Friday, July 18, 2014

When good enough IS special

Why is it that when I am asked to bring a dish to share that I want to try something new? Something fancy? Something 'company worthy'? I definitely want to bring something more special than my everyday offerings. This is for company after all.

This realization of my compulsion came one night as several couples were meeting at a home with each of us bringing something for dinner: either the main dish, the salad or the dessert. As I walked in with my side dish, I was interrogated about whether or not this was a new dish or a tried-and-true dish.

It was new. Never before been tried.

Just like the other women. We each brought a new offering. Not our tried-and-true everyday offering.

I dismissed the gentleman who had asked me as he shook his head. He said the men always prepare what they know will get rave reviews -- not something new.  Not something untried.

I dismissed him. I understood the women. There are always new recipes that I want to try and use these sorts of occasions to try them out. Otherwise I just don't have the time to try something new.

This question about new versus known stuck in my brain. The years raced by and we got  a spontaneous Superbowl  party invitation with just one other family. I have even less time than I did years ago to prepare new and special. I am craving chocolate. I don't even have to bring anything to this event.

But I'm craving chocolate so I quickly whip up my home-made blonde brownies. It's quick. It's cheap. It's chocolate. And if I share with others I won't eat too many.

I bring them. This is no big deal. This is my everyday offerings to my family, who get bored with them because I make them so often.

The family raved about these brownies. Well, I should say the dad of the other family raved about the brownies and ate and ate and ate them. I wondered if anyone else was going to be able to get any. I surely grabbed one or two because I made them for my chocolate craving after all.

Honestly, I had no idea they would be raved about. I didn't think they were that good. They are just what I make on ordinary days and serve to my ordinary, lovely family, who sometimes wishes I would make new things.

The incident, though, got me to thinking about that dinner at that couple's house years ago with that man shaking his head. "Why not bring your tried-and-true recipe that you know everyone will rave about?"

Again, I thought of that couple's dinner and realized that I didn't offer my everyday items precisely because I thought that they were ordinary. I don't want to offer ordinary. I want to offer special. Spectacular. Especially to company.

But, here was the great surprise. My day-in and day-out offering to my family was special. It IS special. I am offering special things all the time. 

Sometimes it just takes offering them to company to notice.


 * * *
 Home made Blonde Brownies
from my mother's kitchen, tweaked by how I make them

2 cups brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsps vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and mix with brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. In a separate bowl mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar, butter, and vanilla mixture. When completely mixed but not overly, pour into 13x9 pan and spread out. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top. Bake for 20 minutes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

One sign that time has been well-spent

When time is well spent, it breaks your heart to say goodbye. Even though you know it will only be for a little while and that you'll not always be  apart, it can still rip your heart in two.

When time is well spent, miles and years can never really separate what has been deeply intertwined in your heart. Because being together has changed who you are. Not because they changed you but because they gave you the courage to be who you really are. To be vulnerable. You were you. And they were they. And you loved each other. Kindred spirits.


And now it is time to say goodbye. For awhile.

I think sometimes the 'for awhile part' makes people think that the goodbye doesn't hurt as much. But that is not true. The only time goodbye doesn't hurt is when it was time NOT well-spent.

There was a vivid time in my life when goodbye didn't hurt. I was glad to be leaving. I look back on that very difficult year of my life and there is not much redeemable from that time, certainly no relationship or connection from that time.

God profoundly used that time in my life in other ways. But at the end of that school year, goodbye didn't hurt. It was a relief.

It was one of the few times in my life when goodbye didn't hurt. Maybe the only time.

So now I know that I don't really want to feel only relief and gladness to be getting away. Even though I don't want to be feeling this. This heart-wrenching good-bye. Even though I don't want to say goodbye right now, even though I don't want to hurt this way.....it is good.

It is good. Time has been well-spent.

I have been given an amazing gift. As a friend reminded me last night, sometimes we don't know how much the Lord has given until He takes it away.

I knew they were special. I knew that I loved them. But I don't know if I knew what a great, grand gift I had been given in their special friendship throughout the years.

We have stories of rattlesnakes, flat tires, wet camping trips, and shivering trips tubing down a  river. We've been at each others weddings and graduations and baby births. We've held each others hands as we've said goodbye to a mom and a dad. We talked and laughed and camped and cried. We've jumped off cliffs. Played cards til the wee hours of the night.  Brewed coffee, run races. Watched chickens and flowers grow. We've spun our lives together for more than twenty years. What a gift.

Soon these kindred spirit friends are moving far away -- four thousand miles far away -- for at least three years. I love their courage, their pluck to live their calling.

I am inspired.

And sad.

My heart is breaking. It feels like it may never recover.

Time has been well-spent. Thank you. Amen.

*  *   *
How about you? Any painful goodbyes recently?

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How less can cultivate gratitude

One sweltering afternoon my oldest son played a baseball game. His five family members cheered him in the stands and melted in the fresh hot of summer. One player even fainted from the heat.

After the game, my husband went to the concession stand and purchased cold ICEE drinks for all four children. Inwardly, I groaned.

I braced myself for the moans and laments that would surely come. I was ready for a snotty toned "Well, it's about time" since it was the first slushy of the season and the season was done.

I expected an immediate return to the attitude of last season. The one where they asked for an ICEE as soon as we drove into the ball park and continued pestering until it was obtained.

My husband and I would delay the purchase as long as possible. We wanted them to wait a few innings because the games were long. Yet, we did want them to have a treat because we felt sorry that they had to watch those long games.

It also seemed fair to buy the watchers a treat since the ball players received one after the game. Thus began our toleration for their pestering demands that in a different situation I don't think we would have tolerated. 

Besides, it was only a dollar. So we bought the cool drinks.

We didn't set out to buy those slushies all season long. But that's what happened.

They nagged. We bought. At Every. Single. Game. We had set up quite a system. We thought we were directing the buying of the ICEE treats.

After awhile, though, something bothered us. But it was just easier to keep walking up and buying the cold  ICEE drinks instead of evaluating the problem. 

We just wanted to watch our oldest son play baseball and keep the others happy. It didn't cross our minds  to evaluate what was annoying us.   Thankfully, during next year's ball season it would work itself out naturally.

But I didn't know that yet.

Instead, I was braced for complaints the day those purchases were made on that hot sweltering day.

The flavors were selected. The sips were taken. And the children came running to their dad, saying, "Oh, thank you Daddy!" They were thrilled and thankful for what they had.

I was surprised! Shocked!

What did they say?

Thank you?!?

For this one ICEE on the very last day that the concession stand was open? It was the only one that they got all season long. Could these be the same children who the season before had complained, whined, and even demanded ICEEs?

How could this be?

****


It didn't begin as a noble effort to reduce whining, complaining, or children driving demands. Instead, we simply stopped buying ICEES due to the budget. They were only a dollar. But we had four children and more than one was playing ball that season.

We saved money. Instead of us buying treats, they spent their own quarters and dimes on ring pops and nerds. It was a bargain. One season we bought an ICEE for every child at every game.

The next season we stopped. Just like that.

Yet, we had done something to cultivate gratitude without knowing it. We gave them less. They became more grateful.

It was eye-opening. It was shocking how much MORE grateful they were with LESS.

Less demand. Less expectation. More gratitude.

And so less really can cultivate an attitude of thankfulness.

When they expected to get a treat, they began to demand to get a treat. And when it became special, they were thankful.

The lesson of an Icee. When we are given less, we expect less. When we expect less, we are thankfully surprised when something is given to us. And we are grateful.

It was an amazing process. It shocked me at the time and taught me a wonderful principle about how
less can cultivate an attitude of gratefulness.

*   *   *
"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, 
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." 
Philippians 4: 12

* * *
How about you? When have you been surprised lately? Join us HERE to comment on the blog

You can also join the SDG sisterhood with Jen HERE.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How a song reminded me of the beauty in release

On Saturday, my oldest daughter's choir sang a haunting melody about giving a loved one the freedom to fly away from you and to trust that they will, in the end, come home to you somehow.


It seems that just yesterday I was the eighth grader struggling against the cocoon to become my own person. Now, I am part of the cocoon that my young adults must struggle against to become who they are.

Some days I just want to close my eyes and wake up in the middle of their adult lives and breathe a sigh of "Whew! We made it"

But, before I can even finish that thought I practically hyperventilate at the thought of my children gone from home. How can this be happening already?  Gone from home? Not yet!

As they sang their choir song, a memory came to me.

Once upon a time in college, I was broken-hearted, lonely, and sad. I had friends but our schedules no longer easily overlapped. It was tough to even make them touch occasionally. I was quite lonely. Then, I met a kind boy. He befriended me. He pursued me. His friendship brought healing to my heart.

Over time, I began to flourish. I wasn't needy in the same overt ways.

I had changed but he didn't know what to do.

He began to smother me. He put me in a box. He wanted me to be the person he'd first met: needy and overly dependent. He couldn't let me be the true me because it wasn't the me he'd known. I no longer fit in the box of who he thought I was.

The weight of this box stifled me. I couldn't breathe. Something had to break: the box, the relationship, or me.

I didn't want the relationship to break because I was quite grateful for his friendship that had given my lonely heart hope. But eventually, though, the relationship broke.

That experience created a strong resolve within me to never confine or stifle anyone like that. It is better to let them be who they are even if it means they can't be with me.

The beautiful, haunting melody of Saturday filled my ears and my heart. As the choir sang, I thought of stifling, confining boxes. I thought of how much I hated them.

Then, I thought of emerging butterflies and the beauty of watching them fly.

I need to let my children become the people that they are even if they are not the people I knew before or who I think they are.

This is the way of letting my children unfold before me even though it means they will fly away from me someday soon.

It would be much better to merely watch the beauty of the butterfly flit around me for a few moments on its journey rather than to crush it in my hands because I so desperately want to keep it for myself.

It means there is struggle in the cocoon of home as they discover who they are. There is struggle as I discover my different role as I begin to release them to the world, careful not to crush their emerging wings, careful not to keep them to myself.

Their beauty is to be shared.

A quiet wave of peace settled over me as I thought of my young adults that need to fly from me. I became transformed from either holding my breath or hyper-ventilating to being able to delight in these remaining flitting moments of these butterflies as they practice their nearby soaring before they take off on their own.

And I can trust that they will find their way back to me somehow.

Have you ever had a similar experience either being stifled, or being released to become your beautiful self or been inspired through a beautiful song? Music inspires writing for me, how about you? Click here if you would like to comment in the blog community.
 
Linking with Jen at SDG.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A lesson learned walking in the shadows of post-crisis


Although I've been heard saying 2012 was one of -- if not the -- hardest year of my life, now that I have endured 2013, I change my answer. 2013 was harder. It was a year of living in the gray shadows of the drama of 2012.

In 2012, I felt pulled and tugged in many different directions. The two major events were four bonus kids for nine weeks and Kip's dad being in the hospital for 5 months. During these times, I have never felt more exhausted in my life. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. Responsibility-wise.

Yet during this time, people surrounded us. People noticed us. Hauling eight children around is quite noticeable. Having four children in hospital waiting rooms is also quite noticeable. In addition, the family of God surrounded us with prayers, cards, gifts, and hands-on-support. It was beautiful.

Many memorable moments of deliverance were woven into our lives.

Then in 2013, things quieted down. Quite thankfully! I no longer wrote daily on the Caring Bridge website. I no longer texted desperate pleas for immediate prayer. I had time to sleep. I had time to cry. 

Yet, it felt harder than it had before. 

That was so strange to me.

Was it because I like being center stage? Was it that people prayed more during that time? Was I more spiritual then? Did I have my focus in a better place?

Or perhaps it was something else.

Not that I had sinned. Not that I had fallen from grace. Not that I needed attention.  

Instead I am re-learning to walk by faith after a long season of flying on eagle's wings.

Isaiah 40:31 says, "Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary."

It feels strange. As though I am walking on land after riding on a boat or a roller coaster for a long time. Familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. I have walked on land most of my life. As most of my life has also been non-crisis.

But what is truly different is that I haven't walked in daily life after crisis before.  I am walking in the land of shadows, both in the shadow of the drama of 2012 and in the shadow of the valley of death.

It has felt strange this walking in the strange, gray shadows. He is still sustaining. Still giving grace. Still making me aware of how much I need him.

But now I am learning to walk in this new place. Not a place of grieving from far away, as it was with my brother-in-law's death. But this time a place of grieving from nearby and up-close and personal. And from a responsible human being perspective.

He is still sustaining. But I don't need wings anymore so I'm relearning the walk of faith from here on this side of the strange, gray shadow lands. A needed walk, step-by-step.

Walking in the land of gray shadows. Learning what it means to walk by faith after having been mounted on eagle's wings.

What lessons have you learned walking in the shadows of difficult seasons?
 
Also linking with Jen at SDG. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ten thoughts for ten years of home education



Since the beginning of their school years, I have been educating my children at home. We have almost completed 10 years. If all goes as planned, I have 10 more to go. So in light of a half-way milestone, here are ten random thoughts about our last ten years in relation to learning. I don't know that this perspective or the things that I have learned are exclusive to home educators. I imagine parents of children who have been learning for ten years would have similar thoughts.

Ten Random Thoughts on Learning


1)  I have loved all the books that I have met through home schooling. My life has been greatly enhanced through the quality of books that I have found. I have always loved to read but, boy, I sure missed a bunch of treasures. I have no idea why. All of these great books are some of the best reasons for home schooling. So glad that I didn't miss out for a lifetime.

2) Teaching a child to read has been one of the highlights of my entire life. I've had the privilege four times. It's as grueling and exhilarating as giving birth --laborious and glorious!

3) Teaching my children at home has been easier and harder than I ever imagined. I remember the feeling of jumping off the homeschool cliff into so many unknowns. It's been easier than I thought because there are so many guides and resources available. Yet, it has been hard to navigate the management of a household, the curriculum, and the relationships all at once, all day, every day.

4) Home education provides flexibility. How this translates into real living is that not a lot of math problems actually get solved in the ICU waiting room. But some do. It also gives a chance for the grandchildren to bring joy and hope like nothing else to a struggling-to-breathe grandpa. Plus, some math did get done. Maybe as much as a distracted grandchild separated from the situation? In addition, we can keep right on going at that child's speed, taking time for math lessons missed during real life lesson time.

5) It is easy to feel like a failure when one is behind on lessons, the house is dirty, and grandpa still can't breathe. It is hard to be flexible with life's demands. It's hard to get behind on lessons, to have a dirty house. It's the best and worst of times.

6) The greatest personal growth has been the self-employment aspect. I don't make a very good school bell. I do really well finding out what the teacher or the employer wants and delivering it to them. Therefore, it has been different to be the teacher, the school bell, the one to enforce the deadlines for papers.

7) I am thankful for all of the people who we have met on this journey. I love the out-of-the-box creative thinkers. I love the support group where we pray for one another, challenge our thinking, and belly laugh together. I am a richer, better woman.

8) I've loved the learning--my learning. I've enjoyed creating an atmosphere where the children love to learn. I love reading picture books that explain things like clouds, popcorn, and how the inside of the human body works.  I love to explore and observe. I've loved having a front row seat to watching my children learn and bloom in their skills.

9) My favorite time of day right now is snuggling next to my eight-year-old and reading aloud together. The worst school days are those when I'm too busy for the best part.

10) The reasons that I started are not the same as the ones that have kept me going. I began with mostly academic pursuits in mind. I have kept on going due to the amount of time for the family to be together.

What are your reflections of learning in  your life?
Click here or scroll down to join us in the comments.

Also linking with Jen at SDG.

Monday, April 7, 2014

How listening can help you find what you were made to do

Running a very wet half marathon last April with my husband and daughter

I love to run. When I am able, I like to set aside an hour, or longer, to run on Saturdays. I settle into the rhythmic pace. My muscles warm up. I breathe deep and think, "I am made to do this."

Instantly, I reject this idea.

My thoughts sneer at me, "You'll never win a race. You're slow. How can you even think that you are made to do this?"

It is true that I've never won a race. And that I only ran on the junior varsity of my high school cross country team. It is also true that I am the slowest in my family. Yet, I feel good when I run slow for 4 to 8 miles.

My body instinctively knows that I am made to do this. However, because I'm slower than others, I dismiss this innate sense of what I was 'made to do.' My head rejected this urge based on the interpretation of the data.

It is true that I am slower than many others but that doesn't make it true that I am not suppose to be doing it.

As quick as a pain reflex, my mind concluded that I wasn't made to do this based on comparing myself to others: I am not fast, and I haven't ever won a race. Therefore, I cannot say that I am made to do this.

These thoughts reveal an underlying assumption that it is only worth doing things when you are better than others. Plus, an assumption that it is particularly worth doing if you will win.

These assumptions cause me to look to others, or to a standard, to define my significance rather than what I am suppose to be about in my life.

Though I know that it is unwise to compare myself to others, I hadn't realized until now that in comparing myself to others I was dismissing clues to my calling. I was overlooking these almost imperceptible urges  about the true callings of my life.

How many other clues have I missed?  What else am I believing that it is not worth doing unless I am first? Unless it is big? Unless others will notice? Unless I have a chance at the gold medal?

Not everything that we were made to do will win a gold medal.

But it is hard to embrace this. It is hard to 'run' a pace that my husband can walk. It is hard to be the one who gets the whole family to go for a run but then I am the last one home. It is hard to run consistently and still be so much slower than my husband. It is hard to jog a steady pace and have walkers out-pace me.

It is also hard to hear the small, quiet voice inside of you telling you what you were made to do, especially if you aren't first. Especially if you never win a blue ribbon. Especially if everybody else is better than you.

But it is worth it to listen to the clues.  To learn what it is that we were made to do. To find the works that He prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

I need to stop looking at others. Stop comparing. Start listening to the clues about what the true callings of my life are. Even if I will never win a race.

What about you?  Have you missed any clues to your calling?
Join us in the comments and share your thoughts.
Also linking with Jen at SDG.
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