Saturday, April 22, 2017

at the heart

What a season...  An exclamation point could do here, but at the same time, it doesn't fit.  Life has slowed and stilled on the blog front because it seems like the five lives with me in the house are growing and going at race pace with all the regular.... which I know well, is far less for us here than "the regular" stuff and pace of life in America.  But it makes me question my own soul- life and rest and growth in me- to see how halted life has been here- where my heart lives, where I love to pour out some overflow in the edge hours, once all the tucking in is done.

My desire and aim for our home is to be a loving, lively, living place....  A place for tender embraces and long looks into other's eyes to listen to tellers tell stories.  A place for  exuberance and silly and we-live-here kind of messes and hopefully enough manners learned and practiced to keep a mama sane and keep us somewhat doable for welcoming friends to come in.  A place for green things drinking in air and water and sunshine,  for fresh-baked smiles and licking our fingers, for songs sung loud and for Words written living, deep in our hearts, together.  And by the grace of God, I think we do live like this most days...  along with the ever-present backdrop of pretty continual bickering.  sigh.

This blog hasn't been so loved, or so living.  There are seasons for that.  And there's grace for that.  But I do look forward to cultivating more growth here again.  I long for soul growth in me again... for reading and writing and finding and creating beauty, for celebrating living.

I've missed birthdays...  I don't think I've ever skipped any blog record of kid birthdays in our home before.  But I have now.  Isaiah is ELEVEN and Vivian is SIX (she's even memorized A.A. Milne's poem for the occasion).  Isaiah had a great crew of young men over to our place for fun games and play and dinner and then they watched Fantastic Beasts.  I didn't snap a single picture and I woke up that night like my heart was stabbed when I realized it.  Vivian had an "easy party" (for mama's sake) the next day and we took her and two sweet girlfriends to Beauty and the Beast and beef noodle soup for lunch.  We even had some of our dear friends over that evening for cake and play to celebrate both of them together... a sweet first.

And my man, my dearest and bestest, my admired and delighted-in husband turned 40.   It went completely unmentioned and he's glad for that.  We're hoping to get the six of us to some mountains nearby for a first family camping trip and we'll mark it as Dad's (and Mom's since it will be right between our b-days) Fortieth celebration.

The two of us got lunch out -noodles too spicy for the kids to eat anyway- to celebrate our 13th anniversary too.  Still can't believe I get to be married to him.


When we were in the states, I got to be in a Wednesday morning Bible study with a group of saints and story-tellers and beautiful lovers of Jesus that I came to love deeply.  I think it was the youngest one there, who told us, teary-eyed, how her own soul felt a bit lost since she'd become a mama to two tiny ones.

I've been there.  (Hasn't every mama?)  But after that, for me, I was grateful to return to some more years of growth and awareness and expansion in my soul again.  It seems the cycle has come full swing though, and again, the past near-year or so has been a new stage of pruning.  Like the branches in our apartment complex that our kids grieved over: "Why do they have to be cut back so much!?"  "When will it ever have branches and leaves and fruit and flowers again!?"

Today I cleaned the house and decided I'd let the time spent wiping and washing be restful, take pleasure in the beautifying of this place we're blessed to call home.  Let it be slow and enjoy the transformation.  No need to race through this too as if efficiency at all things is the only way a thing matters.  I planted seeds too, on our patio, that I feel like royalty to get to have here in a packed and run-down city.  I'm going to put out the hammocks this evening and watch the clouds.  

Tomorrow is another day for work.  There will be plenty of it and it is of eternal value and our labor in this is not in vain.  This I trust.  But a day off is good.  God took the day off after he had worked six good days and how can I do any better?

I can't.

Matt told me a few months ago that it seems like I assume a thing doesn't exist unless it's been spoken or recorded...  What he noticed was sadly true in me and I need to recognize it's untrue to believe.  There is so much in him, in me, in our home and kids and life all around us that is living and growing even if I don't have words that can hold it, a shutter that can capture it, eyes to recognize it at all.  Give us grace, Lord, to live it.  I want to give all that I can to live every moment the fullest full for God's glory- even when there's no pencil and paper or blog to type on or camera to record it.  But too, it is in the naming of gifts, the counting them, the remembering them and celebrating and pondering and recognizing anew... that life is stirred in the depths.  It doesn't have to be everything, every time...  but a record of graces, a place to ponder these gifts, is for me, itself a place of birthing and beholding life.  (HT:  Ann V.)

So here's to renewed reading and writing, to some homemade sangria on the patio on another day off, to guitar strumming and listening long and serving each other,  and capturing still shots of all this living, this growing grace I'm so privileged to see and to serve.

Now for the rest of this day to be restful in ways that allow for the stirring up of life under the soil in me too.

May it be, Lord, for Your glory.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

stateside gifts....

Warning... this is just for the family record.  Waaaaay to long for non-family to read!

A few pics from Conway Little League Fall Ball.  (The mama here is only a few months behind on posting pics!!)  This little hole in the dugout was the perfect spot for John to send out his requests for snacks and drinks and for his sisters to indulge him.) 

He had a great coach and team of good boys to play with...  we're so grateful for this opportunity!

And the participation trophy!  He hardly put it down for a few days.  (Matt barely made it through one of those days with out at least a few snarky comments about how everybody gets a trophy these days... but still, he loves his boys!) 

My big guy....(on the right, pitching! forgive the poor photo please?)  My camera was broken for most of their season and right when I got a new one, this guys last game was at night when it was pitch black.   Good thing he played much better than his mama did for photos!

Fall Ball was a big one... but there have been dozens more incredible gifts for our boys.  They both progressed well in schooling (John finally coming towards more confident reading on his own), and they made just a few good friends at their little school.   AWANAS @ KPCO was a gift-  John got the Sparky and several awards and Isaiah was Nov Clubber of the Month.  They both loved the games and got more of God's Word in their hearts.  They even got to enjoy Kennedy Space Center with precious AWANAS friends...

And the Howdies were here (friends from China that "just happened" to be in Orlando the same season as us!?).  Some fun times at the lake and swimming and lego-ing with those guys!  And there was that time that the kids and I were enjoying some grass therapy at our little campground front yard (along with a some cheddar popcorn) and we watched, just sat there with front row seats, for a little plane to fly across the lake and take flight- straight off the water.  

The boys learned to do a bit of hard work cleaning up at our old rental house.   And there was swimming for homeschool recess while we stayed with our dear friends, the "Shacks".  Crazy amazing blessings!  Isaiah got up on water-skis.  There was a Gatorland outing gifted to them with yet more and super precious China friends.  There were splash pad and library visits- where our big guy got hooked on the Redwall (by Brian Jacques) series.   We ate ice cream and these two alone ate at least two dozen bags too many of tortilla chips.  The kids got to pick out a live Christmas tree for the first time :).

And... we got to spend the week before Christmas at the beach.  First, wonderful time for that!!!  Not only did dear friends gift us with 5 days to spend at their *beautiful* condo at New Smyrna Beach, but Bart and Judy worked it into their schedule to join us for the last two days, once we saw that the condo had space for 8!  Such a blessed time!

Then there's the grandparents. What a gift to get time with them in January as Dale and Mary have bounced between two central FL brothers' homes and stopped at our little cabin by the lake in between.   The kids had an overnight with their grandparents at Uncle Tony's place by his church on the beach.... and they got wristbands so they could ride limitlessly at the church carnival.  They came home starry-eyed (and Matt and I enjoyed two super fun double dates~ with the Johnsons and the Dys~ and got the bulk of our crazy load of packing done while they were gone too!)  There was a bit of overthetop-ness in lego indulgence from these Grands at one point, and that outing was crowned with a heap of Chick-fil-A goodness too.  Speaking of the beloved fast-food, that has sure become a solidly established favorite too!  

Matt and I wanted to treat his parents to something- since we're so regularly on the receiving end with those two!- and we thrilled to get all eight of us into Medieval Times with a discount for a super fun, memorable, enjoyable night.  

Before Christmas we moved from our friends' lovely home to a darling little cabin in a campground by the lake where Matt and I were married.  It's beautiful.  John came alive fishing for tadpoles, and little fish and shrimp, by just plunging cups or buckets in the water.   Sweetest cheer to hear Isaiah boast in John's fishing skills and perseverance.  Our campground living provided fooseball, canoes and a kayak, and more picnics on the grass for talking time together... (I hope they loved this as much as I did!)  and the cabin's in a good place for us to get to see more of the legend, Jonathan McK, who our boys love....  the trio proved to be tough in the Ninja Zone class they got to enjoy three times for free!    

Our entire time in the states was bookmarked by two fantastic weeks with the Bismarck Ks....  the first week was for Dale and Mary's 40th anniversary (how fantastically awesome of them to celebrate their anniversary by inviting all of us to join them for a week!?) and the last week we gathered for cousin Lee and beautiful Aubrey's wedding, which was fantastically located in Central Florida!    Here's the amazing grands, and our kids with their treasured cousins....

Initially I was going to write a whole post about the boys and one for the girls... but alas, this one is already too long and there'd be too many repeats so I'll just make the girls a PS on this post and pray for grace to cover me in years to come when they see how I've treated them.  I'm sorry dear loves.   It's time to just get this darn thing posted!

Girlies...   You were pure JOY to witness this fall...  Marian, you tasted your first (at least the first that you really noticed and remembered) rice krispie bars in August when Grandma Marian brought them to Blackduck and you got her to teach you all her skill that very afternoon.   Then we arrived back in Orlando about 13 hours before your first day of school, where you were really nervous, didn't know anyone, hadn't ever been to a school or school in America or ... lots of stuff was brand new and you were nervousexcitedscared.  The second Monday (second day of school at their homeschool-type school) you brought rice krispie bars to share and I'm pretty sure the entire school felt like you were their friend by the end of day two.  When we left in Feb you gave photo frames to three girls:  your BFF at church, at school and at Awana.  I love this about you.  

Vivian, you grew so much!  Truly, I think you gained the most height this season.  And you blossomed with more of your own sparky delightful personality.  When I asked you what one special thing you wanted to do, you were sure it was ballet.  So we signed you up and bought the tutu and the shoes at Once Upon a Child.  And then you saw Marian's first day at gymnastics and you were tearfully positive that you Really wanted to do gymnastics.  But you finished the month and one recital (that you stayed backstage for the entirety of!) somewhat valiantly before you started in gymnastics as well.... and you did wonderfully!  Both you girls were promoted after just a few lessons when instructors saw your skill and hard work.  That made your mama so proud!

Vivi, you also loved school and counted all of your classmates as your friends.  (I think there were only about 8 students in your class?)  And I love that you are bold and brave to enjoy the little men around you- unafraid even when teased by your siblings for connecting with the little brothers of their friends or enjoying the little guys in your class.  Way to go dear.  This blessing is richly yours, for a girl who is growing up so loved by so many- brothers and sister, mom and dad, grandparents....  I'm praying for all the future friendships and for the future spouses of each of you treasured kids!

Monday, March 27, 2017

FEEL... growing to see the gift and strength of emotion

A few years ago, we listened to a sermon series from Tim Keller that later became his book The Prodigal God.  When we finished, I made a mental list:  Things Our Kids Must Hear / Read Before They Go... (and grow out of our home).  Keller's series is the first on the list.

Nancy Pearcy and Francis Schaeffer are on the list.  There will be something from the Rebelution crowd...  And a few from Piper (of course).  And now also this book by Matthew Elliot:  Feel:  the power of listening to your heart.  It's a Biblical look at emotions, a very practical, helpful guide to sharpening your understanding of your own heart; this book was a  very needed gift.  As I read, I felt like I was in a growth spurt, climbing up some emoto-meters on a sacred doorframe.  This message seems to me an enormous help toward maturity and holiness and sensitivity for whole soul health and relationships.  

It must be noted that, I think, the book has a pretty terrible subtitle.  Bad enough to solidify in one or two of us Ks a serious enough (mis)judgement that we were ready to skip this gem altogether... just because of that one dumb line.   Having now devoured the book and profited from every page, I firmly believe that the subtitle is the last dumb line in the whole book.   And true, the book actually does address where and how and why there is goodness in "listening to your heart" but the way that our culture sings that song, even with those exact words, (in too many princess movies and all sorts of lines of deception and lure) I think it would have been much better to invite people in, to read the substance of the book before using Disney's words to mean something far better than Disney's ever dreamed.  

So... emotion.  It turns out, as Matthew Elliot exposes it, that much of what the wider Christian community has assumed is a "Christian view" or understanding of emotion, just really wasn't a fully bodied appreciation of the gift that the God of the Bible has delighted to create in us.  I think as Christians, we have tried to compensate for what seems often like a sinful emphasis on "just do whatever feels good to you" and have ended up tossing out a gift that we've actually been commanded to guard and grow, that was meant to lead us in wisdom, and to be a sparkling, winsome display of the fruit of the Spirit in our ordinary lives where we live in a dry and weary land.   

A wise and beautiful friend shared with me this past fall how she's been learning in counseling that her sadness isn't a bad thing.  For so long she assumed and acted as if feeling sad meant not trusting God.  Not so.  Sadness is needful and entirely appropriate in it's time.   

Another dear friend saw me right after we said good-bye to Matt's parents last month.... We would fly back to our China home the next day and I had a thousand weights on my heart about good-byes, preparations, the days of travel ahead of us, and landing back to in difficult place.  My friend said to me something about feeling deserted by God.   True, I was a wreck:  so sad and low strength.  But I wasn't doubting God's goodness or His faithfulness to His promises to me.  Not at all!  I was feeling sad.  And it was a worthy moment to feel exactly that.  Even knowing well and clinging to God's goodness, nearness, faithfulness.

I've felt so helped in reading this book to realize that my emotions are indeed something that I should pay careful attention to, be honest with myself and others about, and wisely choose how I let them guide me.

The book tied in to another gift that Matt and I received in January.  We met a few times  with a wise counselor friend and were very surprised to realize that though I am an intense "feeler" and can be crazy longwinded, I don't communicate my emotions, or actually name my feelings, very well at all.  Too often he would hear me trying to explain a hard situation as me being hard on someone else (whoever I was interacting with).  Instead, what would be so much better is to simply express is how I'm feeling... That way he can comfort me (which is what I want and need) rather than respond by trying to fix the situation or address or defend the other person (which is not where we need to go at all.)   

Our counselor suggested such a simple thing as asking each other "How are you feeling about...?" (instead of our normal "What do you think about...?") or "How do you feel when I do/say....?"  Or, a big one for the wife whose husband isn't the most verbose of all men, "dear, it looks like you're feeling.... Am I understanding you rightly?"

An unexpected and fantastically helpful blessing of this emotional awareness has come for us in parenting.  Since trying to apply this learning even in just the simplest ways to our discussion and interactions with our kiddos, I'm thinking that this might be quite a game changer for us.  Too often it's been my tendency to try to talk our kids out of what they're saying, without even acknowledging their feelings.  

They might say of their siblings, "No body wants me to play with them!"... and I would respond on the contrary.  "That's not true... They really love you even if they've been unkind...." or  "No... you're not seeing the situation rightly...."

How much better to dialog with them gently with words like:  "oh man, I can see that you're feeling really hurt and sad.  I really want to understand how you're feeling because you matter so much to me.  Can you tell me why you're feeling like that?"  

Our kids have responded so much better to us since we've seen this and tried to slow down and speak into their eyes and ask questions that get right into the realest depths of their treasured hearts.  Now, this and every other little trick we've tried has yet to give us a ticket out of the Fall that's broken all of us, and most days we're feeling remarkably broken still, but we're clinging to grace. And still, trying to hear each other's hearts and love each other in our realest feelings has been a sweet new gift to enjoy as we limp forward in grace together.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Ks on Instagram

Hey Friends!

Sorry we posted a goofy link that should've gotten you to instagram....  If you'd like to follow us there, we'd be so glad to get to stay connected that way!  Hopefully I'll have more opportunities to post pics of local scenes since I can snap and post them from a phone :)

Instagram:    mattsjill  

Blessings to you dear friends!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

growing hope

"Of all the emotions we want to grow, hope is the hardest..... because hope is about believing, we need God's help and the power of the Holy Spirt to accomplish it in our lives.  But we can certainly enlarge our hope as we place our belief squarely in what he promises.

How much standing-on-tiptoes, butterflies-in-the-stomach, latch-onto-it-like-a-vise-grip hope do you have for the things God says are in your future?  

Here's just one promise to consider:  "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever."  Now go out and should that from the rooftops!  Better yet, live out your hope before everyone, and live your life in light of the coming triumph of hope and joy and love over death and sorrow and paint.  You are a member of the kingdom of hope!

Take that, you evil world!

Take that, death!

Take that, war and terrorism.

Take that, disease, disaster and poverty!

Take that, sin and sorrow and selfishness in my own heart!

It is only a matter of time before you will be gone forever."

Feel.  by Matthew Elliott.  page 185

Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Christmas Friends! {2016}

Wishing all of you friends, a most joyful, beautiful, worshipful time as you celebrate once again, the true meaning of all of the lights, gifts, feasts and treats and giving... 
may your Christmas shine brightly with JESUS. 

We love you!
the Ks

 * We were So Blessed to have a new friend gift us with a professional photography session.  So sweet that just as I was getting to grow into an opportunity to bless others with photography (a bit of photo-love and hobby-joy at this new blog:  Eb Stone Photos)... that we would be blessed to receive photography too.  #thankful!

Monday, December 5, 2016

memory bottles... of grass and sunshine

On a bookshelf in our home in China is a story, the well-loved pages gifted to us when a dear family moved away.  With words and watercolor, an old man tells his life to kids who've climb into his house and found all his bottles: memory bottles, each a fragrance that spices the air when he uncaps them, a story of some time worth keeping, remembering, cherishing from his life.

I wish I could bottle up these days.  This sunshine and grass, these moments together here.  The perfect blend of introvert (private yard) and open,  still warmly accessible (extroverting with dear neighbors.)

Today we read Cameron Townsend on a huge white blanket stretched out to cover the lush carpet of lawn.  Isaiah widdled a stick til the scent inside unfurled, Marian did handstands and cartwheels til we were all dizzy watching her, John watched the birds and we all listened together, and Vivi twisted her toes toward the sky and rubbed those freshly stripped twigs to her nose.   I read aloud how he dreamed of reaching the tribes of the Amazonian jungle- the ones with no gospel witness, weeks of trekking beyond the last preached-to towns.  How his finger once landed on a verse when he had prayed for God to speak, on the words "Does not the Shepherd leave the 99 if he has lost just one sheep?  And does he not go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it and brings it home?"

Last week I read how Cam's daddy closed every one of the family devotions he led in Cam's childhood with the same words each time:  "May the knowledge of the glory of the Lord fill the earth as the waters cover the seas."  Capture us God with holy, burning affection, with yearning ambition for you.  

My womb was full for the first time when I shared this dream with my love.  Almost eleven years ago, right here in this town...  a picnic blanket laid out on the lawn, sweet baby face up to the sky, and somehow... a kite.

I realized at the end of this summer that I could get into fishing too.  Watching a kite in the clouds or waiting for a fish to bite on the line has the same sort of relax about it, I guess.  Oh the rest of being present to a job that is such a balm to the soul for the doing of it.  I can imagine the calm respite an afternoon or a quiet morning on the water must be to a fisher.

There's no kite for us these days.  But this one blanket is perfection:  woven cream and huge enough for the half dozen of us to bake on, all spread evenly in the soothing sun.  And the hole somewhere near the center where the grass pokes through, makes me glad, frayed and unraveling just like me, though my mess is bigger.  And the paint drops and the tucked away stains, all holding us together, the base of the place that's holding all these dreams and stories and sights and sounds for my memory bottle.

We've developed a high level of swing pushing skill and bravery for the heights and this tree and these chains have held up and blossomed our joy.

And it downright scares me.  And I do not know how to handle it in my heart.   Seasons change.  But come summer or winter, city or mountains, year in and year out, there's nothing like this for us in China and I don't know how to hold it in my heart.  (There are glimmers of beauty and there are refreshing spots... but there's nothing at all this whole-soul refreshing.)

Can I breathe this in and say "I need this"... just an afternoon a month of family time outside?  In ten years in China, we've never had a day outside in untrashed creation that refreshed me like just one afternoon of this.  Oh to bottle this and take it with me.  Lord, let this memory scent flood my sweet room and heart there again.

It scares me and I really don't know how to ponder all this ache and longing and pleasure-blissed contentment.  Just to receive this as a gift?  Not a need, apparently (or the Father would provide it).  Not as wages that are due me: the attitude that  Jerry Bridges wrote of "the world owes me because I'm me."  The Lord opposes such pride.  Help me not go there,  Lord.

This is grace.  Pure, undeserved gift.  Receive it joyfully, gratefully.  Bottle it up and take it with you and uncap it when you need it, these memories, this living, never-stale grace.  oh help me Father.  

So yea, I can answer my own questions with my head, but my heart's still feeling it.  Feeling all the fear of future things and the ache of leaving again (even three months before we do!), of returning, relanding in a land that's so hard for me, in a land that's so needy, the we feel so compelled to and still so little able to reach.  Feeling all the yearning for a life thats full of fruit and sweetness and songs of eternity...

And this must be what is meant of walking by faith, not seeing but trusting His word, His promise.  Lord, help me.

Do what you want with us, Lord.  Make us who you want us to be.  Use us for your glory.  

...that swing

So glad to see these happy smiles.  Our big guy has had a harder time with this short-term living arrangement than anyone else in the family.  His style is to connect deeply with just a few close buds and there haven't been many boys his age around us here...  and how do you go deep with someone you know you're going to leave so soon?  These smiles are like medicine to remember.

This tree + swing + lawn + grass + sunshine + smiling giggly kiddo combo just can't be beat. 

But we did find a minor (or possibly, major?) improvement to the classic Underdog.

The K vote for best swing thing is the circle swing around.  100% that swing chair in the carnival type ride feel...  but somehow better.  

And the kids decided there needed to be something of a race around the track for runners and swingers.  

And that a little baseball mitt tag to the bottom end of the swinger would add a bit more fun to the whole experience for everyone as well.  

Five Star Family JOY.

so, soo grateful!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

a time of humbling

Hard things for our homeland....

We have a new president who is known for his hatred and arrogance and lies...

But may this be a new season in the Church:  a time to take up the basin and the towel, to humbly serve, to lay ourselves down, and may we bow down low to weep and repent and pray, to return with trembling to the Word of God, and may we be known- as we should be all along- for His love changing us and our communities and this dark world.  We have a long way to go to bless this hurting nation.

Reminds me of a truth from history:  that the church of God is never stronger or shining brighter, pure-er than when she is an oppressed minority.   I don't feel us strong, bright or pure at all right now. God have mercy, have mercy on us and on our land.


I posted this on Facebook and I really wanted to go back and make just one little edit but it seems like that's not a possibility on Facebook (reason #2,811 to avoid Facebook)... so here's what I really want to put down on the record:
Lessons for the kids on the morning of Nov 8: There was no good choice (between the big two) yesterday and I would have grieved if she won too, but, if ever you need to see that popular is not always good or right, here it is. Apparently “strong” is the new “smart”, the arrogant bully wins, and no amount of dishonor can discredit a guy anymore.  But for our crew, that’s not how we vote or how we aim to live. We love and follow One who is truth and never lies, who poured his life out in love and compassion, and recognized the dignity in each soul, the One who welcomed little children and all who are weary and weak, broken and needy. Praying now for repentance and humility, for eyes to see our need for TRUTH- for the church, for America, and for our new president and VP.