Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Calendar by Grace

You get them too.  They come in August--- that flurry of emails as the fall gets started and every sacrificial volunteer is looking for more sacrificial volunteers.  I read them.  Waves of guilt.  Pounds of pressure.  Visions of me, harried and spinning, then the tragic spiraling.  Down.  I scroll by them in my inbox for days.  Commitments once a week.  Once a month.  Once during the entire year. Surely I could pull off the latter.  With a friend?  Surely.  Then I take time to marvel at the sender’s capacity.  I marvel a bit too long, marvel turning into comparison-- I take my “way of escape” and think about what’s for dinner.

Then the emails are, like, 3 weeks old and I’ve really drug this out.  For three weeks, they’ve been floating around in my mind along with the regulars -- but having nowhere to land.  Opportunities to serve~ all just keeps swirling in the cosmos.  And driving me NUTS.  I have to state the obvious here-- it’s ALL great stuff.  I mean, saying yes to any of these emails would mean investment in kingdom work.  What’s my struggle?  Why can’t I click on “reply”?  Why can’t I type out a chipper, “Why, sure! I’d love to help!”

And not feel suffocated by it?

Too many days later, the kids’ bedtime brings coffee time with Jeff, where perspective seems to come in large doses.  Decisions and responses all WAY overdue.  I scroll ~again~ and read them all to him.  If computer font could fade, these are faint gray.  He sips hot coffee and looks at me, “So?”  I look back, “Well??”  He rattles off a typical week/month of mine.  {I didn’t know he knew it that well.}  We talk about the big things that happen during my week, then my month and I confess I am not doing just super on those.  I am aware.

A few questions we talked through and I thought through:  Am I rested enough by morning in order to spend time in the Word?  Is my schedule arranged in such a way that I can say “yes” to whenever Jeff needs/wants my help?  Do my children feel “full” ~ are their needs met in a way that communicates, “I enjoy you”?  Am I serving effectively in my church {whatever “church" may look like in the season}?  Am I involved in fruitful kingdom work?  Do I feel strongly led of the Lord to participate in another facet of ministry?  Something I wake up thinking about?

That list may not set well with everyone and you may not like the semi-systematic approach, but there is nothing systematic about following through with the “yes’s” on that list.   It’s also nothing short of supernatural.  And that is precisely why I fail often.  Only by His Spirit can I value saving my best energy for my family and for the ministry we have together.  My flesh values a whole different set of “yes’s”.  Only with the mind of Christ can I wholeheartedly carry out acts and speak words most everyone will never know about.  My flesh values recognition and praise.  Only works empowered and led by His Spirit bring effectiveness and fruitfulness.  And I may never see any of the fruit on this side.  Only His perspective can bring contentment in that.  God has specific good works for only me, only for my family.  {Ephesians 2:10}  We miss the point if we miss our works, “which He prepared in advance for us to do."

If I am able to say “yes” to any of the questions on that list, it’s because of His power in my weakness, and His grace that is always sufficient.

When the cups were empty and the conversation had landed, I was able to return emails, look at my calendar, and feel really free.

679.  B’s animated oral book reports {always after tuck in}

680.  gusts of wind that smell like rain

681.  grandmother, mother, son

682.  refurbished pianos

683.  Julia playing hostess/baker to cul de sac girls

684.  B’s response to the Word

685.  eight Moms in my car

686.  twenty dollar bills working overtime

687.  women’s stories, redeemed

688.  words like:  “All day long I have toiled and striven; but now, in stillness of heart and in the clear light of Thine eternity, I would ponder the pattern my life has been weaving.  May there fall upon me now, O God, a great sense of Thy power and Thy glory so that I may see all earthly things in their true measure.”    John Baillie (Day 5)

689.  room strewn with creativity

690.  our den full of seekers

691.  Julia’s arms laden with books before bedtime

692.  cloud cover

693.  friends “to go” {their little faces surprised me when I let up the front seat}

694.  pancakes and prayer at Alison’s

695.  siblings disguised as playmates~ today

696.  pictures from around the world that bring perspective for my kids

697.  calendars with room for grace

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

“No” can be a little complicated, can’t it?  Two letter words are supposed to be simple.  “No” can either cause absolute frustration, great joy, bitter anger, long awaited relief or longer awaited disappointment. It can be your greatest disillusionment or your greatest protection.

I remember significant “no’s” in my life.  We all do.  Some “no’s” I received, I never should have asked the question or even sought out the opportunity.  Some were responses to my plain ignorance but most were for my protection and just part of His plan to keep me in step with Him.   Some were devastating at the time.  Now as I look back, a few still baffle me but most I can see clearly the story the Lord was writing.  I am most grateful for all those years that the pregnancy tests said “no”.  I am even more grateful for the young woman who chose us to raise her child and then a month later said “no”.  Those were without a doubt mine and Jeff’s best “no’s”.  Because there was something else stirring...someone else waiting patiently in the wings.  God’s best was there, in a state of repose until His hand revealed it.  His best.  Our best.  His best for all of us.

This past year we’ve had three big “no’s”.  We went looking for “yes’s” and they all came back “no’s”.  As I have shared, we’ve been here before.  I don’t like it. It’s tiring and sometimes embarrassing. It’s discouraging and utterly confusing.  Some “no’s” can hurt relationships, making us second guess someone’s confidence, or tempting us to judge someone’s motivation.  Some can tempt us to lose hope.  And the best effect?  Some send us running to our prayer closets as fast as we can.... pleading for clearer direction, retracing our steps of faith.  Did we misstep?  Is it the worst “no”- the one that means it’s all over?  Should we never have asked in the first place?  Or is this “no” just a delay?  Could it be the set up for that best waiting in the next chapter of the story?  Ahhh, handy hindsight.   Right now, for these situations, Jeff and I don’t have that but we’ve got something better.  We know God’s track record and it’s flawless.

I’ve had “no’s” fall on my hardened heart and thankfully, a soft one too.  Note to self: a hardened heart is always a bad idea.  When a “no” falls on my by-the-grace-of-God soft heart, a teachable one, it causes me to seek Him out more purposefully, more diligently, more desperately.   I dig into the scriptures with fervency I haven’t known since the last time I was desperate and I persistently ask for the Lord to reveal the treasures in the midst of all the questions.  And when I see it, it’s the most beautiful thing ever because He’s reminding me that He’s still good and that He’s still working to bring about His purposes.  His Word brings life and then I can feel it all running through me.  Here is some of the life He has brought these last few months.

“ 'Surely God is my salvation;  I will trust and not be afraid.  The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.’  With JOY you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  Isaiah 12:2-3

"I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered in shame.”  Psalm 34:4-5

"They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits’ end.  Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress.  He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.  They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven.” Psalm 107:27-30

And Psalm 40, “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.......He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

And I cannot leave out Streams.  God uses it.  {And thanks, friend, for pointing it out to us this day.} “But God has purpose in all of His delays.  'The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.' {Psalm 37:23}  Next to this verse, in the margin of his Bible, George Mueller made this note, ‘And the STOPS too.’...... Must life be considered a failure for someone compelled to stand still, forced into inaction and required to watch the great, roaring tides of life from shore?  No--- victory is then to be won by standing still and quietly waiting.”

May we stand still and wait quietly.

I feel something stirring.  I know God’s best is there, in a state of repose until His hand reveals it.  His best.  Our best.  His best for all of us.

663.   prayer retreat for Jeff

664.  long pool day with friends and great conversations, knowing it’s one of the last

665.  kids’ excitement over company

666.  lake day with Brad

667.  setting five places around our family table

668.  sharing a meal with people of faith, being certain of what they do not see

669.  buttered and toasted pound cake, another Southern delicacy {at my house anyway}

670.  sitting close by Janina on our couch and hearing her stories of God

671.  watching her love spill out on my children

672.  grace going as long as the conversations

673.  communion

674.  first day of school

675.  uniforms (their choice)

676.  well wishing texts

677.  little can-can dances in my kitchen

678.  no

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Pantry

Because my Momma worked for my Daddy in the drugstore most of her married life she has always had someone to help her take care of our home. For the last few years, Mary Alice has been the magic bullet.  She seems to be nuclear powered in work, in life and in loving.  A few years after my Grandmother, Julia, moved from the suburbs of Atlanta to Soperton, she had a stroke.  In came Mary Alice into my Grandmother’s duplex.  Being a thousand miles away, unfortunately, I didn’t get to see Mary Alice in action very often, but she cared tirelessly for my Grandmother, my Mom’s mother, in every way a sweet lady should be cared for.  When Julia Ivey died and Mary Alice’s job {I like to call it ministry.} ended by my Grandmother’s side, my parents continued her job of housekeeping in our home--- and home has never looked the same since.  She brings her wonderful Gospel music, plays it loud and does her work “as unto the Lord”.

While Blake and I were growing up, my Mom evidently had an organization system that worked.  Somehow, she had an enormous ability to keep up with many people, meetings, commitments, schedules and responsibilities.  She was organized but rarely made lists or kept a calendar and she certainly never owned a label maker.  She had her own way of doing things-- and still does.

The last time I was home, Julia and I were setting the table and we needed napkins.  I will ALWAYS look in the top drawer of the island because that’s where they lived when I lived there.  I have no idea who moved them.  I walked over to open the pantry.  Anyone would think maybe her system stopped at that door ~ the door where the macramé Santa face with the wonderful fuzzy beard hangs at Christmas, the door by the phone, the door you hear open in any room of the house, the door you aimlessly open while talking on the phone.  I don’t know, but going in the pantry to retrieve something was always a bit dreaded.  You knew going in might mean you may not come out for several minutes.  Shelves were stocked in deep layers and moving things around was just dangerous-- a sure way to knock things off and you just hoped it would be a sturdy can and not a glass jar.  Only Momma could open the door, grab what she needed and close the door all in one motion.  Her system was all hers.  For the rest of us, a table of contents and a map of sorts would have been helpful.  Brooms and mops were stored here along with everything else that would assist in running a great kitchen. In the alcove near the back, there were the unlined hanging baskets that held Vidalia onions and maybe potatoes.  It also housed the central vacuum system and you were in for quite a start if someone in another room decided to vacuum-- or just activate it~ for spite~ Blake.  This pantry was always something my Daddy took great joy in griping about-- how he could never find anything and “why don’t we ever eat any of this stuff?”.  He kept his griping just below the tipping point because Momma was and is an amazing cook.  Really.  Daddy knew that then and he certainly knows that now.

Looking for napkins, I opened the door.  As I smelled the familiar smells of a good cook’s pantry, little white tags on the dark brown shelves assaulted my vision.  Had my Mom bought a label maker??!!?  Surely she would have told me.  SHOWN me.  I looked more closely.  It wasn’t her handwriting.  Enter Mary Alice into my Momma’s pantry.  Of course.  As I looked for the stark white “napkin” label, I noticed that tomatoes were where tomatoes should be.  Wow.  As well as the cream of mushroom soup, fruit, pickles, salsas and so on.  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  As I neared the bottom, I laughed out loud.

Well, I’d say, God knows.......and Momma. And now, Mary Alice.

645.  an atmosphere of grace

646.  sweet notes from Julia found after work, found in my suitcase

647.  Brighton’s strict schedules of hugs and kisses

With his road trip and bedtime buddies-- they get lots of love...

648.  evidence of heart investment in my children by the sitter

649.  rain-- the anticipation, the skies, the smell

650.  lovely rooms, gracious waiters for big occasions

651.  being treasured

652.  powerful, dig in your heart, movies

653.  grown granddaughter holding tightly to her grandmother’s hand

654.  cupcakes

655.  B’s thoughts on Aslan

656.  church families

657.  impromptu lesson on my camera from someone who knows

658.  new parents with their babies

659.  everyone in their right bed, everyone home, including Em

660.  fun with my children

661.  drawer full of new school supplies

662.  pantries
{If the kitchen is the heart of the home, the pantry is the heart of the kitchen.  Good things come from there.}

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Four Days

Four days?  Really?


Five springs ago, I met with a few other ladies at a mom’s house who had schooled at home forever it seemed.  She was willing to meet with all of us rookies and give us some pointers.  I am sure I came away with more than this but the one thing I remember distinctly is that she took a long planning weekend.  I remember it seemed overwhelming at the time-- planning an entire school year-- but she was living proof to me it could be done.

Last weekend was mine and Jessica’s fifth year to take a long weekend to plan our school year.  We’ve had an agreement from the beginning that if we were to take that kind of time away from our families that we wanted to honor them by working really hard.  It wasn’t to be a restful, fun girl get-away.  So every year, we go to work into crazy hours of the night but somehow in the midst of all those pages, books, late nights and calendars we manage to have a lot of fun.

Here’s the setting:  Jessica’s family owns their Grandmother’s home in Anson, Texas.  It is in a {mostly} quiet neighborhood and the house is decorated just as her dear Grandmother left it.

We have separate bedrooms and bathrooms.  There are two big tables and plenty of room for spreading out and making the biggest mess needed in order to figure out the 32 weeks of the school year.    Jessica eats better/healthier/weirder- slice that however you choose- than I do so the refrigerator has everything from celery and bell peppers to generic brand salsa and whipped cream.  The laminate counter is heavy with her rice crackers and organic peanut butter or my Chex Mix, Lime flavored Tostitos and really good coffee.   However, we both have a love for good ice and thankfully, Anson has a Sonic.

Our curriculums have been as different as our food choices.  In all these years Jessica and I have not used one curriculum that is the same so we never talk about and plan subjects together.  We certainly ask each other’s opinions and advice and we always want to see each other’s stuff-- mainly literature.

Every year its worth triples in value because now we know what helps us the most.  The “plan” is important to me for many reasons and one of those is just having something at which we are aiming.  I’ve never finished every little thing I set out to do and some how we always get a tad behind.

 Here is what I set out to do.

It’s easier to me to work in small chunks so I break down the school year into eight 4 week sections.  I figure out how many lessons of each subject need to be done in the 4 weeks to stay on track. (If I am checking our progress at 4 week intervals, it’s a whole lot easier to straighten the wagon than if I only checked in at 12 week intervals. ) I calendar all the children’s weekly activities and field trips we know about as well as family commitments, trips and visits.  I organized our “line time” choosing artists, composers, Latin and Greek words, hymns, poets and their poems, and interesting places in our world that I want to cover in our 32 week year.  This “elective” time is our favorite time of the day.  These are the things I am learning right along with them.  I make CD’s for them to listen to at night-- for fun and to re-enforce what they are learning and hearing during the day. {The iPhone voice memo feature has made this so simple because I can say/read anything, download to iTunes and burn a CD.} I make schedules for Monday through Friday because it seems almost each day is different.  I make a check list for each day for both children so expectations are clear.  I think it’s important to put one day away well and begin to anticipate the next day.  And maybe the most beneficial thing I put together {for me} is the oh so helpful chore list!  All four of us work together before Jeff leaves for work and with four working for thirty or so minutes, it’s amazing what can get done!  Jeff has named it “farm chores” even though we don’t live anywhere near a farm.  On our 5-minutes-from-anything-except-a-farm cul de sac, my bango music playlist and brushing our Golden Retriever is about as “farm” as we get.

Getting to work this long and hard is such a gift to me- and to my family- during the year.  It helps me to breathe easier not only now but months from now.  When I have thought through the weeks and months and gotten what I can on paper and filed away, ready and waiting for its turn, in maybe week 19, I can rest in my mind.  I can focus on my family.  I don’t have some long school to do list bouncing around in my head.  The rubber ball of school has been secured safely in a few files in my computer and in my filing drawers. {Not to say the ball doesn’t bounce out a few times during the year reminding me I missed some important things.}

Maybe the hardest part for me is that once all the work is done, I have to choose to hold these plans loosely.  My personality is to push through and get it done.  I like completion and checks in all the boxes.  I like to know that we can close up that book and know there is nothing left in it that we need to do.  But if in my pushing through we miss His plans for us that day, we’ve missed everything.  Putting aside my agenda, if only for a small slice of the day, has to be an option-- everyday.  Did I mention that was hard for me?  I have to remember that the only failure is not listening to Him.

School planning~ four days.

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.  Proverbs 24: 3-4

 Wisdom, understanding and knowledge~ a lifetime.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

626.  flowers from Jeff

627.  kids who think I am great anyway

628.  Rachel- so grateful for girls like this one who love Jesus WAY more than she loves my kids

629.  pharmacy remodel after 15 years

630.  the truth spoken in love in order to change my life

631.  heart words from son to father a thousand miles away

632.  Grandmother homes left in the family

633.  easy to follow curriculum

634.  phone calls from home

635.  Sabbath dinners without me

636.  Sonic Ice

637.  blank slithers on the daily calendar

638.  Jessica, my friend who thinks to ask God for everything

639.  patience from a gen-X-er

640.  Chinese food when you are really really hungry

641.  Julia’s welcome to me- candles lit in every room

642.  brother-in-laws

643.  wedding anniversaries~ theirs and mine

644.  time to dive into all things school

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

St. George 2011

(Warning:  The next foot or two or ten on your screen is like being cornered twenty years ago by someone who just put their vacation photo album together.)

You were warned.

Props were handy this year as we took the picture right by our boardwalk where we leave all of our beach “accessories” every afternoon.  I think my favorite is RJ’s beach ball tummy!

We all got to try the paddle board this year-- thanks, Hunter!- and it was fun but the most fun thing about it was watching RJ fall off at every attempt of standing up.

I had to be snapping fast because this didn’t hold up long, but it sure was fun to watch!

These guys get up at.....

this hour (Thanks, Bill for this GREAT photo!) to come back with...

these kinds of fish for dinner.  (Minus one iPhone left on the bottom of the Gulf)

In Apalachicola, at one of THESE places-- you have not LIVED until you shop with Brighton Sanders.

B’s first words when we walked up, "Hey, Mom, they repainted the place and fixed the broken shutter on top.”  ???  I asked the owner and he was right.  
Here is a peek inside this wonderful store.

The children’s department!

Purchasing Two Bad Ants

I love these floors!

I left this dark because I liked the silouhette.  I could almost say that’s me and you almost might believe me.  Wow, Hunter.

I had not been adventuresome enough to get out in the kayak-- actually my book was too good to put down-- but this particular morning when I saw the dolphins coming by I ran, pulled the kayak in the water and started paddling.

I found myself back paddling at times unsure of how close I wanted to get.  Sitting that low made me feel vulnerable.  Other than their startling puff of breath, it was extremely quiet at this depth.  So the next picture is all I could do to express a scream of excitement!  I even got to see a baby.

The next morning they came in even closer so Hunter and Brighton hopped in and paddled out.  More and more dolphins surfaced and put on a show.  If you can’t tell, Brighton is snug as a bug against Hunter.  “A little tense”  Hunter said.

There were harmless spherical jellyfish around this depth and the dolphins were actually playing with them and then eating them.

And here are my favorites of the kids...

Two different games going here-- “older folk” and “middle folk” Hand and Foot

Thanks again, Mom and Dad for this week in this house on this beach.  Good stuff happens there.