Friday, December 24, 2010

Blessed

And so I am.

Despite the hardships of this year, I am blessed, and I know it.  I feel it.  I experience it.  I am living it!

As I'm sure is evidenced by more frequent writing, I am coming back to life again.  I'm thinking and processing all that has happened.  I'm beginning to be able to see the blessings.

A few weeks ago, I started composing Christmas letters in my mind.  (That's as far as they have gotten.  I'm aiming for another New Year's letter this year.)  I'm not sure, but I think that I might have experienced a little Post Traumatic Stress.  I'd wake up in the night and relive some of the scarier moments, walking thru the event.  I usually ended up breathing hard and crying a bit.

I gave myself room, sat with the pain, let myself do that.  After all, within a 14 month span of time my son was randomly beaten up and we went thru the police scene and trial, another little son suffered a head-injury in a freak accident, my husband almost died, got another horrible infection, had another surgery, was unemployed for 3 months and had a lengthy recovery, I walked both of my parents thru joint replacement surgeries that did not go well and cared for their physical needs, and thru all of this, I carried our ninth child.  The pregnancy was considered high risk because of a rare rh isoimmunization.  (Big E, little c, and little n.)

I won't lie.  I've gone thru days when it felt like God didn't care.  I've barely held my mind and body together at times.  I don't know how we held on.   I've been angry sometimes, numb sometimes.

And God has handled it....all of it.

As the year wound down, and as I thought about what I wanted to say to everyone, I passed through the angst and God gently began to let me see the blessings.

He was here.  He's been here all along.  He never did leave.  Somewhere along the way I became numb to feeling.  I kept going because there was no option.  I knew, though, that God was saying, "Do you trust me?"  Each event and every time, I knew that was what He was asking. 

He was in the car as I drove along and my little Sam flew overhead in the medical helicopter.  He was in the courtroom as pictures of my battered son's face flashed on the screen.  He was with Jeff and I as we waited to learn the cause of his intense pain.  He was with me as I sat alone while Jeff was under the knife, was with me as I waited to hear if the infection had eaten his bone.  He was with my father and I as we sat alone pre-surgery - when I noticed how small and vulnerable he seemed on the hospital bed. 

He's been with me in every emergency room, every night watch in cold hospital rooms, through every blood draw and ultrasound. He was there, in the birthing room, as our baby emerged and we held him at last. 

How I love Him.

How faithful He is.

He's sent His blessing into our lives through our relationships.  They've been tested, but they stood and they've been strengthened.

We've been blessed by our friends.  By you.

You came out of the woodwork to love us and support us when we were hurting.  Your cards, the meals, the practical things - God loved us through you.

There was the blessing of my healthiest pregnancy and recovery of all.   I bounced back within a few days, with loads of energy and a beautiful baby son.  We got a real person, and for us - that's what it's all about!  :)

God is here.  He's always here.  He's here when we don't know it, don't feel it, can't see how it's possible.  He's here when we celebrate, here when we suffer, here even when we are angry and when we don't feel anything at all.  He's here when we live, He's here when we die.   He's here in ways we can't imagine, but someday, hopefully, we'll know and understand.

He's here.

I say that, not to make us all feel better - but because it is true.  I have experienced it.

He is here.

Emmanuel.  God with us.

Merry Christmas, everyone.  God be with you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

No longer a newborn

 More than ever, I enjoy this boy.  It just feels right to
have a baby around the house.

Babies are remarkably easy, compared to other ages.  No drama, no correction, failure to do their chores nor schoolwork.


Babies are just meant to be enjoyed.


And this little enjoyable boy is changing every day.
He's no longer a newborn, which is a stage and a change 
that is difficult to describe but you know when it happens.
One day, they wake up.  You look at them, and you just know:  "He's not a newborn anymore."

Reaching, batting, drooling, smiling, chuckling, stretching and responding, becoming more predictable about his day.  We just slow down, sit back and observe.  We watch time fly through the face of this boy, and enjoy.


*added:  Oh, and yes...we make him things.  :)  Here's a little hat I crocheted.  Took just about an hour from start to finish.  My first without a pattern!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What is faith?

Three and a half years ago we were preparing to move.  My husband and I and our seven children were packing up and saying goodbye to our church friends of six years.  We were moving to be closer to my parents, who were getting up in years and didn't have anyone near to help them out.

It wasn't a move that we really wanted to make.  My husband was leaving his work as a minister.  We didn't know at that time if he would seek work with a church again.  Our denomination had no established churches within two hours of where we would be settling.  It would be a difficult career change.  We'd never lived near family before.  How would we handle so many children and take care of elderly people as time passed and their health declined?  How would our children adapt to such a change?

As we worked toward our move, we began looking for a new job and a house to purchase.  Jeff made several trips to the area to try to arrange both.  Time passed, and nothing came into view.

We couldn't really delay our move, once the wheels had been set into motion.  The last paycheck would come, and I was half-way thru my 8th pregnancy.  To top things off, we had learned that I had a rare blood isoimmunization.  The baby appeared to be fine, but the remainder of the pregnancy would require a high level of monitoring.  I needed to get to our new location, find a new doctor and specialist who would take my case, and begin to settle in before the baby arrived.

We felt we were doing what God had asked us to do.  We felt we had made some hard choices - choices to give up what we "knew," to do something we didn't really "want" to do.  We were quite clear that we were doing what God had asked of us.  We continued to prepare to move, continued to look, stood strong in our belief that God would show Himself on our behalf in a mighty way.  Privately, deep inside, I was sure that He would come through in a really big way.  I was sure that He would honor our obedience and would use this opportunity to show everyone how GREAT He was and how He rewards those who obey Him.  I also wanted a little coverage for the "crazy" label that we wore.  Yes...we heard the whisperings that we were "irresponsible."  They hurt...but you know, we HEARD God, and we just wanted to obey Him.

Well, the time came  close to the move.  I did find a very wonderful doctor.  But the house?  Only one possibility came into view.

And it was the FURTHEST thing from glorious that I could imagine.  It was a foreclosure that needed a new roof and complete gutting and remodeling.  And to add insult to injury, it sat smack dab in the middle of the ONE TOWN I had told God that I would not live in.  And it was 100 degrees for weeks straight when we moved in.  And we only had a couple of window units.

I was so angry at God.  It only lasted for a brief time, but I was very upset.

"Really?  Is this the best that you can do?  We have faith, we make the hard choices, do the difficult thing instead of the easy thing - and this is the reward?  This...house?  This filthy, broken-down thing?  Is this how you show your glory?  What are all of those people - the ones who already think we're crazy - going to think?"

"You could have really blown 'em away with your power, God.  I don't get it."

Well, this story could go on for a long, long time.  Jeff was unemployed for five months, and when his job finally did come, it was a job with long, long hours and not great pay.  The remodeling work was long and slow.  It still is.  We struggled to find a church to fit into.  We had medical emergencies - some very serious ones that we are still emerging from.

So much has happened.  Some very good things too.  But my view of faith has been upended.  It was changed, fleshed out, and deepened during Jeff's illness this summer.

See, my faith was boxed.  I never knew I believed in a formulaic God, but I did.  I thought that if "I did this (obedience,) God would do that (reward.)"  My desire to please God and do the right thing was sincere, but I think that I misunderstood.   

2+2=4

Predictable.

Good rewards for good behavior.

I think that's too simple.  Yes, sometimes life does work that way, indeed.  Maybe that's how it is when we begin, because we need the encouragement to continue in our faith.  But at some point, God asks us to go deeper.

If faith was so formulaic, Daddies would never get so sick.  Our relationships would always be rosy because we'd put in the hard work and done the right thing.  Babies would never die.  Children raised "right" would always turn out "right."   Husbands would always love their wives more than their own bodies.  Meth would not rot teeth and steal food and love from children. 

Retaining a formulaic view reduces God, and it sets our faith up for an epic fail.  When hard times hit, when bad things happen even though we have done right, we find ourselves clenching and clutching at that faith.  Somebody failed!  God?  Us?  At that point, we are forced to examination and conclusion.  Some, thru trials, will drop God altogether.  If we remain in our faith, we have to make a choice.  We will either try to continue to make the formula work, or we will choose to see Him with wiser eyes, a more accepting heart, and a broader view of eternity and how He works in this world. 

Faith is not just "believing enough."  It's not just doing right and then believing, like a child, that you get your sticker or your candy (or even safety or health or a nicer house.)  That makes God like a genie, someone who is bound to our demands and our expectations.  That would mean that we could manipulate God.

Faith doesn't always come that easily.  Faith comes by believing in Him when things don't go right and relationships fail.  It is believing God when we suffer depression or  when our children are wounded or even when dressers tip and toddlers die.  (How I grieve with them.)  Faith is believing that in the end He works all things out, that on the whole He can be trusted.  Faith means that even though He allows us to hurt, even though He might slay us, He will one day set all things right and heal all our wounds and restore our devastating losses.  Faith is married to hope.  Sometimes it is hope for today, sometimes it is a future hope, yet to be realized.
 
God asks us to love Him and believe in Him when 2 + 2 seems to = 5.  He asks us to go beyond the immediate and to look at the Big Picture.  He wants us to trust in His character, the core of WHO He is - even when things don't seem to go right.  (Especially when things seem to go dreadfully wrong.  That's when we need to believe Him the most.)  He asks us to take the long view, to look ahead, to believe in His love and His goodness overall.  He asks us to trust Him when He doesn't seem to make sense.  Our faith moves from temporal and immediate to all-encompassing and long-lasting.  It moves from "what we get" to "Who He Is."

That is faith, isn't it?

From Hebrews 11:

 1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.  3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. 

and

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Last minute gifts: Mini Matryoshkas


I'm still working on last minute gifts.  Along with making caramel corn today, I'm also perfecting my blanket stitch with these mini Matryoshka doll ornaments. 

I have long had a weakness for Matryoshka dolls, so when I saw these at Sew to Speak I HAD to make them.  Had to.  I get obsessed sometimes. 


These little ladies stand less than three inches tall, and are made completely out of felt, embroidery floss, and a little bit of stuffing.  There is a wonderful tutorial and pattern at this link.
As we decorated our tree this year, I realized that most of our ornaments belong to our children.  As they grow and leave home to start their own homes, they will take all of the ornaments with them.  And then, what about me?  I'll have no ornaments.  (I can hear you lamenting with me...) So I'm making them for Grandmas and Grandpas, and brothers and sisters, and a couple for Jeff and me, too.  (But Jeff won't care, so they'll really be mine.)  :)

I also realized that all of my older children have large collections of ornaments which have been given to them or hand-made for them by Grandmothers,  but my little guys don't have many.  Like many things that have been begun with the earliest children in a large family, the traditions kind of ran out by the time they arrived.  This should not be!  The littlest ones are the ones who decorate the tree around here, and they were a little sad when they realized that most of the ornaments belonged to the older children, not to them.  So I will remedy this, beginning this year.  The girls will have Matryoshkas, and the boys will have felt, hand-made Frosties.

Good thing they are quick to make!


Friday, December 17, 2010

Last minute gifts: Clothespin bag


Here's a little Christmas gift that I made.  It's a clothespin bag that takes a half a yard of fabric (two kinds) and a little bias tape.   I made one for my mom and for my sister.  I know they both like to hang their clothes out.  (The girl in the background does not go with the package....)
I have had the pattern hanging out in my bookmarks for almost a year.  It's here, if anyone is interested.  It is a quick item to make.  I'd say that the average seamstress could make it in under an hour.  For me, with a newborn and 8 other children?  Well, it took me all afternoon to make two, but I'm still really pleased with how they turned out.  I think mom and my sis will enjoy a little brightness and something new when they hang out their laundry.


As always, the pictures I take indoors in the evening lack a little clarity.  As usual they will have to do.  :)

I made only two changes to the instructions:  1) I double seamed both the lining and the outer fabric.  The weight of the clothespins would eventually pull at the seams, and 2) I cut a 1 inch piece of bias tape, flattened it out, tucked the ends in, and sewed it at the top where the hanger neck emerges from the fabric.  Same reason - the constant tugging would quickly tear the seam without it.  I spent twenty minutes de-icing my van this morning so I could venture to the store, where I bought a couple of new packs of wooden clothespins for each bag, and now I'm off to wrap up these two little presents.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Homeschool Winter Formal

When we lived in Michigan, we were one family out of a handful of homeschoolers. 
In Indiana, we live near a small city.  If I were to guess, I would say that there are several hundred homeschooling families here.  (Someone local correct me if I'm way off base.)  There are lots of opportunities for kids to be involved, if the families so choose:  Drama teams, orchestra ensembles, foreign languages, literature clubs, field trips, play groups, lego clubs, etc.  So much for that old theory that home-schooled children have no opportunities for socialization or social interaction!  :)

We have so many different ages within our family, and differing interests and work schedules, that we haven't signed up for very many of the offerings.  So much to do, so little time!   Some of our kids play softball in the summer with a "mostly" homeschooled group of families, and the kids who are old enough are involved with a monthly literature club.  They get together at the community center/gym afterwards to skate, play games, and just be together.

One event that my older kids have enjoyed attending over the last two years is the homeschool formal.  It is hosted twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall.  There is  a formal dinner and often, a time for varying types of dance instruction, just for fun.   Last time, I think it was country line dancing.  This year, the winter formal offered a little instruction in ballroom dancing, and the evening was topped off with a limo ride and black-light volleyball.  The kids came home saying they had a blast.  
All in all, it's just good, clean fun.  It offers the young people an opportunity to get out and be together, to dress up and interact in a non-threatening, friendly way. 


Here's Emily.  She's a freshman this year.  She's not much of a frou frou girl, but we had a lot of fun putting together her outfit and getting her ready to go.


Jake has already graduated, but recent graduates are welcomed too.  (I think he's beginning to look like a college professor already.)  You can't see his tie, but it is covered with little green "Grinches."    I would have had a picture of them together, but they took each other's photograph before they raced out of the door. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

BLT's for Christmas?

It's hard for me to believe that it is December and we still have tomatoes ripening.  This year, right before the first hard frost, I had my little boys pick all of the green tomatoes still on the plants.  We wrapped them in newspaper, and put them in a box on our cold backporch.  My mom stores hers on a table in her basement.  Every few weeks we check the box, and bring out any that are almost red.  We put them on the windowsill to continue ripening.   It was a good tomato year.  We've had fresh tomatoes from our garden for almost six months.  This might not impress those of you who live in the South, but here in Indiana, it's a neat thing.  Even if I don't plant a real (full) garden next year, I'm sure I'll keep at least a few tomato plants.  They're so easy.  Maybe we'll have BLT's for Christmas!  :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Getting the Message

(Part one of this post is *here*) 

To be honest, I've struggled with getting into Bible reading for the last couple of years.

I'd start - fresh notebook and pen on the table, ready to record thoughts and impressions - but forget all about it in a few days.

I'd read, but the words couldn't get any further than my skull.

I'd analyze.  It wasn't a lack of "want-to," for my heart did want to connect with God.  As heaven surely knows, I needed to connect with Him.

I remember telling my husband that I could feel love for Jesus - that was easy.  But God?  Oh, He seemed so distant.  I loved God because I was "supposed" to.  What was my alternative, apostasy?  God seemed so harsh, so demanding.  Everyone had a different view of Him, too.  Which one was correct?  (And yes...there are many rabbit trails to track down and many explanations that could be unpacked in this paragraph, but for today, I'll leave it where it is.)

The Bible was all dry to me.  I couldn't see the forest for the trees.  I kept getting bogged down in details, unable to grasp the story with my heart.

At some point I picked up The Jesus Storybook Bible for my children, and began reading it to them every evening before bed.

I was caught off-guard and surprised at how the stories touched my heart.  I felt a little silly sometimes at the catch in my throat and the tear at the corner of my eye - but through a children's Bible story book I finally "got" the story behind The Prodigal Son.  I understood the story of the Pearl of Great Price - how we will search for and strive for the Kingdom of God, how we will hunger after knowing God for all of our lives and how it is worth all of our efforts to do so.  (If you don't understand what I'm talking about with the story of the Prodigal Son, I urge you to read it again.  Place God in the role of the father, and place yourself as the son.  What can you learn about the character of God?  How does God parent?  How does God feel about you?)

The theme of this little story Bible is that every story of the scriptures whispers the name of Jesus.  We learn, from the first pages of Scripture to the last, Who God is, and what He is like.  We see what moves God, what motivated Him from the get-go.

Here's the Big Reveal that I needed to grasp with my heart, not with my head:  Jesus Christ was the FULL expression of God.  All of those stories, both parable and real, are intended to teach us about Who God is.  They are not moral stories, told to communicate the basics of clean living.  The Bible is not simply a "guide book."  It is so much more.

The Bible, for all of its imagery, for all of its  weight, for all of its sometimes frightening pronouncements which we struggle to understand - is a love story - about God loving us.  When we can step back from the nit-pickery and take the panoramic view, this is what our hearts need to embrace:  God, from the beginning, was motivated to create because of love.  (Yes, the details are important, but not at the cost of missing the entire point, the big picture.)

And so it is that I have picked up The Message Bible to begin my reading quest.

I used to despise The Message.

Why?  Because it was a paraphrase, not a translation, and I wanted a word-for-word translation, by gum.  I spent a lot of years, decades even, with this opinion.  That recently changed, however.

A friend of mine is in the habit of posting snippets of the Bible on facebook, and she uses The Message.  I noticed how beautiful the words were, how well they communicated the heart of the story.  My rigidity began to drop and I lost my knee-jerk reaction.  I lost my fear of paraphrase.  I lost a lot of fear, period.  I began to see that the style was much the same as that which attracted me via the children's Bible.  I asked my husband for a copy of The Message Bible for my birthday.  He obliged, and I am loving it.  (Well, really, we used my Amazon coupons to purchase it, but that is beside the point...)  I am motivated to pick up the Book and read The Story.  Once the laborious words were put into common language, I could see the Big Picture.  I stopped stubbing my toe on details, and could see the heart of God behind the text of the ages.

What good are details if you don't get the heart of God's Message?  Why strain at gnats? 

I know all of the arguments against paraphrase.  I've used them myself. No doubt, a good study Bible remains the standard fare of a serious Christian, and commentaries will always be delicious.  If one doubts the gist of the paraphrase, she can always dig out her favored translation or do a word study. 

I am a Wesleyan by theological background, and I recently completed a biography about the man, John Wesley.  I was reminded that when Wesley translated the scriptures for the common person, he sought to do so with common language, with words they would understand.  If you believe that God loves all people, that He desires that all people come to know Him, then this approach is proper and it is loving.

I'm a common woman who needs to grasp the story behind the Story.   My heart needs to capture and internalize the grand sweep of the Love which compelled the Creator.  I needed to become like a little child again.  I needed to read the Message.  I think that this time, I will make it past Leviticus.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Oh, the types of Bibles on my shelf...

I recently started reading thru the Bible.

I can't even count how many times I've started, then given up around Leviticus.  (Haven't we all?)  I've read thru the Bible several times, first as a teen, and once chronologically.  (Not my favorite.)

My childhood Bible was a Children's Living Bible.  It still sits on my bookshelf, because my mother is a saver and she kept it for me for 30 years.  I love opening the torn cover, and seeing my fourth-grade cursive scrawl "Sin will keep you from this Book, and this Book will keep you from sin."

I've gone through many Bible stages, and growing up in a pastor's home plus marrying a man who would become a pastor guaranteed that I would have many types of Bibles to choose from.

The NIV had its glory days during my college years in the eighties, so we all had the super-duper hard-bound copy that the school was giving out.  Knowing that I was going to a Bible college, I had saved my pennies and bought a leather KJV, red-letter edition.  I was completely bummed the day I arrived on campus and learned that the college generally used the NIV instead.  Of course the pastoral students used the Dake or Thompson, and my best friend (who became my sister-in-law) had a commentary that put five versions side by side.  It weighed 20 pounds and I was so jealous of the ease with which she was able to complete her assignments.  She didn't have to go to the library to use their commentaries.  (That was before the days of the internet, or even personal computers for that matter.  It was during the era of typewriters and Correct-Type.)

The number of Bibles on our shelves now, in our home, is somewhat humbling.  Though I am writing tongue-in-cheek and with a light tone, I don't take them nor our privilege for granted.  I will so gladly share the good news of Jesus with those who do not know about Him - both thru the printed word and hopefully with my life.  I'm grateful for the written word, and I'm grateful for Jesus - the Word became flesh!  It's NEVER about how many Bibles you HAVE, it's always about how you live out what is recorded within, with how close you are to the Author.

But the reality is that I do have a lot of Bibles to choose from.  Along with the Children's Living Bible, I have a Study Bible, a thin-line, the purse-sized one with tiny print, an ESV, an RSV, my father's first KJV, my mother's first Bible, which she picked strawberries all summer as a girl to buy, and a special one with a carved olive-wood cover.  That one was my Grandmother's.

I do not have the Jack Van Impe Bible nor the MacArthur Study Bible nor the Geneva Bible nor the Camo Bible nor the Patriot's Bible nor the Eco-Friendly Bible, nor even the Ladies' Devotional Bible.  (Truly, no offense meant if you have one of these...I just don't.)  I do think that the Bibles that come encased in metal look cool, but that is beside the point.

I won't even begin to list my husband's types of Bibles from his years in the pastorate.  Suffice it to say that I was thrilled when he bought a parallel.  He has shelves of commentaries which I dream of cracking open, but as of yet, have not.  My favorite in his collection was a gift from a very strong woman in our last congregation:  it's a red-leather, red-letter edition KJV.  She was gracious, but she wanted him to have a REAL Bible. 

So now, I've started reading thru the Bible yet again.  I know, I know, most people start in January.  I'm always running behind, in everything, so I thought that I would start early.  That way, I'll be less behind.  Who am I kidding?  It will take me two years, at least, to make it through.  I am okay with that.

Soon, I'd like to tell you which version I've chosen, and why, and what I've already enjoyed about it.

Until next time,

Holly

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Baby Yoda Sweater

We finished it!  Oh yes, we did.

I say "we," because...well, "he" was in on the entire process.



This is the 0-6 mos. size.  Gabe is already up to 13 lbs, so "we'll" begin making the 6-12 mos. as soon as we find the right yarn.  The pattern is found here.  I-cord is optional, can be replaced with buttons if desired.