Chasing a dirty sock during Advent

This season we are blessed to live in this amazing parsonage that has a full basement with a laundry room. There is this thing that I do. I never want to make more than one trip downstairs to the laundry room. I try to gather ALL of the dirty laundry from eight people out of both hampers and carry it down. In theory this saves myself another trip down the stairs. I am sure you can picture what happens. It is a mound, and as I try to wrestle the overloaded basket through the house I drop a sock here, undies there, and maybe even a shirt or two. Our sweet dog, Ace, also knows that this happens. He loves him a dirty sock.

Today, as I was chasing him around and behind the couch to save the dirty sock before a hole was chewed through its center, I had to laugh. Why? Why do I try to overload myself thinking that this is the best way to get more done and save myself time and energy. It never does!

Thinking about how my life often resembles that overloaded basket of dirty laundry. I really try to stuff too much in, do too much, and then get frustrated when the inevitable happens. I drop the ball (or should I say sock?) and my efforts come to a lot less then my intentions.

It has been about 7 years since we have been in the States for Christmas. I have loved seeing all of the decorations, hearing the Christmas music in the stores as I shop, shopping for my kids, and having fun ingredients readily available to whip up some holiday treats. It has been so much fun – but as I get close to the 25th, I see how I am trying to load that laundry basket full of stuff and a few important things are getting dropped along the way. In Asia, I was so intentional about creating an atmosphere in our home to feel, contemplate, and experience advent. I am afraid it has been harder to do here in my beautiful comfortable parsonage.

I am hoping it is not too late. I want to do less. Simplify. Make these last important days of Advent stand on their own and do a work in our hearts. My prayers is that our family will remember the Advent readings, the candles, the space to be together and reflect on the true gift of Christmas. Surely, they won’t remember that I missed getting the perfect gift or that the meal wasn’t elaborate. I might disappoint some people around me, but I think my soul may be better for it. For a self-aware perfectionist and people pleaser this is hard work.

I want to take this one step further….I think that slowing down and making this season one of peace and contemplation is a gift I can give not just family but my neighbors as well. I imagine the hussle and bustle of the season is leaving many feeling empty – searching for more meaning. Let’s be the peaceful light to the culture around us that demands for more. Is it possible that by not keeping up with the Joneses I might be offering a different picture of Christmas?

I am still trying to decide how to do this. For now, every time I am considering making three types of cookies rather than one I am going to take a deep breath and whisper the name of Jesus. As I call on the name of Jesus for myself and for you, dear friends, I am praying….may our Christmas season be one of peace, hope, and quiet moments to reflect on the goodness of our Savior so that we make Him known.

Extraordinary looks like a styrofoam cup

I just had a birthday. I am smack dab in the middle. I really think that 44 is about as middle as you can get which is causing me to reflect on all that has come before, where I am now, and wonder. This contemplative mood (doesn’t that sound better than a mid-life crisis?) is being aided by my first-born touring universities. His search for what comes next took him to my old stomping grounds. Asbury University is where I learned so much about serving Jesus, where I gained the skills to live out my calling, and found my life-long partner in crime.

In those days I really believed that God would use me to change the world. Even now I can still hear the creak of my chapel seat and recall the challenge to follow our calling – to live out “extraordinary” for the sake of the world. I learned at Asbury that God could use ordinary people (maybe even someone like me). In my 20’s that was my goal. In my 30’s I might have mocked my naive 20 something self, but my dreams were similar – do great things for the Kingdom. I just started to wonder when the world changing might really happen.

Yesterday, I sat beside the hospital bed of one of my 6 children. Another spinal tap was needed to give him medicine that might make him stronger. At that moment, it simply was making him miserable. He asked me to walk with him to the procedure room, so I pulled on the sterile jumpsuit and walked the hall beside his bed. I didn’t have much to offer him. I got a styrofoam cup of ice water from the nurse’s station. Held his hand. Carried a book in my purse in case he felt up for reading.

This is not where I thought I would be at 40 something. When I talked about changing the world, I meant spreading the Good News to whole people groups. I thought about changing broken systems and advocating for families until no child was left behind.

But, I wonder if extraordinary looks like a styrofoam cup of water, an offered hand, a book, or a white jumpsuit. For all my dreams of following a calling, changing the world, and making a difference – maybe it all boils down to the ordinary daily things that I do for this one child. For that matter, maybe it is every ordinary thing that I choose to do with love on any regular old day.

God can use people like me to do extraordinary things that actually are quite ordinary.

On this birthday, I ate stollen bread and pondered the course of my life. I clearly see the ordinary way my life is turning out. The homeschool lessons, dishes washed, meals cooked, art projects I clean up after, errands run….the hands I hold, smiles I give out, music I turn on, tears I shed, and boundaries I hold in place. If i do these things with love, then they become the extraordinary moments that God can use to shape my heart and dare I say change my world.

I can not find a family for every orphan in Asia, but I am a mom to these 6. Some might mock this ordinary venture to love these dear ones well. I would imagine I would have done the same years ago. But somehow at this middle place, I can see more clearly that greatness comes out of ordinary small things.

Lord, help me embrace all of the small ordinary things that when lived from the context of your love can make an extraordinary difference.

On how God answers my prayers

I lost my keys. The only set of van keys that we have. They are in this house somewhere and for a week I have been tearing things apart knowing that they SHOULD turn up somewhere. But, they haven’t. So do you know what that means? I have to pay to have our van towed from my own garage to the dealer. Then, I will have the pleasure of paying another (painful to me amount) to have a new key made. ARGH!

I have really been hoping to not add to my blonde story folder – “The time I lost my own keys in my own house.” I try hard not to play the role of absent minded mother of many children. But let’s face it, I have times when I am busy with six children, a puppy and getting in the door to make lunch. So, the fact is one minute my keys are in my hand — and the next minute I have laid them down somewhere.

One child, to remain nameless (our youngest), told me he found the keys in a hidden treasure spot and reburried them for me at the top of a ladder. I haven’t found that treasure yet, but I have been praying I would find it.

Lord, help me find my keys.

You can’t imagine how many times I have prayed that prayer this week. So many times it can feel like God isn’t listening. Why can’t he help a frazzled mother out? I just need him to point me in the direction of the keys.

All joking aside, I have at times wondered if my prayers go unanswered, not just about keys, but about larger things too – results of medical tests, guidance for how to parent, a glimpse into the future so that we know what decision to make, and last but not least a mended relationship.

Yesterday, we got an envelope that included a very encouraging letter and three checks. We were blown away by the care and generosity of a tiny church that gives big and calls us theirs. As I marveled at the gift I had in my hand, I realized that it covered a couple of expenses we were facing — including a new van key.

So many times it can feel like God isn’t listening, but really He is just answering my prayers in a way that I never expected — and even in a way that I don’t want.

I don’t want to have the humbling experience of towing my van and getting a new key made. I want the easy way out. But I can tell you one thing, God has provided again. He has made sure that we have what we need.

Today, I am thanking God for answering my prayers — for hearing me and providing. I also am digging deep in my soul with the reminder that God doesn’t always do what I want him to do. He is sovereign; I am not. He knows what I need. He gives good gifts, even if at first I feel disappointed because my desires (and dare I say my expectations) are not in line with HIS heart. I so want my heart to line up with his. Sigh.

Lord, help my unbelief. Remind me that you are always faithful and you answer prayer…..even prayers about lost keys. Thank you that you are good, and help me to see your good answers even when it is hard.

Worth it?

The Great Wall. If you have never been there, I am not sure you can imagine the steep terrain and the amount of steps. So many steps. Oddly spaced crumbling rock steps. Each step is worth the effort when you take in the view of the wall winding through the hills as far as you can see.

Visiting the Great Wall was the way our family decided to say goodbye to this season in Asia. After saying good-bye to the city that we had called home for more than 10 years, it seemed fitting that we would say goodbye to China at the Great Wall, one of our favorite spots.

B had never been there before. He was so very excited by our plans. It was a bit intimidating to envision the steep wall and yet to make a plan for our son, B, who is in a wheelchair. We called a travel agent for help, booked tickets to the most accessible part of the wall, and had two sweet friends helping. But still. Wowzers. It took a lot of effort to get our 100 pound teenager who isn’t able to walk on top of that wall.

Oh, the spectacle we created – huffing and puffing as we pushed a wheelchair up the cobblestone street that winds up and around towards the wall. We took turns carrying B on our back. We threw the wheelchair into a cable car while panicking at the thought of throwing our son into a cable car. He bumped up steps. We hung on for dear life as we rolled his chair down one steep incline to face an upward slant moments later. It was exhausting and hard.

I do this thing with our family when I am trying to convince myself that something is going well or is fun – I clench my jaw and smile and say stupid things in a sing song voice like – “peace, joy, and happiness.” The kids love it! (Which really means they think I am crazy as I talk to myself!) If I am being brutally honest, this game I play is really about the cost benefit in my mind.

Our trip to the Great Wall – totally worth all of the effort. You should have seen B’s face as he sat on that wall taking in the history of his heritage. Priceless. It is the kind of moment you look at and think – I would have paid anything for this. I would have put in even more effort to see the look on his face again. When my back was killing me for three days after the trip, I smiled. Worth it. When we handed over the fee to the tour guide, we shrugged and probably would have paid three times the amount. When the benefit is big, hard things seem so much….well, easier.

But there are moments in life when my cost benefit analysis falls short. I am sure you have had those seasons of life too. So much hard for little benefit. And we might add, from a human perspective some hard seasons seem to have no benefit. What do you do when you are climbing up all of those stairs hoping to see the Great Wall, but you never get to the top? You know what I am talking about? You invest in the relationship never to see it renewed. You pray for the wayward child – for years – and they haven’t come home. You fight the disease never to hear the word remission. A loved one dies. A job is lost. It all feels too hard. You are struggling to keep moving forward and your heart is sick with hope.

We personally are in a season that feels really hard. We hit the pause button on our lives in Asia to return to the states so that we could seek better medical treatment for B. We miss our work and home in Asia, we are fighting insurance and not getting clear answers from doctors….I feel like I am pushing a wheelchair up a steep mountain. There are days that I am tempted to give up and say that this isn’t worth it….and if I do my cost analysis half way through the journey, I probably would be right. All of this hard isn’t worth going half way.

When I saw B at the top of the Great Wall – that is when I was willing to have paid more, pushed harder. That short day trip helps me gain perspective. There will be a day when everything is made right. When everything is made whole and all of my tears will be dry. That will be the top of the mountain with a view of God’s throne that I can’t even imagine. I am positive when I reach glory I will think that it was all worth it and I will have a grin on my face that will say it all.

Until that day? Friend, we all have our own seasons of hard. Let’s encouarge each other to persevere keeping our eyes towards heaven.

Looking backwards

I hope you don’t mind indulging me as I back post. The last couple of months have been crazy with so many decisions, travel, and transitions that I sometimes forget what time zone we are in. That being said, it was hard to keep the blog updated. But, we have had a couple of significant moments in our family that I would love to share with you – albeit late.

Part of our transition from China included several weeks in Thailand for training, debriefing, rest and medical care. It was a much needed time that helped all of us. The reality of a season in the States began to sink in, we grieved leaving our Asian home, we rested and sought soul renewal after making so many large decisions and most importantly had some fun as a family.

A few of our highlights from our time in Thailand included fun, healing and faith.

As an early birthday gift Little Monkey and I spent a day, just the two of us, learning how to cook Thai food. When you have 6 kids, finding fun special things to do with them individually can be a challenge. I was so thankful to have the chance to make memories with my girl.

B learned to swim on his own!! We ditched his normal daily physical therapy for time in the pool everyday. I was amazed to see how the excerise in the water relieved his joint stiffness and increased his mobility, but the most fun part….once he was in the water, he was like all the other kids. He could move where he wanted to go and play the way he wanted to play. ON HIS OWN. Pretty huge deal for a kiddo who always needs to be pushed around in a wheelchair.

Above all, the day I will treasure most from our time in Thailand, was the afternoon Soccer Dude and Roo were baptized. After a season of studying the Old Testament in our homeschooling curriculum they were challenged to publicly declare their faith. (Homeschool win!) They chose to do that with the community of expats that meet up with us yearly in Thailand – their Asian family.

I was overwhelmed as Hubby read the age old litergy for our teenagers. I thought my heart would burst with joy as I thanked God for all that he has done for us in our salvation. What a treasure to share that gift with our children. Our friends gathered around them and prayed blessings over them and called them onward in their faith. It was so very special.

We have had the opportunity to visit Thailand many times during our ministry in Asia. I love, love the ocean. There is something about standing on the edge of the crashing mass of water that speaks to my soul. I am treasureing the memories from Thailand, holding on tight to them during this season of transition.

I ain’t gonna lie. This transition has been a hard one. We hated to leave our home in Asia. I hated to face the medical stuff that I knew was in our future. I hate finding my footing in a new place and season. It is hard work. One way I anchor myself through seasons like this (and we have faced them several times) is to dig deep in areas of faith, health and fun. I think it is so simple that I actually have fought it during past transitions.

So, this morning I am walking down memory lane. Remembering how space to encounter God in new ways, remembering faith decisions like baptism, exercise in a pool, and intentional fun with my kiddos ground me. What can that look like (practically) here and now in Michigan? I have been thinking about that a lot as I unpack suitcases and settle in. Our time in Thailand to unplug and seek God was such a gift that renewed my soul – I need that on a regular basis. There is something about extended time away with family and Jesus – you know? I need more than 30 minutes with my Bible in the mornings. But how? How can I get more when normal busy life is happening and chaos is the word that describes my life?

Thinking and praying a lot about silence, solitude, prayer, retreat, a healthy lifestyle, and good fun. I can let life take me along – or I can be intentional. I am learning that the simple choices make a big difference for our hearts. I wish I had a punch list of my goals toward soul health and how to achieve them. It just isn’t that simple for me.

I am taking it one thing at a time as God brings something to mind. Texted a college friend, who I love and admire deeply, to ask her to join me in a retreat weekend sometime in the near future. I have a couple of books picked out that I am planning on reading. I have carved out a “hiding place” in our new home where I can take time to pray. I am back into my exercise routine and we have re-established our Friday pizza, game and movie nights. Nothing super impressive. I am not going to set the world on fire as a result of these small moves – but I won’t get stuck. That is enough of a goal for now.

What choices do you make to keep your soul healthy?

We packed up our lives….again.

It really takes time for me to sit and count how many times I have packed up for a move over the past 20 years. God has taken us to Ohio, Peru, Michigan, China, Kentucky, Florida, back to Asia – and now we pack again.

Some of these moves were planned and hoped for. Some unexpected. Each of them have grown us in ways that amaze me as I look back on this journey God has taken us on as we seek to serve Him. That gives me faith as we step out again.

One of the things I have packed and unpacked, moving it across oceans and through all of these States – sage green towels. Towels that were given to Bryan and I as wedding gifts by Linda Mullins, a friend at Brice UMC. Funny what you remember. I actually laughed out loud as I looked in the hall closet of our apartment in Asia. I was trying to decide what would go in the suitcases that we would take with us to the States. Those towels have been trusted friends. I must admit they are a bit frayed on the edges now. They didn’t make the cut. It is time for new towels and time to embrace a new season.

B and Little Man both need some medical care that we were unable to get in our city in Asia, so we knew that God was steering us toward an extended time in the States to seek healing.

Bryan has accepted a position as a campus pastor in Michigan. The church is a little over an hour from my family and is a mile from a university. He is excited by this new opportunity and for the chance to love and lead folks in our new community. He also is excited to continue our connection in Asia through our sending organization. He has been asked to travel a couple times a year to help with leadership training and curriculum developement. Equipping the next generation of church leaders in regions of the world that don’t have the resources we do in the west is a constant passion. We are excited to see where both of these ministry opportunities will take us throught this next season.

For me – I kinda feel like that frayed towel. It has been a crazy few years (or maybe it is jetlag talking!) I am looking forward to some time to help our kids get healthy, homeschooling with some extra resources, launching our eldest to university (craziness!) and seeing where God leads from there. Keep posted. I am sure God has some fun things up his sleeve for all of us. We will have stories to share and we would love for you to continue to join us in the journey.

Intentional

A weekend away is just what the doctor ordered before the crazy hits. The countdown is on. We fly across the ocean in five days.

We have done this routine many times, but it still catches me off guard. Thinking through what a family will need until the next time we are in the States, packing, weighing, and repacking suitcases to exactly 50 lbs, checking lists, packing up the house we have been staying in the past five and a half months, saying goodbyes and squeezing in as much American food as possible before we leave – well, it is intense.

This time we intentionally started the work early and planned a weekend off before the final push towards being ready to go. Deep woods camping with no internet or cell coverage was such a great break. I needed the time to set aside my lists and focus on the kids. I can’t say that I was totally successful – it is a hard discipline for me to set aside a large job and be present. I tried.

Fishing and playing in a freezing cold river was the highlight of the weekend for some of the kids while others felt that the highlight was playing games and the campfire. Who doesn’t love gathering sticks and throwing them in the fire pit? We swam in a lake and watched the loons. We embraced life with a wheelchair and experimented with short hikes and enjoying nature as we drove trails.

I hate that while I was trying to focus on marshmallows on sticks my mind would wander to the suitcases waiting in our living room. For me, the struggle is real. I know I need rest. I know my family needs the break and the fun – but the story that rolls around in my head can have a desperate tune.

“If you don’t keep at it, then the job won’t get done. There isn’t time to rest. You are too busy for sabbath.” I am fighting hard against these lies. The truth is, I might not have everything wrapped up as cleanly because we went camping in the midst of our craziest week of the year. But play, rest and time to seek God in the midst of the storm is always worth it. That is the truth I am leaning into. I need to set things aside and seek God. I need a break from the demands of life. God created me for rest, fun and relationship.

My goal for the coming year – to be intentional about rest, fun and sabbath so that my relationship with Jesus will be fuller. The camping trip is just the beginning.

Next time I write will be from the other side of the world. I would appreciate your prayers as we prepare and travel, but more than that would, you pray for my soul as I lean into the discipline of sabbath? What have you found that helps you to seek Father in new ways? How do you practice sabbath in the midst of your crazy?