Birthdays and Deathbeds

I am by nature, an introvert. I really enjoy people, but my social tank gets filled up rather quickly, and I tend to get more energized with solitude. This introversion has progressed especially since becoming a mama, and I find that my word quota is maxed out by about 5:30 every evening. I end up with nothing left to give socially, and no desire to receive much, either. There are days that I’d like to hide away (there are days that I do hide away) instead of interacting with others. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeding my introvert on occasion – to re-energize – but there is danger in over-indulging, and believing that I can do this life thing on my own. (In the same way there is danger in extroverts depending completely on the company of others for survival.)

Years ago, a favorite professor gave me a book of poems as a graduation gift. I enjoyed reading the book partly because I appreciate poetry, but mostly because reading it gave me a sense of belonging in the midst of post-college obscurity. I had just completed a (worthwhile, but not monetarily valuable) degree in writing. Shockingly enough, I didn’t have mobs of publishers clawing at my door, begging for my work; I just had a lot of…time.

In the quiet of a coffee shop, I sat reading each poem, feeling rather sophisticated as I sipped on my cappuccino (pinky extended, I’m sure) pretending to understand the deeper meaning behind each verse. But there was one poem in particular (that I really did understand) that spoke to me, and through the years has shaped my life in some way. It’s challenged my introverted tendencies (like sitting in a coffee shop all by myself with my nose in a book). It has often floated into my mind on occasions when I’ve felt tempted to retreat inward rather than reaching out to others and embracing what feels exceedingly uncomfortable. There have been many times that I’ve wanted to share this poem with friends, but didn’t know how to do that without ostensibly sticking my nose in the air. (Poetry has a way of doing that, you know.)

But today is my birthday. And birthdays (deathbeds, too, I suppose) give platform to a good commemorating speech, without the interruption of opposing opinions from the audience, and maybe even receiving a few humoring nods of agreement.

So for my birthday, I’d like to (virtually) recite this poem. Not to try and teach a lesson, or to convince the world that because I’ve read it that I have somehow managed to become what it says (any more than watching a YouTube video on self-defense makes me a black belt). I want to share it because it’s shaped me. I still struggle. There are days when I close all my blinds and lock the door. Days that I want to run fast and far because relationships are hard and messy and hermit life sounds a lot safer. I just want to share it because it’s been so impactful on my life, and today I celebrate life.

Chances are, I’ll probably recite it on my deathbed, too.

house by the road

The House by the Side of the Road

Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn

In the place of their self-content;

There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,

In fellowless firmament;

There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths

Where highways never ran –

But let me live by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

 

Let me live in a house by the side of the road,

Where the race of men go by –

The men who are good and the men who are bad,

As good and as bad as I.

I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,

Or hurl the cynic’s ban –

Let me live in a house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

 

I see from my house by the side of the road,

By the side of the highway of life,

The men who press with the ardor of hope,

The men who are faint with the strife.

But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears

Both parts of an infinite plan –

Let me live in a house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

 

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead

And mountains of wearisome height;

That the road passes on through the long afternoon

And stretches away to the night.

But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice.

And weep with the strangers that moan,

Nor live in my house by the side of the road

Like a man who dwells alone.

 

Let me live in my house by the side of the road –

It’s here the race of men go by.

They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,

Wise, foolish – so am I;

Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,

Or hurl the cynic’s ban?

Let me live in my house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

 

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Christmas 1 and Christmas 2, Too.

I read this excerpt by Dale Kiefer last Christmas, and when I finished, that little proverbial light bulb over my head flickered on. It was an aha moment that set me flying free in truth.

At the time, all I had known about the author was that he was my friend’s dad. But this Thanksgiving, Dale and his wife Pat opened their home to us and our relationship with them shifted quickly from distant acquaintances to something like family.

This little article has offered much clarity, especially during this season.

A Tale of Two Christmases

By, Dale Kiefer

A couple years ago when I was going through my annual Christmas depression, I finally figured out how this Christmas thing is supposed to work. I had always thought that the Christmas we celebrate in America was somehow connected to the birth of Jesus Christ. It isn’t.

It dawned on me one day that there are two holidays, both called “Christmas,” happening simultaneously. The first one is celebrated by just about everybody in the United States where it is basically nothing more than a winter holiday, which is what most people call it anyway. I’ll call it Christmas-1. The second one is celebrated by Christians, as they contemplate the reality that God visited this planet in the form of a baby born in a small barn in Israel. I’ll call it Christmas-2.

Occasionally Christmas-2 intrudes into the first, like when Christ-focused Christmas carols are played on the radio. Sometimes Christmas-1 intrudes into the second, like when churches put up Christmas trees in their sanctuaries. By-and-large, however, the two are quite separate, but hardly anybody seems to notice. Most people go through life confused, thinking that there is only one Christmas, and Christians especially get all worked up every year because the holiday is so commercial. It would help if they would understand what I finally realized about the two Christmases.

For instance, ever since I was a small child I have heard plaintive calls to “put Christ back into Christmas.” Frankly, I don’t think He was ever part of Christmas-1, so there is no point in trying to put Him back into it. We should not be duped into thinking Christmas-1 has ever been a Christian holiday merely because the Lord’s name is the primary part of the word “Christmas.” Somewhere back in history, people decided to Christianize a secular celebration on December 25, but it remained essentially a secular holiday with an increasingly commercial emphasis. It’s the name “Christmas” that confuses so many people. It actually has nothing to do with Christ.

I know all about the well-intentioned but strained metaphors that people attempt to attach to Christmas-1. They see Christian imagery in candy canes, Christmas trees, gift-giving, Santa Claus, etc. We put angels and stars on top of our trees, apparently trying to convince ourselves that it is all about Jesus. It’s not. It’s humanistic and commercial. Besides, it’s not even Jesus’ birthday anyway. Based on biblical and archaeological evidence, He was born sometime in the spring or summer of the year.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Christmas-1. I like our Christmas tree, the special foods, the gatherings of family and friends, the TV shows and movies, and the gift exchanges. I have pleasant memories of past Christmas-1s. I am not surprised that people are shying away from calling it Christmas, and using terms like “Winter Holidays” and “Company Designated,” as my employer does. Yet, I think it’s kind of goofy to avoid calling it Christmas, for the obvious reason that that is what December 25 is. Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored or relabeled. Nonetheless, if people someday cease to refer to December 25 as Christmas, it will be disappointing, but it should not bother Christians all that much.

Now, concerning “putting Christ back into Christmas,” He has never been out of Christmas-2, so we don’t need to put Him back. He always was and always will be in it. He is the central and only message about it. The secular world can do whatever they want with Christmas-1, but they are unable to touch Christmas-2. We can celebrate Jesus’ birth anytime, and we don’t need the stuff associated with Christmas-1. If I could influence things, I would change the day to sometime in the middle of the year to help reduce the confusion, but no one is asking for my opinion about that.

Our problem is that we have hopelessly co-mingled Christmas-1 and Christmas-2, so we are confused and conflicted. We try to create the “Christmas spirit,” which has a lot more to do with Christmas-1 than with Christmas-2. If we are depressed at this time of year, it almost certainly is not because of the birth of Christ, but because of painful memories or the sadness of lost relationships and longings for irretrievable places and events from past Christmas-1s. If we are happy, partying, decorating and running up our Visa bills, that, too, probably has nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, and everything to do with Christmas-1.

Our family celebrates both Christmases. We do many of the same things that everyone else in America does at Christmas-1 time. We enjoy that. I thank God that we can do those things.

We also celebrate Christmas-2.  We do that throughout the year by constantly pursuing Christ, the God-man, the only One who has the wisdom and power to enable us to deal with the issues of life. Only He can reconcile us to God, forgive us and transform our lives. Our goal is to know Him, worship Him and make Him known.

I hope you enjoy Christmas-1. I hope you are changed by Christmas-2.

 

 

When Grace Looks Green

The trees are dying. The soil has dried up to sand. The earth is literally sinking beneath our feet. We are on our fourth year of drought and feeling an anxious weight press in as we read in the headlines, words like, “severe,” “crisis,” “emergency”.

Up here in the mountains, we typically see more natural growth and vegetation than our friends in the city, but it also brings a more palpable reality to the relentless lacking water. Looking down into the canyon and up on the ridge, Brown is fingering its way through the forest. We mourn the death; we fear fire, and we question: what on earth is happening?

Our family went camping last week. We found a spot only twenty minutes from our home, but a new set of trees brought with them a fresh perspective and a kind of quiet that lets you breathe again. After we set up camp, a trail was found, which inevitably led our feet wandering. Hiking with our two littles is much different than what we used to experience, sans kids; thus, one of those new perspectives: learning to enjoy the trail rather than making it to the end in record time. We’d take a few steps, and crouch down to look at some ants carrying sticks in their tiny jaws. Take a few more steps and poke at some holes in the ground, extending our greetings to [whatever] lived in there. A few more steps and find an even better walking stick.

It was in this slow process that I noticed something: there were along the way, hundreds of wildflowers poking up through the sandy trail. How had they managed to grow in that water-robbed dirt? There were also, all around us, just as many lifeless trees. Due to the shock of drought, unable to produce sap to trap and kill the bark beetle, these trees have been dying at an alarming rate.

So here we were, surrounded by new life in delicate petals, and the stark reality of death in the trees, which looked more like old bones than they did Pine. It was a sobering reminder that the ground has been cursed. Instantly, I was struck by my long-winded faulty thinking. All this time – these four long years – I had been waiting for rain because it’s what I need, and so (I thought) it must also be my right. I deserve to grow a flower garden and keep a green lawn. I deserve to take more than a two-minute shower. I deserve to lather up my pollen-covered car and wash it clean. It’s my right! But in that moment, staring up at those ribcage remnants of trees, I felt as though I was walking out of the Garden of Eden, faced with the reality of my sin: Death has come, and it is what I deserve.

But grace bloomed from the tiny flowers under my shoe. These – the pink of the petals, the soft green leaves, the tender blossoms opening – are gifts, not rights. There is grace in every new bud blinking into its first light, every green shoot springing out of a healthy branch; from every drip that falls from the sky, there is grace. It is not what I deserve, and even in the midst of the drought, it is more than I deserve. And I didn’t even see it until death made it’s way here.

The Girl With Green Hair and God’s Abounding Grace

I had seen her – the girl with the green dreadlocks – sitting on the creek’s edge next to an old, rundown van. I parked my truck a few yards away from her, hopped out, we made eye-contact, and smiled a quick “hello”. I went around the corner where the mailboxes stood to check my unit. I felt two things simultaneously: “Hurry up and get the mail before she steals our running truck with the kids inside.” And, “She needs help. Find out whatever she needs and do something about it.”

I came back around the corner and approached her, asking if everything was okay. She said that the van ran out of gas, but, “The man filled it up and then gave us tickets to get meals at the Dining Hall.” I asked if she had a place to stay. She said they didn’t. And then as if I were standing outside my body watching it all play out, I heard myself offer for her (and her boyfriend and two dogs) to stay in our guest room that night.

I gave her some quick directions and hopped back in the truck; I was elated about the possibility of having people in our house that we could share Jesus with. In the half-mile drive from the mailboxes to the house I conjured up a dreamy plan: They would come in and sit down over a cup of tea. We’d share our stories of sin and rebellion and of being rescued by the Savior; they’d be overwhelmed with love and grace and repent of their sin and give their lives to Christ-can-I-get-a-hallelujah!

Pretty great story, right?

When I got home, I called Lucas: “Hey Honey! Just wanted to let you know we might have some guests tonight. I don’t know who they are.”

Lucas: *Little pause* “Oh?”

Lucas (thank the Lord) is my voice of reason. And in hearing his voice, I was suddenly reminded that I have given birth to two darling children who live in this very same house that I just invited strangers into. Suddenly all of my excitement and joy turned into sheer terror. I caught a glimpse in my minds-eye of clips from a 60 Minutes episode – forensic photos of our bodies slaughtered by serial killers. (See why I need my Voice-Of-Reason? I’m a mess.)

Around 6:00, Nicole, Ronnie, and their two dogs came to the door. We invited them in and got them settled. We sat with them over tea and chatted about where they had come from, where they were going. Ronnie had been in the foster care system and as soon as he turned 18, he took off – a traveling gypsy ever since then. Nicole was homeschooled and wanted some adventure. She’s only 17. They both had “been raised in Christian homes” but especially Ronnie had a bad experience with Christianity that left a sour taste in his mouth. We apologized on behalf of those “Christians” who had treated him with such unkindness. “This is not Jesus,” we said. We talked about our great need for the Lord, not just in salvation, but in life after salvation because we’re ruined by sin. The conversation wasn’t long. They didn’t repent and put their trust in Jesus. The subject was soon shifted to their dogs. (They were pretty cute dogs.)

A few hours later, they went to bed. The night was uneventful and in the morning, we woke up – alive. We had breakfast with them, packed them a bag of snacks and off they went.

As I’ve processed through all this, I’ve come to realize some things. Even though I have come to discern the spiritual gifts that God has given me (in helping and giving), I must be discerning with them. Walking in the Spirit doesn’t just apply to running from sin, it also applies to walking in righteousness. I need Him to help me walk away from sin, and I need Him to help me walk in truth – I can’t do either on my own. I must listen to His voice through God’s Word as He guides me in my gifts. When I had simultaneous thoughts of “get back in the truck before she steals it” AND “invite her into your home” I should have stopped for a moment to ask God to help me discern those two opposing thoughts. If I had done that, I think I would have heard, “Honor your husband.” THAT is God’s truth, and nothing will ever oppose it. Inviting strangers into our home without talking to Lucas first, was not honoring him. I don’t regret extending love to strangers, but I do regret not first loving my husband. If I would have first gone to him, I could have told him of the situation, then we could have sat down with them, chatted and let Lucas lead me with discernment.

BUT…in everything that happened, God’s grace abounds. God’s grace abounded through Lucas. He was so gracious with me. Not once did he make me feel foolish (even though he had every right). He corrected me in gentleness and promised to protect me. God’s grace abounded in His protection over us. It abounded over us that we did get to have strangers in our house and love on people that don’t know Him. It abounded in the fact that I have nothing to boast in. Let’s face it – I was pretty thoughtless. But, imagine if my dreamy story came true. I really would have struggled with pride. But now, there is nothing for me to chalk up for myself, but only (and once again) to boast in God’s sweet grace.

Savoring the Sweetness of the Savior

“God didn’t have to give us taste buds,” he said.

It wasn’t the main point of his sermon. In fact it was just an intro. An intro to the intro. A warm-up before the big game. Dr. Thoennes, a favorite of our Hume speakers, stood in between the front rows of pews, conversing with his audience as if we were chatting over a cup of coffee. It was unlike his usual stance of wide-open arms, a booming basketball-coach-voice, passionately preaching Christ and the gospel. But this – a brief side note  – had captured me. He began talking about the ways that we can worship the Lord in everything we do – even drinking a milkshake. Thanking Him for making cows that produce milk that can be turned into a delicious treat, which reminds us to savor the sweetness of Jesus. And then, as if the words popped into his mind like a cherry on a malt, he said it: “Did you ever think about the fact that God didn’t have to give us taste buds?” The comment was fleeting, but it struck me – and stuck with me.

God didn’t have to give us taste buds. We could live perfectly well if we weren’t able to taste food. We would still be nourished. In fact, we might be more prone to eat food that was better for us – more practical for living well. But God did give us taste buds. And I have this funny feeling that He did it to show us a little bit more about Himself.

savor Jesus

Just like physical taste, God didn’t have to make it so that we feel affection towards Him. He still would have been perfectly just if He made us to be His minions; He, commanding us to do things, and we, obeying His orders because that’s the practical thing to do. But God made us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” He has granted us feelings for Him.

I hear that with age, one can begin to lose the sense of taste (along with other senses too, I suppose). There are moments in life (even recently) where I feel like I’ve lost my taste buds for Jesus. I read my Bible, I pray, and (as far as I know) I’m not living in out-right rebellion to the Lord. But I don’t feel excited about Him. In the normalcy of life, everything feels, well, normal. It’s not like I’m angry with God, or upset about my circumstances, I just don’t feel. My affections have vanished.

But just as I grow older and may one day lose the power of those mighty little taste buds, I still must eat. I may not experience the enjoyment of tasting my food, but I need it, desperately. The food itself hasn’t lost any of its savory seasonings, it’s just that my taste buds are out-of-order. It’s the same spiritually. Even though I may not feel affection or excitement over what I’m reading in my Bible, I still need it, desperately. Here’s where the physical analogy and spiritual truth begin to part ways. Once I lose my physical taste, there is nothing I can do to get it back. I can eat and eat and eat, but it won’t restore my palate. But I can gorge myself on God’s Word, savoring each bite; preaching truth to myself, and praying for the Holy Spirit to revive me. We have this assured hope that regardless of what we feel, that God. Is. Good. Whether we’re swimming in an ocean of blessings, or trudging through the bitterest of moments, we will be drenched with the sweetness of Jesus as we trust in His truth. Restoring the joy of our salvation, rehabilitating the excitement we once felt that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” Reflecting on the simplicity and grander that Jesus Christ is Lord. What a delight!

Taste and see that the Lord is good! Because He is good and His Spirit has made us to taste it.

I felt that.

Besides being able to speak our minds to the whole wide world, another advantage of social media is to listen (or read I suppose) to others’ thoughts and opinions. And while this post is neither deeply spiritual, or controversial, I do hope to hear (read) opinions from people who have experience in my recent addiction to needles.

Not those needles, silly!

FELTING needles.

It all began when someone asked me if I had ever needle felted. As soon as I had to answer “no” I felt a sudden urge to learn to…felt. (There are so many “felt” puns that could be used here…I’ll try to restrain myself.)

Anyway, I immediately went home, watched some tutorials, bought some supplies, but it wasn’t until a couple months later that I gave it my first shot. Here’s what I made…

 

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A teensy sleeping fox.

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While it was a little nerve-wracking, it was also pretty freeing to just go for it. I didn’t have a pattern; I just kept poking until I got the shape that I wanted and then I added the details.

Next, I made a Waskawy Witto Wabbit…

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He’s sort of crooked, but I kind of like him that way. Mischievous little thing.

And finally, this squirrely guy…

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It’s funny, you know. I get pretty angry at the real squirrels around here, I’m still not sure why I chose to make one. I suppose this one has the benefits of cute-and-cuddly without eating my plants. 🙂

ANYWAY…the point of all this is that while I have found a few tutorials, I haven’t found as many as I have hoped for.

So, Dear Reader, if you have any experience (you or your friend, or your Great Aunt Lou) with needle felting, I’d LOVE to know. Anything…patterns, tricks, tips, types of wool, the best kind of needles, places to purchase, etc.

And while I have you, I may as well insert my cheap-shot commercial:

visit my Etsy shop here

🙂

Sensory Play and The Water Nation Station

It’s a snowy/rainy day today so we’ve been doing lots of indoor activities to keep the munchkins happy. And so that I don’t go permanently cross-eyed and pull out all my hair.

I LOVE SENSORY PLAY. There are a number of benefits for motor skills as well as just increasing sensory powers (at least I think that’s the scientific term). Here’s the thing though: it’s pretty messy. For me, it’s not usually a time when I can just let the kids go-at-it while I get some laundry done, or make dinner. Typically, I’m right there with them. Which is a really fun time for me, but I do need to prep myself, take a deep breath, and let the laundry sit for a while. It’s going to be okay.

So here are some of our favorite sensory activities…

 

Shaving Cream

Supplies: shaving cream and a cookie sheet.

Squirt some shaving cream on the cookie sheet…

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He was bummed out because he only got a squiggle and not a happy face. I know…I’m the meanest.

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Then let them smear it all around.

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 If your child is sensitive to this at first, try giving them a paintbrush, or old toothbrush to smear with. This will help them ease into it.

Once they’ve had enough fun smearing, they can practice writing letters, or draw pictures.

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You can also add different textures like uncooked rice, or a few teaspoons of salt.

Next up: Rice and Beans

This is one that can get super messy, especially with younger children (and occasionally with an accident-prone mom who knocks the bowl over, creating a lovely cascading waterfall of rice over the kitchen table and sprinkling the entire kitchen floor. At least I’ve heard that can happen.). But the texture is wonderful to stimulate all those touchy-feely sensors.

You can definitely use plain ol’ white rice, but we colored ours by putting some rice in a few separate bowls, then adding a couple teaspoons of rubbing alcohol and a drop of food coloring. Let it dry and then mix it all together.

This one’s pretty simple…just let them dig. We used to have a lot more rice; it filled a whole tub. But over time, it’s gotten sucked up by the Dust Buster from spills.

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We like to add “treasures” to ours…

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Second runner up to our favorite goes to…

Gack.

Supplies: cornstarch and water.

Directions: Mix One part water to two parts cornstarch

This is that stuff that’s part solid, part liquid. I played with it so much as a kid that I had to start using my allowance money to buy my own cornstarch.

There’s not a whole lot to it. Just squish, dribble, poke.

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Again, if you have a tactile-sensitive child on your hands, start out slow. Use a spoon or even a play knife to see how the gack scoops and cuts.

Over time as my kids have learned to keep the gack contained to the designated area, this has been an activity that I can leave them alone with while I go take care of some chores. Or (let’s just be honest) check Facebook.

And our very favorite sensory play is…

Moon Sand!

Supplies: Flour and Baby Oil

Directions: Mix eight parts flour to one part baby oil. I keep ours in a big tub (the one that used to belong to the rice).

This stuff is super fun. It works the same as sand at the beach, only it’s softer…

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You can make sand castles, bury treasure, make sand pies and cakes. Just about anything you’d do with beach sand.

Aaaaaand a bonus…

The Water Nation Station!!

(Otherwise known as “Water, a Tub, and Kitchen Utensils”. But that’s not quite as appealing.)

Since the weather’s so crummy today, we brought the soon-to-come-summer-fun indoors. I even let the kids wear their bathing suits. 🙂

At first they just poured the water in the tub and back and forth between each other’s pitchers…

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Then we added a couple of other elements. Super high-tech, I know…

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We’re working on his aim. (And not just aiming water…)

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And one last element, I put some soap and water in bowls to have some bubble fun…

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And now, with my eyes fully functioning and hair intact, it’s quiet time. Ahh…