Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving: What It Isn't

Norman Rockwell painted a pictured entitled Freedom from Want depicting a family seated around an immaculate table about to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s a snapshot of iconic American life, the way it should be, and a piece of my past. 

Honestly, I grew up privileged.  My parents were married and my grandparents lived next door.  We had a pristine home, mom homeschooled me, we had a good church, good friends, and my father was a business owner and church leader.  By all carefully cultivated outward appearances, life was perfect.  So, I resonate with that Rockwell painting.  That was my Thanksgiving and Christmas each year, and I loved it.  Thanksgiving and Christmas was a precious time with family giving thanks to God for His abundant blessings and celebrating the birth of His Son, Jesus.

A long story and a rocky road later, it’s gone.  Eight years ago, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, my parents announced their impending divorce.  Now, I understand that this happens daily, all over the world. Any marriage dissolving is painful and heartbreaking.  However, without going into details, we’ll just say that this particular situation was a unique kind of horrible. 

Philip remembers my wishing that my parents could have put off their announcement for 3 more weeks, just to get through Thanksgiving with the fa├žade that we had upheld for so many years.  One more normal family Thanksgiving, please?

For my sake, my parents held it together for that holiday, and then all hell broke loose.

Skip ahead to the following year.  Everything was still a mess, and yet the holiday season was looming.  It felt like a big slap in the face, a season of joy taunting me with what used to be. 

Nw, don’t get me wrong.  God is still good.  He is worthy of my gratitude.  I never ceased to be thankful for His goodness to me.  I never ceased to be in awe of His incarnation.  But all the traditional trappings surrounding that previous time of joy were a stark reminder of what wasn’t anymore. 

Since I was still in charge of that year’s family celebration, I decided to toss tradition to the wind, and begin something new that had nothing to do with the American norm.  I’m a little weird anyway, so my extended family didn’t seem too shocked. We had Middle Eastern food.  No turkey, no stuffing, no gravy, no cranberry sauce, and no pumpkin pie.

It felt good.  I didn’t have to pretend that everything was ok.  I didn’t have to try to force myself or my family into that “perfect” Rockwell mold.  I could spend the time not stewing on what I had lost, but on being grateful for what was.

Middle Eastern food, Moroccan food, Mexican food, German food, vintage food, Thai food….  The list is growing each year.  I am still tossing tradition out the window and avoiding turkey and stuffing like the plague.  Who really likes turkey anyway?

I grieve my broken family.  It’s still a mess.  Only God can heal the many wounds.  I trust Him with that.

But to me, Thanksgiving is different now.  It’s not about the Rockwell painting.  It’s not about a mold to fit into or having a stereotypical family unit gathered around a table.  It’s not about celebrating God’s goodness in a certain way.  It’s not about the past, or what should be.  It’s about what is now.

So, we are grateful to God for His kindness and His wonderful gifts to us, and we do celebrate Thanksgiving.  We don’t meet the expectation anymore, and I’m ok with that.  We invite strangers to eat with us.  We invite those that are far from their families, or don’t have family, or those whose family is a mess also.  We don’t put up a face about how perfect things are.  We avoid the traditions that seemingly mock the reality. 

As we approach another season, the past hurt nudges on my heart again and again. It’s unavoidable.  Instead of focusing on what no longer exists, I praise God for the present and the hope He gives for the future.  Now, please pass the baba ganouche and kibbeh.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Adventures With Arnold: Day 5-6

Day 5:
Mercifully, this day was more laid back than the others.  In the morning, we gathered Arnold and stuffed him back into the car.  He was expecting another huge hike like yesterday, but today we just went to the river.  There is a lovely river running into Lake McDonald, and large sections of it are wide and shallow.  Like, 6-12 inches deep, casually running over vibrant and unique rocks.  This appeared to be a great place for Arnold and the kiddos to play.  We carefully make our way to a rock island in the middle of the river and camped out a while.

After a length of time splashing in the water, we left our island and drove around a bit to our next hike.  It was a hike suggested on the "what do to with your small children in Glacier" sites, and was a tame nature walk through some lovely woods.  We walked though some places that had been affected by the wildfire, and also ended up on the shores of Lake McDonald again to throw rocks. Arnold was glad it wasn't a strenuous walk. He was getting little tired of being unceremoniously toted all over creation, often by one leg. 

playing "Pooh Sticks"

Day 6:
We loaded up and were out the door by 7:30am.  Arnold was impressed.  I was too, actually. We retraced the 10 hour drive home, stopping for a huckleberry milkshake, and made it in time for our martial arts class in the evening.

Arnold's sleeping arrangements at our guest house
Arnold is trying not to panic that he is upside down
and cannot flip himself right side up,
and, his human is asleep and unable to assist.
Arnold enjoying lunch with the kiddos at a rest stop.
He even liked the carrot sticks.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Adventures With Arnold: Day 4

Arnold in a canoe

Day 4:
This morning, Arnold hopped enthusiastically back into the car with us.  We left earlier than normal because we had a canoe rental waiting for us.  For an hour and a half, we paddled around Lake McDonald. Arnold found it strange to be riding on top of the water instead of in it.  It was his first boat ride, and the kiddos' first canoe ride.  They had a healthy fear of tipping the canoe, for which Arnold was glad.  He hadn't brought his bathing suit.

After the canoe trip, Arnold took a nap on the way up to Logan Pass.  It was about an hour for him to rest, and gear up for the big hike.  One again, he didn't walk much himself, but relied on Jayce, Anya, and occasionally Philip for transportation. It was a very steep hike, with lots of stairs, and a breathtaking view at the top.  Actually, the views were breathtaking the entire way up.  The mountain goats at the top were an added bonus.

the wildflowers were amazing

Leaping over creeks like a boss

The snow was melting on her

Friday, August 4, 2017

Adventures With Arnold: Days 1-3

Hi y'all, It's been a while.  My apologies.  I've been so busy that blogging is at the utmost bottom of my list of things to do.

The last few months have taken us random parts of the hemisphere, which I would prefer not to detail for you for wake of time.  Everyone is healthy, strong, and learning new things every day.

Who's Arnold?

When I was in Brazil in May, I introduced my kiddos to Arnold, a sea turtle.  He's soft, snuggly, and very portable, despite being a water-dwelling reptile. Each day I was gone, Arnold had an adventure with the kiddos, and required special considerations which they were obligated to give.  It was a good way to stay connected with them while I was away.

Fast forward a few months, and Arnold insisted on going on vacation with us.  It seemed he enjoyed adventure with the kiddos so much, that he just couldn't stay home while the kiddos explored Glacier National Park.

Day 1, however, was very boring for the poor fellow.  He didn't realize that "adventure" meant being stuck in the car for 10 hours. He did get some good snuggles and snacks, and even got to watch "Cars" with Jayce and Anya, for which he was very grateful.

We drove straight through from Oregon to Montana, not stopping for much.  The kiddos were fantastic, with good attitudes.  It was a long, long day, even for Philip and I.  We arrived our AirBnB house at almost midnight.

Day 2:

We didn't push it in the morning.  We eventually left the house, and took a picnic lunch to a river inside Glacier.  It was nice to walk around a little, put our feet into (cold) water, and relax.  Arnold was happy to accompany, and was extra excited to see the river and the waterfalls.  He didn't understand the danger, or why we held on to him so tightly when we were close to the edge, but he stayed safe.  He was glad to be able to sit by himself on a sunny rock and enjoy the shallow part of the river for lunch, though.

 Later in the day, Arnold was VERY upset to be left behind in the car during a hike to a waterfall.  Jayce and Anya really loved that hike, and told him about it later in the day.  Somehow, Jayce and Anya neglected to mention the incline, how mama and daddy were completely out of breath, or how tired we were at the top of it all.  However, for a turtle that basically gets carried everywhere he goes, these things probably would not have been a factor.  It was a beautiful hike.  My favorite part was the colors of the rocks.  They were so incredibly vibrant.

overlook by Many Glacier

Day 3:
This was much more interesting for Arnold, since he got to hang out with the family all day.  We tried to get an early start, but sometimes getting a turtle ready in the morning is as slow as shell. Finally, we found a place to park at Avalanche Lake trailhead.  Arnold got baby-sat by a kind person outside the restrooms, so he didn't have to witness the smelly bathrooms that the humans used.  It was nice to not take him there.  He would not have enjoyed it, and would probably have gotten his shell filthy.  The human was exceptionally glad to make his acquaintance, and Arnold got extra pets.  In fact, Arnold was a conversation starter all day!  I didn't realize he was so social.

At the beginning of the trail, there was a "no pets" sign.  This was very disheartening.  However, since the sign indicated that dogs were the undesired pet, we decided to make an exception for turtles.  Especially soft, fluffy ones.

The hike lasted 4 miles total, in which Jayce and Anya took turns porting Arnold over the trail.  He took a few nose-dives, but was promptly dusted off and calmed.  The kiddos were incredible troopers.  Jayce ran almost the entire way.  He is so athletic.  Arnold enjoyed the speed, which he is otherwise unable to obtain by himself.  Anya snuggled with him during a brief nap time in the grass at the lake. The lake itself was breathtaking, and all 4 (or 5, including Arnold) of us were sorry to leave.  More adventures to share tomorrow.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Advancing Against Troops and Scaling Walls

I didn't expect God's help.  In my defense, I didn't realize I didn't expect it.

This past weekend, Philip and I had our Module 2 Krav Maga testing. Saturday was the 8+ hour training session and then Sunday was a 6-hour test.

I didn't know any of the people there besides my husband, and there wasn't another girl to train with. I tried to be a tough partner for the guys, but I got the stuffing beat out of me. Many of the combatives and defenses were new, so I was learning on the fly.  The last 3 hours of training I was on the verge of tears because I hurt and was exhausted. Reflecting on the day, I considered not going back for the test on Sunday. It was just too hard.

As I prayed that evening, I tried to remember verses that could be encouraging. Things like "bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things" (1 Tim 4:8) came to mind. Obviously God places more value on spiritual discipline and relationships with Him than simply physical exercises.  But did He place any value on what I was trying to do?

I had been working hard, eating healthy and pushing myself physically, only to realize the legitimate possibility that I might not pass.  My best might not be enough on this one.

Slowly I began to remember chapters like Psalm 18 (one of my tattoos):  
Mostly dead. I think this was the
third shirt. I ended up soaking 4.
"It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure...He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze."
"With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall."

Maybe God didn't completely ignore the physical?  Maybe there was a chance He would give me His strength?

It didn't make sense.  Sure, I can trust God to help me have integrity because He values justice.  He will help me show love to others because He values mercy.  He teaches me and guides me and reminds me to walk humbly.  He demonstrates how to put others before myself because He values sacrifice.  But where does He value choke defenses, knee strikes, and punching combinations??! 

I forgot that He values me.  

The test was brutal, exhausting and I'm certain I bombed several (read: many) elements.  However, I still felt ok about it at the end.  I ended up with a fantastic partner (who kicks like a mule) who had my back. My muscles ached, my fine motor skills evaporated, and my gross motor skills became more and more...  gross.  I never felt energized, but somehow, by God's grace and a ton of energy bars, I just kept going.  And going.

A timely reminder to stop
making excuses
After the test, I stressed out to a dear friend, complaining that a test like this didn't seem very high on God's priority list. She gently reminded me that God's priority list is different than mine. While it might seem to me that God should hold a "That's not important to Me so I'm not going to help you with it" attitude, that is not harmonious with the rest of His character. My friend suggested an "I love you so what matters to you is important to Me" perspective from the Most High.

Many things in the past have caused me to think more of my actions and less of my value. I forget that God's love is personal and is not based on me doing the right things. It's based on His promise to love me as His child and His immutable (unchanging) character. I make decisions based on His values, but within that I can make choices based on my preferences.

God keeps teaching me that He isn't aloof and uncaring about these preferences.  He reminds me that He knows what I deeply desire and it is His delight to be a good Father.  He values me and sees me, not just what I do.  

As I chatted with my friend over the course of an hour or so, I realized that I hadn't actually expected God to help me through an unnecessary/nonessential physical test, despite all my prayers to Him asking for His help.  I expected this test to be below His regard.

Despite my unbelief, God showed Himself kind. I survived, though I do not anticipate doing Module 3 anytime soon.  So, for now, I get to rest in a greater understanding of God's character, and down more ibuprofen for my poor aching muscles.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Who? History, a Son, and a Beginning

Philip and Hadson, 2008
This post might be somewhat repetitive if you happened to read my very first blog post eons ago. However, to clarify confusion....

In exactly 1 day, 7 hours, 48 minutes, and 39 seconds, Hadson will be interviewed by the US consulate in hopes of obtaining a travel visa to enter the United States.  We have been talking for years about him coming to visit us, and Friday morning is the day in which we will know if this happens now or later, Lord willing.

Who is Hadson?  He's our son.  Sorta.  In our minds and hearts he's our son.

Nine years ago, while on a missions trip to Brazil, South America, Philip and I met this adorable little guy, and we attached like velcro.  At the time, Philip and I had been married about 2 years, and had no inclination to have kiddos anytime soon.  I had thought about adoption, but Philip wasn't quite so sure. However, upon meeting Hadson, we both fell in love and individually came to the conclusion that, if we ever had a son, we'd want him.  God used Hadson to completely change Philip's heart towards adoption.  We left Brazil leaving a huge chunk of our hearts behind, and ended up pursuing Hadson's adoption until it was no longer possible.
Fast forward 9 years, a few buckets of tears, ages of lost sleep, much research, and a lot of prayer, and we come to today.
Present-day, there is actually a possibility to see our son again.  He's out of the army now, has his passport, and is, as I type, traveling by bus to the US consulate to get his visa.

Philip and Hadson, 2016 (while
Philip returned to Brazil on another
missions trip)
The impression I get is that obtaining a visa is like going to the DMV.  You may or may not actually accomplish what you are there for.  It all depends on the mood of the individual behind the desk. I've been told that the people giving the interviews are often mean.

So, please pray.  Please pray that God's will be done.  I desperately want to see Hadson.  It's been too long.  He's grown from a little boy into a young man.  It would be a great opportunity to expose him to the culture here, assist in his language learning, and be able to include him in the rest of the family life. Even more, I want God's best for Hadson and for us.  Even if it means he is not able to come, I want God's best.  So, we will pray, be stretched in our faith, and hold tightly to the God who is always good, and we will trust.

Thanks for joining us on the journey.

16 hours, 1 minute, and 32 seconds.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A few cute things the kiddos are saying, and some tournament videos

Jayce at his first tournament

Kiddos first tournament

Tiger testing!  The kiddos advanced a rank and are so proud
A few cute things the kiddos have said...

The other day I was trying to get the kiddos to think of words that begin with a specific sound, like "B". I gave examples like, "blanket" and "blue" and "basket" etc. Then, I asked for other words that began with the same sound. "Fish!" Um, no.
Later, we were talking about the sound "P" like "pink" and "purple." With the same assignment, Jayce explained "PUFFALOW!" I have no idea what a "puffalow" is, but it does, indeed, begin with the sound "p" so I am not complaining.

This morning, Jayce very sweetly and respectfully asks, "Mama? Today, would you please do laundry? I am out of pants." Oops. Yes, child. Needless to say, I spent all day doing laundry.

I cut Philip's hair the other day. Later, Anya was standing on the couch near him, exploring his hair. "Daddy, you should tell mama not to cut your hair so much up here. You don't have very much left."

After working out almost daily, my son still pats my tummy and says "Mama! Your tummy is fat!" Thanks, kid. Ugh. Ha ha!

A few days ago, Jayce picked up on the word "Chef" and was wondering what it meant. Today, he made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for our lunch- his first time making lunch! After much praise and affirmation, he looks at me and says "mama, I am sort of a chef!"

Anya, in the context of trying to match stray socks. "Some people only have one foot, mom. Maybe those socks could go to those guys."

Jayce: "What are you making? Snake??"
Me: "Um, no, but it some parts of the world they make snake."
Jayce: "Yuck."
Me: "Well, they think it is good, and they probably know how to make it yummy."
Jayce: "Well, God made us different."

Jayce: I have a county bookstore. People are supposed to be quiet inside. If they are not quiet, we send them skunks. (I am fairly certain that would be an excellent motivating factor to practice silence, child!)

When Jayce and Anya were spending time with my in-laws, Joni wrote:
Quote of the day, as we are deciding where everyone will sit at breakfast:
I said, "Julianna wants to sit by her mommy."
Jayce: By who?
Me: By me. I'm her mommy.
**LOUD laughter at this crazy statement**
Then this: "Anna is actually the mommy. YOU are the Grandmom! Someday you will have kids."

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Good and the Bad

The pictures are from a family mini-vacation we took to the safari!

Friday nights are Bible Study nights here.  I make dinner for those that come, banish the kiddos to play upstairs, and then we continue our trek through the book of Proverbs.  While reading through Proverbs 15, verse 3 caught my eye,

"The eyes of the Lord are in every place, Watching the evil and the good."

This is followed by verse 8 where "the prayer of the upright is His delight" and verse 9 where "He loves the one who pursues righteousness" and verse 29 where God "hears the prayer of the righteous".  I am reminded of a truth I often overlook.

I often forget that God sees the good.  My upbringing and mindset has established that God sees and will punish the evil.  It is easy to accept for me.  I do good things because I'm supposed to, and if I sin there will be negative consequences. Simple.

However, God sees more than the bad.  He also sees the good.  So, when I choose kindness and a soft voice with my kids even though I am upset, He sees that.  He sees the little things I do to help a less fortunate person, or to show love to the orphan, or the consistency to prepare a comfortable home for my family, or the smile I give a stranger even though I don't feel cheerful.  He sees the good choices, the good thoughts, the little actions that I don't have to do.  And, He is pleased with them.  He delights in my communication with Him from a clean heart.

This past Sunday was Christmas.  Our own church services were rescheduled, so while my family was sick, I went to a different local church to enjoy worship with other (complete stranger) believers.  At then end of the service, the pastor served communion.  He encouraged us to cleanse our hearts before God, and then enjoy God's favor as we remembered Christ's death and obediently participated in the ordinance.  It struck me again, how the Lord's Supper was more than something to do "because I was supposed to" but this obedience made God happy with me.  It seems like an overly-simple concept that I have been completely missing.

So, happy New Year to you all.  Walk with God.  Do justly.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly.  And, remember that your obedience has the ability to please God!