Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Tremendous Privilege... Piano!

A few years ago we bought an electric piano with a cash gift from my dad.  He wanted us to have something in our home to remember him by and what could be better than music?  I remember marveling for many weeks that two just-plain music lover parents (definitely not pianists ourselves!)  could have this privilege in our home and could give it to our children.

Isaiah and Marian both started with lessons from a nice lady, but when we moved from that city, there was no finding a new teacher... at least not an affordable one!  Our kids have studied with Piano Marvel for over two years now and I'm amazed at the progress they've made:  just my kids, our electric piano, and our last-leg laptop that runs Piano Marvel for them....

To be sure, one kiddo has taken to Piano Marvel better than the other.  Personalities and strengths and interests differ.... but both of our big kids are plugging away at daily practice on lessons and songs they get to choose that they are guided to learn by Piano Marvel videos and note by note help.  (And can I just say, I love the songs that Piano Marvel makes available for my kids!)

Piano Marvel connects your piano or electric piano to a computer (see their site for details) and the program draws kids in with a bit of game-like appeal....  every note they play is scored.  Their sight-reading skills are challenged and precise progress is marked.  They can earn trophies and...

My kids... your kids!... can make music on the piano.  

It still completely amazes me that my kids are simply using this software program daily and they are developing real skill as budding musicians.  I'd post a video for you to hear it yourself but so far our star player is being super shy with his talent.  At this point, I'm ok with that.....  But I will admit I hope he'll let me share his music with you soon.

So friends,  you can check out the beauty right here:  and please remember to enter my promo code for a discounted rate for you and some distributor income for me.  Thank you!!!   

Referral/ Distributor Code:    Jill

Friday, September 29, 2017

It's not beyond God....

The past ten days or so have been a hard season of grief.  In our own lives, the Lord has done some hard heart work in us, and around the world about that many days ago, our very dear brother in Christ died.

Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, was only 34 years old when he finished his battle with stomach cancer and finished the race of faith and met his Savior and heard the words "well done, my good and faithful servant."   We've grieved this precious brother oh so hard.  (We never met him or knew him personally, only from reading his books and hearing some videos of him.)  We have been and will continue to pray for his beautiful wife and daughter and for all who came to Christ or who have considered Christ because of the testimony and teaching of this man.

Nabeel's wife, Michelle Qureshi, just posted a video (Vlog #44, A More Glorious End) where she processes the death of her dearly loved husband Nabeel.

She shares... "It's not that God didn't listen to Jesus (to His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane), it's that His bigger plan was to make Jesus' torturous death on the cross the most beautiful turning point in history.  Because He died we live.  Death is even a redeemable thing.  It's not beyond God to redeem.  It's not beyond God to use death for His greater purposes of glorifying Himself and showing His love to the world He created."  

and then.... "I am fully convinced that God will use his death to a more glorious end than we would have seen if Nabeel were still alive.  Nothing has changed about God's character.  He's still sovereign, good and trustworthy.  The whole reason we exist is to bring Him glory.  And when we do so we are stepping into the best life we can possibly imagine.  We just need to ask for the ability to set our minds on things above, not on things that are on the earth."

Words fail us to think of this loss, this grief.....
and also,
words are far too small, far too few, to express the hope and certainty
of Nabeel's eternal joy
Right. Now.

We pray...
Oh God whose ways are far beyond ours, draw us to trust in Your goodness 
and sovereign care and plan.  
Humble us before you 
and redeem this great loss for your glory.   
Redeem this death for your greater glory God.  
And provide for this beautiful wife and daughter...
Our eyes are on you.  
Help us to trust You alone.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Need a shot of joy?

Ever feel like you'd pay just about anything to be able to pull up at a drive thru, make your order and pay your bill and drive away with a fresh top-off of joy?  Like a shot of espresso, but better... a shot of joy?  Or sometimes I feel like I'd even take a needle to the arm if I could get something better than B12 in me.

Well, here you go.

I dare you to try to watch these... just try to sing along...  watch their goofy silliness and listen to the sermons of truth in these happy tunes and try to miss the joy.

Bet you can't do it.  And I know... you don't want to.  I sure want to reap the full harvest of beauty and soul joy and dancing with my kiddos over all this....

I hope you can fill up your souls on the supreme joy, this bold evidence of the grace of God right here.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Of Grace and Grief and Gratefulness...

I've struggled quite a bit recently with keeping my heart and eyes down on the page here.... keeping my hand on the plow right in front of me, rather than letting my eyes drift to a dream, a fiction future that has no roots in reality.   I wonder how long the Father will keep us here, use us here?  When can we live nearer to family, know the great grands and grandparents and cousins and all better?  When will our kids get to go to a school?  When might our family be able to find a grassy field and run and play together?  When can we buy groceries that we enjoy, pull into the driveway and offload them right into the kitchen?  When can I find any book I need at the library?  When a church? When a home with a yard? When a dog?  When could we call all that our very own?

There's been a bit of a new kind of grieving, a new season of dying to self, for me lately.   I've never had such grown up kids to imagine futures for before... and now that I do, seeing their future here kinda scares me.  Lord, give me faith.  Help me to die to myself and lean hard into You for this.  

For most of the eleven years we've been in China, we've felt like China is home.  We're used to things here... the kids' bunk beds and their own pillows, their favorite toys and books.  We do life here well... at least we're used to living in the rut we've dug for ourselves and it works.  (Though I'm still illiterate!!)

And this is actually a great grace....  What a gift to not be able to call America or our human rights or culture comforts "mine."  Because even for Americans, none of it is promised you or due you or actually, fully yours.  Its a tender help that living here enforces this view of how alien we really are.... It's true:  We don't belong here.  Nothing in this world is Ours.  This is a sweet grace that I pray our kids won't miss being shaped by.

May they, may we, always know that we were made to be pilgrims in this world, made for an unfallen world with our King and Maker as The Glorious Light and Center.  We were made to be in the world and not of it, to be radically serving, radically loving, poured out offerings, exuberant evidence of JOY Himself, undistracted and unhindered- not storing up junk for ourselves here....  May they, may we, be heaven-smitten, cross-captured, simple sheep, delighters in this God of Majesty that made us for Himself, well worn as His image bearers bringing His kingdom down.

a similar scene, taken a few years ago in the south of our province

Two weeks ago, as I was walking home from the veggie shop, I stared into the face of a little beauty whose eyes were right level with mine.  I walked not too far behind her daddy and she stared at me right over his shoulder.   I was a little shocked to think of how deeply I'd miss her, miss all this one day, whenever we might not be here anymore.  

I'd have to find a way to bring it with me.  To capture it and capsulate something of the beauty-wonder-pain-sorrow-joy mix that it is for us to live here....

How could I ever contain in any way what it means that we live here now?  There's no amount of photography or video that could tuck these relationships,  these 360 degrees and depths of sights and smells, these expectations and assumptions of what's so everyday regular here, these experiences into any others in the world....   The six of us, who see it together, who process it and are growing up in our own K ways on this side of the earth while it wildly spins...This is ours, in a way.  (Just like every family gets to say.)  This mess of what we love and what we'd love to leave... this is our home, our place, the city we share with this precious mix of neighbors that will never fully understand, but brokenly fully love, and one day may never be with again anywhere in history, except before the Throne.

As I watched that little girl, I was pierced with grief, grief that was somehow all smothered in gratitude, for the life that the Father has given us in this great city.  Oh may You take our frailty and weakness and every crack in the pots that we are in your hands, and shine through us, Father.  Shine through us, your grace.

Thank You, that giving thanks for this land has been such a healing for my heart in this way, Lord.   Help me to live here, now...   slow and worshipful, rich in relationships, serving with joy.


So this has become a new hope for me.  I'm dreaming of and drafting up a few more posts that I want to link together under the label "U-Town".  I hope it will give you insight and joy and fuel prayers for the city and people we love and I hope and trust it will fortify my own heart too....

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Damsel and the Villain

Oh so good....  The Damsel and the Villain .  Hope you can take seven minutes to enjoy a bit of cool jazz and this modern poetry retelling of the True and unbeatable Story.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

slowing down... {and some photography links}

Years ago I wrote about how nutty I am about getting a new page of artsy words, words to focus me, posted on our fridge.  I think I've made and remade a new schedule page for my days every twelve months or so for most of my mothering years.  It's silly that such a simple thing should be so re-creative for me... but it is.

I love Psalm 16:6 on one page:  These "lines {between days} have fallen for me in pleasant places."  Indeed I have a Soveriegn Father who loves me... and I can trust Him with my days, for all He allows to fall into those spaces.

This spring, when we returned from the states- a season I felt I could never schedule well- I wrote up a new weekly plan with a banner over the top:  Slow & Worshipful .

It's become the life mission statement (the kind that suits me.... more descriptive than measureable) that I've waited for for a few years now:  I long to live slow and worshipful, rich in relationships, serving with joy.   Yes, Lord.  Please make it so in me...

When I think of living worshipfully, I think of prayer and the Word.  And also of creation and creativity, beauty in song, in word, in moments lived lavishly, sacrificial generosity, delighting in seasons and places, choosing thankfulness, choosing joy, kindness and time to look long into strangers's eyes and her their story and to love on all the good folks I know well.  This is all worship... living well for my King.

And I don't know a way to it, but that it must be a slow approach.  I can't rush and race into a worshipful frame of heart or mind.  I can't show up and try to check it off the list.  I need to come ready to linger, be amazed, wonder deep, savor the magnificence.

* * *

This summer I've finally taken up photography.  I've been drawn to it and played at it for decades but I've never moved beyond Auto mode (or Aperature).  And it's time... just, time.  I want to develop it as a skill to serve people, to bless people.  (Hopefully I can get it together to go out on our streets and take some family portraits of neighbors?)  I want to develop it as an art to offer in worship.

And I think the thing that I'm struck by most of all as I consider what's hindered me so long in photography is that my hangup here has kind of been a major hinderance for me in a lot of areas of life.  It goes right back to SLOW.

I've always excused myself from thoughtful slowness, careful choosiness in photography because life happens so fast, the kids are racing by me, the moment will be gone.   I'd better just snap it quick.

But the photos look quick.  Fast and unplanned and unsavored.  Just like the life of hurried rushing, scattery, panic-paced, maybe unkind, frenzied action.  I so want out.

Both learning how to capture these moments and taking the time to put the learning to practice each and every time I set out... it's all slow work.

And I pray, just like a harvest growing in a field, that this work and all my life may bear fruit in season... a life lived slow and worshipful, rich in relationships, serving with joy..... and I hope it will be memorable with frames of the beauty I've enjoyed and witnessed along the way.

Ebenezer Stones...

* * *

There are too crazy many photographers online to even make sense of them.  Most of all that I've seen I've loved (unless their photos are over edited or stiffly posed) but there are two worth giving my humblest K Family Honors to....

Mary Anne Morgan:  This gifted, beautiful woman has mentored me (and I'm sure many others!) through her blog and has even chatted at email with me for a few photo tips.  I love what she captures and her heart to write it all up as a gift to return to her Father with praise.   So much beauty at her site...

Anthony Carbajal:   This man is astounding.  His talent is breathtaking and his story is heart-wrenching and wildly inspiring.  I've been so impressed by this young street photographer as he shares his photos and his life story of fighting ALS, the terrible disease that is slowly paralyzing him, and even mentions of his cute wife that loves him so well.  I'm praying for you, Anthony!  Go on capturing all the life, the joy, the sorrow you see... and thank you for sharing your heart.  Your art work is profound and your life is immeasurably valuable.

From the twenty-some photography tutorials I've watched and read... here are my favorite ones that have helped me the most.

I just like these guys: Mango Street Labs.  Some very helpful helps here and such creative talent!  Much that I haven't heard elsewhere (ie.  If you have to crop some of a person out of your frame, don't crop at the joints- it's just not going to be nice.  And about angles and S-curves in the storytelling aspect of your compositions.)

... And then these write-ups, all from

Creative Exposure- A Beginner's Guide

What Are Exposure Stops?

Low Light Tips

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Adventures {the boys' bike trip}

In May, Matt and I began thinking over what fun we could plan for this summer.  For me, this weighed in kinda heavy with the voices of two wise women who had spoken with a bit of friendly-motherly love to me while we were in the states a few months ago:  "You really need to find a way, a place, to rest your souls there... and enjoy China."

I know well that I run the risk of sounding super complainy and totally unspiritual, but I'll just shoot straight with you:  China is very hard for me to enjoy a lot of times, and I don't know if I've ever felt refreshed, rested after any "time off" here.   We're here for the people but sometimes we get worn out and need a little pause to the action, the translation, the continual adjusting of perspectives. We enjoy sitting across a table for good conversation and knowing and sharing hearts with friends here.  But we don't enjoy being a public spectacle simply for being foreign, my heart sinks for every pile of trash, and my nose scrunches and my skin crawls anytime anyone (especially us girlies) in the family has to use a public bathroom.

But our kids are getting bigger and this seemed like a summer worthy of adventure.  Little did we know our dear friends who are especially drawn to a mountain minority group would plan a bike trip to be among those people... in this spectacular scenery.

the ancient mountain fort of Tashkorgan

Sadly, the biking was too heavy duty and the "ride in the van alongside the cyclers" option was of no interest to our girls, especially Marian, who was confident she'd be car sick the entire week.  

It felt really unfun and totally undesirable to go separate ways for a boys week of adventure a short flight to the south and a girls week a day's train-ride east... but that's what we did. 

The beauty on the bike is one of my best friends here... love this lady and love her love (His love) for the precious Tajik people.

Studly boys.... Isaiah is so grateful to have such a tight group of young men to be with in our city.  

And these two.... I get teary even thinking what to write about my husband.  He's too great a gift to me- generous with encouragement and affection and he serves us so kindly.  And this John Timothy?  What a joy....  he's super committed to his buddy Noah J (who just broke his leg rollerblading!  So glad he made it through the bike trip before he got couch duty for the rest of the summer!)

God's promise.  My treasures.

Our kids' former Chinese tutor, friend to many of the friends on this trip, went along for this journey too.  And I think it was while everyone was gathered for devotions one evening that she came running in, announcing "彩虹, 彩虹!!!"  My boys didn't even know the whole story, but I heard from others: she had decided after earlier rains she'd love to see a rainbow and she prayed for exactly that.  And when it came- doubly so, in radiant brilliance- she just about came undone and spilled over with the joy of this evidence of God's promise... and answer to prayer!

I can't hold off any longer to tell you how blown-away grateful I am for the friend who shared his talent with us in these photos.  Josh, of, is over-the-top in his collection and quality of talents.  Matt really loved connecting with him on this trip and I am crazy thankful to get to appreciate and keep in our family record all the beauty he so fantastically captured of their time.  

Josh has a drone... and our John is pretty starry-eyed over that flyer, just like I am over these photos!

The photo above and below are from another friend who I think snapped these on an iPhone!  The bikers were so excited to "stumble upon" a game of ___  (I forgot the local name but they call it "goat" in English, which is not a very accurate translation- just descriptive of the game.)  These two teams of horsemen are all after the goat carcass, and whoever gets it to their team's goal first wins.   

the Central Asian version of polo (upping the tough-guy-ness, minus the country club)

The first and last day of the trip they were in the biggest city in these parts.... the cultural capital of the people group we love.  Such a great place, such great people!!

We are so glad our boys could have such a great experience, with their dad and their dearest friends, seeing the richness and depth of beauty in this precious people.  May you plant deep in them, Father, a compassion and perseverance like your Son when he came so far to reach us.  And please stoke into flame in their hearts affection for you and ambition to serve the least reached and the most needy.  

And.. here's a video of their trip that Josh also put together.

The Girls' Adventure...

With our boys heading off for a week of cycling, we jumped on a (new) speed train headed for a city with a few girls we know who speak English.  Our girls have been hurting for more fellowship lately...  there are two girls in our town that they dearly love but sometimes two feels terribly few.  We went on a girl hunt, of sorts, and found several great girls for our girls to make some fun memories with.  

This is "Kanbula Forest".... except that there's no forest to it.  Still, it was beautiful.

So fun that they each had a friend come along for this day!  Marian (our most extroverted) told me "This whole trip got a lot better when Aria came along!"  And Vivi was pretty delighted to get to play with the ever-so-silly Keeva E..  And a treat for me too... Ryan (Keeva's daddy) drove and I got to talk long with his adorable wife who I just love, who gave birth just two weeks after our forest drive to the bundle she was carrying...  Welcome sweet Abel! 

winding through Kanbula

The Yellow River with it's rugged beauty cliffs in the distance...
and the mud pit - "quicksand" - they made with all their sloshy jumping!

After two days in town with friends, the girls and I headed out to the mountains for two nights, just the three of us.  They were brave but I think that all of us felt pretty lonely.  Still, it was a really sweet place we got to stay.  (Tibetan prayer flags kinda covered this area.)

They indulged me in a little posey posing... but my photo skills at this time, and still, have not yet appeared!  Where are you Manual Mode Magic abilities?  I'm taking a cheap online class and I'm really trying but I'm having such a hard time getting photos crisply focused!  Still... these girls are pretty cute even with a little fuzz, right?   And if you noticed Vivi's pajamas... she didn't take them off for three days.  Somehow warm clothes for our little girl never made it into the luggage, but pajamas worked.  Perfectly acceptable outer wear....  (and I'm not joking in the least!)

I know this might just sound ridiculous, but it's so very true.  Our normal, outside lives are pretty surrounded with plastic and trash.  This mountain retreat place felt so good to be able to fill up my eyes with natural materials- wood, brick, stone, even thatched roofs- and even with moss growing delicately.  This was one of my favorite things from our time there.  

Here's our little mountain town...  What a name, eh!?

Hello Mr. Yak!

more poor photography... but still sweet girlies.  

When this camel stood up, the girls faces went instantly from "how cool is this!?" to "too high, too wobbly, too scary... get us down!"

We loved our little room.  The girls called it our mountain cottage.

this patio was my favorite

Leaving this mountain town was when we stumbled into one of my favorite moments of our week.  We waited half an hour on the side of the road for the first of two buses we'd need to take toward the city.  When it finally came, I gathered luggage and let the girls hop on ahead of me.  Just as I stepped up to climb in, I heard the whole bus of about 40 people gasp and chuckle with delight.  I'm guessing there were at least a few Tibetan herdsmen on board who hadn't seen any little blondies before.  The whole bus seemed lit up with smiles as we squished our way to the back to find seats... where the girls put their feet up on bundles of mountain herbs and veggies being taken to market.

heading to the pool...

And for our last night away... (actually, our last-last night we slept on the train riding home, but our last stationary night away)...  we stayed in a downright fancy hotel.  It's plain crazy how sparkly this place was, and that we stayed there for the price of La Quinta by the Orlando airport... well, that's crazy too.  Such a treat to get to go swimming and eat a stupendous western breakfast!  And even better than the cushyness of all this, was that somehow our room came with four tickets to breakfast.  I pretty-pleased and the girls smiled big and they said we could invite two young ladies to join us as our "fourth ticket".  Such a gift to get these sweet sisters with us for the morning!

I hope so much that when our girls look back on the memories of this week they'll remember that the three of us can tough our way through hard things, we can trust God together and for each other, we can be content with instant noodles and we can be content with bacon and french toast, and we can step out- even lonely- and see the Father who is always with us, do great things in and through even us.   

Oh, girls, Love Him with all that you are.  There is none more worthy, more glorious, than our Savior!

And I love you too.  Love you so.  Thank you for this special week with you, my treasure girls.  
~ your mama

Monday, June 12, 2017

little bits of life...

I was given a beautiful new (to me) phone when we were in the states and it's taking some lovely photos but I'm not yet up on getting photos from the phone and from the camera all together on the blog....  so for now, here's just a little glimpse of life from a few scattered photos of the past few weeks.  

I love waking this girl up in the morning...

in the shadow of the mountain...  love how this girl is growing up!

This past weekend we had a real Baseball Tournament!  Shocking... to see all this come out of nothing...  About two months ago, two of the teams that played Saturday had not even begun to form, the boys probably hadn't heard of baseball before!  But now here they were, playing well and all observed by a guy who flew into our province to consider letting us host a much larger tournament next spring.  Looks like baseball is beginning to really get going!  So exciting!

(hello handsome umpire!)

This fine young man... he's growing up in strength in many evident ways and we are so. grateful. for. him.  

And this precious eight year old... can't believe he's so big or oh-so delightful.  His compassionate side and his humor and his care for others is such a blessing to see, to know, to get to love on.  John Timothy, we loved celebrating you this past weekend!  And it was a joy to see how you loved partying with your buddies and receiving such a generous gift box from Yeye and Nainai (and from us- his siblings were spectacularly generous to him too, which was another treat to see!)

Friday, June 2, 2017

New Mom, New Kid

I had heard of this book before and maybe I'd seen the cover.  I thought about it as a book for other people.  People who thought there'd be a quick fix or an easy formula to get parenting right- let them try it.  I knew better than that.

But in a very grey puddleslug season of mothering recently, a dear friend and mentor passed on this same title to me encouraging me to take a look.  Hearing it from her, I finally agreed and snatched up a kindle copy of How to Have a New Kid by Friday (by Dr. Kevin Leman.)

So... my humble pie?  The book is totally, especially, exactly for me.  It's a book that is positively about helping me be a stronger mom before I even think of focusing on getting any new kids from the deal.  You bet I want to see change in them, but I know I need change in me first.  Leman tells you in the book not to ruin the fun and tell your kids about the changes coming (when you start implementing the strategies in the book) but instead, just to make it a surprise for them.   No threats, no warnings, just consequences delivered on the spot.

At our house, I'm happy to tell them that I'm learning, I'm changing, I'm becoming a new mom who is aiming to do a much better job at helping my kids learn to obey, choose wisely, and work for excellence.  Seems only fair to give them just a tiny heads up that things, are, indeed changing around here....

I had heard that the book was about giving your kid real life consequences.  I thought I knew enough about that and that I was probably doing it about as good as could be done.  I was wrong.   This book is equipping me to change things pretty completely.

These have happened already....
Old:  "Hey kids, can you please pick up your roller blades and helmets at the front door?"
They'd "forget" and I'd steam a bit and holler louder and get testy and unfun and holler some more before the job would maybe, half-way get done, half an hour later...
New:  1- Give them the instruction one time (smiling firm with "I love you and I am your authority" certainty into their eyes (that's my little addition)) 2- turn your back, 3- walk away.  When I see half an hour later that they stepped over their rollerblades and went outside to play, I ask their brother to put it all away for them.  And add "and buddy, those two will be paying you from their allowance for this extra chore you're doing for them.  Good job."  And you know, he gets the job done well and they won't forget so easily again.

Old:  Rudeness and disrespect in classtime.   I used to lecture them about it- it never helped them one drip and it only heated me up with frustration and helped them not want to hear my words.
New:  "Hey loves, since you were unpleasant in classtime, I'm going to add extra classwork to make your afternoon less pleasant for you too.  Here's your extra math assignments.  I hope this will help you remember now that a kind and respectful attitude is absolutely expected of you in our family."

Old:  Bickering at the table.  For so long, I've felt like there's nothing that I could do for a bad attitude or for behavior like this.  I was wrong.
New:  "You two are excused from the breakfast table.  You'll have to sit in your room till you can speak to each other peacefully and solve this on your own."  And if plates have been removed from the table when they come out, a little extra hunger will help them remember to find a way to speak peaceably at the table next time.  (Dr. Leman makes a strong case for never doing things for your kids that they can do for themselves.  Peacemaking is a big one.  Their responsibility- more often than not- not my job to solve their squabbles for them.)

And... from the book Siblings Without Rivalry, a recent GEM that was loaned to me from across the country!, the authors say the same thing.... how parents can aim to guide kids to solving problems, making peace themselves without parents taking either side.  (I'll have to write more about this book soon too... it helps me so much to write to remember!)

This one hasn't happened yet, but I'm ready for it now...
Old:  Arguing in public or in the car.  Again, I would just lecture them about why they should stop and complain about how terrible it is to listen to them....
New:  Since parenting can be awfully inconvenient, strong parents need to be ready to be really inconvenienced for the sake of serving and training their kids well, the book reminds us.  I need to be ready to turn the car around and take them home hungry.   And not give in and fill their tummies with treats as soon as they show one tiny glimmer of repentance or some new kindness.  Hold your ground, mama.  "No dear, I'm really not going to take you to that friend's house even though you're speaking more kindly now.   I'm glad you're doing better but I need to see you choosing to keep yourself speaking respectfully.  We'll have to try again for next week."

Dr. Leman stresses, when giving consequences:  "B doesn't happen until A is done."  A is the consequence you give them..... and B is everything else that every child depends on their parents for....   money, driving privileges, phone access, time with friends and online....    I'm realizing that more up-front, real-world consequences over things that matter helps my kids see me for what I truly want to be for them:  the kind of mom that loves them fierce and true and will stand up and fight for them and dive in and get dirty helping them to learn character and skillful excellence. I want to be the kind of mom that will pour out my last comforts and conveniences for the sake of truly, really helping them grow up into maturity and honor.  Lecturing has never done the job.

Personally, I've felt handcuffed by fears of stepping outside what our culture (and this culture) insists is positive, polite parenting... Plus, I couldn't imagine a tolerable way to be a stronger HELP to our kids, rather than just telling them what I hoped they would do.  One of my dear friends joked on me for "hurling virtues" at our kids while I was cooking in the kitchen:  "Come one guys! Bravery!  Kindness!  You can do it!"  I think, in general, we are a generation of parents that doesn't know how to be strong for our kids,  to be a helpful, loving authority, training our children to get good things down.  I think our parental handcuffs and handicaps are plain as day when you look at kids in this generation.  And I'm glad there's some help and some hope to see things change for the better...

Friday, May 12, 2017

"Your promise still stands, Great is your faithfulness
I'm still in your hands...This is my confidence...
I've seen you move the mountains, and I believe I'll see you do it again
You made a way, where there was no way, and I believe I'll see you do it again"

Because there just might be a weeping mama around here who needs just that kind of supernatural confidence and faithful promise.... and this kind of fullness too:

Monday, May 8, 2017

Yes Lord, Make Us Women of the Word

Several of my dearest and bestest have mentioned to me this book recently:  Jen Wilkin's Women of the Word.   It's been raved about in my well-loved circles, it's Gospel Coalition approved, excellent in ambition, and beautiful in just about every way.   I read it last year and was super inspired and motivated by it.  Of course I want to be a woman who soaks in and is stained by this Word, whose blood pulses the Truth of it, whose Joy is sung loud from all the praise and promises of it.  I want to be a woman of the Word.

And I love Jen Wilkin's heart, her teaching in this book, her example in these pages and in the audio teaching and other resources she's made available.

But.... I think there is caution to be heeded in the trendiness of a even a very good thing like this.   We can make this method LAW.  We can make it a sign of godliness to have the outline, the hours of study, the commentary, the package deal ready to deliver.  We can make the Word be a thing that We Do, that's about Us Being Good, that marks us as being Super Good....

All this would not be what Wilkin aims to encourage in her book, but it can become the way we (or I- if I'm the only one?) regard it as a standard for ourselves.   It can be where our well-intending Christian culture takes it.

When we were waiting for our firstborn's arrival, a dozen people urged me to not be too hard on myself if I couldn't have daily devotions-  surely, motherhood is hard enough and if you don't get time in the Word, don't sweat it.  Only one voice spoke straight to me then:  "Don't miss your time in the Word no matter what.  You'll never have strength to make it as a mom if you try to go at it apart from His strength."  So true.

At least for me, if being a woman of the Word meant that I must consistently plan and strategize and study the Word methodically, I would fail miserably and maybe never crack it in the first place.  I would have been done in with my inability to even try to achieve such goals early in our parenting years when I had 4 kids 5 years old and under, continents and oceans away from family to help out.

And now I feel like I'm at the bottom of the ocean of homeschooling these four and I can't keep up with their lessons or mine or what's next or what else?  There's major burdens right outside our door right now, and plenty more in our own hearts (and hormones!  Ten and eleven years old - and the fall at every age- is TOUGH!).

I have to return to the command, "Delight yourself in the Lord."

To the promise "Blessed is the man (and woman) whose delight is in the Lord and who meditates on it day and night."

To the comfort "If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction."

To the example "My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!"

To the prayer, "Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will keep it to the end."

For me, the constant pace and path of life has got to be waking to the Word and working it into my soul.  Yes, yes!  There is a place and a need and a time to study deeply.  But if that's not your every day- as it isn't for me- then let us keep our hearts near still and filled with and fueled by the Word.

Let us...

Read....Revelation 1:3 says "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it..."

Wait... Interesting that Scripture (Isa 40:31) commands us to Wait on the Lord to be the ones that He renews with strength.  Oh to sit still before Him and rest our souls in Him, being thoughtful of His Word, considering His faithfulness and goodness and promises, remembering His love, enjoying His song that He sings over us....  This sounds like a good part to being a woman of the Word.

Meditate...  Keller's book on prayer has a life-changing chapter on meditating on scripture.  Oh to be a woman who meditates on the Word- who lives it and loves it and knows it in every fiber of her soul.

Memorize...  How fun to keep a "Treasure Box" of all the verses we've memorized in homeschool.  For too long we tried to memorize a new verse a week but I had no plan for reviewing past verses.  We've come to love a simple filing box system of reviewing new verses daily... and then once memorized, moving the verse card back to Even or Odds (so the card will be reviewed every other day) and once it's solid there, move it back to Weekly review) and then back to a the filing dividers for every number day of the month.  So each day you review the verse cards in daily, even or odd, and the number of the day of the month (and we do weekly review on Wednesday- if we hit the mark!)  It's become a joyful hobby for me to hopefully get our verses written out in my best handwriting, and to speak them aloud to myself, pray them aloud over our kids, call out for others to say them with me while I'm cooking, recite them in the car....  This is how we are loving the Word together, how we enjoy it, cherish it, treasure it...

Sing...  and oh yes, this!  How magnificent that our Father Creator God commands us to SING, to sing to Him, to sing the Truth of His Word...  This is the anchor my soul needs, the hope my eyes need to lift up to see, the medicine my heart needs to feed on for joy.    Singing aloud the Word makes women of the Word.

and LIVE...  "Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and truth."  (1 John 3:18)  Matthew 25:34-46 also warns us boldly not to forget that living out our love for the Lord means living with His heart for the people around us....  Lord, fuel us with Your Word, to love the world.

Let's not forget all the many ways we've been commanded and helped to delight ourselves in the Lord and in His Word.   There's more than just thick and thorough studying....

Make it true of us, Lord:  "My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word!"  Psalm 119:81 Make us women of Your Word!

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.