Monday, July 30, 2012

Grumbling vs. Grateful - Keenig Creek Campground Summary

This is our "thrilled to be here" (dripping with
sarcasm) face.

Last weekend our family went camping.  Tent camping.  At a small campground with twelve sites total – all tent only and all pack-in sites.  Somewhere around load fifteen, when my muscles were burning from carrying coolers down a steep, rocky trail I found myself questioning WHY we do this.  It’s so much work to pack up, set up, and take down a portable home for seven people (this time nine, since my Mom and Terry joined us) and a dog.  But the fun typically outweighs the negatives, so we keep doing it.  At least twice a summer.

The campground was Keenig Creek Campground nestled along the Wilson River among layers and layers of mountains that make up the Coastal Range.  Amenities included two very smelly outhouses without hand sanitizer.  The end.  There was a pump for water that didn’t have a handle so we had to lug in all our own water and drive out five miles to refill our jugs the next day.

The day we arrived, it was overcast and the sky was spitting.  By dinner time, the spit turned to drizzle.  And just as Curt got the campfire roaring, it started raining.  We huddled around the fire for a while, trying to pretend we weren’t getting soaked, but eventually we called it a day and headed to bed for a “good night of sleep.”  But here’s the problem.

The campground was cut out of thick underbrush and relatively new-growth forest.  Lush vegetation, wild blackberries, and mountain wildflowers surrounded each camp site.  To keep the vegetation from overtaking the sites, the Forest Rangers filled each campsite with thick gravel.  Great idea in theory, but really tough to sleep on.  Even with a camping mat, I felt every rock and tree root jabbing into my back and my side.  

One of the kids started talking in their sleep and yelling about having to go to the bathroom.  It was quite the process to keep her from peeing on the floor of the tent, get her out of the tent, and wake her up enough to teach her how to squat in the woods since the single outhouse was a quarter mile hike from our tent.  Not to mention, she woke everyone in a five-tent radius.  

Sarah wanted our dog to sleep in her little tent, but the dog whined all night.  When we had our potty incident, Sarah gratefully dumped the dog into our tent.  We tossed and turned all night and just as we were finally falling asleep, the kids woke up at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m.

The second night was no better.  We enjoyed our campfire without any rain, and fell sound asleep quickly, in spite of the rocks.  But a few hours later, Curt and I woke to the sound of footsteps right outside our tent, followed by rustling and then clinking of bottles.  It's funny how the thin fabric of a tent feels like a shield of armor when there's clearly an intruder in the camp.

Our "intruder" was a raccoon.  He was digging through our garbage and happily eating our leftovers.  Curt chased him off and after our adrenaline subsided, we fell back to sleep.  Only to be woken again by that same dumb animal.  This time more brazen, he was tearing the garbage bag apart, stringing it from one end of our campsite to the other, and making tons of noise.  Curt scared him off again and then had to go outside and clean up the mess.  Once he gathered all the garbage, he had to haul it up the hill to the parking lot to deposit it a garbage can that locked before coming back to bed.  Good times people.  Good times.

Curt and I love hiking.  We drag our kids on hikes all over Oregon.  They often pretend to despise hiking but once we get going they usually have fun.  Since they woke up at 6 a.m., we had hours and hours of daylight to fill.  After breakfast, we set out for a hike on a clearly marked trail.  

The trail was cut through thick vegetation that was choking the trail, making it barely wide enough for one person to walk on.  The plants were still heavy with dew so our feet were drenched within a few steps.  Some of the ferns were taller than Paige and the poor kid kept getting smacked in the face by low-hanging vines and plants.  Blackberries and thistles tore at our legs and I kept trying not to think of all the wild animals (snakes in particular) that like to live in such thick weeds.  

The kids all have "happy to be here" (dripping with sarcasm) faces too.

Everyone was miserable but we kept plodding along, optimistic that it couldn't possibly be this awful for the entire 1.5 miles.  Kids complained.  Cried.  Argued. Whined.  One even declared that death would be more fun than this hike.  It was loads of fun.  Needless to say, we all threw a party when we finally reached the wide gravel road at the top of the  mountain.  Some water and snacks, a little rest, and a promise that we could take the wide gravel road back made the trail feel a little less evil.  

We gained a lot of elevation in 1.5 miles.
After lunch our entire crew lugged beach gear down to a private swimming hole on the river.  The water was clear and COLD.  We laughed and gasped as one by one, our family got in the water for a refreshing swim.  We even shampooed our hair!  It was a wonderful way to end a day that started off badly.  

The water was awesome!

When we were packing up all our gear and shuttling it back up to the car to go home, I couldn't help but think, "Is it really worth it?  This is so much work!"  

At church that night, the sermon was taken from Philippians 2.  Paul says in verse 14, "Do everything without arguing and complaining."  Our pastor went on to remind us that the opposite of grumbling is gratefulness.  It was a good reminder for our entire family who had perfected the art of grumbling over the course of the weekend.

It takes no effort to focus on all that went wrong on our camping trip.  The sleepless nights, arguing children, outings that didn't live up to our expectations, and the sheer amount of work to create a home for our family in the wilderness.

But we have a lot to be grateful for too.  We fell asleep to the sound of a rushing river and came home to a soft mattress!  Our family is healthy enough to go hiking and swimming and pack huge coolers up and down steep trails.  We can laugh in the face of disaster.  The smell of freshly laundered clothing is a glorious one.  Sarah has a hidden talent of playing bagpipes by tapping on her throat.  She had us DYING laughing with her talent - a highlight for sure!  And we made life-long memories together. We'll be saying, "Remember when the raccoon came through the campsite and we went on that horrid hike.." for years.

Tent camping with nine people and a dog is definitely worth it.  I'm almost looking forward to the next trip.

Friday, July 27, 2012

It's Good to Be in Need

I used to be a Lone Ranger
I left home when I was seventeen and moved 2,000 miles across the country to go to college.  I loved my home and my parents, but I was convinced I could make it on my own.  And I did.   Life changed dramatically for me in the next few years and I adopted a "I don't need anyone, pull myself up by my own bootstraps " mentality.  It was great for survival, but not great for relationship building.

When Curt and I got married, his biggest complaint was my default mode to independence.  Any sort of conflict would sent me into my independent retreat mode.  His gentle plea of "I need you to need me" eventually began to soften my hard edges.

Over the years, I've learned to allow myself to be in need.  There's something so freeing about confiding to a close friend, "My life feels like it's swallowing me whole right now.  I really don't know how I'm going to keep moving forward and hold everything together."

I've also learned to receive help.  It's much easier for me to bring a meal to a friend who is ill than it is for me to allow my friends to do the same for me.  I don't like NEEDING help from anyone.  I LIKE thinking I can manage it all myself.  But that attitude is really pride masquerading as false humility.  It takes tons of humility to say, "Yes, I would love for you to come over and scrub my toilets because if you don't, I have no idea when in the next century they will get cleaned."

Yesterday I had lunch with four of my Sistas from Haiti.  We sat in the shade of a big tree at a park, munched on lunch, and caught up with each other.  Four women from different walks of life and different generations.  Strong women who have supported husbands and raised children.  Successful women who have worked in the real world, some of them rubbing shoulders with really important people.  If anyone has it all together, it would be these women.

the beautiful Sistas I went to Haiti with (and our security team)

But one by one, as we shared about life, the things we revealed were not our triumphs and successes, but the areas in which we're struggling.  The conflicts of our soul.  The struggles of raising kids.  Our fears and insecurities.  The way life can overwhelm us and swallow us whole.  As we shared, the burdens were lifted and a spirit of deep satisfaction descended on our group.  We needed each other. 

Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."  As I lunched with my friends, I knew that nothing could be more true than this.  We finished our lunch by huddling in a group, holding hands, and praying specifically for each other in all our neediness.  I can only imagine what all the people walking by must have thought...

we all need a friend who holds our hand while we march together into the Great Unknown

As we headed back to our cars, one of the Sistas pulled me aside.  She said, "Hey, I'm free tomorrow afternoon.  Can I come over and help you clean your house so it's ready for the two parties you're hosting this weekend?"  Excuse me?  Did I hear you correctly?

My first thought was, "No way!  I'm fully capable of cleaning my own toilets.  I would never wish that on anyone else."  But I remembered how good it feels to help someone in need.  And I remembered how we just talked about how life-giving good friendships are.  And I remembered that I was drowning in things that weren't getting done.  So even though it went against everything in me I said, "Are you sure?  Cause if you are, I'd actually love your help.  I'm not sure when else I'd get it done."

This afternoon we had a cleaning party.  My Sista worked her tail off - sweeping and mopping my filthy floor, wiping down finger-smudged windows and doors, scrubbing dirt off the walls, dusting, vacuuming and making my house look better than it has in months.  While we cleaned, we shared more of our souls.  And before she left, we prayed together.  Can you guess what we prayed about?  Our areas of need.  It was beautiful.

I was so overwhelmed by her love for me that I posted a thank you note on Facebook.  Within minutes another one of our Haiti Sistas replied.  Wanna know what she said?  "A cleaning party?  And you didn't invite me?"  I smiled and replied, "The next time I have a meltdown and need to be rescued, I'll be sure to call you too."

You know what?  It's good to be in need.

What about you?  Have you allowed yourself to receive the love of your friends through acts of service?  Have you reached out to a friend in need and felt the joy of sharing her burden?  If so, will you share with us so we can all be encouraged?

Hiking Saddle Mountain

Shortly after our family moved to Oregon we bought the book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles - Portland by Gerald Butler, and made it our goal to hike through the entire book.

The girls are at soccer camp this week so Grant and I have been hanging out quite a bit.  We decided to use Wednesday to tackle Saddle Mountain, a hike I've been wanting to try for years.  I was expecting an epic adventure with panoramic views and this hike did not disappoint!  It thoroughly lived up to all the hype even with a cloud bank blocking the view of the ocean.

We dropped the girls off early and then headed toward the coast via beautiful country roads.  We stopped at Starbucks for coffee and I bought Grant his first caffeinated coffee.  What on earth am I starting?  We used our time in line to talk about how expensive coffee is, especially the fru-fru drinks that teenagers like.  Then we talked about tipping and how the tip needs to be factored into the expense of the drink.   Grant was all ears and listened intently as I taught him about the service business.  He couldn't believe how expensive tipping is or the fact that the baristas rely on tips as part of their income.  He wanted to know who else gets tips and kept saying, "Now that I'm making money with my job, I'm realizing how much everything costs."  His enthusiasm and blank slate brought me back again to the fact that we have to teach our kids everything.

Fancy coffee in hand, we headed back to the car and drove about an hour to the parking lot of Saddle Mountain Nature Park.  A sign at the trailhead, complete with a map, warned of the perils we could face ahead.  It read, "The challenges of the two mile summit trail include a continuous elevation gain, changes in the weather, and looser footing above the tree line.  For your enjoyment and safety, please keep in mind these guidelines during your hike:  Wear sturdy shoes.  Keep dogs on leash.  Elevation climb 1,630 feet.  No water provided.  Do not pick the flowers.  Stay on the trail."  Our hiking book gave it the most difficult rating and estimated it would take 3.5 hours round trip to complete the hike.

the first view point.  We hiked to the top of the tall mountain behind us.

Grant and I started off slow and steady and maintained our pace throughout the day.  We took the .2 mile view trail at the start and stood open-jawed as we looked at the mountain looming over us that we were about to hike to the top of.  The trail was not for the faint of heart.  We climb, climb, climbed the entire way, enjoying the parts of the trail that were in the thick woods and sweating through the parts that were fully exposed.

We chatted.  Snapped pictures.  Took breaks.  And enjoyed being together. Grant never complained once.  When we got to the saddle, we felt like we were on top of the world.  We got some gorgeous pictures, with the world below us.  And then we kept climbing to the top of the mountain.
maybe 1/3 of the way up the mountain

on the saddle

The last six-tenths of a mile were brutal. Above the tree line, we were fully exposed to the sun and were hiking on loose rock topped by a metal grate to help with precarious footing.  We huffed and puffed and dripped sweat as we slowly made our way to the top.  We passed two buff college boys during this time.  They were standing on the trail trying to catch their breath, sweat pouring off them.  Grant (11 years old) walked right past them and even offered up some "You're almost there" encouragement as we whizzed by them.  I was so proud.

We ate lunch at the top of the mountain, a slight breeze cooling us off.  The view was dizzying and we could see for miles and miles in every direction.  It was epic.  I could have stayed there all day, but we needed to get home so after thirty minutes, we headed back down.

all the views from the top.  So impressive!

The steep descent was more challenging than we anticipated and activated a whole different muscle group than we used to climb to the top.  Grant entertained me by quoting large sections of the movie Up word-for-word, complete with voices for different characters.  By the time we reached the car, our legs were sufficiently shaking and our souls were overflowing from our time together and with our Mighty Creator.
ice cream makes everything better
The ride home was quieter than the way out.  A quick stop at Dairy Queen perked us both up and we spent the rest of the drive rehashing our favorite moments of the hike.  We both agree - the view is worth the effort to see it.  So get hiking!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Brag on God

I just have to to take a second to brag on God.  I have been really challenged with parenting in the past few months.  Consistent behavior patterns in my kids have stretched, challenged and exhausted me on every level. I was at a low point this morning so I emailed my Haiti Sisters to ask them to pray for me and for my kiddos.

Many of them responded with individual notes of love and encouragement.  Several of them typed up the exact things they were praying for me and for my kids.  I was humbled that my friends would so earnestly and quickly pray for me and my children.

One Sista took the time to remind who God is.  She wrote: God is El Roi, the God who Sees you and Hears you.  And He not only sees you and hears you but He Rescues.  He is the God of Peace, of Comfort and of Joy.  He is YAHWEH, the I AM, and everything he is, He will be to you.  I can't tell you how much I needed their encouragement.  I can't tell you how much I needed to be pointed back to truth.  To what really matters.  My friends ministered to me through their emails and I felt my spirit beginning to lift.

Another friend, who had no idea that the last two days have been really rough, sent me a long text message.  The message encouraged me in every parenting weakness I have and reaffirmed her love for my kids.  She took time to point out individual beauty in my kiddos that is sometimes hard to see when entrenched in the battle.  I was so humbled by her love and how what she wrote was EXACTLY what I needed to be reminded of.

My Dad called.  He just happens to be passing through town on Thursday and I get to have coffee with him.  What an unexpected treat.

My eleven-year-old son, who was home alone with me today, noticed that I was engrossed in a work project.  On his own, he made me lunch and then forced me to step away from my project and sit down to eat with him.  A highlight of my day for sure.

My body is healed from all those silly overuse injuries and I was able to bang out some of my frustrations running hill repeats.  A good sweat is always so therapeutic for me.

By the time I gathered my girls from camp today, I was a whole new woman.  Even better, they all had awesome reports of a fun day with no issues - a direct answer to prayers being offered on my children's behalf.

Over and over Jesus loved me through my friends and family today.  His extravagant love humbles me.  I don't deserve it, but I am so grateful for it.  THANK YOU to each of  you who played a part in encouraging me today.  God is so good.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Kids Take Over

Pacific Crest Summary 2012

Every June for the past six years a big portion of my extended family has converged on Sunriver, a resort town in Central Oregon.  We gather to connect as a family and to participate in Pacific Crest, a weekend sports festival with race options for people of all ages and fitness levels.

When we started this tradition, our youngest (Paige) was a baby in a stroller and our oldest was only six years old.  The big event for the kids was the Splash, Pedal, and Dash - a mini triathlon geared to get even the tiniest kids excited about racing.  Pint-sized racers get official race packets that include bib numbers with timing chips, correlating stickers for their bike helmets and bikes, and finisher's T-shirts and medals.  In the past two years, they even started body marking the kids - just like the adult athletes.
The kids the first year all four of them raced

It really is an endearing mass of organized chaos.  Nervous parents herd tired, hot, and confused little racers through crowded transition areas to park and pick up bikes.  Race routes lined with well-trained volunteers keep the kids on the right path and tell them to slow down around corners.  Kids finish under a big arch with an announcer who calls out their name as they finish.  Proud parents and grandparents cry and snap pictures.  What's not to love?

We've watched our kids and their cousins grow up and out of this event.  The only one of our kids who still participates in the Splash, Pedal and Dash is Paige.  The first year Paige "raced" she could hardly get the pedals around on her tiny bike, so she sat on the bike and smiled and waved to everyone while I pushed her for entire mile.  This year she raced the event with three of her younger cousins.  Being the Big Girl was a new experience for her and she rode her two-wheeler by herself, including down the hills and around the corners.  Way to go Paigey!
Cousins at the end of their cold, wet race

Our older kids all decided to run the 5k this year.  The morning of the race, Grant (11 years), Katie (9 years), Alli (8 years), and their cousin Sydney (11 years) lined up at the start with Aunt Sonja and I serving as unofficial chaperones.  Grant ran by himself and finished at a 10:13 pace.  Alli ran the entire race with Sonja and finished at a 10:24 pace.  Katie ran the first part of the race with me, the middle part with Sonja, and the last part on her own.  A natural runner, she wanted to kick it the last mile and try to catch Grant.  Katie finished in an all out sprint, nearly catching Grant in the last seconds.  Sydney and I ran the last two miles together.  We weren't incredibly fast, but we had fun bonding and I loved helping her accomplish a big goal.  Nice job kiddos!
Cousins and siblings at the end of their 5k race

My favorite part of the weekend was watching my older two nieces and my brother relay an Olympic-distance duathlon.  Shane and his girls trained hard for this event.  On race day, Kayla (14 years) would need to bike 28 miles.  Maggie (13 years) would need to run a 10k.  That's a big undertaking for such young athletes, but we all knew they could do it.

The house was a blur of activity on race morning.  Kayla and Shane left to head up to the mountain lake where the race started.  Maggie came with us to cheer her cousins and sister on at the 5k.  When the kids were done with the 5k, we waited for word that Kayla was closing in on the end of her portion of the race.  When we got the text that Kayla was five miles out, we made a mad dash for the transition area.

Our family spread out along the Bike In entrance to the transition area.  Curt spotted Kayla first and yelled up the line, "Here she comes!"  We all started screaming and ringing cowbells.  When I saw the proud smile that consumed her pretty face, I started bawling.  My big brother was right behind her, even prouder than Kayla was.  I'm certain I saw a few tears on his face too.  It was really special.
Shane and Kayla coming in from the bike

While Kayla, Shane, and Maggie were making the tag and transitioning to the run portion, our group ran across the field to the Run Out area and waited for Shane and Maggie to emerge.  Finally they came running through, Maggie with a huge smile of excitement on her face and Shane right on her heels.  She looked so tiny compared to all the other adult racers and I wondered how she'd do running 6.2 miles.
Maggie and Shane heading out on the run

Shane and Maggie ran and we herded our crew to the finish line.  Once there, we set up camp much like we did at the transition area.  When Curt spotted them, he yelled up the line, "They're coming!"  Maggie came flying through the finish.  Like her big sister, her proud smile consumed her face and I was reduced to tears again.  What a huge accomplishment!  Shane, Maggie and Kayla posed for pictures with their medals after the race.  It's obvious from the look of satisfaction on their faces that it was worth every bit of effort they put into their training.
Olympic-distance duathlon finishers

Pacific Crest in the past has been centered around the events the adults were racing, but this year the scales tipped in favor of the kids.  The kids took over and it was awesome to see their skills emerge.  I can only imagine what stories we'll be telling about this event and their accomplishments as the years progress.  Way to go kiddos!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

SURPRISE! It's Your 37th Birthday!

It's no secret that I adore my husband Curt.  After all, it's kind of my job as his wife to think he's pretty great.  But I'm not the only one.  Everywhere he goes - work, play, home, church - people are drawn to him.  I'd like to think it's because he's smoking hot but in reality, it's his character and his humor that attract people to him like moths to a flame.

The last six months have been a season of intensity and change for Curt.  He is being challenged on many fronts and has handled the changes with a depth of integrity that makes me so proud to be his wife.  He recently turned 37 and as I was contemplating what to do for his birthday, I felt God nudge me to just celebrate Curt.  

Every day he pours himself into his relationship with Jesus.  Every day he pours himself into his work.  Every day he pours himself into his marriage.  Every day he pours himself into his children.  Every day he pours himself into the young guys he mentors, the couples we counsel, our neighbors, our families, and his friends.  He somehow finds time to do all this plus exercise, fix things around the house, wrestle with the kids, play Words with Friends, and watch a little ESPN.  He really is my hero.

I felt it was important to rally the troops and give a little love back to a man who gives all of himself and then some to those he loves.  So with less than two weeks notice, I invited his friends via email to come to a surprise birthday party a few days after his birthday.  I wrote, "Hey Everyone.  I'd love to remind Curt what a great man he is and how much God has blessed us.  I've been reflecting lately on how good God has been to our family.  When we moved here four years ago, we knew almost no one.  We spent months introducing ourselves to strangers and building relationships with people that ended up becoming our friends, our neighbors - our family.  Those people are YOU.  In four years we went from zero friends to an army of friends that love and support our family.  How good is God?" Stupidly, I titled the email "Surprise Birthday Party for Curt."

Curt is the master of ruining surprises.  He has a sixth sense about him and can sniff out anything out of the ordinary.  I was certain we would not make it two weeks without him finding out about the party.  The day before his birthday, he busted Sarah and I scheming in her room.  He very confidently asked, "What are you girls doing in there?  Planning my surprise birthday party for tomorrow night?"  I was completely flabbergasted, but those two words, "tomorrow night" gave me hope that he was just bluffing.  So I played along.  "You mean for your milestone 37th birthday?  Why didn't I think of a surprise party.  You'll be awfully disappointed tomorrow night at bedtime when no one comes."

We bantered back and forth, agreeing to invite my Mom and Terry to be guests at his surprise party.  All day on his actual birthday we kept up the joke.  Jumping out and yelling surprise.  Even the kids (who didn't know about the real party) got in on the fun.  When Curt was leaving work to head home, he sent me a text saying, "I'm leaving later than I anticipated but that's okay.  It will give the guests more time to arrive."  We "surprised" him over and over all day long.  It never got old.

Right before we wrapped up his birthday, Curt busted me responding to the "Surprise Birthday Party for Curt" email from one of his buddies.  Instantly and suspiciously, he wanted to know what Jeff and I were emailing about.  I made up a quick story about Haiti and he appeared to believe me.  WHEW!

I was convinced the remainder of the week that Curt knew about the party on Saturday, but decided to keep up the facade on the off chance that he was bluffing.  Curt traveled for work on Friday and I spent the day grocery shopping, prepping food, and stashing it all in our neighbor's refrigerator.  I cued the kids in on the secret on Friday night and swore them to secrecy.

Saturday I waited all day for the comments to start from Curt.  I expected stuff like, "So when are the guests arriving?" and "I can't wait for my party!" but he said nothing.  When we left to go out for dinner, he still said nothing.  We talked and ate and he seemed completely oblivious.  Halfway through dinner I realized he really had no idea that people were congregating at our house by the dozen to surprise him.  

I put my phone on vibrate and texted updates to the babysitter under the table.  When our meal was taking forever, I snuck off and told our waitress to hurry things up.  I ate as fast as I could without being suspicious and hustled him out of the restaurant with fifteen minutes to get home.  If we didn't encounter any traffic, we'd arrive right on time for the party.  But then he said these tragic words, "I saved the best part of the date for last.  That's right babe.  I'm taking you to Auto Zone on the way home.  I need to get a part for the trailer."  

NO STINKIN WAY!  Auto Zone?  Auto Zone was literally right on the way home.  I couldn't think of a reasonable excuse not to stop.  As soon as we entered the store, I snuck off down the car care aisle and sent a text to the crowd at home letting them know we'd be a few minutes late.  But then Curt couldn't find the part he need.  He doesn't like to be rushed so he stood in the parts aisle FOREVER,  hemming and hawing, grunting and groaning, and mumbling under his breath.

The more he deliberated, the antsier I got.  I sent text after text.  "He can't find the part.  He won't leave.  Oh no.  He's getting frustrated."   I was almost over on my data plan, so I threatened to download lots of data on my phone if he didn't make a decision and leave.  It worked, but at that point we were fifteen minutes late and our house was filled with over fifty people.

waiting to jump out and surprise Curt
When we pulled into our neighborhood, it was obvious someone was having a party.  Cars lined both sides of the streets for two blocks, including our cul de sac.  Curt's immediate comment was, "Whoa!  Someone's having a party!"  I agreed and wondered aloud who it could be.  Then he saw some cars he recognized.  "Wait a minute.  That's Jordan and Crystal's car.  What?  What are you up to?"  Somehow I kept my cool and said, "Maybe they thought they had premarital counseling tonight.  I don't know.  I guess we'll know in a second."

But he kept recognizing cars.  And he was driving so I couldn't make him pull into the driveway any faster.  I kept lying, even though the light was going on for him.  When we opened the door and he saw streamers, he knew what was going on.  People jumped out from closets.  Around corners.  From bedrooms and behind doors.  SURPRISE!!!!!!!!  It was awesome!

After we sang Happy Birthday and ate dessert, Jeff (the guy I was emailing with) gathered our friends, put Curt on a chair in the middle of them, and asked our friends to share with the group how Curt has impacted their lives.  One by one, men stood up and affirmed the eternal impact Curt is making on the world around him.  

Young men with absent fathers testified that Curt is the dad they never had.  Leaders from our church affirmed Curt's stout-heartedness and his devotion to Jesus.  His friends bragged on the example he sets as a father.  Young couples affirmed the example he sets as a godly husband.   Sometimes we just need to be reminded that we ARE making a difference.  When people were done sharing, Curt's friends and mentors prayed for him.  It was powerful.   After the guests left, Curt sat down and read more words of affirmation through the letters people brought.  I think he smiled for days.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this party a success.  Thank you to all our friends who embraced us as newbies four years ago and have made Oregon home.  Thank you to Jesus who has redeemed our lives and made us who we are today.  And thank you to my awesome husband, Curt.  It is a privilege to share life with you.  SURPRISE!  It's your birthday!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Be Strong and Courageous, and Do the Work!

Grant receiving an award at the
end of 5th grade
Grant - our oldest - will be starting junior high in the fall.  I really can't believe it.  I've written a bazillion blog posts in my head about this fact alone - none of which made it to paper.  These kids just don't stop growing up.

Last year he went to boys camp at Twin Rocks.  We made him contribute $100 of his own money toward the cost of camp.  He protested wildly, but came home from camp convinced it was worth every penny.  He has spent the last twelve months scooping dog poop for our neighbors and saving birthday money and allowance money to make enough to go back to Twin Rocks.  When we registered him for camp this year, he gladly forked over his $100 even though it basically cleaned out his bank account.  He knew it was worth it.

But then he went to his first junior high youth group meeting.  When I picked him up, he was jacked up on candy and pancakes.  He also couldn't stop talking about The Grand Tour, a week of junior high camp, Solid Rock style.  He just HAD to go.  I agreed, until he told me it was $245 per kid.  I looked at my cute boy - eyes all lit up and excited - and said, "Well son, get a job."  He deflated before my eyes and said, "But Mom.  I'm only eleven.  What can I do?  Who would hire me?"

We discussed his skill set: Dog Poop Scooper, Pet Sitter (except when he accidentally kills the expensive frog of the boy next door but we're certain that won't happen again), Weed Puller, Newspaper Picker-Upper, and Plant Waterer.  We both agreed these skills were not going to net $250 in six weeks.

I've been wanting him to learn to mow the grass for two years, so I told him we'd teach him how to mow and then he could add Lawn Mower to his list of skills.  He agreed and we sent our neighbors an email marketing his skills.  By the next day, he had a summer job mowing the grass and monitoring the chlorine level in our neighbor's hot tub.  SCORE!  (By the way - we have the best neighbors ever.)

Sarah - who is lovely in every way - wanted to help Grant out.  So she hired him to wash her car, inside and out.  He had never washed a car before, so she put him on the phone with her Dad.  Mr. Wilmot talked strategy on how to wash a car, gave Grant a list of supplies he'd need to do the job well, and suggested that he write up a pamphlet advertising his skills.  Grant took detailed notes and then Sarah took him to the store.  They came back equipped with everything needed to clean Sarah's car and then got to work.  Two and a half hours and one epic water fight later, Sarah had a clean car,  Grant had $20, the title Car Washer, and an idea for a new company.

He used his notes from his brainstorming session with Sarah and Mr. Wilmot to write up an advertising brochure.  Once it was complete, he asked me to be the Marketing Manager for Grant's Car Care Company.  I took his advertising campaign and blasted it on Facebook.  He wrote:  

Dear Customers:  I am glad that you have decided to get your car washed by Grant's Car Care Company.  I am open most weekdays 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., but weekends are available by appointment only.  I will wash and rinse the outside of your car and do the tires, vacuum the inside and do windows from the inside.  Bring your cars to my house to have them washed.  I charge $15.00 to have your car both washed and vacuumed, or $7.50 for either/or.  An average inside and out takes an average of 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 and a half hours depending on the condition your car is in and the size of your car.  Quality is my goal, so time may vary.  Call or email if you are interested or want to learn more.  I'll see you there!  - Grant Stilp

Within minutes of posting, he had his first customer.  And they kept coming.  I had to print off his schedule so he could keep track of everything.  He got jobs mowing grass, picking up newspapers, walking dogs, and washing cars.  His face was one big smile.  Isn't God good that way?

The car washing made me nervous.  I was pretty certain I would have to be outside monitoring his work, helping him, and making sure he did it correctly.  But Grant didn't want me anywhere around Grant's Car Care Company.  He was the owner and operator and he had it under control.  His first car took him two hours.  I almost fell over when I came to inspect it.  It was perfect - like a professional had detailed it.  The owners thought so too and even gave him a tip.  

He washed a car on Thursday.  Then one on Saturday.  Sunday morning he got up at 7 a.m. so he could wash a car and have it finished before we left for church at 9 a.m.  He did it all without complaining, finishing each car to perfection.  Today he washed two cars and experienced his first frustration with having a job.  He ran out of car soap and the back-up soap didn't get sudsy enough for his liking.  He felt he wasn't "delivering a great product" and then had to buy another jug of soap with his own money.  The plastic attachment on the hose broke so he and Curt had to fix it after dinner instead of play, because Grant has three cars on the schedule for tomorrow.  It's a lot of work being a business owner.

At bedtime tonight Grant was tired and discouraged.  Big plans require big work.  I gave him a little pep talk about persevering and working hard and then put him to bed.  When I sat down to read my assigned Bible reading, I had to laugh.  

I Chronicles 28 summarizes King David's desire to build a temple for the Lord.  God said, "No.  I gave you the vision, but I want your son Solomon to do the work. " So King David used the latter part of his life to lay the groundwork for Solomon to do the job well.  David drew up plans, organized supplies, and put things in order.  Then he called Solomon in for a meeting and gave him the plan.  After David finished his careful instructions, he said to his son, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you.  He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished."

I wrote the verse out on a 3x5 card with an "I'm so proud of how hard you're working" note to give to Grant in the morning.  I know he'll be encouraged.

I don't know what work you have facing you.  But I do have a message for you. Be strong and courageous, and do the work.  Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Off to Camp - Katie's Turn

Yesterday we drove Katie to Twin Rocks Camp for a week of Girls Camp.  Nestled in an cozy corner of Tillamook Bay on the Pacific Ocean, it's a paradise for kids.  Last year when we dropped Grant off for boys camp, I was an emotional train wreck.   But as in all things first-born related, he paved the way into the unknown making Katie's drop off a little less heart-breaking.  I think we were all relieved there were significantly less tears this year.

Katie saw how much fun Grant had at camp and immediately started saving her money so she could go to camp this year.  She pigeon-holed birthday money, allowance money, and pet-sitting money over the last ten months.  When it came time to register for camp, she very proudly transferred $100 from her savings account to apply toward the fee.  That's a lot of money when your parents only pay you $5 every two weeks in allowance!

The night before Katie left for camp, Curt and I sat at the kitchen counter writing notes for her to open during camp.  I taped them to huge packs of candy and snacks (I'm sure her counselor will love me for that one) and tearfully packaged them up in a bag.  A week is a LONG time to be away from home.

I wondered how she'd feel about going to bed on her own without Curt or I snuggling her, praying with her, and going through our nightly routine.  Maybe she wouldn't care or notice.  But I knew I would.  The house feels empty without her.

I pictured Katie enjoying an entire week of relative freedom.  One full week of playing with friends, choosing how much to eat and what to eat, deciding on her own if she'll shower and when.  One full week without me reminding her to brush her hair and her teeth, make her bed, pick up her room, and be nice to her sisters.  It's her first big taste of freedom.

I wondered how much of what she packed will actually make it back home and how much will end up in the charity donation pile.  My sweet Katie is not known for being organized!

I worried about Katie getting hurt.  Or stung by a bee (she's allergic).  Would she be brave and cry quietly?  Or fall apart because I'm not there to kiss it better?  It's my job to do that stuff, not a strange nurse.

I wondered about the friendships she'll make.  Will they be life-long?  Will there be girls that test her ability to be kind even when she's frustrated?  How will she handle living in close quarters with so many new friends?

But most of all I wondered about what God will do in her heart and mind while she's at camp.  How will she grow in her knowledge of who Jesus is?  How much He loves her?  Will she come back with a greater understanding of God's plan for her life?  Will she begin to see how uniquely created and treasured she is?  I sure hope so.

Sunday morning Katie loaded her bazillion bags into the back of the Sequoia.  She had her bag of clothes, her pillow, her treat bag, her Bible/journal bag, her sleeping bag, and a big bag of random stuff she added at the last minute.  She's such a girl!

As we drove the rugged Coastal Range toward camp, our family bonded.  We laughed.  Sang.  Drove through every campground scouting future camp sites.  Teased.  Laughed.  And tried to guess what Katie would be doing each day at camp.  At one point, when she needed to take a potty break, Curt quipped, "It's okay.  It's cool to pee your pants."  When the Twin Rocks Camp sign came into view, we all hooped and hollered.  Curt leaned on the horn and was in rare form with his corny jokes, making all the counselors and staff laugh.

Katie connected quickly with her friends Madelynn and Tori.  We were all relieved to find out they were in a cabin together.  Just having one friend can make all the difference in a camp experience.

When Katie posed by the "Welcome to Girls Camp" sign with a HUGE smile, I felt the emotions come hard and fast.  My baby girl is growing up.  She's off to camp for an entire week and she's equipped to do well.  I'm proud of the sweet young woman she's morphing into, but growing is painful.  Maybe more so for the parents who have to let our kids test their wings.

I asked my Haiti Sisters to pray for Katie this week.  Somehow knowing that other mommas are lifting my daughter to the King makes it easier to let her go.  I invite you to join us in praying.  Not just for Katie, but for all those precious daughters that are away from home for an entire week.  Will you pray that in this week of freedom and growth they make life-long friends, are safe, and that they meet Jesus face-to-face in a "my life will never be the same again" way?