Saturday, December 28, 2013

Survival Mode

Here it is.  Visual proof that I have been living in survival mode:

That's our sukkah, still up at Hanukkah.  That is, I believe, the biblical holiday equivalent of still having your Christmas tree up at Easter.

So, I've been a little busy lately.

A lot busy.  In fact, it's funny to actually look back at the life I used to characterize as "busy."  I clearly had no idea what I was talking about.

I've done survival mode before, especially after babies were born, but never for this length of time.  When I'm in survival mode, I deal strictly with the urgent.  ("Mom, Austin has pulled off his diaper again!"  "Mom, I can't find my..."  "We're out of peanut butter!")  In the back of my head, I have a firm belief that there's something, some process or method or something that I can figure out to make my life more efficient and I will suddenly find myself with time to blink, or at least breathe.  (Does anyone know where the Jetson's got that robot and those meal pills?)  As the months went by this time, though, I started to be afraid that no amount of time management implementation was going to put us on the road to serenity anytime soon.

I have found over the course of the last twelve years that any life change has the potential to force me into survival mode.  I've come, in fact, to expect it.  When a family has a new baby, moves, or faces medical or other issues, the routine is disrupted and things that worked before just don't work anymore.  And often, when the dust settles, life itself has changed.  I've learned that most of those changes require a new normal.  Rarely has a "survival mode" incident been followed by a return to things the way they were before.  New times require new strategies.

Fortunately for my family, I like strategizing!  I find the challenge of logistics invigorating.  I recently came across a "flow chart" of sorts that I had put together about seven years ago.  Justin was a tiny baby, Nathan had just started formal homeschooling, and we were living in a construction zone in an old home we were renovating.  There were problems to be solved, challenges to be overcome.  (My flow chart indicated that the key to calm out of chaos was "get up earlier.")

I am happy to report that, in our present survival mode experience, we are slowly but surely pulling ourselves out of it (the sukkah is down!)  Things are starting to take on a routine, and I'm starting to feel more on top of things.  We aren't drowning in laundry, we've finally hit on a school schedule to bring sanity to our at-home school days, and the house is starting to take on a more orderly appearance.  That makes mom happy, and when mom is happy, everyone's happy.

And a happy mom can laugh and take pictures when the boys pull something like this:

(That's mud.  Note to self:  Move getting backyard sodded to top of list.)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Leave it to the Government

Well, I have experienced a first.  I have waited in line, online.  Yes, my friends, I went to again and this time, instead of clicking away on the "create account" button to no avail, I got a message informing me that I was waiting in line.  They called it a "queue," perhaps hoping that the British accent would make it sound more intelligent.  It would seem that the government wants to make sure that visitors to the site get the full bureaucratic experience, lines and all.

Obamacare is a mess.  I suppose that's not news to most people, but I'm not just making a statement, I am living the mess right now.

I am a poster-child for Obamacare.  Single mom, seven kids, un-insurable pre-existing condition, employer doesn't provide health coverage.  I currently pay $115 a month for $3500 a year deductible "catastrophic" insurance for myself.  But that policy is going away January 1st and I need something to replace it.  (The kids are already completely covered.)

Enter  I made my first visit to the site with some trepidation.  I had been hearing that the rollout wasn't going as well as planned.  But I'm an optimist.  I'm certain it will work for me!  So, after putting all my kids in bed, I settle myself in front of the computer and prepare to start the enrollment process.

I click the create account button.  Nothing.  Click.  Click.  No error message.  Nothing.  Should I call?  Is the problem on my end?  I'll call.  After the required bureaucratic messages, I get through to a live human.  Her voice sounds suspiciously like a recording.  She stumbles over a word in her script.  Ok, maybe she is real.

There are a lot of people visiting the site, she says, that's why I can't create an account.  How about I just fill the enrollment form out with her and then I can create my online account later?

How long will it take?  About 10 minutes.  I doubt that, but I sigh and dig in.  What information do I need to have?  Just name, address, social security number.  I doubt that too.  I know bureaucracy.  There's no way this is going to be ten minutes and three pieces of information.  But I'm committed.  Let's go.

After 20 minutes, she's managed to get my name, address and phone number.  She begins to list the kids, even though they don't need insurance, because the government needs to have a list of everyone on my tax return.  She never deviates from her monotone-bureaucratic-recorded voice, even as the number of children grows.  When I finally tell her that Austin is the last, she says she is going to place me on hold for a minute.  So she is human after all.  I know she is telling her colleagues, "This lady is crazy.  She has seven kids!!!" Glad I could relieve the monotony of her existence for a brief moment.

After an excruciating 56 minutes of answering questions and pulling paperwork out of files, Miss Monotone drones, "Your healthcare application has now been completed..."




"your application cannot be submitted because our verification system is currently down.  You are welcome to log in to your account at and submit it there."

"But I don't have a account.  That's why I called you.  I can't create an account."

"We encourage you to keep trying."

And so it goes.  That exchange took place a month ago.  I have since managed to make it through the line, create an account and even enroll.  For a mere $203 a month ($88 more than I'm paying now) I can get a policy with a $6350 deductible.

Here's the catch, though, I haven't managed to actually PAY for my policy, which, of course, means that I do not, in fact, have a policy for next year.  No premium payment, no coverage.  But the "pay for policy" button on the site doesn't work!  I was instructed to contact the insurance company directly if they didn't contact me in "a few days."  I've tried.  No dice. Can't get through.

As far as I'm concerned, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

Where's Ronald Reagan when you need him?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Two! Four! Six!

"Excuse me, excuse me!  Four year old coming through!" Steffen announced loudly as we went through HEB on his birthday.

He is four, and he knows that four is a VERY big deal.  He took his birthday very seriously this year.  What do four-year-olds eat?  What do they wear?  How much should they get for their birthdays?  These were all questions that he pondered in the lead up to his big day.  (He decided four-year-olds eat buttered noodles and wear clothes that say "4" on the tag, and they get LOTS of Hero Factory.)  At the end of his special day, he said, "This was my best birthday EVER!"

Evan sagely remarked that that was because he'd only had four birthdays and two of them he couldn't even remember.

But Steffen wasn't the only guy around here to have a birthday.  After Steffen's birthday on September 30th, Austin turned two on October 9th, and Carsten finally (he's been talking about his birthday since August) turned six on October 28th.  That's right, my three youngest boys have birthdays within a month of each other, and trying to make sure each one had a wonderful day kept us even busier in October than we usually are.

They all thoroughly enjoyed their birthdays this year, despite my failure to invite people over.  (I felt terrible when Steffen got up in the morning and said, "So when are all the people coming over?"  Next year, buddy.) They did get all their birthday perks, though.  I try to let the birthday child have all the choices that sometimes aren't available in a big family.  They pick breakfast, lunch, dinner, the Friday night movie.  Plus, my kids only get sweet cereal if it's someone's birthday.  Much negotiation, bribing, and suggesting goes on before the birthday child finally makes a selection.

Their official "party" was very low-key and combined.  It's hard to believe I'm the same mom who used to pull off huge parties.  That was another life.  Carsten, since he's the oldest, got to pick the venue, so we packed up and headed to the zoo.

There were cupcakes.

 And gifts.

Austin was especially impressed with the snazzy box.

And animals.

Everyone (except for Nathan, who was home sick) had a great day.

Happy birthday, boys!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Summer Reading

Happy Fall!

The days are crisp, the leaves are changing... Wait, this is Texas.  But it is about 20 degrees cooler today than it has been!  Maybe it's not going to be blazing hot for another month after all.  One can always hope.

I came up with the idea for this post as I looked at the growing stack of books on my nightstand.  I used to be the type of person who finished one book before starting another.  Lately, though, I've started a habit of having a few books going at a time- usually each is in a different genre- but I have so little time to read, that I don't like waiting for weeks to start a book I'm interested in.  So I rotate and when I have a free minute, I grab whatever book I'm in the mood for and read that one.  I'm a very fast reader, and that's a good thing considering my limited time.

I kicked off my reading with Rumsfeld's Rules on Memorial Day weekend.  Here's what I read the rest of the summer.

Books to the Kids
I try really, really hard- but not always successfully- to read to the kids before bed.  I have fond recollections of my dad reading to me and I want my kids to look back with the same warm memories.  I have found that it is extremely important that I enjoy the book we're reading.  If I don't, I seem to find a million excuses- too late, too tired, too wild- to skip our evening reading.  Here are a few of that we enjoyed:

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle- This book is hilarious.  Mrs. Piggle Wiggle comes up with all sorts of "cures" for childhood ailments.  Like the Radish Seed Cure for the little girl who refused to bathe.  When she started sprouting seeds, she hopped in the tub with no complaining.  We all laughed and exchanged many a knowing glance as we read.

Raiders from the Sea- This Viking adventure was just a touch slow.  We read a lot about what the characters were thinking and feeling, and the moments of action were few and far between.  I probably wouldn't have noticed that if I had been reading it to myself, but reading aloud is so much slower, that some of the introspection got to be a little tedious.  Justin, though, really loved it and made sure we read every night.

Journey to the Blue Moon-  We've read other things by this author (The Dragon of Lonely Island) and we knew we'd love this one.  In this fantasy, people are transported to the Blue Moon (which only happens once in a... well, you get the idea) to find things that they've lost.  Thanks to some creative villains, the Blue Moon is a pretty treacherous place, and we had a hard time putting this one down at night.

Black Ships Before Troy- This is a beautiful adaptation of the myth surrounding the Trojan War for children.  Once again, Justin is entranced.  We have a nicely illustrated copy and he stares at the pictures throughout the day.  "Mom, I think I like the Greeks better.  The Trojans never should have stolen that woman.  But why does Achilles have such a bad temper?"

Books for the Kids
I don't read everything before my kids read it, but certain things require a little extra research before I hand them over to them.

39 Clues- Very addictive, in a "I can't stop reading this even though I know it's not necessarily the best literature available" kind of way.  I did stop after the first book (okay, maybe the second) because life is too short for me to read endless kids' fiction.  Nathan and Megan like them, though.

The Hunger Games- Because Everyone has read it.  I haven't met Everyone, but apparently, he gets around.  He's the same Everyone who eats McDonald's, drinks soda at school and plays video games all day.  "Can I read it, Mom, puhleease??"  Answer: No.  Just because something has been written- even written engagingly- and Everyone has read it doesn't mean it's worth reading.  From a worldview perspective, this was confused and disturbing.  I'm a little worried about Everyone.

Books to Make Me Think
I went to the Society for Classical Learning conference this summer and there were so many great speakers! I left with a long list of books to read, and I've made varying progress, in between lesson planning and other life craziness, through these three:

All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes-  Ken Myers, of Mars Hill Audio, spoke at the conference, and I got an opportunity to speak to him briefly in between sessions.  His insight on culture and how a Christian ought to engage it is filled with wisdom.  I was especially fascinated by the way he distinguishes between pop culture (which is inherently wedded to the throwing off of a community's values)  and folk culture (which is firmly rooted in a community's beliefs and standards.)  I'd call this a must read.  I wasn't just encouraged and challenged by this, I actually enjoyed reading it.

From Achilles to Christ-  Louis Markos was another conference speaker, and if I had to pick a favorite (a tough call, to be sure) is would be Professor Markos.  He spoke on CS Lewis and other topics, and I went right to the book table to buy something he had written.  They were sold out.  That's okay!  There's always Amazon.  This particular book is subtitled Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics.  He makes some interesting arguments and points to a faint glimmer of God's truth- imperfect, of course- in the pagan literature.  Fascinating.

The Devil Knows Latin-  Professor Christian Kopff led a couple of the sessions I went to at the conference, and he was a close runner up for my favorite.  He made a convincing case for the need for classical, Latin-based education in America today.  (So maybe he was preaching to the choir, but it's always nice to have someone brilliant back up one's convictions.)  His book, after hearing him speak, is delightful.  Some of it seems a bit rabbit-trailish, but his writing comes across just as he does in person.  I liked the book, but it might seem a little like inside baseball to many.  It's got a great title, though!  (The title, since I know you're just dying for me to tell you, comes from a story.  "Ronald Knox, a wise and witty Catholic priest, when asked to perform a baptism in the vernacular, refused...'The baby does not understand English and the Devil knows Latin.'" from the book, pg. xv)

Books for Fun
I admit it.  I am a fan of the thriller.  I do not read romance novels, I do not read books about vampires, but I DO love a good CIA tale. I was a big fan of Vince Flynn and was saddened to hear of his premature passing.  I tried a few new authors this summer to fill the void.

The Kill Artist-  an Israeli undercover operative who restores great works of art.  You can't really go wrong with that.  I enjoyed this, but I still missed Flynn's Mitch Rapp.  Maybe, though, once I get better acquainted with the series, I'll make friends with Gabriel Allon too.

The Faithful Spy- This one was a bit of a twist on the more typical spy novel.  It was interesting.  I haven't decided whether or not I'm a fan of Berenson's John Wells yet.  I was able to take a couple of weeks on this book- not something I can say for Vince Flynn.  I usually read those in a day or two.  The book was engaging, but just not of the "I can barely keep my eyes open but I still can't put this book down" variety.  I plan to read more in this series as well, though.

A Book from the List
I've had a list of books that I've wanted to read for a long time.  Every once in awhile, I finally get around to reading one.  Some of them I've hated (Moby Dick) others I wondered why I took so long to discover such a great read (Oliver Twist.)  This one was in the second category.

The Iliad- I read the Lattimore translation, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I had thought, for some reason, that it was going to be hard to read, but I found it entertaining and beautiful, and the language really wasn't difficult.  (Thanks, Dad, for having me memorize verses in the King James Version when I was three.)  I was delighted that reading it didn't feel like a chore, and I could, in fact, see myself reading this again.

So that's what I read this summer!  I'm always open to book recommendations (although my list is long and getting longer.)  Have any favorites I should try?

Friday, September 13, 2013


Teacher are such creative people.  Especially when it comes to homework assignments.  They have so many great ideas.  Like making homemade pizza to learn about fractions.  (Does ordering Papa John's and cutting it yourself count?)  Or making a model of Jamestown.  (Thanks for that one, Mrs. P.)  Last week, though, I fell victim to my own creative lesson planning.

Nathan is in a couple of my classes, and he was especially excited about my weekend journaling assignment.  I had listed forty, that's forty, journaling prompts and instructed the students to choose one.  "Okay," he announced after looking at the list, "I am going to make dinner for the family tonight and write about it."

"Which one did you choose?  The one about your ideal vacation?" I ask.  Surely I heard wrong.  Nathan doesn't even like to make his own sandwiches.

"Nope.  The one with the dinner."

I experienced a moment of terror.  A vision of a demolished kitchen, complete with blackened pans, flashed before my eyes.  Oh, wait, I had included in the prompt that the student had to clean it up himself.  Well, at least my teacher creativity insanity was balanced with a little common sense.  I also realized at this point that I had borrowed the idea for this particular prompt from a colleague I met at a conference.  And he doesn't have kids.  Figures.

Nathan grabbed my cookbooks and started to make out his menu.  As he put his grocery list together, I subtly made little hints to try to minimize the damage.  Olive lentil burgers, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pound cake sounded delicious!  And messy, really messy.  How about Boca Chik'n, baked potatoes, and, well, okay, pound cake?  Coconut Lemon Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze, to be precise.  He went along with that.

I took a deep breath once the groceries were unpacked and tried to plan out my strategy.  When I was growing up, my mom would let me loose in the kitchen and just tell me to make sure it was cleaned up before she came back in.  I wasn't confident enough to pull that off, and personality-wise, I'm probably more like my grandmother, who, looking over my shoulder, once told me I was stirring the batter in the wrong direction.  I decided to go for a balance between the two.  Available, but not intrusive.

And then I got to observe Nathan at work.  He attacked the task very mathematically.  What time are we eating?  How long does each item take?  When should he start?  And how long does it take to preheat the oven?  Once he had made all of his necessary calculations, he got to work.

"Always read the recipe all the way through first," I told him as he started the pound cake.

"Well, of course, Mom, can you imagine if I started to flash a new ROM to my phone and forgot to back up my old ROM?  There goes your data!"  he laughed.

I laughed too, but not because I understood what he was saying.

As he poured in the oil, he said, "Check this out!  Who says vegan has to be healthy?  This cake is like a dirty little vegan secret."

I must say I was impressed.  He measured carefully, followed each step exactly, and was actually very proficient.  Dinner was a hit with everyone, and he DID clean up the kitchen.

Let's hear it for creative teachers!

Thursday, September 5, 2013


"So do you think that something Christians would think is significant might one day happen on Rosh Hashanah?" my friend asked, as I bustled around getting things ready for the substitute teachers who were going to take over my classes so that I could be off for the holiday.

"Could be!"  I replied.

The idea that the Old Testament feasts found in Leviticus 23 might have some sort of fulfillment in the future is a somewhat popular one.  It might seem silly- the ravings of so many end times madmen- except for one thing:  It's happened before.  Three holidays (four if you count Unleavened Bread) have actually had a significant event happen that in some way fulfilled their original purpose.

Passover was originally established as a memorial of the Exodus.  "'And it shall be, when your children say to you, "What do you mean by this service?" that you shall say, "It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck down the Egyptians and delivered our households."'" (Exodus 12:26-27)  The story of redemption, however, was fulfilled when Jesus, our Passover lamb, was sacrificed for us.  The symbolism of His death wasn't just partial, though.  He actually did die on Passover, on the very date.  Then, He was resurrected on the very next holiday in line, Firstfruits.

These events weren't seen as mere coincidence by the early believers.  Paul explicitly states that Jesus is "our Passover" (1 Cor. 5:7) and also, since He rose from the dead, He is the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." (1 Cor. 15:20)  In fact, the entire book of 1 Corinthians is replete with Passover terminology.  Our freedom from sin, for example, is likened to purging out the "old leaven," an important rite during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The early believers knew that Jesus Himself had made the feast/fulfillment connection when He shared that final meal with His disciples.  As they celebrated the Passover together, He made sure that they would one day understand the new layer of meaning His death would add to the ancient tradition: "Do this in remembrance of Me."  And even Christians today are familiar with Pentecost, though perhaps not all realize that the Holy Spirit was given on a day that had already been a holiday for thousands of years.

So it's not entirely implausible that the other feasts (there are seven yearly feasts: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles and one weekly: the Sabbath) might find a prophetic fulfillment at some point in the future.  God likes doing things like that, it seems.  What then, might we be looking forward to on Rosh Hashanah in the future?

Rosh Hashanah means "Head of the Year" and it's currently celebrated as the Jewish New Year.  Some historians suspect that its celebration as the new year might have arisen sometime during the Babylonian captivity, but the evidence is a bit murky.  Biblically speaking, the start of the new year is Nisan, the month of Passover (March or April) and that's pretty clearly spelled out in Exodus 12:1-2.  The Bible's name for Rosh Hashanah isn't actually Rosh Hashanah at all!  It's called Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of blowing the shofar.)  It was commemorated by blowing the shofar (ram's horn) and, in the book of Nehemiah, reading the Word of God.

When Christians think of the blowing of a shofar- a great trumpet- our minds turn to the day, the "mystery," when "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed."  (1 Cor. 15:51-52)  And on that day, "we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord."  (1 Thess. 4:15-17)

And maybe, just maybe, it will be Rosh Hashanah.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

In the Rear View Mirror

Were my eyes playing tricks on me, or was something up with that guy's tire?

"Mom, what's wrong with his tire?"

Okay, it wasn't just me.  The driver of the pick-up truck in front of me was clearly losing the tire off the back of his trailer.  "I think," I said, as bits of rubber started flying toward my windshield, "that he's having a blow-out."  I slowed down, anticipating that he would pull off to the side of the road as soon as he realized what was happening.

Except he didn't.  He kept going 65 miles an hour as the tire continued to rip apart.  And then the entire thing came off and flew across the road, the rim of the trailer blazing along the pavement.  He didn't even slow down.  Smoke started billowing up behind him.  I honked several times.  Surely that would make him look in his rear view mirror and see the cloud of smoke.  Nope.  Nothing.

The kids and I started laughing in disbelief.  "Wow, Mom, he must be really determined to get where he's going!"

When he finally pulled over, I thought to myself that there was probably a lesson here.  Everyone knows that you can't drive looking in the rear view mirror.  You can't move forward if you're always looking back.  It's the same with life.  If we focus on the past and spend hours contemplating our childhood and reevaluating past choices, we won't make forward progress.  Ecclesiastes tells us that it is better not to "dwell unduly" on the things that happen in our lives.  (Ecc. 5:19-20)  We have to travel with our eyes forward.

The pick-up truck driver had that lesson down.  No looking back for that guy!  He had his eye on the goal and he was moving forward.  He was off to work and nothing was going to distract him.  But he didn't take the time to realize that things were falling apart behind him.  Every once in awhile, we need that rear view mirror.  A quick glance back here and there can give us information that will help us reach our destination.

After all, how can we learn life's lessons if we don't take some time to look back and evaluate?  There are many who spend far too much time pondering and reconsidering every step, but the hyper-charged people out there- we know who we are- are guilty of the opposite folly:  Moving toward a goal at a breakneck speed at the expense of letting the past instruct us.  I find it's far easier than I'd like to admit to fall into that trap, especially in the little day to day areas.  After all, when something huge happens, you pretty much have to stop and take notice.  If your house burns down, there will be inspections and reports.  What caused this massive disaster?  But in our day to day life, it's easier to ignore the warning signs.

Take parenting as an example.  One of the advantages (other than having a fail-safe retirement plan) of having a lot of children is being able to learn from your mistakes and change tactics.  That's why we firstborn children are all so tightly wound and high strung, parents just have no idea what's a big deal and what isn't.  So with the first child, we usually decide that EVERYTHING is a big deal.  When Nathan was seven, he started lying.  Oh my goodness!  What kind of future con artist were we raising?  And then, he stopped.  And when the next child turned seven and started to lie, we said, "Hasn't this happened before?"  By the third or fourth time, I was able to say, "Well, it looks like it's time to start teaching the required seven-year-old curriculum on the value of honesty."  I could look in the rear view mirror and apply those lessons as I moved forward.

A look back can also remind us of all the ground we've covered in the past.  Sometimes, the destination is too far ahead to even see.  There are just too many turns in the road between us and where we're going.  We have to remember, then, how far we've come, how many times the Lord has sustained us in the past, how we've overcome obstacles that seemed insurmountable before.  And as we look back, we get the courage to move forward.

"A wise man considers well his steps."  (Prov. 14:15)  On the highway of life, we'd all do well to check the rear view mirror every now and again.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Live Fast

I was listening to some great Keith Green music.  I love his songs.  His passion and zeal shine through in his lyrics, and when I sing along with him, I am inspired to follow the Lord without compromise.  His life was short.  He was killed in a plane crash, along with two of his children, at age 28.  He left behind a pregnant wife and one more little one, and a legacy of speaking the truth through music:

"The world is sleeping in the dark,
that the church just can't fight,
because it's asleep in the light.
How can you be so dead
when you've been so well fed?"

Conviction and inspiration, all from a life- though brief- lived well, lived passionately, lived fast.

For some reason, that made me think about how short Bryan's life was.  Just 44 years, and he was a Christian for less than half of that time.  And yet he accomplished so much and touched so many.  He lived fast.  He packed as much as he could into his short life, and I think there's a lot to be learned from his example.

Bryan, you see, was busy, very busy.  He had a job, a family (a big one!), and all of the usual "responsibilities."  And yet somehow, he still managed to teach Bible studies, plan and lead Passover Seders, teach Sunday school, lead AWANA at our church (a Sunday night Bible memory club), and invite people to our home for celebrations and fellowship.  Then, of course, there were the comments he'd make that made people wonder what on earth he read in his spare time (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, and the like.)

He did all of that while dealing with chronic pain.   Some nights before Bible study, when his ankles hurt so badly that he could barely walk,  I can remember him debating whether or not he should rearrange the room so that he could sit instead of stand.  He usually stood.  One afternoon before a large Passover Seder at our home, he went to the emergency room to get a splint for his wrist.  (Collapsed joints are very painful.)  He had every reason to take it easy.  Oprah would have told him to practice saying no and work in some more "me time."  And no one would have blamed him if he had chosen that path.

But Bryan felt blessed to have so many opportunities to share the zeal he had inside.  He would say, "Well, you've got to do something with your life."  How often do we forget that we're supposed to be doing something with our lives?  How often do we say, "I'm just so busy.  I need to slow down"?

And maybe we are too busy.  But there's a good chance that we're busy doing the wrong things.  We turn down the opportunities for service that are meaningful and eternally enduring, and absorb ourselves in little distractions that won't matter much in the end.  Plus, there's always the chance that we're stronger than we think, capable of doing more than we think we can, if we just choose to follow the passion that God has given us.  Are we squandering years that may turn out to be all too short?

God hasn't called us to an easy path, a path with lots of time to pursue idle pastimes.   He's called us to serve, to reach out, to think carefully about what we can do to impact those around us.  And when we do things for His glory, He gives us the strength, even if it seems impossible at the outset.

A few months before he died, Bryan asked me, "Honey, do you think we can do a public Seder at church again this year?"  I was kind of surprised he asked.  I figured he would have taken it for granted that we would.  (When Justin was born two weeks early, he said, "Oh good, we can invite some people over at Passover.  He'll be 6 weeks old!"  We had 20 guests that year.)  I asked him why he was asking me, and he said, "Because I know it's hard, and I don't want you to do it if you don't think you can."

It's true.  It was hard.  We were busy.  We had an infant and six other kids under ten.  Bryan was putting in long hours at work.  By all the standards of this world, I should have said, "No, it's too much."  But I knew how much it meant to him.  I knew that God had placed a burning desire inside of him to share the wonder of the Word.  And I didn't say no, I said we'd make it work.

And that was his last Seder.  Was it worth it?  I think so.

Walk as children of light...
Redeem the time,
because the days are evil.
- from Ephesians 5:8,16

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Tiny Texan

I finished my first sprint tri!

Sunday was the annual Tiny/Small Texan Triathlon in Boerne.  I've had my eye on this race for a few months, and I finally decided to sign up and go for it.  The sprint (Tiny) race is an 800 m. swim, 25K bike, 5K run.

I got there early, got everything set up, and nervously bounced around waiting for the race to start.  The pro triathlete who's helped me with some of my swimming, Travis, was there for the Small Texan (olympic distance race), and he talked me into a short, slow jog before the race started.  That sounded pretty crazy to me, considering that I was just hoping that I'd have the endurance to finish the race, but it was better than standing still, so I went along with it.

The Small Texan racers started first, and Travis was the first one out of the water by a minute and a half.  Then, it was time for the Tiny racers to start.  (You're probably picturing elves right now.)     I had done one open water swim before the race, so I knew I probably wouldn't panic in the water, but I wasn't willing to fight it out with the other racers at the start.  I'm not a fast swimmer and I had no intention of getting run over.  I hung back and started nearly last.  Apparently, I then passed other swimmers, but since everyone was fairly spread out in the water, I didn't really realize that.  I am terrible at swimming straight in open water.  It's harder than it looks.  The buoys were placed 200 m apart, and I stayed on track by looking up every so often and course correcting.  In politics and in swimming, I lean right.  After about 500 meters, I became pretty convinced that I was coming in dead last.  I wasn't really looking for a fast finish, but it made me remember what Nathan had said after his first tri, "You just don't want to be in the water so long that everyone knows your name and is cheering for you."  That made me laugh- yes, even while I was swimming- and I just kept going.  Turns out I wasn't last by a long shot, but since I could see people ahead of me and no one was passing me, it just felt like it.

Coach Eddie, Boerne's swim coach extraordinaire, was there to watch Travis, and Travis' mom and girlfriend came as well.  I got to borrow them to be my cheer squad too!  I ran up the hill (uphill proved to be the theme of the day) out of the lake and into the transition area, hopped on my bike and headed out.  (Thanks, Katlyn, for the pictures!)

The ride started out along the I-10 access road.  It was a little hilly (something I never realized when driving in the car!) but not too bad at all.  I started to feel pretty confident.  We Tiny racers turned around just after the Welfare Country Club (ritzy place, let me tell you) and PoPo's restaurant.  (All the German speakers should feel free to snicker.  No, I've never eaten there.)  We actually had to head back just as things were getting scenic.  The announcer had said before the race that, on the way back, we would pass the lake and go in the other direction "for a little bit" to make it a true 25K ride.  No problem, I could do a little bit.

Well, his definition of a little bit and my definition of a little bit are clearly different.  Oh my goodness, the hills!  I just became determined not to walk up any of them.  And I didn't.  It was beautiful and scenic in a Texas sort of way, with a view of the lake after the turnaround, but my lack of training on the road started to become apparent.  I don't care how much I crank up the resistance on my trainer, it's not the same as actually riding uphill.

I still felt good coming out of the bike, though I knew I had slowed considerably during that last "little bit" (which I think was at least 1/3 of the ride.)  I got back into transition, slipped on my running shoes, and took off up the rocky hill for the run.  And then I hit the dam.  I had heard people mention the dam- how hot it was, how hard it was to run at the end of the race- but now I knew what all the fuss was about.  It was soooo hot!  I felt like an egg in a frying pan, and I was pretty certain that I had used every last ounce of power in my legs biking up those hills.  At this moment, I was really worried that I was going to have to walk the run, but I pushed ahead, and kept going as best I could.  The run revealed another problem with my training- no heat acclimation.  I work out on a treadmill in the air conditioning.  My body had no idea what to do with the temperatures I was dealing with.  The aid station and its cold water seemed forever away!  And I have to admit, I was kind of shocked with how I was feeling.  I'm not a fast runner, but my 5K pace is pretty consistent, so I felt confident that I could handle the run.  Halfway through, my legs were cramping so badly (holdover from the bike) that I could see my muscles spasming.  I stopped to work that out, and then, coming back across the dam, I finally realized that I just HAD to keep an even pace.  There was a lady who was running more slowly than my usual pace, but she was being consistent.  I got behind her and just followed her to the finish line.  Thanks #177!

At the finish line, I picked up my medal and WATER, carefully made my way down to the lake and cooled off!!  My final times were 800m swim: 23:57; 25K bike 1 hr, 9 min; 5K run 37:04.  Total time: 2:13:34.  I actually came in third in my age group, which surprised me because I felt SO slow.  I guess it helps that everyone else was having to deal with the same hills and heat.  (Travis came in first in his age group and third all around for the olympic distance.  The top three finishers were all pros.  And it actually took him just 10 minutes longer to finish twice the distance that I covered.  Ah, well, the joys of being young.)

I had a great time, and there wasn't a single moment during the race that I regretted signing up for it (not even on the dam!)  I had some great inspiration along the way:  On the swim, I could hear Coach Eddie: "Steady, even pace."  Coach Travis: "Ten strokes then look up or else you're going to end up in the middle of the lake." On the bike, "Coach" Dad: "Don't coast- keep pedaling!"  Amanda, who got me started on this craziness: "You've got to start taking these hills, Aimee!" Trust me, after struggling up the hills- I wasn't chickening out and braking on the way down.   And the most inspiring of all, little Carsten, "Mommy, I hope you win your race!"

Not win, buddy, finish.  And that's a win in my book.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

School Supply Madness

In the late 1800s, two girls followed the wagon track from their home to the schoolhouse in town, carrying a slate, a primer, and a penny to buy a piece of chalk.  Armed with these items, they received an education that equipped them to read great works, calculate math problems, and narrate two hundred years worth of history from memory.  The younger girl, Laura Ingalls, went on to write a series of books that have been beloved by generations of children and their parents.

Well, those days are over, my friends.  Now, we need stuff- LOTS of stuff- to be educated.

I am new to the school supply madness game.  In the past, I have bought a few packages of pencils, some pens, paper, a package of 64 crayons (because I'm a cool mom who lets her kids have lots of different colors), and checked to make sure that we had some glue and scissors on hand.  Then, if I was feeling especially generous, each child got to pick out a binder.  This year, however, the kids will be in private school part time, and I had school supply LISTS.  I went to Wal-Mart armed with the lists and started to fill my cart.

I couldn't believe how much stuff we ended up with!  I have five school age kids, so the effect of the LIST is greatly magnified in my house:  104 pencils, 60 dry erase markers, 30 folders, and on and on.  Now, please understand, I'm certain that all this stuff will be put to good use (or at least it better be!), and I'll be teaching too, so I put out my own LIST, but I'm wondering if all of this is really necessary.  Nice, sure, but is it necessary?

There's something to be said for limiting oneself and working within certain parameters.  In fact, limitation can actually breed creativity.  When we say, "this and no more," we force ourselves to think, "How can I accomplish my desired result with what I've got right here?"  I realized when I looked at the LIST for the classes I'll be teaching that some of my requests were omitted.  That's okay.  With a little thought, I came up with a work-around.  Maybe we don't need all the extra stuff to make a Roman history timeline.  Maybe we can come up with a method that uses what we already have on hand.  It takes a little brain power, and a lot of willpower, but it saves money and hassle.  Remember, the more stuff we have, the more effort we have to put into storing, maintaining, and replacing it.

But, for now, I'm just going to be the mom who sends her kids to school with half of the stuff on the list, and then waits to see how much they're really going to need.  And maybe next year, I'll just buy them all slates.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Little Graces

Be nice to single parents.  It's harder than it looks.

You married parents think it looks hard- really hard.  Well, it's harder than that.  Trust me.

Single parenting is like being handed a script for a play.  "Okay," you think, scanning the roles, "This one must be mine.  Looks challenging, but with enough rehearsals I think I can get it down.  So," you say, turning to the director, "When does everyone else get here?"


"You know, the other actors, the ones who play the other roles.  When do we start rehearsing?"

"Oh, this is your play.  Those roles are yours."

"What?  That's impossible!  There are ten roles listed!"

"Now, now," the director reprimands, "Let's not whine."

"I am not whining.  Seriously.  These roles overlap.  There are lines that are spoken at the same time-  characters on opposite sides of the stage.  I am only one person.  This is impossible."

"You'll be fine.  Oh, and one more thing," the director says as he fades away, "This isn't a rehearsal.  It's live.  You're on."

And on you are.  The kids are hungry?  You're on.  Baby's sick?  That's you!  Car registration expired?  You again.  Bills?  That's definitely you.  Emotional meltdowns, broken appliances, lost homework, laundry?  You, you, you, and you.

There is no way to survive this play without grace.  And sometimes it's the little graces that make the biggest difference.  This morning, I got an encouraging word from a friend.  A timely word- a little grace.  A few minutes later, I found myself interrupted halfway through my shower, wrapped in a towel, trying to direct kids to capture our escaped dog.  (Single parents should not have pets.)  Just as I was beginning to think that I had reached my limit (a scary thought at seven in the morning) the dog walked into the house, all of her own accord.  She never does that.  Another little grace.

So it goes.  One little grace at a time.  Never enough to make me feel confident in the ten roles, but always enough to keep me from jumping off the stage.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


"Shopping?  No!  I hate shopping!"

"Not as much as your mother does, bud."

It's true.  I really hate shopping.  Grocery shopping.  Clothes shopping.  Shoe shopping.  Especially shoe shopping.  I find it exhausting- not physically exhausting, but mentally exhausting.  I walk into a store and I'm just overwhelmed by all of the STUFF, the decisions, the price calculations.  I've hated shopping ever since I was little, but now that I've added seven kids to the mix, shopping is just no fun at all.

Bryan, on the other hand, LOVED shopping.  He'd go to the mall during his lunch break and comb sales racks, the whole bit.  It was his idea of stress relief, and I was more than happy to let him take on that task.  (But not grocery shopping.  He liked grocery shopping too, but he could spend the food budget for the entire week and come home without a single item that could be made into an actual meal.)  Now, of course, if something's going to be bought, I'm the one who has to do it.

I have learned many things shopping- especially by shopping with kids.  Things I never would have known otherwise.  For example, it is possible for a child who cannot yet walk to wriggle out of the grocery cart strap, climb over the seat and land in the basket.  Plastic containers will break if they're hurled across the aisle (but usually only if they contain liquid.)  The clothes racks at Gap are not always fully secured.  (And clothes rack repair, apparently, requires the attention of every associate in the store.)  Six year olds think waving their hands in front of the door so that it dings OVER and OVER again is funny- really funny.  Kids have no concept of money- "It's only $20!"  Boys think the open aisles at Wal-Mart were designed for light saber battles.  Dress shoes were invented by evil gremlins to torture young men.

And then there are the many things I find out by listening to my kids talk while we're shopping.  Because no matter how much overload my brain is registering, talk they will.  The whole. entire. time. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is faster than the iPhone.  All the other girls have closets full of cool clothes.  None of the other boys ever have to dress up for church.  (Remember when suits gave way to khakis and then khakis to jeans?  Now, apparently, jeans have given way to shorts and t-shirts.  Only very uncool moms require "business casual" for church.)  Anakin is the most powerful Jedi of all times.  Jedi do not have to eat food that they don't like.  Carsten, when he grows up, is going to "watch military movies" in his room so that his kids won't be scared but he can still enjoy them.  Steffen, on the other hand, is more specific,

"When I grow into a man...when I'm four...I'm going to watch the 'Wevengers' and I'm really going to like it, because it's not really 'biolent.'"

The good thing about shopping for myself when the kids are along is that I never have to worry about them not being honest when I try something on.

Me: "What do you think of this outfit?"

Justin:  "Your shoes aren't good.  They're not high and not fancy."

Megan:  "You are definitely going to need to buy a pair of heels."

Carsten:  "And a new belt."

Nathan:  "How much is that going to cost?  Do you know how many games we could buy for that?"

Thanks, guys, next time, I'll just stick with Amazon.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

What To Say

I never used to know what to say to a grieving or hurting person.  I was too afraid that anything I might come up with would do more harm than good.  It seems I wasn't alone in my dilemma.  Many people feel the same way, and their caution and uncertainty is warranted.  It's incredibly easy to say the wrong thing.  I have had my fair share of "I can't believe I'm sitting here listening to this" moments.  And I'm not the only one.  Just last week, a young widow told me that two days after her husband committed suicide, a guy felt the need to give her a lecture on the importance of gun control.  Don't be that guy.  Here are some tips on what to say and do, gleaned from my own personal experience, conversations I've had with others, and things I've read.
  • The less said, the better.  Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, summed it up this way:  "Show up and shut up."  It's hard to do that.  If we feel the need to show up, we feel the need to talk.  While my experience has been that grieving people definitely need company, they are much less helped by words, particularly in the early days and months.  
  • Avoid cheering them up.  Timing is important when we speak.  Cheerful encouragement in the midst of intense grieving is kind of like a cymbal crash at the wrong point in a symphony.  It's bad.  This applies to Bible verses too.  They're all good, they're all inspired, but "played" at the wrong moment, they can come across as cruel ironies.  (I'll give one specific example- completely free of charge- Jeremiah 29:11.  The Lord's plans to give a "future and a hope" don't really seem to apply when somebody dies, do they?  Save that one for graduation.)
  • Be there.  What I've just said might tempt you to just stay away.  But don't!  It's good for grieving people to have others around.  Hang out.  Be available.  LISTEN, but keep your words few.  After his wife died, CS Lewis said, "I want the others to be about me.  I dread the moments when the house is empty.  If only they would talk to one another and not to me."  (A Grief Observed, 1961)  Head over with some friends and talk among yourselves.  I'll be forever grateful to the friends who came over with their kids during Bryan's last week so that my kids would have other little ones to play with. I know that was a tough assignment for them to accept, but they did it with grace, and I don't know what we would have done without them.
  • Give some space.  As much as it helps to have a houseful of people around in the early days, it's important for the person to have some private space to withdraw to.  He might retreat to the bedroom for a few minutes, and then reemerge.  It's challenging to be present and yet hang back at the same time, but that's the type of sensitivity that's called for.  Friends who can strike this balance are pure gold in the tough times.
  • Find comfort for your own grief.  When someone you care about is in a dark valley, chances are good that you may be hurting too.  Perhaps it was a death that touched you too, or maybe it's a divorce or a job loss that makes you feel insecure about your own life.  You may need help dealing with your feelings.  I know I spent time comforting and calming others after Bryan died and even during his final week, and others who are in the middle of a storm have had the same experience.  We can play the role of comforter because of the special grace we've been given, but it can nevertheless be exhausting.  Talk to other friends and family.  Go to your pastor.  Life's battles affect us all.
  • Remember that you don't know what it's like.  We've all had tough times.  We've all lost loved ones.  The main lesson we should all take from that is that grieving is a deeply individual process.  Every little variable gets magnified.  Unless your situation really is stunningly similar, don't try too hard to establish commonality.  Losing a father is different than losing a husband is different than losing a child, and even within all of those categories, the manner of death and the nature of the relationship is going to make things different.  You can't comprehend someone else's grief any more than you can understand someone else's nightmare.
  • Go easy on the books.  I have found that those of us who have lost loved ones share a joke: the stack of books on our nightstands that well-meaning friends have given us.  And depending on the fad of the moment, we probably have multiple copies of some books.  Books are helpful, but it's hard to say which ones are actually going to be the helpful ones.  If you must give a book, I'd recommend going for something that's stood the test of time.  You've noticed that I personally liked A Grief Observed because I'm a CS Lewis fan and the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Jane Eyre.  (Reading stories of epic struggles by authors with a keen understanding of the human heart is far more beneficial to me than any pop psychology volume.)  Elisabeth Elliot has some great books as well.  And no, those weren't the books people bought me.  I'll admit to being quirky in this regard, but from what I've heard from other grieving people, the book deluge is usually unnecessary.  
  • Cards are great.  Getting a card with a little "I'm praying for you" note is very refreshing during any of life's difficulties.  The great thing about a card is that it conveys sympathy, but it doesn't intrude.  I tended to set the cards aside when they came in the mail and opened them a couple of times a week.  They were a nice encouragement, and opening them in batches allowed me to choose when I wanted to "hear" what my friends and family had to say and react in privacy. 
  • Share your memories.  If it's a death and the person who died touched you in some way, definitely bring it up, either in a card or in person.  It's encouraging to know that a loved one will be remembered fondly.
As time goes forward, needs change.  Life has to go on, but it's much more difficult than it seems to move forward.  In some ways, support from friends becomes even more important as the early days give way to weeks and months.  Here are a few more tips for that period:
  • Assess what the person needs.  It might be good to just ask.  My experience tells me that asking, "What do you need?" will probably be met with, "I don't know," or, "I think I'm okay."  One's brain is so fuzzy for such a long time in these situations.  It's better to consider the person's life and roles (mom, grandma, employee) and ask specific questions.  "I'd like to take your kids to soccer next week if they're going.  What time should I pick them up?"  People can always say no, but it really helps to know that help is available if needed.
  • Keep checking in.  Depending on the severity of the situation, long term help and emotional support might be important.  Help six months out can sometimes be even more precious than help six days out.  It's a real encouragement to know you haven't been forgotten.
  • Ask around.  If you're part of the person's circle of friends, ask around to see who's keeping in touch as time passes.  If everyone thinks someone else is, check with the person to make sure that support is staying strong.
  • Don't complain.  There's seems to be a general consensus among grieving people that hearing other people complain about what they have (spouse, children, job) is pretty maddening.  Widows don't really care that your husband's snoring kept you awake, and moms who've lost children would give anything to deal with that two year old tantrum that you found so annoying.  And if you do slip up and complain, take the sarcastic comment you might get with a little humility.  It might be a good reminder to be thankful even in the midst of life's little hassles.
  • Never, ever, ever corner the person at a social event.  It takes a herculean effort to force oneself out of the house and into "normal" life.  If you bring up the situation when everyone's trying to act "normal," you risk making that poor person wish she'd never left the house. CS Lewis bemoaned the fact that he had become in his widowhood "an embarrassment" to everyone he met.  He'd watch his friends and colleagues "trying to make up their minds whether they'll 'say something about it or not.'"  Then, he wondered if, perhaps, "the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers."  (A Grief Observed, 1961)  Let's not make things worse by making sad people feel like they have a disease.
  • Let the person bring it up.  You may find that you become the confidant, you may not.  Just let the one doing the grieving decide and follow his lead.
  • Ask someone who's been there.  If you know someone who's been in a similar situation, they probably would be able to give specific advice on what might be helpful.  They'll remember what people did for them, and they'll have the added benefit of hindsight to help them know what might be welcome.
  • Pray.  Not only does prayer carry with it the power of healing grief, it can also give you the guidance of the Holy Spirit on what to say and what to do.
Finally, from all of us who have gone through tough times: Thank you!  It's the encouragement and support of  our friends and family that keeps us going.  I have been blessed by an amazing bunch of supportive and helpful individuals, and when I hear that someone's hurting, my first thought, my first question, my first prayer, is that they will be surrounded by friends as wonderful as mine.

If you're experiencing loss or difficulty right now, feel free to email me: aimee(at)hillcountryvillage(dot)com.  I promise not to talk about gun control.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

One Year

Today marks one year since Bryan died.

I really can't believe it hasn't been a lot longer.  I suppose when you go through a major life change, it's normal for your sense of time to get a little skewed.  So much has changed that it feels like at least several years have passed- probably more like five.

And I think that's a good thing. It means that more healing has taken place than seems possible in just one year.  It means we've moved on and started a new life.

Over the next week or two, I plan to do a few posts sharing some of my reflections on the last year, but for now, my message is for those who are grieving.  I've learned many things in the last twelve months, but the most important lesson, while not particularly earth-shattering or grand, is most emphatically true.

There's no way through it, but through it.

That's it.  That's what I've learned.  When life is terrible, you just have to keep moving ahead.  You can't hide.  You can't go back.  Time keeps moving, and so must you.  You can wrestle with your guilt, you can indulge your grief, you can get angry, you can ask why.  All of that is acceptable.  All of that is expected.  But, in the end, whether or not you've sorted everything out and gotten all of the answers (and you won't), the only way to deal with grief is to keep living.  

I'm not saying it's easy.  It's not.  It's excruciatingly difficult.  But it is also absolutely imperative.  And I am here to tell you that, whether it seems like it now or not, you, my dear grieving friend, will get through it as long as you keep moving.

Bear in mind though, as you go through it, that grief is by no means a straight path.  The day a loved one dies, you don't pass through the gate and begin moving briskly forward, passing one landmark at a time.  It's a road with many twists and turns and some very dark tunnels.  CS Lewis says it best (doesn't he always?):

"Grief is like a long valley,
a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape...
[but] not every bend does.
Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one;
you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago.
That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench."
(A Grief Observed, 1961)

The minute you thought you were "over" something, that you had moved past a particular trigger, you will realize that you haven't at all.  "Am I right back where I started?  I thought I 20]3was done with this grieving thing," you'll think to yourself.  But I've come to see that those setbacks aren't really setbacks in the truest sense of the word.  They may seem to impede your progress, but if you pick yourself up and keep going, they become just another step forward in the messy valley of grief.  The darkness of the bad days lightens, almost imperceptibly at first, and then more and more as time passes.  And the dark days come less frequently.  Grief is not, as CS Lewis goes on to conclude, a circular trench after all.

My testimony to the grieving is this:  There is hope.  There is life.  There is light.  Maybe not yet, but soon.  Just keep going through it.

O, Lord,
"Remember the word to Your servant,
Upon which You have caused me to hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
For Your word has given me life."
Ps. 119:49-50

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Lens of Grace

A few weeks ago- actually on the Sunday of the boys' baptism- I had a shock in church.  It seems that during the week, a member had passed away.  I guess I must have fallen off the church email list or something, because, though I had heard that she had been hospitalized and that her cancer might not be as under control as they had hoped, I had no idea that it was that bad.

I was stunned.  I would like to say that I felt deeply saddened as I remembered how this woman, a fellow widow, had reached out to me during some of my darkest hours.  That came later, but first, I got angry.  "It's not fair!" was my emphatic protest.  See, this lady had a daughter- a high schooler.  Now this young lady has been robbed of both of her parents.  And it's not fair.

I found myself thinking, "How is she going to get through this?  She has another year of school.  She needs to go off to college.  This is TERRIBLE!"  And almost immediately, I realized that I was making the same mistake that people make when they look at my situation.  I was looking at the stark reality.  I failed to use the lens of grace.

See, when you're in the midst of a terrible situation, God's grace really is sufficient to sustain you.  Somehow, someway, He carries you through the darkest days.  People looking in from the outside don't know how you keep going.  They just know that if they were in your shoes, they'd collapse from the strain.

But they wouldn't.  They'd be sad, they'd be panicked, they'd be scared, they'd be angry and overwhelmed, but they'd keep going.  And if, after the initial shock wore off, they chose to let the Lord help them, they'd come through it victors.

Knowing this- that God's grace is greatest when we are weakest- gives us a different perspective on life.  Yes, when tragedy strikes our lives are changed forever.  But that doesn't mean that life is over.  It doesn't mean that we have to go through life broken.  It means that God gives us the grace to make the changes that are necessary.  He gives us the grace to heal.  And because of His grace, we can confidently move forward, not perhaps into the life we had planned for ourselves, but into the life that has been chosen for us.

I am comforted to know that this young lady is part of a church that specializes in being instruments of God's grace to the people who need it most.  She won't have to go through this alone, and I believe, looking through the lens of grace, that she can emerge from this a strong and vibrant woman, a living testament to the One who sustains her.

"So now...I commend you to God
and to the word of His grace,
which is able to build you up 
and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified."
Acts 20:32

Thursday, June 20, 2013


"Ah, I love to take naps."

That was Carsten.  He is one of those charmed children who relishes the opportunity to curl up with a blanket and snooze for a little bit in the afternoon.  He was a fantastic sleeper when he was a baby, and he still is today.

Of course, the reason that he, at five and a half, still wants to take an afternoon nap, probably has something to do with the fact that he rooms with two non-sleepers.  Justin and Steffen are TERRIBLE sleepers and always have been.  I must confess, before Justin was born, I thought I had the "getting kids to sleep" thing down.  Nathan never would nap, even when he was a very little baby, but he made up for it by crashing for a good 12 hours at night.  Megan and Evan slept well.  Then, along came Justin.  He had more energy than the other three kids combined, and pretty much ran round the clock.  As soon as he figured out how, (at three!) he would climb out the window at naptime and go play outside.  Even now, he's up till late at night and up again early in the morning.

Steffen is much the same way.  He is NOT sleepy.  He does NOT need a nap.  He does NOT need to go to bed at night.  Ever.

Not sleepy on the chair...

Not sleepy in the car...

Not sleepy on the stairs...

Never.  Ever.  Sleepy.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Remembering Daddy

Today, of course, was Father's Day, but it was also Bryan's birthday.  We all took some time to remember Daddy.

How many times have you heard in church or read in a book that in your life, you should stop and think about what people will have to say about you when you're gone?

It's an interesting exercise- pondering one's own eulogy.  We probably think of lofty things that we hope will one day be true of our lives: charity, charisma, kindness, success, love.  All of those things are noble goals, but the fact is, when it comes to our children, it doesn't actually take much to make an impression.

Here's a sampling of what my little people had to say about what they liked best about Daddy:

"I liked it when he made waffles."

"He always talked to me about the cats."

"My favorite time was talking to him early in the morning."

"He tickled me before bed."

"I liked praying with him at night."

Talking, cats, tickle fights, waffles: simple things.  Things that happen in the normal course of life.  It's the "regular" moments that matter the most- not big trips or exciting gifts, not even holidays, special events or "memory makers." It's just being there, listening, and being involved.  The day to day interaction is what matters to the people who love us.

John Bunyan said that if a man would live well, he should "fetch his last day to him, and make it always his company keeper."  It's true that not all of us will meet with an early death, but no matter how long we live, life is extremely short.  A mere breath, really.  If we could fully grasp the meaning in the simplest things of life, the smallest act could be infused with purpose, the littlest deed would have importance.

Few of us will do great and amazing things, but all of us will do "normal" things.  If we remember that all of those simple things are the building blocks of a life well-lived, then we can take the time to do ordinary things with love and attention.  And we will live knowing that, to the people who love us most, it's the way we do the ordinary that makes us extraordinary.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Justin and Carsten were baptized on Sunday!

Baptism is a big deal in our family.  A milestone to be celebrated.  It's the outward expression of the inward decision each one has made to become a follower of Jesus.  I was baptized when I was seven, after a walk up the aisle during the Sunday night service.  Bryan, though, was raised Presbyterian and was sprinkled as an infant.  Before we got married, we had extensive talks about baptism.  Yes, Bryan (who became a Christian as an adult) was convinced (along with Luther, Calvin, and Wesley) that the Greek word meant immersion.  Yes, he believed that it was meant to be the choice of the individual believer, not the choice of parents or the church.  No, he hadn't been immersed.

Now, I hadn't completely figured out yet that the best way to get Bryan NOT to do something was to try to get him TO do it.  But I learned pretty quickly.  He held off for awhile, and I didn't try to push him.  Then, when I was pregnant with Evan (number three), I just asked him one question, "What do you want our children to do about baptism?"

That sealed the deal for Daddy.  Bryan was baptized in the Medina River in 2004, over ten years after he became a Christian.  Friends (like Tim!) and family celebrated with us and it was a great day.

Bryan and Tim in 2004

At our church, fathers can baptize their own children, and Bryan did baptize Nathan, Megan and Evan.  Justin felt after Bryan died like he had missed his opportunity.  It took him a good while to entertain the idea of baptism again, and we had lots of conversations about it.  Carsten was listening to all of them.  Just recently, he came to me and said,

Carsten:  "Mom, when you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and want to follow Him, you're supposed to be baptized, right?"

Me:  "Yes, that's right."

Carsten:  "I want to be baptized so that I'll go to heaven."

Me:  "Well, you don't actually HAVE to be baptized to go to heaven.  [Megan inserts a comment about the thief on the cross.]  You see, baptism is just a sign of obedience- a way to tell everyone that you've decided to follow Jesus.  The only thing that you have to do to go to heaven is believe that Jesus died for your sins and was raised again on the third day.  Baptism is the next step, but you don't have to be baptized to be saved."

Carsten, silently looking at me for several moments: "So are you supposed to be baptized or not?"

Me:  "Umm, yes."

Carsten:  "Then let's do it."

And so my little rule-follower led the way and the two little buddies decided to be baptized.  I really thought Carsten would back out.  First, he hates to be wet.  If he gets a single drop of water on his shirt, he changes his entire outfit.  Second, he HATES to have people look at him.  He must have said, in the days leading up to the big event, ten times, "I just wish they didn't have to look at me."  And then in the car on the way to church, "Mom, do they look at you when you get married too?"  "Yes, they do."  Deep sigh, head shaking.

Our friend (and youth minister) Paul did a great job setting them at ease.  Justin went first and responded "yes" when Paul asked him if he believed.

Then it was Carsten's turn.  (I was still thinking he might bail.) But he walked forward boldly, stood in water up to his chin, and proclaimed "YES" in a loud and firm voice.

As I went to get the boys wrapped up in towels, Justin ran down the hall to the changing room.

"I got baptized first!"

The Baptism Buddies

Sigh.  Christlike character development is a lifelong process.

"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, 
that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, 
even so we also should walk in newness of life."
Romans 6:3-6

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Rumsfeld's Rules...for Moms

When he was just a little kid, Donald Rumsfeld starting writing down quotes, phrases and words of advice, and storing them in a shoebox.  He continued this practice (trading typed copies for the shoebox) throughout his incredible life.  In his eighty plus years, he's not just seen American history, he's been part of it.  President Ford read his collection of sayings, called them "Rumsfeld's Rules" and had copies distributed throughout his cabinet.

In his new book, Rumsfeld's Rules, Rumsfeld highlights some of his favorite "rules" and gives reflections, applying them to government, business, and leadership.  I read the book over Memorial Day and enjoyed it immensely.  There was so much insight and a good dose of humor, and much of the wisdom applies to people in all walks of life.

Since moms are in leadership positions- managers of the domestic domain- I decided to put together my own reflections on Rumsfeld's Rules...for moms.  His Rules are bolded.

On Parenting Styles:
  • ·         Trust your instincts.  Success depends, at least in part, on the ability to “carry it off.”  There are so many opinions on how to parent properly.  Some of those opinionated experts don’t have children.  None of them have MY children.  None of them have YOUR children.  Lots of parents raise contributing members of society, whether or not they followed a book.  Love your kids and find what works for you.  Your kids know if you’re trying to put on someone else’s show.
  • ·         If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact, not to be solved, but to be coped with over time.  (Shimon Peres)  I recently read an article contrasting French and American parenting.  French parents, apparently, set firm rules, starting by letting their kids “cry it out” at four months.  As a result, French children are “better behaved” than American children.  Too bad that they grow up to burn cars on the streets of Paris.  Beware the promise of a perfect child!  Just because something he does is annoying or inconvenient doesn’t mean there’s a “fix,” despite the wealth of “experts” out there who might tell us otherwise.  Those little people are born with personalities, and though we can influence, they are who they are.
  • ·         Don’t panic.  Things may be going better than they seem from the inside.  Everything seems like a big deal when you’re with the kiddos all day.  Most of it turns out not to be.  Take a deep breath.  They might actually turn out okay after all.
  • ·         Nothing ages so quickly as yesterday’s vision of the future.  (Richard Corliss)  You have no idea what tomorrow holds.  Just do your best and worry as little as possible.

On Chores:
  • ·         You get what you inspect, not what you expect.  I remember writing this down when I first heard it quoted at an organization workshop.  I’m still working to be disciplined about inspections!  If I don’t inspect their chores, they often go undone, or at least partially done.
  • ·         The two most important rules in Washington D.C. are: Rule One: “The cover-up is worse than the event.”  Rule Two:  “No one ever remembers the first rule.”  I’d rather see a messy room today than find a closeted hoard a week from now, and my kids know it, but the cover-up seems to just be embedded in human nature.  Mete out a double consequence for hidden crimes!
  • ·         People don’t spend money earned by others with the same care that they spend their own.  When Nathan was little, he was trying to get me to buy him a toy.  “Why don’t you buy it with your money?”  I asked.  “I’m not going to waste my money on that!” he exclaimed.  It’s good for kids to earn- and spend- their own money.  
     On Children's Criticism:
  • ·         If you are not being criticized, you may not be doing much.  Growing up in Germany, I would see shepherds with their sheep.  If the sheep were in fences, contentedly munching grass and getting fat, they were quiet.  But when the shepherd would take them out on the path and move them, they would raise such a ruckus, you could hear them all over the woods.  Herding sheep (and children) results in a lot of complaining, but it’s just the shepherd’s job.  Remember:
  • ·         If you do something, somebody’s not going to like it.  Just because they don’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s not the best thing for them.  They may even thank you for it later.  (And, if not, at least you’ve given them something interesting to discuss with their shrink.)
  • ·         Not all negative press is unearned.  If you’re getting it, see if there’s a reason.  Sometimes kids have a point.  It’s hard to listen when they’re being disrespectful or whiny, but it’s still good to listen and see if there’s any truth to it.  And teach them to dissent in a congenial way.

      On Parenting Boys:
  • ·         Never assume the other guy will never do something you would never do.  Because boys will do things you had never imagined.
  • ·         The only thing that should be surprising is that we continue to be surprised.  And the longer you parent boys, the less surprised you are.
  • ·         When you’re in a bind, create a diversion.  (Alf Landon)  Always be suspicious if they bring you flowers.
  • ·         What you see is what you get.  What you don’t see gets you.  If they’re hollering like they’re killing each other, it’s fine.  If they’re quiet, be afraid.

On Planning:
  • ·         If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. (Paraphrase of Lewis Carroll)  Moms spend a lot of time in the weeds.  We feed people, change diapers, referee squabbles, and focus almost exclusively on the urgent.  It’s really important to take a step back and remember the big picture.  What are we aiming for?  Where are we headed?  What values are driving our family and parenting?
  • ·         If you expect people to be in on the landing, include them for the takeoff.  Once I’ve decided to make a change, I’ve found it helpful, rather than just announcing it, to take some time- perhaps days or weeks depending on how big the change is- to walk the kids through my thought process.  I have to be careful that they know that I am the one making the decision, not they, but it gives them a chance to adjust and, yes, to complain, and feel that they have been heard.  Which brings us to the next rule:
  • ·         Stubborn opposition to proposals often has no basis other than the complaining question, “Why wasn’t I consulted?” (Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan)
  • ·         This strategy represents our policy for all time.  Until it’s changed.  (Marlin Fitzwater)  Plans change.  Kids grow.  Circumstances alter.  I try not to worry too much about whether something is going to work “forever.”  It won’t.  But if it works now, it’s a good thing.
  • ·         If you’re coasting, you’re going downhill.  (LW Pierson)  Having a big vision for your family and implementing it is challenging, but it’s worth it.  In life, as in cycling, you only get the stunning views if you climb the mountain.
       And finally:
  • In tough jobs, the days are long and the years are short.  (Former Secretary of State George Schulz)