A new tradition

I'm really big on traditions. There's just something about doing the same thing, year after year, that is so comforting. And there's a part of me that is always on the hunt for a new family tradition.

There are a few traditions we have implemented over the years that I love, like the birthday letters Mark and I write to our children, and our Thanksgiving journal.

The holidays bring along a whole other set of traditions amongst ourselves, family, and friends. To name a few:

A number of years ago my sister-in-law had the idea to skip the traditional Christmas dinner and make homemade pizza instead for our Christmas Eve gathering. At first I balked at this idea (I like tradition, after all- and the ham and potatoes were hard for me to give up, since "that's the way it's always been!"); but oh, how I enjoy this new tradition. Each year everyone brings meat, 2 lbs of mozerella cheese, and two additional toppings for pizzas, and all of the girls (my husband's only sister and all of his brothers' wives) gather in the kitchen to make homemade pizza. (This year we tried a Thai pizza and a cream cheese/pesto/chicken pizza-- both huge hits.) And this year my mother-in-law surprised us with matching aprons to don for the annual event.

Early Christmas morning you'll find our entire family, in pajamas, gathered on our bed to open our stockings. That has become a tradition.

Later Christmas morning, we all head to my parents' house and my dad makes us a huge Christmas breakfast. Another tradition.

This year I read about something, we planned for it and tried it, and loved it. It is something we now plan to do every year when our family gathers to celebrate Christmas.

I first read of it here. Ann from Holy Experience was a guest blogger at javadawn's towards the end of October. Ann wrote:

Um…..do you ever think we sort of horn in on Jesus’ birthday? I mean–whose birthday is it anyways? How can we give gifts to Jesus? There are, gloriously, a multitude of ways. We reflect on his own words; Jesus says when we give to the “least of these” we give to Him. So, one option, is to give gifts to our blessed Saviour by giving to those who are needy through charity gift catalogues.

Ann's suggestion was to collect gift catalogs from organizations like World Vision and Samaritan's Purse, and to give.

When our catalogs arrived, we explained to our children that one of the things we were going to do for Christmas was to get gifts for those who have so little when we have so much. Then throughout the advent season, we had the catalogs available for our children to peruse. Many of Ella's quiet time hours were spent with her little blonde head bent low over the Samaritan's Purse catalog. She would say, "Mommy, this picture has a sweet little baby and someone is feeding her some milk. And it says nine next to it." (As in $9). Or, "Mommy, what's this one? It shows a little boy. He looks sad. Let's help him."

Mark and I had decided to give each of our children a dollar amount to spend. A gift for them to in turn spend on others. So one of my errands prior to Christmas brought me to the bank, where I withdrew a bunch of one-dollar bills. Then, when our family gathered, our final gifts of the day were those bundles of one-dollar bills for our children. We brought the catalog out, and encouraged them to spend their money. Having the dollar bills was great. They were able to see an item's dollar amount, and then count out the necessary money for that item. We made a list of all the things they'd chosen. When they each got down to their last few dollars, we encouraged them to pool their money to get something together.

Here are some of the gifts they chose to give:

warm blankets ($6)
food for a hungry baby for a week ($9)
one month's tuition for a child to go to school ($15)
gospel storybooks ($5 for 20 books)
milk; a week's worth ($4)
a dozen baby chicks ($10)
Bible lessons for children ($10)
clothing ($15)
hot meals; a week's worth ($7)

*all of these items were from the Samaritan's Purse Christmas gift catalog.

Can you believe all you can give, for so little?

Then we all bowed our heads and Mark led our family in prayer. He asked God to multiply the gifts we'd given (that those baby chicks would grow to be good egg-layers and may end up being a source of income for that family, etc). We asked for His favor upon the needy ones who would be the recipients of our gifts.

So, there it is. Our new tradition. And it is one of the things I will most look forward to each year.

The after-Christmas lull

I love it. The lull, I mean.

Don't get me wrong. I love big family gatherings-- everyone crowded around tables or packed onto the couches and chairs, filling living rooms.

Our festivities began Friday night. We headed to my grandpas church. We outgrew his living room years ago. 92 people, I think, this year. This dear man, his eight children. Many grandchildren. More great-grandchildren. Generations. Tears slipped down his precious cheeks as his family gathered around. Children's children are a crown to the aged.

Saturday morning my mom, my sister and I joined my aunts and their daughters for tea and scones. Two hours of chatting and laughing and remembering. The young women around that table I have played with since I was a little girl. So many childhood memories. Playing "house" in grandma's basement. Board games with grandma- Uncle Wiggly was a favorite. Playing kick-the-can in grandpa and grandma's yard.

Saturday evening, same family. Game night. With aunts and uncles and cousins and children. A noisy game of Taboo. Some Twister with the little ones. Watching my daughter place her left foot when she should be using her right foot. Should I correct her? Nope. Let her play. Then the guys gathered around the table to play some poker. I took our children home and tucked them into bed. Wrote names on stockings for my mom's stairwell. She got new ones this year; wanted me to do the names. I showed her how to add tassels to her prayer shawl. Mom left, Mark returned home. We finished wrapping some gifts, I made some cinnamon rolls and stitched around the edges of some fleece scarves for the boys. Late night. Crawled into bed at 1:30.

Sunday morning. Christmas Eve. Church. Candlelight service. Voices raised to God. Alleluia! Jesus is born! After church we gathered with Mark's family. We began the day with cinnamon rolls and a tasty egg dish. A full day with my husband's family. I love them. Such a boisterous bunch of MEN. Mark has five brothers. And six nephews. I can't count the number of times someone was suddenly 'taken down' in the middle of the living room. Or on the stairs. And then every other brother and nearby nephew would climb on, too. A pile of raucous boys. Lots of laughter. Games. We played Settlers. And I joined my neice for a couple games of Sequence-- we'd gotten it for her for Christmas. Eleven hours in that house on Christmas Eve. But oh-so-much fun.

Monday morning. Christmas Day. Our oldest two climbed into bed with us, dispensing kisses and groggy "I love you's". I love mornings like this. We got up our youngest to join us in bed. We took the stockings down from the mantel and open them, one by one. On our bed, in our jammies, exclaiming over gifts to each other.

After getting ready, we bundled up and walked to my mom's house for breakfast and most-of-the-day there. My parents, my sister and her family. My two brothers. Us. Food, reading from Luke, songs, prayers, gifts. My parents head off to another family event, we stayed to eat a late lunch, then headed home for quick naps. After naps, we headed out to join my parents for a bit, then came home for dinner. And games. My sister taught us a new card game- Nerts. Nertz? Not sure how to spell it but now I know how to play. And another game: Apples to Apples. Mom's consistent choice. Another late night.

Tuesday morning, home. The kids slept until 8:45, which is unheard of at our house. Then Mark got up with them while I slept a bit more. Chocolate-chip bran muffins for breakfast, and then... our Christmas. Ella, then Isaac- "read" about Jesus' birth from their Bibles, and then Mark read while they moved around the Nativity figurines, acting out the story. Then we opened gifts, one by one. And then- my new favorite part of our family Christmas... I'll share all about it in a couple of days. The boys went down for naps, the rest of us rested. My dad took all the guys out to a movie late-afternoon. My sister brought her kids up to play while I happily took down our now-dying Christmas tree. We gathered at mom's for dinner-- tacos-- and talked and laughed and took family pictures by the tree. Then, home.

And today, Wednesday. We are home. It's a lull from our last few days of getting up, heading out for the day, coming home late just to dump everything down and fall into bed. Only to get up again the next morning and go again. Not today. We're home. Getting settled back into our routine. Of sleep, chores (my washing machine is humming as I type), and quiet. Ahhh... I love it.

There's nothing on our agenda until 5:00 tonight, when we get to go hang out with our best friends-- Mike, Amy and their boys-- for dinner. We're ordering Thai food, and we'll put the kids down there and stay up later to eat snacks and play a game or two of Settlers. So fun.

How was your Christmas?

Our Christmas letter

I thought I'd post the Christmas letter we sent out this year....

* * *

Dear Family and Friends,

I love this time of year. First comes Fall, with it's blustery days and the beautiful hues of leaves on the trees. And then Winter. With Winter comes the smell of pine from our tree, twinkling white lights, the occasional snowfall, glowing candles, and a sense of anticipation in the air as Christmas approaches.

It's also a time of gift-giving. There are a few gifts-- wrapped and ready-- that I am most eager to give. Those are gifts I know will be a delight to the ones opening them. I can't wait for those gifts to be unwrapped.

Can you imagine the joy of God the Father as He waited for His Gift to be unveiled to mankind? I'll bet the air in heaven was pregnant with anticipation. And as the baby Jesus was ushered into the world, surely there was great rejoicing in heaven. And probably a flurry of activity as hosts of angels were dispached to make the birth announcement.

In the midst of our own flurry of activity this time of year, our family delights in the most treasured gift ofall: Jesus. Jesus-- our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Bear with me, if you will, as I share a little about some of the other gifts God has lavished upon us.

There's Mark-- wonderful husband, daddy, and an incredibly hard worker. One of my favorite perks of Mark's job is that he gets to be home every day for lunch! :) I am daily grateful to have married a man who loves Jesus first, and his family second. (Oh, and coming in at a close third: the Pittsburgh Steelers! :))

Ella, just five- is our responsible, thoughtful, compassionate, nurturing one. She brightens our lives with her chatter and her sweet spirit. She brightens our home-- quite literally-- with the dozens of cards she writes every day. She sounds out and writes many words. Soon she'll learn to read, and we're excited about that! She is a wonderful helper around the house, and always does her chores with a joyful heart.

Isaac, now three- is our laughing, singing, affectionate boy. When we asked him at Thanksgiving what he was most thankful for, he promptly said, "You guys!" (And here we thought it was milk!) He is learning to be a gentleman to his big sister, and delights us as he serves her and looks out for her. I'll bet not ten full minutes ever go by without him bursting into a worship song; his favorite is "God of Wonders."

Isaac and Ella have both learned many Bible verses this year, and it is one of our greatest joys that they are hiding His word in their little hearts.

Isaias, 21 months, has been a wonderful addition to our family this year. And it has been a full year. Today, as I write this-- December 14th-- is the day, one year ago, that we walked Isaias into our home for the first time, and placed him into the arms of his big sister, who had tirelessly prayed for his arrival.

Mark said the other day that Isaias has a "rough and tumble zeal for life", and I thought that was such an appropriate description for our little boy! Isaias has strong feelings about everything. He loves to eat, play with trains and cars, and to follow Ella around wherever she goes. He's also beginning to have hourly wrestling matches with Isaac on the living room floor, and we love to see that interaction! :)

Isaias is beginning to use more words, and we are excited for the day that he'll take off and begin chatting with us! (IF he can get a word in edgewise with his older two siblings, that is! :))

And me, well... I get the incredible privilege of taking care of these God has entrusted to me. So I spend my days cooking, cleaning, and trying to keep up with the laundry. And I pray that these children will grow to love God with all their heart, soul and strength.

Mark bought me a sewing machine this year, so I'm busy learning how to sew, and love it. I also read and write and knit, when time allows. In the fall I'll begin homeschooling Ella, and I look forward to that!

We pray daily that God would add to our family, and we are in the process of adopting again! We hope to adopt a little girl or a sibling group through the state's foster-to-adopt program, and so we wait to see whom God will set into our family within the coming year.

We wish you, our family and our friends, a wonderful Christmas as you celebrate the Gift of Jesus!

~Stacy for Mark, Ella, Isaac and Isaias

* * *

The letter was tucked into our homemade cards. (Remember? All colored by the kids? They turned out great! :))

And with those, our family photo.

I figure if four out of five of us were smiling, it was a good shot. (I think our youngest was busy sucking on the M&M I'd given him in-between takes! :)

Blessings to all of you for a wonderful Christmas!

Psalm 119:140

This verse, I found this morning:

Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
and your servant loves them.

Indeed. I do love them.

Odds and ends...

For those of you reading, you may or may not be aware that HomeschoolBlogger has recently done an upgrade. For some reason, that upgrade has made it so that the things that I used to do with ease (edit a post, read or leave comments, read others' blogs, add a link, etc) are no longer possible-- at least for the time being. And doing anything at all is reaaaaalllly slow. I know some of you have tried to leave comments and have been unable to do so. Sorry! I'm sure they're busy ironing out the kinks.

I probably won't be around much in the next couple weeks. In a few days my wonderful husband will be home for TWO WHOLE WEEKS (!!!) Yippeee!!

In the meantime I'm busy trying to get our Christmas cards out, but first-- we have to get our family photo taken. [Aaack!] And some baking, we'll do that, too. The shopping is all done, the wrapping is not.

So if I don't post again in the near future, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas as you celebrate the gift of Jesus!

Blessings to you and yours!


... one year ago today. We were on an airplane, on our way to Guatemala to pick up our son. And that plane couldn't get me there fast enough. I longed to take him into my arms and hold him-- finally.

As we traveled, I journaled.

God, You are so good! I can hardly contain my elation and joy and anticipation and giddiness. The thrill of picking up this precious gift you have given us! Thank you, gracious heavenly Father!

I love You.
I thank You.
I praise You.
My heart is singing.

And then, this:

One year. My heart nearly aches with gratitude. He knew-- long before we knew-- that this boy would be a part of our family.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families
.... Psalm 68:5

Our son. What a delight!

So, today I add this to my One Thousand Gifts list:

736. One year with our Isaias.

On childish mistakes

Of the many things that happened at our house this morning, this was one of them: My littlest (20 mo) found a stick, came into the kitchen where I was washing dishes, and poked me, HARD, with it.

I wish I could say that I handled it well. But I can't because I didn't. I reacted in anger and disciplined my son.

Immediately afterward, I regretted my response as I remembered this from Elisabeth Elliot's devotional recently:

A word of caution: spanking, in my opinion, should be for deliberate disobedience only. When a child spills his milk or stuffs peanuts up his nose or pours your talcum powder all over the carpet, he is not being disobedient. He is only acting his age. You have not forbidden him to stuff peanuts up his nose. If you have, and he does it anyway, spank him. If, in defiance, he dumps his milk on the floor, spank him. But childish mistakes and messes must be pointed out, and by all means he should be made to rectify them or clean them up as best he can. Think of punishments that will fit the "crimes," but reserve the stick or the switch for deliberate disobedience. He will soon learn that when he defies you, a spanking follows as sure as the dawn follows the night--even if you are in church or the supermarket. Take him out to the car and spank him. Explain the whole system to him again (after the spanking), if necessary. Put your arms around him, assure him of your love, and change the subject.

I believe this wholeheartedly.

In fact, when people have asked me how to know when to administer the rod of correction, I would say this: "If you've told them NO and they do it anyway, they are defying you and need to be disciplined."

As for the stick, it may be arguable that my son knew better than to poke someone with a stick. But in hindsight, I know that he was not trying to be naughty. He was curious about this stick he'd found (if you're wondering what a stick was doing inside the house, it was actually a dowel I had lying around for some project). He picked it up and was experimenting with how to play with it. I had not told him not to touch it, not to poke me with it, etc. And yet, I reacted. As if he was willfully disobeying me. Which he wasn't.

Don't these childish mistakes happen often at your house? They do mine. My son plays with the toothpaste and ends up getting it all over himself and the entire bathroom. Because he's curious. He's seen mommy squeeze out the toothpaste; he's imitating me. Or when he's trying to "help" unload the dishwasher, like he sees me do. But the dishes are dirty, and now they're all over the place.

What a wonderful reminder to allow our children to act their age-- unless we've told them not to.

The title of this devotional is A Child's Obedience. To read it in it's entirety (and I recommend that you do!), go here. And if you're not already getting Elisabeth Elliot's daily devotionals emailed to you, I cannot emphasize enough that you should.

Have a wonderful day with your children!

Update: Or, for instance, when you're making Christmas cards and your boys discover a stamp pad and wipe it all over their hands, faces, pants, and the floor. Which is what happened about an hour after I posted this entry. And, yes... things like these-- definitely a regular occurence at our house. Good thing I'm working on my response!

The perfect tree: Part two

So. Last time I gave a bit of history about finding the perfect tree. This post will detail our adventure with this year's tree.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving arrived. It was get-our-tree day! We woke up to snow falling. It was coming down pretty good, but it was just beginning to stick. We drove to church, and as we worshiped it was snowing steadily.

After church, friends asked what we planned to do that day. When we said, "We're getting our Christmas tree", eyebrows were raised, and we got a few "be- careful" comments. My mom sent her cell phone along with us, as we are probably the only Americans who don't own one. Our plan was to go home, change into warmer clothes and then head out to the Christmas tree farm.

As we began driving out of town, a few things I noticed: The snow was very thick. It was windy. There weren't many cars out. But onward we went, driving towards the Christmas tree farm we've never been to before.

On the highway, we saw not one but many cars that had slid off the road. Everyone was driving about 10 mph. Hm. It was at this point that I began saying things to my husband like, "Honey. You know that I trust your best judgement, here. But I'm wondering if it wouldn't be best just to turn around and go home?" I tried this, too: "Don't you think maybe it would be wise for us to head home?" And this: "Sweetie. I'm just trusting you with this. And I know you are a very safe and careful driver. And I really would like a tree, but I don't really want to endanger our lives in order to get it." His response was, "We'll be fine. We're driving slow. We're fine." Now, my husband is very cautious, thoughtful and full of wisdom. I do trust him. So I pretended to rest in this particular decision and began some earnest praying. And I took some pictures out the window. Here's one of them:

By the time we were at our exit-- which was barely evident from the freeway; what with the blizzard that we were driving through and all-- we had passed 12 cars in ditches. And what would normally have taken us about 20 minutes to drive had taken us over an hour.

The kids were pretty oblivious to the fact that we were in any sort of danger. Our youngest was asleep. The other two were happily pointing out things like, "Mommy! Another car in the ditch!" Or, "Mommy! An accident!"

We neared-- to the best of our knowledge-- the Christmas tree farm. But, alas- a tree had fallen onto the road, blocking our pursuit of the perfect tree. (Unfortunately the fallen tree was far too large to strap onto our van and light up when we got home.) At this point I was sure we would treacherously attempt a U-turn and be on our way home. I repeat: a TREE fell down.

Mark put the van in park, got out, and promptly began to drag the tree off the road. Fortunately, another vehicle appeared- on the opposite side of the tree- and the driver and his two daughters went to assist Mark. I was not leaving my children. After all, if a tree could fall on the road, it could fall on us, and I surely wasn't leaving them to bear that trauma alone.

Ten minutes later, the tree aside, we pressed forward. At this point I'm really truly embarrassed at the thought of approaching the elderly couple who runs the tree farm to tell them that we are out in these elements for a Christmas tree.

Wait until you hear our lovely approach.

Finally we spotted the tree farm. We weren't sure where we were supposed to park. Certainly there were no other vehicles around to give us a heads-up. But we spotted the home, next to the trees. We saw the owners cars parked under a carport at the end of what was likely a driveway- it sloped gently down towards the house. Mark said, "I wonder where I should park?" (I'm still thinking, "We should NOT park.") But in an effort to be helpful, I said, "This looks like their driveway, doesn't it?" And he pulled in.

It became immediately clear that whether this was their driveway or not, we had made an unwise choice to pull off the road.

We were VERY stuck. And- upon inspection (whereupon I opened my door and as I did so, shoved snow along with my door- the snow was that deep), we were stuck in their front yard, not their driveway.

Mark was on a mission to get our van out. I was on a mission to hide. I was sure this couple was looking at us through their very-large-front-window. Just wait until they hear why we'd come. After a few minutes of trying to reverse up the hill, my wonderful- and very wet- husband indicated that we were going to have to dig out a path in front of our vehicle, so that we could move forward, not backwards. His words to me, "We're digging up their yard pretty bad, here."

I got out and helped him dig a path. Mark, being the resourceful guy that he is, disovered a political sign this couple had had in their yard that we had run over (the sign wasn't evevisible; the snow was covering it), and he was using that as a shovel.

We still had not made contact with the couple. By this time they were indeed peering out the front window; I'd seen them. I asked Mark to go talk with them (after all, maybe they had a real shovel?), but he said "I will in a minute." I figured we were in a race against time- the snow was still falling by the bucketful, and the conditions were pretty bad, and only getting worse. The wind was really picking up by now. So I began digging in earnest. As I dug, I was secretly hoping that when we did make contact with the tree-farm owners, we could sort of pretend that we just happened to be passing by, and kind of slipped into their yard. Nevermind our interest in their trees, for goodness sakes.

I popped in to tell the kids that we would not be getting our tree today; we were going to dig a path out and then drive home. It was too dangerous. When I headed back out to resume digging, I mentioned to Mark what I'd conveyed. Sort of a the-kids-have-been-prepared-and-they-won't-be-too-disappointed-when-we-head-for-home type of an FYI. Mark looked at me in astonishment. "What? We're not going home! We're getting our TREE!"

When my mouth dropped open, he finished with, "We're AT the tree farm, Stacy. We might as well get the tree." I couldn't really argue with the fact that we were indeed here, at the tree farm. Or more specifically, stuck.in.the.front.yard.very.close.to.the.farm, so we continued digging. After he was sure we'd cleared a nice path for our van to get out, he decided to head on over to the house of those whose yard we had just torn up. Nice. I ducked back into the van in utter embarrassment.

He knocked on the door and introduced himself to the woman. Their conversation follows:

Mark: "You'll never guess why we're here."
Woman: "Oh, I see you've slid off the road. Do you need anything?"
Mark: "No. We're actually here for our Christmas tree."
Woman: "Is there anything you need? Would you like to use our phone?"
Mark: "No, thank you. Like I said, you'll never believe it, but we're actually here to get our Christmas tree today."


Woman, (shocked): "You are?"

And then he explained about the yard, said we'd dug it up a bit in trying to reverse, and gave her our contact information and told her he would make a trip out to fix it if needed when the snow cleared. Then she went and got him a saw.

The plan was this: I was in charge of bundling up the kids for their brief trip outdoors. Mark went to scout out the Christmas tree farm.

Problem: Mark couldn't actually see much of any tree when he went out, as they were blanketed with snow.

Solution: He scurried through the the tree farm, shaking the snow off trees (so that I could have a better idea of what they looked like when I made it out there).

Then he came running back to retrieve us. He said he'd shaken the snow off 8 trees, and we'd go out and take a quick look at those ones; hopefully I'd find one I liked. He helped me get the kids out of the van.

Problem: The snow was so deep they couldn't move.

Solution: Again, kudos to my resourceful husband. The woman had given him some cardboard to use (so that he wouldn't get wet, presumably, as he cut down our tree. We were a little beyond the not-getting-wet point, but the cardboard did come in handy.) Mark quickly converted it into a sled for our two oldest, and pulled them into the Christmas tree farm. I admit, you really can't beat that.

I carried our youngest, and out we all traipsed to view the 8 newly-shaken trees. I didn't particularly see one that I liked. But it was cold. And our youngest had already lost his boot. And Mark was urging me to be quick. (The tree farm was surrounded by very tall, thin trees that were snapping like small twigs. And he'd just seen one fall completely down. And he'd heard others. And as we stood there, yes, I could hear these huge trees snapping. Wonderful.

I made a quick decision, and chose a tree for it's height. The snow was falling so heavily I could really barely tell anymore which trees he'd shaken off.

Mark kicked aside a few feet of snow and got down to cut our tree. I organized the kids and found the missing boot. And we made it back to the van. Where I wrote out a check for $20. Mark strapped the tree to the top of our van, returned the saw, and paid the dear woman. I was glad we could provide her and her husband with an entire afternoon of entertainment. Right in their front yard.

We worked a bit more to clear a space, and after about 15-20 minutes-- me driving, Mark pushing-- we made it back to the road. What a relief!

As we very slowly drove back home-- with more fervant prayers for our safety-- we saw more cars off the road. I think on our way home I counted 20 in all. And we saw a fire truck and an ambulance. And lots of tow trucks.

I couldn't help but wonder what all these people (especially those in the ditches) were thinking as they saw our van drive by. Yup, that's us. Just out for a nice Sunday drive to get our Christmas tree.

* * *

Some additional pictures... (for anyone who's still reading. My, that was a long post!)

Here's the tree, thawing in our shower


My sweetest girl

Birthdays in our family have ushered in some traditions. Traditions aside from the cake/candles/gifts/party ones (although we do those, too). One thing we do is let whoever's birthday it is choose what we're having for dinner. Another tradition of ours- begun when our daughter was one- is that for each birthday, Mark and I both write a birthday letter. Those letters go into a binder that will someday- in some form- be given to our children.

Today is my daughter's birthday. On the menu tonight was meatloaf and mashed potatoes- her choice. And here is that birthday letter.

Dearest sweet girl of mine,

You are five years old today! This morning you said to me, "Now that I'm five I'm probably too heavy for you to carry me." Nope, sweet girl... I am thankful there is strength in my arms to hold you-- even with you at the big age of five!

Why does five seem such a landmark? Five whole years. That's half a decade. I get a little teary on these occasions. It truly is going so fast.

As I prayed this afternoon over lunch, I thanked God for blessing us with your little self five years ago. Who knew then you would be such the little woman you are now? I see so many qualities God is forming in you, and my heart overflows with gratitude for how He is growing you up.

You are very responsible. You take instructions very seriously, and follow them to the letter (most of the time ;)).

You have such a nurturing spirit, tending to others' needs so well. You have this wonderful ability- even at five- to see a need and move to meet it. When I began going to prayer meetings during our lunch hour this year, all of a sudden once a week it was just you, daddy and the boys. Daddy told me later how you would walk straight to the fridge, begin pulling out leftovers, and telling him what you'd be eating. And then you would sit at the table with him, and so grown-up, say: "Daddy, how is work going? Who did you talk to at work today?" You were filling in my role. I love this.

You have the gift of service to others. You delight very much in helping- especially with your little brothers. Or with me in the kitchen. "Mommy, is there anything I can help you with?" is something I hear often. This summer you helped so much with the harvesting of our garden- snipping beans, husking corn, gathering apples, pulling carrots. And if I give you a task, or if it's time for your chore, you do it joyfully.

Your spirit is sweet and compassionate. When someone gets hurt- daddy, mommy, or your brothers, you often burst into tears right along with them. You are so empathetic.

You have an incredible memory. It really does astound your daddy and me... you remember things spoken long ago that we've since forgotten.

You are so social- always chatting. Even when it's quiet time, you are chatting with your baby or Flopsy or your dollhouse guys...

This year you have taken to answering the phone every time it rings (which I don't mind, except for when you're chattering all about what's going on at our house and I'm still wondering who it is, (and hoping it's not a stranger!)). You also love getting the mail, and you know good and well which mail is the fun mail and you tear those things open first. (This, I do mind!) And you've also taken to telling daddy all the important news of our day.

You began doing chores regularly this year, and am I ever thankful for your help! Right now you make your bed, get yourself dressed (and my oh my, you do come up with the most interesting outfits!), unload the clean silverware from the dishwasher, clean up the toys (you're my best cleaner-upper), clear the table, put your dirty clothes away, and recently: sort and fold all your own laundry! In addition to all those things, you are often running to and fro for mommy- retrieving a diaper, helping your brothers turn on a light, assisting in finding something, etc. What I am especially thankful for is your happy heart as you help. Thank you, my sweet girl. May your hands never tire in loving and serving others.

This past year we went through the ABC Bible Verses book, and you learned all those verses with such ease, we have tagged on many new verses. We continue to marvel at your ability to remember God's Word, and are so thankful you are hiding these words of life in your heart. Oh, how I pray that you will love God's Word. And that you will not be just a hearer, (and a knower) but a doer, too.

You joined me many times for my quiet times this year. There are days that I head off with my Bible and my journal, and you come in moments later with your Bible, and your "journal". You have joined me, laying on your tummy on my bed, praying with me for others. Your prayers are earnest, and full of faith. Your prayers are also consistent, and I have learned much from you in this. While I tire of bringing the same requests before God, you never do. You pray for the same thing, over and over and over again. Many times a day. More than any other thing, I pray that your love for Jesus and your trust in Him will grow.

Some days you will crawl into bed with me and take a nap. Oh, how I love this. It reminds me of when you were a little baby and you'd nurse and then fall asleep beside me. And I look upon your dear face and am so, so thankful. You are a joy, my girl.

This year you began sitting with us through our church service. This was instigated by you, (yet as I ponder this I wonder that it wasn't God's idea, surfacing through you wanting to be near us.) What a delight it has been to have you worshiping beside us. I have learned from you in this, too. You come to church, ready to worship. You take your coat or sweater off, climb atop your chair, and immediately raise your hands in praise to God. No matter the song. Or if you know the words or tune. :) You belt it out, delighting me and surely your Father in heaven who hears your voice. You listen to the sermon, too- and mark in your journal your own "notes". You- always my shy girl in groups- have grown in this, too. At church you are confident beside us, and shake hands and smile and give hugs and run across the church to greet Grandpa and Grandma and Gary and Diana.

I love you so much, my Ella girl. Happy birthday to you. I am thankful for a year full of precious memories with you.

Happy to be your