Monday, May 9, 2016

all the local news



on a bus ride with local ladies

(warning:  random heart ramblings here)

I'm terribly shy for taking photos of local neighbors but I so long to share with you the local scenes and beauty.  It's ridiculous for me to be so timid for this because in this culture, I'm honoring these friends if I want their picture and they'd probably all pose bright and happy and at least one person in most every group pic would give bunny ears to another and it could be real lively and fun... but I'm an introvert and this just overwhelms me.  Most the time, I'd like to just smile and nod at most the people I pass on the street and keep walking to the grocery store for veggies and eggs.   

Sadly, rather than feeling honored, often I'm annoyed, when people want to pose for "bunny ears" with my kids and make them stop from wherever we're going or whatever they're playing to smile with strangers who usually don't even say hello- but just want a flashy pic they can boast of on social media.  

Still, a huge piece of my heart still hungers to capture more local beauty, more natural shots, even though I squirm when we're targeted as the subject of their photography.  (There's no way around this being a very sad, broken thing in me to have to confess.  I hate it but it's all true.)  

I'd love to get more natural shots of my neighbors.  Nobody looking, please.  Just a regular still life on film (digitally.)  So I'm trying to get sneakier with using my phone.  Savvier about pulling off the "I'm just texting someone" look while I snap away like a totally silly fake spy.  Somebody please tell me how I can do this better- not interrupt their conversations and just take an honest good photograph?  I'd love to get a few more shots of local scenes around us:  life and people, that we've come to love so dearly.
  
           

In other news...  two princesses stopped by our living room to play games the other day.  


in honor of Uncle Greg- whose Monopoly legacy burns deep in the hearts of our kid crew.

masterful hairdo done all by her big sis!

And we took these two awesome guys (who work at Matt's company) to the mountains to see if we can make some fun business stuff happen out that way this summer.   It was a great excuse for a day of fresh air, run-in-the-grass, JOY!








Mornings Together... Getting ready for the World, rooted in the Word

She got The Biggest Story (by DeYoung) as her 5 year old birthday gift and now she calls it "my Bible"...  We'll get her a biggie of the real deal when she's reading a bit better but we just delight that she loves to try to track along with Daddy's reading.  She's got a good record of finding a pic in "her Bible" that goes along with what Matt's reading so far.  So soo super sweet!


make him a man after your own heart, God!
... and this one too, please, Lord!
(Honest, we're working, still working, on "learning posture" to show honor when it's due!)
Apparently, "learning posture" is a bit hard to find at our house sometimes...  but she's been writing songs of Jesus love that are beautiful beyond ballet perfect posture!  Love this girl too...  Oh God make them, makes us all, to hunger and thirst for you and fill them like only You can!  Anchor us in Your true and perfect Word,  Lord!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

in praise of patience

I have a clipboard, plain as can be, that holds my daily to-dos and my deep heart aims.  Under the top page with the week all lined out, I have pages of words that need to be revisited.  Often revisited.  Like today.

These words from an old Ann Voskamp post I edited slightly for flow (I selected these lines from throughout her longer, better post) but these are what I need tucked into my heart to blossom and bear some loving beautiful fruit this morning...




This is the order of love:
First love is patient. Patience is first a willingness to say thanks in suffering. 
Patience in the moment only comes from gratefulness for the moment. …. 
The inspired Words says that the foundation of love is first patience.
How can I be patient in the tipsiness of this domestic chaos?
How can I be patient in the pain of now?
Love is only patient if it’s first grateful for what is.
When I am not patient? My failure to love is first a failure to be grateful for who people are right now.
And my impatience is a result of my unthankfulness – I’m impatient for the children to be someone different, for the cashier to hurry up, for this to get done right now.
The more dissatisfied I am in this moment, the more discontented I am with who they are, with what is happening — the harder it becomes to be patient, to be loving.
Patient people dare to gratefully accept people where they are. Grateful for who they are now, appreciative of works of art not yet finished, but still deeply loved.
Patient people dare to receive the present always as a present — grace.
Patient people dare to live only in the present. Because they know that is where God is.
Lack gratitude — then lack patience — then, ultimately, lack love. To be love-full, I’ll first need to be grateful.



I need to remember this in parenting, perhaps more than anything.... but really, I need patient, grateful, trusting love in everything, every part of my life, every piece of my heart.  
When our child disobeys and an impatient spark of correction from a parent results in a long morning of refusal to listen, I am reminded again:  love is patient.  What if we had heard that first defiance and came to our child to say "I love you too much to let you disobey like that.  Dear, I want to help you know that this is not a path of blessing you're on right now and because I love you and want so much for your life to be blessed, for you to be in on the blessings I have planned for you today, I have to help you turn away from this disobedience."  
I think it would have gone a lot better than "That's enough!  You two, this is your discipline...." (One kid worked with us on this poor approach and took it honorably and moved on to make peace out of all of it.  But not the other child...) 
This quick discipline approach seems exquisitely consistent with my heart sense of justice and I-can-only-take-so-much-til-my-sanity-snaps.    But it seems that to those assumed and selfishly required "rights" of mine, Patience (Jesus) has a better word to speak.  
"Love my child."  

And yes, of course, we want to know our children's hearts.  We must seek for the whys and the "what's going on that you're choosing to do this?".  Hopefully that will be another way in to their hearts to show them they're loved.  Another way to point them to the wonder and the miracle and the mystery promised to us of the Gospel.  
I have no rights of my own to claim.   My justice, my sanity- they're not mine to defend or protect.  I'm called to lay them dow, to love.   His love for me is enough.  

The command to love our enemy is a command to find our hope and our satisfaction in God and his great reward — his future grace. The key to radical love is faith in future grace. We must be persuaded in the midst of our agony that the love of God is “better than life” (Psalm 63:3).   (- John Piper's devotional "Solid Joys"


So, John Piper is writing about loving enemies that may kidnap or kill you.... but sometimes, there are parental agonies that seem to come at least a little bit close to that, don't you think?


My Lord has every right to every part of me.  My desire for justice is to be born patiently, hemmed in and communicated with authority in love and firmness to bring about the blessing that we all really want most of all.  Make it so, Lord.  I am far from such selfless love on  my own.  Show your love through me, through us!  May our children know thy are deeply, soulfully, wholly loved.  May it be so, in me and in our home, for your glory Jesus. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

the Shi-bang!

(Shi2 is Ten in Chinese)

Isaiah's tenth birthday party was a bit late this year.... he graciuosly agreed to wait for his party til the MLB season had begun.  His party worked well as an all out nerf battle and then a rest break to watch a bit of a game from the night before (check out the game concessions- those cute popcorn "sellers" below).  I was grateful it gave me a break between Vivi's party and his too!  We are so happy to celebrate this gift of a boy!  


(still cute, even when faithful to her no smiling policy)


goofball faces

My dear photo loving SIL, Heather, thanks for your encouragement to be in some pics!   I wish I could get some....  but I think I need you here for that.  This is the one shot I got when I gave my camera to a local friend.  How about you come take a few for us?  (excuse #7,419 for why you guys- all you friends and fm!- really should come visit us! :) )  

good thing he wanted carrot cake because the icing tube for writing his name was solid as a rock...  carrots worked!  
We got to celebrate another ten year old at the party as well... Charles turned ten the day before this birthday bash.  So blessed to enjoy such dear friendships here!

leave it to Matt to find a deal on 300 nerf bullets....  a heap big enough to blaze like crazy all morning long and to send every boy home with a new pack of their own.  Fun for everyone!

little bits of life here...

So fun to get to host a baby shower for these two beautiful mamas.  They're both heading back to the states this week and will be sorely missed...
Tears come quick when I think of this one leaving.  My near neighbor Jeannine is a precious sister, an extraordinary gift of a friend in my life.    Good thing she'll be back!!
Jeannine's big girl is Marian's favorite little friend and I'm so grateful Marian's been able to be a "mama's helper" once a week to help auntie Jeannine through a very busy season as she's been preparing to head back to the states.  


In the middle of moving apartments (for these dear friends) the dads took a morning off on a national holiday here to play baseball with the local university team and mamas and kiddos went to cheer them on.  It was a good thing for all of us to take a break!  

I love how this delighted-in daughter finds and celebrates beauty (and fun!  She's big on creating and indulging in FUN!)
Finally, a smile!  This is her look 99.2% of the time...  I'm really not liking her fussy camera, no-smiling stage.  Oh, but I do absolutely adore and delight in her!!
cherished, sweet boy...  closing in on the seven year mark! 

Rock tossing
What else do you do when a roadside stop is your play place for an afternoon at the mountains, because the mountain valley roads were all blocked for mud and late snow?  We did walk around here too... checked out the cows and the horses nearby , flew some borrowed kites and arranged a "fort" in the thorn bushes!
quiet smile on our big guy.  oh how I love him!
and oh my! how I love him too!

I told myself I really needed to write and mark our anniversary this year with a long lavish post on the blog:  all the gooey sweet wonderfulness of my husband.  But the day passed- a dozen years of covenanted love- and it went unpublished.  It was celebrated though.   Oh for every day to be celebrated with thanks and joy and beauty and giving, loving, laughing, serving each other, serving together and always, seeking Christ together.  I still can't believe I get to be married to this man.  Blessed, blessed, blessed me.  
And today... is another mile marker to mention:  2 years in our home in this beautiful province.  Our landing was a time marked by so much grace and evident care from a Sovereign Father that we have felt sustained by that knowingness- knowing that this is where He wants us, where He's put us for this season.  The Lord has tucked into these 24 months many deep joys- such grace of friendships here!- and He's allowed hard, extended, complicated struggle and sorrow and several stretches of a dim grey fog of "Really, Lord?  What are we doing here??" but through it all, we count it a privilege to be His ambassadors in this patch of darkness and we lean in to His heart to commit ourselves again:  Take all that we are and do with us as you please, your best plan for your glory here in us and among these people.  All by your grace, all for your glory.  Lord do as you desire.  You are worthy!  Be glorified here.


could we talk books?

I just opened up Francis Schaeffer's  book How Should We Then Live? .  He's long been a favorite of my husband but I've never read anything from him (though his daughter Susan is an absolute inspiration to me.)  The third page in, I was struck by this, the last paragraph of the foreword to my edition.  It makes me want to read this with a book club, some dear friends who could pour over these thoughts and cherish and challenge and apply these ideas together.  Do you want to join me for a bit of book savoring?

Here are Lane T. Dennis's words from the foreword (written Feb 2005).

Schaeffer's question to each of us- "How should we then live?"- is especially urgent in our own day as we see the growing disintegration and decline of truth and morality throughout our world.  What then is the answer that Schaeffer offers in response?  It is a commitment to God's Word as truth.  It is a compassion for a culture that is lost and dying without the gospel.  It is a commitment to the costly practice of truth  in the midst of the intellectual, moral, and philosophical battles of our day.  It is living in the power and reality of the God who is there, bearing the witness of His truth across the full spectrum of life and culture. As stated by Schaeffer in his closing words:  "This book is written in the hope that this generation may turn from... the paths of death and may live."  Few have articulated this message more clearly and demonstrated this message more consistently than Francis Schaeffer.  And because of this, few will come to the end of this book without a new vision for how, indeed, we should live.

Feeling compelled?  I'd love to read along side you and mull over these thoughts with you friends!  I'd love to hear from you...

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Prayer {by Tim Keller // the bullets}

Tim Keller has written a feast of insight and doable encouragement in his book Prayer.  (Super thanks to one very cool redheaded K brother in law for the book!)  It's taken me between two Christmas's, plus a little, to keep at it long enough to get to these chapters that have most impacted me.  I don't know why I put the book down for such long stretches, but I am deeply soul grateful to have made it to chapters 7 -10.

I realized recently that until I've written something down, I don't feel like I really know it...  know what I'm thinking.  I have only a swirling chaos of feelings until I've written down the swirling lines and seen it all settle somewhere, hopefully into some order.  Writing is thinking for me.  And hopefully writing will help me remember.

So... here's a few bullet points I long to know and remember and live well:  quotes (some from Keller, and more from dead theologians he recalled in these chapters) and doable suggestions and guidelines for prayer and scripture meditation:

Luther's teaching on prayer~

He wrote of inclining the mind and heart by mulling over Scripture like this.  Take one verse or one passage and consider it, let it weigh down on you from four different angles:  consider the verse as a command of God for me, as a cause for thanksgiving and praise, as a confession of how and where I fall short, and as a prayer for the grace I need to grow in this way...  He suggests that the second part of a helpful prayer time is going through the Lord's prayer as a pattern for inserting your own, specific needs and thanks and issues to surrender to the Lord.  Notice that both of these steps require our mind being fully engaged.  No "tuning out" possible!  His final "step" is to simply pray as you feel led by the Holy Spirit and to keep attentive to what He may preach to you now that you have inclined your mind and heart towards Him and His Word.  

Calvin's "rules" on prayer ~

1-  the joyful fear:  "there is nothing worse than to be devoid of awe."  Tim Keller
2-  the sense of need that excludes all unreality: a spiritual humility that doesn't try to perform to impress God
3-  submissive trust:  we come to God bringing our requests and leaving them with Him, "Your will be done.  You know best, Father"
4-  confidence and hope:  God invites us to ask and promises to answer - may we have eyes and hearts ready to receive what he deems is best.
5-  the rule against rules:   Following any set of rules could not make our prayers worthy to be heard... only grace can do that- not our performance but the saving, gracious, loving work of Christ on the cross.

And then from Keller's chapter ten, "Meditation."

  • The Psalms are the prayer book of the Bible and they begin not with a prayer but with a meditation on meditation (Psalm 1).  
  • Questions to ask yourself to get to know a verse or passage:
    • Am I living in light of this?  Am I taking this seriously?
    • What difference does this make?
    • What results from forgetting this?
    • What does this teach me about God and His character?
    • What does this teach me about human nature and behavior?
    • What does this teach me about Christ and His salvation?
    • What does this teach me about the church or life in the people of God?
  • Application:
    • Are there personal examples for me to emulate or avoid?
    • Any commands to obey?
    • Any promises to claim and cling to?
    • Any warnings to heed?
    • Why might God be showing you this passage today?
  • "You can't reflect on or enjoy what you don't understand.  To understand a section of Scripture means answering two main questions:  1) what did the original author intend to convey to his readers?  2) what role does this text play in the whole Bible; how does it contribute to the arc of the Bible message, which climaxes in the salvation provided by Jesus Christ?"  (Keller)
  • More ways to handle the Word of God, to know it deeply and know it well...  
    • Emphasize each word individually as you read and reread the verse.
    • Paraphrase a passage in your own words.
    • Memorize the passage.
  • And this crowning GRACE:  "How can anyone truly think intensely about the law of God and not fall into despair?...  Look at the central figure of the Word, the Word made flesh, the great Mediator."  He is not only our example and our teacher, His life and death satisfy God for us!




If I could turn back time {the two biggest changes I'd make as a mom}


Recently I've been thinking over my most needful lessons in mothering.  There are many, but these two things, if I could turn back time, would be the first things I'd change about how I've loved and led our kiddos.   These two set the stage for bright, melodious joy... and I'm the most grateful mama to find that there's still time to adjust the backdrop for our family stage yet again ... (and to keep adjusting, keep pursuing, keep begging for forgiveness and keep trying again with the Lord's grace to hit the mark here.)  

Speak calmly.  Where else have they learned to fly off the handle, but from me?  Yea, they're kids and this is a fallen world:  real anger gets triggered.  Sometimes there's a deliberate choice against my instructions.  That spark of anger is a valid flare for me to notice, "this needs discipline."   (It's not going to get better with yelling.)  Handle it calmly. Sometimes there's a complex mix of rights and wrongs and I'm going to need wisdom.  Wisdom and calm, firm, loving words, Jill! 

Sometimes a flare of anger strikes up but it's just time for me to swallow the inconvenience, bend low and look into their little eyes and speak patient love in all that I am to all that they are.   Like when she twisted open the soap in the grocery cart and we got to deal with a few foamy handfuls of green apple-scented mess before the bottle was ready to load into the bag?  She had no idea about that twisty lock.  Time for patience.   

Anger in me, I'm finding is probably always a marker that this thing needs either discipline for the kiddo or patience from me.  No situation will be better, nor will I or my kiddos be better off in any way for me to yell or speak harshly.  

Laugh generously.  Laugh about bumps and bruises, and even minor injustices because not every matter needs to be handled like bounty hunters in a court of law.  Love like mercy: glad to see quick forgiveness, not demanding super-human justice and righteousness, not requiring adult comprehension speeds and "how high?" on the way up....  Requiring obedience, yes, ( I do want to train them to live a path of blessing and honor) but obedience mercifully, graciously gained.  Love covers over a multitude of real life together.  Laughter and well chosen humor just might be the best way around things sometimes.   Proverbs 17 calls it "seeking love" to cover over an offense.  

I think it could have made a big difference in my crew if they had seen me choose lighthearted, glad laughter instead of crisp and clear justice-demanding as my way through disagreements and squabbles and frustrations.  Oh for lighthearted, trusting joy!

When the kids see us pursuing each other's joy, when they know that a glad laughter hunt is going to be what we're after again every mealtime, every coming and going, and at every lesson, maybe it will become so thick an expectation, so regular a pattern, that we can all grow up in the shape of this liberating, trusting, gladness   May it be, Lord.   

Like the wise doctor who told us that the couples who stay together are the couples who use humor to lighten the load of stress and difficilty and even disagreement.  Humor is a choice, a trusting-the-other, and even more, a trusting-God choice.  It's a holy weapon for hunting beauty and joy out of gloom and bickering grey.  It's a gift.  And I want to be trained and to train my kids to use it skillfully, and often!   We want to be the ones who are better than the mighty who take a city:  this mom and kids ~ who have learned to rule themselves (Provers 16:32), hold their minds and hearts to what is true and cling tenaciously to the promises of God that He will work even this for His glory and our joy.  

Lord mark us, with your peace and calmness in our storms.  And mark us as celebrants of all of your graces!  Mark us with your JOY!








Friday, March 25, 2016

She's Five!

Birthday girl, you are worth a celebration of the highest thanks and joy that the Giver would give us YOU.


Birthday breakfast!  As fancy as we could dream up (for a school morning especially!)  What a treat to celebrate Vivi!
She gushes joy and sweetness and silly goofballisms all the time off camera but she's quick to avoid it when the lens is pointed her way so I guess I just have to treasure all that up in my heart since I can't share it with you here.  
The next day we celebrated "Breakfast at Vivian's", her party, with all her fancy friends... 

Stuffed crepes and yogurt parfaits (with oatmeal cookie bar crumbled inside...  great use for a recipe that wasn't A+ on it's own) and strawberry lemonade scones (they were top notch!).  We had a yummy, dress-up fancy time!



this is when she knew I wanted to get a pic of her with her birthday crepe and her #5 candle.  Almost as bad as last year, sweetheart!  

After breakfast, Vivi's best friend from school had to leave because she wasn't feeling well.  She was missed!  But the party did go on...

there were at least 4 wardrobe changes.... all of them stunning (don't miss, the dress layered over dress look modeled here.)



This is her camera look these days.  I wish I could show you her smile because it's sparkling, but this is all she gives me.  I'll have to try to be sneaky...

And I do hope you know that all hairstyles, jewelry and dress arrangements were done all by herself.  I hope that goes without saying!  Wouldn't want credit to come to me for any of that!! :)

Her brothers really were there.  They just, sadly, didn't get in any photos on my camera.  But boy, do these boys love their little sis.  A gift to have their protective care shown to our littlest.  

It felt like a gift to us to be able to find a gift here that we wanted to give our girl.  (If I were really savvy with online shopping in Chinese, I could find stuff here too, but I don't dive deep in those realms.)  But this Alice in Wonderland book with super fun pop-ups super delighted her heart.... so, of course, it delighted us too!