleep. I am fascinated by the variety of floor plans, features, and decorating styles of different dwellings. Yet as fun as house hunting can be, when the very cheapest houses are out of your price range, the search can be frustrating and sometimes even ridiculous.

When we thought we might be moving to Texas, where housing is more affordable, we looked at some nice three bedroom homes that were priced around $160k. Here in New England, we saw one single family home for the low low price of $160k. It turned out to be a seasonal two bedroom with no basement, no yard, and in fact, no kitchen...unless you consider shelves draped with a sheet to be cupboards, and a camper-size gas stove to be functional for feeding a family of four. And who needs counters or a dishwasher, anyway?

The same day, we saw a house for $200k that was also near a lake (in other words, likely to flood and situated in a crowded community with dirt roads and no available parking). This one was a newer home, with lovely wood floors, fancy bathroom fixtures, and cathedral ceilings. But it was a foreclosure - as many homes on the market are these days - and apparently when the occupants left, they literally took everything but the kitchen sink. If you look carefully at this picture, you can see what is left of the cupboards, but you can't tell that the counter is broken and a metal tube spouts out of the floor where a dishwasher may once have stood. Apparently there was a theme that day of kitchen-free houses. But I would like to know what on earth the homeowners did with the appliances, counters, and cupboards.

Another home in the same community, for the same price, at least had a kitchen. But the two "bedrooms" resembled walk-in closets; they fit a twin size bed and not much more. The tiny backyard featured poison ivy instead of grass, and a gravestone marked the burial site of a once beloved pet. I have been wanting a yard so that our children can play outside more freely, but digging up Fido's bones and acquiring painfully itchy rashes are not quite what I had in mind.

I have to say, I don't know how people shopped for houses before the invention of the Internet. With every property we have been interested in, Don and I could see detailed listings, look at it on Google Maps (including satellite and street view), find out what the home appraised for, and more. I am thankful for the technology that helped me to eliminate several homes without scheduling a showing, like two that were within a stone's throw of the interstate highway, and two others that had a river (prone to flooding and certainly not safe for the children) practically flowing through the backyard. Oh, and one of the riverside homes had a huge power grid on the other side. I know that we might not be able to afford our dream home right now, but we certainly are not going to spend our last penny to live between rushing water and rushing electricity. Of course, there are some things you don't find out until you visit in person, like the adorable cape that would have been almost perfect if my nearly six foot husband could walk in the basement and bedrooms without bumping his head on the ceiling.

The epitome of bad houses, and a sad picture of the housing market right now, was a once beautiful three bedroom home in a great neighborhood - within walking distance of our children's grandparents, in fact. It was set on a private lot with a big yard - a big, overgrown yard, full of oversize junk, and home to a friendly garter snake. If the torn up flooring, ripped off baseboard heaters, holes punched in the walls, and moldy ceilings weren't enough, there was a giant wasp's nest hanging off the back porch. By giant, I mean significantly larger than a basketball. Once again, this serious fixer-upper did not strike us as the ideal location to raise children. It actually reminded me a bit of the worst house we saw in Dallas, which was littered with dead cockroach bodies. I still shudder to think about that. We may complain about New England winters, but I think it is a worthwhile exchange not to have to contend with such horrifying creatures.

Lest you think our experiences are isolated, you can visit this blog for some hilarious (and sometimes scary) pictures. There have been more than a few occasions when Don and I commented on the usual, ugly, or positively useless pictures posted on real estate listings, and the Lovely Listing blog is simply a collection of such fodder. If any of my readers are thinking of selling their homes, I beg you to please hide your personal clutter before your realtor comes to take photos. And if your home has truly heinous decor, consider omitting the interior pictures, unless you want to find a familiar picture featured on the above blog someday.

On a more positive note, we recently had a much more productive house hunting trip, and even saw a few homes that seemed safe to live in, and did not need repairs equal to the purchase price. Only God knows if anything will come of it. Maybe He will give us a beautiful home with three real bedrooms, or at least two bedrooms with a respectable kitchen. Or maybe He will lead us to wait still longer. As hard as it is to wait, and to know that housing prices are quite possibly as low as they will ever be, I would take another few years in our apartment before I would wish for moldy ceilings, a poison ivy backyard, or a flooded basement. He has given us a good, safe place to live for right now. A grassy yard, a full-size kitchen, and a third bedroom would be nice to have, but they are far from essential. And I trust that Jehovah Jireh, our Provider, will supply our needs according to His perfect Will.

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:19 NASB

Friday, September 19, 2008

Good Choices

If you have been following my blog, you may have noticed that I love my family and tend to analyze things, so it should come as no surprise that I weigh every decision that could affect my family's well-being. With the wealth of options and information available in our society, it can be even more difficult to know which choices will most promote our health and safety. Today I'm excited to be featured as a guest blogger on Keeper of the Home, where I will be discussing some of my strategies for making Good Choices. Come check it out, and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Apple Tree

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my lover among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
- Song of Solomon 2:3

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Fruitful Season

Then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. - Leviticus 26:4 NASB

The rain poured down on Friday night, but Saturday morning gave way to a cloudy, humid day. True, it wasn't classic fall weather, but at least it was dry enough for traipsing through the grass with a tote bag in hand. Three year old Donny and I had been eagerly anticipating Saturday afternoon's adventure: our annual apple picking excursion. Though most holidays and traditions hold little weight in our family, Don and I have faithfully gone apple picking every fall since we started dating. The past few years have been extended family events, with grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, and uncles all trekking to the orchard in pursuit of the perfect apple...and the perfect picture.

Yes, we all enjoy picking and eating the apples (well, all save my allergic brother-in-law, who would be risking his life to eat the forbidden fruit of an ordinarily harmless orchard). But I suspect much of the appeal of apple picking with children is the wealth of photo opportunities. Something about the dusty red apples set against crisp green leaves creates the perfect backdrop for both candid and posed shots. Add some busy children to the picture, and it's not surprising that my father-in-law found inspiration to snap 117 digital photos within an hour, while I took quite a few myself.

When our half bushel bag was overflowing, we went inside to see the toy train, taste the apple donuts, and smell the delicious aromas of a New England farm store. We didn't leave empty handed; besides taking us apple picking, Mom and Dad sent us home with leftover donuts and fudge, a gallon of cider, black cherry spreadable fruit, and five pounds of raw local honey. What a sweet blessing!

At home, Don grilled dinner for everyone while I prepared an apple pie from our freshly picked produce. With the aid of my helpful new peeler corer slicer, the scent of Anyone's Apple Pie was filling our apartment by the time everyone came in from outside. And if apple picking, apple cider, and hot apple pie were not enough, we finished off the night with an appropriate game: Apples to Apples, of course!

When our family members left, I packed away the board games and grill tools, reflecting on the days' events. I polished off the last slice of pie as I contemplated the sauces, crisps, and snacks I could create with the leftover Cortlands in our crisper drawer. And I thanked God, rejoicing in another fruitful season of bountiful orchards, abundant adventures, and sweetly flourishing fellowship.

Anyone's Apple Pie

The classic American dessert has always been one of my favorite foods. In fact, I celebrated childhood birthdays by blowing out candles in an apple pie instead of a cake. This recipe, which I adapted from the "No Sugar Apple Pie" recipes on All Recipes, is naturally sweetened with apple juice instead of sugar, and contains no milk ingredients.

  • 2 pie crusts (I use and love the refrigerated ones by Pillsbury, though I can't claim they are "all natural")
  • 6 cups sliced apples
  • 1 cup apple juice, cider, or apple juice concentrate (use concentrate for a
    sweet pie, or cider for a more tart one)
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

  • Directions:
    In a large saucepan, simmer apples with 2/3 cup (reserve 1/3 cup) apple juice and cinnamon until apples are tender, about 10 minutes. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk remaining 1/3 cup apple juice with cornstarch. Stir cornstarch and juice mixture into simmering apples. (I no longer stir the cinnamon into the cornstarch mixture because I learned, thanks to a two year old helper, that it is nearly impossible to get a tablespoon of sticky spilled cinnamon out of a carpet!) Continue to simmer until thickened. Remove from heat. Line a 9" pie plate with one crust and fill with apple mixture. Cover with top crust, seal edges, and cut steam vents. Line oven rack with foil to prevent drips on the bottom of the oven. Bake pie in a preheated oven until crust is golden brown. (The recipe I had recommends 45 minutes at 350 degrees, but my crusts don't usually brown in that time; I will try 425 degrees for 30 minutes next time). Cool, slice, and enjoy!

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008

    Iced Tea and Dumplings: A Recipe for Refreshment

    Donny was playing with his toy dishes as he talked about the iced tea that his grandmothers like to drink. He wondered when he would get to drink some, and refused to understand my explanations that we neither had iced tea in the refrigerator, nor did I intend to make any. Finally, realizing that he had all the child-size kitchenware at his disposal, I suggested, "Why don't you make some pretend iced tea?"

    "I'm afraid not," he replied, very seriously. "I don't have any ice."

    Naturally, I laughed at him and his somber predicament. This is the boy who tells me that the pitcher of water in the bathtub is bread, but now he can't even make pretend ice. I guess an imaginary ice maker will be in order for his next pretend birthday. The season for real iced tea is drawing to a close, and the cold beverage would definitely clash with the hot meal I made last night.

    I was inspired by a discussion of the word "dumplings" between my husband and son. I had never eaten - or even seen - a dumpling in my life, but Don suggested that I should find out how to make them. Accordingly, I jotted "make dumplings" on my to-do list (because writing things down is the only way to ensure that I do everything). Yesterday, I dug through my favorite cookbook (otherwise known as the Internet) in search of a suitable recipe. I landed at my favorite cooking site, All Recipes. Not surprisingly, I found that most recipes were full of butter, vegetable oil, and other items that are unfriendly to my allergen-free and health-conscious diet. Finally, after reading dozens of reviews, I settled on this recipe, which I was able to adapt according to what I could eat and had on hand.

    But I was tired yesterday. Even a brief rest while the boys were napping did not seem to help. As the afternoon wore on, I felt less and less motivated to start a big dinner project. Maybe I could save the dumplings for another day and just warm up something simple for one night. Still, the chicken was already defrosted, no easier dinner options presented themselves, and the rainy weather made this the perfect day to usher in autumn meals of hot comfort food. Mustering up my energy, I put on a pot of brown rice and began my venture into the world of unfamiliar cuisine.

    It wasn't long before my two square feet of kitchen counter space were completely strewn with measuring cups and various pot lids. Rice was cooling on the back burner, my homemade (and dairy free) cream of chicken soup was simmering with browned chicken breast strips and carrots, and I was stirring the oil and (rice) milk in a bowl with the other dumpling ingredients. As tablespoonfuls of sticky dough plopped into the soup pot, I wondered if it would be silly to pray for the dumplings to turn out well. I hate to waste time, money, and ingredients on a dish that no one will eat, and I wanted my husband to enjoy his dinner. After all, he recently told me how he bragged to the guys at work that if he wants to try something new, his wife finds out how to make it and cook it for him! Of course, now I have to live up to my own reputation. The required twelve to fifteen minutes of boiling passed, but I still was not sure if they tasted right, having no other dumpling experience for comparison. It seemed like ages before Don came home and was finally ready to sample the new dish.

    God was faithful even to my silly little prayer; apparently the dumplings turned out well, because my usually picky husband ate three helpings of the meal. Later, there were dishes to be washed, stories to be read, babies to be rocked, and goodnights to be said. Even after the kitchen was tidy and Hayden was fast asleep, Donny's loud whisper made his usual request: "Scratch my back and sing me some afraid songs." Sometimes, I rush through a song, wanting to move on to the part of the evening where I get to relax. But tonight, I lingered a little. I realized that it is a privilege to sing to my boys and tuck them in at night. It is a privilege to be the one who meets their constant needs. And it is a challenge to do so with a joyful spirit, but I am so blessed when I give of myself to my little ones.

    And eventually, I did move on to my favorite part of the evening, which involved curling up in the arms of a satisfied and thankful husband. His sincere appreciation was enough to make me want to ladle gravy over his dinner plate every night and made the extra few minutes in preparation well worth the effort. Not long after, I realized that my sluggishness and fatigue were gone. In place of the lack of motivation I felt in the afternoon, there was a contented merriness. Knowing that I had blessed my husband gave me joy that could never be found in a long nap or a microwave dinner.

    So what does my dumpling story have to do with iced tea? Throughout the day, it would have been easier to make excuses than to do something for someone else. I don't know how. I'm too tired. I don't feel like cooking. I can't do it that way. I could have echoed Donny's woefully serious words: I don't have any ice.

    In our culture that emphasizes "me time" and looking out for our own needs first, it is easy to fall into a pattern of making excuses. My flesh wants to tell God, You want me to do that? I'm afraid not. I have nothing left to give. I don't have any. But just as Donny's lack of pretend ice was ridiculous to me, God sees through my hollow excuses. He knows that if I will just draw on His strength to get up and do what is necessary to make the iced tea, I will be able to enjoy the refreshing sweetness of blessing others.

    The moral of the story: serving others (the comfort food of dumplings and gravy) refreshes me (like a glass of iced tea on a hot day). This proverb says it well:

    A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. - Proverbs 11:25