Monday, October 29, 2012

Fall is in the air...

I feel like I am coming out of a fog... Micah turned three this past August, Hannah is about to topple over into the first year of her second decade, and everyone else is mashed in the middle... Days are more defined and less like really short months that escaped without notice.

I have always wanted to be one of "those moms". You know the type, they celebrate every holiday with fabulous decorations, unit studies and lap books on the history behind the holiday, art and songs about the holiday. For the last 11 years I have barely made mention of "special" days except to flounder through a woefully inadequate reason for why Daddy doesn't have to go to work that day.

I am still not one of "those moms" but I have found that holidays and seasons are a great opportunity for bringing my children together with their friends and sharing some form of creative endeavor. I am becoming increasingly aware that if we, as parents, are going to continue to limit our children's exposure to TV and computers, iPads and video consoles, we are going to have to give them other outlets for using their time. I have also realized that they are more apt to engage in these alternate activities when it is an experience that they can share with friends and/or their friends also enjoy it and it is something they can talk about when together.

All that to say, we are planning a trip to the park following the Symphony this week. I have organized a picnic and a nature hike culminating in an art project inspired by fall leaves. We will be water color painting some leaves I am drawing, I have ideas of how to use them later but I will share those after I post the finished projects. For now, the works in progress... Only 100 more leaves to draw...

A new birthday idea...

There have been a whirlwind of birthdays recently, my girls are each enjoying the festivities, and I have been trying to figure out how to give a nice gift to our girls' friends without spending way beyond budget.

We like crafting in our house. There are a lot of kids who make a lot of noise within these four walls, crafting usually produces busy hands and quiet moments. :) Since we enjoy the crafty endeavors we undertake so much, we also like to share our love of creating with our friends.

Just this weekend our girls were invited to two different parties, and after asking the moms of the birthday girls, we came up with some creative and fun ways to share our love of crafts with others, and utilize much of what we already had on hand to make the gifts.

The first party of the weekend came upon me too quickly and I missed the photo opportunity, but believe me, the stack of brightly colored fabrics tied with a bow were really sweet. This little girl also needed some pins and a few needles and embroidery floss. My girls also made necklaces and duct tape hair bows. I am excited to see what kind of creations the newly gifted fabric will turn into!

The second party of the weekend left me unsure of my creative gift-giving skills. We did purchase a frame and print a picture of our girls with their friend, but we needed something else... So, I made a craft kit from things we already had at home. It was very simple, and as I hand wrote the instructions, I think there were all of four or five steps. I hope she enjoys making these sweet butterfly pins, and then wearing them!

Butterfly Pin Kit Contents - Felt Butterfly pieces in pink and purple, buttons for wing embellishments, a needle case with 3 needles and some pins, two skeins of embroidery floss in coordinating colors, floss bobbins and two pins to affix to the finished butterflies.
Up close, waiting to be sewn together.
 What do you do for birthday party gifts for your children and their friends?

Fall leaves and handsewing...

Our little co-op of sorts keeps meeting each week, the children are so very patient with me, and I love watching my littles enjoy their friends and learn useful skills at the same time. This week we were sharing a handicraft to make a fall leaf garland, just in time for the weather to dip into the 50's at night and 70's in the daytime.

I worked all week to cut out all the little darling leaves in a variety of fall inspired colors, finally having to call in a friend to help me finish before my 19 students converged at 10am on Friday.

Here were all of our tools for the day - felt, scissors, yarn, large eyed needle.
I was too busy rethreading yarn onto needles, or helping kids get untangled, or assisting the littlest of the group to take any pictures during the process... but it was a great time, everyone finished one full garland section of ten leaves and took a second one home to continue practicing the straight stitch (age span from 3yo to nearly 11yo).

Not wanting to forget and allow spring to come without putting the garlands up on display, I cut the excess yarn and tied them together and up they went.

Up close, you can see the straight stitch employed for this project.
Ten leaves was the perfect number for a nice swag of each section of garland.
Up for all to enjoy - and the children are already making plans for winter, and spring garlands!

Simple, profitable fun. :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

New experiences...

In the midst of a rather mundane Wednesday, a child's piercing cry and pleading look grabbed my attention. A visit from a neighbor (who just happens to be a pediatrician), a visit to the doctor's office and X-rays to confirm... Our family's first broken arm. The break is thankfully minor in the grand scheme of possibilities, but it happened to our most reserved child. She insisted on going to AWANA last night, yet cringed at all the attention when people noticed her sling. So, she asked me to make it less noticeable, she requested me turn it into a "purse". And here is what I came up with... Until 3:30am. She seems pleased. :)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ordering my days...

The last few weeks we have lived in survival mode. Organization and planning has been a last priority, just making do has reigned. So, today after being with the Church, I sat down to work on restoring order... starting with my menu. Next is school work, I haven't checked it in three weeks... I think I will need coffee for that endeavor!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Off to the pumpkin patch...

After a late morning snack, we trudged out to the local Methodist Church Pumpkin Patch and grabbed a few Fall inspired photos... with twenty of our closest friends... Here is what we came away with:

A cozy group shot...
Almost 11, she has these photo shoots down...
A natural looking photo didn't come naturally, but I was thankful when it finally came...
First one to be photographed, she set the bar high...
Sweet smile...
You get eyes when this one doesn't smile...
But if you want a smile, you get no eyes...
He knows he is cute...
I am so cute it is scary...
One last photo before we pile into the car...

And now, we can check the "Pumpkin Patch Pictures" off the list... Yea!

Monday, October 15, 2012

For everything there is a season...

For everything there is a season, 
and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a

That sums up my last 11 days. Two dark hospital rooms. Two different seasons. A week and a half ago I held my father-in-law's hand as he drew his last breath. Tonight I stood by and cheered as my dear sister-in-Christ's newborn infant wailed her first precious cry. And God's Word rang in my thoughts, the seasons of life so aptly displayed. I stand in awe of the Creator and the mighty works of His hand!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

One step at a time...

I would have said "one day at a time", but my children can attest to the fact that I am woefully unaware of days right now. The last two weeks have been a blur, a fog, a vacuum of time. James died one week ago today in that small, dark hospital room in San Marcos, with Joyce and me by his side. The plans made, funeral had, family and friends come and gone. It is still surreal, not fully sinking in, but on the other hand very real. My days are jumbled, too many days of going to bed in the early morning of the next day have thrown off my usually dependable inner calendar, upset routines and lack of order compounding that issue. It seems like what happened a week ago happened yesterday, and ten years ago.

And yet, God has so graciously showered us with the love of His people, through offers to watch children, and meals delivered, cards received and bouquets of beautiful flowers that seem to light up the room joyfully. Right when I feel like I might fall apart, a child brings me a new drawing and reminds me that God loves me and that He has a perfect plan. Just as I feel like I might be getting on track, a child floods a bathroom with a plunger. And in the midst, God is graciously leading us, teaching us patience with one another and showing us how to love our children through their childish moments. Losing James has taught us to value life and the moments we have differently. It is something we "knew" but now we really know, the frailty of life is no longer theoretical, it is more real now.

Tomorrow we resume art class, until five minutes ago I had no idea what to teach. Because of Google I will seem well prepared. Saturday we have a garage sale at my mom's house, the days keep ticking away, a sense of normalcy returning one step at a time. God's grace is sufficient for each moment, one step at a time.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Proclaiming the Gospel...

James' funeral was today and Elliott was blessed with the chance to share about his dad, and took the opportunity to share the Gospel with all those in attendance. Thank you to all that were covering this morning in prayer, Elliott was bold and courageous, the kids were a blessing to many cheerfully serving and encouraging family and friends with their antics. Below is what Elliott shared:

Thank you all for joining us this morning to celebrate the life of my dad.  I have often heard of funerals being called celebrations but didn’t fully understand what that meant until recently.  I would like to share just one story with you today.  

 During a visit with my dad in August, I asked him how he was feeling and he said “lousy”. I told him I understood, it’s no fun to have little to no control over your entire body and be totally dependent on someone else to care for you, but what a beautiful picture of Jesus that is.  I asked dad if he would mind if I shared the need for Jesus with each of you attending today and he said “yes, I think you should”.

A verse that many of us know by heart is Romans 8:28 – “And we know that God causes all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” We say this to each other during times just like these, as well as when things just don’t seem to be going our way. For a long time, I thought that the “good” that is being spoken of here was something I would like. But when we keep reading this passage, we learn about what God Himself calls good, Romans 8:29 – “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.”

Some might ask how dad getting cancer at the young age of 70 is good, and while we may never know for sure, let me share with you why I feel like God allowed for my dad to develop brain cancer.
Dad was always involved in the community.  He loved volunteering, announcing, officiating sporting events, driving school buses, singing in the choir, church council, you name it, dad loved serving others.  However, the Bible teaches us that good works do not make us a Christian nor will they allow us to enter heaven. 

Martin Luther explains it this way:
The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us...Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31).

I believe that dad understood this, but didn’t believe it in his heart until that morning in March of last year. Let me explain by reading from my wife Denise’s blog dated July 7, 2011:

I have always gotten a kick out of my father-in-law. He is a retired principle, standing 6'6" with a booming bass voice, I always imagined how terrified I would have been of him had he ever been my elementary school principle. He was such a beloved principle, some of his students still keep in touch with him today, some 30 years later.

James and I have always been good about teasing each other. He always shares recipes with me that he thinks would be "interesting" and he still insists I should have named Hannah, "Zelda Nadine", so he calls her that from time to time. We love talking about a myriad of subjects, but I think he purposefully picked topics that "get me going" just to see me get all riled up.

When James had a car accident in March and was in the ICU, we were blessed by many friends at church who made it possible for us to be at his side almost continually during the first few days of uncertainty. All we knew was he had driven into another car and then had a seizure. We were thankful to be there for Elliott's parents, to pray with them and run errands for food or whatever was needed.

The second night in the hospital, I had the opportunity to stay with him in his room, my mother-in-law needing some sleep after more than 36 hours of being on duty. I don't know what I expected, but I didn't plan for being awake the entire night. James was easily agitated, I would chat with him to try to calm him down. His sleep was fitful, so I prayed for him. At one point I thought to start reading the Bible to him. Elliott had left me with his iPad. I used it, in the dark hospital room, to read through the entire book of Psalms (skipping the imprecatory Psalms) and some of the New Testament. Every time I was reading, James would fall into a peaceful sleep.

Before the staff kicked me out at 6am, I told James I was going to leave and reminded him that his wife would be there soon. He started crying. I wasn't sure what was going on. We talked for a few minutes about how he was worried about what was going to happen to him. I reminded him of all the medical things we knew... the tests they had run, the things they had ruled out, what they were looking for next, etc... but he was still upset and restless. I asked him if he was afraid of something else. He said yes. I asked him if he was afraid of going to hell. He said yes.

I know that what happened next was from the Lord because I could not quote it or give a word for word account of what I said or what Bible verses I referenced. But I shared the Gospel. I spoke of how we are sinners, guilty before God. I spoke of what the punishment is that we deserve (hell) and God's unbelievable gift of Christ coming as a man, to live the life we live but perfect and without sin, how Christ was hung on a tree in our place, and His glorious triumph over the grave. James has been active in his local church his whole life, but he was lacking an assurance of his salvation. I shared with him how Elliott, even after saying the "sinner's prayer" in 1999 was just recently and mercifully saved, when he called upon Jesus as LORD in August 2008.

For two days everyone had been praying for him, and over him, and with him. I asked James if he wanted to pray. I told him this was something no one else could do for him. And so, he prayed for himself. I could tell James was repentant, I have been married to Elliott for 11 years and can't remember another time I have seen his dad tear up, much less cry. He prayed and afterwards he was much more calm, a weight had been lifted off.

Over the last couple of months it has been precious to see him cherish things which never seemed to impact him before. He has been reading selections during church services for years but recently has been emotionally overwhelmed as he reads them, marveling at all God has done for him. He gives me the tightest hugs now, I feel my back pop. And we talk of the eternal now, of God's Sovereignty and His perfect care for us.

This is why I believe God allowed this cancer to touch dad.  This cancer was no surprise to our omnipotent God. In the months after dad was released from the hospital, I saw such a joy in him that I had never seen before.  He was truly modeling the fruits of the spirit described in Galatians 5, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Despite all of the medications he was on, with many of them stating the side effects as anger, aggression, etc, dad never once complained about his cancer.  He never got angry.  

 In fact, in these past 18 months the conversations that I have had with dad were more meaningful than any other before.  He even asked Denise to be his personal barber, giving him regular haircuts and shaving.  Now that is certainly showing gentleness!

Our family’s prayer and hope for each of you today, is that if you do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior that you would hear the words of Romans 10:9-13 and know “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the LORD will be saved.’”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

When the prodigal comes home...

The blog has been silent this week, though I had planned to post a series of blogs on the joy of the Lord. And as man plans his steps, I recognize that is it God who truly directs our paths. This week, the Lord saw fit to take my father-in-law, James, home. He passed away quietly in the middle of the night, in the moments welcoming Thursday to begin, James took his last breath with his wife of 40 years and myself at his side.

These last few days have been so full, rejoicing and experiencing grief, planning and making calls, changing schedules and be touched by the love of sisters and brothers in Christ. Tonight was the viewing, where at least a hundred people came to reminisce and share their condolences. I know it was a comfort to my mother-in-law and the whole family to see the stream of people who were touched by the life of James.

And then he walked in. The prodigal. Elliott's brother who has been in and out of prison and jail and out of touch for most of the last twenty years. He never came and saw his dad while he was sick, even though he knew. He and James did exchange letters once during this whole ordeal, an extension of forgiveness. No one had called him, but he was there.

The moment he was spotted, the family flocked to him. Hugs from all sides, hearty handshakes, and welcoming, thankful comments as he was reacquainted with family he hasn't seen in decades. It was beautiful to behold, knowing that God's love shown through His people can turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, a picture of the forgiveness of Christ clearly demonstrated.

Tomorrow is the funeral, Aaron says he is coming. We are already praying, as Elliott is sharing the Gospel as a part of the eulogy. We know that God saves people through the hearing of His Word, what a more blessed thing I cannot imagine, but to see James' firstborn son come to a saving knowledge of the truth and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a wonder it would be indeed!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Just before the storm...

We have endured a tough morning. Room chores which should ideally take 15 minutes took nearly 3 hours. Morning chores which should be simple and short, were long and drawn out. There was no breakfast due to the dawdling, and lunch was late. Micah fell asleep on the living room floor, tired of waiting.

As lunch concluded, I informed the children that we were going to start with our morning schedule (which means school). They didn't audibly moan but one could easily tell they had other things on their minds. And then the dogs howled, they wanted out to play.

So, as the stragglers finished their grapes, those who had finished eating we ushered out. I thought the sky looked dark... and was that the A/C kicking on or a rumble of thunder in the distance? As the fat rain drops came pelting down and the excited squeals were tumbling out of the children, I thought of God's mercy, raining down new every morning... and even in the middle of the afternoon.

We are starting school six hours late, but by God's grace we are starting...
We are three loads behind where we ought to be for laundry day, but the laundry was sorted without grumbling...
The rooms took three hours to clean, but they are clean indeed...
My coffee has been cold from the first sip (because I misplaced it), but it is still a sweet reminder to "Count it all joy"...