Sunday, November 25, 2018

Christmas Tree Farm

Today was a good day. Church, lunch at my mom and dad's, then off to the local Christmas tree farm to pick out our trees. One for my parents and two for us, thanks to a tradition that my son started as a toddler of individual trees. I passed on an adult tree this year because our living room only has space for two. This ended up being a good thing since my son's tree became huge the moment we got it through the door. My daughter carried her own tree this year. Ah the memories. I think this Christmas is going to be the best one yet!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

If I Were a Rich Girl...

A few weeks ago, I was humming around my kitchen doing everyday things when the first two lines of this popped into my head. I decided that it would be fun to run with it for a bit, and discovered many more -ook/-ay combinations that I expected. It started out just as fun but ended up being more poignant than I expected as my heart let a little longing out.

(can be sung to the tune of "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof.
Repeat ,"If I were a rich girl, la di da di..." between each verse.)

If I Were a Rich Girl

I would feed my cats three times a day
And I'd never ever cook.

I would live a quiet kind of way
with my nose stuck in a book.

I would always know just what to say
Even if awhile it took.

I would learn to dance and lean and sway
with my head a little crook.

I would have a beach house on the bay
windows lighting every nook.

I would plant my fragrant apple way,
and hang hats on every hook.

I would have my friends please come and stay
and we'd share a laughing look.

I would learn to pray and pray and pray
for a heart that never shook.

I would thank the Potter for the clay,
Never did He me forsook.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Book Notes: Courage to Soar

A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance

by Simone Biles

There is so much that I want to say about this book. First, the experience of reading her first hand account of events, then going on YouTube to watch a video of that same event, was awesome. It felt very futuristic to be able to meld the old and new forms of biography available to us now in the digital era. Very satisfying, fun, and a little mind-blowing. It was a whole new dimension of a reading experience. 

Second, it was serendipitous how right this book was for this exact moment of my life. On the surface, a 36 year old mom and a young gymnast might not seem to have much in common, but I too am competing in an endurance sport: Christianity. A while ago my aunt referred to me as "an Olympic waiter" and it summed up how I have felt most of my life, waiting for one thing or another to happen as I walk with God, learn about His son, Jesus, and try to listen to His Spirit. A lifetime of Christianity is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards, too, are so very, very great. 

Finally, I cannot mention her book, and my admiration for her, without bringing up the current event of the 150+ courageous women who spoke out against the abuse they suffered as gymnasts and women. Simone Biles was one of them, but it does not define her, nor any of them. I am proud of all of them, and pray that something like this will never happen again. The horror of their private suffering makes their public achievements all that more remarkable. And that is all I have to say about that. Except for one more thing. Simone did not choose to speak of this in her book, and I like that, because to me, it shows that we are still in control of our stories, no matter what has happened to us. As in the difference between Kings and Chronicles, it's okay to have a "good parts" version. 

The struggles that most resonated with me were some of the big choices she faced, and her ultimate decision (twice!) to give up something she wanted - high school first, then college sports - for something greater, an Olympic career. She felt a responsibility to develop the talent God gave her and she stayed the course. She agonized over high school or homeschooling, and I have also been at that crossroads this year with Raccoon. His balance tipped towards school, but it wasn't an avalanche and he is only in second grade, so we'll see what the future holds. The balance is equal at this point for Kitty going into kindergarten in the fall. Their schooling next year is still mostly a question mark. It made me feel better that Simone wanted to endlessly discuss her options, as I also like to do that, to the dismay of my family.

I am sure that more lessons have stuck in my head and will trickle in, joining the flow of all things past and present. Sometimes the things that I remember as I sit at my computer are not always the things that pop up and encourage me in my daily life. The structure of gymnastics appeals to me, a daily rhythm, levels, and a series of goals leading up to one final, huge goal. I think of her just doing the work, day in, day out, good attitude and bad. But most of all, I hope to remember Simone's pluck, love of fun, and humility. She inspires me to give praise to the God who created us both. If she's doing life this way, under tremendous pressure, and still smiling, maybe, just maybe, so can I. 

My Favorite Moment

My favorite moment in the story was when she finally gets paid for doing what she loves and her parents make her meet with a financial adviser. "She wanted me to tell her something that I've always wanted," (Simone) said. "She told me to think of something really big."

My Favorite Quotes
(I knew I was going to love this book because she starts every chapter with a quote!)

"...don't be too hard on yourself. But you do need to own up to your own talent a little bit more. Yes, you are very good, and so there will be expectations on your. But that is not for you to worry about..."
- Martha Karolyi

"Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end." (I want to stamp this on my forehead! Not really. Okay, maybe.)
- Robin Sharma

"You will not always be strong, but you can always be brave."
- Beau Taplin

"Love... arrive(s) at its destination full of hope."
- Maya Angelou

"The unexpected is usually what brings the unbelievable."
- Mandy Kellogg Rye

"We make each other stronger. That ain't ever gonna change."
- from the film, The Cheetah Girls

"Love begins by taking care of the closest ones - the ones at home."
- Mother Teresa

"Dreams come in a size too big so we can grow into them."
- Josie Bissett

"Sometimes not getting what you want is a brilliant stroke of luck."
- Lorii Myers

"To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage." (I love that he says "an" end instead of "the end," because it's so true that a story can go many different ways.)
- Ralph Waldo Emerson 

"The fears are paper tigers."
- Amelia Earhart

"It is not enough to take steps which may some day lead to a goal; each step must itself be a goal..."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights."
- Muhammad Ali

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Book Notes: The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness

by Joel ben Izzy

This is my favorite book in a long time. I wish I was still in AP Lit class with Mr. Quiring so I could recommend it to someone. Ben Izzy combined the stories he tells with the story of his life in just the right amounts. I also like that he included just the juicy bits and none of the dry stuff. I happen to be at a similar place in my life, searching for the meaning behind the last few years of my life, waiting for that aha! moment, or as Lenny said, it's often just one word. My favorite story was the one about the ugly truth becoming young and beautiful in the retelling. My second favorite was one about the horse and the son. His storytelling is masterful. He starts each section with a story, then tells part of his own, then brings it together, often with one succinct line, like, "My horse was gone." Beautiful.

My favorite quotes:

With that, sit back and let me tell you my tale, of a journey that took me through dark times, yet gave me a gift that I treasure. That gift is this story...

I'd had no great epiphany. But something had shifted inside me; I had crossed the line from confusion to bewilderment. It's a nice feeling, bewilderment - the same confusion on the inside, but wrapped in a sense of wonder.

What I've learned is that the answers come when they're ready. The harder the question, the simpler the answer. For your question, it probably comes down to a single word. But there's no point in guessing. the word by itself would be meaningless. First you must learn to love the question: "Why did you lose your voice?"

The hard part comes when you're in the middle. You don't know what to do, which way to go, forward or backward.

"Letting go," he said softly. "That's what life is all about. We're born with fists clenched, holding tight. Yet we die with our hands open... We have to get good at dying, so we do it a little each day."

Failing is an art. Learn to do it well and you'll be happy...

...Job is a great story. ... And it has a great moral; simply put - "there are things in this life we just don't understand."

The way to find the answer to a question was to stop looking, and the reason I couldn't see it was because it was right in front of my face.

Sometimes you must follow your dreams very far to find that which is closest to your heart.

He (Itzhak Perlman) smiled... "You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left..."

While it may not have been the simple happy ending that I had craved, in its own way it was better. I had arrived at something more enduring than happiness, a feeling that only comes with time and loss - and wears no shirt. (Which is the moment that I understood the previous story about the happy boy with no shirt. True happiness cannot be taken away from you by anyone.)

I said that your story was in the hands of a masterful storyteller. ...As I see it, either way you have to lose something - and that's good. As I've said before, you are one lucky man (because you have something to lose.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Notes: In a Heartbeat

Sharing the power of cheerful giving

by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy with Sally Jenkins

My mom recommended this book to me. She's been listening to audiobooks in the car and we both share a fondness for memoir/biography. Having seen the movie, The Blind Side, I was especially interested. Honestly, I opened the book first to the meeting Sandra Bullock, then read from there to the end, then started back at the beginning. I find myself increasingly starting at the end of books, wanting to make sure that it will hold my interest. As a fellow blogger says, I think I have child-induced adult-onset attention deficit. I don't seem to be able to focus on anything for very long after getting interrupted every 5 minutes for 8 years now. But I have faith that it will pass and my attention will return from wherever it went. As proof, I finished two books in the last two days!! This is monumental for me since all of last year I only read one book. Maybe it was two and I forgot to post about one. But three so far this year is a huge improvement, and feels like a return to my true library-loving self. Now back to the actual point of this post... (see what I mean about my attention?)

This book was very enjoyable. I liked all the different view points, although at times I'd lose track of who was speaking. It was fun to get a peek into a different lifestyle than my own, although I have to say that Leigh Anne's philosophy of no-kitchen-no-cooking really spoke to me. I thought I was the only person who would be happy if I never cooked again, although my reasons are different than hers (a little OCD about cleanliness. She wraps the counters in saran wrap if she does have to cook.) I have decided that I dread cooking because of my poor sense of timing, the chaos, and the small chances of success.

It was good of them to be so open about their family's strengths and weaknesses. Some of the things that worked for them would not fly in my family as we have different temperaments, but I liked switching views for a while.

Favorite Quotes:

She (Leigh Anne) was either going to solve all the world's problems - or just take over the world.

Leigh Anne loves to show people things they've never seen before. Like the ocean. Taking a child to see the sea for the first time is one of her favorite things to do.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Book Notes: Joni & Ken

An Untold Love Story

by Ken & Joni Eareckson Tada

There it is, right out in the open, the question of suffering.

I sit in a chair by the fireplace at my parents' house as I read. I hear my mom tell a little boy, "Put your jacket on." My mom runs a small preschool out of her home and it's time for recess. The little boy comes wandering up to me - I am nowhere near the jackets - and asks, "What are you doing?" I do not answer his question, but respond with, "What are you supposed to be doing? Go put your jacket on."

Romans 8:17 NLT
And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God's glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

When I suffer (which has no comparison to what Joni has been through!), I am like a little child wandering in to the throne room and asking God, "Are you still doing your job?" Instead of doing what I'm supposed to be doing, I try to look over God's shoulder and see what He's doing. I want to make sure that He is, in fact, doing something and has not forgotten about me. Sometimes, God pulls me up on His lap and lets me take a peek. Other times, He gently but firmly points me back to what I'm supposed to be doing.

God is quite up front about never promising us that bad things won't happen. In fact, He repeatedly shows and tells us about suffering and persecution and troubles. He did not even spare His own son. He often does not answer the why, not to Job nor to Gideon nor to me, but he reassures all of us that He is here. He is close and caring. All of our troubles have an end date and there is nothing that is beyond His grace. We do not go through hard things because He has forsaken us or does not care or has accidentally misplaced us for a season. He does not say, "Now where did I put Becky? Ah yes, Wishkah. Left her there a bit too long. Oops. Better do something about that." Although that is what I have thought a time or two, waiting for this current assignment in my life to make sense. While I wait, back to the book.

I faced my fears that it would be too much for my heart to bear, hearing her story, and finished the book this morning. It was very sweet to read of the renewed love in their marriage after her cancer diagnosis. My husband and I went through something similar after I had a physical/mental/spiritual breakdown in April 2016, almost two years ago now. I thought it would be the last straw for our marriage, but my husband was tender and sweet, and as Joni says, the presence of Christ in my life (for a time, we have had fights since then, ha ha).

Even though I cannot explain the why, my theory about suffering is, "The harder the trial, the bigger the reward." As an earthly parent, if I know my child has to go through something hard, like being brave for shots, I promise them something good in return. How much more our Heavenly Father, both in this life and in the life to come. I was speaking to a pastor's wife one day, and we were both trying to put into words how the sorrows we have endured have somehow scooped out more space for joy. I certainly hope this is true in Joni's life and I pray for blessing upon blessing in her and Ken's life.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Book Notes: I Am Number 8

Overlooked and Undervalued but Not Forgotten by God

by John W. Gray III

My life is a strange combination of knowledge and ignorance. In high school, I never knew that my classmates and I were ranked by GPA until I found out at the end of my senior year that I was salutatorian. I am secretly competitive, and if I had known that there was a list somewhere (and a monetary prize!), I would have worked hard to be first. But I did not know, and so I ended up second only by the grace of God. A few more semesters of PE or higher math and I probably wouldn't have even made the top ten.

That same surprise is what I felt when I first heard Pastor John Gray preach. I grew up in a Christian family and I love God and I thought that going to church and trying to do my best and sacrificing everything was just what was expected of me until the sweet by and by. I was marching along, doing things as best I could, and then all of a sudden I find out that there is more. Wait, what?

I felt like a laborer painting a wall. When a brush or color ran out, more would show up, but only enough for the next little bit. The wall seemed endless and time ground on. Then a voice says, "Come and see." The painter stands back amazed, staring at a giant mural. All those pieces were part of a final picture, one unified whole. My reaction, reading this book and listening to his sermons, has been a series of Oh! moments in my mind and heart.

"You do know that God never wastes pain?"*

"Give them a divine revelation of everything they've been through."

"From what's your name again? to we've been expecting you." (Like that moment in a Barbie movie when she walks up to a castle, dirty and tired, just hoping to be let in for a little shelter, when the servant opens the door and says, "We've been waiting for you. You're the one. All of this is yours.")

"Then God said, "Put the oil on him."" (David, somewhere in one of the Samuels)

"What does He want to do with you?"

Oh! God is doing something. Hang on. Don't give up, not today. It's not all labor and toil and heartache. There is reward, too. These words fell into my dry spirit and breathed new life into me. None of it is in vain. God sees it all. He cares and He is about to make all things right again.

Favorite Quotes from the book:

If you are someone who has felt like your life carries no intrinsic, inherent value, this book is for you. In truth, this book is for all of us. ... God's about to reveal to you a purpose so necessary, so critical, so essential that he had to hide it behind pain, grief, and misunderstanding in order to protect it until this very moment.

The oil didn't flow until he arrived. Why is this significant? Because you should know that as a number 8, you are not in competition with anyone else. ... The anointing we carry as number 8s, the significant specific enablement of God for our calling, is so unique that we are not in competition with anyone else. ... They all complement one another. So we are not in competition with anyone; we are in concert with everyone. ... There is only one heaven." *

"I've learned that the best books are lived before they are written. ...until I had lived the chapters, they couldn't come together correctly."

*The italics are excerpts from his sermon on April 19, 2017, at Lakewood Church in Houston, TX.

A few more of my favorite quotes from His sermon by the same title are below:

"When I think about His goodness my hands go up, and then they stay there, and then they stay there, and then they stay there."

"Pump your fist in the air like you're knocking down a wall."

"Keep knocking until you get your book."