Friday, May 22, 2015

On Pretending to be a Waffle

You've heard the saying before, haven't you?  "Men are waffles.  Women are pancakes."  I am a perfect pancake.  

I have a list of posts I’ve wanted to write for many months.  My big two graduated from 2nd and 3rd grade homeschool last night (we hosted a very fun Chinese performance and graduation celebration at home) and this morning is finally a morning off, extended time for me to write.   But my pancake heart is spread all over with the news of the evil of the IS (I don't even want to give them the honor of naming these two countries they're devouring as "theirs").  I'm going to devote most of this morning to that topic, but I will try to waffle off just a few tiny bits of me to scribble down a few other thoughts and things that have been happening on the homefront too.  

For a tiny recap of our 2nd and 3rd grade graduation celebration, you can check our homeschool blog post.  

For some words that are helpful and challenging for being the kind of woman that will care boldly for both my home full of little loves and for the world full of so many, so needy for love, (and what of the IS who need some discipline to clamp down on them!?), here's more from Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea.  

"If we stop to think about it, are not the real casualties in modern life just these centers...the here, the now, the individual and his relationships.  The present is passed over in the race for the future; the here is neglected for the there; and the individual is dwarfed by the enormity of the mass.  America, which has the most glorious present still existing in the world today, hardly stops to enjoy it, in her insatiable appetite for the future...  The here, the now, and the individual, have always been the special concern of the saint, the artist, the poet, and- from time immortal- the woman.  In the small circle of the home she has never quite forgotten the particular uniqueness of each member of the family; the spontaneity of now; the vividness of here.  This is the basic substance of life.  These are the individual elelments that form the bigger entities like mass, future, world.  We may neglect these elements, but we cannot dispense with them.  They are the drops that make up the stream.  It may be our special function to emphasize again these neglected realitites, not as a retreat from greater responsibilities but as a first real step toward a deeper understanding and solution of them. " (p 126-127)

And here's a little load of photos of the girls...  (my sweetheart boys are less excited by photo opps.  I'm going to keep working on them though!)


their flower girl dresses for early next month... they could. not. be. more. excited.


we got to babysit this cutie!  Such a treat for our whole crew to get to enjoy this sweetie pie!

I love how Marian's doing the mom thing of opening her mouth to try to get the baby to open up.  



Vivi's best friend.  This little girl has charmed all of our hearts....  just love her!  


and her dress twirls... I mean it really twirls.  Her mama told her that she went right home after getting picked up from school so she could get her twirliest dress on to wear over to our house for dinner.  No wonder Vivi's so devoted to this sweet pal!


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Aiming high

Be Peacemakers... not Problem Makers.  

It's been plastered on our fridge for many moons of their lives.

But it took Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to help me finally realize that our little crayoned phrase just doesn't pack the punch.

When Nicholas Semicolon's mother called the woman who knows children best, to ask how to help her son who was bullying all the kids in the neighborhood, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle shared with her the wonder of Leadership Pills.

Now to be sure, the kids and I debrief after almost every chapter of Mrs. PW.  She doesn't deal with the heart one bit and the Gospel isn't what she's preaching and we are aiming and praying desperately to do both those things well.  But she's witty and the kids in the stories with her are Haaaa-larious and there've been quite a number of good discussions about issues she's brought out for us.

So these magic Leadership Pills hit the spot for Nicholas.   Turned him into the neighborhood fix it guy, who transformed a shed in the backyard to a kids' clubhouse where he got to host and teach and work with all the kids to serve and bless their community... and have loads of cheer and goodies.


Well, it's turned out at our home too...  the lesson of leadership sparks these hearts that are prone to bickering and complaining and fussing with a compelling vision of honor and excellence and virtue.  To me, being a peace maker sounds heavenly, but I guess it might sound a little limp in the hearts of my adventure seekers?  Leader...  now that's the stuff of dreams.

(Maybe being a peace maker will motivate them somewhere around the time that they want to practice piano simply for the joy of making more creative, excellent beauty?  May it be soon, Lord!)


This week we've talked more about what it means to lead others with kindness, to bless others, to be the kind of helper-servant-leaders that put other's needs above your own.  We talk about these character traits every day... but I don't think I've talked long about being leader... just never have emphasized that.   It's been a joyful shift for both me and the kids this week.  Our big guy took my little talk at the breakfast table like rocket fuel and set out on a course of helping and blessing his mama and little siblings for such joy.


Matt's been gone this week and it's been sweet to see our kids come alive with my need and their responsibility in our home, to care for each other and help me while daddy's gone.


I've also adjusted my ordinary aim for a clean home, ready for hospitality.  I've known we won't be as busy as normal hosting guests so this week I planned on the house getting messier... staying a bit messier.   We've aimed for some extra intentional joy seeking.... and it's been found.  All this "lowering" of standards has meant for high joys and happy hearts in simple places, simply being together.

(so it was quite a squeeze of a hug from the adoring stranger lady)
always after a dandelion
picnic bliss
(and his mama is almost speechless... lost between smitten and embarrassed for that wagging tongue!)
Has there ever been a lovelier bed of weeds?


speed // together
He grew (what seems like) at least an inch last week.  And he's been eating 4 times normal portions for the past month...  we knew it was coming!

We've gained a high reward as we've gotten to practice embracing the mess and seeking to serve and enjoy each other rather than attend our energies to more pesky stuff like shinier floors, nicer meals and taller stacks of dishes.    I'm liking the idea of more days off like this in our normal routine!  

So grateful for grace this week...  from our abundant King of Grace, for us needy, weary ones.    We've made it through 4.5 of the 5.5 days Matt's been gone and it will be an even happier home tomorrow night when daddy's back with us!



Monday, April 27, 2015

bases loaded


We feel enormously privileged to get to interact with our kiddos and other awesome kids in our community for our business here.  So so grateful for this...  (This Sat was week #2)



This is the most beautiful field we've played on in China... complete with snow capped mountains behind the stands and shade on the other side, for the mama crowd to sit and chat and watch.  


And don't miss the turkeys (back left)... first we've seen or even heard of here!  They were serious in their role as cheerleaders for the kids doing their practice drills... so goofy hilarious to all of us watching.

"So... how are you supposed to hold your glove?"

And when the fun on the field was all done, three of us families headed out for a bit more playtime together before dinner.  Here's a few scenes from our walk to the bus stop.  (Yes, one day, I really do need to get over my awkwardness for taking pictures of local life...  it just feels rude to me even though I think most locals consider it a great honor to have their pictures taken.)







So grateful not only for precious friends here, but also for the kids our little crew connects with here from our home culture and language.... all. such. gift.  

Returning to the Pure Relationship

I didn't know what to expect of this book.   Gift of the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, has been a well-loved classic for several generation of women in America.  Ann Voskamp said she reads it every year (if I remember correctly?).  I figured I better give it a try.

Such gentle writing.  Such humble, beautiful wisdom.  In chapter four, where she writes about the first stage, initial romance of a relationship when two people "stand as individuals, without past or future, facing each other"(p 66) Lindbergh gave me a clearer (sweeter) vision for what we can aim for in our alone time together.  What we're after on a "date night" (if that were ever to happen!) or on a "connecting night" (what Matt and I call our stay-at-home dates, the nights we try to tuck the kids in early and focus entirely on each other for the rest of the evening) is something of a reforming the original, pure focus and delight in each other.  That sounds stars better to me than just catching up on what's been happening in my man's busy days.  For sure, some of the time, that'll be what we need... but hopefully we can carve out enough opportunity to reform the original beauty.

"It is true of course, the original relationship is very beautiful.  It's self-enclosed perfection wears the freshness of a spring morning. Forgetting about the summer to come, one often feels like one would like to prolong the early spring... One resents any change, even though one knows that transformation is natural and part of the process of life....(p66)" and growth. *

"Both men and women feel the change in the early relationship and hunger nostalgically for its original pattern as life goes on and becomes more complicated.  For inevitably, as the relationship grows, both men and women, at least to some degree, are drawn into their more specialized and functional roles... Functional relationships tend to take the place of the early all-absorbing personal one.   But woman refinds in a limited form with each new child, something resembling, at least in its absorption, the early pure relationship.  In the sheltered simplicity of the first days after a baby is born, one sees again the magical closed circle, the miraculous sense of two people existing only for each other, the tranquil sky reflected on the face of the mother nursing her child.  It is however, only a brief interlude and not a substitute for the original, more complete relationship." (p67)

Lindbergh writes of the joy of a vacation for a couple alone together.  "Most married couples have felt the unexpected joy of one of these vacations.  How wonderful it was to leave the children, the house, the job and all the obligations of daily life:  to go out together, whether for a month, or a weekend, or even just a night in an inn by themselves.  How surprising it was to find the miracle of the sunrise repeated.  There was the sudden pleasure of having breakfast alone with the man one fell in love with.  Here at the small table, are only two people facing each other.  How the table at home has grown!  And how distracting it is, with four or five children, a telephone ringing down the hall, two or three school buses to catch, not to speak of the commuter train." (p71)

Such wisdom in this!  And it overflows beyond marriage, to bless also, our relationships with our children.  "Actually, I believe this temporary return to the pure relationship holds good for one's children too.  If only... we could have each of our children alone [for some times]... would they not be happier, stronger and, in the end, more independent because more secure?  Does each child not secretly long for the pure relationship he once had with the mother, when he was "The Baby," when the nursery doors were shut and she was feeding him at her great alone? (p71)"

What sweet joy to aim for reforming this "pure relationship" as she calls it... with each of the ones that I most dearly love.  How sweet to have this new picture of what we can build into, of our relationship, in alone time I get with my husband and each of our children.  And oh!  To make such alone time, even if only brief moments together, a graced goal and priority in my time and lifestyle.  Lord, please build up my husband and each of our children as you pour into us grace and strength and more, please more of your best love, in the alone together moments that you give us in relationship.



*  And for just a bit more, from a few pages later, on Anne Morrow Lindbergh's view of what marriage grows into, beyond the first stage of gazing deeply on each other:  "Marriage, which is always spoken of as a bond, becomes actually... many bonds, many strands of different texture and strength, making up a web that is taut and firm.  The web is fashioned of love.  Yes but many kinds of love:  romantic love first, then a slow-growing devotion and, playing through these, a constantly rippling companionship.  It is made of loyalties, and interdependencies, and shared experiences.  It is woven of memories of meetings and conflicts; of triumphs and disappointments.  It is a web of communication, a common language, and the acceptance of lack of language too; a knowledge of likes and dislikes, of habits and reactions, both physical and mental.  It is a web of instincts and intuitions, and known and unknown exchanges....  In the [deeper] stage of marriage, romantic love is only one of the many bonds that make up the intricate and enduring web that two people have built together." (p83)

May it be, Oh God, that you would build us into an enduring, adding-strength-and-joy-to-each-other marriage where others can behold a glimmer of the three-in-one, in us:  the two-woven-intimately-deeply-beautifully one.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Glory and Suffering (by Matt Papa)

Two pages from Look and Live... The words of Matt Papa, and perhaps especially John Newton's words here, are crucial in the fight of life as we press hard past the dross and filth and sorrows of this world toward the finish line of His smile and welcoming arms....  (This is only one of several excellent points in Papa's chapter on suffering.)



"God hates suffering, the Bible is clear on this, and yet He ordains it.  

Okay.  Maybe you say, "I get it."  Nice doctrine, man.  But still the bitter question remains, Why?...

WHY?

We will never know the specific reasons why God allows the pain He does in our lives, but we can know what is behind our suffering and find an unshakable, incomprehensible peace if we look through the cross.  The cross assures us of God's love of us, which is the greatest thing we need in times of suffering.  

We all know this.  When you experience deep hurt in your life, you don't need someone to preach to you.  You don't need someone to try to fix you.  You don't need answers.  You need a shoulder.

Well, lean in.

At the cross we see a God who not only works for our good, but who also suffers for it.  Bleeds for it.

Look at Him.

The Infinite Innocent, suffering in the place of the Barabbas race. 

If you can see Him sweating blood in Gethsemane, screaming in agony on Calvary... for YOU... then you can find peace in your deepest suffering and hope in your darkest hours.  

Why?

Because now you have a God who understands your suffering, not only by omniscience but by experience.  This shoulder you are crying on not only sympathizes with your weakness, but empathizes with them.  But not only this.  

When we look at our suffering through the cross, we see that the God who ordered the greatest tragedy ever, for the greatest good, will order our every tragedy for our good.  

Look at Him.

If He ordered a bloody cross for our eternal salvation, will He not order our every little prick and tear for our benefit?  This Romans 8:32's logic:  "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?"

Because of the cross, we can know that all trials we meet are for our good.  They have to be.

As Tim Keller says, "The cross does not tell us what our suffering means, but it does tell us what it can't mean.  It can't mean that God doesn't love us."

The cross is where we get faith.  And when faith meets a trial, it does not say "God is not good."  It says, "This is God loving me.  Indeed, it could not be anything else."

If you can see Him, totally abandoned, crying "why?" for you on the cross, then you can cry "Why?" to Him freely while knowing you are forever embraced.  
As to daily occurrences, it is best to believe that a daily portion comforts and crosses, each one the most suitable to our case, is adjusted and appointed by the hand which was once nailed to the cross for us.  Everything is needful that He sends.  Nothings is needful that He withholds.   -John Newton  (The Letters of John Newton to Mrs. Wilburforce.  London:  The Religious Tract Society, 1869.  p 75)



Selected from Matt Papa's book Look and Live:  Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ.    p 193-195.

Monday, April 13, 2015

tears

There have been tears this weekend.  Life is hard and the fall is real.  And with the Lord, we trust that pruning is a privilege in preparation of future fruitfulness for His glory.  And too there's the hope of increased nearness to Him when there's some severing from the world.  May it be, Lord.   Small seeds being laid down dead, giving themselves to struggle toward the light, and then the waiting... and finally then the new life breaking through.




We planted yesterday and our tears are still fresh (and just maybe they're still falling) and there's no new life to show for it yet.  /Yet/  To be spoken with hope.



How appropriate that Piper's Solid Joys devotional for this morning, April 13, was about Psalm 126: 5-6.  "Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, brining his sheaves with him."

Piper wrote, "Sowing is simply the work that has to be done even when there are things in life that make us cry.  The crops won't wait while we finish our grief and solve all our problems.  If we are going to eat next winter, we must get out in the field and sow the seed whether we are crying or not." It is simply...."the sheer sowing (that) produces the reaping, and you need to remember this even when your tears tempt you to give up sowing."

"So here's the lesson:  When there are simple, straightforward jobs to be done, and you are full of sadness, and tears are flowing easily, go ahead and do the jobs with tears.  Be realistic.   Say to your tears:  'Tears, I feel you.  You make me want to quit life.  But there is a field to be sown...  Then, on the basis of God's word, say "Tears, I  know that you will not stay forever.  The very fact that I just do my work (tears and all) will in the end bring a harvest of blessing.  So go ahead and flow if you must. But I believe (though I do not yet see it or feel it) - I believe that the simple work of my sowing will bring sheaves of harvest and that you tears, will be turned to joy."


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

March Birthdays... catching up!


So there's this pretty little, brand-new four year old princess who was utterly embarrassed by the cake and the singing and the friends all looking at her and yep, she hid her face for about 30 pictures in a row. Not until the candle was melting liquid, dripping fast into the cake, did she finally appointed the sweet brunette to her left to blow it out for her.    (Thanks Emily!)



Despite her odd choice of party play here.... it was a sweet and joyful celebration with dear friends and tolerable cake and grateful prayers to the God who gave her to us.   We love you Vivian Hope!

And for our nine year old young man we had a knights tournament complete with sword battle, archery competition and a bit of pure chaos in a nerf gun shoot-out.  



She wasn't the littlest bit interested in the tournament with the boys but was completely thrilled to have an audience to cook for....  (Isaiah and Marian's tutors both came to his party :) I've never seen a more devoted cook than this little sister.  Super thanks to Grandma and Grandpa for the cooking set!   


Oh Son, we love you.  Daddy and I are so grateful to the Lord that He has allowed us to know you and raise you, we pray, to love Him first and fiercely, and to watch you growing into a young man hard after the heart of God.   


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Home Again... Home Again

We are so grateful to be back in our home!  And what grace that our kids feel relieved  to call this our home.  We were in the states for almost three months and we've been back home for about ten days now.

The past three weeks or so have been hard and full-  too many hours on planes (five flights) and more luggage than we could entirely see over while pushing it through the airport (and that went remarkably smoothly- so much so that I didn't even get a picture of it!) and the flu.... that's been the low spot for me and the kids (and I'm still not all clear).... and good byes and hellos all over again.  It's been hard and good and graced in countless ways.

And though we are getting back in the swing of things, I'm still far behind on the blog front.  But I'm dreaming of getting caught up with lots of photos and thoughts and stories to share...  and then, there's this very real chance that this dream just won't come true.  I may have to pick up with April and just start there!

Suffice it to say, the Lord carried us through a busy, wonderful time in the states and He's carried us back across the planet to our little landlocked beautiful city and we know He's got good things prepared for us....

Now for the "walking in it"... the real living of all these dreams, all for His glory, all by His grace.

Come, house of Matt and Jill and all you dear friends, let us walk in the light of the LORD.  (Isa 2:5)