Friday, February 17, 2017

Girl on a Mission

Only half of the crew here ready to pick up the rest of the team in Boston.
On our drive to Northborough to meet up with her team, she asked me if I was nervous about her trip to Scotland. "Not really," was my answer. It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and I was more excited for her opportunity to serve God and others than I was scared for her safety.

That casual sentiment only lasted until about 9:30pm when I realized she had been flying over the North Atlantic for about an hour. Then I panicked and began picturing all kinds of awful scenarios in my mind, the most hopeful of which involved inflatable slides and flotation devices near the coast of Iceland. She must be so cold and scared, I thought.

Thankfully, hardly any of my irrational fears ever actually happen, but you can imagine how relieved I was when I saw this photo on the Quest blog the next morning:

Double decker busses, coffees in hand, smiling faces, and a cute little redhead in the back. Whew. They made it safe and sound, and I'm so thankful.

Here's another photo of the Scotland team, and there are three other teams of teens and adults traveling to South Africa, Hawaii, and The Dominican Republic on mission trips that are part of a leadership and discipleship program (called Quest) for juniors in high school offered through the Baptist Convention of New England.

Tommy is one of the adult leaders on Kayla's Scotland trip.
Our church sent out two teens and one adult on Quest mission trips last Sunday. They each shared what they had learned through the program and a prayer request for their trip.

Each teen was required to meet with a mentor once a month, and our teens pretty much had the dream team of mentors.  (Thanks so much, Sarah M. and Chris G.!) They worked through a two Bible studies: Chasing Last and Jesus on Leadership. Really wonderful learning and equipping tools.

Sarah, Kayla. Finn, and Chris
Our Classical Conversations community also gathered to pray for the four young ladies from our campus who left on mission trips. Three with Quest and one with Young Life.

Jessica (Hawaii), Maddie (The Dominican Republic), Kayla (Scotland), and Carol (Ecuador)
And just like that, this little baby-doll-mama grew into a young woman who travels to far off places without her own mama.
And in the blink of an eye she also became a critical thinker, a fierce debater, a lover of Christ, and a defender of people. She became a loyal friend, a loving sister, and a witty one, too.
Should the U.S. Government Significantly Alter its Entitlement Programs?
She had a lot to do leading up to this trip. Not only did she have to memorize Shakespeare lines, write a thousand word history essay (in advance), complete her logic, math, chemistry, Spanish, and prepare for a policy debate, but she also had to babysit, volunteer at church, catch up on thank you notes, shop, and pack.
Tough Cross-Examination by fellow Questie (and another fierce debater!), Jessica.
She handled it all with diligence and grace, and hardly needed her Mom or Dad at all.
Notice the game, Catch Phrase? Kayla always brings the fun. Always.
"Hey, Kory! Our Quest backpacks are exactly the same! It's like we're related or something."

Those left-handed check marks are also marks of her independence and initiative. She did her packing. Not me. She made sure the list was complete. There was no prodding and reminding on my end. I've actually always been impressed with her self-motivation and overall responsibility. She is so much more mature and tuned in to what life requires than I was at that age. In many ways, I still trail behind her.

But don't worry, she does have a few glaring issues that we're still working on. Last week I counted 13 empty mugs and glasses in her bedroom. THIRTEEN. Many of them had dried up tea bags inside. She balked at my counting of her empty-mug sins, but I stood my ground and insisted upon repentance. After the mug issue improves, maybe we can work on the knee deep layer of clothing that typically covers every square inch of her room.😉

But I've heard that semi-chaotic, less than organized living conditions are signs of creativity, and let me tell you, Kayla's got  many more signs than that.  The girl is truly an artist. Here are just a couple of examples. (There are so many more, but these were easy to access!)
She recently painted this. It's a beautiful (and very realistic right now!) rendition of our little house.

I was pretty stunned by this chalk unicorn that she and Mary just whipped out one summer day.
And while I don't have any examples of her photography skills, I do have a picture of her with her 16th birthday gift. She has a great eye and is being given real opportunities to hone her skills. (Thanks, Shannon S.!)
I can just hardly believe that this precious, toothless first grader... now a capable, intelligent, beautiful, and still very precious 16 year old woman. I can hardly take in the privilege it is to be her mom. I loved having my boys first. Raising and enjoying this little sister has been icing on the cake. So sweet and necessary, in my opinion! She is truly a gift from God to us.
And while I'm bragging on my girl, I just have to tell you how natural she is with kids. She's a sought after babysitter, and she loves it. Recently, she told me and another mom's she sits for (Hi, Ashleigh!) that one of the reasons she loves babysitting is because it gets her mind totally off of herself and her own struggles. It forces her to be truly selfless, and she's really grateful for that.

And isn't that true of any service we engage in on behalf of others. It's always a remedy for selfishness, and she's catching on at an early age.

(But she does get paid for all of her kidsitting, and to this date she's saved nearly enough to purchase her first car. She'll have her license next month, and buying her own car has been a goal for quite some time. Diligent and determined, this girl. We've loved watching her meet her goal.)
Reading to cousin Uriah.
Science experiment fun with Cohen.

Serendipitous find in my local grocery store's greeting card section. 😄
So, we weighed her suitcase and found the all-important airplane neck pillow on Tuesday morning. We made a couple of stops in town...CVS for an ID photo, Old Navy and Marshalls for a new Sunday dress, Whole Foods to grab lunch, and Starbucks to get a drink for our drive. We took a quick mudroom selfie with Dad, who could not make the drive with us, and were off to meet her team.
A couple of years ago, after she'd watched her brothers go on Quest mission trips to Africa and Asia, she told us she did NOT want to follow in their footsteps. She was NOT going to do Quest. She did NOT want to travel out of the country without her family.

Though we probably would have required it, she decided on her own to go through this year long process. She faced fears and persevered in spite of the many hesitations of her own heart and mind. In the end, she trusted God, and I could not be more proud of her or excited for all that He will do to change her life forever in the coming week.

She has been out of the country before. She traveled to the Dominican Republic with Robert a few years ago to work in a small, impoverished community.  That her dad was there made all the difference in deciding to go. This was the scene in our living room upon her return...
I'm expecting a similar scene when she gets home a week from tomorrow, and I can hardly see her precious face and to hear the precious stories of a girl who trusted her God and went on a mission. And I pray it is only the beginning of a life on mission for Him.

P.S. Here's a link to the Quest blog.  You can keep up with Kayla and the other Quest trips here if you like. Your prayers are very much appreciated, too. She does have to fly home over the Atlantic again, you know.

Monday, February 6, 2017

New Year, New Mercies (and a tiny follow-up)

We sang the song regularly at our weekly Cru gatherings. The University of Texas circa 1990. (We called it Campus Crusade for Christ back then.) Sometimes there were two or three hundred of us singing this...

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning, new every morning 
Great is your faithfulness, O God.
Great is your faithfulness.

That weekly worship gathering is still a powerful memory, and that song was one of my favorites. I'm pretty sure the name of it was simply Lamentations 3:22-23, because those lyrics are straight from Jeremiah's song of lament.

Without really being intentional about it, I have found myself beginning many prayers lately with a combination of those Lamentations verses and Psalm 118:24...

This is the day that the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Something like this before I even get out of bed...

Thank you, Lord, for this new day that you have made and given to me. Thank you for new mercies every morning. Help me to rejoice in this day and rest in your faithfulness.

And then I got to thinking about that word...mercy.
Baby Cooper...and drugged, post C-section mama.
What does it mean that His mercies toward me are new every morning? Is He really having to withhold punishment and deserved consequences or wrath before I even put my feet on the floor? Isn't "mercy" something you cry out in order to be released from some painful, torturous circumstance? Didn't the cross take care of me needing mercy today?

So, last month, as I was pondering and praying about the new year and the coming 365 days of new mercies, I looked up the Hebrew word.

The word is racham.  It means womb.



Every time the word racham is found in the Old Testament, it is translated "mercy" or "compassion", because of the tender relationship between a mother and the child in her womb - or later, the child from her womb. It is also used to refer to a father's love for his child...the child who came from his wife's womb. It even makes me think of my friends who long to know the feeling of a child in their womb. They hope for, love, and grieve the child who is not even there yet.
From Blue Letter Bible
And "cherishing the fetus"? Well...that's another blog post, I suppose, but noteworthy in light
of the current culture, to say the least.
Robert (with no white hair), Kory (with red hair), and Coop (bald).
Maybe this has been written about extensively somewhere, but it was totally new to me, and such a sweet, sweet revelation. Sadly, this is partly due to my tendency to still think I'm undeserving of His mercy, unworthy of His love, expected to work to earn His approval, and falling just short most of the time. Thankfully, He used my curiosity (actually, He gave me the curiosity) to discover the same truth one more time: He loves me. His love for me is like a mother's toward the child in her womb, but even more so. Incomprehensibly more so. The use of the word womb is just the closest He could get to communicating His love to us in human terms.

(Sadly, we're growing cold in our love for the child in the womb, though, so the image is a bit tainted.)

It made me think of missing my oldest son's phone call yesterday afternoon. He's 2000 miles away and in his senior year of college. But, we were in the middle of our afternoon church small group, so I couldn't pick up. The last person left around 4:30pm. The house was back in order by 5:30pm. I had a seminary quiz due at 11:55pm and still many pages of reading to do before taking it.

(And the Superbowl was on at 6:30pm. I ended up making a 100 on my quiz during the 4th quarter, and I'm just gonna go ahead and give the credit to Tom Brady, I did have to Google GOAT, though, and yeah...I suppose he is. 😊 Incredible.)

Anyway, this morning Robert and I did our usual work-out-at-Planet-Fitness-eat-breakfast-at-Whole-Foods-Monday-morning-thing and I kept seeing Kory's call notification on my phone. It made me miss him. It made me regret the busyness of Sunday and missing our weekly conversation. It made me want to talk to him as soon as possible. He's got a torn meniscus (most likely), and I wanted to see how he's feeling. Wanted to hear about his weekend. Wanted to talk Superbowl. Wanted to hear about his classes. His girlfriend. How his job interview went. I just longed to hear his chipper voice.

Needless to say, my "mercies" and "compassions" toward Kory this morning (and toward all of my kiddos... most of the time) were new, abundant, and overflowing, and God used it all to help me understand again His mercies toward me.

The sonogram pic above was emailed to me last week from dear friends expecting their first child. They are in love already, and so am I. Another sweet reminder of racham...His new mercies and love for me, His child, and for all of His kids.

So when I prayed about how to rehearse and recall His racham this year (that's what Jeremiah was doing), I got the idea/prompt to read the gospels over and over. Each gospel each month. One a week. The life of Jesus. His words. His actions. His parables. His miracles. His death. His resurrection. His commands. His love.

I managed to make it through all four last month. Listening through the Bible App helped - combined with lots of time running and driving. I'm a visual learner, but I've found that listening forces me to pay attention differently. I'll switch it up each month, though. I'm reading from actual pages this month, but from a Bible that presents the text in one column rather than two. That also causes me to read the stories with more attentiveness, since I'm used to my two-column format.

After one month, I'm in awe of Jesus all over again. It's such a gift and answer to prayer. It's not something I can produce on my own.

The curiosity He gave to research racham.
The prompting He gave to read His gospels.

It's His way of giving me exactly what I need: the assurance of His love.

I can rest in that. I can serve freely out of that. I'm rehearsing it every morning.


It's been two weeks since I wrote about the Women's March. I think I'm finally sleeping through the night without cold sweats and heart palpitations. I really had no idea the response it would elicit. I never post anything controversial or extremely personal without Robert's approval. He agreed with my confusion over the participation of Christian women, but he warned me that some would not like it. Still, I was naive in my usual, but sometimes I wonder if it's a God-given naivety. I don't know...

I wanted to say thank you to those of you who reached out in encouragement. For two weeks now you've sent text messages, emails, Facebook messages, or posted your thanks here in the comments or on the Facebook post. Thank you so much. It's always helpful to hear that you are not alone in your concerns. And thank you for praying. As I heard from you (and as you well know), I recruited you to pray - for God to use the post for good, and for the enemy to be prevented from twisting, dividing, and stirring up anger. I'm still praying that on a daily basis. It was not my intention to hurt or cause offense. As I sat down to pray about why my heart was so heavy that Saturday of the March, the stories of those biblical women came to mind immediately. The words just flowed. They required no research except for the actual verses from each story. It truly felt like I was being led, but I cannot claim that with absolute certainty.

Though it is a very unpopular view, the Bible teaches that Eve was deceived. Adam was passive (and other "Adams" were dominant and abusive, I know), but Eve was deceived. The New Testament restates it. But Paul is unpopular, too. I am not unaware of this. It's just that as Christian women, we don't have liberty to avoid the Scriptures we do not like. We've got to take God at His Word, and know this tendency we have to believe the wrong thing for all the right reasons. It's a liability of the nurturing, compassionate, life giving natures the Lord gave us.

And no, I'm not claiming that every Christian woman who marched was deceived, but I do think it's worth considering and praying about.

I came across a few interesting articles and sermons regarding the March (and our possible deception) and also the relationship between the gospel and social justice. I'll post them below in case you are interested. The only one I can truly and personally vouch for is Matt Carter who is a pastor in Austin, TX and whose church we attended while on sabbatical there five years ago. The other two are women whom I've only done minimal Googling about. While I think they have very important things to say, please keep that in mind.

I listened to Matt Carter's sermon twice and was in tears both times - once on the treadmill at Planet Fitness! His is a picture of how the gospel fuels social justice and how his church has been used by God to transform a city. I "made" all of my kids listen to it, by which I mean, I sent my boys the link and a mother's plea, and forced Kayla to listen to it with me as we drove to our ski program in Vermont two Thursdays ago. She was affected by it almost as much as I was, I think. Here's the link.

How To Live in the Tension of Gospel and Social Justice

And here are two articles specifically about the Women's March:

Dear Daughter: Here's Why I Didn't March For You

Women's March Toward Islam?

I'm a little nervous about facing a couple of more weeks of restless nights over lots of comments negative and positive. I am willing to talk to you personally if you like, or via text/FB message/phone. Would you keep that in mind if you choose to respond?  I'd appreciate it so much. But I also understand that if I'm posting publicly, you should have the freedom to comment publicly, so if you must voice your disagreement (or your approval), please go ahead.  I just might respond to you in private this time around.

Monday, January 23, 2017

March On, Sister

"Oh my soul, march on with strength."
 (Judges 5:21)
That's what Deborah said.

It was her victory march, her conquering song. She led a march against oppression - the oppression of God's people. She marched alongside a reluctant man. She gave praise to God. She attributed the victory to Him

"Hear, O Kings! Give ear, O princes!
I, even I, will sing to the Lord;
I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel." 
(Judges 5:3)

I kept thinking of Deborah on Saturday. What would she think of this march?  Those posters? Those hats?

"Thus let all your enemies perish, O Lord!
But let those who love Him be like the sun
when it comes out in full strength."
 (Judges 5:31)

Would she have been able to sing that on Saturday? Would there have been solidarity around those words?

I also thought of Miriam.

"Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all of the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing." 
(Exodus 15:20)

All of the women. All of the women went after Miriam singing and dancing. It wasn't to demand their rights. It wasn't to require respect. They were dancing to raise awareness of the Majestic One, the Holy One.

"Miriam sang to them: Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted;
The horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea." 
(Exodus 15:21)

She led them to rejoice in the goodness of God. They were delighting in their deliverance by His hand. Would Miriam have gone to Washington? Would she have taken her daughter? Gathered the other Hebrew women for this event?

I thought of Lydia.

"On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth.  
She was a worshiper of God." 
(Acts 16:13)

I thought of the way Lydia chose to gather with women - in prayer. I thought of how this businesswoman is memorialized in Scripture - as a worshiper of God.  As one whose heart was soft to the things of God and to the men of God.

I thought of Esther.

"Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish."
(Esther 4:16)

I thought of how confused Esther might be by the women who marched on Saturday. No fasting? No praying? No risking of life in approaching the authorities? This is how you plan to garner safety for your gender? Respect?

Maybe I'm putting words in Esther's mouth; I don't know. Maybe she and Deborah, and Miriam, and Lydia would have all shown up and worn their p---y hats. I'm just having a hard time reconciling the marches, the songs, and the gatherings of my heroines of the faith with the women who marched on Saturday.  I'm having a difficult time understanding why my Christian sisters participated. And I'm having the toughest time with my Christ-following girlfriends who very eagerly and proudly posted photos of themselves on social media marching when the same eagerness and pride is not given publicly to Jesus, the object of their faith. Isn't He the only way, truth, and life?

Where are your Jesus posters?
Where are your public invitations to church?
Where are your links to great sermons?
Where are your gospel hashtags?
Where are your smiling photos from your small group Bible study?
Where are your protests on behalf of the persecuted church?
Where were your outcries on behalf of the pro-life women who were excluded on Saturday?

Will you also be at the March for Life in March?
Will you take your daughter to the next Christian women's conference? Prayer gathering?
Will you tell your daughter that Bill was no better than Donald when it comes to objectifying women?
Will you teach her the beauty of being single from I Corinthians? The beauty of marriage from Ephesians? The high calling of motherhood from Proverbs?
Will you spend your money to support a female missionary who risks her life on behalf of third world women who are truly marginalized?

Saturday's march also brought these verses to mind...

Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
Matthew 10:32-33

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.
Mark 8: 38

Participants in Saturday's march received the praise and affirmation of the world, but Christians are called to be different. In the world, yes, but not of the world. Jesus says the world will hate us as it hated Him, but many don't seem willing to take that risk. And it's not that I don't struggle with the fear of worldly rejection, I do. It's just that I felt a little abandoned by some of my sisters on Saturday. I thought we were in this together.

So, Saturday was disheartening to me (as was Friday), because I also long for right views of women, proper treatment, equality, safety, protection, honor, and justice.  I missed the inauguration (which is no great loss), because I spent the morning with a woman suffering in an abusive marriage. I encouraged and supported her in drawing a firm boundary (as in him out of the house), for her protection. I spent much of the day today corresponding and problem solving with a single mom doing the very best she can, but still in need of basics like a car, food, and tuition to complete her education. I sat in divorce court a while back in support of a friend making a difficult, but necessary choice for her own safety and the well-being of her kids. And I've wept with many women over the abuse of their fathers, the assaults of their boyfriends and even brutal rapes by complete strangers. (That last woman stayed a week at my house this summer - we prayed, we cried, we talked, we spent a day in the E.R.)

I'm just not sure marching on Washington (or Boston, or Chicago, or Los Angeles or wherever) is the answer to these deeply grievous situations.

In fact, I know it's not, and so I'll keep marching right here - for Christ and for women, too.

For the deep healing He offers them.
For the high value He bestows on them.
For the great dignity He instills in them.
And most importantly, for the precious salvation He purchased for them.

It's a march I believe my sisters Deborah, Miriam, Lydia, and Esther would lead if they were here today.

I think their prayer would be, their poster would read:

Oh my sisters, march on in strength.
The joy of the Lord is your strength!

(P.S. Came across this video. Do you listen to Beyonce? Watch Friends reruns? If so, you may be contributing to the problem. Check it out:  You Didn't Vote For Trump - Or Did You?)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Birthday Gifts: Part 2

Here's a better view of those Topo Chico bottles-turned-drinking-glasses. Aren't they great? What a cool gift. I just love seeing them in my cabinet. I love that the "cut" is just above the textured part of the bottle giving them a bit of a decorative flair. And that green tint? Perfect.
While I was uploading photos of Topo Chico glasses, I came across this photo - also of gifts. The gift of two of the cutest nephews you ever did see is obvious, but it's what they are wearing that was kind of a Christmas gift miracle. See those sweatshirts? Those, along with matching sweatpants, are what we sent to the California nephews this Christmas. (The fact that they live in Palm Springs, CA and have absolutely no need for sweatshirts and sweatpants is beside the point.)

Now, look at their shoes. We did not give them the shoes. My brother texted me this photo on Christmas to show me that the sweatshirts we sent perfectly matched the shoes they already owned! Wow. I'm pretty sure that making these guys the coolest kids at the skate park that day (new scooters for Christmas!) with their matching Nike gear makes us the coolest aunt, uncle, and cousins. I don't think it's any secret that the whole extended family is vying for that title, so thank you, TJ Maxx.

This post is getting really off topic, but I just HAVE to show you who I now ALMOST share a birthday with.  It's the above pictured Nike nephews' new little sister, born on Monday, just one day after my birthday. Talk about a gift and an answered prayer. Meet Taya...
Okay... back to the main point of this post.  I got to give gifts for my birthday which is what I desired this year over getting gifts. I really am happier that way.  

The gift of preparing communion. The gift of helping with babies.  The gift of shoveling snow. The gift of giving rides to and from church.

I was kind of tickled over how the Lord answered the prayer for gift giving on my birthday right off the bat that Sunday morning, but wondered if He wanted me/us to give any more gifts after those church-related ones. As I drove home to meet the two kids, I prayed this: "Ok, Lord.  Was that it?  Or are there more?"

Immediately after that prayer, I did a quick check of my email (while waiting in my driveway for the kids to load in the van) and discovered one announcing a new (one month early, but perfectly healthy) baby - one whose mom and dad only recently started attending our church. Robert has been meeting with the dad regularly to discuss the Bible and faith.  Together we have spent time with the mom to discuss the couples' unique situation. I knew Robert would regret not being able to make a baby-visit, since he is traveling, and it seemed pretty obvious that it was the next gift-giving opportunity. I sent an email offering a meal and my cell phone number, and got a text message within the hour.

"A meal on Monday would be so wonderful. Thank you."

Not my actual birthday, but still a gift to give.

The kids wanted to treat me to a late breakfast, so we all attended the early service, and then drove to our favorite breakfast restaurant in Northampton. The one with GF ginger-buckwheat pancakes. A tiny cafe and a weekend breakfast means waiting on the wooden bench along one wall about two feet away from those already enjoying their meal. 

Shoulder to shoulder on that bench, I couldn't help noticing the woman on my right.  Alone and slightly hunched over, she stared at the ground, diverting her eyes only occasionally and very cautiously as people squeezed by to get their name on the wait list. A tad disheveled, she exuded weariness and sadness. She seemed relieved when they called her name and she was able to escape the bench and sitting sardine-like next to me. She sat alone at a table nearby and got her coffee right away.

"What are you thinking about, Mom?" Cooper asked.

"What?" I answered, wondering if we were thinking the same thing.

"That's what you always ask us when we're quiet," he explained.

"I'm thinking that we should pay for that woman's breakfast," I revealed. "Since you guys are paying for me, I'll pay for her."

I thought we might miss the opportunity, since she was nearly finished with her meal before we were seated, but when our waitress came and took our order, we asked if we could pay for the woman sitting alone at the table by the window. Her eyes raised just enough to be sure of who I was talking about, and she nodded in affirmation. She took my debit card to the woman's waitress.

The kids worried that the waitress would reveal our identity, so I got up to top off my coffee at the self serve counter and on the way there made sure the waitresses knew it was supposed to be a secret.

"So, tell her that her meal was all taken care of, but not who did it?" they clarified.

"Yes," I confirmed, and we all shared a secret smile.

"What? Really?" were the surprised responses of the woman at the window when the waitress explained that her bill had been paid for. I couldn't look, but my kids couldn't resist slyly observing how it played out.

After she left, Cooper said he had also observed that she seemed sad and possibly disturbed by something. 

What a joy to see her perk up a bit upon receiving the gift.

Paul said that Jesus said "It is more blessed to give than to receive," (Acts 20:35), and we were experiencing the truth of that statement.

This post is getting long, but I promised to tell you the rest of the gifts today.  Really there was only one more gift we gave on Sunday - times four.

I drive past multiple homeless people on a daily basis wondering what to do for them. I'd read about this care package idea somewhere a while back. Then, recently, my friend Betsy told me about delivering these packages to folks on Boston Common with teens in her youth group. So, a "theme" was developing, and usually that means I'm supposed to act.

A little more research and a trip to Target on the way home from breakfast led to the next gift. Kayla helped me assemble four care packages intended for those living on the streets. Shopping for and packing them up was the easy part.  I could have done that all afternoon. 

Here's what we packed in each bag based on great online info about what TO and what NOT TO include in packages like this:

wet wipes
deodorant (not soap or shampoo)
lip balm
tissue pack
beef jerky (not trail mix or nuts)
chicken salad & cracker packs
cereal/breakfast bars (not granola bars - too hard/crunchy)
peanut butter sandwich crackers
applesauce (squeezable)
mints (not sticky, meltable candy)

(There are lots of opinions about what things are best to include. The non-sticky, non-crunchy guideline has to do with the dental issues of many homeless people. Money is encouraged for bus fare, coffee, etc. Also, females have unique hygiene needs, so male and female packs are a good idea.)

I'm estimating that these packages cost about $15 each including the $5. We filled gallon sized Ziploc bags, but you could do quarts and include fewer items.

The next step was more difficult: hand delivering them.

That was the other main suggestion: don't just throw a package out of your car AT people.

Rather, go TO them. Meet them. Give them the care and attention they deserve.

I thought I might get out of it due to a couple of birthday phone calls I received that afternoon/evening, but my cute little co-packer was persistent that we go driving around looking for folks who might need these care packages. It was about 6:45pm when we finished packing, and Cooper was meeting us for a movie at 7:40.

"If we don't find anyone, we'll just keep them in the car for when we do," I suggested to my eager assistant.

But we drove downtown and there they were. It was dark, and the temperature was in the teens

We parked and gathered our gifts. A bright-eyed, bundled-up young woman was the first we approached. We pulled out our gift and asked if it was something she could use. Her eyes lit up even more as she assured us it was and delighted in the "snacks" that were enclosed. We asked her name and told her ours. We asked if she had a place to stay that night, and she did. The overnight shelter at First Baptist doesn't open until 9:30pm, though, so she still had over two hours in the cold. She thanked us with much humility and sincerity.

A block away was a man with a sign and another man talking with him. We approached the man with the sign, and inquired again if our little package was something he could use. When he took it, the other man looked on with such interest and praised the gift so much that it occurred to us that he was homeless as well, but we had only taken two bags out of the car.

"Would you like one, too?" I asked. "We have another, and my daughter can run and get it from our car."

Though he kindly protested, and said not to worry about it, Kayla ran back to our car and grabbed him a bag. While she did, I learned their names, where they were each from, and where they planned to spend the night - one at the shelter and one on a friend's couch.

As we said goodbye, the men thanked us profusely and kept expressing how thoughtful the gifts were, and how nice that we had come out in the cold, and....and...

There was no denying their genuine appreciation.

As we drove the ten minute route to the warm movie theater where we would sit eating hot buttered popcorn for the next two hours, we prayed for each of gift recipients. Kayla was mesmerized by the encounters (as was I), and uttered these words after a few moments of silence in the car: "They were so nice. They were just regular people."

Yes, they were. And because of them our hearts were stirred, our spirits were lifted, and what Isaiah says will happen, happened to us that evening...

And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. 
Isaiah 58:10 (NASB)

I like how Eugene Peterson puts it as well...

If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. 
Isaiah 58:10 (The Message)

Yep. My birthday was bathed in sunlight. Giving - even these very small acts of giving -  is the true having, the true receiving. I can see some new habits and traditions forming.

Want to know what happened with the 4th package? Well, it stayed in Cooper's (who's home on college break) car, which is the one we happened to be using on our evening excursion. Cooper wasn't with us, but we told him all about our experience. The following evening, he had to drive out of town and came across a homeless man with a sign at an intersection. It took him a moment, but he remembered that one of the packages was still in his car. The light was green by this time, but despite honks and hand gestures, he reached for the bag, held it out of his window, and waited for the man to come and get it.

I made up four more bags today (and got a better picture of them), and when Cooper saw one of them sitting on the kitchen table, he asked if he could have a couple to keep in his car.

"Maybe our suffering and brokenness begin a kind of healing when we enter into the suffering and brokenness of the world, right through the brokenness and givenness of Christ." (p. 72)

My own brokenness and selfishness certainly received a bit of healing that day. That of my kids as well.

What a gift that was...and is.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Birthday Gifts: Part 1

"What do you want to do for your birthday, Mom?"  With Robert typically gone to Texas and Oklahoma for the first two weeks of January, my kids are usually left with the burden responsibility of "making mom's birthday special" on their own. I kind of hate that. I love special days and gifts, but I enjoy giving them more than receiving them. And not because I'm super selfless like that.  It probably has more to do with my unrealistic expectations that all gifts given to me will perfectly match my temperament and desires, reflecting that I am truly known and loved, yet somehow they usually fall short of that expectation.

Hard to believe, I know.

The sad thing is that if you had asked me what gift would be THE perfect birthday gift for me this year, I would not have been able to come up with anything. And if I can't come up with anything, how in the world would anyone else be able to?
I do love the gifts the two kids left at home gave me: bowls.

I love bowls. I gave away bowls filled with goodies myself this Christmas. I'm guessing what happened is that Cooper and Kayla went to TJ Maxx to get me gifts. Kayla probably informed Cooper that I like bowls. (I could be wrong here. Sometimes he surprises me with his gift giving.) She got me a large white bowl with pretty ridges, and he got me a small white chip and dip bowl with the price tag still on it.  Hers had French macarons, a candle, and a coloring book inside.  He included a Starbucks gift card inside the Anniversary card which he edited to make a Birthday card to accompany his bowl. Both of them wrote me sweet (and funny) notes.  I loved it.

(Side note: Speaking of gifts, here's one of my favorites from Christmas...
You probably can't tell too well from this photo, but it's a set of smallish glasses hand cut and upcycled (and adorably packaged!) by my sister from Topo Chico bottles. If you don't know Topo Chico and you like your water "with bubbles" you're missing out!  Check it out here. Such a fun gift!)

Back to Kayla's birthday inquiry...

"Hmmmm...maybe we can make a couple of special deliveries for my birthday? Maybe hand out some Dunkin Donuts gift cards to strangers like we planned to do with Sarah and Jessica a couple of weeks ago? Maybe take some food to some of the homeless folks downtown?" was my reply to Kayla's efforts to plan a special day, and she seemed to really like the idea. If you've read Ann Voskamp's new book, The Broken Way, you may recognize this birthday plan. Thoughts I'd had before, she'd actually put into practice, and so I was encouraged to be bold.

"It's all like a small match to me that could start an explosion. Could there be a better way to celebrate another birthday, than to break through the anxiety that keeps a life bound and small?

...learning the art of living is learning the art of giving...

For God so loved that He gave...

...For God so loved that He gave...Is there any word more powerful than giving? Thanksgiving. Forgiving. Care-giving. Life-giving. Everything that matters in living comes down to giving.

Giving is the true having," is what Spurgeon said." (p. 67)

The Sunday birthday approached quickly, and we really didn't have a set plan. A couple of prayers for ideas and opened doors for giving were lifted up on Friday and Saturday. For open eyes and hearts to see the answers, too.

Prayers the Lord answers quickly and specifically. I'm learning.

We pulled up to church at 8:30am, because Kayla has communion and kid duty, only to find Cindy, our worship leader stuck at the bottom of the incline to the parking lot.  She'd not been able to make it up due to snow and ice, and now her car is stalled and she's blocking traffic and calling AAA and there's a newborn in her back seat. So, God allowed us to give the gift of a baby transported to a warm spot and a mama with one less thing to worry about in the moment.

Up the church steps with baby we go, through the...snow.

Snow? Snow on the side church steps. Snow on the front church steps. Snow on the front walkway and sidewalk. 3 inches or so and not the way things are supposed to go.

Oh, but I prayed for this. Yeah, I prayed for gift giving opportunities.

And so now...the gift of snow removal is given to a congregation arriving any moment. First by two hastily recruited, yet very willing volunteers. Then given by me and the one who overheard me worry that the town gets upset about that front walk not being shoveled, not to mention our neighbors, and... "I'll take care of it," Brett said.

Him at one end. Me at the other. (Despite his protests.) We meet in the middle with a high five and grab the sand bucket so no one else slides down the incline and needs AAA.

There was...More baby holding. More communion cup filling. Diaper changing. Rides home.

All gifts we got to give on my birthday.

"Just what you wanted to do on your birthday...shovel snow." Jenna laughs.

"And change diapers," Cindy chimes in.

"Actually..." I say, "It kind of was..."

No, not kind of. It was what I wanted to do. I'd actually hoped, prayed, and planned for this.

And the answers just kept coming.

We got to give several other gifts that day, and I'll tell you about the rest of them on Friday.

They were a little scary, but so worth the small risk. Life changing, really.

"...there is no life worth living without generosity because generosity is a function of abundance mentality. And abundance mentality is a function of identity and intimacy.  When you know you are loved have abundantly enough to generously give enough. And that moves you into the enoughness of an even more intimate communion." (p. 68-69)

Yes.  Thanks, Ann.

Happy Birthday to me!

(Oh, and maybe on Friday, I'll have a better pic of those cute Topo Chico glasses!)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Trip, A Tea Party, & 3 Winners!

Macy's on 34th
John Piper's Advent reading plan on the Bible App has been giving me a lot to think about and be challenged by lately. Here's part of what day 22 said:

"You can read every fairy tale that was ever written, every mystery thriller, every ghost story, and you will never find anything so shocking, so strange, so weird, so spellbinding as the story of the incarnation of the Son of God."
Urbanspace on Vanderbilt
Thank you, Jenna, for the recommendation!
You can also travel to New York City and take in all of its elaborate window displays, giant Christmas trees, and holiday music playing everywhere and forget to set your mind on Jesus. You can even host a Christmas tea party for a great group of teen girls, make gingerbread houses, create handmade gifts, and eat Christmas cookies without considering the baby born to die.

But we tried not to do that this week.
Mary & Izckra got to try the gigantic doughnuts.
Just choosing to go to NYC at the beginning of a busy week was an opportunity to trust God! I had to fight the temptation to fret over all that was not yet done back home, but the calmer of the seas was providing peace and helping me to laugh at the days to come.
We tried the pistachio-cardamom gluten free bread and the chocolate truffle cookies.
First we had a taco, cookie, and doughnut feast at Urbanspace on 44th near where we parked. Then it was shopping on 5th Avenue - Topshop, GAP, Uniqlo and more.  Later we hit the H&M near Macy's, of course.
It was a Sweet Sixteen celebration for Mary!
Skating at Rockefeller was the plan, but the girls decided against it once we were there. It was pretty cold and windy out, so we headed underneath the big tree for dinner and more shopping - gluten free Mediterranean wraps, soup, burgers, sweet potato fries and Starbucks. Wandering around in Anthropologie took us about an hour, but no one dared purchase anything due to the mile-long check out line.

Saks 5th Avenue is directly opposite the Rockefeller tree.  If you've been there, you know that if you turn 180 degrees from looking at the tree you see the front of Saks. Not only are the window displays beautiful there, but they do a light show on the front of their building every ten minutes. Such fun treat - and a lot to take in in just one spot!

My old friend Mike stopped by Rockefeller for a quick hello and then swiped us all onto the subway headed in the direction of Macy's. From there we Ooo-ber'd it took an Uber back to our parking spot and enjoyed chatting with our driver who is planning to enter the NYPD Academy in January and shares a love for the show Blue Bloods. How cool that someday soon he'll be working for Commishioner Tom Selleck.  ;-)
Saks 5th Avenue Light Show
Wednesday was spent getting ready for the tea party (and tonight's open house), and Thursday morning we enjoyed having several of Kayla's friends over for her annual tea party. I just love this tradition!
Dress Code: Pj's
Some friends have moved away and some weren't able to make it this year, but just look at how much they've grown! When we first started doing this, I could totally envision this past Thursday's scene in my kitchen - big girls enjoying all the same tea party activities that they did when they were little.  Does anyone ever outgrow a love for decorating gingerbread (well, graham cracker) houses?
Tea Party 2008
Thanks for reminding me of this pic, Virginia!
After decorating our houses, we moved on to the actual tea party part - eating finger foods and drinking hot tea, hot chocolate, and we've added coffee in the last couple of years. We used to read a children's Christmas book together while everyone was eating, but this year we switched to a passage of Scripture. I chose Mary's song - the magnificat - to read to these girls who are all probably about the same age as Mary was when she was visited by the angel.  We talked about the meaning of "bondslave" and discussed Mary's virtuous character and love for God as revealed in her song. I pray that each of these young women continues to grow in her desire to know and serve God in the same way.

Next we made our gifts for mom - a coconut oil, sugar, and peppermint hand and/or foot scrub...

 And pocket sized hand warmers - fabric squares sewed together and filled with rice which can be heated in the microwave. I thought I might have to spend a lot of time helping them with the sewing machine, but thankfully (and impressively!) several of the girls knew how to use it.  I hardly had to help at all, because they just naturally helped each other.

The boys hung around for a while before letting us have the house to ourselves.
So nice to have them home!
So nice to also have Ms. Abbott with us - or "Sabbott" as she is now affectionately known.
Even Sabbott got sewing instructions from Jessica!
There was cookie decorating and game playing later and I enjoyed every minute of the morning into early afternoon - even the kitchen cleaning from which I could hear the girls laughing and chatting in the living room. Truly a delight.

Mary's song always serves to help me remain in awe and worship during this season...

My soul exalts in the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior...for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on generation after generation toward those who fear Him... Luke 1: 46-50

Thinking on the Mighty One, the Savior, and His mercy have sustained me this week.

John Piper has given me words to pray in request for a heart that is spellbound by the incredible gift of the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection...

"Oh, how I pray for a breaking forth of the Spirit of God upon me and upon you; for the Holy Spirit to break into my experience in a frightening way, to wake me up to the unimaginable reality of God."

May your heart be wakened by the Spirit this Christmas to the reality of the God who put on flesh for you, to Emmanuel, the God who came near.

And now for the winners of the giveaway...

(I used this website to help me draw your names!)

For bundle #1: The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield, and the Bird's Nest Necklace.

Congrats, Itamar!

And for Bundle #2: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss, and the Bird's Nest Necklace.

Congrats, Angela!

And I decided to add a third prize: The One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Voskamp.

Congrats, Michelle!

I'll send these your way mid-January and I pray they encourage you as they have me. And if you've already read them, pass them along to someone who could use them!

Merry Christmas, everyone!