Monday, November 28, 2016

A Week Of Thanksgiving

Last week went way too fast, and had to be highly scheduled as you can see.  Our boys arrived home for the Thanksgiving break Monday night after Robert, Kayla, and I had gone to bed. Cooper picked Kory up in Boston on his way home from Gordon College which was so perfect. Since Kayla and I would be gone early the next morning, I had to leave them a schedule for Tuesday.

The schedule included a list of mealtimes and appointments.  One kid to the spine & sport clinic for a scoliosis check up (all is well!), one kid to the dentist for a cleaning and wisdom tooth evaluation (which led to a wisdom tooth extraction appointment for the Christmas break), and one to the eye doctor, because a much needed prescription for new contacts was being held ransom there until an updated exam was in the books.

When you add in the cooking meals, monitoring of everyone's checking account, school schedules, social engagements, and summer plans, it really becomes a full time job. The calendar is always up on my phone, and I don't know what I would do without my iPhone "alerts."

I decided to include cookies to soften the rude awakening: Welcome Home! Now...get up, get dressed, get in the car, and hurry! Time's a wastin'!
There was, however, still time for reunions with old friends.  My boys got time with several of their "back home" friends - both at our place and at their friends' new places. And Kayla got time with her friends at a Gilmore Girls party the day after Thanksgiving.  (More on that soon!) Thanksgiving Day was also a fun reunion of old friends.  That and enjoying lots of new friends, too.

My family still likes to eat breakfast on Thanksgiving Day while watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, so I made two paleo dishes: Sausage-Rosemary-Sweet Potato Frittata (from Danielle Walker's Meals Made Simple) and Almond Butter Blondies. (I double that recipe.) Lots of protein to keep everyone satisfied until our 1pm meal.
I had to make these in our toaster oven, since the big oven had a 20lb turkey in it.
It worked surprisingly well!
Pies and sweet potatoes were all made the day before, but not until the late afternoon, since our backsplash was getting its grout on Wednesday morning. Not having access to the kitchen for most of the day was a bit of a Thanksgiving challenge, but I'm so happy about these much needed upgrades.
This pic is actually from Tuesday when the backsplash was installed.
Our across-the-street-neighbor put it in and gave us a tutorial and a few tedious jobs
along the way. We were so thankful for his willingness to teach us.
Our first guests arrived fully awake at around 10am - can't you tell? Actually, their mom forced them out of bed, so she could come early and help with the meal prep. Can't believe these guys are all in COLLEGE now. Just yesterday they were all 7 years old.
From left to right: Baylor, Boston University, Gordon College, UMass)
All gluten free except for the flaky crusted fruit pies which Izckra brought.
 Here they are a little more wide-eyed,
This year we tried moving our dining room table into the living room and using smaller long tables from church in the dining room.  It seemed to work pretty well.

Our guests were a true blessing. Our worship leader, Cindy, and her family, since she had not yet given birth to baby #2 (4 days overdue at that point!) was here, and local students, too - one from New York, one from Kansas, one from Vietnam, one from China, and one from Kenya. Three from Amherst College, one from UMass, and one from Smith. Each one with a story and each one with a competitive spirit in the after-dinner game of Taboo. My friend, Izckra, and her family as well as our beloved Lois were also able to join us.
This guest book was a wedding gift 24 years ago, and we are only a couple of pages away from it being totally filled up. If I remember correctly, it was given to us by one of my grandmother's friends, and it seemed like an odd gift at the time. Turns out it was somewhat prophetic, and having a steady stream of guests in our home throughout the years has been one of our greatest blessings. Truly. A blessing to us, and to our kids, too.  In fact, it would not really be a holiday or a Sunday lunch if we weren't "having people over" to put it in their words. The community the Lord has provided for us over the years is something I am so very thankful for. Each person has left their mark, and we are forever changed.

I splurged on a couple of tablespoons of white potatoes and even had a piece of pecan pie for dessert, but am
still trying to stay on the GAPS/Candida diet for the most part. Feeling lots better, too!
Forgot to get a before pic!
Here's a pic of the new counter (with appetizers!) and backsplash - though we hadn't wiped off the haze of grout yet.
Even though it was cold and drizzly on Friday, we managed to pick out and chop down a Christmas tree at our favorite local tree farm. We even ran into friends from church there. (Hi Brett, Jenna, Edison, and Graham!) Wish we had thought to take a picture with them.

It was so nice to be able to chop down the tree all together this year, but I couldn't help wondering if it might be the last time, and so I was determined to get a photo. They're growing up and outgrowing home in some ways - ways that are probably good and healthy, but it's all bittersweet to me.
There was the annual post-Christmas-tree-chopping trip to Starbucks, and then we said goodbye to Kory on Friday afternoon, but not before we put him to work on our Gilmore Girl party preparations (!). Cooper took off Sunday afternoon after having his old friend Cameron over on Saturday evening. Lots of basketball playing, zombie killing, and junk food eating.

All of it making me thankful. A full schedule. A full house. A full heart.

(And a full report on our Gilmore Girls Party and movie marathon is coming up next!)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thankful: Plants, Pillars, And No Outcries

Last Thursday I drove halfway across the state (which only takes an hour here in Massachusetts) to meet my friend Betsy for coffee at Panera. Betsy moved to the Boston area this past summer and left me without one of my dearest friends in town and my every-Thursday-morning-running-partner. After coffee with Betsy, my friend Christina showed up for lunch. We talked Betsy into joining us for soup and salad, and it ended up being a wonderful morning of catching up and me getting to introduce two of my good friends to each other.

Christina and I had about an hour together after Betsy left, and she asked me how I'd been doing lately. It was a knowing and intentional question, since it had been just over a year that Robert and I reached out to Christina and her husband for some counsel, friendship, and support.  As a fellow pastor's family, they were so encouraging to us during what had become a really confusing and challenging time. As we drove away from their house last October, I don't think we realized just how challenging the coming year would become - probably one of the most difficult and emotional years of our marriage, ministry, and parenting. And not because a lot of terrible things were happening at the time, but rather a lot of things had happened in the previous 3-4 (or maybe 7) years that had taken their toll without us realizing it.

As I thought about how to respond to Christina's question, Psalm 144 immediately came to my mind. I had just read it a couple of days prior, and used it both as a prayer for the future as well as a way to give thanks for all that the Lord has accomplished in the past year.

Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; my lovingkindness and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and He in whom I take refuge... v. 1-2

The Lord had truly been our rock, fortress, stronghold, deliverer, and shield. He used the difficulties to remind us that we are indeed in a war here on earth,
here in Amherst, MA,
here in a church,
here in a family.
here in our own hearts.

He sharpened our battle skills and our weapons. And He gave refuge in the form of Christina and her husband as well as another pastor-turned-friend with whom we met regularly. It was hard, but as usual with a God who is redemptive in all His ways, it was good.

I was telling Christina about how the Psalm paints such a vibrant picture of a flourishing home and family life through what the Psalmist, David, requests...

Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants, and our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace. 
v. 12

...and how my sons and daughter are becoming these things - mature and wise young men who are making good and godly choices and a young woman strong, beautiful, bearing up under trial, and full of integrity.

Grown up plants.

A corner pillar as for a palace.
Our kids have been such a joy to us in recent months. We marvel at their hard work in school and in their part-time jobs. We miss them when are scattered across the country and state. We laugh at their stories. We pray for their mid terms and oral presentations, for their dating adventures and their break ups. We text and SnapChat and Face Time. We share secrets and inside jokes. The kids themselves keep in regular contact and truly enjoy one another as siblings and friends. They are growing up, blossoming, and bearing fruit. They are standing firm and adorning the palace, the household of God. They are a blessing, and I thank the Lord for the privilege of raising them, of knowing them.

Oh, I know it could change in the blink of an eye. Tragedy, sickness, conflict, rebellion, sin. No one is immune to these things, and even I was in a much different place this time last year. It did not feel like a time of peace and abundance last October. I talk with other moms regularly whose kids are either suffering personally, or rebelling against them and God, or both. It is truly heartbreaking, and so I give thanks to God for this season of flourishing in my own home.
Last home football game of his senior year.  So bittersweet.
Freshman Orientation at Gordon College.
Sweet Sixteen and a budding artist in many areas.
I'm also grateful for a husband who prioritized me, my concerns, complaints, critiques, and consternation. He truly made them his own. More than that, he pointed us to Christ.  He prayed when I couldn't. He pressed in when he didn't want to. He sought to understand what was really going on and what God was teaching both of us.
Lots of mountain climbing this year... ;-)
We just came in from our morning run, and I was able to tell him these things, to tell him how thankful for him I am. It was a hard year, but he was patient and proactive.  And all the while, faithfully (and bravely!) teaching truth to our millennial congregation and training leaders to do the same. I am so thankful for his unwavering faith in God and his faithfulness to me.
He had no choice but to dance with it was John and Olivia's Grease hit - "You're the one that I want"

The verses that follow continue to illustrate a desired a time of abundance and blessing...

Let our garners be full, furnishing every kind of produce, and our flocks bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; let our cattle bear without mishap and without loss, 
let there be no outcry in the streets!

How blessed are the people who are so situated; 
how blessed are the people whose God is the Lord! v. 13-15

Though David is asking to be rescued in this Psalm, his prayer is one of hope and vision. Though he's asking that God scatter his enemies and protect him from their weapons and deceptions, he trusts in God's ability to bring about justice and blessing. Though things look very grim for David, his trust is not in his current circumstances, it is in his covenantal God. He knows a time of abundance is coming both in this life and even more so in the life to come.

There has been a a lot of outcry in our nation's streets lately. I read Psalm 144 just after the election, and could not help thinking of the many protests, the school walkouts, the picketing, the boycotting, and all of the Facebook/Twitter outrage. Just across the street from us, Amherst College canceled classes and had counselors on hand. A block in the other direction, UMass sent campus wide emails about "safe spaces" and opting out of mid-terms due to distress. In next door Northampton, MA, Smith College placed "tissue stations" all over campus for women grieving and depressed and fearful.

I had a lot of snarky thoughts on all of these things, but then I remembered Psalm 144. The request/vision of David that there "be no outcry in the streets" was directly related to "how blessed are the people whose God is the Lord." The people whose God is also the Savior don't need to be outraged. They don't need to rant on Facebook and thereby reveal themselves as bigoted as they accuse the other side of being. They don't need to fear or accuse or blame. (Many of my female, black, latino, immigrant, homosexual friends feel the same, in case you may be inclined to attribute my peace to privilege rather than to Christ.)

They are not without concern, of course. There is work to do especially for those of us whose God is the Lord, for those of us who are the body of Christ. But there is no need for outcry except to God Himself on behalf of a nation who does not know Him, and has no hope except in laws, and courts, and policies. May they come to know real hope. May they come to know the One who loves them and longs to be their fortress, deliverer, shield, and refuge, the One who can and will subdue their enemies and grant peace and hope in the midst of the war.

How blessed are the people who are so situated... v. 15

So, I'm thankful today.  Thankful to be "so situated." Thankful to have been through a year of challenge and brought into a time of blessing and abundance.

Grown up plants.

Corner pillars.

No outcries in the streets.

My situation may change. In fact, it's a given. So when that time comes, will you remind me of Psalm 144 and of David's hope in spite of fear and war?

Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2016

I Love Sundays II

I'm a bad pastor's wife/church member and always neglect to make myself a name tag, but if I had made a name tag and written something I was thankful for on it, "Sundays" would have been high on my list of choices. Right now I am thankful for so many things, so maybe I'll write again on Wednesday and tell you more about that.
These cheerful faces often greet me and everyone else who arrives.
UMass and Amherst College each have the entire week off, so the student crowd was a bit smaller than usual this Sunday.  Lots of former members were there, though, because of a wedding the night before.  It was a fun reunion weekend.
Cindy (our worship leader) was at church, but it was also her due date with baby #2, so she recruited others to lead...
 ...including a beautiful young lady who helped her mom lead the worship band. Gwyneth was born with spina bifida, but she's beating all the odds for her condition. Her parents regularly testify to God's healing and provision in her life. She did a GREAT job on vocals and violin.
 Robert's sermon was on...the rod. (Yikes!) But it's difficult to preach a sermon series on Proverbs and not mention it. It was the grand finale of weeks of potentially controversial sermons. The sex sermon was a month ago. Then it was the godly manhood sermon from Proverbs 31:1-9, and last week it was a godly womanhood sermon from Proverbs 31:10-31.

I stayed home for that one.

It's not that I don't love Proverbs 31. I do. It's just that so many don't, and the possible reactions have come to make me nervous over the years.  Plus, somehow I always wind up being mentioned by my hubby in those sermons, which makes me even more uncomfortable.
 So yesterday's sermon was on God's discipline in general and parent's discipline of children specifically, including spanking. Faith is not my top spiritual gift, and so I'm pretty sure I said something to Robert as he was walking out the door for church like this: "Babe, I'm pretty sure spanking is illegal in Massachusetts."

"And?" was his response.
As usual, he did a GREAT job with a very uncomfortable topic. The kids sitting in front of me kept looking over at their mom and dad and giving them big smiles and knowing looks. Later their mom and dad let Robert know how encouraging the sermon was.  The kids then brought Robert all of these drawings after the service.

(Pretty sure that's a cow jumping over the moon in the Nativity scene.)

Want the links to those crazy controversial sermons?  Here ya go:

(This one was preached by Chris Gow, a 2016 Amherst College graduate/football player, who decided to return to Amherst with his new wife, Katie - a UT grad, and serve on staff with Intervarsity there. Really incredibly delivered sermon by such a young man!  We are so thankful to have them in as ministry partners in this town!) 

 Amanda and Kevin got married on Saturday afternoon, and it was such a fun celebration and reunion of lots of old friends and church members who now live in Boston. People regularly leave this area, which is one thing we grieve in this church.  Everyone eventually graduates and moves to Boston, or New York, or Philadelphia, or D.C.  So sad, but to be a "sending church" of sorts is good, I suppose.

Gigantic Jenga and regular table-sized Jenga were the activities while we waited for the bride and groom to take their pictures.
Robert and Gabe set the wedding record at 23 blocks high. It was a nail biter!
Last Sunday's lunch and small group was a bit challenging without countertops. We are slowly renovating the kitchen, and the granite installers cut this piece wrong, so we had to wait over a week for them to come back with the proper piece. Cookie sheets across the future granite backsplashes were the makeshift serving space for corn chowder and sausage-kale soup two Sundays ago.
This Sunday's lunch had a brand new and even larger space from which to serve - black "leather" granite.  Not shiny and slick like typical granite.  I love it.

The tile backsplash went in this morning and things are beginning to come together!
Here's a peek:

A Mexican-themed lunch yesterday...

 And we finished up John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life over the last two Sundays...
 ...with drawings portraying the integration of faith and work...

 ...and discussions regarding the call upon everyone believers life to be a missionary in one capacity or another.

There's always one last stack of dishes...
After everyone left, these two stopped by. Brian washed every dish left over from small group that wouldn't fit in the dishwasher (there were a lot!) while Molly and I caught up over warm drinks at the dining room table. These two, who became dear friends while they were students, moved to Philadelphia after they got married in April.  See what I mean?  Everyone leaves us. Sigh...
It's always such a joy to be with them. Lots of laughter. Lots of love. They brought Robert coffee and me tea - tea that's good and soothing to the tummy.

(And speaking of tummies, I am feeling SO much better!  So many of you reached out to me over the candida issue, and I was so encouraged. It was a relief to know you have been through this exact issue or similar ones, or just to hear that you cared and were praying.  Thank you!)
After they left, I put on my pjs and drank some of that delicious tummy tea - ginger, licorice, and turmeric - and dreamed about my new tile backsplash while watching an episode of Blue Bloods with Kayla and Robert - our favorite these days.

I'm thankful for Sundays - overflowing with worship, the Word, friends, and fellow believers - even pjs, hot tea, kitchen upgrades, and Tom Selleck. ;-)

P.S. MY boys are BOTH coming home from college tonight to spend the week, and I can hardly wait!

I'll see you Wednesday, so I can tell you what I'm thankful for and how it all relates to them and to Psalm 144.

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

Monday, November 7, 2016

I Love Sundays

A half hour to read and review after Robert and Kayla leave...
The cutest, smartest Sunday morning co-pilots you've ever seen...
 View to my right...
...and to my left. Proverbs 31:1-9 today...on what makes a man.
Self Control. Sober Judgment. Sacrifice.
 Back home and a helper... brewing...three pots.
Real dishes and silverware...I love real dishes and silverware...
 ...and fresh, homemade food. (With help from two talented co-hostesses...Laura...and Laura)
Baked Ziti, Butternut Squash, Tossed Salad, Garlic Bread this week.
Pot Roast, Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Veggies, Pumpkin Souffle last week.
 Half of the smiling faces fit around the table...
 A vegan dessert for one of our favorite "Smithies"
Real conversations about spending both life and death for Christ...
 Inspirational viewing...Williams College...Haystack Prayer Meeting...Student Volunteer Movement
"If we are exiles and refugees on earth (I Peter), and if our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3), and if nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8), and if His steadfast love is better than life (Psalm 63), and if all hardship is working for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians)...
...then we will give to the winds our fears and 'seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness' (Matthew 6). We will count everything as rubbish in comparison with Christ (Philippians 3). We will 'joyfully accept the plundering of our property' for the sake of unpopular acts of mercy (Hebrews 10)...
...We will choose 'rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin,' and we will count 'the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt. (Hebrews 11)"
~ John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life
I even enjoy washing the Sunday dishes, but I usually have some help...

...even from the pastor at the end of a long day.
Catching up with the college discussions...
...and then he's off evening appointment with a non-church couple seeking marriage... but learning Christ for the first time...and how can he refuse that?

Self Control. Sound Judgment. Sacrifice.
My helper is off being a helper to another evening Bible study.  She's watching the little ones so the bigs ones can freely discuss and share and pray.

So...tea that's good for the tummy and an epsom salt bath for me, and this, that my dad sent and has taken me weeks to finish...
Texas Monthly articles are LONG, and so are Sundays, but I love them!