Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When God Says YES

Have you ever been in a time of life where you feel like on every level and every situation, God is saying NO or WAIT? I have been in this phase since we moved to Oregon.

The year leading up to our move, God brought us on an incredible journey of faith and trust in Him. He baby-stepped us through God-ordained conversations, impeccable timing for interviews, sold our house in an impossible market, and opened every door we knocked on. He said YES consistently and often and it was impossible not to see His hand of guidance on our life.

We left everything comfortable and familiar and headed off to start a new life in Oregon where family awaited us, but everything else was brand new. I just assumed God would continue His pattern of saying YES to my desires and my perceived needs. Needless to say, I was a little put off when He started saying NO or WAIT consistently and much more frequently than I appreciated. I sulked. I pouted. I threw grown-up temper tantrums. I turned my back on God when He was talking to me. I gave Him the silent treatment. I cried. I tried to force things and got mad when they didn't work. I questioned His timing. His ways. His intelligence. I yearned for the familiar. Gave up hope. Wanted to quit and go home, but dang-it-all, God had sold our house in Illinois. What on earth was He thinking?

But God loved me anyway and persistently pursued me. He forgave me. Gave me new chances. Wiped the snot from my fits. Dried my eyes. Gave me new perspective and fresh hope. Encouraged me through His word and my friends. And He whispered to my impulsive heart, "WAIT. My child, you have so much to learn. Please, let me teach you."

God didn't stop saying NO, but my heart softened and I started figuring out how to live in the in-between times. I saw that even though He was saying NO, He was still very clearly guiding my life. I remembered that God was still trust-worthy and started asking Him to give me His perspective on each day. I found purpose in my neighborhood and started developing friendships that will be life-long. I committed again to daily quiet time with the Lord. I started exercising consistently again and used my running time as refreshing prayer time and one-on-one time with my youngest daughter. And God gave me contentment. Nothing about my situation had changed, except my perspective, but in spite of that, I had peace that surpasses all understanding. I was ready to be a renter for the rest of my life.

And right about the time I hit total contentment, God started the ball moving again. Curt got an interview for his clinic day with a group of surgeons in Salem. The interviews went great and this week he got an offer. We were anticipating the compensation package would be significantly less than what he made in Chicago, but God chose to shower us with generosity and the offer was actually significantly more than his previous clinic job. A house we like dropped dramatically in price. It's one of the only homes that both Curt and I each loved, it's in Newberg and will be great for ministry and hospitality. We feel God saying YES to pursuing this home and are excited to see what the outcome will be.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude and thanksgiving and have to admit, it feels strange to have God saying YES again. However, I wouldn't trade my time in the WAITING camp for a whole season of Yes's. In Phillipians 4:11, Paul penned, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances," and I agree!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Daddy I'm Home

There is something about the bond between a father and son that is unexplainably beautiful. We have the blessing of having a first-born son, followed by three daughters. My husband, Curt, is hands-down the best Dad on the planet and all our kids absolutely adore him. Every evening they listen for the sound of the garage door going up and run like a herd of cattle to tackle Curt with hugs and kisses.

But Curt and Grant have a unique bond that is so intimate I almost feel intrusive when I watch them interact. In many ways, Grant is a miniature version of Curt. They look alike. They are both super logical, analytical and calculated to the point that it drives me crazy at times. They notice everything and forget nothing. When I am just not "getting" Grant, Curt understands before he even has to explain himself. In the ways they aren't completely identical, Grant tries hard to mimic Curt and make those traits his own.

Curt travels occasionally for business and when he's gone, Grant feels his absence profoundly. A few years ago, Curt left for an entire week and as we dropped him off at the airport, Grant started sobbing, "Daddy, don't go. Please don't go." Curt had to tear himself out of Grant's grasp to catch his plane. Grant sobbed for twenty minutes straight before he finally cried himself to sleep. Their reunion was as joyful as their departure was sad.

I read today in Luke 23 about Jesus' death on the cross. Verse 45 says that, smack dab in the middle of the day, "the sun stopped shining." My heart broke as I let myself soak in the depth of God the Father's agony as He watched His Son suffer. The Father's pain was so great, that the sun just stopped shining and a blanket of thick darkness descended on the earth. Tears dripped on the thin pages of my Bible as I read the next verse, "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit.'" In essence, Jesus cried out, "Daddy, I'm coming home. It is finished. We did it. " The sacrifice was great. The pain unfathomable. The separation unbearable. The outcome struck the death blow to Satan's rule on earth and ushered in a new era of direct access to God through Jesus.

My mind's eye can see their joyous reunion. Daddy God with his arms outstretched to embrace His broken, battered, exhausted, but victorious Son. And Jesus, stumbling in the front door, hair disheveled, nail-scarred hands, blood on His face, yelling, "Daddy, I'm home." Only the father and son in my picture don't look Jewish - they look a lot like Curt and Grant.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Make an Offer

Four weeks ago I walked through a new neighborhood on the north side of Newberg with a sales representative from the community. I gave her our price range and she showed me four homes, all builder owned, and only one fell into our realistic price range. There was one home in particular that I really liked, once I got past the robin-egg blue exterior. (Who paints a new home robin-egg blue?) I told Curt all about the house and then we decided that even though we liked these homes, we should put our house hunting on hiatus for a few months. I called the sales rep back, told her our new timeline and she said she'd be in touch.

On Wednesday of last week, she apologetically called me and said, "I want to respect your time line, but I wanted you to know that the blue house just dropped another $40K in price. The builder is desperate to move this home to a buyer. I didn't want you to miss out on this great deal if you and your husband really think you could make a home here. Did you want to bring him by to look at it?" She went on to say that the builder was also paying big portions of closing costs and buying down interest rates as added incentives, but only for a limited time.

We decided it would be worth moving our time line up, if indeed the builder was really desperate. Thursday night we met at Big Blue and walked through it with our realtor. We all loved it - the interior was super spacious, laid out smart, nicely upgraded and perfect for our family. The back yard was a decent size by new construction standards and was big enough to put a swing set in. It was fenced and landscaped and the home came loaded with all new appliances, including washer/dryer (oh, manna from heaven) and blinds on all the windows. The sales rep repeated emphatically, "The builder is DESPERATE to move this home to a buyer. Make an offer. ANY offer." I asked her if she'd be insulted by a ridiculously low offer and she reiterated again, "MAKE AN OFFER."

We went home and neither of us could sleep. Curt was reading his Bible and came across Psalm 16:5-6, "LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surly I have a delightful inheritance." We both pondered it in light of Big Blue and prayerfully asked God, "Is Big Blue the lot you want to make secure for us? Will the boundary lines of our home fall in the pleasant places on Lot 122 in The Greens?" We mulled it over all day Friday and after much prayer and conversation, decided to make an offer that was so ridiculously low, it was almost embarrassing. We provided the builder with the exciting opportunity to sell their home to us at 46% off the original price from two years ago. Can't you see why they'd want to jump on that offer?

Saturday morning we got our CLEAR answer. The builder came back with a full-price offer. Clearly, they were not as desperate as our sales rep thought. We were both disappointed, but in a good way. We know that if this is the house God wants for us, He'll let it sit there and not bring another buyer. And we know that in His perfect time, we'll make an offer, maybe even on Big Blue, and the answer will be yes.


We've lived in Oregon now for almost 4 months and as crazy as this sounds, I still can't believe I'm lucky enough to live here. I want to pinch myself each day to make sure it's really true.

Yesterday, I spent the entire day with my mom, who is recovering from major surgery. I brought over all my scrapbooking supplies, a blank scrapbook, and a bazillion wedding stickers I had picked out and we started her wedding album. She has never shown interest in scrapbooking before, but once I showed her how to get organized, sort and crop her pictures and then start laying out pages, I saw the glint in her eye and I think I MAY have hooked her.

Today, we worshiped God in our new church home with friends who have already blurred the line from friend to family. After the service, we collected our 8 kids, gathered in a big cirlce in the lobby, and chowed down donuts, hot chocolate and coffee.

I got two weeks worth of grocery shopping done in 2 hours because Curt took the kids home and I shopped by myself, blissfully ignoring all the whining kids in carts with frustrated parents and soaked in the sacredness of shopping for things on my list without stopping to reprimand behavior, take trips to the potty, and combat requests for cookies, candy and miscellaneous other items that we didn't need.

As I was driving home, the sun appeared through the fog. The clouds dissipated and the mountains, dotted with vineyards and trees in full fall color, emerged. Around every curve was another breath-taking view of vineyards, farms, horses prancing in the cool air, the river curving lazily along its banks.

While I was unpacking groceries, the door bell rang and SURPRISE! My Dad and Marcy stopped in on their way home from a weekend getaway at the coast. We giggled at how fun it was that they could actually "drop in" and we spent an hour catching up, snacking and playing, before they headed out for their remaining 3 hour drive home.

We laid the kids down for nap and quiet time, and I decided to go for a run. I'm thinking about running a 1/2 marathon in a few weeks and thought today would be a good chance to run 7 or 8 miles to see how my knees hold up. I started off, heading up Chehalem Drive, staring in awe at the sun-lit mountains and the multiple shades of reds, oranges, yellows and greens. I turned down North Valley Road and ran for 5 miles at the base of Chehalem Mountain, past multiple vineyards, hazelnut farms, tasting rooms, and horse ranches nestled into the hill. I ran over bridges with brooks bubbling past beneath them, past little country churches, and by at least 10 noxious road-kill skunks. The crisp October air kept my body at the perfect temperature and time flew by, even though I under-calculated my distance and accidentally ran 10 miles instead of 7. As my feet pounded the pavement, and occassionally crunched a dead leaf, my heart welled up with songs of praise to God, the amazing Creator, and I was filled with pure bliss.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

She Has Been with Him

I am SLOWLY making my way through the book of Luke and have been meditating a lot about Jesus' last days on earth and his disciples' behavior during this time. If I was Jesus, I'd be tempted to give up on the whole lot of them, put them in time out for life or wring their necks. They just kept screwing up, over and over. Sometimes in little ways. Sometimes HUGE. Judas threw in the towel, abandoned his faith in Jesus as the Messiah and betrayed Him with a kiss, the greeting of a friend.

In the last days and hours, Jesus warned the disciples that tough times were coming. That war, spiritually speaking, would break out and that they needed to be equipped and ready to fight. Bags packed. Swords in hand. Determination and perseverance on the forefront. Twice when He was in the garden of Gethsemane, he told them to pray they would not fall into temptation. Jesus knew when He was arrested and all hell broke loose, that the disciples would be rattled to their core. They would be tempted to deny Jesus, to feel deceived, to run, to hide, to abandon their faith. Not exactly character traits that will set the world on fire. Jesus even told impulsive Peter the EXACT temptation he would face and warned Peter that he would initially fail, not once, not twice, but three times.

Even with all the hand-holding Jesus did, the disciples failed him miserably. They ran. They hid. They questioned everything they believed in. They felt deceived. They cowered. They denied Jesus. And still, Jesus loved them. When Peter cursed and swore he didn't even know who Jesus was, Jesus looked at him with pain-filled eyes of love that drove Peter to immediate grief, shame, remorse and repentance.

I think of my life and I'm sure the Father God wants to throw in the towel. Give up. Quit on me. Because I fail. And fail. And fail. I waiver in my faith. I take back control. I give Jesus everything except what is most important to me, like my kids and my husband. I hide what Jesus has done in my life. I question why I believe. I surrender my desires, except that stuff that I think is really important. Not exactly world-changing character traits. But Jesus looks at me with pain-filled eyes of love, and my heart fills with grief, shame, remorse and repentance. And we start all over again.

At the end of Luke 22, Peter is sitting around a fire, warming his hands. A servant girl "looked closely at him and said, 'This man was with Him.'" Peter opens his mouth to deny his identity with Jesus, but it didn't matter. He was already marked by the Son.

I thought about that statement for a long time in light of my life. Can people "look closely" at me. Can they stare. Squint. Analyze. Zoom in. Zoom out. And when they step back, will they boldly proclaim, in spite of my flaws, "That woman was with Him. She's been marked by the Son." Jesus, please, may the answer be YES.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Graunt" Kathy

When Grant started Kindergarten, I remember meeting and liking his teacher, Mrs. Dillon. She had funky glasses and fun hair, dressed sharply, clearly loved kids and laughed freely. Her laugh is infectious and it often echoed in the lobby or down the hall as she released our kids at pick up. Every morning, she would greet Grant by name and every afternoon, she'd release him with a quick hug and a "see you tomorrow." Over the course of the year, our conversations at pickup got longer and longer and we started blurring the line between teacher/parent to friend. On the last day of school, we hugged and said we should get together over the summer. I wasn't sure if we would follow through, but the weeks after school seemed long and dull. Even though I was immersed in LOUDNESS with four kids, I missed the peal of Kathy's laughter and the days seemed quiet without our daily updates and her hugs. In early July, we set a lunch date for a picnic at a park and officially crossed the line into friendship.

Kathy has two grown kids that by the world's standards, are the benchmark of success. They are well-educated, gorgeous, and successful in their careers. But they also love the Lord and are kind and generous and I know this is what makes Kathy and her husband Rob, puff out their chests in pride. What Kathy lacks, at least for now, are grandkids.

When Kathy and I met, Curt and I were living in Illinois, raising our four kids with no family closer than a 6 hour drive. I didn't realize how much I missed having a mature woman pouring into my life until I became friends with Kathy. She offered wisdom in parenting, encouragement when I was ready to throw in the towel, and a genuine love and understanding for my kids since she had the oldest two every day in her class. She filled a void in my life that I didn't fully realize I had. She and Rob "adopted" our kids as their own, and showered them with love, attention, time, sleepovers, and date nights at the movies. One of our last nights in Illinois was spent at the Dillon's house and many tears were shed when we said our final goodbyes and moved to Oregon.

We've been residents of Oregon for 3 1/2 months now and a recurring theme has been how much we miss the Dillon's. Multiple pictures have been drawn, letters written and dictated, and emails exchanged between our family and Rob and Kathy. In August, Kathy and I compared schedules and picked a weekend for Kathy to visit. She booked her tickets and we all started counting the days till she arrived. A few weeks ago, she fell and broke her arm. It killed us to know she was in pain and we all held our breath to see if she could still come, then exhaled loudly when the answer was YES! Last Thursday, Kathy flew in for her first visit to Oregon. Her plane was delayed by two hours, so she didn't even touch down until 1:15 a.m. Pacific time. We giggled on the way home about how her trip to Oregon started with such an adventure and I tried to point out landmarks and suburbs in the dark as we drove home in the early morning hours.

Friday morning, Grant woke me from a dead sleep with a tap, tap, tap on my chest. He said, "Mom, I've been up since 6:05 a.m. It's now 7:25 a.m. I've played games with Paige and we've tried to be so quiet. We peeked in on Aunt Kathy, but we're wondering if an adult is EVER going to wake up." I laughed and pulled all the kids into bed with me. We were giggling and talking about my midnight airport adventures when Kathy knocked on our door. The kids made a mad-dash for her and it was like Christmas morning watching their excitment over her arrival. Alli was put off by her sling and was very cautious about hugging her with her broken arm, but once she realized she wouldn't hurt her, she couldn't get enough.

When Kathy was Grant and Katie's teacher, we called her "Mrs. Dillon." But when Katie graduated to 1st grade, we all sat in a circle and discussed what her new title should be. The kids were split between "Grandma Kathy" and "Aunt Kathy," but when the vote was taken, "Aunt Kathy" prevailed. The kids out of habit, often refer to Kathy as Mrs. Dillon then correct themselves and call her Aunt Kathy. Now that they live by grandparents, the confusion on her arrival was even greater and they kept mixing up all her names. The name that kept prevailing was "Graunt Kathy" - a combo of Aunt and Grandma Kathy which I think fits her perfectly!

On Friday, we headed over to the Oregon coast, where Curt was staying for the weekend at a conference. The hotel was nestled on a hill overlooking Agate Beach and the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. The weather was perfect - blue skies, sunny, slight wind, and mid 50's. We explored the sand dunes, found treasures in the sand that the kids piled in Graunt Kathy's pockets, took lots of pictures, and laughed at how the wind blew Kathy's coat sleeve, that was devoid of an arm because it was in a sling, back and forth in the wind. She offered to watch the kids for us, so Curt and I took advantage of a child-free night and dined with his coworkers at a quaint seafood place on the bay, met up with his students at a local brewery, and snuck in a late night walk on the moon-soaked beach. The kids and Kathy dined on pizza in their hotel room, watched cable TV, and had a sleepover in her room.

Saturday, while Curt was at conference, we swam in the hotel pool, then drove down to the historic bay front. We walked past fine art galleries mingled with fish refineries and tiny little restaurants, all toting the best clam chowder in the area. We dined on salt water taffy and hot carmel corn from Aunt Bea's candy store, marveled at the murals on all the buildings, and spent a long time laughing at the sea lions that sun bathe on the docks by the bay. They lay on the docks and grump at each other all day long - one second sleeping, the next barking and carrying on at the sea lion next to them who dared to nestle closer, move the dock, or cover up their sun. You can almost guess what they're saying! We waited for almost an hour in a crowded cafe to dine on fresh halibut that was battered and fried and served with homemade french fries and worth every second of the wait. With full bellies, we piled back in the van and enjoyed the two-hour drive, over the coastal mountain range, back to our house, marveling at God's amazing creation and the breath-taking beauty.
Sunday, we worshipped with Graunt Kathy in our new church home, then drove around to all the suburbs and neighborhoods we've been house hunting in. She finally got to visualize all the places I've been explaining and weigh in with her opinion about the areas we're considering. We dined at Red Robin for lunch and took the kids to Target for Paige to pick out a potty treat for finally pooping on the potty. In classic Stilp style, she pooped in her underwear while I was holding up choices for potty treat reward, but Graunt Kathy is WAY too nice to make her put her treasure back and re-earn them. Paige still waltzed out of Target with hot pink, sequined ballet slipper shoes and a sweater dress to match and hasn't gone "plop plop" on the potty since!

Today is Monday and our house is quiet. Kathy flew home this morning and the kids went back to school. The guest room is sterile again -futon stripped of sheets and repositioned as a couch, towels washed and ready to be folded and put back in the linen closet, the "welcome Aunt Kathy" signs thrown in the garbage. And I don't like the silence. I miss Kathy's laugh reverberating in our home and my kids clamoring for her attention. And I thank God that He saw fit to cross my path with Graunt Kathy's and begin a friendship that will last for a life time.

When Things Change

My parents have always been an inspiration to me. We've had our share of disagreements, heartache, and relational conflict, but they have modeled to me how to resolve conflict, communicate effectively, and let love cover a multitude of errors. Who I am would look completely different without their influence in my life.

Both my parents are young, active and full of life. They are seldom home. If my mom isn't working, she's hiking, biking or dancing. If my Dad's not working, he's golfing, walking, or chopping wood. They both have lived with chronic illnesses for the past 13 or more years, and they have chosen to suffer in relative silence, without complaining, living the life they want to live, not the life their illnesses could dictate for them.

This past year has been a challenging year for both of them. My Dad's ulcerative colitis flared and a routine colonoscopy showed abnormal cell growth. Multiple tests and weeks of the unknown later, his doctors recommended that he have his colon removed and told him the grim news that his tests results showed a great chance that he had colon cancer. Tests also revealed a second diagnosis of a liver disease that will at some point, unless the Lord heals him, require a liver transplant. He had his colon removed on July 17th and we all rejoiced that his pathology reports came back completely clean. His recovery has been slow and steady, with setbacks here and there, but overall, he's made great progress.

My mom has lived her life with scoliosis that has progressed significantly the past couple of years. She also suffers from rheumatoid arthritis that is crippling parts of her body and frequent migraine headaches, but she never complains. If you ask how she's doing, she always thinks of something positive to comment on that doesn't reflect the chronic pain she is forced to live with. She and her husband hike in the mountains, rides bikes for miles, and dance for hours, to the shock of her doctors who have told her she could be in a wheelchair at this point in her life. This summer, her uterus, which had been prolapsing for years, came completely detached.

Last Thursday, both my parents had surgery. My mom endured a 9 hour hysterectomy. Her unique physique from the scoliosis, slowed the doctor down as she worked to repair and reposition organs that the uterus damaged as it fell. My Dad had his "take down" surgery, a follow up to his colon removal. He faces a large up-front, dietary learning curve and another surgery recovery time, but is set to have a great life.

Thursday was a long day for me. In my mind's eye, my parents are invincible. Strong. Full of life. Rarely sick. Impossible to get down. Seeing them suffer breaks my heart. Knowing they were each in surgery at the same time in different parts of the city was surreal. Not being able to be there because I had obligations to my own children made me feel like I was failing them. Watching them recover with dignity and determination warms my heart with pride. Seeing them in their weakness makes me love them more. Being able to visit my Mom and bring her grandkids, lunch, and dinner today was a gift. Helping my Dad get set for the winter before his surgery was priceless.

In times of change, I am so grateful that loves covers my family like a blanket and that God has allowed me to live in Oregon so I can serve my parents in this unique time. And I know that in a few months, my Dad will be swinging an axe faster and better than I could ever dream and my Mom will be hiking to summits of mountains, taking pictures along the way. I can hardly wait!


Kids say the funniest things. Every day I laugh at something our kids said or did, but unless I write down those precious nuggets, I forget. Since Grant was born, we've recorded all the funny, sweet and goofy things the kids say and do in a book that we often read and re-read. We've had some recordable moments lately, so enjoy.

We went to the Oregon coast this summer and it was cold, rainy and windy. Paige was miserable because she got sand in her eyes and refused to get out of the stroller. She hunkered down in the stroller and would periodically poke her head out and say, "We go home now?" When we finally did leave, she was SO happy. We pulled out of the parking lot and started heading home. She spotted a McDonald's and with all the excitement in the world said, "Wook! McDondalds," then made the loudest, most enthusiastic chomping sound imaginable. We all burst out laughing, even the other three kids who were comastose with cold. When she saw how funny we thought she was, she said, "I funny."

Alli started pre-kindergarten this fall and is thrilled to finally be old enough to go to school. Each week they tackle another letter of the alphabet and make a cute craft that coordinates to the letter. She brought home an adorable alligator puppet that she made and was anxious to show me how much she was learning and demonstrate her prowess over the letter A. She took her puppet, pretended to chomp my hand, then said, "Ay - ah, ah, ah, for crocodile, apple and me." The second week, she came home and said, "Bee - bah, bah, bah, bah for baby, backpack and bubble. I have to put that in my think tank."

We watched the entire Olympics and were glued to the TV for the full two weeks, give or take a day. In that time, we saw a lot of commercials. About mid-way through the Olympics, Grant, who is only 7, said to me, "Mom, doesn't it seem like Claritin and Zyrtec are fighting about who has the most effective allergy medication?" Hmmm... a career in market consulting for him?

Katie started first grade this year and I was worried she wouldn't handle the long days without a nap very well. On the first day of school, she came home, told me all about her day, invited a friend over and was playing with her siblings and her friend. At 5:31 p.m., she came downstairs, plopped down on the couch, said, "I have to take a break from all the busy stuff I did today," and promptly fell asleep.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Adjusting the Focus

My Grandpa Wehler was a nut about photography and when he died, I inherited all his camera equipment. I was thrilled with my good fortune and eagerly pulled out his top-of-the-line manual Cannon camera with multiple lens and gadgets. Unfortunately, my photography skills have been honed with a digital camera and trying to figure out how to twist and turn the lens to bring the picture into focus was impossible for my untrained hands. I carefully packed the expensive, but useless, equipment back up and haven’t touched it since. Life often feels like a manual camera in a digital world. How on earth do we get a clear picture?

I read Luke 22 today and gleaned some details I had never noticed before. Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover meal together and as Jesus broke bread and served them wine, He made it very clear to them that this was the last meal He would eat with them. You would think they’d be struck by the gravity of the situation and try to make every minute count. But no - two seconds later the disciples started arguing over who is the greatest and who would lead the different portions of the new kingdom Jesus was supposed to establish. Here they are, minutes from getting their entire world turned upside down, and they’re arguing over titles like little kids playing house. The disciples were oblivious to how petty and insignificant those arguments would appear in a matter of hours.

I had to laugh at the mess they were making because I can totally relate. I often find myself with tunnel vision, focused only on my problems, that seem GINORMOUS in the moment. My vision gets blurred and I can’t see how petty my concerns are in the grand scheme of things. My Bible commentary said, "What are your major concerns today? Twenty years from now, as you look back, will these worries look petty and inappropriate? Get your eyes off yourself and get ready for Christ's coming into human history for the second time."

Hmmmm… in 20 years, will we have made back the money we lost on Wall Street during the current financial crash? Will I still be scouring real estate listings for our dream home that we've yet to purchase and that still seems so elusive? Will we still be pinching pennies in a rental house and calculating proposed income on a clinic day that hasn’t materialized as quickly as we would choose? 20 years from now, I’m guessing that Paige will actually be pooping on the potty and not in her underwear, but I could be wrong.

Being manually focused in a digital world doesn’t mean that the things that cause us anxiety today aren't important, because Jesus tells us to cast all our cares on Him, even the little ones. But I have to be continually adjusting my lens, twisting and turning to get my earthly to eternal ratio in perspective. Jesus prompted His disciples to shift their focus off themselves and onto others. He gently reminded them that titles are irrelevant, but people are irreplaceable. He asked His disciples, and us, to twist the focus dial away from ourselves, nudge it a lot toward looking for ways to serve others, and then one more twist back toward Jesus, who fills us with purpose and direction. When I follow Jesus’ formula for being great, the lens of my life slowly shifts and turns, little by little, till suddenly life looks precise, sharp, and a lot less blurry around the edges.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Work Weekend

I left home when I was 17 and moved cross-country. For the next 16 years, over 2,00 miles separated me from my family and we would mourn the loss frequently. Visits were scarce and goodbyes were horrendous with lots of tears and painful silence for a week. This summer, God chose to answer a long-time prayer and move our family back to Oregon. Adjustments have been difficult, but the benefit of living close to family has been beautiful beyond description.

My Dad is a man's man. He loves to work, is tough as nails, is rarely sick, can fix or build anything, and heats his house all winter through a wood stove with wood he splits and stacks himself. This past year, God chose to let him fight some significant health battles. In July, he had his colon removed. This upcoming week, he'll have a secondary surgical procedure and then face another 6-8 weeks of restricted weight lifting, diet and lifestyle adjustments. He's lost tons of weight, but hasn't lost his spirit, his work ethic, or his love for life.

My Dad and Marcy had a front yard full of unsplit and unstacked wood - 5 chords to be exact. They live in the high desert and the winter comes early, so we decided to head to Bend this weekend to attempt to make a dent in the wood pile and get them set up for winter before my Dad's surgery. We arrived at 10 p.m. on Friday night and when we unloaded our sleeping kids from the van, my heart sank. Alli felt ridiculously warm and her 102.6 F temperature confirmed my fears. We couldn't believe we brought a fever to my Dad's house when he was having surgery in 5 days and needed to be healthy. We laid hands on Alli and prayed for healing.

Saturday morning dawned and she was remarkably better. A mild fever of 100 F that came down with Motrin and you never would have known her body was fighting something. We talked about leaving, but decided to stay since Alli seemed to be feeling so much better. Marcy corralled the girls indoors and kept them occupied baking apple cake (they each had their own metal bowl and wire whisk), teaching them how to sing and do the motions to "Itsy Bitsy Spider," coloring, and dancing.

While the girls played indoors, the boys (myself included) worked outside. I've always loved to work, especially outside, and growing up the only daughter of Don Klippenes, I had no choice but to learn to work and to like it. Curt and I work well together and since we had kids, we've missed killing a day outside, working on a project together.

Our son Grant was the super-star of the day. At 7 years old, he was geared up to work, but I was certain he'd peter out within an hour and go inside to do fun stuff with the girls. I couldn't have been more wrong. He put in a man's day of work and never once complained. He tirelessly pulled his wagon to the staging area, filled it with split wood, dragged it up the hill and to the back yard, and stacked it neatly on the pile. Curt taught him how to drive the four-wheeler and by the end of the day, he was driving it "all by himself" back and forth between loads. My Dad worked the log splitter and Curt and I loaded, transported and stacked the wood.

I wanted to impress my husband, so I grabbed an axe and started to chop a piece of wood. My Dad turned off the log splitter, got a huge smile on his face and said, "Come here Sweetie." He walked me to the garage, took out an unopened package and split it open with his Exacto knife. He reverently lifted out a brand new, XS Lumberman's axe with a blade so sharp I was scared to touch it. He said, "If you're going to do a job, you have to do it right. This is the perfect size for you and I ordered it so you could have your own axe to work with when you come to visit." I giggled and said, "Oh - it's just what I've always wanted!" We went back to the log pile, he showed me how to do it "right" and sure enough, I swung that baby over my head and it sliced right through that log. What a beauty! Curt grabbed the opportunity to crack jokes and spent the rest of the day throwing out one liners like, "Hey - you have a nice axe." and "I like you axe."

By days end, we posed for pictures in front of the FOUR chords of wood that we split, chopped, transported and stacked in my Dad's back yard. We came inside chilled and tired and decided the house needed to be warmed up a bit. My Dad started a fire and we all took turns joking, "Does anyone know where we can get some wood?"

Sunday morning, the boys went golfing and Marcy and I took the kids to the indoor pool for a swim. We came home and had a British tea party for lunch. The kids dressed up in Grandma's costume jewelry and Grant, as the English Butler, adopted a bad British accent and escorted his sisters to the tea table, set with Great Grandma Bernice's fine china. We nibbled on our sandwiches, cut into tiny triangles, drank our peppermint tea, practiced our good table manners and ate with our pinkies up. It was QUITE delicious!

As we drove away, we inhaled a few more deep breathes of the fresh, cool autumn air, glanced back at the huge stack of wood and my Dad and Marcy waving from their garage, and sighed with contentment at our fun fall work weekend.

Hair Cut

On Friday, I donated 9 inches of my hair and went from boring but predictable long hair that I didn't really have to fix and that went well with every hat I own, to short, choppy, trendy hair that I have to fix and that I can't wear a hat with or I'll be mistaken for a boy. I considered going slowly with the hair loss and starting with a short, choppy bob, then changed my mind and put my cards on the table. It really was liberating to feel Gabby cut my ponytail off and to shake my head and feel no weight. I didn't love how she fixed it but could tell it was a great cut, so I went home, washed it and fixed it myself, as best as I could without any hair product. It's been so long since I've had short hair, that I completely forgot how impossible it is to style it without a bunch of goop to put in it.

I posted pictures on Facebook and reveled in all the nice compliments from my friends who admired my bravery and loved my new look. My kids got off the bus and I could tell Katie was thrilled. She couldn't stop giggling and staring at me. Alli wanted to keep running her fingers through my hair. Grant, bless his heart, said, "Mom - I love you so much and I hope you don't take this the wrong way. You look REALLY pretty with your new hair cut, but I like the old way better. I hope you're not mad at me?" Isn't he sweet? I was feeling really good about my decision.

Then Curt, my husband, got home and I could tell from his first look that he was less than impressed. All he said was, "It doesn't look like the picture." I couldn't let it go, so I pressed him, hoping he'd say something sweet to make me feel better. He said, "I'm not going to lie. I don't like it that much." Of course I got my feelings hurt, and with added hormones raging, I was actually crying within an hour. He got to put up with hormone-induced comments between sobs. At one point I remember muttering, "It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks if you don't think I'm pretty..." A truly lovely scene to behold.

The next day things started improving. We were having a work day with my Dad - cutting, chopping and stacking wood all day. Several times I caught Curt staring at me and smiling. By mid-day he said, "Your hair is really growing on me. I really like it a lot. You look so adorable. I don't know WHO I was looking at yesterday." My face lit up, I puffed up my chest, stood a little straighter, made sure he was watching, grabbed my axe and split a piece of wood on the first chop. A few minutes later I was rewarded with a sweet, "I've never seen anything prettier stacking wood before." As I waltzed away beaming, I tossed my hair and knew I'd never felt prettier!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gabriella Joy Acosta

One of my good friends from Illinois, Beth, just had her FIFTH baby, Gabriella Joy Acosta. I remember CLEARLY the first time I met Andres and Beth. We were attending parents night at Northwest Christian Academy because our firstborn son, Grant, was about to enter pre-school. Curt and I were both really nervous about venturing into the school arena, particularly because Grant had an incredibly difficult time potty training and was coming off some complicated health issues that could put him in a position for embarrassing accidents. I was petrified for him and Curt and I had talked about delaying his start at school, but decided to meet his teacher first before making our decision. All the adults crammed into a classroom made to house 10 4-year olds. We squatted on pint-sized chairs around tables that were 2 feet off the ground and listened to his pint-sized but full of life pre-school teacher introduce herself and give us the run down on what to expect for the school year. Beth and Andres casually sauntered in late and Mrs. Bilinski greeted them by name. They asked no questions, were laid-back and it was obvious this was not their first time in pre-school orientation. I admired their ease in handling such an incredibly "stressful" situation! I was pregnant with our fourth child and after orientation, one of the moms said, "Did you meet Beth and Andres? You should really introduce yourself. You have a lot in common. They have four kids - a boy and three girls."

Beth and I met shortly thereafter and spent the school year getting to know each other. We marveled at how many things we had in common. Her four children had been born in a 5 year time span. Our fourth baby was due to be born a few months before Grant turned 5. Her firstborn was a son named Antonio and he was two years older than Grant. Their next three children were girls: Raquel was in Grant's class, and Sophia and Isabella were the same ages as Katie and Alli.

Over the next few years, Beth and I slowly crossed the line from acquaintances to casual friends to really good friends. Our kids followed the same pattern and before we knew it, Grant had a serious crush on Raquel, Katie and Sophia, Alli and Isabella were best friends. By default, Antonio was forced to be Paige's buddy, but he never complained and was always sweet and kind. Beth always made a fuss over Paige and would get her "baby fix" whenever Paige was around. She longed for more children, but thought God had said no to that longing, so she loved on my baby instead.

I admired how Beth seemed to juggle so many things and do them well. She loved the Lord and it showed her life as she worked almost full-time outside her home, loved and cared for her husband well, and shuttled her four active kids to ballet, soccer, baseball and gymnastics without ever seeming frazzled, tired or short of patience.

Last February, we took our girls to a Fancy Nancy tea party at the library. The girls got dressed up super fancy, drank tea, ate cookies, sat around tables and decorated "purses" with too much glue, beads, fake flowers and ribbons. The moms hovered around the tables talking and pitching in to help with the craft as needed. As we were catching up, Beth said, "Guess what?" There was something about the smirk on her face and the glint in her eyes that stopped me dead in my tracks and dropped my jaw open. She finished her sentence before I could ask. "We got two puppies." I closed my jaw, got giddy laughing and said, "Wow - I thought you were going to say you were pregnant." It was her turn to laugh when she said, "Well, that too." It was such a surprise blessing hat seemed to come out of nowhere and we all jumped around and hugged and grilled her on how far along she was, how she was feeling, and when she was due.

In May, Beth and I stood in the parking lot after school gabbing. Often we'd stick our kids in their car seats, start to say goodbye and 15 minutes would fly by while we chatted about life, ignoring interruptions from the kids as they begged for a trip to McDonald's for a play date. She seemed discouraged on this day and I asked her if everything was okay. We shivered in the spring air and cried together as she told me that one of the standard first trimester tests revealed there was a high chance their baby had Downs Syndrome and the doctors were recommending further testing. We talked about her medical options, how this could impact their family and about the way things can change overnight. Then we embraced, cried and prayed. We asked God to heal their baby, give them wisdom about what, if any, tests to move forward with, and to restore their dreams for their baby.

In June, we packed up everything we owned and left our comfortable life in Illinois to start a new adventure in Portland. I asked our kids who they wanted to spend their last day with. They didn't even hesitate as they all screamed, "The Acosta's!" Even though Beth was pregnant, she took all four of our kids and they played together all day while we managed the moving crew and watched our home lose all it's identity as ours and transform into a blank slate for the new owners. After we said goodbye to 2865 Liberty Lakes Boulevard, we headed to the Smith's house. The Acosta's met us there and we spent our last night in Illinois with two precious families that we have shared life with. We let our kids stay up way too late, ate Chicago style pizza, made s'mores in a back yard fire pit, and bawled our heads off when we said goodbye. It broke my heart that I wouldn't be in Illinois for Baby Acosta's arrival. I hated that I would only know this baby through photos and email updates and now that my family is complete, that I wouldn't be able to get my baby fix from their sweet little bundle.

Last week Beth called me while I was jogging. We'd been playing phone tag all week to find a time for her to give me all the juicy details of Gabriella's arrival: how she came early and fast and was almost born in the car, her birth stats, how the family was adjusting, and what she looked like. I must have looked like a total idiot as I jogged down the sidewalk of a busy highway, cell phone to one ear, pushing the stroller with my free hand! Beth excitedly told me what a gift their Gabriella was. They decided on her middle name of "Joy" before she was born because they knew she would bring great joy to their family, regardless of her health status. She looks a lot like Sophia and is a great healthy size, weighing in at just under 9 pounds.

Then Beth told me through tears but with joy in her tone, that after multiple tests, Gabriella Joy tested positive for Downs Syndrome. There are a lot of things to be thankful for: her heart and lungs are in great shape and she doesn't appear to have any of the really major complications that often accompany Downs. She's eating well, getting over some severe jaundice and gaining weight. Beth and Andres are working on equipping themselves with information and a support structure to raise a child with special needs. Their older children are a great help and are already charting her progress: "Look Mom. She can do a high five. She's not slow at learning at all."

As we cried and prayed together again, this time across the miles, with me huffing and puffing between strides, we thanked God for His wisdom in choosing the Acosta family to shepherd and love little Gabriella. If there is any family in the world that knows how to have fun, laugh, love and live, it's the Acosta's. We asked God to help Beth and Andres adjust their dreams for Gabriella and to deal with the grief that accompanies finding out your child has health issues. And I cried because I couldn't give my friend a hug, bring her a meal and get my baby fix from kissing sweet Gabriella's super chubby, adorable cheeks.

When I got home, I looked up the meaning of Gabriella Joy. It means "the LORD is my strength and delight/joy." Then I searched Biblegateway.com for the phrase and look at the verse I found. Psalm 27:8, "The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song." I laughed at how God gave us all this verse. The promise of STRENGTH and PROTECTION when times are tough and don't go as we planned. The confidence to TRUST in Him. The promise of His HELP, which the Acosta's will need. A promise of living with JOY, Gabriella's middle name, and a thankful song of praise to God for all He has and will do.

I looked once more at the photos of Gabriella, and my heart filled with a song of thanksgiving to God for His perfect plan!