Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Bend in the Road

This week the sky changes as fast and often as a teenage girl’s moods. The weather vacillates between sunshine and rain several times a day, much like our first visit to Ashland four years ago.

Keith had prayed about finding a different church. I liked living in Northwest Iowa near Keith’s family. I enjoyed my church, friends, and job.  I hoped Keith was just going through a phase he'd soon grow out of.

God gave clues to our future but I missed them.

Clue #1 – A plaque on my friend’s wall said, “A bend in the road is not the end of the road...unless you fail to make the turn.”

Clue #2 – A spur-of-the-moment trip we took four years ago to Colorado. For years Keith had wanted to visit Glenwood Springs in winter. We took his Christmas bonus and left before his rational “we should fix the roof” side kicked in.

We spent New Year’s Eve (with single digit outside temps) in Glenwood’s ginormous warm pool with two hundred people. I sat in warm, soothing mineral-laced water and marveled that I was doing something I’d never thought to do, but was enjoying myself immensely.

Clue #3 came four months later when Keith and I visited my family in Oregon. One night we rented a delightful room in Manzanita, a small town on the Oregon coast.

For twenty-five years I had lived an hour from the ocean but had never spent the night there. It never occurred to me to want to. We lived so close that going to the ocean had always been a day trip. 

Manzanita was wonderful and I listened to rhythmic waves crash on shore and marveled that we were doing something we’d never thought to do, but were enjoying ourselves immensely.

I had never thought about visiting Wisconsin. I had never thought about seeing Lake Superior. There are many places I’d like to see someday but Wisconsin wasn’t on the list.

A Wisconsin church approached us. Keith prayed but didn’t feel led in that direction. We both agreed that we didn’t want to live in Wisconsin. He meant to take Wisconsin off his church-match profile, but forgot.

When our present church contacted us, something in the man’s voice caught Keith’s attention. He found this picture on the church’s website.

It looked so pretty, I wanted to sign up immediately. There are better reasons to choose a church than how it looks from the air so we prayed about it.

As Keith talked to their search committee, I wondered about the trees. Keith was born and raised in Iowa and loves the landscape. He likes Grant Wood pictures. He likes open prairies and seeing for miles and miles in any direction. He loves Iowa sunsets. He hated living in Oregon amongst so many trees.

I suggested a trip to Ashland to see if Keith thought he could live there. Four years ago on Memorial Day weekend, we drove eight hours north for a life-changing trip.

We stayed in a charming Bed and Breakfast. We’d never stayed in one before. It had never occurred to us to want to. I marveled that we had done something we’d never thought to do, but had enjoyed ourselves immensely.

I liked the church and people we met. Lake Superior was inviting. It rained off and on the whole time, which showed us what normal spring weather was like. A beautiful spring day would have been deceptive since Ashland’s springs are usually cold and wet.

I thought Keith wouldn’t like the trees. To my surprise, he said he could live there. Wisconsin has more deciduous trees than Oregon, more open spaces, and the huge lake gave Keith a horizon.

He took the job and we transplanted our family 450 miles north. If we were Lego people, God had just picked up our pieces and moved them to another board.

God answered many prayers. We love it here. We like the church, the area, our house, and the weather. Leaving Iowa was hard and I still miss some things, but I’m thankful we moved.

God knew that this small Wisconsin church on the south shore of Lake Superior would be a good fit for a quirky, bearded bi-vocational pastor/plumber from Iowa.

Five years ago I didn’t know this place existed and I often marvel to be doing something I’d never thought to want to do, and yet am enjoying myself immensely. 

Our Glenwood Springs excursion, the Manzanita getaway, and the move to Ashland had in common the element of surprise. Of God doing the unexpected. Of doing something way beyond the realm of our experience. Of being blessed when we least expected it.

A new church friend gave us an antique picture of a curved country road. I got chills when she said, “This picture is like your trip here. You can’t see where the bend leads, but you took the road anyway.”

This picture hangs in our entry way. It’s the first thing we see when we enter the house. I wish I had my Iowa friend’s “Bend in the Road” plaque to hang under this picture.  

I am reminded that God's time is the right time. God has a plan for my life and His plan is always better than mine. Hopefully I’ll remember all this the next time God wants us to go around another bend.

I'm linking up with my friend Jennifer at Getting Down With Jesus 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Happy Maduation Day

I’m proud of my new word. Maduation Day is when you celebrate Mother's Day and Graduation on the same day. 

On our recent Iowa trip, I lie in bed and listen to birds sing and thank God for camp and its place in my children’s lives. Blue sky and sunshine coax me from bed.

My children have cooked a surprise Mother’s Day brunch. Between traveling and Rachel’s graduation, I have forgotten Mother’s Day.

They honor four mothers - me, a friend, and Rachel’s Mother and Grandmother. They serve our favorites:  fruit, Biscuits and Gravy, oatmeal, waffles, and deluxe scrambled eggs.

We eat this wonderful treat outside at picnic tables in the warm sun. We’ve never done this before since we’re always at church on Mother’s Day. This sweet gesture touches my heart.

Later I go with Rachel’s family to her graduation ceremony. We’re all very proud of her. The two-hour ceremony takes forever to get to “V.”

Rachel’s mother took these pictures.

Rachel and her brother Kyle

Afterwards Rachel suggests Culvers.  We discuss eating options until Rachel’s grandmother says that if Rachel wants to eat at Culvers, we should eat at Culvers. Rachel worked hard at school, not us. We’re happy that Culvers offers free Mother’s Day cones or custard cups.

Back at Andrew’s house, Kiah bakes “Black Bean Brownies.” I take one bite and cringe. “Yuck!” I complain.  “More sugar, less chocolate.”

“I already added sugar because the recipe didn’t have any. I like this amount of chocolate,” Kiah says. The recipe came from my Runner’s magazine. At least they’re healthy.”

I usually don’t criticize food but these are especially awful! 

Kiah, Rachel, and I take a walk. After twenty minutes of steady incline, Kiah turns to go further up.  (Pant, pant) “Girls,” I whine. (Pant, pant) “You asked to go on a walk, not climb a hill.” (Deep breath)

Kiah says, “This is a walk.”

I stop and shake my head. “This, is a hike."

"But you like to hike," Kiah reminds me.

"I know, but I had my mind geared for a walk, not a hike.” They humor me, but keep going and we finish the trail and “walk” back to camp.

We watch our new family video.  Andrew and Rachel love it and I see things we missed the first time. Halfway through the video, Kiah gets a brownie. When Andrew wants one, Rachel and I keep a straight face.

Andrew takes a big bite, then spits it out. He pulls brownie remnants from his mouth. “Kiah,” he sputters, “What’d you do?”

Kiah, Rachel, and I laugh. Kiah says, “They’re not that bad. I like them.”

“Well, I don’t.” Andrew wipes his mouth. “They’re terrible.”

When Andrew friends come over, Kiah offers brownies. Luke takes a bite and though his reaction is much more polite, he discreetly doesn’t eat more.

I read Kiah’s “brownie” recipe and see that they’re actually called “Adzuki Bars.” If she had called them Adzuki Bars, we wouldn’t know what to expect. But she said Brownies so we expected Brownies. They were most definitely not Brownies.”

Brunch and a pleasant family day have all been nice gifts but I still have one more to unwrap. Kiah and I go to bed and talk for two hours. It’s the best talk we’ve had in months. Our hearts connect for the first time in a long time. Two days ago she was messy, sassy Public Enemy #1. Tonight we are close friends. Moments like these are precious gifts.  

After Kiah and I finally stop giggling, I drift off to a contented sleep with a full emotional tank, having thoroughly enjoyed a satisfying Maduation Day.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Road From Grumpy

We officially begin our 2012 Summer season by driving 280 miles to take four girls to camp – Kiah and Anna for three months, Amy and Lani for three weeks. 

I’m grumpy because the girls are messy, don’t like to clean, and wait until the last minute to pack.

I’m grumpy because only half my to-do list got done.

Truth be known, I’m probably most grumpy because even though the girls drive me crazy some days, I’m going to miss them.  

We drive Grandma’s car because it has things our van doesn’t – like better gas mileage, automatic windows, a working horn, cassette player, and cruise control.

Unfortunately Grandma’s trunk is smaller than our van’s storage area. I suggest packing light.

My blood pressure spikes as the girls traipse out of the house with a motley assortment of suitcases, duffel bags, Rubbermaid totes, backpacks, purses, pillows, sleeping bags, and blankets and I wonder what part about packing light they didn’t understand.

After Keith stuffs the trunk full, Kiah brings out a bag of groceries, a huge purse, and an Espresso machine!?!? She offers to hold extra stuff on her lap. I grumble that I don’t want her stuff on my half of the front seat.

I begrudgingly bring the Tracfone Keith bought me. I know I’m seriously behind the times, but I don’t want a cell phone. I don’t like being tracked down. I usually function fine without one.

We leave an hour late. Eight minutes down the road Anna discovers she forgot her wallet and drivers license. We drive back home, get the wallet, and continue our journey.

Anna drives for an hour. I ride in back, rather than sit up front with Kiah’s stuff. We change places at the Hayward Bakery.

I didn’t buy gas before leaving, because Ashland usually has the highest prices. Today Hayward’s gas is ten cents higher. I eye the fuel gauge and hope we have enough gas to reach Rice Lake. 
We listen to four Adventures in Odyssey cassettes I bought at Goodwill last week. No matter how old the kids are, they still love Odyssey tapes.

Amy chooses accent and gender for a borrowed GPS. Kiah quickly tires of the voice and mutes it.

I have Amy find Taco Bells with the GPS since the online Taco Bell locator is useless. My sense of fairness takes over and I can’t in good conscience automatically decree that we eat at Taco Bell. 

Anna wins my “Guess the Number” contest and chooses Subway. Pity the poor sandwich artists who wait on our indecisive bunch. I console myself, knowing I can stop at Taco Bell on the way home.

The gas gauge dips perilously close to empty. I take the nearest exit, praying for a gas station. I try not to panic but there's not a gas station in sight. Amy checks the muted GPS and finds one three miles further south. Gas is five cents cheaper than Ashland and I fill the tank.

Western Wisconsin is beautiful. (Eastern Wisconsin might be too but I haven’t been there so can’t vouch for it’s beauty.) I am soothed by bright blue sky and hillsides covered in vibrant spring green. When I swerve, Kiah, the front seat hog, says to watch the road and not the scenery.
We stop at La Crosse's mall and I am irritated by larger than life Victoria’s Secret window displays (don’t get me started) and traumatized by swimsuit shopping for Amy and Lani. Gone are the days of ordering sensible, modest, inexpensive suits off Ebay. Hello to hours spent combing through swimsuit displays, praying for one modest, inexpensive suit that pleases both parent and teenaged child. We find one that is 4/5ths suitable, but we're out of time so we take it.

When it's time to go, my cell phone tracks down missing family members. Kiah bought shoes, and since the trunk is stuffed, she sweet talks Lani into holding a big orange Nike shoe box on her lap for the last hour of the trip.

I call Keith who has tracked our whereabouts by debit card purchases appearing on our online bank statement. He says, “I see you’ve been to the Hayward bakery, Subway, Sears, and bought gas.”  If he wasn’t my husband, that would be creepy.

We arrive at camp and I am overjoyed to see my boy. My heart swells when he walks over and says, “Hi Ma!” and gives me a big hug. We haven't seen him since Christmas. I’m glad he enjoys his job and it’s fun seeing him grow up, but we miss him. A lot.

It’s good to see Rachel and her family and friends who have gathered to celebrate her college graduation from UW-La Crosse.

We eat Mexican food, which makes up for missing Taco Bell. The weather is wonderful and we eat on picnic benches in their front yard. Camp is peaceful, green, and pretty.

Me, Kiah, and Anna

My Boy

Rachel and her cousin

Amy and friend
We recruit Rachel’s brother and friends to play six games of volleyball. 

The games get competitive.  

Andrew and Rachel

Kiah is intense and sometimes hogs the ball
so it’s nice that she’s on the other team. 

Rachel, Kiah, and Anna

I’m glad to be on Andrew’s team since it hurts to receive his hard serves and spikes. It's fun that we enjoy playing volleyball together. 

Lani, Anna, and Kiah

We stay up late either talking, watching TV basketball, or playing games. I enjoy talking to Rachel’s aunt, until we notice that it’s 1:00 am, and everyone else has gone to bed. We’re the last ones up.

I left Ashland this morning grumpy and stressed, and now squeeze into bed besides a sleeping Kiah who is taking more than her share of the bed, happy and thankful for a food, family, and fun-filled day. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Faith means...

I'm linking up with Lori today at Life, Love, and Laughter in a Large Family

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Short Post For a Change

Spring is usually my least favorite season in Northern Wisconsin. This year we've had more nice weather than usual. The girls are enjoying the sunshine. Not quite swimming weather yet, but close,.

Just wanted to share three recent pictures of Anna, Amy,and Lani,

Their smiles make my day.
I love seeing them happy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Home on the Range

Taken on Andrew & Rachel's recent camping trip to the Badlands
I'm linking up with Lori for Think Quotes, It's Friday.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Up, Up, and Away


The camp where Andrew and Rachel work has a deluxe trampoline system. Flying through the air is not my kind of thing but kids love it. 

I'm not that daring. Daring for me is ordering something besides a Chicken Burrito at Taco Bell.

Andrew puts Rachel's cousin in the harness.

 Rachel's other cousin working up the nerve. 

Still not too sure.

She likes it.

Amy's turn

 Amy is part monkey

Rachel's still young enough to do this. 

She says the harness hurts 
more now that she's older.

For years the kids have asked for a trampoline. For years we have refused. They make me nervous! They can use other people's trampolines but I don't want one in our yard. Besides, if we had one, they'd soon get tired of it and it wouldn't be a treat any more. 

In the meantime, camp's trampoline is a lot of fun. Or so I'm told. (I wouldn't know from personal experience, but I'm more than willing to take their word for it.)

 Thanks Andrew and Rachel for this vertigo inducing fun. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Candid Camera

Seven healthy children.

I know I’m blessed and I am thankful, but when I think back to when they were all young and I was homeschooling seven children, I remember being tired and overwhelmed all the time.

I see them now, no longer stairsteps, no longer different heights, but different sizes. Different personalities, different passions, different hopes and dreams. I see these sometimes children/ sometimes adult people that I am responsible for loving, and on occasion I long for the days when they were little.

Being busy, tired, and overwhelmed, I didn’t always love them as they ought to have been loved. I didn’t appreciate or enjoy them like I should have. I’ve often longed to go back for one hour to when they were little – just to see them in all their little-person cuteness once again.

I was given that gift last night.

Erica found an old family video I didn't know existed and had Radio Shack convert it to DVD. Last night the family sat down to watch this video. We hadn’t owned a video recorder so occasionally borrowed one. This video wasn’t in a format that could be used in our VCR so it had never been watched.

Ten years ago, unbeknownst to us, Keith had set up a video camera and recorded a family meal when the kids ranged in age from four to seventeen. The video shows them all in their cute, ornery glory. 

They were cute. I looked awful. It wasn’t my imagination that I remember feeling lumpy and frumpy. I thanked Keith for loving me even when I looked tired and haggard.

We laughed so hard last night, I couldn’t catch my breath a few times. The video is so precious to me. A unscripted, unedited glimpse into our family’s life ten years ago, warts and all. 

Little girl laughter, a young boy’s changing voice, sweet smiles, unbrushed hair, clothes slept in and worn the next day, wrestling, lame jokes, cartwheels, messy rooms, cute comments, boy noises.

So happy, vibrant, and full of life. Somebody always talking, someone always moving, constant commotion.

So blessed. So mine.

I'm thankful for this moment in time preserved, so that ten years later I can properly appreciate it. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for this special gift.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Memorizing James

Our last night of Bible Study. We eat, talk, pray, and eat.

We’ve just finished Beth Moore’s eight-week study on the book of James. 

Annette stands up to recite the WHOLE book of James. I’m impressed that she's memorized so many verses but I'm expecting dry monotone.

What I hear takes my breath away. A beautiful dramatic delivery, spoken with strength and conviction. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard.

We listen with rapt attention. We sit spellbound as the word of God pierces our hearts. I get goose bumps as the ancient words come alive. A contented peacefulness settles on the room. My heart feels soft and clean.

My eyes tear up and I’m not exactly sure why. A few sniffs in the room tell me I’m not the only one.

This is one of those rare moments when the veil between heaven and earth is thin. God feels so near and I know that He is pleased that Annette hid His word in her heart.

Our cups are full. We don’t want it to end, but all too soon it does, and we applaud and thank her for sharing her gift.

I tell Keith when I get home and he asks Annette to share it again in Sunday School. She graciously complies and we are mesmerized by rhythm and cadence, tone and inflection, and words that are just as true today as when they were penned almost 2,000 years ago.

Keith asked Annette how she did it. She said James has always been a favorite book. Being in her early 50’s she wasn’t sure she could still memorize Scripture. She took 2 ½ weeks to commit the five chapters to memory. She took lots of walks, learning little chunks at a time.

Memorizing the verses with dramatic inflections helped her learn faster. She goes over the book four or five times every day.

God’s promises that His word will not return void. Annette has struggled with depression for years. Recently, instead of dwelling on things that frustrate and discourage her, she forced her mind to think on better things. She saturated her mind with timeless truths and life-changing promises.

Things like James 1:17 -  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (NIV) 

Or 1:5 - If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (NIV)

Annette’s depression hasn’t lifted but it’s better. Her heart has been touched, and by extension, so have ours. It did me a world of good to listen, I can only imagine what it did for her to memorize it. 

Click here to read about another woman who memorized James.

In closing, I'd like to share the song Ancient Words by Robin Mark

I'm linking up with Jennifer at Getting Down With Jesus,