Sunday, February 22, 2015

Good News

I like this four-minute video so much that I am embedding it on the sidebar of the blog. Can a life be changed in under five minutes? You better believe it.
by Pastor Ritch Sandford, The Mission Church, Utah

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Buy The Dress

I found the perfect mother of the groom dress at 75% off.

Wait, what? Wasn't the previous blog post about the oldest just graduating from high school?

Yes. I'm a planner. Plus, 75% off.

I queried my Facebook friends, who were nearly unanimous in their delight to spend my money. Get the dress, they urged. Some even argued I would find "many uses" for it. For a full-length, sequined gown? Perhaps they confused my stay-at-home mom life with, I don't even know whose life, maybe Vanna White's?

I bought the dress. Alas and alack, it doesn't work. "Mist" is not my best color.

Oh, well.

I don't know if I would have used it for a mother of the groom dress anyway. However, the experience reminded me of another dress I bought for "no reason" half a lifetime ago.

During a summer while I was in college, for no particular reason, on a day like any other, I went into a dress shop in my hometown. I had never been in that shop before and I don't recall ever shopping in it after that.

On that no particular day for no particular reason and for no particular occasion, I found a great dress. Black velvet, two piece. The peplum top had an elaborate sequin pattern and the skirt was the perfect length. The dress was $99. Back in 1987 or 1988 that was a lot of money for a dress, especially to a college kid whose cash came from waiting tables at Ponderosa.

I loved that dress. I dragged my mom to look at the dress. Mom is a frugal lady who hates to shop, and I was under no illusion that she would perceive need or reason for the dress. I just wanted her to see it. Mom liked the dress too. I thought and I thought and I thought.

And darn it, I bought that $99 perfect dress. I don't know why. I needed to. I didn't wear it--where does one even wear a velvet, sequined dress--but I was glad to own it. I moved it with me down to North Carolina after I graduated from college.

During a winter years later while I was in graduate school, for every reason, on a day unlike any other, I was wearing that dress when I told a certain (dare I say wonderful?) young man who asked me to marry him, "Yes." Tomorrow we celebrate 23 years of marriage. Life is short. Buy the dress.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Valedictorian of Our First Graduating Class

Meet the valedictorian of our inaugural graduating class. Before our home boasted a whole riotous handful of noise makers and chaos creators, there was just this guy. Cute, isn't he? 

He always was.

The little boy who hated change so much he would cry when we bought him new sneakers ended his high school career by giving a final presentation and hopping on a plane the same day to go to his college orientation. I stayed in the terminal, watching him until he passed through the entire security line. He didn't look back.

I suspect this may be an indicator of things to come.

He graduates with many honors and national distinctions and scholarships, but if you ask me what makes me most proud, I will tell you two stories. Jack taught a boy in AWANA for several years. That kid noticed that Jack's Bible was beat: dog-eared, well-worn, underlined, used, and used up. The boy asked if he could have it when Jack bought a new one because the boy thought it was cool to see a Bible that the owner obviously read daily. Of course, Jack gave it to him.

That's a legacy that matters.

When I served the two-year-old Jack his dinner, he would usually ask me, "What is it? Where is its head? How did it die?" Teenager Jack will often move worms off the driveway after a rainstorm to keep the worms from drying out and dying on the asphalt.

If he's nice even to worms, I figure his future wife and children will be blessed indeed.

We've been blessed to be his parents. Happy Graduation, Jack!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Student Government, Homeschool-style

Participating in student government can be difficult for a homeschooler. "Vote for me for Class President!" Congratulations to the decisive winner in a 1-0 landslide.

Several months ago, our town advertised for youth delegates to the actual city government. Most committees and the city council itself were accepting high school juniors and seniors to join them for the upcoming year.

Our 16-year-old son decided to pursue a slot on the Advisory Cultural committee. After completing his application essay, he wanted to submit it to the email address listed. I received the full eye-roll from him when I explained it would be better to drop it off in person at the city office building. Matching his eye-roll with my steady gaze, I added that he would drop it off wearing decent clothing. Not jeans. A shirt with a collar. His heavy sigh lost out to my, "I will brook no argument on this" raised eyebrow. Off we trotted.

Long story short, and as you probably already expected, the kid ended up meeting the mayor while dropping off his application. No eye-roll or sigh when I told my son that now it was time to run home and email the application as well with a cover letter telling the mayor how much he enjoyed meeting him today.

If this had been the only experience connected to our foray into city government, I would have been well-satisfied with the lessons learned.

Much to our delight, the kid landed a spot on the committee. Not only did he sit through the initial meeting, but he was given real work to do. This committee has 91 applications before it with requests for $3.2 million in funding. The committee actually has $2 million to disperse.

Watching our teen evaluate every application and hearing some of his thoughts about them fascinated me. He railed against vague assertions in some of the written grant proposals. He recognized and flagged some concerns for project aspects that conflicted with his Christian beliefs. No, none of those hot-button issues, something more surprising. I could not have been more proud to see him forego a simple response and honestly wrestle with what it means to be a representative who is a Christian and one who also believes in diversity of viewpoints.

After many hours of work, he completed all 91 proposals. To his dismay, he was also a half-million dollars over budget. I watched and continue to watch his cutting procedures and priorities. His criteria definitely gain sharpness and focus with each round of cuts and each corresponding result of still coming in over-budget. This, I tell him, is how fiscal conservatives are born. This, he tells me, is agonizing. Welcome to the real world, young man.

The last committee meeting in the spring will allow public comment on the board's funding decisions. The kid will hear from some disappointed people.

One common argument against homeschooling is that it keeps our kids in a bubble, locked away from the real world. I don't know about that, but I do know that without the efficiency of our homeschool, our son would not have the time to serve on such a committee. Traditional student government in a high school certainly offers kids a meaningful experience. I have a hard time envisioning how it could be more real than what we found to fill the niche of student government, homeschool-style.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday Tea Time Poem

On Tuesdays after lunch, we eat treats and read poems aloud to each other. Mostly, we select poems in anthologies to share. The three year old chose a math poem, "Gazintas" every week for about six months straight. Today, Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow, he finally moved on to a new selection. Occasionally, one of the kids will choose to write an original poem rather than select one from our various books.

Eldest son wrote this today--thought you all might enjoy it:

Endless motion
Never frozen
Defining life
Bringing death
Forming mountain
Creating town
Only to bring them crumbling down
Resolute, marching on
Bringing both night and the dawn.

What am I?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


It was the fact that he used his deliberately calm voice that completely freaked me out. No parent wants to get a call that their kid is hurt. When that call comes from your husband, and he's using that deliberately calm voice and both your husband and son are in a foreign land, one that suggests special vaccinations and malaria medications prior to going, one that speaks a different language, one that requires two airplane flights and a three-hour bus ride to get to, there is only one word to describe the reaction.


Panic, followed by prayer, followed by the realization that you need a lot of people praying, and pronto. Praise the Lord for Facebook. Praise the Lord for family and friends who conduct your neurotic google searches faster than you can and send reassurances: "modern hospitals, not shamans," "most kidney lesions heal on their own." Praise the Lord for insomniacs who read posts at 2 a.m. and pray. Praise the Lord for friends asking others to pray, resulting in strangers praying for your child. Praise the Lord for friends who know when to distract with joking, juicy tidbits of stories and when to focus on Scripture.

More prayer, leading to peace, a dribble of additional information leading to panic, leading to more prayer, leading to peace.

Reading the official version of the event on the mission team's website today seemed odd to me. While by any objective standard their accounting is true and their praises justified, it totally misses my subjective reality of what happened.

Experiencing it in real time as a mother separated by nearly two thousand miles from her son, it felt different. My son hurt and really hurting. My husband detailing some extremely worrisome symptoms in our kid. Agonizing hours of silence. Another call at midnight. Rather than an all-clear, this call has words like internal trauma, bleeding, additional testing. An eternity later at 2 a.m., another call. Yes, bleeding, but not so much anymore. Yes, trauma and a lesion to the kidney, but a 1 on a 1 to 5 scale. Yes, concern for a jostling ride back to camp, but a day in the hospital for rest and observation first.

Objective summary and subjective experience are both realities in the Christian walk. Objectively, we know God wins; God is in control; Jesus loves us. We know that, really know that, to the core of our being. Subjectively, we go through things that scare us and hurt us. Christians operating in the objective reality show the hope that we have. Christians operating in the subjective reality show that we're human, you know, just like everybody else. Operate only objectively and people wonder if you can relate to them, to their very real troubles and pain. Operate only subjectively and people wonder why bother with faith if it makes no real difference.

Panic, prayer, peace. It's not a once and done. It's a moment-by-moment as we navigate life toward its conclusion and fulfillment in Christ. We need the objective summary, the end of the story from the perspective of the One who writes the story, for hope. We need the subjective to remind us of how much we truly need our Savior.

On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf, for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 1 Corinthians 1:10b-11

photo courtesy of Emily Neal

Sunday, July 7, 2013

My Awesome Chore System

Need an awesome chore system? You may want to visit my friend Emily at her blog. How could you not take advice from someone whose chore charts look like this?

When I enthused over her charts, Emily replied that I, with five kids, surely had some wonderful organization system I was withholding from her and the rest of the world.

She found me out. I've been keeping my superpower secrets from you all for far too long. Here it is, in all its glory. You may need to hide yourself in the cleft of a rock and not gaze directly, lest the majesty of it be too much for mere mortal eyes.

For those who could bear no more than a glance, let me enumerate a few of the differences between Emily's approach and mine:
  • Emily's charts have her kids' names at the top. Apparently, my children are named A, B and C.
  • Emily has a chart for each of her children, even her non-reading preschooler. I lost steam after "C" and haven't gotten my mojo back although I am now on "E."
  • Emily's charts cover the whole house and more. Mine is for kitchen clean-up only.
  • Emily's charts are on clipboards. I had to dig mine out from behind the calendar. Note: I mean my non-personalized, paper calendar we get free from the city each year. This one (Emily would know how to rotate it to be viewed properly):

Not a calendar like Emily's created on a fancy website and color-coded by family member:

You get the gist.

Emily also likes washi tape. I don't want to disparage her efforts, so I've kept that area of my life hidden from her as well. Emily's creation: 

That's fine, as far as it goes. If you're into aesthetics and good taste and all that. I'm slightly more, ahem, utilitarian and low-tech:

Surely there's more to life than chore charts and washi tape. Take cooking, for instance. Every mom knows that cooking for a family of hungry kids requires a fair amount of effort and talent. Emily has got that covered for you. Take your pick of links to Emily's varied thoughts on food whether that be meal planning, crock pot adventures, or exactly what to do with 15 pounds of ground beef. 

My cooking is also legendary. Not to brag, but friends gave me this sign for my kitchen: 

While they have no idea how I kiss, it's a safe bet to give a person like me a sign like that. What did I tell you? Legendary, baby! An entirely different friend posted this on my Facebook wall because it reminded her of me: 

Why I need different friends will be the subject of a future post. When I do give cooking advice, you'll note that the recipes come from websites with names like "All Easy Recipes" or are associated with appliances not normally thought of for food preparation. Dishwasher salmon, anyone?

Despite it all, we manage to keep the house reasonably picked up, the kids have routine chores even if they don't have a snazzy system, most of my decorating attempts are more successful than my pen jars. No one has yet starved, though the fact that Mr. Wonderful and the kids are all thin may have something to do with that missing delicious-ness component of many of my meals.

I am mostly ok with all of this except for when I really am not and weep at Mr. Wonderful about my inadequacies and failings and general worthlessness. This happens with a disheartening predictability that could be covered in a blog post Mr. Wonderful--who is no fool--will never write, "The Joys of Living with a Perimenopausal Psychopath." In my deeper and less hormonal moments, I remember A.W. Tozer and his explanation of the "hyphenated" self sins. Tozer warns that both self-pity and self-confidence contribute to the veil around our heart that keeps believers from the face of God. 

"I keep looking at all the people around me, and everyone else seems to have it so together." That would seem to be an entirely fitting conclusion to the evidence I've presented in this post, wouldn't it? Surprisingly, that quote comes from my friend Emily. Yes, I almost spit my coffee across the keyboard when I first read it too. I know what you're thinking and I completely agree. If this is how Emily, Emily of the charts and the washi and the cooking feels, what hope do the rest of us have?  

And this is why I love Emily. Because she gets it. You can read her whole conclusion, but **spoiler** Emily understands it's not about us, it's about God. He uniquely makes and equips us. Great charts, great crafts and great cooking are not how God equipped me, though I may do well to improve in those areas. And with Emily's help, I just might.