19 July 2014

Of Vacation Bible School

I wasn't going to help with VBS. I mean, I really wasn't going to. Because, while I love my own kids, working with little kids has never really been my thing. I didn't baby-sit much when I was younger, and when I did, well, let's just say I never had repeat customers. Once upon a time I thought I'd actually teach elementary school, but an experience as a camp counselor with a crying fourth-grader taught me I'd much rather deal with older kids - the ones who could understand and appreciate my sarcasm and bump their heads without being sent to the nurse.

So Vacation Bible School? No. Not for me.

As the signs were going up, I was getting my excuses ready. I'd just had a baby - I should stay home with her. I was looking forward to the time with my boys, while older sister was learning about Jesus. We'd go to the library, maybe even go to the movies. It was going to be nice. And it wasn't going to involve me wrangling a bunch of other peoples' kids.

But God has a funny way of talking us into things. And He was real subtle about it, too.

Because first, it was that our church was taking a mission trip to my in-laws' church to do - guess what - VBS. And I wasn't necessarily going to participate in that, but wouldn't it be nice to at least visit Gram and Grandy while our church was there? But then we could just ride with the church, right? But I guess if we're going to ride with the church we should actually help. Darn it.

And so we did. I actually taught crafts (ok, I assisted someone else who put a great deal of time and effort into planning and then teaching - I mostly just manned the hot glue gun, a task I hate, but it was a mission trip after all, it's all about expanding the comfort zone, even if that means burnt fingers and strings of glue) while my littles, led by Gram, made the rounds.

And it was so darn cute watching little two-year-old Joseph, proudly holding his Bible Story paper, huge grin on his face, as he went from one class to another. And hearing him sing the songs on the way home each evening? Be still my heart.

Then it hit me. My boys love this. I mean, they really enjoy VBS. And now they know what VBS is. So, darn it, if I'm taking their big sister to VBS at our church and we're dropping her off together, they'll know what they're missing. And a trip to the library isn't going to cut it.

I was in a quandary. Until someone suggested I volunteer. Because the children of volunteers, particularly those in Emmett's age bracket, would get to participate in VBS.

So for the sake of not hearing a tantrum every morning for a week, I sacrificed my excuses and signed myself up. But maybe I'd just help with snacks. Because if there's one thing I can do, it's feed people.

But God had other plans. I wasn't just working with the kids - I was going to work with the littlest ones - the ones who just graduated from Pre-K and Kindergarten - the ones most apt to cry and be incapable of standing in a line. But who would have guessed? By the middle of the week, I was actually having fun. I had the privilege of watching my big girl answer questions in Bible School and make new friends. I hugged and loved on little ones who weren't my own, but gave me the sweetest grins. I held little hands and supervised bathroom visits. And I wasn't really hating any of it.

And this morning? On the last day? God showed me the purpose of all of it.

My big little boy, the one I did all this for - just so he could go to Bible School - told me he wanted to take "a lot" of money to church, so I took his monster bank down from the shelf. I pulled out bills from past birthday money. The first I pulled out was a twenty, which seemed like maybe too much, so I dug around until I found a five. And I explained to him which was which. He had been completely satisfied with the 17 cents he'd taken earlier in the week and I'd wondered if he might change his mind, after all, and opt for the handful of coins that had come out, as well. He chose the twenty.

I wasn't sure he understood what he was doing, so, just to check, I asked, "Why do you want to take so much money to church?"

I thought he would mention the balloon he would get to put in the big representative drinking glass, the visual reminder of why they were collecting money anyway. Or he might mention just getting to put the money in the green bucket.

Instead, he said, "So that lots of kids in India can have clean water!"

Oh my goodness. And a little child led me.

This VBS thing? The thing I fought so hard? It's changing the hearts of my children.

And to be honest? It's changing the heart of their mother.

I'm thinking God knows what He's doing. And my name just might be the first on that volunteer list next year.

12 July 2014

Of Raising Cowboys

The beauty of living in a smallish/biggish town is that it's the best of both worlds. We've got what this "city"(ish) girl calls civilization (because as soul-sucking as it is, I used to believe you couldn't call it a town if it didn't have a Wal-Mart - Oklahoma has well proven me wrong by now), but we've also got a little bit country going on over here. Which means we can take an afternoon drive through the back roads to see horses and cattle (and squirrels - which we didn't have much of in our old house, so Micaiah called them "wild animals" when we saw them on the outskirts).

It also means every summer . . . the rodeo comes to town! And this isn't your average small-town rodeo. I mean, it's a big-time deal, with participants from all over the nation converging on our streets and grocery stores for a week every July.

And I used to not really care. I'd notice the signs in town welcoming the visitors, and I'd notice the increase in traffic, but that was about it. The hullabaloo didn't have much to do with me (I was still clinging to the city in me, I suppose).

And then I had kids. Kids who, like all little ones, love animals and cowboys. And I saw the yearly rodeo with new eyes - an experience our children would adore. So, this year, we piled in and headed out.

I didn't tell them before-hand where we were headed (which can be a hit-or-miss strategy - sometimes it leads to squeals of excitement when they figure it out, other times it leads to, "But where's the surprise?"), but as we traversed the parking lot, spying teenagers in wide-brimmed hats grooming their steed, they started the squealing. Cowboys! Cowgirls!

And as we entered the arena, with a sea of real cowboys and girls atop their horses, waiting for their turn to compete, they were in awe. And so was I.

Here was this crowd of teenagers, mostly, who had the discipline and drive to devote themselves to the animals in their care - training them to move with precision and speed. They had trained their own bodies to endure the trials of being bucked from animals weighing hundreds of pounds. They had learned to wrestle cattle, throw an effective lasso and avoid the stomping hooves of angry bulls.

I want my kids to be cowboys. And if they can't manage to procure their own beasts of burden, perhaps they can find some way to at least rein in the spirit of perseverance and hard work that comes with the territory. I want them to own the courage and tenacity it takes to pick yourself up, dust off your pants, and get right back in the ring. I want them to tackle their problems with focus and determination, prepared to wrangle the issue to the ground and lift their hands in triumph upon completion (even if victory was more difficult and harder coming than anticipated).

And it wouldn't hurt if they'd don a cowboy hat every now then - because everyone looks good in a cowboy hat.

Suckers instantly make any experience that much better.

Look at all those cowboys back there!

It was a rainy day, so here she is, middle of July, cuddling from the cold. As she snuggled, I taught her to count the seconds during the bull riding, to judge how good the ride was. She got just as excited as we did when a couple riders stayed on for the full eight-count.

16 June 2014

Of My Twenties

In less than two weeks I will turn thirty years old.

I have less than two weeks left as a twenty-something.

I recognize aging as a symptom of being alive, but I still find myself aching as I grasp the truth. Less than two weeks left of a decade I could never have predicted.


In the summer of 2004 I crossed the threshold of this era of my life. I was working as a counselor at a girls camp in Maine and marked the occasion with a bouquet of roses from my best friend and a movie with fellow counselors. At the time I had no reason to believe I would ever travel to Russia or even have any interest in its language, culture or people - I definitely would not have believed that before I turned 21 I would have fallen in love with all three while riding marshrutkas beside the Volga River. I didn't even know where that was.


The summer of 2005 found me fresh off the high of my unexpected international experience and working at McDonald's  -yet another unexpected twist. I had just heard of something called Facebook for the first time, but was busy with a new blog, so I wasn't really interested in signing up for something else. A serial single, I might have laughed (while secretly hoping you were right) if you'd told me I would be a married woman before I was 22 - to a boy I had yet to meet.


By summer 2006 I was a newlywed and a college graduate about to embark on my first (and would I have believed?) only year teaching Spanish in a public school. I was waiting for my husband and new best friend to graduate and then who knew where life would take us. But by the next summer I would be a homeowner, planting tender roots in a town where I had never intended to stay.


Summer 2007 - settling into my new home, making it ours. I still had a job and had no clue I would be packing up my classroom in about a month, especially not by choice.  And my husband? The one who was starting a new job just after my birthday? He would be working a different job than that, even, by next year, and that would be the one to settle us into this town for good. That husband of mine and I were going to Ecuador with our church soon and did I know that would be the last time for five years (after seven years of various expeditions) that I would be boarding an international flight - and the next time I did would be with my four-year-old daughter? Did I know that daughter would begin filling my womb that very winter?


And that's how it went, as that whirlwind of a decade went on - summer in and summer out for six more years. Every summer either pregnant or with a new baby.





In fact, it was one year ago on my birthday we made the trip to tell our families, Joey wearing his new shirt declaring him a "Big Brother," that we were expanding again. And did I know that would also be the last time I would tell my grandmother I love her?


Ten years, one wedding, four babies, two houses, six jobs (between two people), two dogs (come and gone) and three cats.

The one constant? My little silver Chevy that has seen it all.

And God. He has carried me here, to the threshold of yet another new beginning. Another decade.
And while I mourn the loss of my twenties, I eagerly anticipate the future.

My new future as a thirty-something.

14 June 2014

Of My Backwards Dad

I can see it now, the maroon trucker’s hat (though in those days they were just called ball caps, back when hard nylon netting and a cheap polyester wrapped around a foam core was what all baseball hats looked like) with the bold white lettering spelling out “SPUD.” I don’t know why he owned that hat, but I know when I realized “SPUD” backward was “DUPS” Dad decided that would be my nickname. It wasn’t a long-lasting name, but it came out every time he wore the hat.

And I can see it on his head as we finished one of our many camping trips along the Platte River, the ones where we had our perfect spot, backed right up in the alcove bordered by a thin strip of woods before we met a small stream deviating from the larger river – the stream Dad fell in once, when we visited for a day in the winter and he didn’t realize he was heavier than the icy barrier could handle. He wore that hat as he and I competed in the ritual egg toss that signaled the end of our camping adventures. He always saved at least three eggs from those he cooked every morning on the Coleman camp stove – because he couldn’t go a morning without his sunny-side-ups - so each of us could have a shot at besting the others, seeing who was really the best at tossing an egg with Dad.

And that name, “DUPS,” isn’t the only time he took the “backwards” approach. Maybe I was so fascinated by reading backwards because my dad taught me the alphabet backward before I learned it forward – a fact I’m still a little proud of to this day, because it makes me unique. And I can still rattle it off, starting at “Z,” just as fast as I can forward. Thanks, Dad.

So, for all those times he seemed to be doing it a little backwards, a little unconventionally, I still appreciate the Dad my father was. He wasn’t always perfect, and he still isn’t, but he has never given up, on himself or on us, and has only improved with age.  Happy Father’s Day to the reason I’m here.

04 June 2014

Of Being a Mother of Four

Despite the raging amounts of insanity that can occur in this home on a daily basis, I have learned, within the past couple of months, that there are some distinct perks to being a mother of four (other than knowing, of course, that I have birthed four beautiful children who make me crazy, yes, but also make me laugh daily and I consider myself greatly blessed).

One of these being the insta-excuse I now have for what might previously have been labeled "laziness," "poor time management," or "crazy emotional psychosis." Now it's simply, "Oh, don't worry about it, you're a mother of four!"

Late for church? I'm a mother of four. Messy house? I'm a mother of four. Screaming like mad or curled up sobbing in the corner? I'm a mother of four. Oh, did I forget your birthday? Oops. Did I mention I'm the mother of four?

It's as though toting four little people around as my personal entourage has suddenly depleted me of all expectations of acting like a responsible human being (unless, of course, those four monkeys are running around like hooligans [ok, three would be running, the fourth might just be crying], in which case, I have failed the only responsibility I have been given - being the mother of four).

Don't get me wrong - I hate the idea that my inability to keep all my ducks in a row is often blamed on my children who are, in fact, a few of those ducks themselves. To me, it's like saying it's ok if my children look like ragamuffins because I own a lot of dishes that need to be washed. The fact is, I'm responsible for a lot of things and those adorable little people are my primary priority, but I hate feeling like a failure in other aspects of life simply because I'm a mother of four.

Because four is apparently the magic number at which sanity has clearly left the room and a woman is now over-extended beyond capacity.

BUT, on the flip side of that coin, on the days when I can make it happen and we can get out the door and we arrive somewhere on time, or I've vacuumed the house, or I put dinner on the table, I'm suddenly super woman.

It's like people are amazed I can still dress myself, let alone do anything else meaningful. So anything above keeping those children alive is a miracle. And I am, thereby, a superhero by the mere fact that I can still complete a sentence and fold some laundry.

Yay me!

It's an ego boost, really.

So, let's re-cap: as a mother of four I'm now off the hook for any semblance of responsibility, but if I do accomplish something, I'm amazing.

Not gonna lie, things could be worse.

03 June 2014

Of Summer

Today was the day the kids have been looking forward to since last August. They have asked almost weekly over the past nine months, "Is it summer?!" (Yes, they even asked as we drove past snow-covered trees and stepped over ice slicks in the parking lot - we might need to work more on our seasons.)

And today was finally the day I could say, "Yes." (without going into the technicalities regarding solstices and the like). Because today was the day we signed up for the Summer Reading Program at our local library.

Because they understand that summer at the library means toys - particularly a small new treasure to take home each week. And everyone knows that's what the library is for - toys (and computer time). Those bookshelves everywhere? Those are just something to run between on our way to the toys.

Fortunately, with those months between the summers, they have learned to enjoy story time at the library and the stacks of books mom picks out to coordinate with the homeschooling theme for the moment (this week is elephants). They enjoy picking out their own books (typically board books, since those are the only kind Mommy lets them look at in the car on the way home - I'll risk my own pages, but the library books are a little more precious!) and movies (but not Pokemon, because . . . well, just because).

But we all know this was just the build-up for the main event. Because nothing beats a sticker chart and a treasure bowl.

Or basically free stuff.

Okay, so maybe they're my children.

This year's Summer Reading Program theme is "Fizz, Boom, Read", which means there are now science-related toys to play with while visiting the library. I'm telling you, it's all about the toys.

09 May 2014

Of My Less Than Perfect Life

Sometimes it seems we all enjoy perfect little lives. If we looked at Facebook or social media, we would think everyone else is spending their time playing with smiling children, eating fresh-picked raspberries, snuggling their beautiful babies and indulging in that delicious chocolate concoction starring in the latest instagram photo.

And our lives do include those moments. Precious moments, to be sure. Documenting them helps us to remember we have things for which to be grateful.

But what about the in-between moments? The ones we don't share on facebook? Because no one wants to see our ugly. Sure, there are the humorous reminders that sometimes the kids are crying or the laundry didn't get done and by now we all realize that ours aren't the only clothes never getting ironed. And in those posts we can remember life isn't always sunshine and roses and we aren't the only ones letting the ball drop just occasionally.

But do we acknowledge that when we're not laughing off our failures we may be laying in the fetal position crying over a life that sometimes overwhelms in the little things. That even when, from the outside life seems grand, on the inside turmoil is winning?

Because here's my moment of honesty - I have failed. More often than not, I fail to see the joy and the blessings. And what I see is a house - a beautiful, brand new-to-us home - that isn't put together. That feels like it will never be "done," because amid the painting and unpacking that continues to be pushed to "tomorrow," the daily tasks have returned. There are still dishes and laundry and dirty floors and hungry children. And the kitchen counters feel they'll never be fully cleared. The floors will always have something for me to trip on. The children will always find something to cry about.

And so will I.

And my to-do list will never be done and my children will never be fully satisfied in what I can do for them. And the days can't all be spent doing nothing but snuggling and picking raspberries (I don't even know where I would find one).

And when I find myself in these moments, when all the world seems to be caving in, caused by nothing but the little nothings that shouldn't even matter, where do I turn?

And this is where I have failed. Because I don't turn to the Peace that passes understanding or my Help in times of trouble or the Source of grace when I need it most. I turn to me, and I see where I have lacked, and I crumble. I turn to the world, the perfect posts of happy lives, and I fall apart.

And it's not the fault of the internet or anything found there. It's not the fault of the laundry or the dishes or the children. It's the fault, the lacking, of my firm foundation that should keep me from crumbling. Because in prioritizing my days based on what needs to be done, or who I need to be, rather than on the One for whom I live, I have allowed the cracks in that foundation, so that the little nothings have seeped in and threatened to bring it all crashing down. And I feel like that shouldn't be true, couldn't be true - because I haven't seen the worst of what could fall upon us. I haven't endured what others have. But a swarm of gnawing termites can bring a house down just as surely as the tornado that wreaks destruction.

So this is me, crying out, but praying. Praying that nothing would matter more to me than my foundation and that the maintenance of my relationship with my first love (Revelation 2:4) would become not only my top priority, but my only priority, and everything else, built upon that Rock, will be added unto me (Matthew 6:33). I'm turning to Him for my perspective and my security. He is the strength of my heart.