Friday, May 27, 2011

Little House on the Sort-of Prairie

I'm going to go ahead and say it. Maddie just had one of the best birthday parties ever. (Especially compared to her brothers' parties. I can't help that girl parties are so much more fun!) She starts planning her birthday party about five minutes after her most recent one ends, so she's been coming up with ideas for her ninth birthday bash for a while. I started getting a little worried when the trend seemed to be expensive and/or LOTS of girls at my house for a very long time. So, after a little brainstorming session with my amazingly brilliant sister-in-law, Emily, we came up with an idea that Maddie loved and I could actually execute without losing my mind. Thus, Madeleine had a Little House on the Prairie party.

The girls were instructed to come in homemade prairie attire. Long dresses, bonnets, and braided hair were the look for the day. Look at these sweet things. Don't let their demure little pose fool you. These pioneers can get wild.

Not only is Emily a great brainstorming partner, she is unbelievably selfless. She volunteered to host the party at her "little house" on a pretty flat piece of land that closely resembles the prairie AND she was the game partner for the odd girl out (and she didn't freak out when a very full glass of tea spilled about 1/8 of an inch away from her new white curtains). Because there had to be games, and I wasn't smart enough to invite an even number of people (or to only serve water to drink).

We started the day with pioneer coloring pages. A little later on, we threw in a little pioneer word search as well. Let me say that I don't know how the pioneers managed life without Google. Running water and electricity are nice modern-day amenities, but Google is a lifesaver.

So, Matthew and Emily may as well be Pa and Ma Ingalls. Like I mentioned, little house, prairie-like setting...and a real garden in the backyard. All they need are a few kids, a dog called Jack, and a stuck-up little girl neighbor named Nellie.

In my brilliance, I entertained the guests and paid my debt to the host and hostess by having the girls water the garden. They started out with a relay race where they filled buckets with water and ran and dumped it in the garden. After the race was over, we just let them loose with the hoses to finish the job. Don't you think for a second that they didn't love it. Now I just have to figure out how to get my kids that excited about watering my flowers at home.

Some other fun and completely FREE backyard games included a potato sack race, a three-legged race, and an impromptu game of Red Rover. Because I'm pretty sure it was the pioneers who came up with Red Rover.

After we ran them half to death, we let them have a little craft time. There were button strings (Don't ask me. Evidently it's in the book. Google.) and, the one I'm so impressed with but was so involved with that I didn't even take a picture of , the genuine, homemade cornhusk doll. I am not a crafty gal, but I really did this one all on my own (because Google doesn't count in this case). They all turned out so cute, which you will have to take my word on since I don't have an actual picture.

Then it was time for the best part of any party...the food. Let me say that I've recently come to the realization that Maddie likes old lady food. Her pick for the day, much to a few guests' disappointment, was fried chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, and fried squash. She wanted german chocolate cake for dessert, but after I assured her that no other girl there would eat it, she consented to plain old chocolate cupcakes. (Her other dessert pick was blackberry cobbler. All good stuff, but not exactly popular with the elementary school crowd.) We then closed down the night with an episode of Murder She Wrote Little House, which nobody really wanted to watch. They wanted to role play the whole show, but I was kind of done with the craziness and ready for everyone to sit like a zombie in front of the tv and veg out like any good little prairie girls would do.

All in all, it was so easy, inexpensive and FUN that it was almost too good to be true...kinda like Maddie. As far as daughters go, she's pretty much too good to be true. I am so proud of her and still so in love with my firstborn. The fact that she is halfway to eighteen and striking out on her own is threatening to tear my heart out. I know I don't deserve such an amazing, talented, lovable child, but I'm glad God saw fit to bless me with her just the same.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Girl.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Real Deal

I have missed my little blog. My life has been overrun by tadpoles and laundry, once again, but the lazy days of summer are ahead, and one of my goals is to be more devoted to my little blog. I don't know what motivates me to do this. It seems pointless most days as my grandiose dreams of being a famous blogger seem about as likely to come true as my hopes of sprouting wings and learning to fly. But it feels good to spill my thoughts out on paper computer. And, as with many things, I wonder if God has a purpose in it that is completely unevident to me. So, I blog on.

In my busyness, I've missed posts on so many fun events like Easter, my sixth 29th birthday, Mother's Day and sweet Madeleine's birthday. Those are to follow because, let's face it, about the best things I have to offer on here are cute pictures of my kids. And Maddie's party was so amazing that it must be made known to the world.

But, first, as the days fly by and I try uselessly to grab them and hold them still, my heart as a parent is in frantic mode. Maddie just turned nine years old, and for some reason, this has been a hard one for me to swallow. I say "for some reason" like I don't know what the reason is. I know exactly what it is. My one and only daughter is halfway to being grown and ready to leave our chaotic, not-as-clean-as-it-used-to-be nest. I am so close to needing to grab my paper sack to avoid hyperventilating. The "formative years" are passing us by, and I'm not sure what we've formed.

Now, this will be hard to believe, coming from such a laid back, worry-free person (who laughed?), but the thought of this threatens to overwhelm me. You see, there are so many things I do wrong as a parent. I have this teensy tendency to lose my temper. I put way too much emphasis on a clean house and a well-manicured lawn. I might be a little disappointed when little people bring home grades lower than a 98. I am terrible at putting aside work for fun. I am stingy with smiles and hugs and praise and generous with criticism and commands.

God is shaping me in many of those areas, but I realize I will not master most of them before Sam turns 18. I will never be perfect and will continue to make mistakes on a pretty regular basis. The day will inevitably come when I look back and kick myself for not leaving the gunk in the shower and the crumbs on the floor and going outside to push my kids on the swing. I’ll wish I gave more hugs and kissed more booboos instead of telling them to suck it up. (I don’t know. I really don’t want big whiny babies.)

But there is one thing that I cannot stand the thought of living with regret over. I never want it to be said that I’ve lived my life in such a way that I’ve caused them to turn away from Christ. I once thought the key to this was having them memorize ginormous passages of Scripture (which we do, be it ever so slowly) or reading the Bible with them everyday (which we do…on most days) or helping them to see life from a spiritual standpoint (which we do when we’re not telling them to please be quiet because we can’t stand another moment of all this screaming and chaos).

These are all very important things, but I’m starting to think the key to it all is just being real…with them and in front of them. I have to let them see the inner workings of my life with Christ…the good days and the bad, the obedience and the sin, the praising and the crying. I have to let them see that it’s not about never making a mistake, it’s what you do with that mistake and how you make it right with God and others. It’s letting them see my dependence on God in my weak moments…in every moment. It’s about showing exactly how to follow Jesus while stuck in a sinful body in a sinful world. It’s about living out grace right in front of their little noses.

So, while I seek to be closer to perfect than I was yesterday, I will also seek to be real. To ask for forgiveness, admit to my faults and show them why we need a Savior at all. I will seek to show them that I am indeed in need of grace, and I know the One who gives it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Blown Away

Hello? Anyone still there? I don't think I've ever gone this long without posting, but it seems like the only time I've had available to do so ended with the letters "a.m." and did not involve the sun being up. So, I'm behind. It's also been hard to decide what to write about and/or how to sum it all up.

We've been inundated with fun stuff around here lately, but it just didn't seem right to delve into the excitement that is my life without somehow acknowledging the great tragedy that has unfolded all around us. Yet, what words can describe the sadness of it all? And what words could ever fully express my gratitude that my family was spared? What words can explain the unexplainable nature of it all? I wrote this post last night, but I've hesitated to even publish it because it all sounds a bit trite coming from someone whose life was not torn apart by it all.

Nine days ago, hundreds of people were killed, thousands of homes were destroyed, and countless lives were changed forever. Nine days ago, my family was fighting fear as the monster tornado we had watched gobble up lives and homes on television was headed straight for us. We huddled in our basement with our bicycle helmets on and a mattress on top of us, waiting for what would come and praying for God's mercy. As it turns out, it came straight for our house, but for some reason that only God knows, it wasn't on the ground at that time. We took a deep breath, thanked the Lord, took a peek outside as it moved away over the hills beyond us, and went upstairs and ate our dinner.

I wasn't blown away that day, but I am blown away by the mystery and the tragedy of it all. We can wonder all day long, or all our lives for that matter, why things happen the way they do. Many blame Satan for things like the horrible tornado outbreak of last week, but my Bible tells me it's God who controls the winds and the waves, the thunder and the lightening. I serve a God who is sovereign and who the enemy is no match for. I also live in a world that is cursed because of sin and I live a life that is subject to the consequences of sin...not necessarily my own (though I have plenty) but of sin itself. Its presence in this world means there will be tragedy, and I do believe that God is ultimately the one who sends it. It seems that many are afraid to "blame" God, as if our placing responsibility on Him will cause others to doubt Him, or - worse - hate Him. As if our judgments of Him actually change who He is. No matter what we label Him, God is a just and sovereign God and we live in a fallen world.

The amazing thing about God is that, even as He spins the wind into a tornado, He is good and His purpose in it is good. I know better than to ever think that I could possibly know all of God's purpose in something like this, other than the general purpose that applies to everything in this world...His great glory. However, He showed me one of the many reasons behind it all through one of those ordinary life moments today.

Luke has this thing that he does that, frankly, drives me crazy at times. He is generally a fun and happy little guy who keeps us laughing. But there is one thing that just really ticks him off and that's a toy that will not cooperate. He is so great about playing happily by himself and will do so often, which makes my heart so happy. (I am many things, but a good playmate is not one of them. Just being honest here.) However, he can be playing contentedly one minute and one toy can refuse to stay standing up when he wants it to stand, or another one might fall apart when he wants it to stay together, and everyone in the neighborhood will know it. He repeatedly screams in frustration and anger and sometimes might even throw the stinkin' toy that will not do his bidding. Each time, I go to him and remind him of what he should do in these situations. "Come to mommy. I care and I can help you."

It happened today, and when the screaming got to the point where it was probably going to wake the sleeping baby (heaven forbid!), I sought him out. He had been playing with Maddie's doll house, but somehow the big ol' thing had fallen over and all the people and furniture had spilled out. I was struck with the similarity of the scene to the many pictures I've stared at over the last week. Houses fallen over and bits of shattered lives spilled out everywhere. As I reminded Luke once again, "All you have to do is call Mommy. I'll come and help you," I heard God saying, "All you have to do is come to me. I care. I will help you. Why do you cry and scream in anger when I'm right here?"

The hard stuff will come. We live in a world cursed by our sin. But we have a Savior who cares and will help us pick up the pieces. The truth of the matter is, when we're playing contentedly in our happy little lives, we rarely think to call to the One we truly need. So He sends the winds and the storms to remind us that we are only dust and this world is not all there is and to call out to Him, the One who cares, who helps, who satisfies, who saves. We label these storms as "bad," but they can bring about such good. He can see forever. We can only see our little slice of today. I have a feeling that if we could see what He sees, our idea of good and bad, joy and pain might be a little different. I can't tell you why my home stands and my children breathe while others just miles away cannot say the same. But I know the One who does know, and I know that He is good and He is near to the broken-hearted. All we have to do is call.

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:17-18