Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Day of Promise




When I woke up this morning, I had no idea that I would be closing down my day with such an abundance of gratitude in my heart.

I woke up earlier than I would have liked on an overcast Saturday morning. Today is the first official day of Christmas vacation. Not only do the kids and I get a break from homeschooling, but Daddy (who is a teacher) is home with us too.

I tried to burrow back into the covers, but my brain would not shut off with all the things I wanted to get done today. So, I put on a cute outfit yoga pants and a sweatshirt and enthusiastically cleaned the bathroom fired up the coffee pot, and got my day started.

Since I was up and I could see the feral hungry look in the cats' eyes (and heard the bellowing from the goats, cackles from the chickens and shenanigans from the dogs), I decided to let my family sleep and do their chores.

I walked outside and literally gasped aloud. In front of me was the most gorgeous double rainbow spanning the sky. I ran back in for my deluxe camera iPhone and started snapping photos.



I wish that the bottom two lined up for the perfect rainbow look, but you get the idea. I had a moment of taking it all in and enjoying the fact that there were no other houses or buildings in the way. The rainbow looked like it started inside a tree and ended in an orange grove. I love everything about that.

As I was taking photos, it started to sprinkle and I rejoiced in the good soaking that our thirsty land and state would be getting. I quickly finished the feeding chores and made it back inside before it started to rain harder.

Back inside, it was lovely to sit by our propane stove and read my morning Bible reading and reflect on the goodness of God.

I thought by now, 17 months after moving out here to the farm, that I would have become immune to many of the charms of our farmhouse, but today (and really...this entire month) that was just not the case.



I am reveling in the fact that I have a mantle -- a real mantle in my house! I've always wanted to have a fireplace and mantle to hang our stockings and to decorate seasonally.

A few months ago, I persuaded my hubby that it was time to take down the Gothic candelabra that graced the fireplace and change out the 80's sconces. Not only did this bring our farmhouse back into the 1900's and beyond, it gave me space to do some decorating.



As you can see, last year I didn't try too hard. (You can barely make out the two Christmas trees kissing the bottom of the dungeon candelabra.) Granted, I was still trying to recover from the Big Move and this felt as about as much as I could do.

I'm sure you see the improvement. If not, I have a lovely candelabra and 80's sconces to sell you.

I also got to admire the second year I have hung twine from our wainscoting to showcase the Christmas cards we received. I love it even more this year.




From there, Hubby ventured out from the warm cocoon of our bed and was suckered persuaded that it would be a great day to install our new-to-us appliance stands.




This is one of those frivolous purchases that are hard for me to justify. However, they were much desired to bring up the height of our washer and dryer to cover some old plumbing, and allow for an eventual counter top that I would like to place over both units that will also keep socks and random laundry from falling down the gap in the back.

Being able to get them secondhand from another fellow country dweller (who lives on our same street but 20 miles the opposite direction) for a great price helped seal the deal. An unforeseen benefit is not having to bend over so much doing the laundry. And yes, now that I am above 40, these things matter.

It also only took us an hour, which is good for us. And we were able to do it with mostly joking around and with minimal strongly suggesting helpful hints.

Our scheduled event for the day was postponed due to the weather, so at that point, I gave up on some of the cleaning and hustling to prepare I had started to do and just relaxed into the day.

And it got even better...

Later that afternoon, I decided that the cold, damp weather was a perfect chance to literally fire up our indoor wood-burning stove in our farmhouse kitchen. We have always thought it was super cool to have, but for some reason, we have never actually taken the time to try it out. So, today was the day and it was fabulous.




But before we did, I had to set the stage. The lovely brass wood holder and fireplace tool set were actually in the other room for looks by the propane stove. It was so fulfilling to go and get them and place them by the wood-burning stove.

And then...




...magic! 

There is something about actual flames that a blue-tinted propane stove can't touch.  And even better, Miss Hadley was able to use another item that I bought pre-move, a hand bellows. 




She was in heaven being able to use it for its actual purpose and I was happy she wasn't blowing it in her brother's face or up her sister's nose.

And...well, I was just happy. There were many things that I was able to use for their intended purpose instead of just decor or for wishing. And I hope it doesn't seem shallow because ultimately, they are just things.

However, they all represent the comfort and sense of peace I have as I walk through my farmhouse and get to literally touch and marvel over the still amazing fulfillment of this amazing dream.

It was a good fabulous day.

It started with a rainbow and in a way, it ended with one. A promise of the Ephesians 3:20 variety:

"God can do anything, you know -- far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!"

-- 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

We're All Refugees





I know you are horrified by the recent attacks in Paris.

I'm horrified too.

I know you are fearful of something similar happening in your country (and maybe not for the first time).

I have that fear too.

I know that many people are experiencing the gut-reaction of being emotionally kicked in the stomach. You want to curl into a ball and ward off the pain. You want to hold out your hands in protest to make it stop. To cease. To go back to the way things were.

I know that feeling too.

And yes, I have seen the posts and blogs and "news reports" that are angry, up-in-arms, full of national kick-butt-ary: "heck no, you can't come here and no one wants you so just go back to your own country and get what you deserve for being born into your cultural group."

In the natural, I have felt that way too.

But I'm not called to live in the natural. I'm called to live out of the nature of Christ.


And I feel this rising up in that supernatural realm of a profound compassion for the sad and sorry state of this world of ours. There is so much brokenness -- for the victims and families of this horrific attack, in the heart-muscle-memory of those of us who have experienced terrorist attacks in our own countries, and yes, even for those who are operating out of misguided theology and belief systems.

Yes, I have a sense of compassion even for them. Because I believe Jesus is full of compassion for all of us in this crazy, tangled web of sin and sorrow.

But my heart is grieved by the venom and vitrol that I see being spewed out all over social media against the refugees of Syria and other countries whose people are still fleeing persecution and for their very lives. And so much of it is coming from fellow Christians.

The petitions that are circulating to keep countries and states and neighborhood from accepting these people are a means for us to control things and to feel safe and to keep terror from invading our shores on a massive scale.

I get it.

But I don't believe in it.

Because at the heart of it all, our attempts at control fail. Sin gets in. Terror seems to be having free reign.


A signed piece of legislation and closing our borders will not change that. Because this is a spiritual issue.


Do I believe that some radicals have slipped in with some of the refugees arriving in Lesbos over the past few months?

Undoubtedly.

Do I believe that papers have been forged and plans have been made to deceive, kill and destroy?

Absolutely.

Do I believe that an entire group of persecuted people should be shoved from shorelines, tossed some provisions and sent back across the sea?

Photo Credit: United Nations

I don't.

And this is why....because we're all refugees.

For the majority of us, our "people" came from somewhere else at some point in time. For some, it's been hundreds of years, for others, only a handful of months.

The trouble comes when we feel like we have earned our place in the country we call home. That it is our divine right and we deserve to be here because...well, we are here.


The truth is that we are very, very blessed to live in countries that are virtual safe havens in comparison to the rest of the world. We haven't earned it. I'm not even sure we deserve it. But yet, here we are.

And in being here, do we then have the right to deny what we have been so richly given to someone else because we are fearful that they might be a terrorist inside the Trojan Horse of a refugee?

I was struck today by a short video that shows a reporter documenting an exchange between a father and young son about the Paris attacks.



The young boy is fearful and trying to understand how to protect against such brutality. What is the most striking is the ethnicity of these two and the fluency of the French language they are speaking. France is their home. They are obviously not native frenchman, but they are frenchmen nonetheless.

What would have happened if they would have been denied entry into France due to fear? The world would have missed out on this poignant moment and reminder that love and compassion conquers brutality and that we are all foreigners and aliens.

---

Do we honestly believe that all of those families arriving soaking wet and cold in rubber boats on rocky shores -- holding crying babies, terrorized toddlers and bleary-eyed children -- are just waiting to settle in so they can blow up the western world?

And yes...I realize it's not that simple.

But the world we live in is not a simple place.

Fighting the urge to slam the gates shut, bar the doors, and stand with weapons drawn may be our toughest fight yet.


Because it still gets in. Sin gets in. Terrorists terrorize. No safety measure, screening or naturalization process can be 100% effective. I understand that.

But what about the terror within our own borders? What about the disenfranchized teens that burst into schools and slaughter classmates? What about deranged middle-aged men who set off bombs in crowded Olympic villages? What about theology-warped preachers who brainwash their flocks, lock them into a building and pass around the poison?

It's not about country, culture, religion, the color of your skin, or even ISIS.

It's about sin -- plain and simple.

What if instead of building moats and trebuchets, we got down on our knees and asked God to intervene and build bridges through His Son?


What if we did the unnatural thing of remaining open and watchful, but asked and then expected God to supernaturally change hearts and minds of those bent on destruction?

What if we all rose up and picked up our spiritual armor and weapons and then went out into the world bringing His truth, deliverance, redemption, healing and transformative power?

Do we truly believe that a terrorist could come face to face with the Son of God and be redeemed and instead of blowing up buildings, he would begin to blow up the plans of the Enemy?

What if we launched a cleverly-devised, Holy Spirit-inspired battle campaign of our own?

What if we completely turned this thing on its proverbial head and instead of fearing invaders, we welcomed them because we know we possess the only thing that could neutralize their evil plots and plans?

What if we could be agents of Jesus Christ -- turning terrorists into testimonies?


I believe it's possible. And I believe it's the very heart of our Father God.

But is is probable?

I believe even now we as believers have a choice to make -- whether we are going to partner with fear and hopelessness and shut the doors of our hearts, homes and countries, or whether we are going to wedge the doors of our hearts open with the knowledge of the amazing grace in our own lives and the understanding of who we are in Him and the power that we can and should operate out of.

The Church needs to rise up. We have been commanded not to fear -- over and over again in the scriptures. And if the world has ever needed the recently battered, mocked, and all-too-often complacent Church, it's for a time such as this.

Because we have what our bruised, bleeding and confused world needs.

Hope.

Power.

Authority.

Miracles.

Faith.

Grace.

Confidence in a mighty God who is not blind and hears the cries of the oppressed of this world.

May we not become oppressors in our attempts to guard and protect our own way of life.


May we choose to remember the heart-breaking image of the toddler face down in the sandy shore of a broken dream of escaping to a better life, rather than the images from the carnage of recent days.

Because honestly, we are all refugees. We long to flee this crumbling, dying world for an enternal home in Heaven with no more tears and no more suffering. This world is not our home. Our homes and our countries are only a temporary camp as we wait for the eternal.

This one beautiful life is ours to either be activated agents of His grace and power, or merely security guards desperately trying to protect against invaders.

Which do you choose?


Photo credit: www.forbes.com



Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Destination: Harmony; Population: Me & You




Harmony can be an elusive ideal we spend a lifetime chasing.

But, for me, Harmony is only a mere two and a half hour drive to the California coast. A nice leisurely meandering through farmland and rolling hills will deposit me in a small town consisting of exactly one street.

The city of Harmony, CA was founded by Swiss immigrants in 1869 who started dairy farms and a dairy processing operation. There was much infighting and rivalries that led to the operation changing many hands and even caused a death. In the early 1900's, parties involved agreed to call a truce and changed the name of their town to Harmony as a symbolic gesture of that decision.

Unfortunately, the harmony did not last and the town eventually died out almost completely. There were a few swells in population with the largest occurring in the 1970s by craftsman who had "found" the little town and wanted to create a place that would foster artistry and simple living.

Today Harmony sits all but unoccupied with a small population that sees a handful of tourists and a slew of photographers and engaged couples seeking for a unique photo op.



I was reminded of this place this morning as I read Psalm 133 as part of my morning quiet time. I have heard some of these beautiful verses before but I don't remember ever reading them in context and getting the full picture of what harmony looks like.

"How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony. For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron's head that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe. 
Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion, and there the LORD has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting." 
- Psalm 133:1-3 (NLT)

The dictionary defines harmony as: agreement or accord, a consistent, orderly or pleasing arrangements of parts, congruity.

The biblical concept of harmony goes back to creation and the Garden of Eden. Upon reading the early chapters of Genesis, we can see that God created the world and humanity to live together in harmony.


Harmony is wonderful and pleasant.


One of the immediate effects of the Original Sin of Eve and Adam eating from the forbidden tree was disharmony, disagreement and discord.

And this continued to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain and throughout the remainder of the Bible, and the struggle for harmony remains to this day.

Being in a room that is filled with disharmony is literally palpable. The air becomes charged with it. You don't have to know the cause to know that it is present in the room. I would not describe that sensation as pleasant or wonderful.

It is awkward and feels...well, wrong because it's not how God designed for us to live. And that's because...


Harmony is precious.


I would argue that harmony is in short supply these days. Everyone seems to have a cause, a stance, a platform or an agenda. People are not afraid to lay waste to others via social media or even face to face.

Things that are in short supply become very rare and therefore, very precious -- much like the anointing oil described in this passage.

And that oil was likely very costly and highly-valued.

After all, we read constantly in the Old Testament that God required the very best to be used for his Temple and in worship.

In fact in Exodus 30:28-33, God gives Moses a recipe for this sacred oil and warns that it should only be used in specific uses and in fact, unauthorized use of it would result in being cut off from God and His people.

I think it's safe to say that God took this process of anointing seriously. It was not a merely symbolic act. And because of this, I see that God takes harmony seriously too. He says that harmony is as precious to Him as that sacred oil and that....


Harmony should completely saturate us.


We should be so full of harmony that it literally saturates our lives from top to bottom. What a beautiful image the psalmist gives us of that saturation in this passage.

"...harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron's head that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe." (v. 2)

While I have never personally seen someone anointed with oil to this extent (we tend to dab a bit on the forehead in church services these days), I know a little about how oil gets into every nook and cranny when it's poured out.

I have unloaded groceries only to find that the cooking oil had spilled out and coated everything in the bag. It had saturated every label and groove of each and every item with which it has come into contact.

I searched and was not able to find an estimation of how much oil you would need to pour out upon a person's head in order for it to run down a person's face and into the very bottom hem of a their clothing. But I would imagine it would be quite a bit. Maybe even several gallons.

The person who was anointed would literally spend hours either letting the oil soak in and/or trying to wash it out of clothing and body parts.

That's a lot of oil.

The sheer quantity of oil (an over-abundance one could argue) not only consecrated the owner, but also meant whatever he or she touched would then also become holy.

"You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy." (Ex 30:29)

A modern day picture would be of pouring out so much lotion that you have to share it with someone else because you literally cannot absorb it all into your own skin.

But it's not just about those we come into direct contact with.


Harmony can refresh even those lives whom we don't directly come into contact.


Do you believe that you can live a life so saturated with harmony that it rubs off on other people? And maybe even people you don't know?

In verse 3 of this psalm, it talks about the concept of harmony having indirect affects:

"Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion, and there the LORD has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting." (v. 3)

As I was reading about this passage, many commentators pointed out that due to distance, it would not have been feasible for the dew from the moisture-rich Mount Hermon to directly fall upon the mountains of the dry and dusty mountains of Zion. However, most agree that the dew would have collected and formed streams and tributaries that would have flowed down and eventually affected Mount Hermon.

I believe this shows us a wonderful picture of the distance harmony can overcome. I also believe it to be a sacred mandate for those who profess to follow Christ. We should always seek to operate out of a place of harmony.

Because it's in this place of harmony where God has "pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting."

And that's precisely where I want to be.





Monday, June 1, 2015

Dream Saga Series: Enjoying the Bounty




It's June on the farm, and it's been amazing to live here during the slide from spring into summer and enjoy some literal fruits of the season.

Last year at this time, we had just closed on the sale of our former home and were starting a rent-back period of one month. On June 1st of last year, we had been out to this lovely farmhouse, but had not decided to make the leap. That would come a few days later.

When we did make the offer and were in escrow and came out for inspections and visits, we enjoyed some of the fruit off the trees. However, by the time we moved into the house in late July, we had lost much of the grape and stone fruit harvest to the birds.


Baby birds nesting in one of our citrus trees

But not this year! This year we pruned trees and hung CDs from branches and watered and watered and the other night I had my very first apricot from our trees. And it was pure heaven! I hope I never lose the joy and wonder about being able to step out my front door and pick fruit right off the tree and eat it.

I have been busy in other ways as well. We have had citrus coming out of our ears for the last few months. I have made lemon curd, juiced and frozen lemons for lemonade in the summer. I've made lemon sorbet, lemon cupcakes, lemon chicken and lemoncello. My first batch is currently soaking in the rindy goodness in a dark cabinet.




I have made orange juice a plenty, eaten a ton of oranges and made orange sherbet (oh my...so good!)




I have been able to walk around and see the buds, flowers and beginnings of the fall fruits. It's amazing to see the green pods of the walnut tree that will eventually shrivel and reveal the nut inside. The blooms on the persimmon trees are spectacular too.

And a first all around for this property are the tiny olives on the olive tree. We have been diligently watering the tree to coax it to produce its fruit. We plan to process the olives (and maybe oil) in the fall.

And in my forty plus years, I have never seen the flower of pomegranate tree that will eventually turn into the delicious fruit. 




We have welcomed more animals to the farm as well. We decided to let every female animal get pregnant and have at least one litter/baby and then assess things. (Disclaimer: No humans getting pregnant over here!)

Our only female cat, Ashley, had four kittens several weeks ago and they are at that adorable frolicking stage.




We've been telling the kids all along that we are not going to be able to keep all four kittens -- since we already have three cats on the farm. But I am finding that I am having a hard time thinking about separating the kittens from their momma who is still nursing them so patiently. It's hard to not get attached.

Speaking of babies, we had a tough time finding chicks this spring to replenish our flock that fell prey to our dog(s). We went from ten chickens to six and we missed our egg production as well as the ones that got chomped. 

We decided to turn it into a homeschooling science project and borrowed a homeschool friend's incubator. We incubated a dozen Araucana eggs that we got from another homeschool family -- mostly because of their unusual green color.

We put the eggs in, plugged in the incubator and let it do the work. All we did was add water -- literally. Twenty-one days later, the first chick started pipping his shell. It was pretty amazing to see the process and literal struggle for life. Happily, ten out of twelve chicks hatched. One we helped along too early and it didn't make it, and one never matured.




We kept them in a dog crate inside for several weeks and the kids and cats were mesmerized.



Eventually, I got tired of the smell and the pine shavings everywhere, so we put them outside in a separate enclosure that we built and they are happily enjoying more space, while letting our other chickens get used to them.

We are not sure about the gender yet and we haven't decided on whether we will keep any roosters, but for now, everyone is happy, healthy and warm. We are looking forward to their eggs in another five months or so!



We also attempted to breed our female goats last month with a billy goat. They stayed at his place for three weeks and while we are not 100% certain, I think that at least one of them is pregnant. It takes three months and one week for gestation, so I suppose we will see in mid-August.



Of course, there is a never-ending amount of farm chores to do. We have been swimming in weeds and wild grass for the last few months and have been trying to get that under control. We also need to disk part of our property to cut down on any fire hazards. We are trying to figure out if hiring someone to do it makes more sense than getting our own equipment -- since we will be doing this every year (and maybe twice a year).

We also have a list (or accurately, *I* have a list of improvements that I would like to do around the farm to make it even more usable and fun for entertaining.

Since we really need to burn up some of the tree branches and growth we have been cutting and pruning back, I decided we need a fire pit that can do that, be a gathering place for s'mores and campfire songs and also give us some ashes for the chickens to take their dust baths in (it's good for them).

So, after buying the wrong kind of brick, the hubs helped me figure out what I did wrong and ordered the right kind of pavers so we could build this little beauty that we ended up putting to use that very night for our daughter's birthday slumber party s'more fest.



I am looking forward to more peaches (the birds got some of the first harvest) and apricots. The plums and grapes should be ready in another few weeks.

And by then, we will be at about the same point as we were when we moved out here last summer. However, this year we won't have floors to sand and refinish. We won't be packing up stuff and moving it and unpacking it.

We are going to have a lazy summer of swimming, eating fruit, building tree swings and a fort. I will get around to organizing some of the places where stuff got crammed last year and I will enjoy each day without getting crazy stressed out.

We will read books in the hammock and take cool drinks of water out of our outdoor water fountain.

But most of all, we will be together on our farm and continue making memories that will endure.



Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Outing Victims Is Just Victimizing Them All Over Again




I have thought about sitting down several time and putting my thoughts to keys here on the recent talk about the son of a well-known TLC show family who has been accused of molesting underage girls when he was a teenager.

This is not an easy topic to write about.

Honestly, no sin should be easy or cavalier to share feelings or write about. However, I think it's safe to say that most people consider sexual sin to have greater weight to it than your garden variety of gossip, adultery or lying.

As a Christ-follower, I know that in His eyes, sin is sin. There is no quantification or degree involved. 


That is both humbling for those who have blown it big, and disturbing for those who have not. The idea that my ugly words could be seen as "murdering" someone's character is a hard pill to swallow. But this non-distinction keeps us from becoming proud and uttering the obvious, "well, I would NEVER ....", because honestly, in God's eyes, it's all the same.

That being said, I do believe that the fall-out, damage and consequences of some sins is greater than others. A child who loses their father to a violent murder has to grow up and spend a life with a father-shaped-hole in his or her heart. That's a tremendous amount of pain for a long span of time.

Likewise, victims of sexual abuse are not only traumatized, used and abused in that very moment (or sadly moments), but they continue to be haunted by that event over and over. It effects every aspect of their life and spills over into their relationships, their self-confidence and trust in humanity.

Suffice it to say, they have a very long road ahead of them. The healing takes place in tiny micro steps and it's multi-layered. They are faced daily with the choice of whether to forgive and move forward. It burns and stings and cuts.

But eventually, life comes back into focus. Years pass and it doesn't hurt as much. Progress is made and the world feels less menacing.

Unless something happens to put you right back there in that place and time.

And this is what is breaking my heart about this ongoing "scandal" that the media, social media and bloggers are so aggressively trying to "crack wide open."

The victims. These young women who are now being victimized all over again. 


Except now they are being victimized on a public platform and their faces and names are being published with the labels, "victim," "incest," "sexual abuse," and more. These words will be forever cached on the world wide web for their children and grandchildren to find on Google.

What ever happened to protecting the identity of the victim? 


Or did that pass out of fashion along with good manners and finding out the entire story before publishing it?

Believe me, I am not condoning sexual abuse in any form --whether it be rape by a stranger or fondling by a sibling. It's wrong and harmful either way.

However, I do know that there can be healing and restoration after experiencing a hurt like this. It is possible. It's not easy. It's something that has to be fought for and cried over. But it is possible.

What this young man did was wrong. I'm sure he is grieved even now to see his sin splashed out for the world to see. I know he is now a father of daughters and I am sure he feels the weight of what he did when he looks at their sweet faces.

What would I do if my worst sin was published on Facebook for all to see? What kind of integrity and strength of character would I have then?


I hope I never have to find out.

I also don't profess to know the situation and whether or not anything was covered up or swept under the rug. I don't know if lines were crossed with the police and if records were in fact shredded.

However, I do know that sometimes victims of sexual abuse do not wish to proclaim it to the world. They would rather not go to the authorities or turn someone in because they do not want to expose the incident to public scrutiny. They do not want to live with the label: victim.

Or it could simply be that even though they have been hurt by their abuser, they still love him. And not in a sick twisted way, but in this difficult ugly-beautiful life where we are all sinners and guilty of something.

Because you can love someone and still hurt them. And you can also love someone and still be hurt by them.


And then what?

Some may choose to cut off all communication and contact for awhile...or forever.

Some may choose to bury it deep and never speak of it again and go on as if nothing happened.

Some may choose to forgive and try to restore a broken relationship because of love and grace and all the things that Christ asks of us to do that are really, really hard to do when we are in pain and have been hurt.

I don't know the situation.

But I would guess that it is the latter that these young women have chosen. It's maybe the hardest and bravest thing they have ever done, but for the sake of love and family, I suspect they have chosen this difficult road.

And if that is true. And if it is true that somehow by the grace of God this family has walked through this pain together and wrongs have been acknowledged and pain has been acknowledged and tears have been shed and relationships have started to be mended...if all of this is true, then this must truly be a nightmare for all involved.

Maybe the way I hope it happened isn't the way it actually happened. It could be pure conjecture on my part.

However, regardless, I do emphatically believe that no matter your feelings on whether or not this young man "got away with it," or the young women "need justice," or the authorities "participated in a cover up scheme,"...no matter your feelings on the matter, I hope we can all agree that these young women deserve their privacy.

These young women deserve to live their lives without fear of being forever labeled or forced to re-live their deepest pain.


No journalist or blogger should think they are simply "fighting for the victims" and are not contributing to the hurt when they publish these young women's photos with labels that they have continuously fought against in their own heart and soul.

In my opinion, this is sensationalist and only serves to highlight the author's profile or bump their page views.

We have a great responsibility to give these young women and all victims privacy and respect and stay out of their business. Because ultimately, it is their business. Although they have opened up their lives on television, and it makes us feel like we know them and can therefore weigh in. 

We don't know. 

We can't know it all.

But we can know and do know what it is like to be human. And to be hurt and be hurting. To feel exposed and a little raw.

And although these young women may not have been safe or protected in that singular moment, we can offer them safety and protection now by keeping their names and faces out of the news and news feeds.

It's the very least we can do....



Monday, May 25, 2015

Radical Transformation Always Requires Dying




Our church as been following the television show, A.D.: The Bible Continues on NBC as part of a campaign to get churches to both support the show and provide some framework for teaching on the book of Acts.

While I will admit to some skepticism at first on whether or not the content would be accurate (or Hollywood sensationalized), and whether the acting would be cheesy, I have been pleasantly surprised.

As our pastor says, it's not a 100% telling of the Bible. There is some supposition involved and subtle changes. However, it hits the mark more often than not and as a Christian it is a blessing to have a major network tell a story dear to my heart and with great acting and special effects.

The depiction of this angel of the Lord is so cool!

The only minor issue with it is that it sometimes stops short of the full radical impact of the scripture. In the last full episode we watched (our family is a bit behind and catching up on the DVR), it showed the preaching and stoning of Stephen. It was greatly diminished and watered down from the scriptures -- so much so that I read from Acts the entire story so the kids could hear what they missed on the screen. (Acts 6 and 7)

Again -- as long as the viewer is watching it with a good foundation of scriptural knowledge, he or she can easily tell when story lines have been embellished or truncated. And for this reason, it is helpful for my kids to hear the scripture along with the series so they know the difference.

However, last Sunday at church, the clip we watched was a powerful one that showed the story of Saul of Tarsus' interaction with Jesus on the Damascus road (Acts 9 and 22).

Things get real for Saul on the Damascus road

It was very well done and actually seeing it on a big screen reenacted brought a freshness to a story I've read and heard many times.

"As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 
Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink."

I never noticed before the parallel of the period of time where Saul of Tarsus was dying and Peter the Rock was emerging.

I never noticed that it was precisely three days that his blindness persisted.

I cannot believe that this time frame mirroring Jesus' death and rising again is a coincidence. I think that the parallel of these three days was part of Saul's conversion into Paul. Much like Simon Peter's "do you love me" conversation with Jesus (John 21:15), Paul needed a time of transformation from unbeliever to zealot.

Most sources agree that the human body can only go without water for three days. So I am guessing that by day three Paul was closer to death than he had ever been.

I wonder what was happening to his physical body and his spirit as this was happening? After all, he had that staggering experience on the road and then had to be led by hand to a different city from his original travel plan. He was a stranger in a strange place. Blind. Not eating or drinking. He might have been hallucinating a bit. What was going through his mind?

I wonder if Stephen being stoned before him was playing in his head. If he saw the faces of all the followers of The Way whom he had persecuted with great zeal.

He must have been so appalled and confused and scared. He must have wanted to die.

But on that third day. God sent someone to help. (Acts 9:17-19)

"So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength."

And then Paul the Apostle was born from the ashes of Saul, the Persecutor.

Every time I read stories of how God takes a flawed, frail, sinful human being and makes him or her into a pillar of the faith, I get excited. Because I know that He can do that with me -- a person who is also all of those things.

It may take a death of sorts to get there. Maybe even days/weeks/months of hardship as He makes us over into His image.

But I am confident that He will never leave us in that vulnerable and blind state without the invitation to change and new life.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Dear Open Letter...



Does anyone remember when Facebook was about seeing your friend's and family's pictures and updates and quirky little minutiae where everyone spoke about themselves in the third person.

Updates like, "Rachel is seriously considering cheating on her diet," and the occasional cat meme?

How I miss those days.

I'm glad we've made the leap to first person narrative. At least we are now honest about our fascination with ourselves in the lead role of our own piece of social media. However, now it seems like my news feed is chock full of videos of crazy You Tube antics, photos of people's food, and a ton of viral (or trying to go viral) blog posts or even "news outlet posts" of someone or a group calling out and shaming another person or group that they feel is overstepping.

At first they were couched in an "open letter" format.

I did a bit of research and found the open letter format is fairly old. Martin Luther used it while he was in jail. Ralph Waldo Emerson has used it, and so has Bill Gates. Historically open letters have been written and published publicly as a way of sorts of having a voice where you don't have the opportunity to speak, or to speak out against or draw attention to an perceived injustice.

Like the American Revolution, the Cherokee removal order or a call for medical reform.

Until lately.



Now the open letter has been hijacked by bloggers and even guest writers for news outlets to share their feelings of exclusion or judgement for their life choices. What is worse, in my opinion, is that the standard format of titling your words "An Open Letter to...." has disappeared and now these "letters" (really, diatribes) have just become a targeted attack on someone or a group you don't agree with or...or annoy you.

In the last week, I've read open letters from a mom to other moms who hover over her children and their children at the playground; a letter from a pro-vaccine family to an anti-vaccine family; and many in regards to the events that occurred in Baltimore last week.

And I've also read a letter that a father wrote to his child's principal in response to her informing them that their week-long trip to Boston would be counted as an unexcused absence.

However, I don't have a problem with this last letter. For one, I totally agree with the father's perspective (don't get me started). However, his letter was written in response to one he received.

And here is the crux of what bothers me about all these open letters.

No one mailed one to you. No one took the time to sit down and either type or pen their thoughts about how you do or do not interact with your children at the playground. No one put a postcard in the box to you about how your child's vaccine card is too full or too empty.

We are spoiling...literally spoiling for a fight and we will pick one and start raging just to vent and be heard and "stop the judgement."

But in reality, these open letters are all about judgement. Because the person writing them is in full judgement of someone else's actions, words, glances.

And, if you think about it, the ones that are positive can usually be classified as true open letters to strangers who helped or didn't judge and now the recipient of that kindness is reaching out afterwards to say thank you. Yes, they may have some measure of knowledge impartation to them (for example, thank you for interacting with my unruly/bored/special needs child on the airplane and not rolling your eyes in frustration instead), but for the most part they are a kudos of sorts.

But this is not what I have seen clogging my news feed of late.

Yes, we all have opinions. Obviously, I'm sharing mine right now. You might even be saying, "aren't you judging and shaming open letter writers right now?"

And maybe you could look it at that way. Maybe I am sermonizing a bit. Maybe I need to take my own advice. And maybe, just maybe that judgey part of me is as ready for a cease and desist as yours is.

Life is difficult enough with putting our passive-aggressive thoughts out there for all to see and ultimately be brought down by. Because negativity doesn't beget change, it begets only more negativity.

So, I am turning over a new leaf. I am pledging to refrain from clicking on anything that looks like an open letter post -- overt or otherwise. And if I find myself reading something like it, I will stop and go pick up my Bible and read 1 Corinthians 13 and other encouraging words to replace the negative ones.

But before I do, I'd like to send off one last open letter of my own:


Dear Open Letter, 
I cannot wait until your popularity fades and you settle into the obscurity of time. Your subject matter is vague and passive-aggressive and you sway public opinion too easily. Most often you come off as superior and judgmental and make me feel bad. 
The current over-used format of you in social media also makes me feel bad about the state of the world. I would much rather read your cousin, Editorial, or estranged-relative, Reliable News Sourced Article. 
I confess I will not miss you when you are gone. Wherever you go, please feel free to stay there. 
Sincerely,
So Done With You

Saturday, May 2, 2015

...and it is well with me




Today I had the privilege of sitting with my beautiful friend, Leah, who is literally struggling to breathe without assistance.

After some time of reading together, and listening to worship music, etc, it was time for the respiratory tech to come and try taking her off the machine to allow her lungs to work on their own and work towards getting off the ventilator.

It's a struggle for her because of fluid that has built up around and in her lungs. The tech described it as trying to do a hard core work out but only being able to breathe through a straw.

As you can imagine, facing this, Leah was a bit nervous. But determined. So determined.

As we waited for the tubes to be unplugged and for the test to begin, this song came on and I got to witness what was one of the most beautiful moments I have had the pleasure to see firsthand.

I have a special handful that I keep close to my heart and I bring these mental snapshots out from time to time and reminisce and rejoice over them. This one joins them.

Let me see if I can paint the picture for you...

As we both sat there waiting, I reached over and somehow stumbled upon this song ...and by "stumbled," I mean God found it for us. (I encourage you to play it and listen as you continue to read and then you'll have the full picture of this moment....)





...this beautiful moment where my friend lay in a hospital bed with myriad tubes and monitors connected to her precious body.

This moment of bravery as she prepared to do battle with her lungs.

This moment where more than anything she just want to be done already and home with her boys.

This is the moment my beautiful friend with a beautiful voice -- a voice that has been temporarily silenced, looked at me and made a heart with her two hands (she loves this song!) and then lifted her hand toward heaven and used it to pass back and forth across her body in worship.

This was a moment where the ugly beautiful of this life pierced my heart. Because if anyone has a reason to rage and complain, it's her. Instead, she chose to lift her hand and "sing,"

"through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you,
and through it all...it is well,
through it all, through it all, my eyes are one you,
and it is well with me"

And yes, I cried those tears...those tears that just leak out of our humanly fragile eyes that are part sorrow, but mostly full of awe at the grace of God for a beautifully profound moment.

I cried for Leah. I cried me for me. I cried because no matter if it's a hospital bed or a bed of depression, an empty bank account or an empty home, the truth is....it is well.

It absolutely is.

--

Leah...you will never know how much that moment touched my soul and how much I love and admire your tenacity of faith and spirit. "This mountain that is in front of you WILL be thrown into the midst of the sea!" I know that as you continue to plant your feet and stand on Christ the Rock, He will resurrect your very breath. And I believe that one day, not too far away, you will STAND and you will SING this song with your breath and lungs. I just want to be there when you do!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

All the Things Every Parent Wants for Their Child



Today was one of those days again where I had to sit back in amazement and think of how much things have changed over the last few years.

Many of our family and friends know that we have been wrestling with a diagnosis of ADHD and dyslexia and some unspecified sensory issues with our now nine-year-old. I'm not sure why my blog has not reflected this journey. My last post about the topic was two-years ago.

Perhaps it has been a little bit too intense -- a little bit too personal -- to share. Perhaps we have been so busy finding resources, working our plan and just surviving to try to synthesize info into a bite-size blog post.

Maybe it's all that and some other things I do not yet realize and cannot name.

The sting of those words and the helplessness that I felt as her mother is still fresh. I felt as if our genetic code had somehow let her down.

But as with most parents who have children "on the spectrum," we couldn't afford much time for sorrow and recriminations. So, we got to work.

We worked with our charter school to craft an IEP (individualized education plan) for Hadley that would help both build new pathways across the brain, to help discover and implement the best way that she learns, and to catch up in areas where her challenges had caused her to fall behind her peers emotionally, educationally and socially.

So, we embarked on a two year program that has included occupational therapy once a week, one-on-one counseling, reading and math tutoring, interactive metronome therapy, horseback riding and a big move from the city to the country to give her the space she so craved and the animal husbandry she has always longed for.

To be honest, we have been working so hard that at times, we forget to come up for air and take a good long look at how far we have come.

And it's a fair distance.

I almost cannot see that sad little seven-year-old who I stumbled upon who was hitting herself in the head and chanting, "I'm stupid. I'm stupid. I'm stupid."

Okay...to be honest, I know I will always remember that little girl. That sorrowful moment is etched upon my heart.

But what I don't see anymore is that devastated girl when I look in my almost ten-year-old's eyes. 

What we have been doing has been working.



This snail-lovin' girl of today celebrates her love of all things creepy crawly. Things that would make her middle-aged mother shudder makes her smile widen.





They seem as drawn to her as she is to them -- and animals of all kinds. This week when our pregnant female cat was looking for a place to have her kittens, she chose Hadley's closet...




...much to her delight.

That natural love of all God's creatures made her a great candidate for the "Don't Bug Me" event at our county-wide Science Olympiad for grades 3-6 today. Our homeschool charter was a participant and the students each chose two events to compete in and spent the last several month in preparation.

It was not without trouble. 

Hadley was worried about her "stage fright" and whether she could do the event in a crowd. Her mother was worried about whether her dyslexia would rise up and make it difficult for her to decode the words on the page for the trivia questions. Some of the class times Hadley didn't want to participate. She didn't seem to want to read the books I found for her. Yet somehow the info got in there...and to be honest, I think much of it was already in there from her natural love of insects.

So neither of us knew what to expect today when we got up early and drove the thirty minutes to the event at a local high school. 

It was big.

We are a small school amidst much bigger schools. Homeschoolers are a different breed. They don't always intrinsically know the rules of lining up etc. Hadley was nervous and her little hand was hot and sweaty in mine.

Thankfully her IEP made it possible for her to have the use of a reading assistant if needed. Although, a last minute partner who added to her event from our school provided the confidence she needed in that area and in general. Once Tyren showed up and they saw the friendly face of our team coordinator, they were ready to go.

So, she did her thing while I chatted with parents outside. At this point, the event was just the cherry on top of a semester of fun science experiments. There wasn't much expectation or pressure on our students.

After a break, Hadley moved on to her other event, "Cool It" which involved constructing a insulating device out of materials given that would keep an ice cube from melting the slowest in the allotted time. She and her partner, Ryan, had done a great job over the semester and while his mom and I chatted outside a little anxious for our students, the two of them were calmly drawing pictures and playing Rochambeau while they waited for their device to be evaluated.

And then finally it was awards presentation time. As they started listing off the events and winners, I whispered a brief prayer that Hadley might win something...anything....because I knew it would be a boost to my smart girl who doesn't always think she is so smart.

And...when they announced the winners of "Cool It," they called her team number! They won 5th place out of a total of 30 teams!! They were one of the youngest teams in the room.

And then awhile later, they called her team number again for "Don't Bug Me," and lo and behold, her team got 3rd place out of 17 teams! Again, they were one of the younger teams.

Oh...but if you could have seen my girls face! Her shy smile lit up the field for her proud mama. I choked back tears of joy as she was presented with her medals.

All of her hard work paid off today in a way I'm not sure we fully grasp.

And we don't have to because all we need to do today is be grateful for God's grace and the hope we have that things in Hadley's world will continue to improve and that her future is wide-open for her to walk into.

All the things that every parent wants for their child. 


Monday, March 23, 2015

Country Bliss



Today was an idyllic day out on the farm.

It had the potential to be a heart-breaker when we first arrived home after a full day of enrichment classes in town.

I drove around our oval driveway to my spot in front of the house and did a double take when I realized that I was looking at goats feasting on weedy goodness in front of me.

Meaning...they weren't nestled safely away in their enclosure. Meaning, who knows when they got out, how they got out and how long they had been wandering.



While I was thankful that they were still alive and not goat roadkill (we have no fence around our property...yet), my first thought after was for our poor surviving seven chickens.

As I posted on Saturday, we are down by three after discovering that our youngest dog (a stray we brought back from a death by Parvo and adopted) was indeed getting into the enclosure and killing our chickens.

While we did our best to secure the area around the enclosure to keep him from being able to dig underneath the fence, it is still no help for gates left open.

Which is what I found when I did a perimeter check. Everyone swears they "didn't do it," and it's possible that it didn't get latched properly. But either way, the goats busted their way out of it and left it unlatched and fair game to young Brody.

I nervously started counting chickens and looking for feathers and carnage. Finding no piles of feathers or carcasses, I was relieved to count up seven chickens. Maybe a young dog can learn new tricks. I certainly hope so.

High off of all animals alive and counted for, I decided to re-park our newest piece of farm equipment.

A Chevy Silverado.



We are buying it from hubby's mom after she got a newer version. Having lived out in the country for eight months now, we are seeing the benefit of such a vehicle.

True...it is a bit embarrassing to pick up alfalfa bales in the back of the mini van and haul around livestock too. Yes, it is a bit annoying to try to borrow family member's trucks and trailers to haul out branches and debris and new-to-us refrigerators. But it didn't seem mission-critical.

And it probably isn't, but I cannot deny the little thrill I got from firing up that big ol' truck and ambling down our country road street to give the children a bit of an adventure as they laughed in the back bed. (No it wasn't legal. Yes, I didn't go too fast in case they fell out.)

The dogs ran alongside and I flashed back to happy days of my youth spent riding in the back of a truck on friend's farm.

Thus answering the question my dad asked me months ago as he toured our farmhouse, "how in the world did you become such a farm girl?"

Well, the short answer is that he (and my mom) did it by raising us in some pretty rural places in our formative years.

That flashback is firmly planted in my joy-memory and I believe it's one of the driving forces that have led us to where we are now.

Thriving and growing and laughing and hauling stuff on a farm of our own.

Whether or not my children flash back to this day some day in their future may not be guaranteed but is entirely possible.

However, as I currently work on making dinner while they are outside jumping into the pool during a school week and only days into Spring, I have a hard time believing they won't.