Sunday, November 29, 2009
We just returned from a weekend celebrating Thanksgiving with my Dad and his wife Marcy in beautiful Bend, Oregon. We opted to make the drive over on Thanksgiving morning, by the light of day vs. tackling the Santiam Pass in the dark. Our goal was to pretend it was a school morning and have the van loaded with gear, kids and parents by 8:05 a.m., the time the bus picks the kids up each morning. We missed our goal by 25 minutes but still left earlier than anticipated.
It was a gorgeous day for a drive. A typical fall morning in Oregon, the sky was laden with clouds and fog but we saw a glimmer of sun and by the time we reached the mouth of the Santiam Pass, the sun began to burn off the fog. It was breath-taking to see the mountains, bathed in sunlight at their peaks and dotted with unbroken-up fog patches at lower elevations. The skies were clear blue and the bright morning sun reflected off the river and the snow-covered, towering pines. We oohed and ahhed and thanked God for His creativity and awesome power to create such beauty for us to enjoy. What a great way to start a day centered around giving thanks.
We made it safely to my Dad and Marcy's cozy home in Bend. While the kids bounced off the walls, we unloaded the van and helped Marcy put the finishing touches on the Thanksgiving meal. An hour or so later (and a good two hours later than we normally eat lunch), the feast was on the table and all four of the Stilp children were in the guest room serving time for misbehaving, two of them wailing loudly. I couldn't help but sneak a picture of their plight. Once we calmed everyone down and took the prerequisite pictures of the beautifully decorated table laden with food, we dug in. I have never seen my kids eat so much in one setting, EVER! They were so hungry and I thought they'd never stop eating. Grant the Carnivore, took the turkey leg and consumed almost the entire leg in one meal. Little Ladies, let me tell you, he's available and if his manners continue in the way he exhibited as he devoured that turkey leg, he'll be available for a VERY long time! After lunch, the kids ran around in the back yard and the adults lounged in chairs on the back deck in a triptophane induced state, enjoying the 40ish degree weather, clear skies and sunshine.
Friday morning Marcy and I tackled the Black Friday sales, but on the Lazy Jodi time table. I am not a morning person and am of the belief that getting out of bed any time before 7:00 a.m. is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I mapped out my plan of attack on our drive to Bend on Thursday, so I rose, at 7:01 a.m., pulled on my sweats and dashed to Wal-Mart (2 miles away) to tackle the first store on my list. Was home by 8:00 a.m. for a shower, coffee and breakfast, and then grabbed Marcy around 9 a.m. to finish our shopping. We methodically knocked out Macy's, Old Navy and Target and finished at TJ Maxx the following day. It was fun to get so much accomplished in a short time period and really enjoyable to have some girl time with Marcy.
While we were shopping, the boys and kids tackled another wood chopping project. Grant swings a mean axe and singlehandedly chopped an entire wheelbarrow load of kindling. He was out there swinging his axe and doing Man Stuff all day with my Dad and Curt. Curt's wood chopping didn't fare as well. He was about 4 logs into his project when one got stuck in my Dad's log splitter, came shooting out and severed a hose. OOPS! Hope they invite us back next year... The girls gathered pine cones and played with the dogs and fun was had by all.
Friday night we bundled up and headed to the cute downtown section of Bend, the part with the one-way streets, specialty shops with adorable store fronts, multiple coffee shops and a huge pine tree in the center of town. We joined several hundred people for the tree lighting ceremony. We watched dancers and a choir perform, sang carols with the local Baptist church choir and listened to Santa lecture kids about proper behavior to ensure themselves a spot on the GOOD list. One hour later, we counted backward from five and yelled, "Merry Christmas" and nothing happened. So they ad libbed, "That wasn't loud enough, let's try again," and for a second time, we all counted backward from five, yelled "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" even louder and VIOLA! The enormous tree was lit. We piled back into our vehicles and finished the night with hot cocoa and leftover pie before bed.
Saturday morning, I went for my first outdoor run since having my knee repaired in August. I asked my Dad to run with me and off we went on the most beautiful morning imaginable. 21 degrees, crisp, clear, blue skies, bright sun and fantastic views of Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, and all the other snow-capped peaks whose names are escaping my memory. We jogged and talked, enjoying the morning and each other, and finished three miles in no time flat. I couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate my first outdoor run than to share it with my Dad.
The rest of the day we mixed lots of lounging around with a trip to the park, more wood chopping, and jump rope twirling. Alli's new passion is jump roping and since it's not Christmas yet, her "jump rope" is a scarf. They jumped and chanted every jump roping chant known to man. What's up with wrapping up a baby in toliet paper and sending it down an elevator?
Today we enjoyed another gorgeous day for our drive home. Even though we've driven the pass multiple times, the view never loses it's wonder. The grandeur of the rugged white-capped peaks cast against the brilliant blue sky with painted horses frollicking on ranches in the scrubby desert brush. From every angle, another snow-capped peak, looming behind a house. A barn. A horse. It just takes your breath away.
When we were about 5 miles from Salem, we exited the Santiam Highway and headed to Tree Kings tree farm, a tree farm that came highly recommended. I have been to multiple tree farms in my life, but have NEVER seen such a huge operation. This is not your little Mom and Pop tree farm with free apple cider and a little barn filled with over-priced holiday knick knacks. As we pulled into the driveway, the roar of a helicopter deafened all noise and we giggled as we watched a helicopter driver flying around the fields with a huge cable and hook, grabbing pre-baled trees and piling them on the largest pile of trees I have ever seen. Apparently this tree farm sells over 300,000 trees each year and ships them all over the United States and Mexico! The high school boy manning the booth at the entrance/exit shouted directions over the noise, gave us a map and pointed us up the hill. Acres and acres and acres and acres of trees, varying in price depending on size and kind of tree. Mt. Hood and the Cascade Range that we'd just driven over provided a stunning back drop to the neatly lined rows of trees. We piled out of the van, the girls still in their church clothes, and laughed at how unlike Christmas the weather was. 55 degrees. Sunny. Blue skies. I was sweating in my sweater. We found the perfect tree immediately and Curt went to work chopping it down. It was well over 10 feet tall but had been mismarked as a 6-7 footer, so we took advantage of the pricing and got a screaming deal on our tree.
Our front living room now boasts a 10 foot noble fir, our entire home has the sweet fragrance of fresh cut pine, and hopefully by tomorrow we'll have the energy to start the decorating. Curt will adorn the perfect live tree with symmetry, grace and matching ornaments. The kids and I will tackle the 7 foot fake tree with multi-colored lights, mismatched ornaments and nothing resembling symmetry. And we'll all be happy. It will be the first thing we can be thankful for in this next year.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
In 2009, I'm thankful for...
Friday, November 20, 2009
Yesterday was my morning to volunteer at the kids' school. I stopped at my friend's house to drop Paige off, rang her doorbell and peaked in her window to wait for her to come to the door. Her baby boy, who I swear was just newborn last week, toddled around the corner, binky in his mouth, big boy hair cut, and arms flailing wildly to avoid toppling over (which he did 3 times in the distance to the door). Where did one year go?
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Tonight Curt and I went on another swim/coffee shop date night. We swam for 30ish minutes and I counted out 26 consecutive grueling laps. Curt counted 31 and lapped me once, so we'll say I swam 28 laps consecutively. BRUTAL! Around lap 11, I started to get all mental in the water and felt that panic come over me. What if I breathe in the water? How can I catch my breath in such a short second? What if water goes up my nose? With every "what if" question, I felt my heart rate accelerate and my mind start going berserk. I kept quoting the Jodi Stilp version of II Timothy 1:7, "God did not give me a spirit of fear. But of power, love and a sound mind." And then for good measure, a little bit of Dory from Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...." It lasted for FIVE excruciating laps until I finally settled into a better frame of mind. After we swam, we hit our new favorite coffee shop for delectable sandwiches, salad, soup and my new fetish, Italian cappuccinos with a feather drawn in the foam. I literally licked the foam out of the cup. It was that good. (Can't take me anywhere.)
Monday, November 16, 2009
When Curt and I started dating, he was mortified that my Bible was a gift from an old boyfriend, complete with a mushy love note written in the front cover. Given the fact that "Forever" ended up being a little over a year, I whited out all the mushy stuff and kept using my well-worn Bible where I could find favorite verses in no time flat. Eventually Curt got sick of seeing my old Bible and bought me a beautiful new one with my married name imprinted on the front cover. Can't white that out! My new Bible has become my prized possession and is the first study Bible I have ever had. It must be at least 4 inches thick, with large font, notes on every confusing verse, history tidbits, maps, charts, concordances and dictionaries. It's so big that I've resorted to using a quiet time bag for easier transport.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The entire year I was 32, I was adamant I was 33 and told people the whole year that I was 33. A couple days before my birthday, Curt and I got into a heated "discussion" over my age. He had to get out a calculator and subtract 1974 from the current year to prove that I was indeed 32-turning-33, not 33-turning-34. Being 33 was easy given I already had an entire year of practice! When I turned 34 last year, it was hard to stop thinking I was 33. Even though I was the brunt of a well-told story, old habits die hard, and I was taken back by a conversation I had last week with my friend Kelly.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
An errand today took me on a road I haven’t traversed in 15 years. It also forced me to unearth memories that were shoved in the far recesses of my mind. Cobwebbed and dusty, they had been intentionally forgotten. Fifteen years ago was a painful time in my life. My parents were thick in a devastating public divorce and my Beaver Cleaver life lay in a million shattered pieces. In that moment, in my pain, I never would have believed God could redeem such a mess. That He could and would take something tragic and ugly and transform it into something useful and beautiful.
Fifteen years ago, my Good Shepherd came searching for me. Cast down, unable to right myself from the mess of my life, He rescued me. Picked me up. Held me close. Massaged life back into my feeble limbs. Cheered me on as I tried to find strength to walk again. Encouraged me as I stumbled and fumbled through the next steps. Laughed with me when I could finally run and skip again.
My Good Shepherd went before me through my valley. He knew the best route to the mountain tableland. He knew the risks, the dangers, and the perils that lay ahead of me. He knew my valley would be painful, difficult, and endurance-building. When I couldn’t walk, He carried me. When I was tired, He gave me strength. When I wanted to quit, He whispered encouragement to my soul. When I wanted to wallow in self-misery and bitterness, He taught me how to be grateful and learn to forgive.
My Good Shepherd staked His claim over my life. He stood openly in the presence my enemies and all that would harm or attack me in my weakened state, and He stood guard. He protected me. He loved me.
My Good Shepherd intentionally and meticulously poured His love, His care and His provision into my life. He met me in my shambles and poured His very life into mine. He redeemed my life from the pit. His love transformed me.
W. Phillip Keller in the last chapter of his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, reminds us that we should be proud to belong to Christ. “How glad we should be to look back and recall all the amazing ways in which He provided for our welfare. We should delight to describe, in detail, the hard experiences through which He brought us. And we should be eager and quick to tell of our confidence in Christ.”
When I look back on my life, I see my Good Shepherd picking up the pieces of my former life. I see Him throwing out the pieces that are no longer useful or functional and that don’t fit with His plan. I see Him fixing the pieces that are broken, creatively repairing and repurposing pieces the world saw as disposable. I see my Good Shepherd’s love. His diligence. His patience and forgiveness. I see rugged valleys and glorious mountain tablelands. I remember following Him through autumn storms to the cozy place of rest and safety of the winter months. I remember times of giddy anticipation to break out of the place of rest and into the spring pastures. And woven throughout my life, I see my Good Shepherd’s faithfulness.
Today, as I drove down the road of forgotten memories, I didn’t feel pain. Miraculously I felt joy, happiness, and gratefulness for all my Good Shepherd has done in my life. I called my Dad and then my Mom and we rejoiced in the unorthodox way that God so often works.
I delight to describe in detail the hard experiences through which He has brought me, because that path has led me to a place of complete contentment in my Good Shepherd’s care. Come what may, be it valleys or mountaintops, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Monday, November 2, 2009
I have an Aunt Shirley Boelter. When I memorized Psalm 23 as a child, I often wondered WHO Shirley Goodness was and WHY she'd follow me all the days of my life. Thank goodness W. Phillip Keller sheds some light on this in chapter 11 of his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.
As the poem wraps up, the sheep is so confident in the care she has received from her shepherd that she boldly proclaims, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life!" Her declaration conveys her "implicit confidence in the One who controls her career and destiny." It's easy to boast to the world about my Master’s goodness when life is running like a well-oiled machine, but what about when life gets messy? Do I still confidently declare that my Good Shepherd is the all-time-best when my dreams are crumbling and my aspirations lay in ruins? "These are the sort of times that test a person's confidence in the care of Christ."
When I look back on the desperate times in my life, I see that it was in the dark days, the messy pits, and the hopeless despair that my Good Shepherd cared for me most tenderly. Even the things I was certain God could never in a million years use for good became useful tools in His hands. "This is to see the goodness and mercy of my Master in my life."
The obvious result of my life should be one that touches others in the ways my Savior has touched me. Do I leave an imprint of Jesus Christ on those my life intersects with? Keller says, "Just as God's goodness and mercy flow to me all the days of my life, so goodness and mercy should follow me, should be left behind me as a legacy to others wherever I may go."
What will my legacy be? Do I leave blessing or pain? Frustration or peace? Anger or joy? Contentment or discord? If I am walking closely with my Good Shepherd, the overflow of His goodness and mercy should pour out of my life, splash onto those around me, and as Paul says in II Corinthians 2:14 be "an aroma of Christ" to anyone in a hundred mile radius.
Keller concludes with this thought. "Most of us forget that our Shepherd is looking for some satisfaction as well. He looks on my life in tenderness, for He loves me deeply. He sees the long years during which His goodness and mercy have followed me without slackening. He longs to see some measure of that same goodness and mercy not only passed on to others by me but also passed back to Him with joy. He longs for love - my love."
My Good Shepherd longs for love - my love. And I love Him, because He first loved me.