Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring Break, and Cheez-Its, and Bears, Oh My!

Something terrible just happened. I was left unsupervised for the evening and my old nemesis, the Cheez-It, got the better of me once again. I want to scream...both from anger at my weakness and because they happened to be Pepper Jack Cheez-Its and my mouth is on fire. Oh, the cheese cracker used to kick my tail constantly in college. Many people battle the bulge brought on my midnight pizza. Oh, no. For me, it was an entire box of cheese crackers. Darn it. The problem is, at 34, the old metabolism isn't quite the same as it was at 20. I can try to make myself feel better by telling little old me that I'll exercise twice as hard tomorrow, but I know me too well to believe myself. I'll wake up with a Cheez-It hangover, kicking myself for the fact that I'll have to try and deny myself more calories tomorrow.

Okay, I get the fact that you don't care about my metabolism or calorie intake at all, so we'll move on. So, I was Solo Mommy tonight at a friend's house. As the kids and I made our early exit into the dark, frog-filled night, I had to put on my brave face that I wear when Chris isn't with us. Our friends live in the dark, lonely woods of the middle of nowhere, so it was pretty dark and...well, woodsy as we headed to the van. Naturally, Jack was scared half to death...of bears! You see, apparently his little friend who lives there has been hearing bears at night lately. I'll thank her later for sharing that information. I reassured him that there were no bears around, I didn't think, and told him to get in so we could go.

After everyone gets buckled up, we start to drive forward to turn around when we hear this loud, scraping, scratching noise. "I'm scared!" Jack screamed. Rolling my eyes, I tried to drive forward again. "Mommy! I'm scared!" Me: "Jack, why in the world are you scared now?" Jack: "It sounds just like a bear! It's after us!" Or it could be a big limb hung under our car. Limb...bear...I can see how you'd confuse those.

I don't know where he gets his scaredy-catness. Certainly not from me. I would never make my dad drive all the way to my house when Chris wasn't home because I heard a noise and was afraid to go upstairs. I can't imagine why Jack is afraid of his own shadow. Or limbs under cars.

Thankfully, we escaped the ferocious limb and lived to tell about it. That was a close one.

Spring break is drawing to a close. We didn't do anything superfantabulous, but we did spend a little time at our lake house (which just happens to be owned and occupied by Chris's parents). My kids are pretty much the luckiest kids on the planet. They have the four best grandparents ever, and one set of them happens to live at the lake. The kids are spoiled rotten. It's no wonder they sink into a small depression when it's time to come home. Hmmm...staying at the lake with spoiling grandparents, snacks and sodas, and a huge yard to play in or coming home to a Nazi-ish mom who makes you clean up constantly and only feeds you homemade crackers and fruit. (Hey, I can't let them eat junk like Cheez-Its all day, can I? See what a good mom I am? I'm taking one for the team and saving them from the junk food!)

Here are a few pics from break time at Grandma and Grandpa's:

Looks like fun, huh? Now it's back to reality. :)

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Good Day

It's funny how your definitions for words change over the years. It's all about perspective. When you're a kid "a long time" would be defined as more than a day. When you're a grown-up, "a long time" is at least a year. For a kid, "fun" would mean using the weeds in your backyard to build things on your playground (or at least that seems to be my kids' favorite pasttime these days). For a more mature person who has perhaps moved past college, "fun" might be described as a nice, quiet dinner out, a movie on the couch, and getting to bed at a decent hour.

At one point in my life, "a good day" might have meant that I got to eat a bacon cheeseburger from Hardees' and go swimming all day long. Later on in life I might have said I'd had "a good day" if I got to hang out with friends playing cards til midnight. My kids remember one of their best days as the one where we drove all over tarnation when it was 98 degrees outside and did a scavenger hunt with them, ending up at a splash pad. I called that a hot, exhausting day.

Now that I'm "gettin' on up in years", I'd have to say that I'm finishing up a good day. It's 11:04pm. I'm dog-tired. My back is hurting and I really should have taken my contacts out a few hours ago. But I've had a good day.

My kids are healthy (which I couldn't say 50-something hours ago...ambulance, emergency room, albuterol, Benadryl, and a nice hefty bill headed our fill in the blank spots...apparently, Sam has decided that the way to celebrate holidays is with wheezing...Happy St. Patrick's Day!), the kitchen is almost clean, and breakfast is made, ready for those early risers.

I got to drive somewhere all by myself today, spend time with friends over tadpoles, give a bath to a laughing, crying, snotty baby, and serve my family a nice, healthy meal.

My husband cleaned the bathrooms!!! I got my short workout in and baked banana muffins with my quickly-growing girl.

I got a good deal on feta cheese for our Greek slaw tonight, read my Bible this morning, and saw my three older kids take such sweet care of their baby brother while he had to endure the dreaded breathing treatment.

I got to talk about God's Word with my kids and proudly hear them answer some deep questions correctly. I got most of the dishes washed up before we ate dinner. I just love it when that happens!!

These days, a good day can happen when you're least expecting it. I'd planned on a good, fun weekend. All those plans got dumped due to sickness here and there. Kinda disappointing, but lo and behold, just when you're right in the thick of life...a good day happens. And you realize how little the "good" part is about circumstances and how much it's just about perspective.

Thank you, Lord, for a very good day.

A little look at our good dinner...

Homemade sweet potato rolls with roasted chicken, homemade broccoli shells and cheese, Zoe's slaw, and fruit salad with the new addition (by Daddy) of mango.

Sam prefers to eat immediately, so Maddie took over for us while we finished up everything else. Why, yes, she does have paper clips hanging from her glasses. Why do you ask?

Luke was not a fan of the mango. Honestly, neither was I...or Chris. I think the word he used to describe the taste was "dirt." Then he changed it to "earthy" because that just sounds better.

Jack declared it to be the yummiest meal ever. He does that rather frequently. He gave me mixed reviews on the slaw, or the cilantro as he called it 134 times.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Have I Said All This Before??

I always feel kind of bad when I don't do nice, fluffy posts about something funny the kids have done or the wonderful and sweet love of God. But it seems that, so often, it's heavy things that are on my heart. Not heavy as in bad heavy (okay, sometimes they're bad heavy) but heavy in the sense of the holy and just side of God that we so easily brush aside. We're all about some love. Not so much with the whole holiness thing.

If you'd like a quick cute kid story before you zip out, though, here's one. At least, I thought it was cute. You might think it's completely lame and boring.

So, I haven't had much of a voice the past few days. As in, I'm sick, I guess. I stayed home from church last night and relaxed on the couch and ate chocolate did some ironing and straightening up since I wasn't going to be much of a storyteller at AWANA. When Lukey came in, he ran to me, gave me a hug, and asked, "Did your voice turn up yet?" Later on, he got right in my face and asked, in a very serious voice and with a concerned look, "Why did you get sick, my dear?" Oh, that boy is so lovable.

Okay, so back to serious stuff. (If you're leaving now, hopefully I'll catch ya later. :) ) In my quest for humility, God continues to reveal the depth of my sin and the infinity of His holiness. Humility begins in seeing myself as a helpless, hopeless sinner before a completely holy, righteous, pure, "other" God. Without that humility and understanding of how things really stand, I cannot grasp the amazing measure of His grace. Until we understand exactly what we've been forgiven for, we cannot appreciate fully the amount of forgiveness we've been shown.

It is a common thing these days for us to question the justice and goodness of God. We do it at every turn. Something doesn't go our way and we turn with a defiant attitude and say, "Really, God?" Someone who's had nothing but tough breaks for as long as we remember has one more bad thing added to the list, and we ask, "God, how could you?" We suffer injustice because of someone else's sin, and we wonder, "How could God expect me to forgive that? Didn't you see what she did?" We read of someone like the dude who stuck his hand out to steady the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament and was immediately struck dead, and we quickly say, in our most offended voice, "God, wasn't that a bit much? Lay off the strict judgment a little!"

And the thing is, we see nothing wrong with our response. It's completely understandable. It's God who is being unreasonable, right? Um, that'd be a big NO!

How many of us consider the Old Testament to be a record of God's great mercy and grace toward men? For most of my life, I did not. More recently, though, He is showing me over and over again how we all deserve so much worse than what He's offered us. He continually offers mercy and grace to people in the OT, but they continually throw the offer back in His face. He shows mercy and patience over and over and over and over. He warns them of the consequences of His actions over and over and over and over. And they keep on sinning over and over and over and over.

From the moment we take a breath. From the moment of our first sin. From the moment we first assert our will over the will of the Almighty, we deserve death. We were given the gift of life. We were given the chance to show the world the glory of God. And we threw it in His face.

We continually say, with each sin we commit, "I would make a better God than you. I do not care for your ideas or your ways. I'll choose my own path since you are so incompetent at being the Ruler of the Universe. Please get up off that throne because I'll be taking that seat now."

(I feel like I've written all of this before. If I have, I must be continually reminded of it myself and you are having to endure it with me! Sorry! In fact, I just searched recent entries to be sure, but I can't find where I've actually posted this. I think I might be a tad crazy. Not shocking to you, I know.)

When my kids come to me with the "It's not fair" routine, my response usually goes something like, "You know what's fair? Hell." Yes, I'm sweet like that. But it's true! And I think sometimes (or a lot of the time) we need to be reminded of what's really fair. We ask all the time if God's being fair and the answer is, "NO." He's being merciful and gracious if you're still breathing, because you are a sinner who deserves death. He laid out the criteria from the beginning. You sin. You die. But then we did sin, and we didn't die. At least, not right away. But it's coming.

Really, any kindness the Lord shows us is His grace. We don't deserve it, though, in our great pride, we think we do. Least of all, we did not deserve the one not-so-just thing God did. He killed His own sinless Son for us. Why don't we question His fairness on that one? Jesus didn't, and He had every right to. But He responded with humility, trusting that the Father's plan was the right plan. The one unfair thing God did and we seem perfectly fine with it. In fact, we still question His love for us and for mankind on a regular basis, though He went pretty far out of His way to prove it. He killed an innocent man...for who? A bunch of lying, thieving, selfish murderers. Seems kind of unfair.

Okay, my rant is done. All of this leads to this fact: God is just. He is holy. He is perfect. And He is full to overflowing with grace and mercy and patience and love toward us, but the offer will not stand forever. It's time we fall on our face, as Isaiah did, and recognize our unworthiness.

But it doesn't end there. When we do that, He picks us up, cleanses us (though we don't deserve it), and gives us a new life of freedom to serve Him. He gives us another chance at that whole refecting His glory business. This is where I falter. I become afraid at what that will entail, and I want to shrink back in fear. But I cannot. That would be pride, and I am aiming for humility. So my prayer becomes, "Lord, do in me what it takes to make me so full of You, so in love with You, so trusting of You that I give myself to you completely. Let Amy die to her pride and let Christ live in me, for your glory." I'm not there yet but I'm looking toward the prize.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I Won a Free Vacation!

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Matthew 4:1-2

Sorry I've been away so long. The Lord had a little trip planned for me. Remember how I was hoping I wouldn't have to go to Africa? Well, though the Lord has not taken me to the desert of Africa, He did lead me into a desert lately. Just like I'm not a fan of literal deserts, I'm not a fan of spiritual deserts that much, either, though they do have the advantage of wild animal-less, air conditioned environments.

When I see our sweet little Sam running around our house in nothing but a diaper with his little round belly and chubby thighs, I think it might not be so bad to have a few more of him. (Please no overreacting, people.) But then I remember all the hard parts and I'm a bit more reluctant. You don't get chubby thighs and slobbery kisses without back pain, extra pounds, and sleepless nights. Bummer.

That's the way God set this life up. You don't get gain without a little pain. You don't get the oasis without a little time in the desert. Why? I don't completely know the answer to that because I'M NOT GOD (though I spend lots of time acting like I think I am), but I do know a few things about it, having lived almost 25, or maybe 35, years now. (Okay, I'm going to have to pause a minute and let the fact sink in.....whew, I can go on now.)

First of all, the deserts expose our true desires or lack of them. When we're hungry and thirsty, reduced to those basic cravings, we see what it is exactly that we crave. When you're desperate, are your appetites and desires for holy, godly things or earthly, carnal things? I was unpleasantly surprised to see how many strong fleshly desires still reside right under the surface of my spirituality. My flesh cried out to be satisfied with the temporary, fleeting things of this world while my spirit told me that my desires should be for God and the Words of His mouth. So I battled. I had to force myself to go to the Word that I wasn't craving and not the world that I was.

I felt like indulging my pride, my selfishness, my laziness. I didn't feel like continuing in Bible study or investing in others (especially my family). The question is, do you go with what you feel to be true or what you know to be true? Do you give into the flesh and wallow in the mud or do you choose the Spirit and wash yourself in the pure, clean water of His Word? Do you run after the praise of men, seeking the things that make you jealous, indulging in the things that leave you miserable or do you seek the praise of God, the things that make you holy, and the things that ultimately satisfy?

Secondly, deserts test our faith. When you can't feel the presence of the Lord, do you still believe He's there? Do your actions and thoughts reflect your trust in Him when you feel like He's abandoned you? Will you choose to stand on His promises when you feel like you're standing on quicksand?

A faith that has not been tested is no faith at all. If we could see God with our eyes and know His whole plan from beginning to end, we wouldn't need faith. Similarly, if we always felt His presence, we wouldn't have to choose to trust. When the enemy comes calling, who are we going to believe? The one whispering lies in our ears or the One who spoke us into existence?

The lies, for me, usually go something like, "You're a big fat failure. People think you're some super Christian, but do you even love God? You're not willing to do anything for Him. You're selfish and prideful and full of sin. You stink as a parent and a wife and a friend and a leader. Just quit trying. You can't feel God right now because He's sick of you and your sin. You'll never be like so-and-so, so quit pretending." I know enough to recognize the lie, but sometimes it still seems so believable. Sometimes it sounds an awful lot like truth, especially when my emotions are confirming it.

Once again, it comes down to choice. The enemy came at Jesus at His weakest point and whispered lies to Him that sounded an awful lot like truth. In fact, it was taken right from the truth of God's Word! But you know how we can always recognize the lie? Its focus. Are the thoughts in your head focused on Jesus or yourself? Are you gazing at your own weakness or failures or unfulfilled desires or doubts? Or are you looking at Christ and His sufficiency and His completed work on the cross and His promises to you? Which one will you believe?

I wish I could say that I passed my desert experience with flying colors like Jesus did. There were many moments I gave into the lie. But, I can say that I fared better than I have in the past. I chose to do the things I had committed to do for the Lord even when everything in me screamed out to run away. I chose to go to His Word, though it was the last thing I wanted to read. I tried, in the fog of my pain and hunger and weakness, to remember what He has said about me...that I am loved, I am His, there is nothing that can tear me apart from Him, and that He will complete what He began in me.

Next time you look up and find that you've been led from the oasis to the desert, from the mountain top to the valley...look to Him. Cry to Him. Seek Him. Don't give in to that lion that is so eager to devour you. For though the lion has shown up to tempt you, it is the Shepherd that led you to the desert...not to tempt you or destroy you, but to expose where more work needs to be done and to prove whether or not your faith is genuine enough to pull you through to completion.

Cling desperately to His Word, His promises, His sufficiency, His faithfulness. He's not out to let you starve. He's out to make you more hungry for Him than you've ever been before...and then to satisfy that hunger like you never knew was possible.

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ " Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. Matthew 4:10-11

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

You Look Like a Monkey and You Act Like One, Too!

I seem to have hit a dry spell with this here little blog. About all I have to offer these days is impatience, a few new recipes, and some spiritual angst. Since none of that sounds very fun, I'll go with a few words about Jack.

Jack had a birthday last week, and we celebrated all weekend. I use the word celebrated loosely, for it seems that Jack always get the birthday shaft. His comes on the tail of Luke's, so I'm kind of birthdayed out (which doesn't take a whole lot). To make it simple for me, yet fun for Jack, I was going to have lunch and school with him, then he and Chris had planned a little Daddy/Son camping trip with Jack's friend and his dad. Naturally, there was the potential for severe weather that day, so school let out early (thus ruining our lunch plan) and the camping trip turned into a sleepover.

Let me say right now that I am a girl (if you were wondering) and I have no idea what boys are supposed to do when they sleepover. I didn't know what to do with them or how to entertain them. My approach was to send them outside until the tornado warnings sounded, which they never did, so we were good for most of the afternoon. We made homemade pizza, which impressed our guest very much, and then let them watch movies. Apparently we had a few movies in the old collection that weren't so appropriate, so right after we corrupted another person's kid's mind, we got rid of a few. In my mind, Jack's birthday was a total fail, but he had fun and I suppose that's all that matters.

We did follow up with a small family party on Sunday, which I did nothing for other than clean the house a little. Okay, I actually got Chris to clean the house a little while I baked bread...not for the party, but just for us. (Might I add this was my best bread yet and I really hope I can replicate it!) Grandma arrived with cake, we sang, we ate, Jack opened presents, and that's all she wrote.

Despite the lackluster celebration, we love Jack very much! I can't believe I have a seven-year-old and that's not my oldest child. What is happening and how do I stop it? Jack is a very smart, energetic, and unique kid. He has the memory of an elephant and can hide God's Word in his heart like nobody's business. I still hold out hope that he'll be a preacher someday. He's a passionate little guy and has an amazing amount of perseverance when it comes to something he's after. He says the most amazing prayers and can easily see how God's Word applies to his life.

His latest endeavor is learning to do a cartwheel, hoping all the while that Molly Kate will invite him to gymnastics. The fact that he's not the most athletic little guy doesn't deter him in anyway from participating in sports. If there's any chance of snacks being involved, he's game. At this point he thinks he's great at everything, even though his feet barely leave the ground when he does his "cartwheel." Self-confidence is not a problem.

Jack doesn't like chocolate, loves video games, and couldn't care less about eating enough vegetables. As long as he doesn't like the devil, loves Jesus, and couldn't care less about the things of this world, I'll be one happy mama. Happy Birthday, Jackeroo!

On a totally unrelated note, I found myself saying today, for the first time, "Get down off that toilet paper," right before Sam fell off of a roll of toilet paper. Apparently a roll of toilet paper can hold up a toddler for about 2.3 seconds until the baby comes tumbling down. In case you were wondering...or contemplating standing on a roll of toilet paper.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Designing for Hope...and Hoping I Never Have to Go to Africa

I remember when we got married...shocking, isn't it, considering it was so long ago? Weddings are funny things. You plan and you make a million and one decisions and you worry and you become filled with anticipation and you your parents fork out bookoodles of money and you dream. And then it's over. Just like that. The thing you've looked forward to and worked toward your whole life (for most girls) is over. And you feel thankful to have such sweet memories (hopefully) and you're glad you're married (hopefully), but you feel this strange sense of let-down. And the rest of life stretching before you seems either dull or stressful (like if you get married the day before your new husband graduates college and then go on your honeymoon for three nights only to return on Christmas Eve to the craziness of the holidays and then your new husband must desperately search for a job because you still have another semester of school and, oh yeah, he has to move into your apartment - not that anyone would ever do such a crazy thing).

So, I don't know if you've ever had a similar sensation, but that's kind of what some of us are feeling tonight, on a little smaller scale. The missions conference went really well. We met a lot of amazing people and Chris and Matthew did a great job presenting their design. The name, idea, and info is out there to people who actually live in or go to Africa on a regular basis, so the mission was accomplished. Yet I think there's still that let-down feeling that comes with something that you work feverishly toward for weeks and months. Then you return home to real life which seemed to pile up in the week you just devoted to this other event.

Now comes the hard part...waiting on God. Is anyone really good at that? And even if they're good at it, do they enjoy it? But it's in the waiting that you realize your powerlessness and weakness, which is the prime time for God to show up and do the amazing. So, now we wait (okay, obviously there is still some stuff to do) on God to put the next piece of the puzzle in. But the cool thing is that, when it happens, we'll know it's Him and not us.

And can I just say one more thing? Of course I can. This is my blog and no one is here to stop me. When I go and meet people like the missionaries I met today, I have several moments where I doubt if I'm really of the same faith as these people. Really...I pretty much stink at this whole Christian thing. Forget "The Very Worst Missionary." I'm going to rename my blog "The Very Worst Normal Run-of-the-Mill Christian" which is so much worse than the very worst missionary, because at least she's willing to be a missionary!

I sat there listening to these completely normal-looking, humble people talk about living and working as missionaries in Africa as though it were the most normal thing in the world. And I would be trying to imagine that person in their house in Africa hanging out with Africans. I just couldn't do it. And then they'd talk about the people and the great need for the Gospel there and how few missionaries there are and I'd think, "I should go there." And then I'd think, "There's no way I'm going there! There are rats and lions and snakes and hyenas and it's 125 degrees!"

There weren't really warm and fuzzy Jesus moments, but more so moments where I'd be amazed that people are really willing to do this...and not only willing, but eager. It was all very fascinating, in a I-totally-hope-I-never-have-to-go-there kind of way. And then Emily and I would look at each other, tell each other what horrible Christians we are and think how we need to do, right here where we are or maybe in someplace not too far away.

Seriously, there are people out there willingly sacrificing more than most of us have ever even momentarily considered giving, and they're excited about it! They love it. It's in their blood and they wouldn't choose anything else if they could. And they totally act like it's no big deal, "like when we both had malaria at the same time and our African neighbor in Mozambique had to bring us a tray of food every night." Yes, I hate when Chris and I both get malaria at the same time. Please remind me not to complain the next time I get a cold.

So I will gladly sit and wait for God to bring people to Chris and Matthew's fabulous ministry that is based in the good ole U.S. of A. and hope that it never means moving to Africa. But believing that, if it came to that, the Good Lord above in His great mercy would give me a new brain and personality so that I could go without wishing I were dead instead. Feel free to nominate me for this year's round of Christian of the Year Award.