Friday, December 31, 2010

Catching Up

I'm not sure why I have been so uninspired to write over the past two months, but blog posts have been few and far between. Here is a Cliff Notes version of all the awesome stuff I wanted to blog about over the past two months, but never got around to.

1. Birthday Surprise - My husband, who is THE BOMB, completely surprised me with a girls-only trip to Colorado for my birthday. He went around canceling all the weekend plans I'd made for my birthday and on Wednesday night (36 hours before departure) he had me open my birthday present, a winter coat we picked out together and bought in October. I couldn't figure out where the urgency came in until I saw the envelope at the bottom of the box that held a flight itinerary to Denver. What a sneaky guy!

I had a fabulous weekend with Cousin Sonja (who is like a sister to me) playing in beautiful Colorado. When we weren't living the life of luxury, we were exercising. She is hyper-athletic (think part human/part superhero) and we made the most of working out together. We did yoga, went for a trail run in the mountains, and my favorite, snowshoed in a blizzard. Sony described this outing to her husband Venu and I as, "a little trail run up to a glacier. We might pack snow shoes just in case we need them to cross the glacier." Ahem... We took a windy mountain road up the mountain to about 10,000 feet and parked by the snow-covered porta-potty. The thermometer in the car read 21 degrees F, but the gale-force winds that almost blew us over when we got out dropped the temps to around zero degrees with windchill. We couldn't see the trail head because of the knee-deep powder that had been accumulating since it started snowing the night before, but we strapped on our snow shoes (a first for me) and started trekking up the mountain in the general direction of the glacier. Sony blazed a trail for us while Venu and I huffed, puffed and gasped for air about a quarter mile behind her. We eventually hit the glacier, gaining 2,000 vertical feet in just under a mile and half and then half-slipped, half-fell back down the mountain to the car. The challenge was exhilarating and one I'm most likely won't be able to re-create in the Willamette Valley.

2. Thanksgiving with my Dad and Marcy - My Dad and his wife Marcy were at the beach the week before Thanksgiving on a working vacation and they invited us to join them for a Thanksgiving celebration. We crashed their pad on Wednesday night and spent the next 24 hours playing and hanging out together. It was unseasonably cold, especially for the ocean, and the kids bundled up in their winter coats and hats and played Kings and Queens (a game they made up that resembled Mother May I?) on the deck after breakfast. They talked Grandpa Don into coming out to play with them and somehow Kings and Queens ended up in a big wrestling match. We watched the Macy's Thanksgiving parade and the Dog Show and then took two long hikes on the beach. Alli chased Grandma Marcy down the beach, Katie enjoyed Girl Time on a rock with Grandma Marcy, Grant hunted sea gulls with bait, a home-made bow and arrow, and a Indiana Jones style "rope" that he fashioned from a sea onion, Paige drug a sea onion all over the beach making designs in the sands, Dad chased the kids, and Curt and I played referee for our kids who temporarily forgot how to get along. In between our beach expeditions we enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving meal and played a few board games. Our time went by WAY too quickly and we enjoyed every second we had celebrating our many blessings.

3. Hunt for the Perfect Tree - The day after Thanksgiving, we headed to Jorgensen's Tree Farm to find the perfect Christmas tree. It's a yearly tradition and one modeled very closely to Clark W. Griswold's family in the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Curt spotted "the tree" within seconds of arriving but you can't just chop down the first tree you see. We traipsed around the entire tree farm in the increasing drizzle/rain making sure that the light from heaven was indeed shining on this tree. It was ten feet of perfectly shaped beauty and took a good ten minutes to cut it down. It was so bushy that the crew of employees couldn't shove it through the baler and instead strapped it to the top of our van in all it's unbaled glory. At least we didn't have the stump and the roots hanging off the back of the van... Curt, per tradition, took hours decorating it symmetrically with matching ornaments and ribbon while the kids and I pounded out the 6 foot artificial tree in no time flat. All I did was unwrap ornaments and they hung them all. Of course the ornaments ended up in one big lump in the middle-front of the tree, but I exhaled deeply and chose not to re-organize the ornaments after the kids went to bed.

4. 100 Year Celebration - The day after we located the perfect Christmas tree, my Mom and her husband Terry came over to play. We potlucked a Thanksgiving dinner and then had birthday cake for dessert. I was 36 this year and Terry celebrated his 64th birthday two days later, so my very funny mom put a "100" on the cake. Silly Mom.

5. Best Christmas Pageant Ever - Little Paige has been drug around to events featuring her older siblings since she was in-utero. She is always such a good sport and a big fan of all her brother and sisters do, but she's never been in a program that featured her. Until this year. She started pre-school in the fall and loves everything about it. The friends. The responsibility. The homework cause if you do it you get candy and she likes to tell people she has homework. The independence. She goes to a Christian pre-school so they actually get to talk about Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas. These adorable three and four-year-olds worked for months practicing and perfecting their Christmas pageant, which they performed for family and friends in mid-December. The three-year-old classes dressed in Christmas best, but the four-year-old classes got to dress in costumes. There was an entire nativity scene of 4-year-olds. A star. Wise men. Shepherds. Sheep. Angels. The Donkey. Mary, Joseph and a baby doll that served as Jesus. The rest of the 4-year-olds dressed up as "a choir" and wore adorable pint-sized purple choir robes. Paige was one of four angels and the angels got to make a special announcement. They loudly, clearly and carefully proclaimed with hand motions, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news. A Savior has been born today. He is Christ the Lord." They sang "O Come Let Us Adore Him Christ the Lord" but the choir, which was set back from the nativity, sang to a faster tempo than the nativity group and in spite of the teacher's very exaggerated "O" with her hand, finished a good five seconds before the nativity. The last song they sang was "Happy birthday Jesus. I'm so glad it's Christmas. All the presents are nice, but the real gift is you. Happy birthday Jesus. Jesus I love you." Paige was so calculated and exact while she sang, opening her mouth so wide it looked like she was yawning or trying to sing with a mouth full of gravel. I almost melted at the sweetness of it all.

6. Dance Mania - The same night Paige had her Christmas pageant, Katie and Alli had a dance showcase. They take a little class called Jazz Jam one afternoon a week after school and every quarter all the classes in the Community School put on a showcase. Fortunately, their showcase started 30 minutes before Paige's debut so Curt and Grant were able to cheer on Katie and Alli while I got Paige set up at pre-school. They danced their hearts out and dashed into the pew in the back row right as the baby angels made their grand entrance. Two days later, Katie, Alli, Paige and 127 other giddy little girls participated in a dance camp. They went to the high school and spent five hours with the high school dance team. They ate a snack and dinner (something notable because it was SOOOO cool), learned a dance routine to "All I Want For Christmas is You" and then performed it at half-time of the varsity basketball game. Can you say adorable?!?!

7. Parties, Parties and more Parties - We had Christmas party after Christmas party to go to. We attended Curt's white-elephant party for OHSU. He opened a 3-foot stuffed frog that was hideously ugly I thought a few of the pregnant ladies might wet their pants laughing. It was so awful that someone stole it from him to give at a different white elephant party they were attending later in the week. The next night we attended the Hope Orthopedics costume party where Curt was a co-host and got to play a version of Minute To Win It. He had to tie a box of jingle bells around his waist and dance or jump to get them out of the box. We hosted a party for our house church and I attended a MOPS steering team party and a baby shower for twins. Fun, fun, fun, but don't compare the pictures from these events too closely. I'm pretty sure I wore a version of the same outfit to each gathering.

8. Christmas Eve with the Hadlocks - For the third year in a row, we hosted Christmas Eve for Grandpa Terry's family. It has been such a treat getting to know this new family that we inherited when my Mom and Terry got married. We followed tradition with a dinner of cheese soup and Christmas goodies. We gathered in the family room where my Mom read aloud the last chapter of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. We laughed in all the usual spots and got weepy in all the usual spots. It's just such a great story - naughty welfare kids bringing the ham from their Ladies Aid basket to the newborn Jewish king because they think it's a better gift than smelly oil and gold. Priceless. We passed out candles, turned out the lights, and Terry gave the question that we all individually answered: what was a highlight of your year? He went first, then lit the candle of the person next to us. As the circle of light grew, so did our silent reflection and appreciation for all God has done for us this year. We finished by singing Silent Night and sending everyone off with hugs and love. I think this tradition will never grow old.

9. Christmas with No Agenda - Our Christmas this year was the Christmas that I envisioned as a new mom holding an infant. The one where adorable kids in matching jammies take turns opening presents, delight and gratitude enveloping their faces with each gift. The one where no one argues or whines or complains and everyone lives in a happy, serene bubble for the day. That lasted for the first ten minutes until Curt said, "I want to start our day by reading the Christmas story from Luke 2 BEFORE we open presents." Everyone thought this was a very Christian and lovely sentiment except Alli who exclaimed in disgust, "I don't want to read that story. It's boring and I've heard it a hundred times. I just want to open presents" and then proceeded to pout the entire time Curt was reading. Curt was on call and we were all convinced he'd end up spending Christmas day operating while the kids and I sat alone looking at unopened presents and crying in our egg nog cause our family day was disrupted. I mentally planned for Curt be gone all day and I had a happy heart about it, so it made every second we had together an unexpected blessing. Each time his phone would buzz or ring we'd collectively hold our breath while he checked to see who was texting or calling him. He never got called in and we got to spend the entire day as a family, agenda free. We stayed in our jammies forever, took our time opening presents, ate finger food, played the Wii and Guitar Praise, took a nap, and best of all, I didn't have to make a huge Christmas dinner. It was exactly what we all needed after a month of craziness.

10. Thirteen Years - Curt and I celebrated our 13th anniversary on December 27th. Holy cow - where does the time go and how old does that make us? We got gift cards for dinner and a movie as a Christmas gift so on our actual anniversary we headed out to dinner and a movie. I think it's been YEARS since we've done that. Two days later, Grandma Ru and Grandpa Terry took the kids overnight so we could have a getaway. We are both major planners, especially when it comes to meals, so we went completely out of the box for our date. We drove ourselves to Fred Meyer, got a coffee, wandered around the produce, deli, bakery and meat department, and chose our dinner based on what spoke to us. We ended up with marinated steak and herb-crusted chicken breast, Greek salad, potato jo-jo's, lettuce salad, bread, a bottle of wine, and cheesecake. We came home, prepared our meal, and dined by candlelight in a QUIET house. It was such a lovely date. I still can't believe I get to do life with my best friend.

11. Cover to Cover - Today was a big day for Curt, Grant and I. We finished our last day of assigned Bible reading and then high-fived and fist-bumped in the kitchen because we all read the Bible cover-to-cover this year. It was a big undertaking requiring reading five chapters a day and I still can't believe my nine-year-old faithfully did this or that we let him read all the stuff about sex, adultery, war and God kicking butt and taking names. The obvious reward is character-development, but Grant also gets to pick any restaurant he wants to go out for a celebratory dinner.

12. New Year - In a few minutes, we'll be hosting a New Year's Eve party for our house church. Since I didn't know we were actually going through with this plan until Monday, I'm not sure if anyone will show up, but I'm hoping we get at least one guest. (oh there's the door bell!) I can't believe 2010 is coming to close. It seems like it was just starting. It's been a great year with significant high (completing my first triathlon and running a Boston-qualifying marathon) and significant lows (won't bore you with the details), but through it all, our God has been Faithful. I'm excited to see what 2011 has in store. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Now That's What I Call Christmas Break

Back in the day when I had four babies that had to be sleeping by 7 p.m. to avoid major meltdown and were awake at 6 a.m. every single day, I didn’t know there was something called “school vacation” or just how beautiful it really is. Now that all the kids stay up until at least 8 p.m. and have a concept of sleeping in, the benchmark of a great morning is staying in our jammies past 8:04 a.m., the time we leave each morning to go wait for the school bus.

Last week was jam-packed with wrapping up all things Christmas related before the “holiday” (because you can’t call it Christmas in public school) break. It also was an exercise in learning to roll with the punches. Tuesday night was a 6:30 p.m. Community School Showcase that featured Kaitlin and Alli’s Jazz Jam dance class. But it also featured Paige in her first-ever school performance, a Christmas pageant (she goes to a Christian pre-school) made up completely of three and four year olds. Paige made her angelic debut at 7 p.m. so it was with quite a bit of planning and shuffling that we managed to get at least one parent to both performances. Every 4-year-old was in costume. There were angels, a star, wise men, sheep, a donkey, Mary and Joseph. The kids that weren’t in the nativity got to dress up as “a choir” and wore cute purple robes. They practiced for weeks to get their songs just right and Paige was very intent on getting the lyrics correct. She over-emphasized each syllable to the point that she appeared to be singing with a mouth full of gravel. The choir kids sang “O come let us adore Him” to a faster tempo than the kids in the nativity scene resulting in a cacophony of noise somewhat resembling a round. It was pricelessly sweet.

We tucked four tired but happy kids into bed only to be woken up around midnight by Kaitlin barfing her brains out. Poor kid vomited nine times in six hours then spiked a fever. She was horizontal all day and my very busy Wednesday schedule was automatically cleared. Katie’s fever prevented her from going to school on Thursday, the day her class had a mini-party planned, and my heart broke for her as she cried over all the festivities she was missing due to illness. She did manage to finish her home-made gift and card at school on Friday. Her sweet note read, “Dear Parents, I love you and you are a joy to my heart. Thank you for all the presents. Merry Christmas to you. You are so cool and I love how you take good care of me. Love, Katie.”

We thought we were in the clear health-wise, so we hosted our house church Christmas party on Thursday night. Kids and adults had a blast and we tucked four tired but happy kids into bed much later than usual only to be woken up in the middle of the night by Grant barfing his brains out. Poor kid vomited every twenty minutes from 2 to 4:30 a.m. then spiked a fever. Like Katie, he was horizontal all day and my very busy Friday schedule was automatically cleared. I wanted to cry with Grant over all the fun activities we both missed due to illness: Alli’s first-grade class party and an all-school sing-along assembly featuring the entire student body performing the dance to Thriller for the staff. Grant promised to give us a private performance when he felt better. I think it might be time to dig out the video camera and hold him to his promise!

We proactively cancelled our plans for a mountain snow day on Saturday which ended up being a good idea since Alli got hit by the virus on Saturday morning. Even the dog was under-the-weather and spent Saturday curled up in a ball ignoring food. We skipped church on Sunday to avoid spreading germs and spent the entire weekend coloring, watching movies and football, napping, making photo books on the computer, sanitizing everything in sight, and cuddling. Not exactly what we had planned, but surprisingly fulfilling.

Everyone appears to be healthy now, but just in case I’m holding out for another day to start my holiday baking. The kids planned a “party” for this morning and I overheard Grant laying out the rules for his sisters last night before bed. “When you get up in the morning, if you see the light on in the play room, go to the play room. If the light in the play room is off, check for a light in my room. If my light is off, go back to bed and keep checking for me to wake up. Once I’m up, we’ll start the party. We’ll eat breakfast, stay in our jammies and then watch a movie.” So that’s what all four of them are doing, wrapped in blankets and sacked out in their jammies well past the time when they would have been on the school bus. Paige, who has no concept of time and is eating breakfast at 9:45 a.m., just hollered up the stairs, “Do I have school today?” Now that’s what I call Christmas break!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

December 2010

Merry Christmas. I let the kids help me write the letter this year. Any “quotes” you see are their interjections.

Grant is 9 ½ years old and he’d “have to say I really like 4th grade so far.” A self-professed “football and guitar guy,” he made his foray into tackle football this fall and really loved it. Grant “really likes skateboarding, building Legos and forts with the pillows on my couch, and learning to type home row on the computer. I also really love to write.” Grant stepped up to the challenge of reading the Bible cover to cover in one year and his character is being developed as a result of his diligent determination to finish this task.

Kaitlin has this to say about her year: “Katie is a very bright young student, is 8 years old, and she loves third grade because there are challenges and easy parts. She loves the Lord with all her heart, loves attending house church, and she has a lot of friends. Katie wants to be a dog breeder when she grows up and she likes to draw, write and dance. A big accomplishment for Katie is the fact that she has read seven chapter books cover to cover since school started. In the coming year, Katie would like to learn to ice skate and ride a horse.”

Alli is 6 ½ years old and continues to take the world by storm. Her penchant for rearranging words kept us laughing. This year’s favorites include “re-overact” (over-react), “work outfit” (Curt’s new suit), “glove catch” (softball) and “Club Crappers” (Club Crackers). She wants you to know: “When I grow up I want to be a hair stylist, be a mom and have three kids. I’m a Christian and I love God with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul and with all my strength. I’m in fust grade, have a great teacher and great friends. Funny words make me laugh.”

Paige’s hair and personality grew in rapid leaps and bounds as she embraced independence and being a big girl. Now 4 ½ years old, she thinks she’s too “gwown up” to hold hands and wears her hot pink cowgirl boots everywhere she goes, especially when we hike. After watching the Olympics, she stated, “When I grow up, I still want to be a cowgirl, but then I want to grow up again and be a skater and do lots of tricks and skate on the ice cause then you get a teddy bear.” A little piece of my heart died when she started pre-school this fall and officially closed the book of babyhood for the Stilp family.

Curt’s job, according to Paige’s pre-school survey, is “mows the lawn, fixes clocks, do meetings, go golfing with people and does swimming.” She neglected to mention that most of his time is devoted to his work at OHSU and Hope Orthopedics and that he only golfed once this entire year. We are still hosting and leading a house church (Solid Rock’s version of small groups) twice a month and Curt does such a great job shepherding this church family. Curt spent the first ten months of this year consistently training for his yearly dose of two Olympic-distance triathlons, but is taking November and December off so he can “work his core.” On August 1st, he helped me drown my fear of being underwater by talking me through a panic attack in the water of my first triathlon. We crossed the finish line alive and holding hands, and rate it in the top ten dates that we’ve had.

My job, according to Paige’s survey, is “fold clothes, do laundry, vacuum and mops.” I thought I’d be twiddling my thumbs with the extra nine hours a week I have now that Paige is in school, but I’ve managed to fill it hanging out with some great college girls from our house church and some awesome young moms from MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers). I spent a good portion of the year rehabbing my knee, but all the hours in the gym were worth the restored health God chose to give me. All glory to God, I ran a personal-best half marathon in June and a Boston-qualifying marathon in October. Who would have thought?

So many of you have fought health, relational and financial battles this year. Grant recently wrote this poem: “I’m a war poet writing poems of peace as they slither away to tell the enemy.” Our prayer for you this holiday season is that God’s peace, the kind that surpasses all understanding, would slither its way to the foxholes in your life and tell the enemy you’re battling that the war is over.

Many Blessings to you from our crazy family to yours,

Curt, Jodi, Grant, Kaitlin, Alli and Paige Stilp

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All That I AM, I Will Be to You

I have been trying to make some photo calendars and a photo book for Christmas gifts for the last three weeks. Always on my To Do list and in the back of my mind, I haven't found a spare second to even think about starting these projects. I keep getting coupons in my email box from Snapfish. Good coupons with ridiculous deadlines like "Buy One Calendar, Get Two Free" and in small print at the bottom of the email "expires tomorrow so good luck trying to make three calendars in 24 hours" (or something like that). The coupons entice me to work on these projects but never give me enough time to actually start and finish in the allotted time.

Yesterday I finally started those blasted calendars. I got about 3/4 of the way through the first one, but had to stop to make dinner then rush Katie and Alli to their dance performance and Paige to her Christmas pageant. I had a hugely busy day planned for today, but sweet Katie cleared it for me when she barfed nine times in six hours during the night.

While she lay motionless on the couch watching a movie, I picked up my project where I left off last night and managed to finish all three calendars. I gleefully started the checkout process and somewhere around step 16, it asked for a coupon code. I clicked back to my email and my heart stopped. The "buy one get two" coupon expired last night at midnight. Seriously?!? My out-of-pocket expense on over-priced calendars jumped by 67% right around the time I had to wake Kaitlin from a dead sleep to get Paige from pre-school.

Flabbergasted and completely irritated, I half-carried, half-prodded my poor little sickie down two flights of stairs to the van. As she sat in her seat, wrapped in a blanket looking half-dead, I prayed and told God how frustrated I was. My heart hurt for my very sick little girl who felt miserable and was in tears over all the fun she's missing at school today and tomorrow. I was worried about the rest of my family getting sick since we're hosting a big party tomorrow night and have a snow day in the mountains planned for Saturday. I was sick to my stomach over either having to pay triple for my Christmas gifts or being forced to start completely from scratch on a cheaper website.

When we got home, I prayed and decided to try the coupon code anyway. I typed the code in the box, whispered another "please Jesus, it's just a little thing but it would be such a blessing to me" and hit "next." I have never been so happy to see red strikethrough in a price box before! I finished the order before the computer could change its mind about accepting my expired code and then sat at my desk overwhelmed by God's love for me. It's the little ways He loves me and encourages me that breathe life into my soul and leave a track record of His faithfulness in my life.

In Exodus 3 when God appears to Moses in the burning bush, they have a dialog that strikes me as odd. Moses is talking to a bush that's on fire but not being consumed. God's voice is coming from the bush and instructing Moses to make some life-altering decision. Moses starts arguing with God and says, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to then, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name? Then what shall I tell them?' God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." Wow. That's helpful. What exactly does that mean?

Our pastor defined it last week in a way that shed new light on this beautiful name. He said the literal translation of "I AM" means, "All that I am, I will be to you." God is love, but He doesn't call Himself "Love" because He's more than just love. He is Faithful. He is Healer. He is All-Powerful. He is Just. He is Mercy. And all that He is, He will be to me. Amazing. So today when I in essence asked God His name, He whispered, "All that I am, I will be to you - Encourager and Provider." Thank you I AM WHO I AM.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Away in a Manger

Today at lunch Paige and I were playing a game. She’d sing a lyric from Away in a Manger then stop and expect me to fill in the blank. We got to the end and she sang, “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the ________,” then looked at me to finish the song.

I played dumb and guessed, “Pillow?” She giggled and said, “No, try again.” To which I guessed, “Bed?” met by more giggles then “Blanket?” Finally Paige interjected, “Hay Mom. It’s hay.”

I acted shocked and said, “What? Jesus wasn’t born in a hospital with a doctor and a nice clean bed?” She looked at me like I must be from another planet to be a “gwown up” and not know the story of Baby Jesus. Incredulously she said, “No Mom. Don’t you know the story? I’ll tell you.”

She launched into this story. “So Mary and Joseph had no kids. The angel came and told Mary that she was going to have Little Lord Jesus and she was really happy. They had a donkey. So they got their donkey out and went to Bethlehem to pay their cash. Mary rode on the donkey with Lord Jesus in her belly. When they got to Bethlehem it was time to have Lord Jesus but all the hotels were full. They couldn’t find a hotel room so the person in charge of the rooms said they could stay in the barn.”

At this point I interrupted and said, “A stinky barn? With cow poop and smelly animals? Where was the doctor?”

She got all worked up and said, “No Mom. There was no doctor. And they were nice animals. There was a cow and a sheep and a place for Mary and Joseph’s donkey and these animals were nice. They made room for Mary and Joseph so they could have Lord Jesus.”

When I questioned her about the stinky poop she finally conceded that there probably was poop and it might have been smelly but the nice animals gave Lord Jesus the best spot in the barn.

She finished her story by saying, “Mary had Lord Jesus in the barn and used the thing, I can’t remember what it’s called, that the cows and horses eat and drink out of, as a bed for Lord Jesus. They put hay in the bed-thing and that’s where He fell asleep like the song says.” She acted like she was done, then added for good measure, “And they all lived happily ever after.”

If only it was that simple. They really never lived “happily ever after.” Jesus was born in a cold, stinky, unsterile poop-filled barn with no medical help or basic amenities. Mary and Joseph spent the first few years of Jesus’ life on the run. Sneaking away at night in the pitch black, running for their lives. Hiding Jesus from a Madman who, bent on killing Jesus and protecting his throne, slaughtered hundreds of two-year-old boys in an effort to kill the King of the Jews in the purge. Can you imagine the guilt, relief and grief Mary and Joseph must have felt knowing Jesus miraculously survived that holocaust?

They were forced to take refuge in a foreign country where they didn’t know the language, the culture or have any friends. They were finally able to sneak back into their own country, but settled in an unfamiliar area forcing them again to start from scratch with friends and employment. The “holy family” lived in poverty, the bottom rung of society, barely scratching out enough money to feed their family. Then Jesus started his very public and very controversial career as a religious teacher. Always pushing the envelope and challenging people’s thinking, he was both revered and hated. His gentle power and humble spirit ended up with Him being illegally arrested, given a rigged trial and brutally murdered. Not exactly what I’d call a happy ending.

Yet I’m sure Mary would say her life was full of joy, contentment and peace that passes all understanding. She bathed the Son of God. Changed his diapers. Sewed his clothes. Cooked his meals. Laughed at his jokes. Kissed his tears. Worshipped at His feet as He suffered and died for her sins. Can you imagine the privilege and the pain of being the mom of Lord Jesus? I can’t wait to ask her all about it when I get to heaven.

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head. The stars in the sky looked down where He lay. The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

Thank you Little Lord Jesus. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Are You Thankful For?

Our daughter Alli came out of the womb barking orders. And in six years, not much has changed. Last night at the dinner table she decided she wanted to play school. Before we could swallow our next bite, she launched into some very loud and determined directions. We were all instructed to come up with five (and only five) things we were thankful for and then list them off for the family to hear. She went first to demonstrate and give an example in case we weren't bright enough to understand what she wanted. Her list went something like this: "One: my house. Two: my schisters. Three: My Mom and Dad. Four: My brother. Five: Jesus-oh-and-Dusty-the-dog-but-that-would-be-six-and-that's-too-many."

She pointed her bossy finger at Curt and he rattled off his list, followed by Paige and Katie. They all pretty much said the same thing: family, a house to live in, a dog, and Jesus. Then it was our nine-year-old Grant's turn. Never one to be outdone and with a fondness for waxing poetic, he launched into his list and this fairly close to what he said.

Alli: ONE?
Grant: Jesus, because He chose to die on the cross for my sins.
Alli: TWO?
Grant: My siblings because they're fun to play with except when they're bossy or mean.
Alli: THREE?
Grant: The Bible because it's God's Word to us and it teaches us about God and how to live like Jesus.
Alli: FOUR?
Grant: A warm house and shelter from the storm outside because so many people don't have the luxury of a house to call home.
Alli: FIVE?
Grant: A Mom and Dad who love me and take care of me.
Alli: Mommy's turn.
Grant: No, I'm doing ten things.
(argument and verbal war ensues, but Grant came out on top.)
Grant: SIX (with smirk toward Alli): The Holy Spirit because He guides me in how to grow the fruit of the Spirit in my life. SEVEN: A dog to wrestle with and play with and she's such a good Dusty. EIGHT: My salvation. I'm so grateful that Jesus saved me from my sins and gave me new life. NINE: ummm... The fact that I live in a free country and can worship God without fear of arrest or persecution because people all over the globe suffer for serving Jesus. TEN: Food to eat cause I'm hungry a lot and we have food when others don't. Your turn Mom.

Well how on earth do I follow up on that? Pass the Kleenex please. Sheez. I started down my list of Jesus, Daddy, kids, a warm house and my friends, but as I launched into number six, Alli stopped me dead in my tracks. Apparently she only had the bandwidth for one family member to step outside the boundary of her rules and I didn't get to finish. But Alli doesn't have access to my blog, so here's what I would have said given the chance to wax poetic like my son.
  1. My Savior, Redeemer, Healer, Forgiver, Friend, and Giver of a Thousand Chances, Jesus Christ. I can't imagine what a mess my life would be if it weren't for You. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
  2. My Smokin' Hot Husband Who is a Stone-Cold Fox (courtesy of Will Ferrell and Talledega Nights). You are my best friend, soul mate, provider, lover, partner in crime, and laugh-generator. My life would be so dull and quiet my life without you in it.
  3. My Four Crazy Kiddos. Holy cow. Who knew such little people (or not so little now that Grant comes up to my shoulder) could evict such strong emotions? I never knew I could love so deeply, defend so fiercely, or frustrate so easily. I have learned boatloads from each one of you and I am so grateful God chose me to be your Mommy, for better or for worse. Thank you for your grace when I screw up, your hugs every morning, your messes to keep me busy, and your loudness and excitement for life that fills our home.
  4. My Extended Family. We are wacky and slightly crazy, but we are family and I love each one of you. You have all shaped my life in some way and I am grateful for the fingerprints you've left in my life.
  5. A Shelter From the Storm - what a blessing to have a roof over our heads, food on our table, running water and electricity, vehicles that start when we turn the key, and heat when it's cold outside.
  6. My Kingdom Family. There is beauty in the family of God. I am so grateful for my brothers and sisters, united through Jesus, who pour life-giving love, grace and mercy into my life. What a gift you all are.
  7. Okay Dusty. You make the list. You are the best dog EVER. (But don't tell anyone I said that. I have a reputation to keep you know, so now you can leave my feet by the computer and go lay down.)
  8. The Good 'Ol USA - I am proud to be an American and thankful for the freedom and opportunity I receive from living in this great nation.
  9. Health. So many people we know are fighting disease and pain. I feel so unworthy to have not just my health but the health of all my children and my husband. For those who are suffering, we are praying for healing and strength.
I'm sure I could get my list to ten, but I'm stepping out into new and uncharted waters by making a list that doesn't end in a five or a zero. So what are you thankful for? Picture Alli's finger in your face, and start counting! Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Silent Order

My friend Melanie Dobson is a writer. Not just an "oh I like to write" writer, but a real-life author who always is on deadline for another novel. I was glad I met her first and found out what she did later because I would have found her completely intimidating otherwise. She is magical with words, loves research (which I find to be incredible in and of itself because I'd rather bang my head against the wall than do research), and is so humble about her God-given talent.

I have the privilege of praying for her as she writes each book so when they finally arrive in print, I can't wait to get my hands on them. Her most recent accomplishment, "The Silent Order," was the most anticipated for me because I got to help her choose the title. I know. Such a small claim to fame. Anyway, I devoured this book and loved it. Here's the review I posted and I would definitely encourage you all to go read it.

I’ll be honest, when I think of a great read I don’t think “Inspirational Fiction,” but I have never been disappointed by any of Melanie Dobson’s work. I am not at all interested in studying history or reading another mindless love story but Dobson has a way of working magic with her words. She cleverly disguises her history lessons in suspenseful plots with believable characters and while she’s at it, she sneaks in questions we all ask but are too afraid to voice out loud.

In The Silent Order she tackles finding God in times of pain and suffering and brilliantly compares and contrasts two sisters who chose opposite paths to deal with their pain. My mother’s heart resonated with the heroine, Katie Lehman, and her desire to protect her son at all costs in spite of living in a society that promoted peace at all costs. My heart ached with Rollin Wells, the hero, as he wrestled with guilt, shame and grief. Could God really forgive his deepest, darkest secrets and sin?

Dobson drew me into this suspenseful story within the first handful of pages and I literally read the book cover to cover in a matter of hours. I found myself continually flipping back to the first couple of chapters, amazed at how Dobson connected the dots of her plot in unexpected ways. Without trying, I learned about the Amish culture, the Mafia of the 1920’s, and God’s redemptive power to heal, forgive, and make all things new. This is one story I did not want to end.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Studying in Africa by Grant Stilp

Grant wrote this writing sample recently in fourth grade. The assignment was to draft a creative writing piece using assigned vocabulary words in context and to try to spell everything correctly. I could only find one misspelled word. Here's what he wrote (didn't he do good?).

"Studying in Africa

This is my third day in South Africa on the Boone and Crocket game reserve. I feel peculiar with all these pros. I yearned to get out and tag all these animals. The leader was bewildered when I tranquilized an elephant, a leopard, and an endangered vulture all in one week. We made a bargain that I would tranquilize and they would collar and track. All the pros were impressed with my skills. Thank you for reading this see you soon.

Grant Stilp"

Friday, November 5, 2010

An Original Masterpiece

Kaitlin's 3rd grade class took a field trip to the Portland Art Museum today. They've been studying self portraits in art lit so why not take a few hours off school and go to a real museum to look at real self portraits? (There was no photography allowed, so I have zero pictures to prove I was actually there.)

We arrived a few minutes before the museum opened. We made the courtyard look more like a zoo than a museum as the handful of chaperones tried to corral fifty 3rd graders who had just survived a jerky, nausea-inducing, 45 minute bus ride. The kids climbed on and over the benches, stuck their hands through the metal fence that cordoned off a statue garden, chased each other and slid down the railing of the stairs.

At exactly 10:00, the museum opened and well-dressed, softly spoken museum employees calmly walked out to meet the madness called third grade. They quietly introduced themselves, separated us into groups of 12 students with their chaperones, and guided us into the exquisite lobby. I'm not sure what our "docent's" (the fancy word for teacher guide) name was because she never spoke above a controlled whisper and I couldn't hear her over the initial din of our group. But she was lovely, sophisticated, well-spoken, and very good with children. She made a point of squinting at their name tag to call each child by name when they answered a question, laid down the museum rules in such a liltingly beautiful voice that the kids didn't even know they were being told what to do, and pretended not to notice how their dirty sneakers, jeans and graphic T's didn't exactly blend into the perfection of museum life.

Over the next hour, she guided us into several different galleries choosing one portrait out of each gallery to stop and muse over. She explained to us that the information card for each piece provided details such as when the piece was created, who created it and how. She told us each portrait tells a story and showed us how to look for the story in the background, the wardrobe, and the accessories. She defined "medium" as the tool the artist chose to create the piece and "palette" as the scheme of color. She also told us that every piece we saw was a masterpiece. It was one-of-a-kind, unique, and personally created by the artist. What made each portrait valuable was the fact that it was the original. No copies allowed on these museum walls. If we looked closely, but not too closely to set off the alarms, we could see individual brush strokes and cracks in the paint, indications that these paintings were truly original masterpieces.

It occurred to me that life is a self-portrait. We use the medium of imperfection and the palette of mistakes and create with our lives a masterpiece only a Daddy could love. But that Daddy, a real Creator, lovingly takes out His art supplies. He grabs His brush of grace and His palette of compassion, mercy and forgiveness and lovely transforms our rudimentary portrait into a masterpiece. He doesn't cover up all the cracks in our paint. Look closely. You can see his brush strokes, making every crack, every color choice, an original masterpiece.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Million Little Reasons

God is hammering home the "little things" lesson. Friday morning was not a good morning with the kids. I was fighting valiantly for my attitude and some semblance of order in my home and was still contemplating putting the kids up for adoption before lunch time. But in God's perfect timing, I only had to maintain my sanity until 3 p.m. because that was the magical hour when I dropped all four kids and our dog off at our friend's house to have 24 blissful hours with just my husband. (HUGE shout-out to Bucky and Britta for taking our crew). I was so discombobulated from the crazy morning that I forgot to bring several key items on my list of things to pack, primarily the reward certificate (thanks Dad and Marcy!) that we needed to check into our hotel. OOPS. Thankfully Curt was able to retrieve the certificate from his email and print it at the hotel. Little things.

We dined at a lovely little restaurant called Park Kitchen. Located on Park Avenue in the Pearl District of Portland, it is cozy, narrow and intimate with maybe seven tables and an open kitchen so the clients can watch the chefs work. The menu is also small with only four seasonal entree' choices. We felt the stress melt away as we munched chickpea fries with squash ketchup and savored our fall-themed, piping hot meals. I forgot how romantic it is to hold hands across a candle-lit table and pour out your soul to the person you love. Little things.

We pried ourselves away from our table and headed out for a walk in the Pearl District. It's been rainy, gray and cold all week, but God chose to give us the most beautiful fall night on record for our date. We walked and talked. Laughed and held hands. Little things.

We stumbled upon a fun consignment store, browsing the racks and shoppers for the biggest show of eccentricity. We walked through Anthropologie, my new favorite store even though I can't afford one thing in it. I loved that Curt didn't roll his eyes or drag his feet over window shopping, something we never do with the kids. Little things.

We stayed at the Embassy Suites on the corner of 4th and Park which is not the epicenter of everything hip and chic in Portland. But we loved the building, originally constructed in 1912 as the Multnomah Hotel, and the location. One block from Burnside, Voodoo Doughnuts, and a couple homeless shelters, it was also surrounded by ethnic restaurants, old stores and crazy beautiful buildings. We took the long way walking back to our hotel and soaked in the culture and diversity surroundings us in both the buildings and the people we passed on the street. Little things.

We slept in and rolled out of bed to go for a leisurely run on the riverfront "esplanade" (a fancy way of saying sidewalk). I can count on one hand the number of times Curt and I have been able to run together. Little things.

Our hotel hosted a complimentary happy hour and breakfast buffet. We expected cereal and some stale muffins for breakfast and were blown away with the delicious food that awaited. Made-to-order omelets with fresh ingredients, pancakes, bacon, sausage, juice, coffee, fruit, cereal, pastries, oatmeal.... I think we tried one of everything and it was all delicious. Little things.

We read our Bibles in blissful silence in our posh hotel suite. I'm not sure why I was surprised when my devotional reading for the day was about little things. I'm not kidding. The author talked about how raising kids who love Jesus and impact God's kingdom positively requires a bazillion little decisions every day to plant seeds of Godliness in their lives. The little things we do often don't have immediate results, but eventually those little seeds produce growth. I was so blessed by God's affirmation to me to keep pressing on in mothering, especially in the little things.

After we checked out of our hotel, we hit the Saturday Market. Row after row after row of vendors hawking hats, mittens, shawls, clothes, jewelry, pottery, incense, hand-carved bowls, bags and myriads of other items. We walked up and down the rows and glanced through every booth, because we could. One vendor we found made rings out of vintage buttons that were beautiful and unique. Another vendor made rings from discarded silverware and from keys of vintage typewriters. We couldn't resist and bought a J ring to remember our weekend. Little things.

The weather was gray and drizzly, but it seemed fitting for the Portland Saturday Market in late October. We bought lunch from two separate food carts and ate outside serenaded by a Mexican street band. We watched people dance in the street and enjoyed the sharp contrast between the cold drizzle and the piping hot food we were enjoying. Our last stop was at Pure Cafe' for "organic coffee." For the record, it didn't taste any different to me, but the cafe' was in a really cool old building and the ambiance added to the experience.

We were much more relaxed and laid back when we pulled into the Buchstaber's driveway to gather our brood. 24 hours of alone time left us both satisfied and deeply fulfilled. A crazy scent of incense and ethnic foods lingers on my sweatshirt, a fun reminder of an amazing day. I love my husband for a million little reasons and I thank God for a chance to spend the last 24 hours reflecting on a whole bunch of them.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Little Things Follow Up

Apparently my lesson on Little Things was so life-transformational that the kids forgot everything I said in less than 24 hours. The evidence was the tsunami-like condition of every room they visited in the first two hours this morning. I caught myself raising my voice and internal temperature about to explode, so I gave myself a time out to pray and practice deep breathing.

When I emerged, I called a family meeting. I stole from my childhood and defined obedience as "doing WHAT you're told, WHEN you're told, with a HAPPY HEART." I even taught the kids a little song about obedience my Mom made us sing when we were kids. Added bonus - it spells out obedience so they got a spelling lesson too.

I also stole from 1-2-3 Magic for Christian Parents and told the kids in a happy voice, "I'm happy to do your work for you. But I charge $1 per incident." And then I charged two Stilp children for cleaning up breakfast dishes that had been sitting there all morning. Little do they know I'm stashing all the money I'm making off them back in the "allowance" envelope to dole out later.

Then we made a poster. On one side we listed "Kids" and I spelled out everything that makes my blood boil. We wrote out "throw garbage away, don't drop your backpack and shoes by the front door, clean your room, clear, rinse and load your meal dishes, be kind and considerate, etc.etc." On the other side we listed out "Mom and Dad" little thing areas to work on. The kids were super happy to make suggestions for this list. We wrote down, "don't raise your voice, don't talk too much, be slow to get angry, slow to speak and quick to listen, show grace and mercy." Then I added "be consistent, be just," and a plethora of other parenting ideas that the kids weren't so keen on.

We nailed our poster to the wall in our hallway and I'm hopeful that having a daily reminder will enable all of us do better loving each other with the little things.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Little Things

The kids had the day off school today and the morning wasn't smooth. While I battled controlling my temper, I realized that it was the little things they do or don't do that make me alternate between wanting to jab a pen in my eye and nominating them for Child of the Year. I ran the mental list of all the little things they haven't been doing when God stopped me dead in my tracks and asked me, "What little things are you doing to show them you love them?" Ouch! I confessed my sin and asked God to redirect our day.

I sat down later this afternoon to spend time with God. Two days ago we finished reading the book of Jeremiah and I gotta say, I'm not a huge fan. The 52 chapters in the book of Jeremiah have felt long and arduous for me. Of course Grant, our nine year old son who is also reading the Bible cover to cover with us, thought Jeremiah was the bomb. He loved all the fury and wrath and God coming down to kick butt and take names. I mentioned to him that I was not finding any easy life-application points from my time in this book. He looked at me with surprise and said, "Well that's simple Mom. Don't do evil or God will (then he gets theatrical and turns on his evil voice and flails his arms really big) DESTROY you."

The book after Jeremiah is Lamentations, a five-chapter funeral dirge mourning the destruction of the nation of Israel. It was with a just-get-it-done attitude that I dug out my Bible today to plow through the required two chapters. And what do you know? In the midst of the funeral song and in spite of my bad attitude, a beautiful ray of sunshine that I didn't expect or deserve. Listen to Jeremiah's prayer to God from Lamentations 3:22-23, "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

All day God had been teaching me and the kids about the little things. Leave your Cheetos wrapper in the back yard and incur the wrath of Mamma Can't-Stand-Mess. Clear your plate and put it in the dishwasher without being asked and handfuls of M&M's and hugs of adoration abound. Moan and groan about how miserable your kids are making you and have the spotlight turned to your own ugliness. Choose to see how amazing your kids actually are and BAM! A beautiful verse in the center of sadness and grief.

God, your compassions are new every morning and sometimes need to be renewed every hour of every morning and throughout the day. Thank you for the little things You do in my life every day to remind me of your unfailing compassion. I agree with Jeremiah - "Great is Your faithfulness!"

Monday, October 25, 2010

Literally Laughing Out Loud!

I know I should stop plagiarizing this book (Out of the Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker) and I know that those moms who have passive children that always obey the first time, never raise their voice above a whisper, and wouldn't dream of being aggressive, will have no idea why I found this to be so hysterically funny. But for those of us who have been or are the mom chasing their diaperless child down the cereal aisle in Target, it makes us feel normal. Without further ado, here is an excerpt from the gut-wrenching, laugh out loud devotional that I started my day with.

".... Because sometimes, despite your careful strategizing and planning and reading and organizing, your two-year-old takes his diaper off in the middle of Target and runs up the cereal aisle while you scream at him like a mental patient. And sometimes, after you've planned the perfect playdate, your daughter bits your new friend's baby and flushes her phone down the toilet. And sometimes, when your precious firstborn son - the one you read all the baby books for and raised lovingly for ten years - opens a fresh, sassy mouth to you when you are already idling high, you accidentally tell him to get a shovel, go in the backyard, and dig his own grave. This, I don't have to tell you, is behavior Ted Tripp would frown upon in Shepherding a Child's Heart."

You should DEFINITELY buy this book!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Valentines Day - What a Piece of Garbage

My husband is traveling and so I decided to rent a chick flick to watch after the kids went to bed. I settled on Valentines Day because of its cast of big-name celebs and because it looked cute. Can I just say it was a HUGE wake-up call as a mom? I know this post will be controversial and I don't apologize for it one bit.

The producers of the movie are no idiots. They smartly edited it to receive a PG-13 rating to reach the broadest and most influential audience. The movie featured at least ten different couples living their lives in LA on Valentines Day. Of the featured relationships, ONE (count it - ONE) was a happily married couple and the focus was so much on this couple that they got maybe 20 seconds of screen time. The other unmarried couples all woke up beautiful with full faces of makeup and hot lingerie in bed with their "significant" others ready for another quick round before they left for work.

Parents, if you want your kids to think casual sex between people who've known each other all of two weeks is common, okay and everyone's doing it, do nothing. If you want your kids to believe that prostituting yourself to pay your college loans is okay, let them watch this movie. If you want your kids to believe that everyone has sex before marriage, do nothing. If you want your kids to believe the pinnacle of a successful high school relationship is to have sex in a bedroom and not in the backseat of car in the dark, let them watch this movie. If you want your kids to think that a fulfilling sex life is easy, everyone's good at it and it doesn't take any work, let them watch this movie. If you want your kids to believe that they can (wait for it...) choose their sexual partners whether they are same-sex or not and that it's okay, say nothing. If you want your kids to believe that cheating on your spouse is acceptable and doesn't hurt anybody, do nothing. If you want your kids to think that when a spouse cheats, the other spouse feels sad for all of two hours and then joyfully waltzes back to their spouses arms, say nothing. Cause guess what - that's the message they're being sent. In this movie. On magazine covers. In school. In the music they listen to. Through the garbage they watch on TV.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge lover a sex. I think it's amazingly, earth-shatteringly good. God thinks it's good too. After all, He created it and He said everything He created is good. He designed a man's body and a woman's body to fit together in the most intricately beautiful design. But He designed sex to be one MAN, one WOMAN in the protective and nurturing umbrella of marriage for life. In that context, sex is off-the-charts amazing. Outside of that context, it leaves deep wounds and scars. And if you don't believe me, I'd be happy to round up the hundreds of people that I personally know, myself included, who bear the scars from a society that promotes sexual promiscuity.

We live in a country that is supposedly founded on "In God We Trust' but I don't see a lot of that. Parents - be on guard. Protect your kids. Teach them the truth about sex. It's hot. It's wonderful. When you wait. UGH! Let the feedback roll in.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A (Fairly Lame) Ode to Mothers

I'm the "mentor mom" (can I just say I hate that title and it almost made me run in fear?) for my local MOPS group this year. Part of the bounty for the $90 yearly fee was a book called, Out of The Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker. While the cover was cute and enticing, I shoved it in my quiet time bag to read when I found time which I assumed would be never.

My husband has been gone for four days. We have four "spirited" children and this is day four of five that he has been gone. AND it's a Saturday so I had them to myself ALL day long with no school to break things up. I did however ship half of them out for play dates and brought in friends for the half that remained at home. Which took us until about 4 p.m. before I had a meltdown. I sent the kids to their rooms for "quiet time" and myself to my room for a much-needed time out. I read the Word and then dug out the aforementioned book. Can I just say I've been LAUGHING my head off?

I've been accused of being "real" and maybe a bit too honest at times, but I believe strongly that there is freedom in vulnerability and imperfection. I feel like I'm a walking mess and that's WITH a daily dose of the Holy Spirit's power to work through my imperfections. God used this book to help me gain perspective and engage with these four precious treasures that were hand-picked for me to love and train.

Here's a tantalizing nugget from the start of the book. I suggest you run out and get your own copy.

A (Fairly Lame) Ode to Mothers
by Jen Hatmaker

An ode to the marvelous woman called "Mother"
Though not one of us is exactly like another.
From the second we're born to the minute we die
Our preferences are as limitless as stars in the sky.

We might have been perfectly gracious before
But childbirth entered us in the Mommy War.
Rather than letting everyone else be
We criticize parenting that isn't exactly like... me.

So once and for all let me put this to rest
None of us owns the title of "best."
Natural childbirth does not make you a hippy
Epidurals are not just for women who want to feel trippy.
In a bathtub with a doula or in a hospital bed
We all got a baby with limbs and a head.

Nursing is great if nothing goes wrong
But some nipples turn inward and refuse to play along.
This is a choice for each mom - it's her route
So it's just A+B and everyone else can C their way out.

Schedules and timers do not make you cruel
Feeding on demand does not make you a fool.
In the nursery with a monitor or in the family bed
Every chick gets to pick where her baby lays his head.

If I see one more mom roll her eyes at "organic..."
"Partially hydrogenated" throws some of us into panic.
But neither judge Sonic burgers and fries
Some of us just want to enjoy food before we die.

Preschool, home school, public, or MOntessori
Listen, my friends, and I'll tell you a story;
Two moms differed on favorite school trends
their kids turned out pretty much the same. The end.

If a girl gets the title of "mom" accidentally
The worst thing we can do is treat her judgmentally.
How about some love, some help, some advice?
She needs our love and we shouldn't think twice.

Discipline through various methods will prevail
Look, we're all just trying to keep our kids out of jail.
These things are just preferences, not right or wrong
What matters more is teaching our kids to get along -
To love and to share, to speak gently and kind,
To obey so that mom won't go out of her mind.

Showing them Jesus is our common ground
Teaching them how he can always be found.
He's present in the public school and Waldorf (so trendy)
He's over at Whole Foods but also at Wendy's.
Jesus never cared about these sorts of things
It's our hearts that he wants and the worship we bring.

It's time for us moms to declare a truce
Regardless if we buy Capri Sun or 100 percent juice.
My way is not your way, and your way isn't mine
But both of our kids will turn out just fine.

Rather than judging and looking down our noses
Let's enjoy the common ground motherhood poses.
As believers, we all love the same Lord
We all have children who tell us "I'm bored."

We all need more sleep than these tiny five hours
Most of us struggle to find time for a shower.
We haven't been to the bathroom alone in an age
Our mothers have all told us, "Relax, this is just a stage."

We all love our babies so much we could die
We'd take a bullet for each one without batting an eye.
Though we are different, we're in the same tribe
Motherhood requires a similar vibe -
love and affection, sacrifice and grace
laughter, which keeps the whole mechanism in place.

Though different, by the grace of God, I suspect:
ALL our children will rise up and call us... collect.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

This and That

Kids are hilarious and make me laugh every day. Here are some recent funnies.

Katie (who is 8) got to spend the afternoon with a newer friend. They had a blast, ate a bunch of candy and spend the entire afternoon and evening together. On the way home from church, she said, "This was the best day of my life. I got to play with Jillian, I got to eat tons of candy, and I got to go to church. Can we do that every Sunday?"

Paige (who is 4 1/2 years old) was demonstrating her mastery of the sounds letters make. Only she can't say "rrrrr." It comes out "wha, wha, wha." So she said, "wha, wha, wha, wha. R. Like Wyder (Ryder) in my class and like Grandma Wu (Ru)." She also enjoyed a Sunday afternoon of fun with Jillian's younger sister Miriam and while playing, Miriam gave her a toy Master Card. Paige showed up to check into her Sunday school class carrying an address book in lieu of a Bible and a toy Master Card. When she showed her Sunday School teacher her treasures, the quick witted teacher quipped, "Oh, is that for your tithe?"

Paige's inability to pronounce certain sounds reminded me of one of my favorite kid stories of all time. Our friends, who I've been missing like crazy lately, have four kids and the oldest two are 17 months apart. When they were 2 and 3, neither of them could say the word "yellow." The younger one mispronounced it so the older one decided to correct her and said, "Rachel, it's not lellow. It's wellow."

Grant (9 1/2 years) is eating up studying Native Americans and early settlers in Oregon history. He has lived and breathed learning about Indians since school started. He spent his entire Saturday making a Chinook log house that he engineered planned and executed entirely on his own. I asked him what he wanted to be for Halloween and he said, "An Indian only I don't have the proper apparel."

Paige's friend, Oliver, goes by the nickname Seppie. Now that he's in pre-school, he's super offended that his teacher insists on calling him Oliver instead of Seppie. He told his mom about some prayer time he had with God and said, "Mom, God said to me, 'Seppie, you tell your not-so-nice friend that he's being mean.'" I can't stop giggling about the fact that God calls him "Seppie."

Alli is notorious for saying funny stuff, but hasn't said anything hilarious lately.

I talked to my sister-in-law and got some updates on my nieces who are 13, 12, and almost 10. Apparently they found out at the last minute that the local children's theatre was holding auditions for a production of Annie. All the girls wanted to audition and none of them had time to prep. They all sat in an auditorium and each kid had to sing a song of their choosing in front of the entire crowd. My 12-year-old niece sang "Amazing Grace" and sang one lyric, "that saved a wrench like me." My 13-year-old niece sang "The Star Spangled Banner," one of the hardest songs on earth to sing, and pitched it so high to start that she had to abandon the song midship when it got too high. And my 10-year-old niece sang Taylor Swift "You Belong with Me" and nailed it. I wish I could have been there to hear it and embarrass them by cheering really loudly.

And finally, on a non-kid note, I am not going to run the Boston marathon. I had already decided that it wouldn't work out because Curt is leading a team to Haiti that returns three days before the Boston marathon and I am hoping to join him on that trip. Yesterday registration for Boston opened and it filled up in a record eight hours. In 115 years of hosting this race, it has never filled up so quickly. Rumor has it that they may cut the times women need to qualify for next year's field to reduce the number of people who qualify. I'm grateful God closed that door and am still reveling in His goodness to me to run Portland and enjoy it so much.

Be blessed today!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Boys and Girls

Things found while cleaning Grant's bathroom today: the pre-requisite dried pee all over the toilet seat, lid and surrounding floor area. Mud chunks, mud caked to the floor and mud spatters on the back of the bathroom door. Dried blue spit in the sink. And a burnt out light bulb.

Things found while cleaning the girls' bathroom today: a plethora of hair parties in all shapes and sizes dumped on the bathroom floor. Dried pink toothpaste spit in both sinks. Girly toothbrushes strewn all over the counter. And gobs of already-been-chewed pink gum in the wastebasket.

Very distinct differences. All equally gross.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Portland Marathon 2010

On Sunday I ran the Portland Marathon. 26.2 miles of pure adrenaline, will power, mental and physical energy. It's been four days and as the runner's high starts to wane, the reality of the accomplishment is beginning to set in.

In a way, I'm glad I didn't get excited about this race until two weeks before the gun went off because those two weeks were filled with great anticipation and lots of nervous energy. Saturday was the worst. I spent Saturday morning packing my bag since I was spending the night at my running partner Carissa's house. I got more nervous with each item that I carefully laid out and by the time I crossed the last thing off my list, I was quite certain I might barf from nerves.

We left the kids with a babysitter and Curt and I headed into the city to meet my brother (via my mom's husband) Ben at the runner's expo downtown. We exited into the downtown area and all the street lights were clothed in official "Portland Marathon" garb. The closer we got to the starting area, the more signs we saw and the deeper the pit in my stomach got. We drove by the start area and saw the "Portland Marathon" fencing being installed in the finisher's shoot. The expo was packed with excited runners in all shapes and sizes. I'm always amazed at the variety of people who run. It's a sport that crosses all stereo-types and athletic ability. If you have will power, you can run.

We hooked up with Ben and took the pre-requisite pictures holding our bibs and smiling nervously. The three of us walked up and down the rows of vendors and were bummed by the lack of freebies that are usually standard fare at stuff like this. At the end of one row I found a vendor that was giving away a free plastic cup with a flyer for a Shamrock marathon. Excitedly I told Ben about my find. He came back smirking and holding a stack of three cups. I booked it back to the table and told the ladies, "My brother just got three cups and I only got one. Can I have some more?" To my great delight, they dug into their supply box and gave me an entire stack. You should have seen the look on Ben's face before he burst into the loudest laugh. Scoring those cups and watching him laugh may be my favorite marathon memory aside from crossing the finish line.

The last stop at the expo for me was at the pacer's table. Experienced runners volunteer to pace runners who are trying to attain a certain goal time. They take turns carrying a big red lizard sign with the goal finish time printed in huge white letters. They also offered little wrist bands that listed times for each individual mile and the collaborative time after each mile to stay on pace for that goal. To qualify for the Boston marathon I had to finish in three hours and 45 minutes, a feat I felt was basically impossible. I tried to pass myself off as confident when I nervously picked up a 3:45 pace band and shoved it in my goodie bag.

We shared a meal with Carissa, her husband Tass, and their three adorable sons. For good measure I took seconds of everything she served and then chowed an energy bar before going to bed. I said goodbye to Curt and we prayed that God would calm my nerves and allow me to sleep well in a strange bed the night before a big race. Miraculously, I slept like a rock. That NEVER happens before a race. I was so grateful for that answer to prayer.

I was up by 5 a.m. and even though it was pitch dark, I saw rain drops all over the windows. It was a stormy, rainy and dark morning, not exactly perfect weather to run for hours on end. Carissa and I ate breakfast, took a picture with her self-timer, and hit the road. We picked up her friend Michelle and headed into the city down dark, foggy, rainy roads. We parked a few blocks from the start and were drenched within seconds of getting out of the car. The skies opened, the wind picked up and I couldn't help but think, "This could be a long morning."

We wanted to start with the red lizard 3:45 pace group, but our bibs were pre-printed and color coded based on our estimated finish time from when we registered. We both guessed a 4 hour finish time and that forced us back one corral. Ben ended up in the wrong corral and we never even saw him on race day which was a big bummer. Before the gun went off, we prayed together and asked God to give us strength and power, a good attitude, and an awesome experience together. And then we were off. Running through the dimly lit morning and the pouring rain. Soaking our feet in the streets that were quickly puddling and dodging through openings in the sea of runners. It was glorious.

My wonderful husband got the kids out of bed at 5:45 a.m. and then met my equally amazing Mom and Terry at 6:30 a.m. so they could be in the city for the start of the race. Just like when I ran the Chicago marathon, Curt brought a huge American flag and gave me estimates of where they'd be setting up along the race course so we could find them through the crowd. We ran past our rain-coat clad fans at mile 2 and then back past them at mile 4. They were holding home-made signs and chanting cheers they made up while they were waiting for us. It made me feel so loved. Curt's prayer for me all along has been "that you have the run of your life." Knowing he was praying for me and that so many of my friends were praying too made it even more exciting to be out on the course.

We ran and ran. Periodically I could feel the rain that never let up the entire race pool at the bottom of my running dress and then pour down my legs. We were at the mile five marker when we saw our first red lizard. We were so surprised and we threw ourselves a little party when we caught up to and then passed the 3:50 pace group. Within minutes, the 3:45 group came into view. Carissa and I couldn't believe how much time we were making up. We even tried to slow down to conserve energy, but once we saw that red lizard, we stayed with it. We passed the pace group on a downhill stretch around mile 12 and ran steady and strong through the entire first 13 miles.

Shortly past the half-way mark, I had a little moment with God. The reality of what we were doing washed over me and I got very weepy. I was running a marathon. I was doing it pain free. I was doing it faster than I ever dreamed was possible. And I was doing it with a friend, compatible running partner, and sister in Christ. It was so humbling and exciting all at once and I just burst out, "We're doing it Carissa. We're really doing it. All Glory to God, we're having the race of our lives."

Around mile 15, the 3:45 pace group caught up with us. We were in a section of road where the width of running space was very narrow. The crowd enveloped us and when I looked back, I couldn't see Carissa. I knew she was getting tired and was thinking of slowing her pace just a tad, but I didn't want to run without her. I kept looking over my shoulder trying to find her in the crowd, but I never saw her again until the finish. I ran the rest of the race by myself, but prayed for Carissa the entire time.

The pace group passed me climbing the big hill up to St. John's bridge, but I passed them coming down the other side. I expected to fall apart around mile 20, but my strength remained. I saw my family again at mile 21. The kids were drenched, cheering loudly and appeared to be having a ton of fun. At one point shortly before mile 23, I prayed, "God, I thought this was going to be tough. I'm not sure what's going on or why I still feel good, but I'm grateful. I know I'll need your strength to finish."

It couldn't have been more prophetic. Within minutes, I felt my legs start tightening up and my body getting tired. I was determined to stay ahead of that red lizard so I dug deep, found some mental stamina that I didn't know I had left and pressed on. Those last three miles were T-O-U-G-H. The pace group caught up to me. Then passed me. And proceeded to run further and further ahead. I kept chanting to myself, "Catch that darn lizard. Do not lose sight of the lizard." But around mile 24.5, the lizard disappeared around a corner. I was tempted to quit chasing the dream of Boston qualifier and just finish slowly, but I had one remaining hope: the buffer we had from starting one corral back. I wasn't sure how much of a lead they had on me but I knew if I didn't slow down, I still had a chance to qualify for Boston.

Our bibs were printed with our names on them and the closer I got to the finish line, the more fans I encountered who were kind enough to read my name on my bib, see that I was struggling and cheer for my by name. They hooped and hollered, encouraged me to pass the boys, and told me the finish line was just around the corner even though I knew they were lying. I saw the big mile 25 marker and figured I'd need at least ten minutes to finish the race. The red lizard was long gone and it was with fear and trembling that I checked the time on my garmin. It said, "3 hours 33 minutes." I couldn't believe it. If I pulled out all the stops, there was still a chance. It felt a bit like Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber when the married woman he'd been chasing all the way to Vail said his chances of being with her were one in a million and he gleefully replied, "So you're saying I have a chance?"

I really am not sure how I finished the last one.point.two miles without crawling. I was completely and entirely spent on all levels, but by the grace of God, the blue Portland Marathon fencing appeared and I entered the finisher's chute. I heard someone scream my name and pressed up against the fence cheering wildly was my husband, my children, and our good friends, the Buchstaber's. I rounded the corner, spotted the finisher's mat and heard someone else scream my name: my mom and Terry. It makes me cry just typing this - I felt so loved and treasured that these people would give up their Sunday morning, get soaking wet, schlep kids and snacks and home-made signs through the city to watch me chase a dream.

I have never been so glad to see a finish mat. I stomped on the mat with my shoe and pushed stop on my Garmin. 3 hours. 43 minutes. 57 second. I squeaked into a Boston qualifying time with two minutes to spare. How is that possible?!?!!?

Apparently I looked as bad as I felt and within seconds of finishing had a volunteer ask me if I needed medical assistance. I assured her I was okay and pushed my way to the food tables. I claimed my finisher's shirt, got my picture taken and somehow ended up with two finisher's medals which made me laugh given the cup incident with Ben. Carissa finished just minutes behind me - her first marathon and she finished in 3 hours and 49 minutes. What a stud!

We all hooked up with our families and eventually headed home. By that time I was shivering uncontrollably, noticeably limping, and flushed and queasy for the next four hours. I was positive I would never run another marathon even if you paid me and was not at all interested in running Boston. But that was four days ago. I don't have a muscle that hurts any more, I'd like to go for a run tomorrow, and I've been on the Boston marathon website scoping dates and information. But that's the way runners are - slightly crazy and very driven.

I heard myself being a Braggy Braggerson's to someone last night and was disgusted by the ugliness of it. More than anything, I want to give God the glory He deserves for restoring strength and healing to my knee. For giving me the physical capability to run and the mental energy to enjoy it. For meeting me on my long runs and whispering His love to me through the rain, the trees, the beauty, the sweat and the tears. I am in awe of His goodness to me and can say with the Psalmist, "I run in the path of your command, for You have set my heart free." Thank you Jesus!