At the End of Ourselves…

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the rest of the family’s breakfast (mine was an egg over, you guessed it, beans, rice, tomatoes and chicken)

At the end of ourselves is where we find God. Or so I’ve heard. And maybe today I experienced it.

This morning I was at the end of myself. To be honest, I was at the end of myself yesterday, and when I didn’t get to eat the heath bar covered brownies and one of the children pushed my buttons in a seriously annoying way and there were five needy children at bedtime and I was tired and realized I hadn’t gone for a run all weekend, I was done.

I almost ate that brownie. I was this close. I even considered putting a call out for solidarity/support onto our little 7 challenge Facebook group. Then I decided that no, I should just not tell them and make this my one cheat of the month and nobody need find out about it. Then I distracted myself, like all good toddler parents know how to do, and then I lay down on the couch to watch t.v., because thank goodness media and food months aren’t at the same time. And then it was bedtime. And I was not going to waste my one brownie cheat if I had to immediately brush away that delectable chocolatey flavor. Phew.

I was jolted awake by one of my darling children at 6:00 a.m. on a non-school day because, as he put it, “I have a really bad bloody nose and there’s no more toilet paper!” by which he meant, I’ve used a whole roll of toilet paper for the three bloody noses I’ve had during the night because I use two feet of paper to blot my nose one time. If bloody noses were an anomaly in our house perhaps I’d be a bit more compassionate. But two nights ago I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a different child to clean up the bloody nose mess she’d made in the bathroom. And Greg has dealt with at least one child’s bloody nose every morning this week. If any more fluids come out of these children’s bodies, I might have to move out. We are not amused.

Of course, I had been reading a parenting book last night and felt encouraged to start fresh with trying not to lose my temper with the kids. Needless to say, I didn’t last through my first three minutes awake.

So I came downstairs to Greg and began crying for all the bloody noses and the fighting and my inability to stop getting frustrated and the fact that it was a non-school day and Greg not only had to work, but also had a meeting that would keep him out until after the kids’ bedtime. So Greg comforted me for a second and then tried to solve my problem, which forced me to sniff up my tears and proclaim rudely, “I’m going for a run.”

And I hadn’t run in four days, which is not good. But the path was deserted and the moon was bright and I was outside in God’s creation. My thoughts swirled angrily for a while and then turned to wondering. And whining to God about why He took away my easy little comfortable-parent-of-two-bio-kids-life and gave me this hard one that I often don’t like in its place. And seriously, God, now I can’t eat brownies, either?

And good old Job came to mind. He gives and takes away…blessed be the name of the LORD.

Maybe I hit rock bottom. Maybe I realized once and for all that the easy little life I had was given to me by the LORD as a gift. And it’s His to take away when that serves His greater purpose. And if I don’t have a calm home here anymore and if I can’t eat sweets (yes, by my own choice, but I really did feel led by the Holy Spirit to start this 7 fast) so what? And all of the sudden I realized what hope we have in heaven. And I thought of all those people out there who don’t have that hope when they’ve lost everything, and I don’t mean brownies and comfortable lives. I mean when they’ve lost children or health or jobs or marriages or seriously big things. I can’t imagine life’s difficulties without that hope.

The longing for heaven is what I found on my run this morning. And some perspective. I came around a curve and saw the sunrise reflected in the water of the reservoir behind our neighborhood and it was beautiful. I paused for a moment and thanked God. Within a few minutes it was light and that beauty was gone. It was a moment given just to me from my creator who is my heavenly Father.

Consistent gratitude has been missing from my everyday life for the past few months.

If I am eating only seven foods this month, what is that in the grand scheme of things? If parenting and enjoying my home is much harder now, what would be the alternative for the two kids who bring much of the chaos? They’re already considered “older children” in the world of adoption. Add to their ages their race, that they’re part of a sibling pair, and that they’ve both been labeled to have violent tendencies, one has asthma and speech problems and the other a serious heart condition, and you’ve got two kids who’d be bopping around foster and group homes their whole lives. Can I really be that selfish to wish for a brownie and some quiet hours on the couch?

So I ran home with a changed heart and a new hope. The hope of heaven and the hope that we have on earth in Christ. That I should not grow weary of doing good for in due season I would reap if I didn’t lose heart and didn’t give up. And that the Holy Spirit can work in families with broken people. And that I could withstand those chocolate croissants I had baking in the oven for the kids as a special treat.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess :: in the trenches of food month

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After my pre-7 Costco run: produce for juicing and pleny of my 7 foods for the month!

I’m halfway through my first month of seven and it’s starting to get old. The first week was way easier than I thought it would be. I think that’s just because we’re still getting into the swing of things around here after Christmas break and we’ve been so busy. This second week hasn’t been that bad, but I’m beginning to tire of my foods. If only I didn’t feed the rest of my family so well, I wouldn’t have to see the yummy things everyone else is eating without me!

My problem is that I really do like food. I like planning a new menu for each week. I love variety and there are hardly any foods I don’t enjoy, so I regularly change our family dishes to keep things interesting. I like so many different vegetables and sauces and savories and sweets! Oh, sweets! I love you. And butter and cheese, I was so close to putting at least one of you on my list of seven foods.

That’s it: only seven foods for a month. Choose wisely, I advise you, if you ever take on this foolish task. I’ve been completely happy with my choices of rice, beans, chicken, eggs, spinach, tomatoes, and apples. Considering nutrients and possible food combinations, my list has been ideal. We can use olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper for seasoning, but still, there are no sweets! No coffee treats or cheese to jazz up my beans or my salads. Sun dried tomatoes and apples in every form have been my saviors. But even still, after two weeks I’m kind of over it. In addition to water, I am drinking juices made at home so that I can try out the juicer I’m borrowing from my dad.  And even with the incredible motivation of juicing being the only mode for me to eat non-7 foods, I’ve only had juice three times, so that tells me whether buying my own juicer is worth it! Guess not.

It would be easier for me if I really felt my spiritual life being shaken up by this 7 food fast. I’ve fasted from sweets before while praying for direction on certain life decisions, and while skipping sweets is a serious sacrifice for me, it’s easier when I have a defined purpose in mind. This 7 fast is a little vague and open-ended for me. “Taking away excess to make room for the Holy Spirit to work” isn’t quite as specific as I’d like. How will I see the Spirit move? What changes will I feel happening? Will I truly feel more compassion for the world’s poor, who live on much less food than this every day? I am happy that I lost five pounds in the first week (I also started my triathalon training that same week, so there’s that) but losing weight isn’t my goal here so it’s not helping me feel motivated. I haven’t given up on the spiritual shake-up yet, but I’m still waiting.

I’m committed to this for the long haul, so I keep plugging along. Me and my apples, my freeze dried apples, and my applesauce, all of which I had in the same afternoon at Disneyland with the kids. I will admit that after that Applepolooza, as my friend Toby called it, I was a little appled out.

Two weeks down, two to go. I’m hoping to reflect here in the middle of each fast and at the end, just to see the progress I’m making over the seven months. Right now, I’ve got a chicken carcass on the stove creating homemade chicken broth, to which I’ll add (what else?!) rice, beans, diced tomatoes, spinach, lemon, salt and pepper. Yum and yawn, all at the same time.

Holy Spirit? Where are you at?

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess :: Introduction

I'm into month one now. Can you guess one of my seven foods?

I’m into month one now. Can you guess one of my seven foods?

I mentioned that I’ve been in a weird place for the past few months. I think its a combination of things going pretty well from the outside yet things still being difficult behind the curtains. When the kids’ parents’ rights were terminated in December (and even before that when it looked like it would happen soon), I realized that this is my life. Home life is not easy anymore, so being home is not the haven it used to be. Spiritually, I was feeling a winter season coming on after a very exciting summer and fall harvest-type season in my spiritual life. I recognized that if I didn’t find something to shake me up a bit, some goal or something to work on, I could easily slip away in the wrong direction. It’s so easy to atrophy towards lives that are different from and seem easier than the ones God calls us to.

Enter: Seven : an experimental mutiny against excess, by Jen Hatmaker. I read this book over a year ago and while I enjoyed her writing, I didn’t feel at all inspired to try something similar in my life. Of course, I think we were probably in the throes of losing Midge at the time, and life was full of stress, visitations, emotional upheaval and uncertainty. It was no time for any more challenges than the one we were living. Plus, some of the challenges seemed too daunting while others seemed irrelevant to me. 

A month or two ago, one of the women from our church posted on Facebook about the book, and many others responded. Pretty soon a group of women who wanted to try the seven month challenge had formed, and without reviewing what I was in for, I signed up, looking for something to shake me up a bit in my physical and spiritual life. 

While seven is an experiment in eliminating excess from our lives and Hatmaker sets her own rigid rules for each month, the focus is supposed to be on spiritual formation and compassion for the poor. Readers can challenge themselves in the same way as the author or make their own rules, but the goal should be the same: more of the Holy Spirit and less of our own indulgences ruling our lives. 

A one month fast of some kind in the following areas of excess: Food. Clothing. Possessions. Media. Spending. Waste. Stress. 

I saw the group forming on Facebook and I was in. I AM in. I am going to be in for the next seven months. What the heck was I thinking?

A New Year :: A New Start

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It’s been a long few weeks here as I seemed to have hit a wall in several areas of my life and felt kind of lost for a bit. But things are looking up! I’m feeling optimistic and motivated…

 

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  • a fresh start with Emmie. Our relationship is very tricky and our personalities clash in lots of ways. But I have a newfound determination to think before I speak, and to preface each interaction with her with the thought of “What would a loving mother do here?” and then just do it, regardless of what I’m feeling. (An idea I got from another adoptive mom’s blog.)
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  • exercise. 2011, 2012, and 2013 are all a big blur to me. I feel like I’ve been treading water for three years and we finally have some stability in our lives. Which means I can finally really make a decent effort at getting regular exercise into my weekly routine. In fact, wait for it… I’m training for a triathalon! My weakness is running so I’m starting there and will add in the swimming and bike training once I can run a few miles without dying! I found a neighbor who’s going to try it with me, and hopefully we’ll be ready at the end of August!
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  • spiritual life. It comes as no surprise that Satan’s been attacking me in the past few months. Speaking with Greg in church about fostering and adopting, teaching the women’s study on Wednesday mornings every three or four weeks, daily living in a way that goes against cultural apathy…none of these things please Satan much. So I’ve seen a surge of temptation and am feeling a dry spell spiritually. I remember feeling this once in college and coming across the following in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters: (speaking from the devil’s point of view) “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”  So I’m heading forward and am joining a group of great christian women who are going through Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven, and trying the challenges. The goal is that with the monthly fasts from one excess or another, our spiritual lives would be awakened in a new way.
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  • food. First up in the challenges from Seven is a food challenge. My most dreaded challenge. Because I love to eat. A lot. And I like butter. But if you’re picking only seven foods to eat for a month, butter had really better not be one of them. Actually, I was already thinking about trying some juicing to get more fruits and vegetable nutrients into our lives, and a friend is trying a clean eating challenge with some kind of shakes, which I hate. So why not start out the year with a food detox challenge torture situation? The worst that can happen is that I’m miserable and lose a lot of weight in January. It’s only a month. And maybe it will jump start my food choices in a healthier way for the year.
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  • photography. Boy, was 2013 a crummy year in photography for me. (Feeling annoyed about this, I did scrape through my archives to find the 2013 pictures that I’m using in this post!) My favorite pictures were almost all for clients and hardly ever for me. I want to change that this year. I’m going to try to use my iphone to create some photography that I love, instead of just grabbing it to record the jog-a-thon or the Christmas program. I want to use my big camera more, too, but as for a creativity challenge, I’m trying it with my iphone. Hmmm….
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  • carpool. Okay, so this isn’t quite as momentous as any other things, but I have found another parent to split the morning kindergarten pickups with! Right now I get to school at 8:00 for Anthony’s start, stay until 8:30 for Emmie and Tyler’s start, then get home a little before 9:00, only to turn around and leave at 11:00 to pick Anthony up again. Two hours is not a lot of time! But now, two or three days a week I can stay home and he’ll be brought to my door at 11:45. Perfect!! And Emmie has settled in with her friends before school so I’m planning to leave at 8:00 some days instead of staying until the second bell. Freedom!IMG_1867

So for the first time in a while, I’m feeling good. Optimistic. Goal oriented. I do love a new year!

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Zion, Bryce Canyon, & Other Updates.

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  • what a busy February we’ve had. the boys had a five day weekend for president’s day, so we put together a last minute trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon. So gorgeous! I just didn’t remember how beautiful they were and Greg had never been. We both agreed that it just might be the most beautiful place we’ve ever been. The snow on top of the orange cliffs with the bright blue sky…oh my.
  • I managed to strong arm the boys’ teachers into letting me volunteer a few times in the past month. I don’t know why these teachers don’t seem to want any help. But between the volunteering and women’s bible study at church and watching Midge a couple times, February has flown by.
  • Speaking of Midge, would you pray for her? The crazy social worker continues to wreak havoc on Midge’s life. When we were her foster parents and de facto parents, we pushed as hard as we could against everyone we could reach to try to convince them of Midge’s need for stability and permanency. Now there is absolutely nothing we can do about it but pray. Although everyone tells Midge’s father that he will have full custody, the social worker increased Midge’s mother’s visitations when Midge moved in with her dad. For the first two months she was adjusting to a new home, a new primary caregiver, losing her family and all familiarity, and also visiting with her mom in a new facility for three hours, three times a week, up from the two hours, twice a week that she had when she was with us. Last week, the social worker pushed for yet another one month extension in court, and has ordered Midge to visit with her mother, unsupervised now, three times a week for six hours each time. What? What is the purpose of these increased visits? If everyone is telling father that he will get full custody, why increase Midge’s visits with mother, who has been screwing up regularly for the past almost two and a half years? Being with her mother…(who, by the way, drove Midge around in a booster seat on her first visit!!! she’s two!!!)…would be the very worst thing for her. I am afraid that the social worker is trying to drag things out again so that she can give the parents joint custody, even though she won’t admit this to anyone. I am so worried about Midge’s future, as well as the instability she has to live with right now. Doesn’t anyone in the county (who’s actually able and willing to do something about it) really care about her? Please pray for her. God loves her, knows the future, and knows the intentions of everyone involved. I’m so thankful that HIS intentions are the ones which will stand in the end.
  • As for our future placements, we had to postpone the meeting with our agency that we were supposed to have two weeks ago because Jake was sick that day. I’m trying to be patient with God’s timing here. We’re now supposed to meet on Monday and will find out if the criteria we have for our future placements are feasible through our current agency. I’ll keep you posted.
  • since I cannot do anything for Midge but pray, I am trying to work on the things that actually CAN be done before we get any new kids in our house. So, priorities: home and health. Home: I have a short list of major projects I want to get done before we get any long term placements. Cleaning closets, purging craft supplies, finishing decorating projects, etc. I’m also trying to get my body to a good place so I can focus my energy on the new kiddos when they arrive.
  • And although photography growth doesn’t top my list of priorities, I’ve been shooting fully in manual mode since January. I also finally decided to try out Lightroom as a way of cataloging and doing quick edits on my photos. all the photographers seem to use lightroom, heading only in photoshop when they really need to do extensive edits. everyone says it saves time. so maybe I was a little optimistic when thinking it would save me time right away, because it doesn’t! I don’t know how to do anything in Lightroom yet, and I spend so long just trying to figure out how to get it to do what I want it to do, that it would really be faster for me to just edit in Photoshop to begin with. I’m trying to be patient and think of the long term benefit of it all. My new header above is one of only a few photos I’ve somewhat successfully edited in Lightroom. Here are a few others from our trip.
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our Zion backyard!

 

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Sunset out the back window.

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snow play in Zion!

 

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Our family…still doesn’t look right with just four of us.

 

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zion cliffs reflected in the Virgin River

 

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Our first glimpse of Bryce Canyon!

 

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Bryce Canyon

 

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The treacherous beginning of an icy Bryce Canyon hike…almost lost the boys over the first switchback’s dropoff as they ran ahead in the ice! I was nervous to go any further!

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But we kept hiking in, and went carefully back and forth down these switchbacks which were pure ice and red mud.

 

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The bottom of the canyon…snow play, snacks, beautiful hiking.

 

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Heading home.

Still here.

totally unrelated to the post. but newborn portraits make everything in life better. my favorite from last weekend’s newborn portrait session in my new photography venture

Still here, living life day by day. Two weeks and one or two days left with our girl. I have found a good support group of foster and adoptive parents that meets once a month at the church down the block and truly understands the extent of the loss we are experiencing. We have such a large network of friends and family that are offering help constantly. The only problem is that I don’t really know how they can help. Lots of people have offered to have the boys over to play, but being with them is one of the best distractions I have.

I am adding up all the great things I’m going to “be able to do” once Midge has left. I’m going to get up early to have my own prayer time, something that I dropped when I started doing bible reading with the boys at breakfast, which I also dropped when I got mad at God for taking Midge away. So bringing back my prayer time, the boys’ bible reading at breakfast, which I will have woken early enough to make healthy and nutritious. I will get back onto doing my Spanish Rosetta Stone and figure out some other ways to boost my Spanish practice. And I will keep the house clean with all my spare time. And start playing tennis with my friend again. And take up walking in the mornings for fitness and plan my meal menu again and shop for the right ingredients so I’m not scrambling a half hour before dinner. And I’m going to get involved with my quilt guild again, something I do love and haven’t made time for. And I’m going to make outdoor exploration, hiking, experiences etc. a regular part of our lives again. And I’ve been thinking about practicing piano while the boys are at school, as their new piano lessons have inspired me.

So in conclusion, we will be well fed both physically and spiritually, our house will be clean and bilingual and full of music, and I will be fit and our family will be back into nature. Okay. That’s settled. It will be all sunshine and perfection around here. ha ha ha.

But when a friend comments about how much free time I’ll have when Midge leaves I feel like I’ve been slapped. What a horrible thing to say. And I know she meant it as encouragement and in love…she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. It reminds me of what C.S. Lewis said in A Grief Observed, about friends not knowing what to say, italics mine.

“I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t. Some funk it altogether. R. has been avoiding me for a week. I like best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.”

I can understand that. I can stand at the park with my friend whose son might have cancer and we can understand one another. (Praise God, the test came back negative since this encounter!) With my friend who is going through a divorce, I can see eye to eye. Great hurt unites us with others who hurt and can divide us from those who don’t, or haven’t in a long time. Grief and loss bring with them a compassion for others that might not be acquired in any other way. I don’t know.

If anything, our circumstances have brought us to recognize the hurt in others around us more acutely than before. Or maybe they are more willing to open up to us about their hurt because they see that we are hurt, too. Either way, an increase in compassion is a good thing. But please don’t tell me that maybe that’s why God is doing all of this. I think that’s one big lesson I’ve learned: if someone wants to see the silver lining on their own gray cloud, that’s one thing. But don’t try to point it out to them. They’d much rather just have blue skies.

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Summer is whizzing by! We are about halfway through now, with 5 weeks passed and 7 weeks to go. We are now into the lazy days of summer, rather than the go-go-go of the first month. I’m chipping away at my summer list. My first priority these days is the get through the next 180 days whole & healthy in mind and spirit. But throwing a lot of fun in does help!

SUMMER LIST:

  • get my office/art studio desk cleaned off and keep it that way to make space for creating!
  • make juice popsicles and eat them in the backyard
  • go for walks around the neighborhood after dinner
  • start taking and editing more pictures again
  • get the kids outside into the backyard every day
  • clean out the closets…all of them!
  • eat nectarines off of our tree
  • pack for beach night early so we can enjoy it with less packing stress
  • survive (and purposefully find things to enjoy about) the two weeks of respite we’re doing for the 3 little foster kids
  • finish Sara’s birthday quilt
  • practice free motion quilting
  • go hiking with the whole family
  • read aloud with the boys
  • make/buy matching outfits for all six kids for fourth of July
  • soak in the week with my niece, nephew, brother, and sister-in-law here!
  • playdate with my sister and other niece
  • go on an anniversary trip with Greg to celebrate 12 years!
  • eat at the new waffle sandwich shop nearby
  • attempt to do an online art class with the four oldest kids during respite
  • eat dinner outside (we’ve done this a few times recently and now every night at dinner, Midge stands at the back door and says, “bak-ard!”)
  • figure out where to put the punctuation when I’m using quotations and parentheses (see above.)
  • back up pictures onto disc
  • practice some meat recipes with our grass fed cow that’s arriving soon
  • catch up on the boys’ school memories notebooks
  • make a quilt for my cousin’s coming soon baby boy…free motion quilt his name onto it!
  • take a vertical picture of my three kids to replace the old one in my hallway frame
  • get Jake into a kids’ tennis tournament
  • teach Tyler to float on his back in the pool
  • go camping
  • run in the sprinklers
  • play tennis

We have a few of these planned in the upcoming weeks. A few of them, I needed to remind myself of, and a few of them aren’t going to happen. But that’s okay. My favorite thing on the list so far has been making a dedicated time each day to read aloud to the boys again. We’re reading The Borrowers every night before bed and really enjoying it! Watching Downton Abbey is giving me the inspiration for some British accents as I read!

Happy Summer!

180.

As it turns out, I am not crazy. I am, however a list maker. A goal-oriented person. A “find any excuse to start a new project to inspire me” kind of gal.

As I looked at this talented woman‘s project 366 (a photo a day for the whole year) I was inspired. I’d like to get back into photography, something that’s been on the back burner this year. I’d like to be challenged and see growth in that area.

And it struck me that if I start the project now, it would be a project 180 (starting tomorrow, July 5, 2012) instead of a project 366.

Nerd Alert! That number 180 triggers mathematical thoughts. A U-Turn. A complete change of direction. My mind wanders from math to spirituality.

180 days = six months. Six months from now we will probably not have our beloved baby Midge any more. I am going to need strength, endurance, hope, and focus to survive these six months. I want to do these six months well. I don’t want to fall apart as if I have no foundation. I want to shine. Even if God chooses to do a miracle and lets us keep her, I want these six months to be a testimony to His strength in impossible times. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Phil 3:14

For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. Col 3:3   I expect to be persecuted for following God during these six months. I expect heartbreaking calls to burst into my happy mornings with the kids. I expect that as I follow Jesus into these hard places, I will be persecuted and beaten down just as He was. I expect to break down often and take His hand as He pulls me back up into the fight. I expect to cry. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. Phil. 1:29

And I will remember that these days are here because He wants them to be. He has a plan for Midge’s life and ours. He knows the way it will end months and years from now. And He is good.

180:

180 days to practice turning from

worry to trust

self-pity to gratitude

distraction to focus

180 days to survive losing Midge, if that’s what God has for her and for us. 180 days to thrive spiritually in the shadows of life.

And 180 days to challenge myself artistically with my photography. I don’t have any expectations of taking photos every single day. On days that I miss, I will work on a creative expression of the verse that God has given me for encouragement that morning. On days that I do take photos, I want to try a different approach. I’m going to try the Manual mode of my camera (yikes!) and crop the photos to square (another stretch for me!) and present the ones here that I can (the non foster kiddo shots!)

I have seen God working more in the past two years than ever before. Following Him has taken me into battlefields I’d rather avoid. But it has also brought me closer to Him as I hang on for fear of being lost in the mess of this world. I have seen God work in my heart these past two years. I want to see God work in my heart during these next 180 days, most likely the hardest of them all.

He is good.

180 :: trust-gratitude-focus

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Phil 4:6-7 (the message bible)

Devote yourself to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Col 4:2

Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. Phil 1:11 (the message bible)

And I Officially Discover I’m Crazy.

Today is the last of an eight day stint as a mother of six. I have thirty minutes remaining until rest time is over and the house gets loud and crazy again.

Yet here I sit, browsing my blogs (eye candy!) and wondering if I should start a photography Project 365 mid-year. (Would that make it a project 180?) I can’t help myself. I am crazy. But this woman’s photography is so inspiring…

I promise that after the kids leave this afternoon, after I begin and finish picking up the messes, after I try to de-stickify the breakfast nook floor, after I get in a few uninterrupted conversations with my three, after I send off my three beloved foster kiddos to their new mom and dad, after I get over the fact that it could be many months before I see them again, after all of that, I’ll come back here and share some photos from my past two weeks. Promise.

Bring on the Summer!

I’m going to change my blog header a bit early this year…I know summer doesn’t officially start yet, but the boys are out of school and beach nights have begun, so in my mind, Summer is Here!

As I look at this Spring blog header that I created three months ago, I feel like I am worlds away from where I was. That was a hard time. From the court date in mid January until about mid April, I spent two months a little bit lost. Just writing that makes me feel like a bit of a failure.

Two years ago, life was easy and happy and put together neatly. Then came fostering. I held it together (barely!) for the first month when we had the little boys as an emergency shelter home. We had a break for a month. Then I held it together when we got Midge and the rollercoaster began. Yes, she’ll probably be adoptable. Oh wait, there might be some family who wants her, so don’t get too attached. Nope, no family, things are looking up. Then again, maybe not, and by the way, did you know you need to take on a part time job just transporting and supervising her visits and it will be physically and emotionally taxing and will take you away from your own kids? Okay, now we have some monitors to help you with that. And now we don’t. And now we do again. And it looks like reunification is a real possibility. And it looks like things are headed towards adoption! Oh wait, let’s switch counties. And it looks like things are headed towards reunification.

And I lost control of it all. And I realized that I never had any control anyway. And I sank.

Things are no different with Midge today than they were a few months ago. But I’m learning a few things that are making a difference. First, we are not in control of anything. God has His plan and it doesn’t often look like our plan. Following after God’s leading can be a real buzz when things are headed in an unknown and promising direction. But following after His leading when it looks like you’re headed somewhere you don’t want to go? Not so fun. It’s something that I tend to strain against.

But God is changing my heart. Slowly. When the thoughts about Midge’s case come into my mind, I am mentally repeating, “I am not in control. I am not in control. God is in control.” I have a picture in my mind of a father holding hands with a small child, leading them through a dense crowd, like at the fair. It’s confusing to be down there with the stomping feet and pressing bodies, and I can’t see the clearing that my Father is headed for, but it is there. Sometimes, when I’m really weary, my Father is carrying me towards that peaceful place even though I may be straining against His arms. But we’ll get there. To that place where His plan comes together.

Secondly, I’m learning real trust. Not the trust about my kids’ schoolings or the security of my home or Greg’s job. The trust that puts your child’s life on the line. The kind that offers one of your most beloved up, knowing that He loves her even more than I do. The kind that steps out to do something even though that something might cost you one of your children. It’s that last little thing that we don’t often hand over to God…our children’s safety. Learning real trust is allowing God to take over even the most treasured people, dreams, and parts of our lives.

Thirdly, I’m learning what it really means to love my neighbor. I have gotten in the habit of saying, “I know you say in the Bible to love your neighbor, but I don’t really want to love Midge’s parents too much or in really tangible and helpful ways, because that might increase their chances of getting Midge back, which I think would be dangerous for her.” So I rationalize that by holding back in loving and serving them, I’m loving Midge, whom God has entrusted to me.

But it doesn’t work that way. I am told to love my neighbor. Period. Whether that will help my neighbor do something good or bad, I am supposed to love them. I am told to do to others as I would have them do to me. Period. Well, I’ve been cordial and nice to both parents for 18 months. I have given them photos of Midge and taken photos of them together. I have given handprints and Mother’s and Father’s Day cards and even a Shutterfly photo book. But I could do more.

Do I honestly think that I can derail God’s overall plan for Midge by following His word and loving them the best that I possibly can? God is powerful. I remember this and forget it day by day by day. When I start getting worried about the future, I remember that it is not my job to worry about or plan the future.

Here is my job description:

  • love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.
  • love my husband and respect him.
  • love my kids (all three of them) and guide them.
  • love my neighbor as myself. even if my neighbor isn’t someone I want to love.

So here comes the summer…I’m going to continue my early morning time with God. I’m so thankful for these moments over the course of the year. I’m going to get into a routine that involves feeding my husband and kids the things that nourish their souls. I’m going to continue fighting the trap of worry and planning, and instead reroute my energy to loving all of my neighbors as best I can. And I’m leaving God to take care of the rest. Which isn’t that big of a deal since He’s been taking care of it all along while letting me pretend that I was. I plan on reading and re-reading this preachy cheerleadery post whenever I need it this summer.

Bring on the Summer!

Summer List & Finding Balance.

Summer is coming…my favorite time of year! Time to relax with the kids, sleep in, laze about, read books, swim…

And I’m determined to find balance in the coming months. I have let Midge’s fostering consume too much of my time and emotional energy in the past five months. She had a court date on Thursday, but, as expected, we are again in a holding/waiting pattern. In my mind, Orange County is pushing hard towards a reunification that won’t be safe for Midge. And there’s nothing we can do about it. It is heartbreaking and the temptation is to fall into the obsession/depression pattern. So I need to figure out a way to find balance this summer and not let it drain the fun away from the rest of the summer activities.

I imagine it’s the same for people with terminally ill loved ones…do you feel guilty enjoying the happy moments that you can, knowing that something terrible could happen at any moment? Do you try to compartmentalize and not allow the pain to seep into all areas of life? I am determined to find a way to keep her circumstances (which are really our circumstances, too! We love her!) from taking over my thought and activity life this summer. I am not going to let a very broken system rob me, my husband, and my kids of a joyful summer.

I know there are seasons of life when you need to pare down and give yourself grace and space to pray, think, and neglect the cleaning! I have done this effectively since January. Now I feel the need to pick my hobbies back up, clean the house, fill my time back up with kids and fun, and move forward into a thankfully busy season.

So here’s my

SUMMER LIST:

  • get my office/art studio desk cleaned off and keep it that way to make space for creating!
  • make juice popsicles and eat them in the backyard
  • go for walks around the neighborhood after dinner
  • start taking and editing more pictures again
  • get the kids outside into the backyard every day
  • clean out the closets…all of them!
  • eat nectarines off of our tree
  • pack for beach night early so we can enjoy it with less packing stress
  • survive (and purposefully find things to enjoy about) the two weeks of respite we’re doing for the 3 little foster kids
  • finish Sara’s birthday quilt
  • practice free motion quilting
  • go hiking with the whole family
  • read aloud with the boys
  • make/buy matching outfits for all six kids for fourth of July
  • soak in the week with my niece, nephew, brother, and sister-in-law here!
  • playdate with my sister and other niece
  • go on an anniversary trip with Greg to celebrate 12 years!
  • eat at the new waffle sandwich shop nearby
  • attempt to do an online art class with the four oldest kids during respite
  • eat dinner outside (we’ve done this a few times recently and now every night at dinner, Midge stands at the back door and says, “bak-ard!”)
  • figure out where to put the punctuation when I’m using quotations and parentheses (see above.)
  • back up pictures onto disc
  • practice some meat recipes with our grass fed cow that’s arriving soon
  • catch up on the boys’ school memories notebooks
  • make a quilt for my cousin’s coming soon baby boy…free motion quilt his name onto it!
  • take a vertical picture of my three kids to replace the old one in my hallway frame
  • get Jake into a kids’ tennis tournament
  • teach Tyler to float on his back in the pool
  • go camping
  • run in the sprinklers
  • play tennis

Here’s to a summer of fun!

Worry and Planning.

Teddy isn't worried. Nor is the little boy snoozing on the couch behind him.

Two things I need to do a lot less of: WORRY and PLANNING.

I am a planner. I feel the need to have plans in my mind for every eventuality. Is that a nice way of saying I’m a control freak? In my head, I want to know what I will do if A, B, or C happens. I end up with an endless flow chart in my mind, showing me that I will be prepared to handle every situation that could possibly arise. This mental flow chart becomes impossible to handle when foster care enters into the situation. I’m sure it’s the same feeling of overload when any serious situation arises in life; the mental computer malfunctions because there are just too many possible outcomes to be controlled and dealt with. All this before they have even happened. Talk about frying the brain.

On top of the normal “mommy worries,” I worry about how we will handle Midge’s visitations this summer. I worry about what will happen at her 18 month hearing next month. I worry about whether they will add more visitation hours. I worry about whether the social worker will see the whole picture as I and the other longer term workers have seen it. I don’t dare worry about how we would handle it if Midge reunifies with her parents, because I simply cannot go there in my mind. But there are a lot of other scenarios constantly playing out in my head, and I’m busy dealing with each of them as I think of them.

I have gotten better at this since we started fostering, but I still need a major worry overhaul. I just can’t handle all of these problems and figure out a way to manage them so that my family doesn’t suffer. I am busy coming up with solutions to problems that don’t yet exist. But they might. And then, after an hour of tossing and turning at midnight and handling imaginary conversations with various workers in my head, I stop. What am I doing? Why am I thinking of the best way to respond to this accusation or that change of case plan? It is the middle of the night and everyone else is sleeping! Nobody is changing anything at this exact moment! Everybody else is sleeping comfortably while I’m mentally reorganizing my carpooling schedule for months from now to accomadate problems that might never actually take place. I am completely insane. Please tell me I am not the only one. Maybe there are others out there who spent too many years of life feeling upset because they didn’t say the right thing at the right time, and now, two hours after the conversation, they know just what they should have said. It seems to me that if I plan an answer for every situation, I will be prepared when a conversation important to Midge’s future arises.

Control. It’s a myth. Most of the things I have so carefully “prepared” for, haven’t actually happened. Instead, other stuff that I never even could have thought of comes up and throws me off guard. To think! After all those middle of the night fake conversations, I’m still not ahead.

Worry doesn’t get me anywhere. Today our pastor reminded the christians who’ve been walking the path for a while that it’s easy to think we’ve got it down because maybe we’ve conquered what are considered the most obvious sins. But what is the sin in your life that you just don’t call sin? Mine is worry. I remembered a newsletter Keri Wyatt Kent sent out about this.

She and her kids were on an outing and ended up with serious car trouble. Instead of letting the worry rob her of the joy of the moment, she chose not to worry. I love how she calls trust a spiritual discipline.

“I decided to obey Jesus’ command to not worry. Not with a blind optimism, but with a quiet trust. We were okay, and would continue to be okay. I chose to believe that and live in it. Christian faith seeks to obey Jesus’ command: “Do not worry about your life…” (Matthew 6:25) Jesus calls us to trust him, and to let go of having to control the outcome of every situation. When we do that, we will have joy, even in challenging circumstances. To do so requires a certain emotional detachment, a conscious letting go of needing to control the outcome of every situation. Trust is a choice, the alternative to worry. People may even think we are crazy or irresponsible, when really, we are simply turning over our lives, one moment at a time, to God’s excellent and dependable provision. Trust is a spiritual practice. Unlike other practices like prayer, study, solitude and so forth, the practice of trust is not something we can schedule. We kind of have to wait for situations that would cause us to worry or fear, and in the midst of that situation, choose to believe that we are safe in the arms of God. We have to sail along and wait for a rogue wave or a sudden wind shift, and trust we will not capsize.” -Keri Wyatt Kent Connecting eNewsletter
 

Ha! God certainly has put us into situations that would cause us to worry or fear! This is the spiritual discipline that I want to work on this month. (year? lifetime?) And planning. Which doesn’t sound like a bad thing. Except when you remember that guy in the parable in the bible who was planning his whole future and God told him that his soul would be required of him tonight! Oops. No need to plan ahead there.

The last time I asked Aunt Krissy to plan to babysit, she put it in her planner and said she’d be here, “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise!” I love that. I’ll continue preparing for the future as best I can, but I need to let go of any permanent long term plans and recognize that the future needs to be held loosely.

The sin of worry and the spiritual discipline of trust are really two sides of the same coin. So when the worry strikes, I want to work on this. I will pray that the worry will trigger in my mind a new activity to replace the perseverating on unseen (or even seen!) problems that can’t be solved that way. I don’t know what that new activity is yet, but it will probably involve prayer or bible verses to recite. And when I start to plan too far ahead, I will remember to add at the end of all my planning, “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise!” and remind myself that although we can make our plans, it is the Lord who determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9

Life Lessons.

I really wish I could be writing this to exclaim about how wonderful things are today around here. Instead, I spent the afternoon mostly crying and attempting a trip to the park because the boys were dying to, and hiding behind my biggest sunglasses and pretending I was afraid that Midge wasn’t safe on the play equipment so I had to follow her around instead of talking to the other women at the park.

Bad court day.

Four more months…a gift to Midge’s parents from a judge whom the social worker calls “loopy.” Because after all that has not been accomplished or attempted over the past fourteen months, another four is an appropriate response. When the other option was to begin putting Midge’s best interests above the parents’ best interests…which seemed like a no brainer. When we were hoping for two visits a month, and instead are saddled with another four months of four visits a week.

Which makes you wonder about prayer. A month ago, I knew that it was prayer that moved the court in the direction I was hoping for. So where does that leave us today? When just as much prayer results in the worst possible outcome from today’s trial? Did the prayer stop working? Or is there something I’m not seeing?

Jake, who is almost eight, throws tantrums when I have to cut his nails. I must be missing something in the parenting department to have a tantruming eight year old, whose nails I still cut with infant nail scissors. It is as if I am sticking pins underneath his fingernails rather than cutting dirty millimeters off. He thinks he is dying.

But he is not. In fact, the nail cutting is for his own good. To keep him from looking like the kid whose mom never gives him a bath. Okay, so maybe it’s for my own good. But that is beside the point.

The nail cutting lasts only a minute. We timed it today. There is a bigger picture that parents see, while children only see torture.

I was barely able to talk to the girl this afternoon. At twenty months, she recognized that I was upset and kept coming over with a little upset cry and asking me if I was “kay?” No, I was not. But life keeps coming and I keep changing diapers and singing bedtime songs while we rock.

God is so good. God is so good. God is so good, He’s so good to me.  (even when I’m throwing a tantrum as my nails are being cut, God? And what do I need short nails for anyway…I like them the way they are!)

He answers prayer. He answers prayer. He answers prayer, He’s so good to me. (even when I’m pretty mad about everyone praying and the answer being a pretty stupid one, if I do say so myself?)

I love Him so. I love Him so. I love Him so, He’s so good to me. (even if I just feel defeated, let down, tired, and I can’t see much past today?)

So how do you go about living through things that stink? I’m reading a book that says it’s eucharisteo…giving thanks precedes the miracle. And the miracle is finding joy in whatever life God keeps giving you.

Funny thing is, I’ve been trying it for three days, this choosing thankfulness instead of anger, frustration, annoyance. And as I told the boys when I tucked them in to bed last night, I’ve failed completely. I find that when I’m feeling mad, I actually don’t want to feel thankful. I actually want to feel mad. And when I’m annoyed…well, you get the idea. I told them that you have to start somewhere, even if somewhere is three straight days of failure.

Make that four, since today’s pretty much over.

Another day I’ll tell you about the book, One Thousand Gifts, that’s shaping this new goal of choosing thankfulness over anger. Today, I’m pretty angry. What can I say, I’m new at this. Although I’m a four day failure, I keep on, because of this:

“Do I really smother my own joy because I believe that anger achieves more than love? That Satan’s way is more powerful, more practical, more fulfilling in my daily life than Jesus’ way? Why else get angry? Isn’t it because I think complaining, exasperation, resentment will pound me up into the full life I really want? When I choose – and it is a choice – to crush joy with bitterness, am I not purposefully choosing to take the way of the Prince of Darkness? Choosing the angry way of Lucifer because I think it is more effective - more expedient – than giving thanks?”

And when you put it that way, Ms. Voskamp, I say “Go Jesus! Boo Satan!” or something like that, and then I keep on trudging, mad, but trying not to be.

And the babysitter/daughter comes over and plays Monopoly with Greg and the boys while I slump at the computer. And I find a new blog that makes me laugh out loud and forget about loopy judges and kids who don’t really know who their parents are. For a moment I forget. Then I start to count the blessings.

  1. that my mommy was the first to call after it happened, and she didn’t care if I cried.
  2. that Jake is old enough to begin to show compassion.
  3. that dinner was already made and in the oven.
  4. that I have a baby to cuddle tonight.
  5. that Monopoly makes my family so happy.
  6. that I found a blog that made me laugh out loud.
  7. that I have two good carpool buddies who are flexible (in scheduling, not in body. well, maybe, I don’t actually know.)
  8. that speaking of flexible, my babysitter/daughter wants to take yoga with me.
  9. that I found this blog post which hooked me on that new blog
  10. that I’ve been singing the same two songs to Midge for months, and they speak to me.
I think I’m actually not doing this right, as everyone else’s lists read like poetry. But there it is…me, in all of my mess.
And I will try to believe the verse that I posted on facebook this morning, from my morning bible reading time:
This I declare about the LORD; He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him. Psalm 91:2
I thought we’d had plenty of shaping around here recently, but I guess God sees some more edges that need filing in this certain, painful way.

Floating into a New Year.

Out of habit, I’ve found myself clicking over here to peaceliving every few days over the last few weeks. It’s as if I think I’ll suddenly see some really witty or meaningful post that I’ve written here that day…I’m almost disappointed when I realize that, no, my imaginary self has stayed silent. I’m just left with me and my sporadic postings of 2012. All three of them.

It’s been a good sixteen days. I started the year with new goals & old ideas that I hope to finally achieve, along with ambitious schedules and action plans…ahhh…I love the new year! Part of the plan for me has been to stay off the computer during the daytime. I’m here for 5-10 minutes in the morning before Greg leaves for work to click through my blog subscriptions, then I’ve been actually turning the computer off all day until after Midge goes to bed at night.

It’s weird.

But you know what? The world has not ended. I haven’t even gotten any angry calls wondering why I didn’t respond to someone’s email right away. In fact, there is time for my email box to fill and my blog subscription list to replenish when I’m away all day.

It’s not that I was online that much before, really. But it was so easy to pop in for a minute here and a minute there if the kids were all occupied or asleep or something. Then I’d click from one thing to another and the next thing you know, my search for the JoAnn’s store hours has turned into 15 lost minutes of my day.

So I’m turning those stolen minutes into working time around the house. And it’s been productive! I can’t believe what I can get done with a few minutes here and a few minutes there. In combination with the new chore schedule the boys and I are doing, the house is staying neater than I ever thought possible. Boy, is it nice having kids who are almost 6 and 8…so much work can be squeezed out of them. And for once, I finally feel happy with our housekeeping routine.

Then again, it’s only been two weeks. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I’m also trying to get back into some meal planning. Without the temptation to get on the computer during the afternoon nap hours, I find myself planning a whole two or three hours ahead to dinnertime. Imagine that! I even pulled out the old bread machine. And with my same favorite recipe, I baked some fresh bread for dinner. Which Greg declared to be my best loaf ever. Which made me feel guilty because it’s obviously been too long since we’ve eaten fresh bread!

As for the poor neglected blog, I’m afraid the sporadic postings might be a sign of things to come. Between my new anti-daytime-computer stance and my determination not to spend so much time editing photos, blogging is a bit more difficult. But I am not shutting this place down…I’ve done that before only to realize that I really enjoy having a writing outlet to share online, and I bring it back again. I’m not making plans or goals for how often I should blog; I’ll just take it as it comes.

After all, without writing here, would I have had a chance to use a semi colon for the first time in years? No, I would not.

And you would have missed out on seeing Tyler as a pirate.

Happy January.

A Life Poured Out.

This week we begin a new year. 2012 is fresh, with no mistakes in it. (That one’s for the Anne Shirley fans.) For the past several years I’ve chosen One Little Word that I wanted to focus on for the year. Listen, Peace, Slow, Focus, and an honorary word from years ago, Breathe. This year I’m not choosing a word, but an idea.

A Life Poured Out.

Holding Nothing Back. Not conserving my energy or my resources or my creativity or my love or my service (or even my craft supplies!) for a rainy day in the near or distant future. Pouring myself out like a drink offering, reserving nothing. Like the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet. Like the boy who gave his loaves and fishes. Like Abraham who took Isaac to sacrifice him. Like Joshua who did crazy things like instructing his people to march around a city and shout and expect the walls to crumble. Like Jesus who said, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever tries to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matt. 16:24)

I am guilty of trying to save my life, my time, my energy for that something else…something that is not right in front of me now, and perhaps never will be. Can I let go of the idea of the life that I want in exchange for the actual life that God gives me today? Can I trust that His plan is for life more abundantly than I could ever dream?

This thought of pouring myself out like a drink offering came to me several weeks ago, as I was writing in my journal the petty complaints of the day. I had finished a quilt top that I originally started with a certain 5 year old girl in mind. When I started it, those many many months ago, I was sure that our little foster boys and their big sister, whom I’ll call Tall Girl, would be on their way to being part of our family by now. The quilt was stitched with dreams of Tall Girl sharing our Small Girl’s bedroom, a handmade quilt on each bed. A dream that has not happened, and maybe never will. What could I do with this quilt now? It sits, unfinished and waiting for someone. That day as I wrote, I realized that I was holding back. If I made that quilt with Tall Girl in mind, then Tall Girl should have it, whether she ever joins our family or not. Believe me, for a slow moving quilter who rarely gives them away, that is a big offering.

The thought led me to another. What else am I holding back, just in case? This plays out in my possessions, my schedule, my routines, my heart. If I haven’t used that thingamajig in that one cupboard by now, I probably never will. Why not let it move on to someone else? If my heart feels tugged toward three children who may never share my home, why worry? Why not pour out the love as if they were my own? If I want my house to be clean, I need to stop holding back and throw myself into a new routine with all my heart. If I pour myself out, suffering nothing from laziness, I can trust that God will fill me up again.

I need to learn to Find Worship In The Work.

I’m not talking about adding activities and commitments and more lists of things to do to my life. I learned during the Breathe years how valuable it is to choose not to hurry. I am not one to neglect myself or run myself ragged with lack of self care. I have learned not to force my family into hurrying through life. But I’m still learning how to hold loosely to the things of this life. If I am letting my time, talents and treasures pass through me and prayerfully on to others, maybe I’ll see more clearly what the most important things are. Maybe I’ll learn how to pare down my life to just those essentials.

Maybe I’ll better learn to Love My Neighbor with abandon.

I’m just starting out on this 2012 journey to live a life poured out for God, find worship in work, and love my neighbor. I want to live for the cause of Christ, whether that cause is blessing my husband with a clean shirt and a relatively neat house, blessing my kids with another game or book together, or blessing others with extravagant love or exhausting sacrifice, I’m eager to get going. Today was day one of the boys being back to school, and I felt good and successful as I started the journey. Aren’t day ones just like that? It’s days two and up that are trickier.

Let me begin 2012 by sharing the three verses I wrote in the front of my new bible journal, from Lamentations 2:19, Malachi 3:10, and my long-time favorite Matthew 16:24.

Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the LORD; lift up your hands to Him for the life of your little ones who are faint because of hunger.

“Test me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”

Then Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my disciple, you must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”