Saturday, September 29, 2012


After my Rosh Hashanah post, several people commented to me that they wanted to study the biblical feasts.  That's great!  Over the years, our family has been blessed to see many develop an interest in God's holidays.

So, the question always arises:  What books do you recommend?  The answer to that is not as simple as it would seem.  I haven't found any books that are perfect.  We have a collection sitting on our bookshelf, of course, but most of them haven't been used.  If I had to recommend one, it would be Celebrating Biblical Feasts by Martha Zimmerman.

There are many books on biblical holidays.  Some are good, some are, well, just crazy- far removed from Scripture and any tradition except the one in the author's head.  (Although I love the internet, based on what I've seen, I'd recommend extreme caution in using websites to research this topic.)  And speaking of tradition, some books rely heavily on Jewish tradition, thus straying from Scripture in that way.  This doesn't mean that extra-biblical tradition is wrong.  Jesus and His disciples had wine at Passover, even though wine wasn't mentioned in Leviticus.  That was a tradition that had already arisen in the first century, and that continues to this day.  Traditions simply need to be evaluated in light of God's Word.

The Levitical feasts are a wonderful way to teach children really deep spiritual truths.  This week, as we celebrated the Day of Atonement, we read through the High Priest's ceremony in Leviticus, as well as the interpretation of the feast by the writer of Hebrews.  We do this every year at this time.  Megan, who's nine, asked, "Wait.  Who gets to go into the Holy of Holies after Jesus comes back?  We're not priests.  Do we get to see inside the Temple in Heaven?"  And so we jumped into a discussion of the priesthood of all believers.  That's not exactly typical fourth grade Sunday school fare, but the question was a natural one for a child who's been celebrating the Day of Atonement since she was born.

Evan, Justin and Carsten play with the Tabernacle model.

Studying the feasts has great value for adults too.  They provide a backdrop for the events of both the Old and New Testament.  If Christians don't understand the feasts, they'll miss out on a good portion of what the Word of God has to say.

Here's the main point, though:  Holidays weren't meant to be studied.  They were meant to be celebrated!

Imagine this:  One July, a woman hears about a holiday and it sounds really fascinating.  It's called "Christmas."  She decides that her family would really benefit from studying it.  They get some books out of the library.  They look at pictures on the internet.  They make a few Christmas recipes.  The kids make model trees out of pipe cleaners and decorate them with beads.  Everyone has a lot of fun.  Has this family experienced the holiday?  Of course not!  Not fully, at least.  In twenty years, the children will have some vague memory of their study, but the impact won't be very deep.

God knows that we humans are forgetful creatures.  That's why He set up holidays with the command to celebrate them EVERY year.  They remind us of what He's done, of who He is, and of what He plans for the future.  As each year passes, the lessons that we glean from celebrating the feasts go a little deeper.

I recommend that if you're interested in the feasts, you just dive right in and celebrate.  Look at a calendar. (Try the one from Chabad.  It includes both Levitical feasts and extra-biblical ones.)  Find out when the next one is.  (Hint: It's Sukkot- starts Sunday night.)  Find someone who's already celebrating and invite yourself over.  (It's happened before, and as long as you offer to bring food, I'm sure you'll be welcome.)  Look for Jewish resources.  God appointed Israel as the keepers of the feasts, and while, like I stated above, not every tradition is worthwhile, Jewish sources will be more accurate.  The Christian parallels in the feasts are so obvious that it's almost not necessary to have a specifically Christian book.  Always go to the true source- the Bible- first and foremost.

I'm more than happy to answer any questions about celebrating the feasts, and to give further resources.    We love sharing the blessing that we feel each year as we worship the Lord through His holidays.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lost Maples

The weather here has been really nice.  Sunny, a little cooler.  Too pretty to be indoors!  So the kids and I packed up today and went to Lost Maples.  It's usually a very popular spot in later October and November when the leaves change color.  You can hike and actually pretend that Texas has real seasons!  The park is lovely now as well, and there are so few people that you kind of have the run of the place.

Austin was ensconced in the backpack.  No, that hat didn't last long.

We stopped at every stream and threw rocks.

For most of the hike, Carsten led the pack.  He reminds me of myself at that age.  My dad used to call me his little mountain goat.  I loved to tramp around the woods and up mountains and I still do.  When we went to Lost Maples two years ago, Bryan and I were amazed that Carsten, who was barely three, didn't have to be carried even once.  We lugged an empty child backpack the whole way.  He's very determined, and has strong little legs.

Steffen, on the other hand, well, let's just say he was not quite as into the whole "walking for the sake of walking" thing.

Plus, he was pretty determined to take his shoes off.  He actually did more walking (and less stopping and whining) once he was clad in what he considered appropriate hiking gear.  Maybe he's destined to be one of those barefoot runners.

It didn't take long for Steffen to take over the backpack.

Anticipating this, I had taken the Ergo frontpack along.  Steffen sang the rest of the way.  (Nathan was playing with the camera, so the look on my face is, "What are you doing???")

Hiking works up an appetite, and a picnic lunch hit the spot when we got back.  Nothing like PB&J after a morning in the woods!

Austin got his "hiking" in on the grass near the picnic tables.  Yes, I know his shorts have holes.  Don't judge.  I knew he'd be climbing around in the dirt.  This was not the day for formal wear.

And, they said not to TAKE the rocks, they didn't say you couldn't TASTE them.

We took one last parting group shot, and headed back to the car for the beautiful drive home.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


While Baby Austin and I were with Bryan in the hospital, I would sometimes take the little guy out for a stroll to give him a break from the room.  On one of our outings, I looked across a parking lot, and saw a mom sitting on a bench with her children. She was leaning toward them, her eyes fixed on theirs.

"There's something you never see,"  I thought,  "A parent really engaged in conversation with her kids!"  I reflected on the importance of making eye contact with our children, giving them our undivided attention.

As I drew closer, however, my musings were interrupted by a dose of reality.  The mom was, in fact, absorbed not in her children, but in her smartphone.  Her kids were sitting on the bench, staring vacantly ahead.  What I was actually observing was a prime example of 21st century distracted parenting.

We live in a distracted age.  So many things scream for our attention, and now, with the introduction of smartphones, tablets, and so on, we actually carry the main source of our distraction around with us.  There's no escape.

The constant flow of interruptions bombarding our thought process can cause tremendous stress, and sends many of us scrambling for some relief.  The pursuit of zen, meditation, mindfulness- something, anything, to help us regain our focus and quiet the many thoughts bouncing around in our minds.

The practice of meditation is becoming quite the "thing" in pop culture.  It's an ancient concept, of course, and it would seem that eastern religions largely claim meditation as their own.

Scripture, however, is full of references to meditation, and God isn't silent on the distraction problem facing our society.
"Meditate within your heart on your bed,
and be still."
Psalm 4:4

The key issue in meditation, however, is what we're meditating on.  Are we sitting quietly, focused on ourselves, focused on our own thoughts, viewing ourselves as the center of the universe, searching for self-actualization?  

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines meditation this way: "to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness."  Awareness, we should ask, of what?

If we step back in time a bit, we can get another Webster's definition for meditation.  Here we have the 1828 definition:  "To dwell on any thing in thought; to contemplate; to study; to turn or revolve any subject in the mind; appropriately but not exclusively used of pious contemplation, or a consideration of the great truths of religion.  His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night. Ps.1."

You see, we don't define spirituality.  God, as the creator, the giver of our spirits, does.  Feeling a sense of heightened spiritual awareness only benefits us if we are more aware of God's presence, His interaction with us and the events in our lives.

What does this sort of meditation do for us practically?  It brings peace.

"You will keep him in perfect peace, 
Whose mind is stayed on You."
Isaiah 26:3

If our minds are distracted, if our focus is blurred, the stress that we feel is the cry of our hearts for peace.  Paul, in Philippians, instructs us to turn our worried thoughts over to the Lord.

" and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, 
will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:7

Then, he gets specific about what we should be thinking about:

"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, 
whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, 
whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, 
if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—
meditate on these things."

Today, we can take time to turn our thoughts to the Lord and His words.  We can be mindful of His plans and purposes.  And, as we meditate on Him, we will find peace.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Well, we've made it past our first holiday alone.  Today was Rosh Hashanah- the Feast of Trumpets.

In our family, we celebrate the festivals in the Bible.  They tell such a rich story of God's plan for His people. Bryan especially loved studying the feasts and teaching others, particularly our children, about them.

Bryan and the Kids at the Feast of Trumpets 2009

Checking out the Shofar- the Ram's Horn
The great thing is that Bryan wrote many of his Bible studies down.  He wanted me- one of these days- to put his festival studies into a book.  And maybe I will, but for now, here is a piece of Bryan's reflection on the Feast of Trumpets from the Bible study series he taught.

"Before we head into the New Testament prophetic fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets, I want to take a few minutes to look at some of the symbolism involved with the time of year during which this feast occurs.  Fall is the time of harvest, the end-of-the-year harvest when everything is brought into the storehouse.

Jesus talks about a harvest in Matthew 13.  In verse 39, He tells us the harvest is the end of the age.  Those of us who claim Christ are likened to a harvest of wheat; the sons of the enemy are weeds.  Similarly, in Isaiah 40:6-7, the prophet says that men are like grass.

So we are compared to grass, land, crops- and we're all part of a great harvest that will take place one day.  In Hebrews 6:7-8, the author tells us,

"For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God;  
but if it bears thorns and briers, 
it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned." 

Here's a question for us to think about:  What burns: dry grass or wet grass?

The answer is, of course, dry grass.  How can we keep from being dried grass?  We're wandering around in the "desert" of this world, not yet in the Promised Land.  How do we prevent the burning that the author of Hebrews warns about?

Isaiah gives a glimpse of God's provision for us in the desert:

For I will pour water on him who is thirsty,
And floods on the dry ground;
I will pour My Spirit on your descendants,
And My blessing on your offspring;
They will spring up among the grass
Like willows by the watercourses.’
(Isaiah 44:3-4)

The water that we need to get us through our desert wanderings is an outpouring of the Spirit of God.  Only the Holy Spirit can protect us from the harsh conditions of a dry and barren land.

Just as the Israelites in the wilderness drank water from the rock, we as believers must get water from the Rock, the Rock that Paul tells us, is Christ."

And there you have it:  A few paragraphs from Bryan's much longer study.  We look forward to the time when we'll hear the final trumpet blast, when Jesus comes back, and Bryan- and the others who are the dead in Christ- will rise.

Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Back in the days before MapMyRide, Garmin, and Google Maps, my dad and I did a lot of cycling.  Sometimes we got lost.  (Note:  My dad has an excellent sense of direction.  He will say that we weren't lost,  because we always made it home.  I say we were lost.)

We were riding around the beautiful German countryside, and my dad's solution to being lost was to climb higher.  Eventually, he would say, if you get up to the top of the very highest hill, you can look down and see where you are.

Life is like that.  When dark times come, and we enter a valley, it's hard to see where we are.  We don't know how long the valley is, and we're down too deep to see what's around us.  I've found myself saying that we have no choice but to go forward, but I'm not sure that's quite true.  In one sense, we continue breathing and existing in the midst of difficulty, but the choice of whether or not to move on really does reside with each individual.  We could choose to wallow in the valley.

CS Lewis said that one of his fears in grief was that he'd find that the valley was actually a circular trench.  A trench from which there was no escape.  I think that's most likely a matter of mindset.  We have the power to decide whether our valley carries us forward, or whether it becomes a circular path that we tread over and over again.

So it's onward and upward, and the Lord gives victory to those who press ahead.

"I will lift up my eyes to the hills,
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made Heaven and Earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved,
He who keeps you will not slumber...

The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in,
From this time forth, and even forevermore."

From Psalm 121

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Cycling is so much fun.  You zip along the roads, conquer hills, and feel like a kid again.  In our family, we have five riders, and three- well, we affectionately refer to them as cinder blocks.  Little people who need to be hauled.

So, now that we have only one adult, we faced a conundrum: How should we haul all three of them?  Enter the Bikemobile.

We already had a bike trailer.  (We have two, actually, but you can only haul one at a time.)  That will hold two kiddos.  Carsten is almost five, and he hasn't quite made the transition to a two-wheeler.  He's very cautious about such things.  I bought him this little Wee Ride Copilot that would allow him to "ride" along behind me.

The challenge in all of this is, of course, the weight.  I'm now left with over 150 pounds of kids and gear to pull.  On flat roads, that's fine.  Uphill, not so much.  And our neighborhood has quite a few hills.  I consider it overtraining for the cycling I do on my own.  It's going to take a few weeks (months, years) for me to build up to more than a 2 or 3 mile ride.  The leg fatigue on a 2 mile Bikemobile ride is greater than on a 20 mile regular ride.  And I'm not kidding- or exaggerating.

For the most part, Carsten just sits and enjoys the ride.  "Slow down!  Slow down!  You're going too fast!"  (Steffen, in the trailer, is hollering, "Go faster, Mommy!"  Total opposites, those two.)  Today, Carsten decided to try his hand- his feet, rather- at peddling.  "Look, Mommy, I'm pedaling!  It's helping you!"  Actually, since he has no concept of matching my cadence, it sort of feels like womp-womp-womp, with the bike lurching from side to side.  But he gets such a sense of accomplishment, that I can't crush him by asking him to stop.

Nathan, speeding ahead, complains that we're going too slow.  Hmmm, maybe I should strap the other trailer to his bike and let him haul one of the cinder blocks.  Now that's an idea worth considering.

Friday, September 14, 2012


My little sister is EIGHTEEN today!  It doesn't seem possible that my tiny Sara is an adult.

She was my little sidekick when she was younger.  I think she was attached to my hip for the first four years of her life.  And as she got older, my own little people became attached to her.

Sara is a beautiful person, inside and out, and I'm thankful the Lord made us sisters.

Sara and I at her 6th Birthday

Happy Birthday, Sara!  May the Lord bless your years.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

More Painting

After the work day, our yard looks great and so many of the rooms that needed to be painted are done.  It's amazing!  When I say that I couldn't have done it without our church family, I really mean that.  To prove that point, here's how yesterday went.

I went for my run in the wonderful 60 degree weather.  (I really can't remember a front coming through this early in September before.  What a great reprieve!)  When I got back, the kids were still sleeping, so I decided to start right away on the last of the painting.  Just a few more rooms and everything will be done.  Robert had already cut in the library on Saturday, so I started on that.  As I rolled paint, the kids started waking up and coming in to talk to me.  I finished up pretty quickly, and made them breakfast.

We did  a little school, and I set them up to do their independent work.  The older kids and I usually take turns doing school and watching the little people.  I decided that today, I'd use that time to paint the boys' bedroom instead of doing more school with the younger ones.

Nathan and Megan had a Readers' Theater performance at the Senior Citizen's Center.  A friend picked them up for me, and I put on an educational video for the younger boys and continued painting.  (We'll just pretend the video was educational, okay?)

I checked on them periodically, and it seemed like they were absorbed in the "education."  The baby wanted a snack, and he fell asleep in his high chair with his oatmeal cookie.  By lunchtime, I had finished painting the room!  I fed them, and when Nathan and Megan got home, I was ready to move the furniture back into place.

First things, first:  All the junk that had been hiding behind their beds had to be cleaned up.  World War III was waged over that, but in the end Mommy was victorious.  The furniture was put back in place.  Steffen could now take his nap!  Or not.  He's in that aggravating, "I don't need a nap.  I'll just start melting down at 6:30 every evening" stage.  Mommy needed a nap, but that wasn't to be.

By this time, it was getting pretty late in the afternoon.  Nathan and Megan needed to be taken to gymnastics and swimming.  I was still covered in blue paint.  I fed Austin and made plans to take a REALLY fast shower.

As I sat on the couch nursing Austin, Evan said, "Mommy, I think the little boys got into the paint."  "What paint?"  I was pretty sure that I had secured all the paint after the work day.  "The paint upstairs."  Uh-oh.  I didn't know there was paint upstairs.  I'm sure someone told me, but I must have forgotten.

So I headed upstairs and, sure enough, there is paint upstairs.  A five gallon bucket- not full, but that's irrelevant at this point.  Apparently, someone had decided to paint the bookshelves.  I did a quick time calculation.  There was no way I was going to be able to clean up this mess AND take a shower.  Figuring that the mess would be there when I got home (unfortunately), I grabbed my clothes and hit the shower.

I was speeding through washing my hair, when I heard a child at the door.  The voice was muffled, but it sounded REALLY urgent.  After several attempts to decipher the words, I stepped out of the shower, wrapped up in a towel, and went to the door.  "Yes?  What's wrong?"  "Mommy, we need to get ready to go!  We're going to be late."  No kidding.

Back in the shower.  I was nearly done getting all of the blue paint off of my arms, when I heard another child at the door.  I was pretty sure it was Steffen, and I was also pretty sure that I heard the word "paint."  Sure enough, he'd gotten into the little bit of paint right by the bucket that was apparently still wet.  Now, his footprints had been added to the mess.

I grabbed him and put him in the tub, but he didn't want me to give him a bath.  He could do it by himself.  Explaining that it was too late for that, I washed him up anyway.  Bad idea.  He descended into full two-year-old-fit mode.  As soon as I finished washing him, he shot out of the tub (catching a wet toddler is like trying to grab a greased pig) and stomped his little foot back into the paint puddle.  "There!  Now I take a bath myself!"

At this point, I had to turn away from him and laugh.  What else could I do?  Once I'd wiped the grin off my face, I dealt with him sternly.  "I so sorry," he said.

And it was into the car, where I spilled my (caffeinated) tea before we headed out.  We left the driveway eight minutes late.  Not bad, considering.

We listen to audio books in the car, and our current selection is The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I'm pretty certain that the Hobbits' journey through the dark land of Mordor was no more perilous and difficult than our family's quest just to get out of our front door.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pure and Undefiled

James 1:27
Pure and undefiled religion 
before God and the Father is this: 
to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.

There were over 40 people at our home practicing this pure and undefiled religion this weekend.

They painted, and mowed, and scrubbed, and jack-hammered, and weeded, and so many other things.  Words truly cannot express my gratitude.

Here are pictures of just a few of our heroes:

Even the little saints helped:

Thank you, each and every one of you, so much.