Saturday, August 22, 2015

another desert visit

One day we drove from our first friend's place out farther into the desert to visit Matt's former tutor and his wife and baby...  Matt and Isaiah visited these friends three summers ago.

We drove through a canyon with these caves at the end, just before we reached their town...

Taken from the same place as the shot above, just looking outward from the canyon...  such beauty!  (And... check out the 150+ oil rigs across the plane beyond town there!)

cemetery on the way into town

the flaming mountains and their vineyard village

if a picture could capture heat... this one shows it pretty well.  

Since Isaiah has raved about the desert since his trip with Daddy years ago, all the kids wanted some time to run on the sand slopes.

This little beauty, with the traditional beautification of her sadly separated eyebrows, was named after the first woman to be martyred for Islam.  Oh how we love these dear friends!!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Visit with A friend...

Such a joy for us to get to drive just three hours from our city home out into the desert to be in this vineyard-packed land, one of the hottest cities in the world.  I'm *pretty*crazy*grateful that we didn't try to visit here last month when temps were around 120 degrees and there's no electric relief.  (Our friends had this fan but our host was too concerned for our health, not wanting to give us pain in our bones, so she blessed us with not turning it on.)  So grateful it was only around 100 for us while were there this week.

First thing any local mom needs to do to welcome her son and his friends...  Feed Them.  And she fed us well.  A heaping plate of lamb and yellow carrots, polo (rice with more lamb and carrots), and tomato cucumber salad and nan... lots and endless lots of nan.

He told us on the drive out here that there's a pool right across the street from his house.  Turns out it was on the other side of his driveway... the perfect, private, retention pond for saving water for their vineyard and orchard.  (Because the irrigation water only comes through the ditches to their property about twice a month.)  *Pure Bliss* for our kiddos!

Our dear friend and his precious mama... such gracious hosts!!
And at the end of the driveway... the mud house that was built for drying grapes but was being used instead as a home for about a hundred pigeons.  John came alive on this trip as our fearless lover of animals.... so fun to see him grow into this good strength.  

Once the sun was past it's fury, we walked into the village...a journey of about 200 yards. But first A showed us his father's whole property and the wall he built around it himself.
In the courtyard of the home where his father was born and where he played every summer of his childhood

a slice of town...  grape vineyards in every direction and shady with trees in the village center where the irrigation ditches run full every day- I think.  (Runoff from the mountains is the life source of this whole region.)  
love this boy...

5:30 AM.  Sunshine on the girls bed...  so pleasantly cool from about 11pm- 5am.  
The boys all slept on mats on their platform bed on the other side of the patio.  

Morning light on the breakfast table...
heaped with nan sticks (as our kids called the cracker swirly stuff), grapes (of course!) and store bought cookies (a specialty brought in from the city for the festival last month), dried fruit and nuts, honey and homemade jam, spicy chips and candy.   How about that!?
This morning, I left the kids and Matt behind trimming grape branches in the vineyard and I walked through the village again...
... And I met some of the dearest kids...  This sweetheart is just one week older than Marian.  She shared her birthday candle with us, the prize of her day. 
Our hosts know every person in this village and are most likely related to them all 200ish of them within a few generations...
mama to the baby above
Who needs air conditioning when you can lay your mat right over the water for cooling?  It amazed Matt and I how public these beds were.   Many beds were placed right alongside the road where cars would drive by all hours...

But if roadside doesn't suit you, I guess this is where you can put your bed if you don't want headlights in your faces or horns blaring, swerving close...  
The village had paths wide enough for a small mianbaoche (a very petite truck) to fit but the paths most comfortably fit walkers or small three wheeled motorbike-trucks.  

a traditional bread oven

I continually felt amazed at how very large these middle rooms were inside these homes...  tall ceilings and open walls for air flow and private rooms attached all around.  

And if you think this driver looks young, on the way back after unloading these grapes, the girl in pink who is holding the little baby drove (while the big girl read from her cell phone!)

This woman, our dear friend's mom, has become a local grandma to our kids.  This was the last meal she made for us before we drove home...  Marian beamed with pride that she has learned to make noodles from the best cook ever and our local grandma boasted with perfect grand-graciousness... "hmm, I really think your noodles are the tastiest ever!"

the weekly village bazaar

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Dear Friend whose had an abortion,

So much in the news lately, and these videos, and even what you've read on this blog, it can hit you straight up.  In-the-face, undeniable evidence of life, brains, beating hearts, wiggly fingers and toes, it can all burn in your throat and you can feel shrapnel through your heart.  

I don't want you to stay there, friend, burning with confusion or anger or regret.  Will you stay with me for a few more minutes?  

What I didn't say earlier about my hero mama, who so valiantly chose life for me, is that she had chosen abortion previously.  It seemed then that was her only option.  It made sense to her and she was told it was the best choice.  She lived with the grief of that child's life and the weight of it never just disappeared like they said the "fetal tissue" would.

Maybe it feels mean for anyone to be pointing out what's going on in this quick, should-be private procedure?  Maybe it feels unmerciful, unkind to acknowledge that abortion is murder because it would be easy and we could all smile nicely if we just called it a necessary procedure and left it alone.  Don't look into it any further, please.  And don't look at me.

Is that how you're feeling?

My mama knew it all too well....

And there's all this hope and desire to protect and praise life and does it all sound Wrong in your heart when you hear it?   How a mom choosing life "didn't take the cowardly way out."  But I can imagine you don't feel like you chose cowardly either.  It takes bravery to walk into an abortion clinic too and being told there's just tissue in there, why not just get it over with?  Even with all the lies that were fed to you, I doubt it felt like an easy thing to go through with, or to tell a friend about it, or to read this with your name tucked invisibly in that Dear Friend line at the top.

Or maybe, you're different?  Maybe you knew "it" was a baby. Yea, that was a beating heart, a waving hand.  It was alive and now it's .....

But the thing is, there's this deep conviction and its meant to bring peace, and it's black and white on the pages of this Book that you can trust, that the grace and forgiveness and true love of God, the Maker of Life, is ready to be poured out in abundance on you and on all of us who acknowledge our brokenness, neediness, and face up to our guilt.  Staring down this sin and calling it what it is, is meant as a rescue... for you too.   

Hiding it or legitimizing will never bring you peace.

I want you to know that all the energy poured out as "Pro-Life," it should be aimed at you too...Pro-You.  Your life, your heart, your home.  Not in some get-you-rich-fast, make you hot and hotter kind of way, but in a your-life-matters-infinetly-to-God, so much that he gave His Son to die as your ransom... in that way.  That is how God is and His church should be totally Pro-You.  

Political groups and churches and all of us individuals fail and fail miserably and fail often and I'm sorry.  So sorry.  We haven't always shown you that none of us have anything to stand on if we don't stand on grace.  But it's true.

There's grace for you.

Like there was for this guy ages ago who persecuted and approved of deaths and stood by to watch the slow agonizing death of one lover of Jesus named Stephen.  (See Acts 7:58-8:3 and Acts 9:1-19) God blinded him with an earth-shattering vision of who He is and who it was that this persecutor was killing.  Then God picked him up, transformed him with His love, and used him to powerfully build and bless His people, His church, for millennia after that.   

Now you've been having visions, or watching videos, and it's shattering you too?  How will you respond?  What might God do through your life picked up from this wreckage and offered wholly to Him?  Made whole again in Him?

The thing is, that facing up to our need, our brokenness and mistakes, acknowledging the reality of what abortion is and "what have I done?"...  its this step that we all need, for all of our broken places, to be made whole, be made new.    John Piper says, in discussing with popular rapper Lecrae, how he urged a former girlfriend to abort his child, "if [we] don't come out of the darkness, then [we] can't have the sweetness of forgiveness.  The gospel teaches us how to live, but it also rescues us when we fail to live as we're supposed to."  

It's in seeing our sin that we can see our need for a Savior... And the great news is, He is ready to save.  Ready to take your fear, guilt, grief, your regret, hatred and anger, and trade it to you for His humble love, His totally freeing free forgiveness.  For new life with a new, knowing and gracious Lord.  No more slave master of fear and guilt and lies.  He is ready to show you His true, forgiving and forever love.

Please friend, never be afraid to say that you messed up, that you were wrong.   Whether you fell fool to the lies that abortion is nothing...  Or if you knew that you knew this was your baby.  For all of us, forgiveness reaches our deepest and darkest and God isn't turned away by our filth.  

I'm ready too, with a list of my junk to share and we can lay it down together, rejoicing with that guy Saul (turned to Paul,) that we who have sinned much, could be forgiven much.  That we could be so greatly loved.

So the point in the plainness of all this talk of the horror of abortion, is so that there may be a clear and focused mirror to see the truth of our sin and to drive and draw each of us, from every broken background, into the truth and love of a God who knows and sees and saves us from the muck we've made of ourselves.

I hope you won't feel turned away.   You belong right with the whole party of sinners forgiven and loved not because we're good enough but because his love is great enough.  This is where Life begins.  You are loved.  You are loved.  Come to Him.  

Friend, if you email me or comment, I'd love to reply to you.  And if you want to learn more on your own about God,  you can view the story of God's love here.

Monday, August 10, 2015

#unplannedparenthood {my birth story}

I was the totally unplanned bundle
the Lord knit together
and breathed into life forever
while he nurtured and developed me
inside her womb.
For me it was a comfy room
to grow.

They told her, he told her
"just have an abortion"
"a single woman can't be bothered"
"I'm married already,
I can't be a father"
to this little living one.

Did they know what that meant?
Did they know that meant death?
It was my beating heart,
my eyes and smile, my brain
that would have been crushed?
that would have been slain?

But she kept me, and loved me
and chose to be bothered
with nine months of stretching
and aching alone.
She chose to give birth
and to give me a home.
She raised me and loved me,
and now I'm all grown
a lover of life
a servant of God,
insanely blessed wife,
mother of four,
and hopeful servant
to many more.

And this whole abortion thing?
O Lord move us to action!
May we, your people,
rush out with compassion
to care for each life,
of mother and child,
to exhort fathers too,
to stick around for a while.

"Come together and see the good plan
of the One who first made
both the woman and man.
He made sex great and
He knows how its best
and his plans for us
are truly to bless.
Oh come to the One
who creates life.
Fear Him who is
both Author
and Judge.
Oh Come to Him
who came to us
who died to show us
His True Love."

Monday, August 3, 2015

In Defense of Little Living Ones

See if you can get through this without gasping in awe and marvel.

Truly magnificent fuel here for worshipping the Creator and for compelling His church to loving action to protect these lives.  May it be!

(Grateful HT to Justin Taylor)

From an article by Francis Beckwith, author of Defending Life:  A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion.

"There is hence no doubt that the development of a unique individual human life begins at conception. It is vital that you — the reader — understand that
  • you did not come from a zygote, you once were a zygote;
  • you did not come from an embryo, you once were an embryo;
  • you did not come from a fetus, you once were a fetus;
  • you did not come from an adolescent, you once were an adolescent.
Consequently, each one of us has experienced these various developmental stages of life. None of these stages, however, imparted to us our humanity."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

on Contentment and Taming Time

Time management isn’t just a stuffy priority for driven Wall street executives and CEOs with killer deadlines.  My moments on the homefront, hours in the kitchen, my days here are the very stuff that I’ll stand responsible for before my Maker one day.  I long to live in such a way as to give to the Lord the best offering that I can from all the time He’s given me.

Months ago I began thinking of time and tasks differently.  I wrote out my pondering and I talked with friends, and one mentioned to me the book What’s Best Next, by Matthew Perman.  This book really got me going.  It’s gold for Christians who want to “make the most of every opportunity” and “redeem the time because the days are evil.”  

Now that I’ve read Perman’s book and let these ideas sink in and simmer in my mind and in my own planning for half a year, I feel gratefully and quite radically transformed with a new goal and approach to planning my days.  It’s not an app. (You definitely should be laughing.  Of course I will not be coming up with an app, though I was curious about the possibilty for a few too many weeks this past winter!)  But I feel like I’ve been learning a few things that are helping me to distinguish and Focus on the most important things and Rejoice and be content in the good work that the Lord has given me (rather than being depressed that I didn’t get more less-important things crossed off my idol-list in a day.)

Until late last fall, I planned my days with a straightforward to-do list.  My husband, who grew up blessed with a heritage of Franklin Covey planning strategy  taught me to prioritize my list with A, B, and C.  But I was still pretty stuck on needing to get my whole list done every day.  Perman, who praises much of the time management plan of David Allen in his book Getting Things Done, said that though Allen means for his list-keeping plan to make your mind “like water,”  Perman found it made his brain rush “like a tsunami.”   Not desirable!

I lived with that tsunami too. I was far too easily tuned in to my to-do list rather than into the relationships or the everyday responsibilities that I have because of who I am.  There was pressure and it could get ugly if I was pressed up against the end of my time and not yet the end of my list.  What was on my list?  I don’t even know now… but it was long and it all felt terribly urgent and it drove me most every hour, every single day.  

Then I started challenging this pressure plan and began thinking of “Role Planning,” or what Perman calls “Time Mapping.”   It’s just the idea that instead of trying to do everything, all the time, that I can mark out what roles I need to attend to at what times every day, and at those times, work on only the tasks associated with that role.  Perman helped this idea sink in with his write up on the example of George Washington… how his days were quite set with what responsibilities he attended to at what times.  “People operate best from routine, not a set of lists,”  urges Perman.  

For example, school mornings at 8:30AM, I homeschool our big kids.  In that time, I need to fully attend to teaching, giving my attention to our kids, and the lessons before us together.  I don’t need to be busy with any tasks beyond being a good teacher. I will be investing my time best if I give myself wholly to lead and teach and serve and love my kids well as their teacher in our homeschool time together.   

None of the bills to pay, floors to mop, or emails I need to write matter in those homeschool hours.  There’s a slice of time devoted to admin later in the day, and I can do that then.  And what doesn’t get done in my admin time, can be moved to the next chunk of admin time because though there are a few truly urgent things, not everything is urgent all of the time!

Another fun and helpful slot in our days at home is chores.  We do chores together right after breakfast, right after lunch.  I grew up with chores checked on once a week.  Maybe that's the thing to blame for learning to procrastinate so very well?  And maybe procrastinating- and it's doable functionality- is to blame for so much stressful pile-up of pressures sometimes?  But chores don't add up with the same intensity when we're doing them all together at the right time every day. 

Focusing on my role rather than just tasks was the first transformation for me and my drive-me-crazy to-do list.  The second change has come without me recognizing it until I’ve been able to look back on it with the clearer vision of hindsight.    I began realizing several months ago that focusing on roles was gradually leading to shorter lists of tasks that I felt were so urgently associated with each role.  I wondered if I was just getting lazy?  

I had thought that I needed a list running of all my responsibilities (I used the free Wunderlist app to keep track of my roles and the tasks needed under each role.) I had lists of all that needed to be done for homeschool prep and lessons and admin jobs I must complete and friends we need to invite over and cleaning to be done.  But I began to see that as I tuned into simply attending to my right-now job, I could get the work of that job done with creativity and focus if I simply gave it my whole heart and attention now, instead of feeling like I needed to fill it with some extra special meaning (extra tasks to do to make it better.) I know how to be a mom, with my kids, caring for our home, making meals, blessing guests.   I know what I’m responsible for and I can do this, by the grace of God, and I will call it good, and take deep joy in the work that’s been given to me.  

All of my roles and relationships-  as worshipper, wife, mom, homeschooler, friend & hostess- are responsibilities that I alone can care for and complete in this world.  What a grace to get to serve in these ways!

Maybe it’s been my heart that’s changed in ways I can’t quite verbalize.  What I do know for sure is that I’m not as task-driven, not as obsessed with more and more to-dos all the time.  I am responsible to serve faithfully today and to “plan noble things” (Isaiah 32:8, as Perman points out) and I don’t need to cram pack my future now.  More and Busy isn’t always better.  (Maybe it isn’t better?)   Somehow, there’s been a sweeter, hopefully humbler heart in learning to be faithful to my responsibilities for today, to take joy in the work given to me to do, in planning for His glory and in trusting the Father to bring things into being in His time. I’m feeling the peaceful grace of a newly gentle friend ~ time~  that Bradley Blakeman spoke of when he said “You tame time through routine.”  

Be content with the roles you’ve been given, Jill.  Receive these gifts and be faithful and diligent to the work that Master has given you.  Attend to your responsibilities- to caring for the relationships you’ve been so generously gifted!- in such a way as to hear Him smilingly say, when He comes, “well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Master.” 

As I see it, there are two pieces of What’s Best Next that set it wildly apart from other time management books or planning systems I've seen.  First, in his section about “mission statements” and “life calling statements” and why they’re helpful and how to create one, Perman spells out for his readers that writing a Mission Statement is easy.  Other time planning gurus will tell you something like “find the most important thing to you” or as “what is it you want most?” But here, Perman switches from Project Planner to Pastor and tells us that as Christians, our Mission Statement is chosen for us by our King and declared in His Word.  He urges us that our highest goal needs to be something along the lines of “To glorify Christ and make Him known,” or at least, it’s approximately that substance in whatever words sound best to your soul.  

The second part I loved about this book is that Perman zealously urges every reader to consider in their planning weekly, daily, life goals… all of it…  “How Can I Serve Others?”  “How, this week, can I make some contribution to eliminating local needs and sorrows and even global ones?”  How excellent to be pressed toward this in a time management book!  I can’t think of a time when I’ve read anything about time management (outside of the Bible!) that urges me so straightforwardly to not be selfish with my time, to give myself away, to prefer others above myself and serve their needs first, with the best of me….  But could it be a Christian approach to Time Planning, if it didn’t?  Perman zings the bullseye.  What a deep and abiding blessing I believe it is and will be in my life and family and community as I learn to focus on the Best things…

Another example of the wisdom and helpfulness of this book is a section that Perman includes on how much to plan and schedule.  He urges readers to avoid the rush-hour crunch of traffic in their personal planning.  Leave your roads (your schedule) filled to 70% capacity.  If you pack too much in, the roads don’t flow smoothly.  It takes more work and wastes time if you need to rearrange one item and, also critically important, the 30% margin leaves needful, healthy space in a schedule for creative, thorough thinking and finishing up on work.   He firmly believes that planning our time to be about 70% filled, will help people get more done than trying to set tasks and appointments filling our time to the brim.   There’s a lot of peace pressed into planning like that!

Perman wrote his helpful, sharpening wisdom aimed, I think, a bit more at folks working in outside careers.  My few ideas to share here have been very much influenced by his writing but have also been tweaked to best suit freelance-creatives and women blessed to get to labor in and outward from their homes.  

Here’s my little plan:

I have a Grand Planning page which includes 1) my life mission statement, 2) my seasonal calling statement (what is the work of God for me in this season of months or years?) 3) my roles (closely connected to my relationships), 4) values-characteristics-principles (whatever you want to call it!) and 5) normal routine- my role plan.  

To Plan Each Week:  
Pray.  Review your grand planning page to reorient yourself with your priorities and ask for wisdom to see what’s most important to accomplish for the Father’s glory, to be a faithful to the responsibilities He’s given you, to bless and serve others to advance His kingdom.   

Perman talks about having a few lists- not one for every role- but a few that feed into your roles and weekly schedule.  My Lists are:   Needful (urgent and important), Hopeful (important, not urgent), Books to Read , Emails to write, and Posts to write.   With my mind aware of my priorities and these few lists, I can set out to plan each day.  

To Plan Each Day:
My days roll according to roles, not tasks.    The routine I build for my time includes time to worship and read and journal, time to clean up and lead our kids in chores after breakfast and dinner, time for homeschool, meal prep and groceries, language study and visiting with friends .   Some roles are in the same place every day, but some roles are only assigned to specific days...  Think of the old idea of Monday being baking day, Tuesday being wash day...   

For each day I note 1) Needful things (the stuff with a deadline- be honest, not everything is urgent) 2) Role Goals (see below) 3) a verse to pray or character issue to work on in my own heart or prayer request to lift up 4) scheduled events and needful preparation.  On the side of each week's plan, I also note the books to read this week and emails and posts to write for odd moments that may possibly be unfilled.  

Perman also suggests noting what you need to do and what you want to do every day.  For me, it works better to consider what I want to do, in the place of time (in my role plan or "time map") where I can care for myself, which is most often done in time alone with the Lord or with my husband, or occasionally, with friends or to be alone maybe to work creatively on a project or read.  

Each day I aim my heart at what I call Role Goals.  In each main role of the day, what is the most important thing to attend to?  It might be a character issue to pray for or model and train my kids towards.  It might be spending quality time with one of my kids.  My Role Goal is my gold for making it a good day.  I might not even need to write anything down because the best work for me to attend to now may be already known and richly, deeply entrenched as a pattern in my day.  Simply being faithful to the work given to me, is enough for me, that when I'm reviewing in my mind if this was a good day, I can be content, knowing that I have served the best I can for the relationships and the work that was given to me this day.  Extra productivity is not required to sustain or increase my value as a person, or my acceptance to my God.  Faithfulness, excellence, creativity, being wholly present in attending to the work the Lord has prepared for me... this is what matters.    This is what builds my life, the offering of my life that I one day will present as my offering to the Lord.  May it be the best I can possibly make of it... by His grace, for His glory.


We recently hosted a Creative Arts Concert at our house for several precious homeschooling families to join us to celebrate and encourage our kiddos.  There were more than a dozen performances and more outstanding masterpieces displayed in a gallery viewing time.

Here's to celebrating the music lovers among us who are learning to keep time...
There are some fantastic big girls in our community that we're so grateful our girls can enjoy and admire.
their performance, "The Beauty of Ballet" was Marian demonstrating the five positions in ballet and then a minute of free-form dance from both of them... it was creative and beautiful (at least to their own mom and dad!)
he's playing Vivaldi's "Spring"....  love hearing him make such beautiful music!
Our sweet John only displayed his "Peregrine Falcon Lego Flyer" but he was clear that he didn't want to have to stand up besides it and talk about it.  He'll get there.  Sorry, no pics of his creative construction!

“You need to keep your eyes focused on what you are here to contribute, not simply to do.  You need to direct yourself to effectiveness- the right outcomes- not mere activity.  Therefore, don’t ask “what tasks need to be done?”  Ask yourself “what outcomes need to be accomplished?”  Then determine the activities that will get you there.”  
~ Matt Perman, What’s Best Next.