Thursday, September 27, 2012

Church Outside the Walls

If you're a parent, do you often wonder what in the world you did with all your time before you had kids? I wonder how I wasn't bored out of my mind or what we did when company came over. Now the kids provide all the entertainment. (That's a warning for those who could receive a future invitation to our house.) Seeing as it's been a little over a decade since my name changed to "Mommy," it's hard to remember life back then. I'm pretty sure our tv got a lot more use than it does now, though.

Like most moms, I wish I had the time to write down or capture on video all the funny things the kids say and do. The other night, Chris and I were having a conversation that had something to do with the difference between "non-profit" and "for profit" organizations. Jack had the "light bulb just went off" look and excitedly said, "I know! Non-profits don't love God and don't like hearing about him and for-profits love God." Which is so true, if you change the word to prophet. He was very proud of himself, and we didn't dare burst his bubble by answering his question: "Why are you both laughing?"

As parents, we spend a lot of time praying for our kids. I'm not sure you can ever spend enough time praying for your kids, but we do what we can. We know they're going to need it, because we know a little bit about sin and this stinky world...and we know who their parents are. They've got a mom and dad who have good intentions, but aren't anywhere close to perfect. They get to see the real us day in and day out, and it scares me!

Anyway, as we pray for them, we ask the Lord to give us the wisdom to teach them what it means to love him and follow him, and we ask him to help us to be good examples of living out our faith in front of them. Life is full of moments that seem pretty insignificant, but we pray that all those small moments are compiled over the years to leave a Godly impression on our kids.

Sometimes, though, the Lord provides a moment that seems a little more significant.

Sunday morning, Jack was on Day 5 of the lovely First Fall Bug sickness. I'm usually the one who ends up staying home from church with sick kids since Chris teaches a class, but this was his day off from teaching. So, I got to haul the other three to church and enjoy my morning with the Lord. Chris got to spend his morning at the doctor's office with Jack. I was thinking I got the better end of the deal, but now I'm not so sure.

That morning, my small group lesson was on one of my favorite Scriptures, from Deuteronomy 6:

4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.


Our discussion in class mostly revolved around how we are to instill the truth of God's Word in our children's hearts as part of our daily talk and actions. What a privilege, but what a responsibility, as well.

The amazing part of all this is that, while I was "at church" reading, discussing, and learning about this, Chris and Jack were "being the church".

On the way back from the doctor, Jack and Chris saw a woman stuck in the road who seemed to be having car trouble. Since Jack was with him, Chris found it a little easier to stop and hoped it would make it easier for the lady to accept his help. After Chris helped the woman push her car off to the shoulder of the road, he offered her a ride. She asked to be taken to a nearby gas station, but figuring she was close to home, Chris insisted that he and Jack just take her to her house.

As they drove, they had just a little bit of time for some chit chat. In talking, Chris found out the lady had moved here from a nearby state three years earlier. He asked a logical follow-up question. "So, what brought you here?"

"I lost a baby and I just needed to get away."

Oh, how people around us can be hurting and we never even realize it.

Chris replied, "Oh, we lost a baby this summer."

"Mine was six."

Heartache.

As they arrived at her house, Chris offered to pray with her. She accepted the offer, and Chris, Jack, and their new friend, M, had church.

When I got home, Chris told me the story, but Jack wasn't around. A little while later, when we sat down for lunch, Jack thanked God for our food and prayed for M and her broken down car.

We love taking our kids to church. We want them to love the church and never give up gathering together with other believers to worship and learn. But, more than that, we want them to be the church. Church happens anywhere and everywhere that believers are. We are the church. And we have the only hope there is for a hurting and dying world.

I pray that Jack will remember that, though he wasn't able to go to church that day, he was able to be the church to someone who might have just needed a reminder that there is a God who loves her. He sees her and cares for her, and he's chosen his people, his church, to show her that love. And sometimes he'll even interrupt our good plans for his better plans in order to express that love.

Be ready, Church, to be Jesus. And show your kids how to do it, too, when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Livin' in the First World

One of my new favorite phrases or sayings (or whatever it's called), which seems to apply in oh-so-many situations is "first world problems"; you know, as opposed to "third world problems." I'm a first world girl in every sense of the word. I hate, hate, hate bugs, I consider air conditioning and heating to be vital needs, and I consider a daily (or twice daily when called for) shower a non-negotiable item. I also like to have a variety of foods available at all times (who likes to get bored with food?) and feel down in the dumps when no dessert is to be found in the house.

I find it very easy to complain about doing laundry, even though I have a fully functioning automatic washer and I've never hung anything on a clothesline in my whole entire life. (Okay, the play one I strung up in my great-grandmother's den when I was five doesn't count.) I whine about how long I have to spend in the kitchen everyday, yet I've never picked my own wheat and ground it into flour or rung a chicken's neck before dinner or cooked over a wood-burning stove. I huff and puff at the numerous times I have to sweep my nicely tiled kitchen floor and I find myself wishing we had more space for all our stuff, though we live in a mansion compared to most of the world and last time I checked, "too much stuff" wasn't actually eligible to be considered a real problem.

So, I've tried to gain a new perspective on things lately by stopping short of complaining and reminding myself that I'm blessed to be experiencing yet another first world problem. I can assure you all my friends are thrilled with all the help I'm giving them in finding that perspective on life as well. Just the other night, a friend beat me to the punch as she labeled our dilemma of being unable to find dessert at 10pm on a girls' outing a "first world problem." Okay, I'll admit to you that I was actually too consumed with my sadness over my unsatisfied dessert craving, that I didn't even catch it.

I'm thankful for my new perspective, because some most days I really need it. Today happened to be one of those days. It was nothing more than a first world kind of day, just inviting me to have a pity party or a temper tantrum or a pout fest, but most of the day, I retained my joy in the Lord and tried to look in every nook and cranny of my life for the his presence and plans. He knew before the world began that today, in only my third week of Community Bible Study (one of the highlights of my week), I'd be at home with a sick kid and a demanding toddler tackling an endless pile of chores. (Of course, I should have known it as well seeing as it is the end of the first month of school. We schedule a germ visit at this time every year.) And He planned it that way for a purpose.

And I was (mostly) good with that.

Until late in the day, after the mountain of laundry and the bored boys and the temper tantrums and the toys randomly and constantly appearing just where I was trying to walk were starting to get the best of me. But the straw that broke this tired, stuck-at-home camel's back was the snotty-nosed toddler climbing up my leg, screaming for a bite of the frozen chocolate banana I had tried unsuccessfully to sneak away and eat in peace.

Sometimes it's the little things.

I'm telling you, the U.S military needs to put some time and money into researching kids' snack and junk food radar. It's impossible to get by with anything, be it frozen bananas or CheezIts, when there's a kid within a half-mile radius. How do they know? For the love, will somebody tell me?

In that moment of leg-climbing desperation, my first world problem seemed pretty serious to me. I mean, chocolate covered bananas are vital to life. They're the perfect combination for satisfying that sweet tooth while still maintaining some semblance of healthiness and low calorie intake. But all my calories felt wasted, thrown into the trash heap of unenjoyed meals, because I hadn't gotten to savor one single bite. Let's face it. The real reason you eat chocolate covered anything is purely for enjoyment. (Unless maybe it's chocolate covered insects and that would clearly only happen for survival's sake.)

As I pried the banana-deprived child off my leg, threw my popsicle stick in the garbage, and fought with every fiber of my being the urge to have a fit like the ones said child throws so often and so well, I felt defeated and I wanted to escape. My whole Christ-centered day was on the brink of turning into a Mommy Tornado of Wrath. (Please tell me my children are not the only ones who've experienced a Mommy Tornado of Wrath.)

But over the next hour, the Lord gently gave me the same reminders he'd been giving me all day. I wanted him to get glory for what he'd done for me during my day full of nothing but ridiculous first-world problems that all added up to what felt like a legitimate problem. I was one woman (okay, I really still feel like a girl) trying to fulfill God's calling on her day to be a mommy to sinful children and a wife to an almost-but-not-quite perfect husband and an encouraging friend and a thorough maid and a decent cook and a prayer warrior; and no matter where you live or what kind of appliances you have, sometimes it's hard.

Isn't it supposed to be, though? If we're fulfilling God's plans for us, there should be something in there that causes us to fall at his feet in complete dependency on him. Because, otherwise, he's not getting any glory and we're not experiencing what it means to abide in him.

Maybe he knows that, for Amy, it shouldn't be that hard to have a happy heart and give thanks for all the blessings she has. So true. But he also formed my inmost parts and understands the weariness and the internal struggles that just come with being all the things he's ordained for me, a girl made of dust, to be.

So he gently calmed me, picked me back up, reminded me of where I get the strength to do the things that need to be done, and allowed me to salvage what was left of my day with a pretty good attitude. He kept the beast, who wanted to be whiny and demanding when my husband got home, at bay and helped me to just smile when, exhausted and ready for day's end, I still had to give a still-fussy toddler a bath, entertain a seven-year-old by teaching him math, give my school girl a little attention, and keep a four-year-old from bugging the stew out of his siblings.

Even when my life is basically a little pile of not-so-big first world problems, I still need the sufficiency of his grace in every moment, and I'm thankful that it reaches even to spoiled, first-world girls like me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Messy, Messy

As I write, I'm listening to the song Chris and I are a little obsessed with right now.



I'm telling you, there's no greater medicine for the soul than worship. Something to look forward to...an eternity of it at the throne of God.

Speaking of needing medicine for your soul (or just to keep you sane), are there any greater teachers than toddlers? Why do we send kids to school? We should just let them be the teachers. I mean, the life lessons they can teach us are more valuable, in the end, than multiplication anyway, right?

Sam is about to be two (please allow me a moment to dry my eyes). I think he's at the only age that can make you want to resign from parenting the moment the kid gets out of bed and makes you want to have him around forever all at the same time. I'm telling you, the way he says garbage truck is unbelievably cute. I can't get enough of it. And tonight I just couldn't quit tickling his feet, because everytime I stopped for a moment, he'd shake his finger at me and say, "No, no, Mommy," in the cutest voice ever. If only he wouldn't become obsessed with getting behind the video camera everytime I get it out, I could preserve this cuteness for years to come.

All that cuteness fades very quickly when it's time to feed the kid, though. Honestly, I dread it. Why? Because two things are guaranteed when Sam sits down to eat a meal: a fit will be pitched at some point and a mess will be made. Look, all my kids make a mess when they eat, but Sam creates a situation that could be declared a disaster area by the governor if he came to assess it. (Okay, I might be exaggerating just a bit, but I'm the one who usually has to clean it up.)

Most of the issues regarding fits and messes occur because Sam wants to DO IT HIMSELF. The thing is, I really want to DO IT FOR HIM. We disagree over this one minor issue. However, now that I'm a seasoned mother (aka I'm old and I've been at this for over a decade now), I know that the best thing at this point in his life (as opposed to this point) is to restrain myself and let him do it himself.

I really, really want to take over because I want to avoid the mess. I don't want cornbread crumbs everywhere within a ten foot radius of his chair. I don't want spaghetti in his ears. I don't want yogurt in his hair. I don't want little invitations for ants all over my kitchen floor. And I certainly don't want rice in every crack of his body and his chair.

But, to avoid this situation long term I only have two options: 1. Feed this perfectly able-bodied child his dinner until he's 18 and headed off to college. 2. Let him learn how to do it well himself.

In the moment, I want to choose option 1, because I want to avoid the mess and the time it will take me to clean it up. However, though my children have sucked most of my brain cells from me, I am still smart enough to know that option 1 really isn't the best choice for me or my child. So, I turn my back, close my eyes, and force my arms to stay at my side while I listen to the happy sounds that mean he is most certainly making the biggest mess yet.

And that's when God showed me a little lesson straight from the highchair of a messy toddler.

Relationships are messy. People are a pain. But if you really want the payoff in the end of a person who is whole and mature and looks more like Jesus, you have to let them make a mess of you sometimes.

I like easy. Don't we all? I like people who make my life fun, people who I connect with, people who leave me with more of a skip in my step.

I don't so much like getting involved with people who need a lot of help or encouragement. I find myself avoiding people who it's hard to talk to. I don't want to invest my precious time with people who really don't seem able to give me anything in return. I don't want to choose the long, hard road versus the fun, easy road.

It's too messy. It requires too much work on my part. It's hard.

But I wonder if those are the very people that God would rather me spend time on. Isn't that the sort that Jesus spent time with? Didn't he say something about not inviting people over for dinner who can return the favor? Didn't he spend most of his time with a ragtag bunch of self-absorbed guys who didn't "get it"? Didn't he like to help people who had absolutely no chance of helping themselves?

It's just so hard to choose to step into or stay in those relationships and circumstances when you really have plenty of "fun, easy people" you could just keep hanging out with. It's so hard to choose to love when it doesn't come naturally. It's hard to invest the time in children, or spouses, or friends, or coworkers, or acquaintances who have a long way to go to be the people God wants them to be.

But if we shy away from those people or ditch those hard relationships, don't we look just like the world? Anybody can love the "fun people" who love them back. Jesus calls us to invest in the people who actually need us him. Even if it means cleaning up rice and spaghetti and cornbread crumbs for a long, long time.

In the end, I think it might be worth it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Mind is a Battlefield

Seems life is full of people taking nosedives off of cliffs these days. Our pastor preached last week about how the Lord can redeem those who've taken just such a cliff dive, and it was a beautiful reminder of God's grace. But I also have a sweet friend who was so burdened all week by the desire to see less believers take that nose dive in the first place. Though the Lord is in the business of redemption, it comes at a cost. Broken relationships, families, lives, etc.

And yet the cliff diving continues. I find myself wondering what in the world some people are thinking, but the Lord has been quick to remind me that pride comes before taking a little dive of your own. I would be blind to think I'm not just as capable as anyone of taking that swan dive into the abyss. Our hearts are deceptive and the enemy is on the prowl. We cannot be too careful lest we find ourselves a pancake at the bottom of the valley.

So how do we keep far, far away from the cliff's edge?

Well, you can just live life like I watch football.

Huh?

Okay, I've been a football fan for pretty much ever, living where I do. Most people I know have been raised on it and are either so sick of it they can't stand the thought of it or so in love with it that it determines their Saturday plans from August until November. And then, if you're a fan of the same team I am, you spend December thinking about bringing home another crystal ball in January.

Roll Tide.

While I'm not the kind of fan who can quote stats and give you a play by play of every game for the past 37 seasons, I have been known to let my emotions be affected by the outcome of a ball game.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that, but there you go.

The funny thing is, I remember a football season about ten years ago when I had this chubby, giggly baby girl, wearing her Roll Tide apparel and hanging out in her noisy exersaucer by the tv. As I watched the game, I remember thinking, "Wow. I don't care about this nearly as much as I used to. I've been blessed with this sweet baby, and she's what really matters, not football. Even if my team doesn't win, I'll still get to be her mommy tomorrow."

Yes, thank you. What a deep moment.

But, as believers, do you remember having those moments of awareness and clarity in your spiritual life? In those moments, what's important and what's not seems so obvious. And you wonder why you ever cared about the unimportant stuff in the first place.

Then, the new wears off, and you find yourself sitting down to watch a football game and when things start to go a little south, you find your stomach in knots and your temper getting short. That same not-so-baby girl walks into the room, and you ignore what she's saying because, "Hello! The game is on!" And you feel grumpy and the day doesn't seem so fun anymore.

Hold on just a minute here! This one's not getting by me. I remember that this is just football and that this giant fifth grade girl standing next to me matters a whole lot more than this silly game that I won't even remember in a few days  weeks  months.

I find myself whispering those words of truth to myself: This is just football. It doesn't matter. Jesus matters. Eternity matters. Not this.

Before I know it, my mind is restored by the truth and the unimportant fades away. As long as I'm taking those thoughts captive, my mind can stay focused on what it should be focused on.

But one moment of weakness, one moment where I let the lie remain, one moment when I deliberately choose to focus on the temporary pleasures of this world, and a door is cracked to all kinds of dangerous things. Before I know it, I can find my toes on the edge of a cliff and my whole body willing to take a flying leap.

All it takes is one moment too long of my mind lingering on the game instead of the girl.

All it takes is one moment too long of my mind entertaining the desires of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the allure of this world, and I can become a cliff diver.

We are all so close. Don't ignore the warnings, believers, or the enemy might just have his way with you. Cling to what is good, abide in Christ, take your thoughts captive, and focus on truth. None of us is immune.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. 1 Peter 5:8-9

Friday, September 14, 2012

Morning's Almost Here

A couple of years ago, I studied Revelation at Community Bible Study. I'll be honest and tell you my first reaction when I heard we were studying this book was not so much, "Wonderful. I cannot wait to have a greater understanding of the last book in the Bible," and a little more, "Ugh. What am I supposed to get out of that?"

Frankly, I do not care for the endless speculation and even the educated guessing on what so many symbolic and seemingly confusing things in this particular book of the Bible mean. No disrespect to the Biblical scholar who spent a large portion of his life trying to figure it out and forming his opinion on it, but while I have my own opinions or ideas about some things in this book, I'm more of the opinion "Yeah, we're not going to know all that this side of heaven. Can we please stop having a heated discussion about it?"

There was plenty of discussion of things like the Millenial Kingdom, the Rapture, the seven bowls and seals and maids a milking, but there was something so much more amazing than that...God revealed himself and his Word to me in a fresh light. And, as he so often does, years later, he is still using this Scripture to show me new things and remind me of amazing things that I can't afford to forget.

This has been a week of discussing dark and light from 1 John, and it's also been a week when the dark seems to be taking over. In present day America, we really have very little concept of what it means to be in the dark. Even when we turn out all the lights in our house, the street light shines in my bedroom window. Light is available at the flip of switch...whether it be in my home, in my car, or outside with a flashlight. But true darkness, where no source of light is available, can be engulfing. Darkness can be suffocating and paralyzing. Children are afraid of it without ever having to be told that scary things can lurk there. Seeing a place at night gives a totally different feeling and experience than seeing it in the day. The blackest darkness immediately brings to mind evil and fear.

The only thing that relieves the darkness is light, of course. It's no wonder that God's presence is manifested in light. He brings hope to a dark world and understanding to a blind people. He is good, not evil, and brings growth and life to things which would otherwise die.

But there are days, weeks, seasons when the darkness seems to be unrelenting. It feels overpowering. It takes your breath away, and threatens to steal the joy of the Lord from your heart. You start to question and wonder and cry. It seems as though the darkness might just win out after all. Maybe God isn't who you thought he was. This life is just too hard. You find yourself stumbling and hurting and maybe even think a little part of you is dying. You're in the middle of a nightmare that you just can't wake up from.

Is there anything worse?

And this is where Revelation comes in. It's a book written to the 1st century church...a group of people living in a dark and dying world. A body of believers who were experiencing all the fear and hardship that the darkness could throw at them. A people in need of hope. So, the Lord gives them Revelation.

Well, I'm the first to admit that I don't exactly think of sunshine and roses when I think of Revelation. The images that more readily come to my mind are rivers of blood, scary demon creatures coming and wreaking havoc, and evil running amuck. That's quite reassuring. Thanks, Lord. I feel so much more hopeful now.

But while the middle is quite gory and downright scary at times, it's really bookended by some amazing truth and hope. There are many things that remain unclear to me about Revelation, but one thing stands out as clear as a bell. Jesus is King, he is faithful, he is eternal, and he is going to win this battle once and for all.

What if we were to score an interview with Jesus? Imagine yourself as that reporter just waiting to get the scoop right from the horse's mouth and you say, "Well, Jesus. Thanks for stopping by. Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?" John got to have the last recorded interview with Jesus before God put the back cover on the book and declared it complete. Would you like to know what Jesus had to say about himself?

Chapter 1: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."

Chapter 22: "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, and Beginning and the End...I Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."

It's as if he says, "This world is a big ball of pain and struggle and hurt and chaos because of sin. But I was before it and I will be here long after it. I hold it all together and will stay the same no matter what happens in between. I hold the worst thing this world has to offer - death - in the palm of my hand. It ain't no big thing to me. I am the Savior that existed before you did, that was promised from the beginning, and that guarantees all this will end well."

Today, it was the last of his words that really hit me. I've memorized this Scripture before and know I must have uttered the phrase, "...and the bright Morning Star" many, many times. But today it stuck out. What a beautiful description for Jesus to use for himself as his last recorded words for his church before his return. Oh, how amazing he is.

He knew how overwhelming the darkness would be. He knew there would be times it was like we were stuck in an endless nightmare. He knew how desparate we would be for hope. And so that's exactly what he left us with: Hope.

The bright, Morning Star is that glorious star that appears just as night is ending and morning is about to break through. It is that signal of the end of darkness and the beginning of a new day. It is the promise of the coming light. Only Jesus is a more wonderful Morning Star than we'll ever see on this earth. He is the Morning Star that signals the coming of an endless day. The night will never return. The darkness will never threaten again. Victory will be complete. Hope will be realized. Light will be here to stay, with not even the smallest speck of darkness able to find its way into his presence.

And so, as he closed his book that he wrote as a gift to his people, living in a dark world, he left us with the image of light. Dawn. Morning. Hope. He is so good.

And we can all say, like John in verse 20: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." And, one day, he will.

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:3-5

Friday, September 7, 2012

Stone Mountain

As the temps dip to a refreshing 88 degrees and we get overanxious for fall to show up, I've got some catching up to do with some fun summer stuff that never got shared. And if you really don't feel that it needs to be shared, consider this my own personal scrapbook for posterity one day (and feel free to ignore this post), because let's be real and acknowledge the fact that none of that fancy schmancy scrapbooking has been done around here since kid #2 was about two months old. And now he's 7. Years.

Back in July, we decided our summer record of being home for a week and a half was quite long enough, so we took a quick trip to Stone Mountain with some of our best traveling buddies, the McNeals. We took our first trip with these friends when they had little baby twins and we had one curly-headed blonde baby girl. Time has flown and we headed to Atlanta this year with seven kids in tow.

After we arrived and got our two carts full of stuff to our hotel rooms (hey, one night times eleven people is...well, eleven), the kids were bouncing off the walls, if you can imagine that. So, we headed to enjoy some putt-putting in the fabulous 95 degrees with 95% humidity weather.

I think I'll start the post with the following photo, because it's just so cute:


We had to go in three different "groups" because our one group together blew the course limit away. This resulted in bunches of kids running ahead of us and two husbands and a baby lagging behind. Kerrie and I ended up with the two little Sweetarts.

One wasn't so happy...

And the other one was...


Maybe it was because she got started on such a good note...with a hole in one! There's nothing to demoralize an adult's whole miniature golf game like a three-year-old showing you up big time on the very first hole. Yeah, we decided to chunk the whole score keeping business after that. No need to have evidence of getting creamed by preschoolers.


About 2/3 of the way through the game, we decided we'd putted all we could stand to putt and headed to dinner. The lovely thing about theme parks is that you can feed a family of six a Bucket O Chicken for the low, low price of $43. Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that much, but it was way more than a Bucket O Anything should cost.

After a quick return to the hotel for a dip in the pool, we headed to the world renowned Laser Light Show. I don't know what it is about lights projected onto the side of a mountain that looks like a giant baked potato (per my friend and putting partner, Kerrie), but it's pretty great. Add in some fireworks and a rousing soundtrack, and you've got yourself some entertainment. Sam found it a little boring and decided to pass out, but everyone else really loved it.

We got back to the hotel with some pooped kiddos and spent the next 37 minutes trying to procure three washcloths. Apparently they're in high demand and must be kept under lock and key. I mean, we can't just let any old riff raff get washcloths. (Any normal person would have thrown some soap and water on themselves and headed to bed. I never claimed to be normal.)

The next morning, we were up and at 'em pretty early. Included in our package was breakfast at the hotel. And this wasn't your Holiday Inn Express continental breakfast. I could have skipped the rest of the day and camped out in the dining room all day. I can see why people get attached to living the high life. I could do with eating at nice hotels and getting my choice of every breakfast item known to man in any quantity I could handle. Of course, the kids were excited about the tiny boxes of cereal.

After filling our tummies, we headed to do the Sky Hike. It's a high ropes course. If that means nothing to you, allow me to explain. You harness yourself to a metal beam and walk across very narrow or rickety things up in the sky. Let me tell you that I'm afraid of almost everything, and it never occurred to me to be afraid of Sky Hike. Not once.

Kerrie and I watched the guys and the four older kids go through all three levels while we kept an eye on the Sweetarts and poor Sam, who was stuck in a stroller.



There were a few tense moments and tears by a child I will leave unnamed (but who proceeded to complete the whole course) and there was the dare devil leading the way, Jack. I'm telling you, kids will never cease to surprise. He cries and cowers at tiny ants and loud trains, but put him on a 2x4 35 feet in the air and he's all smiles.


So, finally, it was the mamas' turn. We got strapped up, hiked up the stairs, and then...I freaked out. See?

Okay, I don't exactly look terrified in this pic, but I was at certain moments. I couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to me to be afraid and then I got up there and hated it. I told myself I was completely safe and that the worst thing that could happen to me was to slip and dangle in the air in humiliation. But that didn't help. I was shakin' in my tennis shoes and focused on nothing but getting out of there.

I'm so sorry I don't have the picture that my dear, sweet friend Tom took as he laughed at me, but I did have to get a little help from a friendly Sky Hike guide. I should remember his name, because for those few moments that he held my hand as I slid across that 2x4, he was the best friend I'd ever had. You know you're scared when you don't care who laughs at you or takes your picture while you're holding a perfect stranger's hand and looking like a big old chicken.

Needless to say, I chose to forego the second and third levels and get my feet planted firmly back on solid ground asap. Obviously, Chris felt the same way. He's such a scaredy cat.


Sweet Sam finally got to escape the stroller and do his own little course. He's a chip off the old block...Daddy's block. Not a scared bone in his body.


After my blood pressure and heart rate returned to normal, we proceeded with the rest of our day. There was water at some climbing geyser thing, another overpriced meal...

...some cute photo ops with some cute kids...


Is it just me or does Sam look a little ticked off? The stroller must have been getting to him.

...the nice and relaxing train ride that put at least two people in our party to sleep...


...and the kids' favorite part, a giant sand box. They're so easily impressed.



Of course, there was the pinnacle of it all (ha!)...the trip to the top of Stone Mountain. Some more ambitious people would have walked up, but those people don't have seven kids 10 years old and under with them. So, we rode the giant, terrifying skylift thingy where they cram you in like sardines and you work some fervent prayer time into your trip, while holding your breath for fear of your neighbor's body odor.

Here they are. Our seven angels, being blinded by the sunlight as we ignore their complaints of burning corneas and insist they smile for a picture.

Here is Chris pretending to be cool.


And here is the moment when we try not to freak out even though it looks, from where we're standing, like Olivia's about to jump off the side of the mountain. You know there's a fence, but you still want to freak out.


Sam has no concept of gravity or mountains and yet feels like there is no need for him to be supervised, so it wasn't too long before I was ready to head back down. But before we go...a picture for the ages...


Then we boarded the swinging gondola thingy once again, packed on even tighter than before. When we reached the bottom and the door finally opened, Sam (just learning to talk) pushed me from behind and shouted, "Go!" I don't blame him.

We wrapped up the day with some non-theme-park-food at Uncle Julio's. I felt genuinely sorry for that poor waiter who obviously drew the shortest straw and got stuck with a sweaty, starving party of 11. Drinks got spilled multiple times, crayons were everywhere, we all got water and ordered things off the half price happy hour (food) menu, and the volume in the place went down 100 decibels when we left. Yeah, I'm thinking he was glad to see us leave.

But it sure was a lot better than a Bucket O Chicken, for about the same price.

All in all, Trip #5 of the Summer of 2012 was a success. A grand time was had by all. It's so great to have such wonderful friends to make such fun memories with year after year.

Clafouti!! Bless you.

We've gotten into the habit of going blueberry picking every summer and then freezing as many as we can haul home. Okay, if I'm being honest, I've gotten into the habit of sending Chris, Maddie, and Nana blueberry picking in July while I stay home with the boys in the air conditioning. I just do it because I know the boys would not care for the heat or bugs and would just make everyone miserable with their complaining. Oh, those boys.

This year we had several gallon-sized bags full of berries and we still weren't sure it would last us all year. Many times we end up confiscating some of Nana's supply because evidently we can put away the blueberries. Hey, it's because we're such health nuts and just love our Super Foods...and because they're yummy, especially if you pair them with sugar and butter in lots of different recipes.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend just happened to call at the right moment in order to prevent a total meltdown by yours truly. You see, I had just been to the basement and realized that the door of our deep freezer hadn't been shut all the way...at least one to two weeks prior to that moment. My fears had come true! You see, ever since we'd hit the mother load of blueberries, I'd worried that something would happen and they'd all be lost to us. (That happened once with a newly bought pile of chicken. That made me sick, but fresh-picked blueberries are oh so much more precious than chicken.)

Everything in the freezer was thawed. Cold, but thawed. The horror! It was like a nightmare I couldn't wake up from. My precious berries.

I grabbed the bags and ran upstairs, throwing them in the freezer and throwing up a prayer. And just before nuclear meltdown, the phone rang and I was able to gain a little perspective on the whole situation. Life would go on, even if the berries were not salvagable.

But I'm happy to report that we've been using some of the refrozen berries and nothing horrifying has happened. Everything has turned out just as yummy as always.

Tragedy averted.

(Just so you know, I'm completely aware that this qualifies as a first world problem. That's my new catch phrase to help me appreciate the very minor nature of most of the problems that I face in a day. Kids being late to bed, spilled milk on the kitchen floor, grout that just won't quit cracking, a really gross shower that needs scrubbing, not getting my workout in...all first world problems. Not worth losing my religion over.)

Still, I'm pretty happy to have blueberries, especially tonight because we had...

Blueberry Clafouti (Cla-FOO-tee)

What's a clafouti, you ask? Something I like to eat. And something I like to make since it's super easy and hardly gets any dishes dirty.

So just in case you, too, have a freezer full of blueberries and want to bask in all their berry goodness all year long, here's the recipe:

2 1/2 cups blueberries, sweetened to taste
3 drops (or more) of almond extract
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1 stick butter, melted

Preheat to 350. Sprinkle almond extract over sweetened berries and set aside.

Stir flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a 2 1/2 quart baking dish. Add the milk and stir until mixed well. Pour the butter over the mixture (don't stir anymore) and then sprinkle the blueberries over the top.

Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes or until the top is brown.

Serve with vanilla ice cream. Trust me. Serve it with ice cream, right after it comes out of the oven.

I realize that if this were a real blog, I'd have pictures of this, but I'm usually so excited to get my food ready and actually eat it (and there are usually just a few people screaming similar sentiments), that I never think to take pictures until after I'm done. And I doubt you want pics of my dirty dishes.

Well, just in case...here's what was left of the first clafouti I made about 15 minutes after it came out of the oven.


In case you're remotely interested, here are a few more of my favorite blueberry recipes.

Here are some yummy Blueberry Bars. (Okay, I was certain I'd taken a photo of this a while back, but I must have deleted it thinking I'd never really get around to posting this.) I've served it as dessert, but around our house there's a fine line between dessert and breakfast, which is what I usually serve it as.

Of course, there's the legitimate breakfast meal of Blueberry Pancakes and the always popular Blueberry Muffin (with a healthy twist).

And here is my oldest and most favorite blueberry recipe: Blueberry Poundcake. Ain't nuttin' healthy 'bout this.

Ingredients:


1 cup butter
2 cups blueberries, washed
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour, divided
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1. Grease and flour 10" tube pan. Set aside. Preheat oven to 325.

2. Cream butter, gradually adding sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Mix well.

3. In separate bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix well.

5. Coat blueberries with remaining flour and fold them into cake mixture. Pour into pan.

6. Bake at 325 for 1 hour 10 minutes.

I would add the ever-so-easy and always popular Blueberry Turnovers, but I feel that I've bored you enough with berries.

And now I can go to bed happy, because there's more clafouti in my frig. I'm one lucky girl.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

P.S. I love you!

Today, I helped Luke write his first love letter. I was only willing to do so because I know I'm still his #1 girl. In 10-15 (or hopefully 25) years when a girl is giving me a run for my money, I don't imagine I'll be so helpful.

Only his mother would display little Luke's love life for all the world to see. I feel certain he will thank me one day. You might remember Luke's wedding to his darling Annabella. It seems that it's a good thing it was only pretend, or we might have a problem on our hands. His four-year-old heart is fickle. Or maybe it's just torn between two loves. (Really, there is at least one more unsuspecting girl in serious contention for the title as well.) But who could expect one so young to make up his mind on such a serious matter?

Annabella has seriously hurt her chances by moving overseas, though when she comes back all grown up and fluent in Italian, his head might be turned pretty quickly. 

But, for now, his "sweetart", Katherine, has captured his heart. Below, you will find him pouring out his love for her. Translation is courtesy of Mommy (a.k.a. the only person in the house at the time who is actually fluent in the written form of the English language).



(He was adamant that he write his name on the letter. Otherwise, "she might think it's from Peyton." Heaven forbid.)


It sounds a little like he's taking off for a six-month voyage overseas. Actually, he'll probably see her tomorrow night at church. But, when you're in love, 24 hours can seem like an eternity.

I can't deny that they make a cute couple. And I feel certain that my sweet, tender-hearted boy will one day make a great husband. (Okay, my heart feels like it's being ripped out of my chest at the thought of that. My poor future daughter-in-law.)


Luke and Katherine: Sweetarts Forever


Monday, September 3, 2012

Our Eternal 401k

Jesus told this story to his disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs. One day a report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money. So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Get your report in order, because you are going to be fired.’

“The manager thought to himself, ‘Now what? My boss has fired me. I don’t have the strength to dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. Ah, I know how to ensure that I’ll have plenty of friends who will give me a home when I am fired.’ “So he invited each person who owed money to his employer to come and discuss the situation. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe him?’  The man replied, ‘I owe him 800 gallons of olive oil.’ So the manager told him, ‘Take the bill and quickly change it to 400 gallons.’ “‘And how much do you owe my employer?’ he asked the next man. ‘I owe him 1,000 bushels of wheat,’ was the reply. ‘Here,’ the manager said, ‘take the bill and change it to 800 bushels.’

 “The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?

 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him. Then he said to them, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God.  Luke 16:1-15

The past couple of days, the story Jesus told of the Prodigal Son has come up several times in my life. It's such a heart-warming story that shows so clearly the love of our Heavenly Father, our need for true repentance and our unworthiness of his forgiveness, and the danger of judgmental hypocrisy. Who doesn't love that story?

Today, I kept reading, and Jesus' story recorded right after the Prodigal Son seems anything but heartwarming. What a strange way to follow up. I haven't heard many (okay, maybe not any) sermons preached on this story. I mean, I'm sure it's been done. I just don't remember being present for it. It's one of those passages in the Bible that seems a bit odd and makes me scratch my head a little. But today it made a little more sense.

I know I have harped on the subject of money and what we do with it more than once. It's just one of those things that the Lord will not let me go about, so, naturally, I don't want to let anyone else off the hook, either!! That wouldn't be loving of me, would it??

I guess it's not too bad of me to keep bringing up money when Jesus brought it up quite a bit himself. Really, it's all over Scripture, so it must be kind of important. Let's be real. How much of our thoughts, time, and life in general are in some way tied to money? Guess what I did this morning? Paid bills! Happy Labor Day! It's how we celebrate around here. Isn't that what everybody did today? Money pervades most every aspect of our lives, so if God is also going to pervade every aspect of our lives, I'd imagine the two are going to butt heads every once in a while.

So, I digress. Back to the story. It seems to me that Jesus is kind of insulting our intelligence here. He's holding up a selfish, dishonest businessman as our example to follow. Again, how odd. Now, obviously, Jesus would not be encouraging us to be selfish and dishonest. I mean, here's a man who refers to himself as The Truth. Probably not a fan of dishonesty. Just a guess. And he's talked repeatedly about losing yourself and loving others, so I'm also guessing he hasn't changed his mind here and decided to tell everyone, "Well, on second thought, let's just eat, drink, and be merry. Hey, gotta look out for ole' #1."

So what is he saying? Well, I kind of see it like this. "Hey, people who want to come with me. You're not being very smart about this whole material possessions thing. I mean, people out in the business world use their brains and their money to work for them. Why don't you do the same? I'm not calling you to be mindless and follow the crowd. If I tell you that it's eternal things that matter, use your money to make eternal investments. You're throwing it away on things that aren't going to last instead of being wise and using your money for things that really matter and will endure. Don't make the world look smarter than us, for the love."

I have a feeling no one is going to ask me for my input on the next and best English translation of the Bible.


In a nutshell: The world knows what it loves and it uses all of its effort, resources and scruples to go after it. If you love the things of God, why don't you use all of your effort, resources and scruples to chase me?

It's kind of basic. Jesus tells us what matters and what will last in life, and then we turn around and use all the resources he gives us on temporary, worldly things. Not a wise investment. If we say we value eternity and the souls of men, our checkbook should reflect it.

Then he goes on to talk about our faithfulness with the resources he's given us. It almost sounds like this whole money thing is a test. He says, "Hey, I'm going to give you a little something in your bank account just to see what you'll do with it. If I see that you use it wisely and lovingly in a way that makes me proud, I'll give you much greater spiritual blessings to go along with it. That way I'll know that you'll use both the material and the spiritual (which are so much better!) for the right purpose. Sound like a plan?"

Because, let's face it, where our treasure is, that's where our heart just happens to be as well. If he sees that our treasure is being invested in the things that are important to him, he knows our hearts are focused on things that are important to him. It all boils down to this: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”


So are you being smart with your money? The Today Show asks you that all the time, but their definition of smart and God's are two different things. The things of the world make God sick. If he glanced into your checkbook, would it make him want to lose his lunch? Or would he sit back and smile, his heart full of joy and pride over his little money manager?

Be careful. Don't assume that if you give a whole big 10% to church (oh, how we love rules) or if you throw a few dollars in the pot at Christmas time that you're good. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of us "American Christians" are living life deceived. We think we can give "enough" to make ourselves feel okay and then use the rest for those things we just "have to have." Constantly examine your heart. The Lord obviously knows my heart needs constant examination in this area, because he will not drop it.

Be intentional today about being sure your check register looks like a pretty close reflection of the heart of Jesus. Invest in something eternal. Love God with everything you are and love other people as much as you love yourself.

(Just in case you want options of some ministries that are near and dear to my heart, here are a few. But be sensitive to where the Lord is drawing your heart...and your checkbook. Be a wise kingdom investor.)

http://www.compassion.com/

http://amazima.org/

http://www.makewaypartners.org/

http://www.om.org/

http://designsforhope.org/




Sunday, September 2, 2012

Time to Trade

Sometimes I have a rare moment when I see things so clearly. It's like I get a glimpse into the heart of God and I wonder why in the world I ever saw things differently. So many things in this life of following Jesus seem so gray to us at times, and we spend our time and energy trying to put a hard and fast line on the ground so that we can tiptoe right up to it without feeling guilty and stop just shy of crossing it so that we can feel good about ourselves without actually giving of ourselves.

It's all really pathetic when you think about it. It's like God says, "Here's my storeroom full of the treasures of the universe. Take whatever you like. It's all for you." We walk to the door, take a quick look around, and pick up the smallest item that's closest to our feet, because something else might be too heavy to carry with us or might require us to move from our comfortable spot to reach it or might take up too much of our time and we've got places to be. Insanity is what it is.

And don't you think it makes God a little sad? He gave His Son so that we might experience the riches of His grace, but we barely give it any thought and just ask Him to give us a list of rules we can keep so we know we'll make the cut at the end of this life. He wants to give us so much, be we want so little.

I know I've shared from Psalm 81 before, but it's such a beautiful look into the heart of God. He reminds His people of all He'd done to deliver them and then it seems as though He's almost begging them to keep following Him. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it," He says to them. And then, "Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes." Then He says that "he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

This morning, as I thought of two areas in particular that we choose to give ourselves to the things of this world and chase after idols instead of after God Himself, my heart broke, just as it seems His heart does. I was reminded of Jesus' lament over the city that He had chosen, but that was about to kill Him. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"

The Lord has no need of us. He is complete, holy, and eternal with or without us. But He loves us so. And because of that love for us, He wants to give us the best of the best. We just seem so intent on settling for less.

Two areas where I know I've been guilty of chasing after idols are money (and the pleasure and security it can buy) and physical appearance. These two things seem to be so pervasive in the church that we can all look around at one another, who all claim to be followers of Jesus, and justify our actions. Everyone else is doing it. Surely if she's doing it, it's okay for me to do it. Money isn't evil. We're supposed to take care of our temple and want to look nice, right?

We've been so deceived by the enemy that we don't even realize the bondage we're living in. I worry about money (though not nearly as much as I used to). I often think of it as mine rather than God's. I dream of what I'll one day be able to do on this earth with the extra money I think that I'll have. I wonder if we've set aside enough to be secure down the road. I get bummed when I can't spend money on things that people around me are getting to enjoy.

All sounds pretty normal, right?

During any given day, more of my thoughts than I care to admit are consumed with my weight or perceived appearance. I find myself lamenting my "trouble areas" and comparing my body to that of other women. I plan what I should eat that day and then mentally beat myself up when I don't go by the plan (which I never do). When I'm having a "fat day," it's very likely that I'll show much less patience with my children and husband. As my mind wanders to my dissatisfaction with my body, my heart veers further and further away from contentment and gratitude. I end up criticizing myself over and over for my lack of self-control.

Sounds pretty horrible (but maybe kinda normal, too), right?

This is not the Lord's best for us. We say we trust Him, but we want to have all our financial ducks in a row so that we don't have to live by faith in Him. We say that the Lord looks at the heart, not the outward appearance, and so do we, but we let our perception (or the reality) of our physical appearance affect our mood, monopolize our thoughts, and many times dictate the way we spend our time and money.

Idolatry.

That's what it is, and it's heartbreaking. I'm not trying to shake my finger at myself or anyone else. I'm not trying to make up a new list of rules that we've already broken. I'm trying to remind myself that this is not the way I was meant to live. This is not the life Jesus died for me to have. He wants life abundant for me, and this ain't the road to that life.

He longs to gather us to Himself, whisper His love to us, free us from the bondage to this deceptive sin, and give us the power to live the lives He meant for us to live. Lives that matter. Lives full of joy, peace, love, hope. Lives that make a difference to other people. Lives that are poured out, spent, lost...only to gain what is infinitely greater. Lives that are not focused on storing up treasure here on this earth bound for flames or fixing up our earthly tent which will soon pass away. This life is meant to be an investment in the next. It's time we start putting ourselves into eternal things and let all this dust return to dust.

In the end, I want life with Jesus, not a pile of burnt up dust. So it's time to trade in my idols for the One True God. Seems like a pretty good trade to me.