Wednesday, March 19, 2014

our daily mess

So when you move, note to self,  don't forget you'll need time for goodbyes and crazy detail sorting and planning and certainly not only packing. And remember this all takes a bit more time, and comes later in the game, in this country that doesn't bother with most details til the morning of….  We have our landlord's move-out date (april 6) but no movers, no home to move into, no place to stay in our new city when we arrive.  And it's not for lack of desire or lack of effort in trying to get all this done!  Maybe all that will be in place before we get there, or maybe not.  I do know now that we'll have two shipments of our home going out- one by train (a bit cheaper), one by truck (carrying what the train won't allow- fragile stuff and liquids).  The Lord knows…..  He knows and He'll be with us in the midst and care for us through it.  Father help me to walk ahead trusting, trusting You.

In the meantime…  here's a few pics from a nice afternoon for the kids and I at home on Vivi's real bday (not party day).  We made popcorn for our read-aloud time and sat in the living room and it felt like a gift… always with a good story (Laura's Literary society spell-off).  Of course John and Vivi love to "play puppy" (or sometimes "kitty") and eat the popcorn off the floor with no hands and I can't pretend to care deeply about the lack of hygiene right now.  They were happy.  I was glad.  (And the floor was tolerable too, as floors go.)

and then out came Calvin and Hobbes...

snazzy dress up girls

and I need a good brother shot too…. I'll be hunting for one :) 

Monday, March 17, 2014

She's fthree….

We had another early birthday party….  for our sweet Vivi girl's #3.   So fun to gather her friends to celebrate the joy she is to all of us and play together for the afternoon.

It was the perfect gift to this mom and dad that a small, simple play place just opened in the building next door to us.  We bought a card a little while ago that made each kid's visit cost not quite $2 so we got to treat Vivi's closest friends to an afternoon of play there and we didn't plan a single thing besides cake.  (That was true traditionally K:  tasty and nothing to look at.  Strawberry shortcake.  The battery was gone by then:).  

We delight in this treasure of a girl!  Thank you Lord for this darling daughter!

(Please excuse the wardrobe arrangement- dress, capris, socks.  Our very fashion savvy family stocks us with hand-me-down loveliness that helps improve our fashionlessness considerably but still, we just can't keep up!)

Now that she's three (which she sometimes says with a slight f sound to begin with), she's pretty crazy excited about her shot at chewing gum.   She's kept it all between her teeth and with none in her tummy yet, so she's feeling especially big these days.  Oh we love her….

The card her 1st grade big sister wrote for her….  (should all be nigh readable… except Plite, is "polite")
This is proof that poetry wins smiles and cheer and glad affection even when spelling and grammar fail miserably!  We're working on it!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Capture the Flag (celebrating #8!)

We had a fantastically fun party for Isaiah's 8th birthday (just a little bit early, to preempt our moving madness).  25 kids, pizza and cake, and a wild game of screaming, running kids covering a huge area of our apartment complex (and astonishing a few neighbors and a gate guard), in the drizzly twilight:  the perfect party for our battle-loving athlete.  What a joy to celebrate the gift this boy is in our lives, and the Giver who gave him to us.

David Gunner Gunderson has posted some magnificent poems at his blog Raw Christianity.  This excerpt from the end of a poem he wrote for his son Judah. We cry out the same prayer and throw ourselves on the same promises in God's Word for our the son of our love, Isaiah…

O Father, help my son to see.
Help him to learn.  Help him to be
The kind of man who seeks Your face
And knows Your love and weeps at grace.
Dear Father, open Judah’s eyes
In times to come.  Do not disguise
Your Son from mine.   Please show him how
To turn and trust and love and bow.
I beg you now, O Lord of grace:
Let Judah early seek Your face.
Dear God of sight, please hear my plea:
I want my son to always see.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

In praise of Laura

We just finished The Long Winter…. actually our own winter is going by crazy speedy fast, but Laura's…..  oh!  The Long Winter is the sixth book in Laura Ingalls Wilder's fantastic series.  Our whole crew loves these stories so much and its pure gift to share the stories, to learn from them, to enjoy their lives and stories together.  Isaiah has stumbled upon a bit of boy-ness that makes Laura suddenly a little uncool so he's started to pretend he's not interested in these books anymore, but he's still glued while I read aloud and he'll quietly ask me to keep reading each time I finally close the covers.  Laura (as I call her and all her books) is good for us- boys and girls alike.  I've seen several tangible benefits in our home from the inspiration of these stories, even beyond our simple, sparkling pleasure in these sweet stories.

1. Their example of working hard together.  The whole family contributes: it's expected, it's nonnegotiable, and the work they do is done with excellence.  Inspiring.   I saw something recently about couples being happier when they do chores around the house at the same time and so we've tried to apply this for our whole crew too.  I really do think the Ingalls and the Wilder families (Farmer Boy) have been fantastic role models for how our crew can work together like this too.  This mama is grateful. Even I am learning to keep my kitchen (more) clean meal by every single meal and I honestly think Laura's example is the leading influence for this!

2.  The kids know they're loved.  Ma and Pa Ingalls and Mother and Father Wilder love their kids solidly.  Their love was heathy nourishment and their children grew up strong in it.  Mother Wilder loved Almanzo with an extra slice of apple pie served to his plate and the twinkle in her eyes, which Almanzo knew came from her joy in giving her son his very favorite.  Father trusted his boy with real responsibility, giving him the opportunity to rise to the occasion, to earn the joy of conquering on his own.   I definitely want to gear my kids towards understanding and receiving my everyday service of them, my patient (Lord may it be!) training them as LOVE…. and not to miss it and only see love in lavish gifts and crazy wild speeches of gooey praise of their unending, amazing,perfect awesomeness that's ahhh…. not actually, totally true.  (Sorry, Grandma :) )

3.  And that bring me to….  Gifts.   We've been through many Christmas's with the Ingalls and they have shown us well the joy of celebrating simple gifts, homemade gifts, needed things.  There's no thought of needing mountains of gifts to celebrate a day- one or two or even the crazy notion of three gifts- would be wildly abundant.  I can just imagine the Ingalls would have thought that any more gifts would be a sort of gluttony and would be just plain undesirable, unhelpful, unhealthy.  I think so.  I want to leave way for my kids to celebrate with gifts and to practice generosity, thoughtful attentiveness to the desires of others, and saving and planning for others….  but this doesn't mean that we need to heap up gifts for Christmas or even birthdays.   I'm not trying to be a stick in the mud.  I do love gifts and I want to give gifts well.  But excellent gift-giving is not in quantity given or amount spent.  For birthdays for our K crew, we'll try to keep it to family members giving gifts and letting our friends know that their friendship is the best gift they could give.

Here's the photo credit: a beautiful site that will be a
future field trip for us…. I hope! 
One thing we're working on (oh Lord have mercy!) is celebrating a simple service as a gift and giving thanks for it!  After a meal or a read aloud from mom or dad, how sweet to lead the kids in expressing their thanks for what they've just been served….  How very much more happy it is to hear  (and to say!) "Thanks for reading, dad" rather than "nooooo, you've got to read more."   Seems to me there's a large bit of training in this:  helping our kiddos to see these gifts and form a habit of expressing thanks for each gift.  Worth it.  I long that our kids would know that we read to them, serve them breakfast, wash their clothes, provide everything they need because we love them.  It's all gift…..How much happier they will be in life if they can see this now in the little world of parents and children and toys and meals….  and if they can grow to understand this infinitely and perfectly true in regards to their Heavenly Father, and all that He gives and allows in our lives.

4.  The kids can learn to watch and listen and learn.....  The idea that every question is a good question is just not doable.  There may be super-parents out there who can answer every question that pops up in  every one of their kiddos' minds, but it sure isn't me.  From times when we're reading and the kids need to learn to listen to the story (where their question will be answered),  to moments in the kitchen, working together, and a child needs to learn to watch and learn to understand what's happening.... What a very good thing for our kids to learn to learn rather than simply letting them beg to be spoon fed every bit of knowledge they hope to gain.  I want our kids to be learners like this!

5.  Considering prejudice.  Ma ~ dear, beautiful, admirable, wise Ma is prejudiced against Indians and it's dirty, ugly, sin.   But it's exactly the thing we absolutely need to stare down, to see it for what it is and pray the Lord to root it out of our own hearts and serve to sever it's roots in our community and our world.  Our little John has a hard time with the idea that we should actually learn about slavery…. He knows that it was terrible and wrong and so it makes sense to him that we shouldn't ever hear about or talk about it.  But just as this is the hard story of our country's recent past, it's also the true story of the propensity of people.  How sad but true that we all wander at times towards thinking that we know and do and look and speak better than others.  So Ma…. Sadly, she's an example in this, in what we don't want to be.  But it does provide a great opportunity to talk about a very hard, sad, needed lesson.

And just to share a bit of the beauty and inspiration on these pages, here is the song the whole family sang together at the last page of The Long Winter:

This life is a difficult riddle,
For how many people we see
With faces as long as a fiddle
That ought to be shining with glee.
I am sure in this world there are plenty
Of good things enough for us all,
And yet there's not one out of twenty
But thinks that his share is too small.

Then what is the use of repining,
For where there's a will, there's a way,
And tomorrow the sun may be shining,
Although it is cloudy today.

Do you think that by sitting and sighing
You'll ever obtain all you want?
It's cowards alone that are crying
And foolishly saying "I can't!"
It is only by plodding and striving
And laboring up the steep hill
Of life, that you're ever be thriving,
Which you'll do if you've only the will.

So… does that make you love Laura with us?  I hope so….  It's fun to share and enjoy a dear friend together.  And yet, enjoying her doesn't mean I agree with everything (like the wretched racial prejudice.)

In fact, another aspect I've been surprised by, and have noticed with sorrow, is how Gospel-less these stories are.  At one point in On the Banks of Plum Creek (I think) Pa remarked about how it's nice to go to church and be with other people who want to try to do right.  But being Christian is not about trying to do right, but about trusting in the Savior alone for right-ness before God.  There's been not a drip of that mentioned anywhere in the books…. Even in the many Christmas chapters there's  hardly been a mention of whose birthday the celebration was about.   This has been a sad discovery for me, as I was hoping to find a bit more Christian roots in these stories, these beautiful families.  But, there is beauty to enjoy from them still….

Facing a Task Unfinished

Facing a task unfinished
That drives us to our knees
A need that, undiminished
Rebukes our slothful ease
We, who rejoice to know Thee
Renew before Thy throne
The solemn pledge we owe Thee
To go and make Thee known
Where other lords beside Thee
Hold their unhindered sway
Where forces that defied Thee
Defy Thee still today
With none to heed their crying
For life, and love, and light
Unnumbered souls are dying
And pass into the night
We bear the torch that flaming
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose
Ours is the same commission
The same glad message ours
Fired by the same ambition
To Thee we yield our powers
O Father who sustained them
O Spirit who inspired
Saviour, whose love constrained them
To toil with zeal untired
From cowardice defend us
From lethargy awake!
Forth on Thine errands send us
To labour for Thy sake

Words and Music by Frank Houghton
© Overseas Missionary Fellowship

And.  a free Ebook from J.D. Payne  (from Brook Hills Church) shares about this same need of reaching those least reached with the Gospel who are here in America.  Maybe we can read it together?  I'm excited to read it as soon as I can.  It's only 50 pages so it should be doable and for sure will be inspiring!  
Lord move us to prayer, to giving and going, to demonstrating your humble love to the least of these for the praise of your great name!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Isaiah Dale

from our local Bilingual Baseball League, August 2013
(A few weeks ago I shared this plan to post about each one of our kids.  The girls (now updated!) and the intro are below a little ways if you're interested.)  

I love this boy.  

Our firstborn is a joy to us, to watch him grow in character and skill and faith.  He's a reader, baseball player, basketball shooter, biker, rollerblader, soap carver, karate kicker, lego builder & designer, helper in the home, piano player, avid drawer, awesome hugger, fierce strategy game warrior, and loyal friend.   

And he sings… not much, and not if you pay attention to him… but I love eavesdropping as he sings along (sometimes loudly) with a playlist of songs we have for family devotions.  I love that his favorite is The Reward for Your Suffering.  

He's a saver:  he's downright *rich* compared to his spend-quick sister.  And these two do compare themselves to each other a lot….  and it's usually neither good nor helpful (but I just did it too!)   Last fall he told me he was saving his not quite $1 allowance (which is not quite weekly) to buy a gift for his grandma and grandpa who were coming…. but nothing struck him as worthy and it's still all being saved.  

He's got a crazy memory…  often recalling events and people we visited years ago and easily memorizing catechism questions and Bible verses (we love the fighter verse app on iPad!).   He loves memorizing a new song to play on the piano so he doesn't have to look at his hands.  (And then he's tried to play a few songs with his eyes closed, just to get another step up.)

For now, I think he's our pickiest eater.  This crazy boy barely likes dairy… unless it's the sweet and iced kind.  Yogurt and sometimes cheese makes him leave the table, if the smell catches him wrong.  But he'll consume two man size portions of 宫保鸡丁 (his favorite dish of chicken and veggies and peanuts stir fried over rice.)

He loves to be with his dad, helping repair toys or bikes, or doing anything just to be along side his dad.  But this boy loves his grandma and grandpa fiercely too.  And I know I don't rate too shabby either.  He's a tender boy to love so deeply…. even though sometimes he doesn't show his love very easily.  For example, most nights John, on the bottom bunk, begs me to lay down with him for a few minutes before sleep time.   Isaiah almost never asks me (except for a back scratch).  But when I ask him if I can cuddle him for a minute he's almost always an instant, eager YES.  (And I know he loves his siblings too but man! can our oldest two, and all of them really, ever bicker-battle for hours!)(#motherhoodisakillerrefiningfire)

Isaiah has a pretty high desire for inclusion- especially with his siblings.  He can feel hurt pretty quickly and easily if someone wants time alone…. but he also really needs his own space too sometimes.   Few things annoy him more than someone hovering over him while he draws or writes or reads.    

As for loyal friend, he's just good at being there for his friends, noticing who needs a friend, cheering others up.   Sometimes he'll even be the funny one who makes everyone laugh, and everyone in our family notices well and laughs hard when he's in that kind of goofball mood.  But more often, he's the guy enjoying the sillier ones' humor….. and I couldn't enjoy anything more than being with my silly laughing crew all smiling wide and laughing loud together.

And at the end of a long day, Isaiah's usually the first to fall asleep in the kid dorm (only one more month of all four in the same room!  I know I'll miss it, but I'm excited for what's new too.) In the morning, he's usually the first to find me in the back room, rubbing his eyes, to come give me a fantastic morning cuddle hug.  I couldn't be more grateful to the Lord to get to start my days hugging this boy.   

John Timothy

John Timothy.  Third in line of a variety of spotlight seekers…. this guy likes to slip into the background and light things up back stage with his sweetness, joy, and humble hilarity.    It's true, a lot of people notice John's endearing silliness, easy to enjoy personality.  

He's usually pretty chivalrous too but every now and then he takes a crooked big brother pleasure in making Vivi scream and seeing her try to hit him or chase him down.  She never wins and he loves it.    

Down deeper, he has a heart of fierce compassion for the broken and hurting.  When we were in Hong Kong, his heart crashed for beggars we saw.  Their pain was too painful for him.  We walked by one place a twice, seeing horribly scarred, broken bodies, poor people begging both times.  The third time we walked that way, John decided he would not go there again.  It was too sad, to hard for him to see.   One man in particular, had been burned more grievously than I could ever describe.  I am praying, believing that the Lord will grow this child's heart of sadness for pain into a man's heart of action, moving him with faith and love and compassion for the sake of the lost, the poor, the broken.  

Oct 2013
John likes a good compliment.  If I make a tasty meal it's never "nice" or "good,"  it's "the best meal ever!"  And when I made Yellow Chicken (adapted from this post) for the first time this summer, he said that line and asked if I would make it for him "a hundred times."  (You betcha.)   For the restaurant across the street from our complex?  John improved the name so that it's "Bai Xing Awesome Chufang."  

He's pretty into superlatives too, especially about God.  "God has the biggest sandbox ever" (ever, usually spoken like a native Bostonian) and "God can lift up the tallest building ever." and "God knows everyone's hairs... like maybe if there's seven or ten or something."  

This too…  In an effort to seal the deal and swing the vote on the crunchy vs. creamy battle between the boys and Marian, he just told his little sister  "Vivi, even God likes crunchy peanut butter.  You should too!"

Once, I thought that what our son was choosing was a bit odd and surprising.   He asked if he could do my hair.   "Alright"…  but as soon as I sat down in front of the couch I imagined that Matt wouldn't be so excited that I let our son play hair stylist.  Then, pretty quick into my hair styling session, John divided my hair into two camps:  Pharaoh's army and the Israelites.  There was even a battle between the two fists of hair.  I knew then that Daddy would let the hairstyling slide this time...

And kisses…. watch out for these kisses.  Actually, never mind.  I think I'm the only person on the planet who gets them.  But my, oh my.  He's a slobbery kisser.  He'll reach for my neck, pull my face close, kissy lips ready and puckered with goo to leave his mark on my cheek.  I wipe it all clean, but I do absolutely love it.  Just love this boy

He just loves some favorite clothes….  There's the pair of camo shorts passed down from Isaiah that he's loved so well the bottom is mostly shredded.  He wears them every day he can find them (when they're not in the wash) with his Mr. Met shirt, so he calls them "my Mr. Met shorts."  He's not allowed to wear them out of the house, or if there's anyone else at our house.   And I'm pretty stoked we're moving soon so they can get tucked away for safe-keeping since we'll be landing to much cooler weather indoors and out!

John's not too terribly interested in letters.   Several of his close peers are reading now but on the grand scale, he's not behind at all.  He'll be five this summer.  He's bilingual.  And he's still not totally solid on his letters and sounds.  He's usually pretty ok with it, except that he knows Vivi's coming close, if not surpassing him in phonics, and I think that spurs him on….  But tonight, as I finished reading aloud, he told me that he was writing a book.  He finished chapter one and titled it with the name of his favorite chapter from Little House on the Prairie, "Scream in the night" (about a panther screaming outside.)  We read that book a few months ago but that favorite chapter stayed with him.  So he's loyal too...

And affectionate.  But five love languages really doesn't cut it for us Ks.  One of John's love languages is definitely Punching.  As soon as Matt sits down at the table, if John is in his seat, Matt can be sure of a swift thump on his left arm.  Pure affection and admiration from little boy to dad.   Father and son both light up with joy for that punch love.  

And they share a joy in sports too.  John is naturally quite athletic…. easiest to learn to bike ride, fast runner, tough batter.  And when, at basketball practice recently, a coach explained that the littlest kids wouldn't be held accountable for no traveling, John grabbed a ball and ran the whole length of the court.  Goofball.   

There was a time one afternoon recently when he laid down to rest and he asked me for his "special blanket" and I went and found it for him.  Then he asked for another blanket.  When I told him he could go and get it for himself, he lost his manners.  (John has a bit of a problem with fussing right now… we're working on it and we're seeing very (very) little improvement yet... but we really are working on it and one day he'll move past this, right!???)  John started in with his classic fuss:  "I don't want to go and get it.  I hate getting things by myself."  I asked him to be quiet and then I had to mention that there would be consequences if he continued fussing.  That's when he expressed himself most clearly:  "I don't like consequences.  I don't ever want consequences."    At that point, there were certainly enough words from my end to explain to him what's what about consequences…. but I'm pretty positive all he heard was "…let's cuddle once you calm down."

And that's all the stories I can think to share of our little big boy, the wonderful treasure of a son, John Timothy K.    We praise the Lord for you, John Love.