Thursday, April 23, 2015

Choose Joy

"And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."  
Nehemiah 8:10

"But I will sing of your strength;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, 
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows to me steadfast love."
Ps. 59:16

I came home one afternoon with a car load of kids and a trunk full of bags, feeling rushed, without a good plan for dinner, and weary of the endless mundane. Then I saw this boy-styled bouquet on the kitchen island, a little gift from my little Jacob. The reverse side of the red tag is a "snuggle ticket" for me to turn in at any time. This picture is a good reminder to me tonight that there is so much good right now. The way I see things, and the way I respond, is always a choice.

I've been telling two kids in particular this nearly every hour of every day, but we all need to be reminded. The way we live is a choice, and therefore we choose the consequences for those choices. We either obey the Lord from our hearts, cheerfully, or we do not; in return we either receive blessing, or misery. Obedience comes with a promise: "You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go will with you, and that you may live long…" (Deut. 5:33). On the other hand, sooner or later, sin leads to misery.

This is pretty straight forward, and can be easily made evident in the life of a child. A child who is selfish and unkind, who speaks lies, who grumbles and complains, who cheats, who is disrespectful… this child is miserable. Not only are they miserable, but they want power to make those around them experience their misery. Such a child also needs to be corrected and/or separated, and for a time their misery is further magnified. 

So the laws of the world are evident: God made us and we must obey, and for our obedience there is good reward; for disobedience there are sad consequences. Children can be shown that liars cannot be believed or trusted, cheaters are not fun to play with, bad attitudes separate friends, disobedience leads to the removal of privileges, etc. But as I am teaching these children, I also want to encourage and empower them. I tell them about forgiveness, and about restoration and new chances. I tell them about choice. We don't have to live in a way that leads to misery, we can choose obedience and joy. 

And so I preach it to myself, and I must practice it too. When (for the 10th time in a day) the same angry, disrespectful, and unpleasant child is yelling out hateful words at me through closed doors, I can still choose joy. When the day's plans are turned upside down, or when people are hungry and there is no magic wand to make dinner appear, or when my life seems insignificant and things are not as I thought… I must choose joy. 

I don't have to live at the mercy of my circumstances.

The issue of joy has been on my mind this week. Sometimes I choose well, sometimes I don't. This choosing of joy is an active, conscious, and continuous business. If I let my natural response win, it's a quick downward slide and a hard climb out! So I'm working at it: when the drama from a miserable little person begins, or when the day is just plain blah, I have to choose joy! The others are watching and my attitude is infectious. My response should please the Lord, and it should be instructive to the many eyes watching.

I tell them, "Don't let anyone steal your joy! Don't ever give anyone that power!"

Ultimately, our joy is in the Lord. He will strengthen us and give us a joy that is from Him-- an out-of-this-world kind of joy!

Galatians 5 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit, meaning that it is a supernatural work of the Lord in the life of the believer. This is the kind of joy that I want. The scriptures also teach us that we must "work out our salvation" (Phil. 2:12). The fruit of the Spirit don't come without effort on our part. Our sanctification is a joint effort, but really, when you think of it, it is all God. God gives us the grace to desire obedience, He enables obedience, and in His pleasure He lavishes more joy and grace to those who are faithful. On my own, I would not even choose Him, or obedience, or joy.

So I sometimes find myself humming, or singing out loud, words like, "The joy of the Lord is my strength" or Matt Redman's song 10,000 Reasons. In so doing, I am instructing my heart and setting an example. Honestly though, most of the time I am just trying to keep my head above the water line, knowing the dangers of letting myself go under! 

"You will make known to me the path of life; 
In your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever."
Ps. 16:11

And I pray, "Lord, walk with me! I cannot do this alone!"


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My Boys

My boys. I so love them. They are such fun, uncomplicated, and sweet in unexpected ways. And they are funny. Nowadays, I hear the constant clack, clack, clack of Kendamas from morning till night, I hear talk of armpit hair, and grumbles about taking showers. I am constantly running out of band aids, clean socks, and food. But they all come up during the day and give me hugs. Some still give full arms-wrapped-around-my-body hugs, and one has grown to give me sideway arm-around-the-shoulder hugs. I tell them a boy is never too old to hug their mother good-bye in public, and they jokingly roll their eyes at me, but do it anyway. Being a mother of boys has been an enjoyable adventure for sure!

My last post had a crazy amount of feminine pictures of my Olivia, so I only think it fitting to have a few of the boys. Unfortunately for me, my boys aren't into posing for anything other than spontaneous, candid photos, and even their patience for those are pretty limited. Still, I am grateful. We have a fun time and they aren't bothered by me requesting pictures with my big camera in public.

Yesterday afternoon, I took my three boys out for a little change of scenery. We have school and  chores and such, but an outing of sort is becoming a Monday ritual. Finding myself with just the boys was unexpected, and the simple fun we had was memorable.

Here, we found a Bronco we liked. We could picture ourselves heading to the beach with the surf boards strapped to the roof, windows down...

Our outing consisted of perusing through an estate sale warehouse; Michael enjoys watching the auction which takes place each Monday. Next we hit a little chocolate shop, then the boys hung out on the sidewalk while I checked out a little clothing boutique (and saw some cute sandals I think Olivia will love). Finally, we looked through an antique store that always has cool things the boys enjoy.

These pictures surprised even me. Look how big he is getting?!

And then there is this boy. I can't post pictures of him (and maybe this is pushing it), but because I have a feeling much of what we are experiencing now will be forgotten (in many ways, this is my hope!), I wanted to remember these feet. He has been with us 10 weeks, and of those weeks he has spent 8 weeks in casts. The first one was from a broken arm; in talking with the orthopedic doctor, that break lead to the discovery of a structural problem of the feet. This is being corrected now.

He played gaga ball at school, thus tearing the "big and tall" men's socks I make him wear over the casts to keep dirt and stones from creeping in. By the end of the day, they were all drooping forward and torn, but he was so proud of beating three other boys. Sister tattled and said the shoes kept falling off during the game.

Two more days and the casts come off. I'm not sure what comes next, other than a good, long, soapy bath!


These words from Sunday worship, here again tonight for me to remember truth:

O grant me wisdom from above,
To pray for peace and cling to love,
And teach me humbly to receive
The sun and rain of Your sovereignty.
Each strand of sorrow has a place
Within this tapestry of grace;
So through the trials I choose to say:
"Your perfect will in Your perfect way."

I don't always know much, but I do know there is purpose in the things God ordains for our lives; most of it, however,  we may never understand on this side of eternity.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

La Voilà

Ma petite chérie… my little darling.

And now she is fourteen. Still my darling, and still quite petite.

It has been a sort of tradition to take birthday pictures, and though I don't really like to be bound by tradition, I really wanted to do this with Olivia this year. The trouble again was finding the time to sneak away, but one afternoon Jon came home unexpectedly and we had a small window of time together. I told Olivia to take a few dresses along, and I grabbed the bunch of Baby's Breath I had on the counter before we took off. A couple weeks prior I had noticed some pretty green grass in the hillside next to the road, and I had mentally bookmarked that location for our picture-taking time. It was so fortunate that there was still some greenery because, after all, greenery lasts but for a moment here in SoCal. Most of it had turned to brown already, but in one north-facing section we found our green.

I'm posting a lot of pictures, I know, but let me indulge for just a while; she is growing up too fast.

For our next little set, we moved up the hill and-- to our delight-- discovered these blossoms of orange and yellow. She had brought two other dresses, and we thought navy would make a nice compliment. Changing behind a stump was no big deal for this girl… we do what we can when we can, and try not to miss an opportunity!

We climbed a little further, but by now I knew our time was running out. I knew she really wanted to make a crown with the Baby's Breath, but we did not have twine or wire to work with. In fact, we also forgot to bring a hair brush. This little flip and loose bun, along with the pictures, was our quick attempt to capture a different look that included her favorite little white flowers.

Delicate and graceful.

Je t'aime, ma belle petite cocotte.   xox

Friday, April 3, 2015

Interior Monologue on a Thursday Night

My thoughts are swirling, untidy, disorganized. The night time is my best time, when the troubles fade a bit, when life seems more manageable, more hopeful, and I want to remember. And so, untidy and disorganized this blog post will be. It is a crazy time we are living through, with highs and mostly lows, but I want to remember. My time to record is ever so brief, and there is no time to organize.

Last night Jon and I went out on a date for the first time in a long while. It is now necessary to have a TB-tested, back-ground checked, and finger-printed babysitter in our foster-certified home. We can't just take off for a late night walk after the kids are in bed,  nor can we drop off the little ones with willing friends. It's not that simple anymore. The directions for the evening are complicated, because the expected behaviors are not the common childhood variety. Yes, we have to equip our sweet sitter with battle plans against a myriad of crafty ploys.

Jon put it well a few weeks ago when he said, "We are grieving the life we once had." He hit the nail on the head. They are honest words, but they don't negate the fact that we are committed.

Nonetheless, we enjoyed our night out. We had an unspoken rule, one that we both needed: No talking about the kids. And so the evening was both light and heavy. It was light on the surface, but heavy because our lives are just that right now.

Recently Michael has been awakened in the dead of night by a mockingbird singing outside his bedroom window. I was sitting at the computer when he mentioned this, so I looked up the subject of mockingbirds singing in the night. I read: "Mockingbirds are not singing out of joy or pleasure as is commonly believed. Much of the time, they sing out of desperation."

Me too. Today I cranked up the music because I will not let us get sucked down without a fight! We may not be giddy with happiness, but we can drown out the sound of whining and dance for just a little while. Why not convince our wavering emotions that we're having fun? I'm desperate for joy, desperate to recreate a joyful atmosphere. So the music goes up and we bust out the awkward dance moves, and hope to crack a few smiles.

Running helps too. When I'm tired, it seems counterintuitive to go for a run, but somehow the act of running away from the house is quite freeing! Desperate? Maybe. I crank up the music and run free. It's my therapy and it's way better than emotional eating or staring at a TV screen. Plus, it's springtime, so singing songbirds and spring training should go hand-in-hand. The boys each ran a race this last weekend, all except the one boy who is in double leg casts. Maybe next year will be his year.

I was just fitted for some new running shoes this week. It seems my feet have grown since last year, and my toes have been sore. They were well on their way to looking square in time for summer. So now I have new shoes in a new size and I'm embarrassed by the number. My dad used to say I didn't need skis because my feet were long enough on their own.

I'm mostly a barefoot-in-the-kitchen kind of girl, but now I feel more like a barefoot cafeteria lady. In one of my Julia Child cookbooks, she said that cooking for more than four people was like cooking cafeteria food. She said good food couldn't be prepared well in large quantity. I haven't been cooking as I'd like, and the meals I make seem better suited for the masses. I "dish out" portions each night feeling sorry I just can't get with it better. It doesn't help we're using paper plates now and then either. Some day I will get back into trying new recipes with new ingredients, caring about presentations, and serving with a little more satisfaction. Maybe I'll even get back to doing "fancy" meals with cloths napkins on a regular weekday night. I may be barefoot, but I really like well done and polished, too.

It's springtime and I like it. I love the green, the blossoms, and the promise of carefree summer days. Those days may or may not be carefree when they come, but I like to hope for the best. Things are different here, but they are good. God is good always, so there is always plenty of good all around. And so as this day closes, I can't help but be thankful still.

The pool is in use almost daily now.

Jon let our friends use his truck, so we got this fun little ride for our date night. The kids each enjoyed a ride around the block as well.

The sun had already set by the time we took off, and one of my kids took this shot for us. It's blurry. Whatever.


I just had time to post a few pictures now. Today is Good Friday; tonight we will gather at church to observe communion. I am really looking forward to it. I'm not sure how I will get dinner done in time, or how I'll have myself and a mob of kids presentable, but I am looking forward to the service. My guess it that people will just gather as they are: some will arrive from work, some off the street, and some straight out of the kitchen. And we will gather together and remember the work of our Savior. We will remember and rejoice that the work is FINISHED!


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Playing Hooky on Real Life

This week I was remembering my pregnancies, and how difficult the first five months or so were for me. Praise God I did have healthy pregnancies, but there were months of insanely miserable days. And yet, even at the hospital after L&D, I knew I wanted to do it again.

Then another pregnancy (which were all planned), and I'd be so mad for not writing myself a note, or taking a video, warning and reminding me of the suffering and desperate nature of my pregnancy days. I'd question my judgment, asking why I willingly subjected myself to such sickness once more.

And then, once again, I'd make it through. And the prize? A precious baby once more.

So this week those thoughts brought me comfort. Just like another pregnancy, where the actual difficulty of the initial months were significantly harder than the anticipate difficulty, there was still an eventual and wonderful prize. Likewise, I knew bringing in two older, troubled children into our home and family would be hard, but living the hard is a whole other deal.

So in the midst of the difficulty, when things can seem so utterly hopeless, I remind myself that there will be better days. There just has to be! Good things often come at a very high price. Sometimes the 'good' is not evident for a while. (It may even be a long while, and I need to write it now to ingrain it into me.)

It has felt like some of us here are just hanging on, making it through one day at a time. I see everyone struggling, and it hurts me to know I brought this hardship into their lives. This has been a difficult thing for me as I wonder if I've ruined every happy thing. And yet, I know these days are character building days; they are opportunities for growth and for dependence on God. My kids are watching me, and my life will teach more than my words. Oh, but in that regard I am often a major failure, too! If I could love better, patiently lead, patiently endure...

Mondays are the one day each week that the new kids are in school. (The other days I work with them to close some academic gaps). This past week, on a whim the night before, I secretly planned to play hooky with my four. We needed to feel freedom from the strain, the enjoyment of a happy day once more. I needed to connect with them, and I needed to see them play freely. It had been plain to see that everyone needed a break, a change from the relentless pressure and noise and turmoil.

So we did. We took a fabulous day off. We left all the "stuff" behind for one glorious day away.

 These pictures transport me back to that day! I am so thankful for my camera, and for the memories it preserves. My zoom lens quit working several months ago, and I miss it, but the simplicity of my 50mm is quite nice.

The boys found a log, and they tried to ride it passed the surf. Unfortunately, it didn't perform as well as they hoped, but it provided some good entertainment.

Blue skies, wide open space, and the freedom to run and simply be. I'm not sure how much longer our homeschooling days will continue, but this outing certainly made me thankful for the flexibility.

After a rip current advisory, the boys moved their play to the grasses and Olivia and I curled up in our blanket each with a good book. Of course I had to investigate and experience a little of the boys' play, too. They played for hours hidden in the grasses and shrubs.


Jon prolonged our time by picking up the other two kids from school, giving them a snack, and preparing a delicious and satisfying dinner for us all. What a guy!

And this day, what a gift!

To start a new week, a simply plea to God from portions of an old Scottish hymn…

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.


It was Olivia's birthday today, but I'll have to save that for a separate post…