Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patty's Day!

Here's hoping that all this rain has brought...

good puddles for jumpin'

gold (chocolate coins) at the end of the rainbow

or a magically delicious rainbow cake
(Cook's Illustrated yellow cake and simple vanilla frosting, rainbow cake inspiration from i am baker)

Happy St. Patrick's Day, dear readers!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Maddie: 62 Months

Dear Maddie,

Two months into your sixth year of life on earth has ushered in the "dramatic" phase. We are barely past your fifth birthday but it as if the production staff from a daytime soap opera have moved into our house and started writing scripts for you and coaching you. The drama involved in small, everyday hurdles, conflicts and desires has completely taken our house by storm.

Scene One: The Kitchen

Maddie: Enter stage left. "Sam kicked me," said with great emotion, a flourish of the arms, and tears forming at corners of eyes.

Mama: At sink, washing dishes. "Do you think you can work it out with your brother?"

Maddie: Again, with tears and great arm gestures. "But, MOOOOOOM, he kicked me," dramatic pause, "with his....COWBOY BOOTS!!!! Boo-hoo-hoo-hooty-hoo!!!!"

Mama: Still washing dishes, without lifting eyes, "Sam, come here please."

Sam: Enter stage right, wearing cowboy boots, hat, and nothing else. "Hiii, Mama!"

Mama: "Sam, did you kick Maddie with your cowboy boots?"

Sam: Looking at floor, "Nope."

Maddie: With increasing dramatics, all limbs flailing, feigning possible natural disaster of epic proportions, as if very life is hanging in balance on the delivery of this line, "BUT HE DID KICK ME!!! AND IT REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY HURT!!!! WAAAAAA!!!!"

Mama: "Sam, please apologize to your sister. You know that kicking is not okay. "

Sam: "Owwy, Mah-Mah." moving in to hug sister.

Maddie: With a little less drama, but still with tears in eyes and back of the hand to the forehead, "Oh, Sam, I guess I forgive you."

Exit scene.

You've also learned to be very helpful and responsible. One sunny afternoon we played at the creek and you took it upon yourself to "do your part" by picking up the stray bottles and cans you could carry in your arms. We loaded up the bike basket and headed home to the recycling bin. "If everyone would just do their part, our world would be a better place," you said, to no one in particular. 

We've instituted a marble jar. For acts of service and grace, for a repentant heart that seeks forgiveness, and for acts of kindness, marbles are added. Once your jar is full, you get to pick quality time with any family member of your choice, an adventure of your own choosing. In the last twenty-four hours, you've offered to mop the floor, dust, wash the windows, make your bed, pick up the bedrooms, and put away toys without being asked. I think this whole reward system might just work. Fingers crossed.

You LOVE the babies. Oh my goodness, do you love you some babies. At the Foxes house a while back, you couldn't keep your arms off baby E. You snuggled and kissed him, helped keep him happy, talked baby talk, tickled his belly. Then we went to the Loughnanes where you offered to feed the twins dinner. And there you sat, right between their two high chairs, spooning gobs of yogurt first to Landon, then to Brody, laughing and wiping their faces and saying things like, "Here goes the truck, through the tunnel, beep, beep!" You regularly tell me that you want to be a Mama when you grow up, that you will pray to God for four or seven or ten babies, and ask me if I'll come when the babies are born. 

This month we went back to San Damiano, to that magical place where God always meets us and provides time to connect with his beautiful creation and with each other. We hiked, climbed trees, stopped to admire the Spring blooms, watched insects crawl, and prayed. I treasure the times that just the two of us can get away and enjoy one another's company. You SO need time to connect and to feel cherished and special. We work diligently at reminding you of your value in Christ, his great love for you, the uniqueness with which he has formed your body and personality. You ask great, deep spiritual questions that cause me to stop and think through things before answering. You surprise me with your depth of insight and the wisdom you have at only five years old. Such a great reminder that just a few hours, outside, one on one, and you are more alive, more joyful, more you. 

I don't pretend for a minute that raising a five year-old daughter is easy, predictable, or smooth. I am fully dependent on the grace and wisdom of my Father to even start a day with your drama, your deep questions, your need for affirmation. Yet in all the time on my knees in prayer, the moments of great frustration where I feel the boiling waters of anger and stress beyond my control, in the times of quiet wonder, I am better for having been your Mama. Without the journey of loving you and shepherding your heart, I wouldn't experience the love and shepherding of my own Father in Heaven. So thank you for keeping me dependent, for keeping me humble, and for showing me how much I have to learn. I'm so grateful I have you to accompany me on this journey.



Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Sam: Three Years Old

Dear Sambino Boo-Boo Bear Joyce,

Today you are THREE!!!

How is it possible that my baby boy is now a three year-old, tipping the scales at 40 pounds and measuring over 30 inches?! You are GINORMOUS! I still love to snuggle your sweet little body, but when you are throwing an epic tantrum involving all four appendages, it is practically impossible to manage all of your big boyness.

Temper tantrums aside, you are altogether a lovable boy. Three is a fun, busy, crazy, loud, happy, expressive age and we couldn't be any more pleased with our little guy.

Speaking of tantrums, this week your beloved cowboy boots set off a doozy of a battle of the wills. You know that boots aren't allowed at school, but it doesn't stop you from trying. Most mornings we can distract you, but Monday you were having NONE of those other pairs of shoes. I finally walked out the door, started the car, put Maddie in her seat, and came back to the continued wailing, kicking and stomping upstairs. I carried you, limbs akimbo, to the car, where you FINALLY acquiesced. Sigh. At least you weren't wearing the boots during your fight, because I've been kicked. And it's not fun.

But in all honesty, three will always make me think of those leather cowboy boots, how you love to dress up, the way you pick out your own clothes, wear shirts backwards, change six or seven times a day, and mix and match costumes to your specific imaginative scenarios. (Robot cowboy? Totally. Jedi Princess? You better believe it. White, lace-trimmed glove-wearing motorcycle man? Oh yes.)

You're also kind of a sneak these days. You disappear for minutes at a time, not answering my calls, usually hiding beneath some surface (dining room table) with some sweet treat (marshmellows, candy, gum). You know you're being naughty and so you flash me a classic Sam grin, taunting me to enjoy your cuteness and overlook the sin. Yes, you are already working the system.

You are smart, pensive, thoughtful. You can spend many, many minutes engaged in an activity, playing by yourself, figuring things out or sorting items. You watch carefully, learn quickly, and though you don't express a lot, we know that the wheels are turning. It's been fun this past month to hear all the new words you're trying out. You work SO hard to get your sentences out, and little guy, we appreciate each and every word you articulate. Sometimes I wish I could get in your brain because I know there are complicated things going on in there. One of these days you're just going to blow us out of the water. 

You still love to snuggle. Just today you asked at naptime, "Sleep Mama's bed?" Then we laid down together and drifted off to sleep, me spooning you, you spooning batman. It was really, really sweet. You crawl up in our laps at meal times, hug and kiss everyone good night when we're gathered for missional community, give Maddie little loving pats throughout the day, and rub my arm when I lay with you at naptime. You are such a tender little soul, loving and gentle. 

Today was a treat. We started with a fun and delicious family breakfast and you and John were up to your regular routine: making each other laugh, flexing your muscles, discussing "big man" things. Then I got to work in your classroom and witness the joy that is the birthday crown. Oh, how you loved that crown! You picked out superhero popsicles to take as your birthday snack and clapped with joy as you shouted out "Batman! Hulk Man! Gee Man (Spiderman!)" You were very entertaining. 

For your birthday dinner we settled on cheeseburgers and a red velvet cake (because Superman's cape is red, of course). You helped me lick the spatula, sample the raspberries, and you even grabbed a mouthful of red food coloring gel when my back was turned. Well, that was not a pleasant treat because after you realized just how awful the taste is, you proceeded to drool red drool, spit red spit, and end up looking like something out of a horror movie. I just threw your white undershirt away as it was covered in red spit polka dots. My floor, too, stained in a million little places from the five minutes of "YUCKY!" that happened after that little taste of gel. Yep, you're sneaky, but it doesn't always have a happy ending.

The finished product was much tastier:

And you, covered in red velvet cake? Irresistibly tasty! Daddy couldn't help but sneak in a little kisser.

 Welcome to three, my big, big, big, big, big, big man. We are so in love with you. Thank you for teaching us the value of a good pair of boots, the joy of small delicious treats, the importance of well thought out words, and countless other life lessons. May your superheroes fly high, your kisses be plentiful, and your costumes be fabulous. Thanks for lighting up our life with all that you are.

We love you buddy.



Friday, March 02, 2012

a moment of clarity and confession

For months (years, maybe) I've had this strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. I couldn't quite place it, but I knew it had to do with our "stuff." Our garage doubles as a play room and every few weeks when I spend thirty or so minutes re-organizing all the toys and putting away assorted modes of transport, I get really overwhelmed. I look at shelves and shelves of stuff: books, camping equipment, wrapping paper, hand-me-downs waiting for the next season, tools, trikes, bikes, boxes, etc. We have SO MUCH stuff.

I've been feeling the need to purge, I realized. And not just any Spring cleaning-type purge, but wondering if we could get rid of half of the stuff we own-type purge. I'm not the only one who's feeling it: my friend Mel decided to simplify for Lent. Awesome idea. My hubby read an article on Zeit about saving money on bills and in a few short hours saved us nearly $400 a year. Double to the awesome. 

Then there's the reality that we are simplifying our lives in a major way because we're taking a leap of faith. We're following the call of Christ to make disciples who make disciples outside of the traditional church, and in doing so, we're going to raise money outside of the traditional paycheck. 

We've been looking for ways to cut expenses, trim the fat, etc., I've been feeling the need to purge and simplify, and then (cue angelic voices and sunbeams)....along came this book:

Go buy it. Seriously. I want every person I know and love to read this book. It might be the most important and impactful book I've read in years (other than the Bible, of courshe). She writes in the most personable, humble, honest, heart-tugging way. It's as if Jen (the author, because we're totally BFFs now) crawled into my head and heart, took all of my scattered and chaotic feelings and thoughts and put them together in a book that is both delightful and challenging to read.

So, getting to the point of this post (and finally addressing the title), this morning in the shower I had an epiphany. A moment of clarity. [now, I don't know about you, but I have nearly all of my Jesus moments in the bathroom. I think it's because it's the one place where I'm alone with my thoughts. Well, also it's a place I spend a lot of time, courtesy of colitis and especially this week's stomach flu.]

I started to cry because I'm just really tired of being sick. I started throwing up on Monday and I'm still struggling. I climbed in the shower to let the warm water soothe my achy muscles. I told God that I'm so tired of being sick, that my body hurts and every muscle from my hips to my tailbone is seizing in pain because the flu sent me into a colitis relapse and the cramping is making my stomach ache and I'm just weak and crabby and ready to feel well.

And then, I thought about Africa. And Asia. I thought about the 6000 children that die EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. from chronic diarrhea. Then I really started to cry. I asked God to forgive me for being so self-focused. I asked him to have mercy not on me but on the thousands of precious little lambs who will die while I enjoy my pity party in my hot shower (in my bathroom with plumbing, in my house that I own, in sunny California, in America...) 

I have colitis, but I know I'll get better. I am not going to die from diarrhea or pelvic pain. I have expensive prescription meds, I have a great doctor, I have prayer and the power of the risen Christ living in me. I have people who check in on me and bring me meals. I have family who send flowers and make homemade chicken stock when I'm too sick to eat anything else. 

What about those 6000 children who will die today of diarrhea? They don't have anything. They don't have clean water. They don't even have clean clothes. They will never go shopping for a new article of clothing. They'll never know what it is like to celebrate a birthday with ten new plastic toys wrapped in festive paper and curling ribbon.

Oh God, forgive me. I am so self-focused. You have placed on my heart this desire to change, to simplify, to be aware, to stop focusing on myself and my idols of health, control, image, and the accumulation of new "stuff." Help me to be aware of those who are without. Those who will suffer today. The parents who will hold their children as they die because they had no access to clean water and no access to completely and totally inexpensive anti-diarrheal meds. The fathers who will work another day for so little money that once again they will feed their children a few bites of rice and nothing else. The girls who are forced into the sex trade so their family gets a few dollars to provide for the rest of their kids. Oh, forgive me.


As part of the simplification effort, I asked others to join me in collecting our (nice, expensive, excessive) castoffs and sorting them to donate to Macedonian Outreach, a group who provides for the poorest of the poor and most poorly treated of the poorly treated in the Balkans. As I folded up clothes from my closet and paired shoes to line up, I prayed over them.

God, this blazer accompanied me in a time when I counseled grieving families. The pin from my first post-graduate job is still attached! I haven't worn it in years. Please take this coat across the sea to someone who needs to be comforted. Wrap it around the shoulders of a sister who has lost something and is grieving. May she feel my prayers surround her as the coat keeps her warm.

God, these shoes: I've held onto them for years because I bought them in Paris. They speak of a time when I was carefree, when you had answered the cry of a desperate heart for release from a time of trouble. I don't need them. I have you. Place these shoes on the feet of someone who is carrying a large burden. May the shoes not only warm their feet but take them from a place of desperation to a place of freedom. 

We held a brunch at our house when we gathered up all the clothing. I made 4 dozen pancakes or so. This morning, I'm reminded that many, many kids who will get the clothes we collected will never ever taste a pancake, let alone syrup, fresh fruit, crispy smoked bacon, or orange juice. God, have mercy on them. Let them taste YOUR goodness.

And, finally, our awesome group, gathered in front of one of three (!!!) carloads of castoffs we collected. Our too-much-stuff going to help those who are without.