Friday, December 30, 2016

Three strikes and you're out

On Fridays, if he has finished all his assignments for the week, Simon doesn't have to do homeschool. Michael still has to get up and go to public school, of course, but Simon...well, on Fridays I let him sleep in.

This is typically a wonderful thing. Simon gets extra rest, I have one less kid to worry about as I get Michael off to school, and everyone is happy. One particular Friday, I was struggling to get Michael's lunch packed and the baby fed and I didn't end up going downstairs to wake Simon up until after 8:00.

I knew something was wrong the moment I opened his door. "Good morning, buddy," I said.

He whimpered.

"What's the matter?"

"I don't want to tell you," he said.

I sat on the edge of his bed and put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you sick?" "No." "Did you have a bad dream?" "No." Then he started to cry. Sob. "You forgot about me," he wailed. "I waited, and waited, and you never came."

All of my hugs, kisses, and assurances that I thought he was asleep and that I would never forget about him had little impact. I had let him down. Strike one.

A couple days later, Patience was napping, LH was visiting his mom, Michael was at school, and Simon was still at the table trying to finish his lunch. It was slow going for him, due to the elaborate daydreaming taking place in his mind. I needed to run to the neighbor's house to pick something up so I told Simon I would be right back. "Okay," he said.

At the neighbor's, I picked up what I needed and then got to chatting. Five minutes turned into ten, and when I finally got back to my house, I found Simon collapsed in a miserable heap on the couch.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"I thought you left us forever," he sniffled. "I couldn't find you anywhere."

Apparently, he not only didn't remember that I told him I would be right back, but he also couldn't believe it had only been ten minutes. He was certain at least an hour had passed. Strike two.

A couple more days passed. Christmas Eve arrived. After the kids were in bed, I pulled out the goodies to fill up their stockings. Michael and Simon had green ones and Patience had a red one. I went to bed exhausted but happy, sure the kids would like the gifts we'd bought.

In the morning, Simon approached our makeshift mantle with anticipation, eyeing the stocking he believed was his. "I can't wait to open it," he exclaimed, poking at the stocking in which I had placed Michael's gifts.

"That one's not yours," I said, pointing at the other green stocking. "Yours is this one."

His little shoulders drooped. Disappointment descended upon him like the weight of the world. His eyes grew wide and his lip quivered. "But, this one was supposed to be mine."

"I'm sorry, buddy," I said. "Here, I'll switch them right now. It'll be fine."

It wasn't fine. "I told you a million times that I wanted this one," he said, heartbroken. "And you didn't listen."

There was nothing I could say. He had, in fact, told me that. Once. A couple weeks ago. In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I had forgotten. Swing and a miss - Steee-rike three! You're out!

Here's hoping 2017 is a year of success, forgiveness, and second chances. Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Christmas miracle?

When I was growing up, there came a time when the kids in the family (me, my siblings, my cousins) started to grow out of the toys our grandparents had been buying us as gifts. But they still wanted to buy something at Christmas, so...what to do?

Enter: The Happy Game. You've probably seen this game before. It has many variations and names, but basically everyone brings a wrapped gift (there's usually a spending limit and/or theme), and you sit in a big circle passing dice. When you get three matching dice (or whatever you choose as the "winning" roll), you get to pick a gift from the pile. The next person who rolls winning dice can choose another gift...or they can take yours.

This goes on until the timer runs out. Typically a lot of trading goes on before the game is over.

Well. One year, my aunt and uncle were hosting Christmas and The Happy Game was planned. "Movies" was the theme, so everyone brought a wrapped movie. No one was supposed to know which movie anyone else had brought.

My uncle got into the spirit of the game in an interesting way. He thought it would be funny to buy an "adult" movie for our game. I think he hoped to finagle my aunt into choosing it. I'm not really sure what he was thinking. But Christmas day came, The Happy Game commenced, and my uncle's plan...whatever it was...quickly went awry.

Wrapped movies were chosen and passed and stolen and re-stolen as the game went on and it soon became clear it was not his wife who would end up with the highly inappropriate movie, but my mother, a very conservative Christian woman with four young children watching. My uncle tried in vain to roll three matching dice and steal the movie from her, but it was not to be. His face grew grim as time ticked down. This was not the funny prank he had envisioned.

Then, the game ended. We began to unwrap our gifts, one by one, around the circle.

As my mother's turn to unwrap came closer, my uncle began to noticeably squirm. In fact, I think he began to sweat as he did some serious re-thinking about his life choices. When she began tearing the wrapping paper off her gift, he looked like he might pass out.

All eyes were on my mother.

The wrapping paper fell away and, with a smile on her face, she proudly held up her movie for all to see. A copy of The Jesus Film. It was a Christmas miracle! My uncle stared in stunned silence. What had happened? Had the Lord Himself intervened to rescue the poor, misguided soul who thought an X-rated film would add excitement to our Happy Game?


Turns out my aunt had discovered my uncle's plans the night before and secretly switched the movies and rewrapped them in the same paper without breathing a word to anyone. Then she sat back and watched the drama unfold. The full story didn't come out until much later.

Maybe, in a way, the Lord did intervene. Make of it what you will. But either way, The Happy Game remains a favorite Christmas tradition in our family to this day and none of us, least of all my uncle, will ever forget the year of the Christmas miracle.

Friday, November 18, 2016

If rabbits could talk

Today I want to tell you all a story. It's a true story and it's a story that makes me happy. Maybe you might smile, too.

I was nineteen, and my second year of college had just come to an end. In a couple days, I would be joining a team of people to fly to Bolivia and help with the building of a Bible College there. A couple months after that, I would be getting married. It was an exciting time in my life, but also chaotic and stressful. I had no idea what to expect, either in South America or in marriage. And I had no money.

For months I had been raising money for the trip, and had secured just enough, but there was no extra. Other members of the team were talking about fun gifts they were planning to buy for their friends and family as souvenirs, but I had to be content that at least I had enough money for food. It was enough. But I prayed a little prayer, anyway, asking God if just maybe He would send some extra cash my way.

As I packed up my dorm room, my eyes fell on a small collection of stuffed animals sitting on top of my dresser. I liked stuffed animals. I still do. In the middle of the stuffed animal pile was a Velveteen Rabbit. I had received this rabbit as a Christmas gift from my Aunt Bev when I was little and I loved her. She was soft and pretty and wore a red velvet dress with a white lace collar. I walked over to the dresser and picked her up.

You know the Velveteen Rabbit story? How the stuffed rabbit becomes real because of how much it was loved by its owner? I thought about that story, wondering what my rabbit might say if she could talk. I imagined she would say something like, "Please, won't you wash my pretty, red dress? It's dusty and stained and oh-so-shabby."

Sure, I'll wash your dress, I thought. Then you'll look as good as new. I unfastened the dress in the back and pulled it over her head, careful of her floppy ears. And that's when it happened.

There are moments in life when you feel like God is watching over you. As a hundred dollar bill fell out from under the Velveteen Rabbit's dress, I knew it was one of those moments. I picked the money up off the floor and stared at it. A hundred dollars. God had given me a hundred dollars.

Holy smokes.

Now, I don't consider the fact there was money in the bunny's dress a miracle. My whole childhood I'd had a habit of hiding money in various places in my room and forgetting about it. Surely this monetary discovery had something to do with that old habit. Right? But the fact the money had remained lodged in the rabbit's dress all those years, even through a move to Montana? And that I had decided for some reason, at the most unlikely of times, to wash the rabbit's dress? Yes, that was a miracle.

I washed the dress, took the money with me to Bolivia, and bought a variety of interesting items in the market, including a red Quechua blanket I still use to this day. The trip was an amazing experience. But even more amazing was the gift the Velveteen Rabbit gave me that day. The gift I believe God gave me.

It was a small thing that had a big impact on my life. It made me want to appreciate the little things. It made me feel like God really cared about me. It made me want to believe there is always hope. Always.

And in the fourteen years since, anytime I've been without enough money, which has been many times, I've thought about the Velveteen Rabbit and her pretty, red dress.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Through thick and thin?

Things have been a little chaotic around here since little LH came to live with us, as you can imagine. There's no end to the bottles and diapers and laundry, and now he has visitations six days a week. Life is full.

Luckily, I have a few good helpers around the house. Patience loves to fetch me things I need from the nursery, and Simon loves to hold LH whenever he gets the chance.

The other day, just such a chance arose. LH was hungry and I needed to make him a bottle but he did not want to be put down. You may or may not know that fixing a bottle with only one hand is a difficult endeavor. So I needed a little help.

"Hey Simon," I said. "Will you hold LH for a minute while I make his bottle? He needs a buddy."

Simon was sitting on the couch, and he smiled and eagerly held out his arms. I carefully placed a crying LH on his lap and Simon gazed down at him with a look of adoration. LH immediately stopped fussing.

How sweet, I thought.

As I walked around the corner and into the kitchen, I heard Simon talking to LH in a soft voice.

"I'll be your buddy," he said.

Oh! That made my heart melt. I paused to hear what else he might say.

"I'll always be your buddy," Simon continued. "Until something more exciting comes along."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

It's a mad, mad, mad world

Our first foster child, whom I will refer to as LH for privacy purposes, has now been with us for 29 days.

During those 29 days, his parents have missed two doctor's check-ups, a meeting with an orthopedic specialist about his foot, his umbilical cord falling off, the first time he opened his eyes and actually SAW what was going on around him, a pound and a half of weight gain, and his first attempts to roll onto his side. They have missed his first bath and his first diaper rash (and by golly it was a good one). They've also missed countless snuggles, bottles, burps, and kisses.

And I want to be angry at them, but I can't. Because it could've been me. But for God's grace, I could've been a teen girl having a baby I wasn't prepared for, with no support and no clue what to do. I could've been trapped in dysfunction and ignorance with no one to pull me out or show me a better way. I do not stand in judgment over this little boy's mother. I will not. But OH it makes me sad.

The worst part of it is that LH was supposed to go home tomorrow. And though I would have missed him, I was ready to say goodbye. "Go with God, little man," I would have said. "It has been my privilege to care for you."

But he's not going home.

His parents have not yet met the requirements of the State and so he will remain with us until they do. And you know the first thing that went through my mind when I found out he would be staying? It was that I can't believe how lucky I am. I can't believe how lucky I am that I have a loving husband, a supportive extended family, close friends, a place to live, and enough emotional, spiritual, and financial resources to love "one more." To bring "one more" into our already full house. I don't think LH's mother has any of those things.

So I want to be thankful for what I have. I want to make the most of what I've been given. And, I want a nap.

But in the immortal words of Warren Zevon: "I'll sleep when I'm dead."

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A first time for everything

You never know what the day will bring when you wake up in the morning. Especially if you're a parent. And today...well, today was a day of firsts.

I called in a report to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks for the first time today. A young mother deer and her two fawns have been frequenting our backyard, leaving scat and eating apples from our tree. This hasn't bothered me and we've enjoyed watching them from the window, but this morning we noticed one of the fawns had a broken leg. And by broken, I mean BROKEN. The jagged, bloody bone was sticking out and the rest of the leg was hanging by a small piece of hide.

So I called it in. I was afraid for it. Believe it or not, the lady at Fish, Wildlife, and Parks said the deer would probably be fine.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "Half its leg is hanging off."

She was sure.

We also accepted our first foster placement today. Some time tomorrow a newborn boy will be discharged from the hospital and come to our home for at least 30 days. We've been scrambling to find clothes, bottles, diapers, and all the other little things you forget you need. People have been SO gracious to offer help! But honestly we have no idea what we're in for. He will be the first foster child to come through our doors. Maybe the first of many, but who knows?

Perhaps the most shocking first of the day came via my oldest son. Today was the first time he's had the self-awareness to be embarrassed of me.

"Are you going to wear that?" he asked.

"Um, yes."

He rolled his eyes. "Those look like pajamas."

Holy cow, who is this gangly man-child? Since when did he even NOTICE, let alone CARE about clothes, whether mine, his, or anyone else's? Someone hand me a brown paper bag please, I need to breathe into it for a minute. This was a definite first, but I have a feeling it won't be the last.

And the day's not even over yet. Good thing I have a secret stash of candy that my kids don't know about.

So what kind of memorable "firsts" have you experienced?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Love never fails

It's long been one of my greatest fears: Alzheimer's. Dementia. I fear slipping away into the murky, gray sludge of confusion, perhaps greater than I fear death itself. I fear changing into someone who can't remember the love and bonds I share with my friends and family, the blessing they've been to me, and all the ways they've cared for me over the years.

It's a terrifying prospect.

I watched my grandma forget and change. The mind that had been so sharp for so long, solving crossword puzzles and memorizing poems and recalling the names and faces of everyone she ever met, turned into a tangled web of childhood memories and paranoia. The tongue that had encouraged me and told me stories turned sharp, as she sank deeper into the fear only those losing their minds can understand and the rest of us can only hope to never know.

But the most painful part was watching her love for my grandpa and reliance on his steadfast presence in her life turn into distrust, suspicion, and anger. The accusations she made against him burned my soul. I don't know if there's anything sadder than watching a man who has stood faithfully by his bride for over 50 years try to keep loving her, keep caring for her, keep trying to get through to her, even when she can see nothing but the murky grayness. And doing it because he knows of nothing else to do. She is his only purpose.

"You don't care about me," a woman shouted, just this morning at the nursing home. Her husband gently tried to nudge her into the room where a sing-a-long was about to commence. I'm sure he knew she loved music and would enjoy the time.

But she slapped at him and screamed in his face. "You don't care! You don't care!"

Her eyes were fire and spit but his were brokenness and desperation. 'I only want what's best for you,' they said. 'I care more than you'll ever know.'

Is it too big a burden to bear? After a person has given some 50 years of their life to another, must they also carry the weight of the fear and anger and murky grayness? Could anyone blame them for turning their loved one over to someone else and hoping they'll never remember? Maybe not.

But what is love, really? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells us: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

Love never fails. Perhaps there is nothing more beautiful and sacrificial than the man who loves his wife to the bitter end, even when her mind has surrendered to the grayness and he receives nothing but anger and fear in return. No greater embodiment of the love spoken of in the Bible than the man who braces himself for the slapping hands of his wife and quietly says, "It's okay, dear. I think you're going to like the music. I'll be waiting for you in the hall when you're ready."

In these examples of love, I see myself, shouting hateful words and slapping angry hands at my God from the murky grayness of my own mind, which is tainted by sin and brokenness and can't see things perfectly as His does. But He does not fight back, or abandon me, or throw my words back in my face. He just gently nudges me toward what He knows is good, even as I protest, and tells me, "It's okay. You're okay. I'll be waiting for you when you're ready."

Love never fails.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

An honest question

On Sunday, we arrived at church earlier than usual, because Andy was scheduled to preach and he had some last minute preparations to take care of. The kids were good sports about it, but by the time the service started we'd already been there for about two hours. We arranged ourselves in our customary pew with a sigh of relief.

First, some announcements were given. Bridal shower Wednesday, June 22. More volunteers needed for the Community Café. Clothing for the Syrian refugees can be dropped off in the foyer. The usual.

Then, something less "usual" occurred. A missionary family we know was attending the service that morning to visit before returning to India to continue their work. Aaron, the head of this wonderful family, was invited onto the stage to share about his family's plans as they prepared to head back to the mission field. He approached the microphone with a big smile.

"I'm really excited to hear Andy preach this morning," he began. "So I'll try to make this brief."

From there, he went on to share about some of the things his family has been doing and some of the changes that are happening in their ministry. His passion was evident as he spoke of the city to which his family would be moving, and the therapy center for children they would be assisting with.

After a few minutes, Simon leaned over to Andy and whispered loudly.


"Yeah, buddy?" Andy whispered back.

"If he's so excited to hear you preach, why is he still talking?"

Well, it's a valid question.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Best Friends

It's been kind of a long couple of weeks. We've had an extra kiddo, all day every day, and her presence has thrown a monkey wrench into my own kids' routines and expectations. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it can cause some problems.

It can especially be a problem for my straightforward son. You know the one I'm talking about. Simon, the introvert and Mr. Literal of our kid patch. He's been a real champ about the whole thing but yesterday he reached the outer limits of his patience.

My three kids plus the extra were playing in the backyard in the afternoon and everyone was alive so I was happy with that. Pretty soon, however, things started going downhill. Every five minutes one or another of the kids would come find me to air a grievance (also known as tattling) or cry about the unfairness of something. They all took several turns doing this.

Finally Simon couldn't take it anymore. It's hard enough for him to be around other people for long, but other people in conflict? Forget about it. His shoulders slumped and his head hung as he approached me.

"Can I take a break from all this whining and sit in the front yard?" he asked.

"Of course," I said.

"Can I watch for the Carson's van to get home from school?"

"Ye-es." I could sense a set-up.

Simon stood up a little straighter. "Can I watch for Packard to get out of the van?"

"Why don't you just come out with it, buddy?" I asked.

"Okay, can I ask Pack to come play with me?"

This is what I had been expecting and I was happy to say yes. I watched through the window as Simon sat in the front yard and waited and waited until the van pulled up next door, then waited and waited as all the kids piled out of it. When he finally saw his good buddy Pack his face lit up and he shouted across the street.

"Ask your mom if you can come play!"

In a few short minutes, Simon and Pack were in the backyard, doing whatever little boys do outside when it's sunny. They played until dinnertime, when I had to send Pack home and call my kiddos in. Simon came running into the kitchen with a smile on his face.

"Are you feeling better now?" I asked.

Simon nodded and told me, with wisdom well beyond his years: "Sometimes a guy just needs his best friend."

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dear Future Self

Dear 40-year-old Me:

Ah, yes, I'm starting to see you now. In the fine lines and mom jeans and saggy parts. I see you.

Do you remember what it was like to have little ones in the house? Do you remember the chaos and noise and laundry? I hope you do. Now that you have teenagers, I hope you do appreciate being able to go to the bathroom without interruption and being able to send one of the boys to the store for milk. That's your life now.

I wonder if you think about finally refinishing the hardwood floors. Maybe even (gasp) buying a couch, now that you don't have three little ones who would use it as a kitchen table, artist's canvas, and jungle gym. You might even be thinking about a weekend getaway with your husband. You have so many interesting things to consider now that you' know...middle-aged.

There was a time not long ago when you still bought clothes from the junior section at Kohl's, but I bet you don't do that anymore. Too embarrassing for your daughter. But please, oh please, don't tell me you've foregone hot pink and sequins. I couldn't bear to think you would just give up on life like that. I couldn't bear it.

I suppose you're as busy as ever. That probably hasn't changed. But try to take a minute to look around and see how blessed you are. See how much you've been through and how far you've come! Oh yes, I have no doubt they've been 40 wonderful years. I just hope you're not too distracted or self-centered to see it.

And if you're still eating ice cream by the bowl-full, I feel I should tell you, as a friend, that it's probably time to ease up on that a bit. Not that you have to give up ice cream completely, but limit yourself to a cup or something, okay? I want at least another 40 years out of you.

And one last thing, my dear last very important thing: Don't give up on your dreams, whatever they are. Whatever you've been hoping for and working toward or wishing about between now and when you get this letter, don't give up on it just because you're a responsible, middle-aged adult who wears mom jeans.

Don't give up because you're only just getting started! A whole new life is just beginning and anything is possible. You're still me, and I'm telling you now that I, and therefore you, refuse to settle. Paul David Tripp says: "Don't settle for 'below and less,' when you've been created for 'above and more'." And the indomitable Dr. Seuss says: "Why fit in when you were born to stand out?"

So go get 'em 40-year-old me! Get out there and be me, only better. I'm counting on you.

Most Sincerely,

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Now and later

It's becoming a trend that whenever my 3-year-old asks for something and I say no, she follows up with this:


The implication is clear: she's hoping my NO wasn't really a no. Maybe it was just a "Not now." If I say no you can't have a cupcake, no you can't go outside, or no I won't let you play my guitar, she takes a little step back, puts on her cutest little smile and asks, "Later?"

Sometimes the answer to her "later" question is yes. Yes, you can have a cupcake LATER, after dinner. Yes, you can go outside LATER, after your nap. (The guitar question is always a no, though.) But the funny thing about this is that she has no concept of how long "later" is. It could be in five minutes or five hours or five days, but she doesn't comprehend that. She just knows it's coming. And she's perfectly content and happy with that.

So that got me thinking. I, supposedly, am a grown-up who does understand the difference between five minutes, five hours, and five days. I even understand that sometimes "later" turns into "never" when circumstances change or unexpected events occur. So is that why "later" is not a satisfactory answer for me, like it is for my daughter? Is that why hearing "later" (or its fraternal twin "wait" or its cousin "maybe") does not result in my contented happiness?

When I hear "later" or "wait," I tend to get worked up. If I didn't want it now, I wouldn't have asked! Later doesn't do me any good! But earlier today when my daughter once again responded to my "no" with "Later?", I had a light-bulb moment. It was like God was smacking me upside the head.

The Bible tells us to have faith like a little child. To come to God like little children. And guess what? Little children are content and happy when they receive "later" as an answer. So if I'm not content when I receive that answer from God, I am not coming to him like a little child. I'm acting too much like a grown up. Too demanding, too impatient, and too self-focused.

When I had this realization, it really made me think about my recent prayers. At some point every child grows out of believing in "later," and I wondered when I "grew out" of that stage with God. When did I start demanding everything in my timing and believing that "later" is just an infuriating way to put off saying "no"?

I don't know when it happened but I think I want to change. I want to believe that when God says "no," he has a reason for that. Just like I have a reason when I tell my daughter, "No, you can't have a cupcake." It doesn't necessarily mean she's never going to get a cupcake. It just means I happen to know better than she does when the best time to have a cupcake is.

So, maybe God knows better, too.

"Lord, won't you fix this problem for me?"




Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Who needs a therapist?

Anyone who's ever been a teacher knows that feeling when you look out at your students with about six weeks of school left and think, "I'm never going to make it." Spring has arrived in full force, your students are getting antsy, and you have (smack) hit the wall.

That's where I've been at this week...wondering how I'll ever be disciplined enough to finish the rest of our lessons and why I ever thought this was a good idea in the first place. Then, to add icing on the cake, my 9-year-old informed me the other day that he couldn't see any possible purpose for school.

"Why do we even need it?" he asked.

I tried to explain by helping him imagine what his life would be like in the future if he didn't continue his education. I painted a bleak picture where everyone would look down on him for being dumb and he would starve to death due to the lack of funds with which to buy food. His response?

"I'll just ride my bike somewhere and eat plants."

When pressed about which plants specifically he planned to eat, he said pineapples.

"Pineapples don't grow around here," I said.

"Then I'll move to Hawaii."

Good luck riding your bike all the way to Hawaii, buddy.

Anyway, it's safe to say for the past few days I've been getting up in the morning with a certain amount of dread. Apparently, this has been evident on my face because for the past three mornings, my sweet little (now) 3-year-old has watched me making breakfast and has asked, "Are you happy, mommy?"

What an interesting question. Profound, really. Her question has given me a whole new perspective on not only how much my attitude affects those around me, but also how little I consider the idea of happiness. As a result, I've been forced to think about all the things I have to be happy about. Turns out there are gazillions, and being able to teach my own kids is one of them.

So why the long face? Apparently I have no legitimate reason, as my daughter has pointed out in a round about way. So I've decided I need to change my attitude so that if she asks me tomorrow, I can honestly say, "Yes, baby. I'm happy."

Who needs a therapist when you have a 3-year-old?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The circle of doom

I was newly married and new to the world of ladies' Bible studies, women's fellowship events, and the unspoken rules which govern them (of which I am still largely unaware). I was invited to a luncheon at a wonderful, older woman's house along with about eight other young ladies. And I went.

The luncheon was a lovely affair where we sat around a large dining room table and shared a meal while chatting amiably amongst ourselves. Even as a relative newcomer to the group, I felt at ease and had a good time. Until, that is, the hostess of the party announced the next item on our agenda.

"I thought we could do an encouragement circle next," she said. "Wouldn't that be nice?"

An encouragement WHAT? Sharp, heavy rocks of dread immediately filled my stomach. As the hostess explained how it was going to go, my trepidation grew exponentially.

"We'll go around the circle," she said. "Whoever's turn it is, the rest of the group will share encouraging words about that person. You can share what you like about them, or what you've learned from them, or what good things you see God doing in their life."

My heart raced. I'm the daughter of a Dutchman, I thought. A Dutch farmer, no less. I don't just (shudder, gulp) share feelings. Not to mention that, contrary to the parts of my personality that suggest otherwise, I'm actually an introvert at heart. And what did I expect anyone to say about me anyway? I was well aware the list of my positive qualities was not very long.

This was my worst nightmare.

There was no way out, however. I clutched the edge of the table and tried to ignore the churning in my stomach. Then, it happened.

"Katie," our hostess said, and the blood froze in my veins. "You can be first."

I'm sure my eyes were as big as balloons as the hostess invited everyone else at the table to turn their attention to me and share their encouraging words. I was greeted by silence. Silence, people. Complete and utter silence. I shifted in my seat. I forced myself to smile. What did I expect? I didn't have much to offer as a person and these people hadn't known me that long anyway. More silence.

"It's okay," I finally said, looking around the table, trying to put up a brave front. "You don't have to."

My words must've broken the spell because suddenly a couple people were willing to share.

"You're funny," one said.

"You always make me laugh," shared another.

Okay. Then the hostess called the name of the lady to my left and it became her turn. Relieved, I loosened my grip on the table. Beautiful and heartfelt words and stories were shared as the circle continued, but one thought nagged at my mind: Is that all I am? Funny? Is that all I have to offer?

It's difficult to explain what happened next. It still makes me cringe. I guess I thought one of the ways to prove I wasn't just funny, but also kind and considerate, was to get out of my comfort zone and offer encouragement to one of the other ladies. I guess I thought I knew how to do that. I was wrong.

The last woman's name was called and the encouragement began. This woman was someone I really looked up to and admired, so I didn't think I'd have any trouble sharing a few words of praise. So I opened my mouth. What I wanted to say was that this woman positively shined with natural beauty that didn't depend on what she was wearing or whether she had makeup on or anything like that. She just exuded beauty and grace in every circumstance. That's what I meant to say.

"You are beautiful even when your clothes aren't," is what came out.

Another awkward silence ensued as the implications of my words sank in. The woman looked down self-consciously at her outfit and I sat there with my mouth hanging open, trying to think of something else to say.

"I think it's time to wrap it up," our hostess said.

Eleven years have passed since that fateful day. I've replayed it in my mind over and over, wishing I could have a do-over. Wishing for a different outcome. But as painful as the whole thing was, part of me is glad it happened, because as a direct result of that encouragement circle I have striven to not only get better at praising and building others up, but also to become someone who has more than just humor to offer. I realized I LOVED making people laugh and I loved being funny, but I wanted more.

The circle of doom, as I now call it, forced me to take a good, hard look at my heart and decide what I wanted to be known for...what qualities I wanted the world to see in me. And then I had to go about developing them. I'm still working on that part.

Maybe you've had a "circle of doom" moment in your life that caused you to reevaluate your character or your trajectory. If so, I'd love to hear about it. If not, imagine me sitting there, with all eyes on me and waiting for someone to speak, and ask yourself, "What would the circle say about me?" Then try not to throw up. 

And one last thing: if you ever invite me to participate in another encouragement circle, don't be surprised if I run away.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pressure cooker

My youngest son, Simon, is a bright kid. And very imaginative. But he doesn't do well under pressure. He likes to have time to think things over and process his thoughts and feelings.

Well, ever since the boys moved into the basement bedroom together, we've had a certain bedtime routine. The boys brush their teeth and get in their pajamas, we have our Bible time on the couch, and then we go downstairs to tuck the boys into bed and pray.

At first the boys just listened, but once we thought they were old enough, we began asking them to participate more. This quickly became a point of contention with Simon because asking him to pray caused him to feel pressure. And I cannot emphasize this enough: he does not do well under pressure.

The pressure was exacerbated when we were forced to institute a youngest to oldest rule to avoid the nightly "It's your turn" "No I went first last time" "I'll be first three times and then Simon will be first three times" arguments. We didn't want to fight about it and we didn't want to keep track, so the youngest to oldest rule seemed like a good idea, especially since Andy could then be the closer.

And so it has gone for a couple years now. Simon has often tried to get out of it, but we've persisted in asking him to participate, even if it's just in the smallest of ways, because we believe it is important. We usually remind him ahead of time and give him hints about ways he can be preparing himself for prayer time so he can do all the processing he needs to do.

The other day, however, as we were walking downstairs at bedtime, Andy told the boys to start thinking of something they were thankful for and Simon's shoulders immediately started to slump.

"I can never think of anything," he said, his little spirit already shrinking under the pressure.

"Well, we have tons of things to be thankful for," Andy replied. "I'm sure you can think of something."

So we got the boys tucked into bed and we all held hands as Andy announced he wanted us all to thank God for something, youngest to oldest. I could feel Simon's hand grip mine tightly as he began to panic.

"Can Michael please go first?" he begged.

We could all hear the desperation in his voice. Andy agreed to bend the rules for one night only and Michael sighed. Oh the plight of being the longsuffering older sibling!

"Dear God," Michael prayed. "Thank you that our lives aren't all bad."

Um, okay. Way to look at the bright side there, buddy.

Then Andy squeezed Simon's hand, indicating it was his turn. I could almost hear him hyperventilating as the wheels in his mind turned, searching for something to say. I rubbed the back of his hand with my thumb in encouragement, knowing all he had to do was think back over his day to come up with something he could be thankful for. Legos, friends, playing outside, the baby chicks, Easter candy. Any of those things.

As an awkward silence ensued, I rubbed Simon's hand again. I was sure he would choose Easter candy.

"Dear God," he finally began, his voice barely above a whisper. " you"

That's as good a prayer as any, if you ask me. Preach on brother.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Joy and fear

Easter is one of my favorite celebrations. It's the celebration of new life. This year on Easter, as I was reading the account of Jesus' resurrection from Matthew 28 in the Bible, I was drawn to a verse I'd never really noticed before. Well, it was only part of the verse that struck me...only five words actually.

After a couple of women who had been devoted followers of Jesus went to the tomb and found it empty, an angel told them that Jesus had risen and they were supposed to go spread the word. Then Matthew 28:8 says: "So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples."

Afraid yet filled with joy. Huh. Those five words really got me thinking. It wasn't an easy thing these women were asked to do. People were going to think they were crazy. Or worse. And they were afraid...yet, filled with joy. What an interesting concept.

I tried to relate to how the women must have felt and realized there have been times I've been afraid (sometimes very afraid) and yet have been joyful. When I packed up everything I owned and moved from Washington to Montana, alone. When I flew into Bolivia to serve at South America Mission. When I got married. When I gave birth. When I landed in Ghana to meet my daughter for the first time (you can watch a video of that here: )

Afraid yet filled with joy. Looking back at all those experiences, it seems like the joy I had helped me overcome my fear, and the fear I had caused my joy to be even greater in the long run. Was it like that for the women at the tomb 2,000 years ago? Was it their joy that caused them to go out and do what Jesus asked them to do in spite of their fears? If it weren't for the joy they gained from Christ's resurrection, where would they have found the courage to do something as reckless and dangerous as telling the same story that just got Jesus killed three days before?

They were the first to tell the world: "He is alive!" They were the first to tell the world all hope was NOT lost. And they were afraid. But what if they had been too afraid? What if they had refused their mission?

There are a couple specific things in my life today that present me with this odd mixture of joy and fear (although none of my fear is related to potentially being killed). These are things from which fear holds me back, but at the same time the potential for joy, the promise of things to come, spurs me forward. I will share one of those things with you: WRITING.

I recently finished the first draft of my second full-length novel and find myself faced with a decision: do I take this writing thing seriously and put myself out there and sacrifice time and energy and sometimes even money to get involved in the world of publishing or do I keep my writing tucked away as a hobby and spend my time and energy and money on other things? Thinking about pursuing writing as more than a hobby fills me with FEAR. But my love for writing and the hope of what "could be" fills me with joy.

So, what should I do? Is it a mission God's given me to do or is it a personal desire? I don't know yet. But I think about those women at Jesus' tomb and do know one thing: they set out to complete the task set before them in spite of their fear. In spite of the danger. In spite of it being hard. Because the joy they had from just being in Christ's presence and being part of His plan was enough for them.

Afraid yet filled with joy. Maybe there's something we can all learn from that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Child of my heart

My little girl turns three on Saturday. We're not big birthday party throwers, or celebrators for that matter, but this birthday feels like kind of a big deal because it'll be the first birthday where she's actually aware she's having a birthday. In fact, she's VERY aware of that fact and has been talking about it for days now.

Birthdays can be an interesting thing when you have an adopted child. I have no memories of the day she was born. I can't tell her stories of what it was like to carry her in my tummy, what it was like when we went to the hospital, what she looked like as a baby. I can never give her that and that makes me sad. It breaks my heart.

Some of you have an idea what it's like to love a child who didn't come from your own body. Some of you understand the strange, unnatural position a woman is put in when she is a child's mother...but then again she's not. And how loving this child is the same as loving your biological children, except kind of different. Some of you understand.

For those of you who don't, I won't try to explain except to say I have no regrets and my daughter has taught me something very important. She has taught me love really must come from God, because it is bigger than people, bigger than time, bigger than distance, bigger than me. Only God could be big enough and strong enough and loving enough to invent something as hard as adoption, and make no mistake, He was the first to do it. He adopted us wretched, reckless creatures as His children long before we ever thought to do the same.

My love for my daughter is the same as my love for my biological children in that it is real and beautiful and deep, but different in that it brings into clear focus the truth that love is a choice. A choice to love someone and keep loving them until you no longer have that choice because they have become a part of you, even if they weren't born that way.

Our daughter's been with us a little over a year and a half now and I'm only beginning to realize how deep my fears are that no matter how often and consistently and tangibly I choose her, she won't have to choose me. My boys, well, too bad for them but they don't have a choice. Sure, they can reject me and run as far from me as possible, but they'll carry a piece of me wherever they go. The only thing my daughter would have to take with her would be that deliberate choosing of her that I perform every day, day after day. Choosing to love her, to claim her.

So I will keep doing it and doing it and hope she will choose me too, someday when she understands the truth and is able to make her own decisions. But my love for her does not hinge on whether she does or doesn't make that choice, because I already have. And that's real love, isn't it?

This may all sound a bit strange to some of you. There's nothing I can do about that. But as my daughter's third birthday draws near, I think of her beautiful skin and unruly hair, her deep dimples and contagious giggle, and I know what love is. And it's not feelings, or circumstances, or chance.

It's a choice.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The burning question

Have you ever had one of those "why am I here" moments? One of those moments when the world around you fades away and the quest for an answer to that question is the only thing you can think about? It's one of the most basic and commonly shared human experiences. In fact, it's one of the things that makes us human, this ability and need to ask this important question.

I'm not being philosophical here. I'm not talking about the meaning of life or finding my purpose. I'm talking about when you get up from your couch or your desk or your bed, and walk into another room for some reason, only to come face to face with the question: "Why am I here?"

I don't know about you, but for me these moments take confusing to a-whole-nother level. I stand there, filled with doubt, knowing there had to be a reason I went into the kitchen yet unable to conjure it up. Am I thirsty? Did I think I needed a drink of water? Was I supposed to get something out of the freezer to thaw? Did I want to sweep the floor? I don't know. I don't know!

Sometimes these moments move beyond confusion into the realm of terror. You know what I'm talking about. You're standing in the living room, looking around like you've never seen this place before, and fear begins to wrap its clammy hands around your heart. What if I was supposed to do something important? What if I never remember? What if I'm losing my mind?

When the fear grips me, I retrace my steps, hoping to jog my memory. Hoping to return to the concrete world of reliable reality. Sometimes retracing my steps works and I just slap my forehead with a "whew!" and laugh at myself for being scatterbrained. Other times, the retracing only sends me deeper and deeper into the dimension of forgotten intentions. Now I'm doubting whether I even HAD a reason for leaving my desk. Now...I'm doubting whether I even have a desk.

As Alice in Wonderland knows, going too far down the rabbit-hole can lead to unintended consequences, so when no amount of retracing can help me remember what I was doing, I do what any logical, sane person would do. I assume the fetal position and wait for the moment to pass. And it always does. The sun comes back out. The birds sing again. Life goes on.

But always, in the back of my mind, some deep part of my spirit hopes that I will one day solve the mystery of why I was there. Why am I here? Because seriously, I wouldn't have just gotten up from the couch for no reason.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Life's not fair

We live in a broken world. I would say something like, "No one knows that better than me," but a more accurate way to put it would be to say, "No one knows that better than every single person who's ever lived." Because no one escapes the brokenness. No one gets out unscathed.

Sometimes it seems unfair, the way things go down. Why does one person die from cancer and another survive? Why does one family's house burn down while their neighbors remain safe? Two men might work hard their whole lives, putting in long hours and sacrificing themselves for their jobs, only to have one of them retire in contentment and comfort while the other ends his days as a miserable, wretched, broken shell of the man he once was.

Doesn't seem fair.

But of course, saying something isn't fair begs the question: what is fair? What does it even mean? Merriam Webster tells me it means "marked by impartiality and honesty: free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism (1) : conforming with the established rules." This definition doesn't clear the matter up because different people and different situations have different "established rules," so what is fair to one person at one time, may not be fair to another in a different circumstance.

For example, my 2-year-old and my 9-year-old have different rules. What I expect from my older, I do not necessarily expect from my younger. The amount of ice cream I would give my older is WAY DIFFERENT than the amount of ice cream I would give my younger. She would say that's not fair. I would say it is.

This whole fairness thing is enough to drive anybody crazy. I mean, if you really think about it, if you dwell on the injustice of it all, you could lose a lot of sleep. You could lose a lot of hope, because life is really, really hard. Sometimes it downright sucks. But I believe there's another way to look at it.

Every day we get is more than fair. Every breath we take, every laugh, even every tear we shed and every stab of pain we feel, is more than fair. Because what would be fair would be if we got nothing. I mean, I didn't do a single thing to contribute to me being born on this earth, did you? I didn't make my brain or my lungs or my heart. I didn't set up the world or create oxygen. Did you? We get all those things despite having done nothing to earn them, nothing to deserve them, nothing to justify our continued use of them.

In fact, usually I do things that would justify having all those privileges taken away. You know, if we were being fair. Because I take things away from my kids when they don't follow the rules, so why shouldn't I lose my privilege to keep breathing when I use the air I take in to form words that hurt others? If we're being fair, the muscles in my hands should be taken away and put in the "timeout box" if I use them inappropriately, until I can earn them back. The brain in my head should be taken away until I can demonstrate that I'm mature enough for a second chance.

But it doesn't work like that, does it? Instead, a gracious God has given us everything - everything we are and everything around us - to do with what we will. We can literally curse His name and spit in His face, do damage to those around us with our hands or our tongues, despise the very bodies we didn't deserve in the first place, and still wake up in the morning to do it all again. How is that fair?

It's not. It's grace.

So Thank God life's not fair. Otherwise, we might actually get what we deserve.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Shower power

The other day I found myself in the midst of a dilemma. It had been three and a half days since my last shower and I was good and ripe, but there was a problem. The problem was: our one and only shower was broken.

For those of you who don't know, the five of us live in a small house built in the 1930s with one, tiny bathroom. Now, to be clear, I love my house and the song 'Love Grows Best in Little Houses' is my theme song...BUT occasionally the one bathroom thing can be a problem.

Over the past couple of days, Andy had been trying to fix the stupid thing. He had gone from hardware store to hardware store looking for the right parts, but everywhere he went he heard the same things:

"They don't make parts like that anymore."

"I've never seen anything like that before."

"Are you sure this came from a shower? Looks like parts from a sink."

Apparently, our shower is so old and unique that it defies all categorization. Anyway, we tried to make the parts we had work by rigging them with other parts. No luck. We tried just, you know, pushing on it harder. That didn't work either. So we finally had to give in and call a plumber. He came, he saw, he laughed, and then said he could do the repair the next day.

So there I was, three and a half days without a shower and faced with one more. What should I do? I could make it one more day, I thought. But I had to go out in public a couple of times before the plumber returned and what if someone came up to me and tried to start up a conversation? I smelled like a pickle. No, going one more day was not an option.

The cold water part of the shower still worked (sort of) so technically I could take a freezing cold shower if I was desperate enough. But it's winter people! Sounds like a good way to catch pneumonia if you ask me. So no, that wasn't an option either.

I briefly considered hooking a garden hose up to the sink and running it into the tub but all the hoses are tucked away in the shed for the winter and it would take too long, so I finally decided there was only one thing left to do. The one thing that, in my life, is the step right before dialing up 9-1-1. I called Sarah.

Now Sarah lives across the street, is one of my very best friends, and is a beautiful, wonderful, amazing person. Unfortunately for her, I call her quite often when I find myself in these kinds of interesting dilemmas. Anyway, I explained the situation to her and asked her if pretty please I could maybe just run over super fast, while my daughter was taking a nap, and take a shower at her house.

"I'll be in and out in less than ten minutes," I assured her.

Ever the gracious and generous friend, Sarah was happy to oblige and the ten-minute shower took place. I emerged from her house a new woman with a fresh scent and fresh perspective on life, humming the words to 'Love Grows Best in Little Houses' to myself. So what if our house is small and old? I thought to myself. At least it's ours.

Then Andy called to let me know what the bid from the plumber had come in at.

"It's going to be a little over $500," he said.

Sigh. Did I mention how much I love my house?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Seems like yesterday

It was the winter of 2002. I was a freshman at Western Washington University, where it rains 300 out of 365 days. There was nothing extraordinary about my life at that time, but something happened that day that I'll never forget.

A group of about eight of us had taken to visiting a nearby nursing home every other week or so. We would usually play games with the residents, help them make Christmas cards or Valentines, or just sit and chat until they fell asleep mid-sentence. I enjoyed going there; I could relate better to the old folks than people my own age for some reason.

Anyway, on this dreary, rainy day our group was going to enter the restricted-access, locked-down Dementia Unit that we had been spending time in and do something we had never done before. We were going to sing.

It doesn't seem like a big deal, that we were going to sing. Singing is easy, right? But I was supposed to play the piano and none of us had ever practiced together, so I was nervous. We were supposed to sing hymns, which I was familiar with having been raised CRC, but I had my doubts about some of my friends' abilities to follow along to By the Sea of Crystal and Great is Thy Faithfulness. I feared the worst.

We got to the Dementia Unit and entered the key code to enter the wing. Having been trained to be alert, we slipped through the door and quickly shut it behind us so no one could escape. Only residents with severe dementia and high flight risk lived here.

The first person I saw was a woman I liked to call Nervous Nellie. She had wispy, white hair the length of her chin and never did anything but pace up and down the hallway, wringing her wrinkled hands. As she passed I said hello, but she didn't hear me. She was in her own world somewhere far away, muttering unintelligible words and frowning as she paced back and forth, back and forth. Wringing, wringing, wringing.

I sighed and went into the Recreation Room where the piano was and my worst fears were soon confirmed. The other members of my group chickened out one by one until only I and one other girl were left to lead the singing. Alas! Such is the life of an artist! I thought.

Residents trickled into the room, encouraged by staff members to participate, and sat down facing the piano with expectant expressions. I consoled myself with the knowledge that no matter how poorly I played, none of them would remember my performance ten minutes after it concluded. Opening the hymn book, I selected a well-known, easy song, took a deep breath, and began.

Some of the residents sang along and others just smiled politely at me. After the first song, I selected another: Amazing Grace. Everyone knows that one, I figured. I sang the first line, then the second...then something happened. A woman entered the room. She looked like Nervous Nellie, but...but, it couldn't be because she wasn't wringing her hands. And she wasn't muttering, and she wasn't pacing or frowning. But it was her.

Nervous Nellie walked up to me and sat down in the nearest seat, her hands folded in her lap. Then she opened her mouth. As I sang line after line, verse after verse, she sang too and she knew every word. Her voice was clear and bright like it was coming from another time. Another place. And she smiled.

When the song was over, all too soon, Nervous Nellie stood up and walked out of the room. I continued the sing-a-long until I ran out of music and then our group prepared to leave. Back in the hallway, Nervous Nellie walked toward me, wringing her hands.

"It was nice singing with you today," I said.

She continued past me as if I wasn't even there. Whatever portal my music had opened, that had bridged the gap between her and me, between her past and my present, had closed again, never to be reopened. But I'll never forget that day, and how the notes of a beloved hymn gave me a glimpse of who Nervous Nellie really was: not a frail, old woman who had lost her mind, but just a woman.

A woman just like me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Gray hair don't care

There are these t-shirts that say, "Messy Hair Don't Care." I want one that says, "Gray Hair Don't Care." Because I, as someone pointed out to me the other day, have started to get some gray hair. And I, to that same person's chagrin, just don't care.

I only have a glint of gray here and there at the moment. Eventually, however, the silver strands will take over my head and, with the deepening of wrinkles, sagging of skin, and weakening of body parts, the signs of aging will be even more undeniable than they are now. And that could be a depressing thought. Just think about it : We spend the majority of our lives deteriorating. Yikes. But there's another way to look at it.

Instead of trying to fight or avoid aging, I prefer to embrace it. The Bible says, "Who of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to his life?" Indeed, who of us, by fretting over our gray hair or wrinkles, can add a single minute to our lives? If anything, when we fret over aging we are taking away precious minutes from our lives that could be spent living. And life is worth living, isn't it? Even if we have to get older to do it.

Sure that's easy for me to say when I'm 32 and all my joints still work. When I've got nothing but a few gray hairs and a tendonitis prone wrist to worry about. But even taking into account the longevity on both sides of my family tree, I'm still faced with the reality that at least a third of my life is already over. Probably more, statistically speaking. Meanwhile, I'm aging and getting more gray hair every day!

But no, I can't bring myself to get worked up about that. I'm just thankful to have another day. Some people aren't so lucky. I'm thankful for each strand of gray hair that tells me I made it through another day, another month, another year. I'm thankful for another chance to see the sky and the mountains. I'm thankful for my kids and most of all for a husband who likes the red and pink Starburst, because I like the orange and yellow. (He has other wonderful qualities as well. :))

So I'm not going to hide my gray hairs. I'm going to love them, by golly! Besides, some of the most beautiful people I know have full heads of gray hair in varying degrees of silver and white. So here's to aging, because as the sign at Churchill Retirement Home reads: "I don't mind getting old. It's the only available way to live a longer life."

Monday, February 1, 2016

Dirty floors and six-pack abs

Because of homeschooling and writing at the computer, I do a lot of sitting. Which I don't like. So I try to walk on my treadmill at least every other day and on VERY RARE days I think maybe I can squeeze in time to do one of the gazillions of free fitness videos online. One of those days occurred recently.

Let's recap it, shall we?

I go to (which I highly recommend) to pick out a video. It has to be pretty short, I think. And for the abs. Yes, I need something for my abs.

After a quick search, I find an "Ab Blasting" video that's a cool 24 minutes long and I think, 'Perfect! My son plus two extras (that I'm babysitting) are playing downstairs and I can get this done before my daughter gets up from her nap or parents come for pick up.' Piece of cake, right?

I suspect I'm in trouble when three kids come up from the basement before I can even click Play and say they want to go outside. Okay. Sure. Everybody put on your snow-pants and boots. No, those boots are on the wrong foot. Whose gloves are these? Why are all the fingers inside out? No, those aren't yours. Zip, zip, snap, snap. Out the door you go.

Alright, press Play. Here we go. Yikes, they're not easing you into anything here. We start with jackknife crunches and knee tuck crunches. It feels good to be moving though. I can do this.

At nine minutes in, there's a commotion at the back door. I press Pause and go check it out. 'We want to come in,' the kids say. You're kidding me. If they were all my own kids, I would probably say, "Too bad. You're not coming in until dinner." But two of them aren't mine and I don't feel right about doing that so in they come. Coats off, boots off, unzip, unzip, unsnap, unsnap. They had been outside just long enough to get mud and snow on their boots and track it inside. Oh well. Just leave the boots on this towel and I'll deal with it later. Now go back downstairs, because baby girl is still sleeping.

Now where was I? Oh yeah, jackknife crunches. Oh wait, now we've moved on to back bow crossovers. Holy cow, these are hard. And they bring my eyes to floor level, which reveals a very dirty floor. I better sweep. No, wait. I have to finish this video first. What the heck's a Russian Twist?

The phone rings. Press Pause. It's dear hubby, calling from the store. Did I want the cranberry or raspberry Emergen-C? Cranberry, of course.

"That's what I thought," he said.

Back to the Russian Twists. These are kind of fun, but my abs are getting sore now. Only four sets left, the woman in the video assures me. Four? Four? Why does the number four make me feel like I'm forgetting something? Oh yes! I need four chicken breasts for dinner tomorrow. I'll write it down when I'm done working out. No, scratch that. I'll forget. Press Pause. Better write it down now.

Press Play again. On to Side Hip Raises and Toe Touch Drops. There's a noise on the stairs. Here comes a child. She needs to go potty. No biggie, she's old enough to take care of that on her own so I don't stop what I'm doing and she walks past into the bathroom, wondering why I'm laying on the racecar rug that doubles as an exercise mat. Ten more Toe Touch Drops.

"I need help Miss Katie!" I hear. Uh oh. Press Pause. In the bathroom, a potty stop has turned into more than that and assistance is required. No problem, just another glamorous day in the life of a mom. Press Play.

Now you want me to do a REVERSE crunch? I'm getting kind of tired here, but a strong core is important so I push through. The phone rings again. Dear hubby finally found this particular item at Wal-Mart that he's been looking for forever but he needs me to measure something to make sure he gets the right size.

"Can you take the tape measure out to the Dodge and measure the size of the trailer hitch real quick?" he asks.

Alright. Press Pause. I'm in shorts and socked feet, but I slip on his boots and his puffy green vest and go outside. Couldn't find the tape measure but I've got a red plastic ruler from my son's homeschool drawer. I hold the phone between my ear and shoulder, hoping no one will see me, and stand in the empty carport like I'm lost.

"I can't measure the Dodge," I say, still panting from the reverse crunches.

"Why not?"

"Because you drove the Dodge to the store."

Press Play. Back on my stomach on the floor for Swimmers. Swimmers are one of my least favorite ab exercises. Ugh, now that I'm down here I remember how dirty the floor is. The afternoon sun shines on the crumbs, cat hair, and muddy footprints like a floodlight. I really need to clean the floor. But I'm almost done.

My abs are burning as the video finally comes to a close. I can't wait to grab a broom and deal with the floor situation. It's been 56 minutes since I started this 24-minute video and I wonder what a 56-minute video would have been like. Before I close the online tab, the website congratulates me on burning 170 calories.

170 calories?

"That can't be right," I think, as I stretch out my weary torso and try to catch my breath. "It had to have been way more than that."

Monday, January 25, 2016

Song for a friend

I have a friend who is dying of terminal cancer. I use the term friend even though I've only met her a couple times because she's that kind of person. The kind who seems to somehow love and understand you from the beginning. She's the kind of person I aspire to be.

This beautiful woman is close to my age and has three daughters. The struggle she is facing is beyond my comprehension and beyond my ability to put into words. But I wrote a song for her because I had to try. I had to try, because in some small, tiny way I feel her pain. And I'm grateful for her example of peace and grace in the midst of heartache.

Her trial reminds me that only God can ease our deepest, darkest, most soul-shattering pain. We can try to lessen it in other ways but only God can take it from our hearts. This song is called Morphine, and we all live with pain so I hope maybe it will speak to someone today.

P.S. Before anyone comments about the bags under my eyes: Yes, I am tired; no, I haven't showered; and no, I didn't think about either of those things before videoing myself. Oh well. :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Guardians of the galaxy

As I've mentioned before, we are in the process of receiving our foster care license. We attended the training, we have our home study, and we've gathered reference letters from our friends. Now there's just one thing left to do: the dreaded "Statement of Guardianship Form."

Before getting into it, I have to give a disclaimer that the Guardianship Form is not required by the state when DPHHS is the one licensing you. However, we are being licensed by Sacred Portion Children's Outreach in Bozeman, and they DO require it. Just to clarify.

Anyway, the Guardianship Form must be filled out and notarized by whoever it is we select for the tremendous and terrifying responsibility of taking custody of our children if something were to happen to both Andy and I. Yikes. It's not something I like to think about. But I'm being forced to.

So how do you decide whom you would want to have raise your children if you were to die? How do you imagine a world where you are gone and your kids are placed in someone else's hands? How do you know which situation would be best for them when you're not there? Each state is different, but in the state of Montana, if you and your spouse die without leaving any kind of Statement of Guardianship, the state determines your children's guardian. Yikes again.

This is an incredibly difficult conversation to have with your spouse. It's an incredibly difficult problem to consider from any angle. And this is what we've been struggling through in our family lately. A couple years ago, we thought we knew the answer to this question, but since then our lives and the lives of our previously named guardians have changed dramatically, forcing us to reassess. So now what?

As I laid awake the other night fretting over this issue, an interesting thought occurred to me: I'm not that great of a parent. So, what if I don't die? Am I giving as much thought and prayer to what will happen to my kids if I stick around as I am to what will happen to them if I don't? If I'm worried about who would take care of them if I died, shouldn't I be even more worried about how well I will take care of them if I live?

Don't get me wrong here. Choosing a guardian is an extremely important decision that makes me seize up just thinking about it. But choosing to parent well is an even more important decision. Plus, at the end of the day, God alone is in control of the future. He will love and take care of my children better than anyone, regardless of who I choose as their guardians. Now THAT'S something to stay awake at night pondering!

So instead of worrying so much about who would take care of my kids in an unlikely event, maybe I should be more concerned about being a better mom. Double yikes with a holy smokes on top.