Monday, April 30, 2012

The Shadows Prove the Sunlight

Yesterday I packed a snack and water cup for my two-year-old daughter, dressed her in a pink sundress and pigtails, and dropped her off at the church nursery.  I sat next to my husband and held his hand as we sang hymns, shared a electronic Bible with him, and poked him when he made funny comments during the sermon.  It was a very normal, happy day for our little family.

Across the continent, my friends were crying.  Their baby girl had just died in their arms.  After 9 months of expectation, of waiting, of doing everything just right, after a labor and delivery that seemed absolutely perfect, they spent 24 hours wondering why their baby girl wouldn't breathe on her own... and then held her as she was welcomed home to her Father in Heaven.

A few states north of me, another friend was also grieving.  A year ago she was excitedly telling me about her and her newly-wed husband's plans to move West and start their dream life.  Then, all of a sudden, I saw on Facebook that he had cancer.  Just like that, their plans all changed.  We all prayed for healing and for persevering grace.  Yesterday, the Lord answered those prayers by bringing her husband into a perfect body that will never suffer again, and His grace has shone through her testimony (and his) throughout this entire trial.

It hit me that they both just lost the things I most treasure on this earth.  I mean, what would it be like to make that post to Facebook: "my husband is with Jesus now."  Or "Thank you for all your prayers; we'll need them even more as we head home from the hospital with empty arms"?  I can imagine all too well.  It would tear my heart to shreds.

And at the same time, the Lord is bringing other thoughts to mind.  Their shadow has opened my eyes to the light I am enjoying.  Shadows are supposed to do that-- to draw our eyes in search of the Light casting them.

And yet I complain to my Father in Heaven that my husband didn't help with the dishes again, that I'm so tired of being woken up to take a toddler "potty" again, that my marriage isn't the easy companionship it is "supposed" to be every day, that my daughter has those days where she tests every single limit in our home (including my sanity).  I complain, and I whine "this isn't what I asked for!  I've obeyed You so well-- can't I get the perfect happy life I "deserve?"" (hah!)

This has been such a reminder of just how happy my life is;  of just how much the Lord has given me in plain, undeserved kindness.  If and when He calls me to go through the trials of loss (someday, I will lose everything I love to death), I know He will give me His Joy and Peace even then.  But in the mean time, really, why do I complain?

Not only do I have the eternal blessings of Holy Spirit to comfort, guide & convict, of a Savior's love so deep it went to Calvary for me and constantly pleads my case in front of God, of a Father who looks at me with pure affection and pride because He only sees His perfect Son when He looks at me-- as if that wasn't enough, I also have a beautiful, safe home in a peaceful country, with a hard-working husband who makes me laugh, and a baby girl whose preciousness only grows every day.  That's just the important stuff-- there are so many other blessings that are gifts I forget about.  As someone once said, "Anything short of Hell is Grace."  And anything on top of that?  I guess it's just extravagance.

May I always treat my Father as an extravagant Giver instead of a stingy kill-joy.  No matter what hardships He ordains for me, I know they are temporary, and are intended to make me happier-- infinitely happy!-- later on.

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Soul, then know thy full salvation-
Rise o’er sin and fear and care
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
What a Father’s smiles are thine,
  What a Savior died to win thee--
Child of heaven, canst thou repine? 
-"Jesus, I my Cross Have Taken")
Seeking to walk as one who knows that Beauty and feels that Smile everyday,

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mishmosh Parenting Post

She's kind of a big deal
I've had the privilege of reading a half-dozen really helpful articles that all loosely relate to the topic "parenting."  And, lest you think I spend all my time trolling the net in search of a good article, I must thank my Facebook Friends for linking to most of these.  :)  Regard this as a preparation for Mother's Day, if you will.  I know I am printing each of these out and adding them to my "parenting" binder (yes, I have one of those =D).

Two reminders on just how precious motherhood and care of little ones is:
- "You're a Mom; You're Kind of a Big Deal" (Kat)
- "Your Children want YOU!" (April Perry)
Both of these could also be applied to dads, or even to teachers or others who invest heavily in little people whose needs are so great and whose ability to articulate praise is so small.  Anyone who doesn't believe the impact of a good mom can just ask someone who didn't have one.  Such an absence is so keenly felt.  And God sees the effort, the struggle to do what is right, the hours of service, even when no one else (definitely not the tiny person whose clothes I am again laundering) does... His is the "well done, good and faithful servant" I'm going for!
 -" Desperate, Breathless, Dependent Parenting"- such a great perspective.  Why we can't be "do-it-by-our-own-bootstraps" parents.

Chowing down on Pad Thai at 2
-"A No-Nonsense Strategy for Picky Eaters" (Renee at FIMBY)- I'm fully expecting to get a "picky eater" somewhere along the line, especially since E is soooooooo easy when it comes to food (Ethiopian, sushi, Thai, French, British, Guatemalan, you name it, she eats it and likes it and eats plenty of it)... we did have a few "food battles" early on (one around 15 months, another brief period after age 2), and may again, but this article very well summarizes our family strategy! It makes eating out so easy as well as eating in other people's homes (especially the parts about watching Mommy & Daddy eating anything and everything wonky).

Taking time to smell the flowers
-"Parenting is Never an Interruption" (Paul Tripp)- once again, God's sovereignty crashes into own sinful desires to "get done what I want to get done."

- "Women, Stop Submitting to Men" (Russell Moore)- helpful in thinking about how I want to raise my daughter to view men!

My mom with my baby

- "Vaccination" (Suzanne Humpheries), particularly the idea that vaccines aren't effective before age 1 (at the earliest) due to a baby's different immune system.  I'd read doctors who recommended waiting until age 2 to vaccinate due to concerns over neurological development, as well as immune system fragility, but hadn't considered whether the vaccines would even work on infants.  If it's true that they don't work, that will certainly change what we do in our own family vaccine plan! I'm trying to dig deeper and find studies, etc., that substantiate this claim.  So far what I've waded through does seem to back it up.  (Study on measles vaccine being more effective at 12 mos. than at 9 mos.; a study of Hib vaccine failures that seems to imply that the vaccine fails more often in younger babies; and a discussion of vaccine immunology that discusses the difference in immune responses based on age)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Surprised By Oxford (Carolyn Weber)

Fun little story about this book:  I got through the bulk of it on our recent trip to & from Portland, Oregon-- well, more precisely Boring & Damascus, Oregon.  While we were there, we attended and enjoyed the Church of the Good Shepherd.  Our friend who invited us there talked a bit about their founding pastor, stating he was in the special forces a long time ago and was friends with folks high-up in the military, so they do a lot to honor veterans & current soldiers.  As I was reading this book, I "met" the narrator/author's future father-in-law, who was a pastor in Boring, Oregon-- he founded a church out there after serving as a Green Beret in Vietnam and feeling a call to leave military service and enter pastoral.  The thank yous in the back gave his name as Stu Weber.  A quick google revealed that he was indeed the founding pastor of the church we'd attended on Easter morning, mere days before I read about him on the page!  Kinda cool, huh?

Ok, anyway about the book itself.  Reminiscent of Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy in both setting (Oxford) and content (beautifully written account of grappling with the Gospel and coming to faith in Christ) and of Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God in both content and layout (the liturgical/scholastic year), it is a memoir narrating the author's journey into academia and faith.  Carolyn is a diligent Canadian graduate student who arrives in Oxford from a broken but loving family, with her work ethic and literary bent to stand on, and the nagging memory of a favorite professor who happened to be a Christian.  She is surprised to find herself befriended by several Christians who are surprisingly normal, especially one American Oregon boy she dubs "TDH" (for Tall Dark & Handsome).  Surrounded by fellow searchers as well as those who claim they've been Found, she is surprised that her former categories for the Believing are hard-pressed here.  She meets Christians in all sorts of surprising places, from the Provost to respected professors, all in the intense intelligent atmosphere that Oxford exudes.

I highly recommend this book, both as an engaging story (it's a romance, it's a faith journey, it's a coming-of-age) and as a Biblically-sound apology of Christianity. In fact, the human romance is a mere reflection of the Divine Romance unfolding in Carolyn's life.  There is meaning her nickname, "Caro,"-- Italian for "beloved." She realizes just how Beloved she is, and it sets her free. Some passages I highlighted with specific struggles of my own in mind.  Others I marked thinking of friends who seem to be struggling to believe.  I hope this book's story helps me portray the Story all the better to those around me still in darkness.  Fans of Lewis & his ilk will also smile to find nods to him in particular passages.  Fans of Milton will rejoice as well.  Personally, I'm motivated to read Paradise Lost!

The writing is beautiful.  Many thoughts are profound.  I dog-eared many pages, starred passages and underlined many a line.  This book re-kindled in me a desire to embrace poetry, particularly ancient poetry.  I love Oxford more than any place I've visited, and it was wonderful to read about events occurring in places I myself had been.  (It seems Oxford has the same effect on many people.)  For those who have never been to Oxford, you'll want to go.  Mrs. Weber does a great job bringing its sights, smells and feel to life.

Teachers and parents-- especially mothers-- take heart!  You will be encouraged as you see how much influence you can have and just how valuable your work is.

Perhaps the book could have been shorter... but she is an academic, so what do you expect? :)

4 1/2 stars.

Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this book through the Book Sneeze program in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Walk Down Memory Lane

Using Ryan's computer while on vacation has led me to discover pictures I'd never seen before, or never have had the opportunity to upload... I uploaded them for old time's sake, and really have enjoyed looking at pictures of us- especially marveling at how much E has grown!

If you want to, you can jump in and see... pics from our trip to Paris, pics from our 4th Anniversary visit to Versailles, and Halloween!

Oregon Pics

See some more pics from beautiful Oregon in the spring here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Eowyn's Easter Basket

Eowyn's Easter Basket

This year we are again at Ryan's dad's house in beautiful green Portland, Oregon!  (See pics here and here.) We'd been experiencing a lot of very wet weather (par for the course in Oregon's spring?), but Easter dawned bright & beautiful!  I can't fault the rain when it means everything is so lush and vibrant!

The first words out of Eowyn's mouth were "now I can open my last egg and get my purple basket with my white shoes and new books and treats!"  Doesn't forget anything, that one.  She was just as excited as she'd hoped to be about her purple Easter basket, most especially her new white "church shoes."  More on the basket & its contents in a minute.

Ryan, E & I attended a local Easter service with one of Ryan's "Drupal connections"-- so nice to have those pretty much all over the world. :)  The service was beautiful, with a good message on both the historical reality of the Resurrection AND its relevance to us today.  (Eowyn especially rocked out to the Hallelujah Chorus!) We found the people very friendly, from Steve's kids jumping right in to playing with Eowyn to strangers striking up conversations with us to free espressos at the in-house coffee bar!  The setting was absolutely gorgeous- so much so that we came back later in the day just to walk their wooded trail and play on their playground.

Note:  I forgot to get a picture of her basket
before she broke her tools in "helping" in Savta's garden...
We came home and, as mentioned before, got to enjoy a brunch with more family than we'd expected!  Honestly, I really really like the idea of making an Easter brunch our family tradition (rather than the ham, etc.)-- it's so low-stress, easy and yummy! Once they left, Ryan hid the Resurrection Eggs we've been opening every day in the front yard while Sabba & Savta gave E their little treats for Easter-- a stuffed dog that looks like their toy poodles in a fun Spring-colored purse, and healthy treats like dried fruits and fruit chews and peanut-butter cups. Eowyn insisted on carrying the purse on her egg-hunt.  We all helped Eowyn find the eggs (the dogs would have liked to help more, hah) and then she and I opened each one in order and told the whole Easter story.  She was surprised to find that the last egg was empty-- just like Jesus' tomb!

If you are looking for a great tradition that helps keep Easter about Christ's work and not rabbits, we really have liked the Resurrection Eggs!  You can buy them (made by FamilyLife and sold in many Christian bookstores) or put them together yourself, as I did when I was preschool teacher.  They are very inexpensive to make, with many items you can make or find around the house, but you may have to raid the dollar store and/or craft store for a few items.  There are different lists, like this one, or this one, and some families go beyond just the eggs and make an Easter tree too.  The FamilyLife eggs have an optional accompanying story book called Benjamin's Box (Melody Carlson) which is really good-- a school-age comprehension level, so I had to paraphrase some for Eowyn this year, but we both appreciated the pictures and the sweet story.

I was surprised at how much Eowyn got "into" Easter this year, actually!  She would wake up from every nap asking if she could open the next egg (usually remembering exactly what color it was), and we'd have to explain that it wasn't tomorrow yet.  She remembered the story in quite a bit of detail as we opened the eggs each morning and told a little bit more.  Next year I hope to add Scripture memory to our eggs.

Here's our take on the Easter basket:  white dress shoes (for William they'll probably be just new dress shoes), an age-appropriate story Bible or devotional, book(s), and either a new outfit or other treats.  So far every year grandparents have added stuffed animals and edible goodies, too.  This year Eowyn got her beloved new shoes, the Beginner's Bible, Benjamin's Box (from Nina),  a set of 3 Little Chick board books (motivated mostly by the long plane ride home), and gardening tools.  My mom had already given her a beautiful smocked dress for her birthday that I'd set aside as the perfect "Easter dress," so we swapped out the dress for child-sized gardening tools (a shovel, spade, trowel, rake, and watering can).  [Most items in the basket were bought consignment or on clearance after last Easter, I must confess.]  This has so far gotten Eowyn excited and commemorated Easter as a celebration but also been both practical and Christ-centered.

PS- E is still wearing the new shoes.

What Easter traditions do you have in your families?

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Improptu Easter Brunch

We had just gotten home from the Easter service when the doorbell rang unexpectedly.  Surprise!  It was Joanna's son James, his wife Mindy & their little son Lazarus!  They had misunderstood the invite for a family brunch NEXT Sunday, and shown up today.  We were quite happy about the mix-up, as I'd been dying to meet little Lazarus, and this meant Eowyn got to get re-acquainted with just a little bit of the family at a time-- she gets a bit overwhelmed in large groups... which makes sense if you're only 3 feet tall, I guess.

We enjoyed fruit, pancakes, eggs and fried potatoes together and thought it was a great addition to Easter!

She likes her pancakes with lots of jam!

Savta Jo whipping up some eggs

"Sabba Rob, Daddy, and Uncle James" all pulling their best candid faces

Lazarus, 9 mos old... the mellowest, cutest little guy you ever did see!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

First Forays into Greenville

Visiting Reedy Falls Park with visiting Aunt Courtney!
We've gone to the Zoo twice-- once with Ryan on a beautiful Saturday, once with my Tia Olga, capped off in a picnic in the neighboring Cleveland Park with Ryan, Poppy & Aunt Courtney!  We've also enjoyed several parks-- our neighborhood playground, Pittman Park (usually with Goose, my sister's dog), and our favorite- Reedy Falls Park downtown.  We LOVE going downtown.  Eowyn's already recognizes the ice cream store on sight and starts requesting "eye-keem" about a block away.  I've got my own favorite, a bubble tea shop called O-Cha.  My aunt gave us a huge coupon book as a Housewarming gift and it's full of fun coupons to help us explore our new town!

We've also visited 3 churches in the area, and have loved them all.  God's people are sweet wherever they gather!
At the zoo with Daddy, meeting Ladybird & Joy (the elephants)
Her Favorite Zoo Attraction:  running through the mister 
Enjoying our Weekly Story Time (every Wed, followed by lunch at Nina's!)
With Mommy & the Brother-bump at the Zoo