Thursday, August 18, 2011

Exploring the Boston Museum of Science

For this week's Exploration (a.k.a. Science) Day, I planned an exciting field trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. Armed with a map of the exhibits, reserved library pass, and a willing Grammy to navigate the crazy streets of Boston, we were ready to learn.

The adventure didn't start out so well. First, it took half an hour to install Lydia's car seat in my mom's new car. Once we were finally loaded up, we began the hour long ride to Boston. It wasn't until we were nearly all the way there that I realized I had forgotten to pick up the library pass! We had come too far to turn around now, but without the coupon pass, I knew admission would be outrageous. To add to the excitement, the museum parking garage was full, so my mom dropped the children and me off at the door while she followed directions to park two blocks away.

In the meantime, I asked the two employees at the Information Booth if there was any way they could call my library and get the pass information over the phone. The answer was no. I checked out regular admission prices, and sure enough, just for two adults and two children over 3, we were looking at spending $80 - not exactly the $20 I had planned to shell out with my library pass! I went to the ticket counter and asked my question of the agent there. She said it might be possible; I would have to go over to the Membership Desk. I pulled my three camo-clad children away from swinging on the bars and we hiked toward the membership desk. The woman working there again told me no, there was nothing they could do; they needed the physical coupon in order to give me the discounted price. I was unsure what to do when the man behind the counter spoke up. If my library would agree to mail them the pass, they could let me in. My cell phone was (of course) dying, but the man was kind enough to call the library himself, and thankfully some obliging librarian agreed to mail the pass to the museum. Thank you Lord! With a coupon in hand, we went back to the ticketing line (which was now quite long), quickly confirmed with my mom that yes, we could get in, so she could go ahead and park, and I purchased our $20 worth of general admission. We sat down to eat our packed lunch in the atrium, and by the time we were finished, Grammy met us there, and we were ready to finally explore the museum.

Knowing that the museum is huge, I had spent some time researching online and asking a friend's opinion about the best exhibits to see. I knew we would be steering clear of the Human Evolution and Human Body exhibits, and my boys already know - since we are firm believers in a young earth - to dismiss anything that claimed to be millions of years old. With so many exhibits to see, we also didn't find it necessary to add on the optional Omni Theater, Planetarium, or Butterfly Garden tickets. However, we did make sure to see one of the free Live Animal Shows. The children got to get close to a toad, uromastyx lizard, ball python, rats, and a pretty cute porcupine, and had the opportunity to ask the experts all their questions.

Watching the Live Animal Show

After that, we explored A Bird's World (with lots of pretend birds in glass cases) before checking out the fascinating Audiokinetic Sculpture and other neat displays. We just talked about water wheels last week!

Making scary faces at the petrified wood from Arizona:

We thought we would take a quick walk through Natural Mysteries, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip, with all kinds of treasures tucked in drawers for the children to find. Hayden loved this computer game that identifies skulls. Here he is with the deer skull - we thought hunter Daddy would be proud!

Lydia and me (and baby belly!) with the big "stuffed animals." That was once a real tiger!

Moving on to the Dinosaurs, we got to stand next to the remains of a real triceratops!
Lydia and Hayden both enjoyed pressing buttons on the various computer games, while Donny was more interested in the actual information, such as how big dinosaurs were compared to humans.

After a quick walk past the train and boat models in Machines and Transportation, we grabbed a snack and moved on to the Discovery Center. Intended for children under age 8, this was like a miniature version of the big museum, reminiscent of our small local children's museum. All three children remained engrossed for a good hour in imaginative play, sorting rocks, assembling and identifying animal skeletons, and even playing dress-up with some animal costumes.

Here are Hayden and Lydia being geologists - Donny was too busy classifying rocks to pose for a picture!

Next, we went To The least in our imaginations. Here everyone is ready for takeoff in the spaceship!

It could have been a full trip without ever setting foot on the third floor, but we ventured up there to play around in Science in the Park, which probably would have been a lot more fun if it hadn't been jam-packed with older children. My little ones had more fun at the empty Investigate! exhibit next door, where they got to use paintbrushes to uncover hidden artifacts. Ironically, we just did a similar activity a few weeks ago when we pretended to be archeologists and dug up artifacts hidden by the lake at Grammy's. A few of the buried items there, however, were never found!

By the time we had checked out the bizarre paintings and optical illusions in Seeing is Deceiving, the announcement came that the museum would be closing in 15 minutes. I was amazed that we ended up spending about 6 hours in the museum, without anyone getting bored. While Donny demonstrated the most fascination with various subjects, Hayden and even Lydia remained engaged the whole time. As we walked the two blocks back to my mom's car, the boys recounted their favorite parts of the museum, while Lydia, after a long day of scientific discovery, fell asleep in Grammy's arms. Despite the rough start to the day, our field trip to the Museum of Science turned out to be a worthwhile adventure, as we discovered all kinds of fascinating things about the amazing world God made!

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Colossians 1:16-17

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Mission Field in My Yard

Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

Psalm 34:11

"Come my children, listen to me." Yes, that is my earnest plea today, though it so often feels ignored. It has been that kind of day, not unbelievably painful, not unforgettably sweet, but the usual mix of strains and stresses and everyday routine.

School started late, and took extra long while Hayden whined and yawned instead of copying two sentences into his Bible notebook. Donny threw fits when I gave him yogurt instead of oatmeal for lunch, when I told him to go get in the van (there are BEES outside, you know!), and when we sat on the couch instead of his bed to read Bible. And dear Lydia has learned the fine art of screaming whenever someone else dares to stand on the kitchen stool. "Listen to me" seems a gross understatement of the lectures I want to hurl at these seemingly deaf ears.

After a long morning, though, we take a quick trip to the furniture store to check out potential bunk beds, and we stay a few minutes longer to enjoy the free candy and ice cream. When we get home, I insist (despite the protests of the two eldest) that God gave us a beautiful day, and WE ARE GOING TO PLAY OUTSIDE. Amazingly, within minutes they are busy with sticks and rocks and pretend adventures, and I have a few moments to observe, reflect, and (almost) relax.

I feel the breeze of a surprisingly pleasant afternoon and see my children, for a few moments at least, interacting without anyone screaming or whining or executing violence. I realize that somewhere between the sibling battles and the pencils thrown in anger and Braxton-Hicks contractions and Lydia's 4.5 baths (milk spills, yogurt lunch, and a couple potty accidents will do that)...yes, somewhere in there is something I don't want to miss.

The days are long, but yet so fleeting. Lydia is no longer a baby; she is sleeping in her brothers' room and asserting herself with an ever-expanding and impressive vocabulary. Donny lost his third tooth a few weeks ago - apparently Hayden threw laundry at his face, knocking out the tooth which was finally located at the bottom of the laundry basket. He has another loose one, but won't let anyone wiggle it. Hayden is not yet five years old, but is reading and doing math at a level that is advanced even for his six year old brother. Even this new baby, whose growth has been mostly ignored due to many distractions, is bulging out in a gently ungraceful reminder that soon there will be one more little person to love.

I am still outside, with one eye keeping watch on the children and the other skimming a magazine. As I flip through the latest issue of The Old Schoolhouse, my eyes fall on the word "missionary." I wonder, as Don and I have periodically discussed, if maybe we should be missionaries somewhere. I think of our collective love for children and orphans, and my particular heart for babies. If we could just get out of this house and go somewhere, I muse, maybe we could really, finally, do something for God.

The thoughts are fleeting as I quickly realize, I AM doing something for God. This is the mission field God gave me: not to start a Haitian orphanage or bring the Gospel to the streets of Calcutta, but to love the people in my own home. To bring the Gospel to them by reading the Word, explaining the Word, and living the Word. To be patient in correcting stubborn hearts, gentle in teaching the truth, sincere in making my life an example of Christ's love. To be joyful always, regardless of what discouragement Satan may throw my way. This is God's mission for me. Foreign countries, preaching in the streets, and even adoption may sound bigger and more glamorous than everyday motherhood, but the lost souls who need me the most are right here, digging dirt in my yard and spilling food at my table.

The evening is no more idyllic than the morning, as even such simple-sounding tasks as reading the Bible become mountains of challenge when three wiggly children are involved. Fatigue sets in, and my heart aches to see these little ones, who can recite Scripture so effortlessly and belt out songs of praise, demonstrate no love for others, no faithful obedience, no fruit in their small lives. Easily, these observations lead to discouragement. But instead of despairing, I must reach out my arms to the child who won't keep his hands out of my hair, explain the truth to him, discipline with patience, and reassure him of my love. It isn't glamorous; there are no sudden changes of heart to inspire me; no outward encouragement to reassure me that I am doing what is right. Yet I thank God that He has given me this knowledge: I am on a mission from Him. Winning souls to Christ is no easy task. Training warriors for His army requires diligence and longsuffering. I must not just preach, but practice, the proper fear of the Lord. I must love others the way He first loved me. And the place He has called me to do it is here, in my yard, at my table, on my couch, and as I fervently pray over three little beds each night.

To read more about motherhood as a mission field, I highly recommend this post from Desiring God. Be encouraged in your mission to teach your children the fear of the Lord!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Closed Door

“This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it—the LORD is his name:
‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’"

Jeremiah 33:2-3

The best thing about when God closes a door is knowing that He is the one who closed it.

Being all-powerful, He easily could have made our house sell for a $30,000 profit in March. Or April. Maybe a $15k profit in May. Maybe $5k in June. But despite the steady pace of showings, no offers came in. Not even little ones. We left the door open, waiting, wondering. Would we be able to get to Arizona before this baby arrived? Should we go ahead and move into a house we could easily afford out there, while still owning our home here, until some generous buyer came along to relieve us of the second mortgage? Or should we put an addition on our three bedroom ranch and turn it into a home we could be comfortable in, at least for a little while?

With a little research, I discovered that the cost to add a second story to our existing house would be about as much as a beautiful four bedroom, three bathroom home southeast of Phoenix. With signs pointing westward, Don and I flew out for a long weekend of viewing prospective homes and checking out the area. We loved it. The weather (yes, even temperatures over 100 degrees every day) is beautiful, thanks to ample sunshine and no humidity. We could picture our family living happily in these homes, especially if it meant doubling our square footage while cutting several hundred dollars out of our monthly mortgage payments. Every neighborhood was full of sidewalks, quiet roads, and playgrounds. With my clipboard and camera in hand, I jotted notes to help us compare the 20 or so homes we saw, until we narrowed it down to a list of favorites.

And we very nearly bought one. Some delays in getting a response from our loan officer gave Don time to voice his hesitation to take on a second mortgage. Meanwhile, our real estate agent back home reported that our open house had gone well, with several parties exhibiting interest. We returned to New England with anticipation of receiving an offer within a few days. Then, armed with the security of a purchase and sales agreement, we would pursue our favorite Arizona homes - if they didn't sell first.

After nearly a week of phone calls, emails, and frequently checking the computer to see what houses sold that day, the offer finally came - about $25k too low. It was so low, in fact, that in order to accept it, we would have had to bring a significant amount of money to closing, leaving us nothing for a new home. We scheduled an appraisal to prove to the buyer and her agent that our home was indeed worth what we were asking. After the appraisal, with the offer still on the table, we waited for the results through two more days of intense email checking. Finally, the answer came. I scrolled through 25 pages of comparisons, notes, and pictures in order to get to the bottom line. In today's plunging market, our house is apparently worth only what we owe on the mortgage - roughly 2/3 of its appraised value from 2006. And with such a low appraisal, no bank will finance a higher sales price on the house. In short, unless we want to pay to get out of it, there is no way to sell our house right now.

This news came on July 27. Ironically, we had said for months that if the house didn't sell by the end of July, we would take it off the market at least through Christmas. I didn't want to be moving across the country at 39 weeks pregnant, or trying to show the house while adjusting to life with a brand-new baby. And now, just in case we were tempted to change our plans, we have little choice but to do exactly what we had discussed. The house is off the market, and will stay there until prices rise (which isn't looking likely in the current economy) or we at least pay off enough principle to break even on the sale. We may look at Arizona again next spring, or next year, or maybe it will be years before the door opens for us to relocate. Only God knows.

Are we disappointed? Of course. Instead of more money, more space, and new adventures, we get the same old mortgage, the same old town we grew up in, and four children and two adults sharing two bedrooms (the third bedroom necessarily functions as Don's work-at-home office) and a single bathroom. Instead of over 300 days of sunshine, we get another long winter of ice and snow. Instead of settling into a new place, we have to figure out how to settle back in to the place we already were.

And yet, we can't be unhappy, because we know that this is God's will. For whatever reason, at this point in our lives, the Lord wants us to stay right here: in this house, in this town, in this state. Whether He has a specific ministry for us to fulfill here, or whether our family just needs a lesson in contentment, this is where God has placed us, and to fight it would only be to kick against the door that He lovingly closed.

Now that we know we will be here for a while, there are many things to figure out: which boxes to unpack, what clutter to allow, where everyone will sleep. After six months of clean counters, spacious shelves, and organized closets, I quite like the feel of living in a staged house. (And I wonder how many of those boxes in the attic I really need!) At the same time, as I mentioned in my last post, there is a strange sense of liberation in knowing that we can now display family photos or tack Bible verses to the wall. And there is a great relief in knowing that we will never have to spend an entire morning racing through the house to clean up for a showing.

So to summarize, it may not be the answer I was hoping for, but it is nevertheless an answer. We asked the Lord to open or close the door on moving this summer, and He was faithful. I cannot see what the future holds, but I trust that my God, who made the heavens and the earth, has great plans for this family. His vision is not bound by cramped bedrooms or even the depths of the Grand Canyon, and it is exciting to know that no matter where we live, God will, in His perfect timing, reveal the unsearchable things that I do not know.