A chapter a day...

That's my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year checklist, and all those boxes are checked! {Thank you, God, for giving me the perseverance to stick to it!}

It is so gratifying to be sitting at the end of this year knowing that I read every single word of God's Word this past year.  I love that.  I love His Word, and my time reading the Bible always expands my worship of Him.  I am so thankful.

I feel compelled to take more time this year for prayer, so I'm not committing to reading through the entire Bible again this year.  I want to grow in the discipline of prayer and of listening and responding  to God's Spirit.  I've been thinking so much lately about how easy it is to feed on God's Word and build our knowledge-- but how often God moves/leads *when we pray*... there are just so many examples in the NT of the disciples meeting and praying and knowing where to go and what to do and seeing God work and move *because* they prayed, and I want that, too.  I want to spend my days being led by His Spirit and doing His work.  This past year I spent way more time reading than praying, and I really missed that sweet intimacy with Him that comes from time spent in prayer. 

I am working on a plan for reading-- it will just be at a bit slower pace.  I've decided to scale back and read "a chapter a day" this year, which will allow for more time of focused prayer and also the freedom to dig in and study.  And- Mark is going to do my chapter-a-day plan with me.  Sort of as an afterthought, I asked Ella and Isaac (our able readers) if they wanted to do it, too.   Ella is very excited and agreed without hesitation.  (Her comment: "Then we can all read the same thing and talk about it!")  Isaac is still deciding.  He told me he's in the middle of reading the Psalms right now and isn't sure he's ready to commit to more reading. ;)  I know Isaias would like to, but he's not quite at that level of reading yet, so we'll just have to do a lot of narrating what we read to him so that he can participate in our conversations. 

Reading a chapter a day means that we will read through 11 books of the Bible this year.  These are the books I chose:

1 Kings
2 Kings
1 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians

That's exactly 366 chapters- out of 1189 total chapters in the Bible.  (At this rate it would take us a little over 3 years to read the entire Bible, but: one step at a time.  This is our goal for *this year*, and we'll see what next year holds.)   I've already promised to email a friend my chapter-a-day checklist, so if any of you are interested, just send me your email address and I'd be happy to email it to you, too.  :)

Early morning gratitude

I was up early this morning with the girls while everyone else slept.  They were vying for a position on my lap- both were sleepy and wanted to snuggle with mommy and Audra did not want to share lap space. Adelia is very sweet about sharing, so for the most part she will let Audra have me to herself. This is quite unfortunate because I *love* it when Adelia just wakes up from a night of sleep or from her nap.  It's the only time she will sit still, and she wants to be held.  (Audra, on the other hand, wants to be held fifty times a day!)


(Case in point: as I was typing that statement, Audra came over and said, "I want to sit on your lap." ;))  So: I closed the laptop and set it aside and pulled her onto my lap.

Anyway~ back to what I started to say earlier:  I sat this morning on the couch, taking turns with the girls- when Audra was off playing happily, I'd pull Adelia into my arms and vice versa.  At one point, Adelia was snuggled in beside me and Audra sat on my lap, facing me- squeezing my cheeks and poking my eyes and giving me tight hugs and chattering about all sorts of things, (if she says 'Jofuss' (who goes with Mary and baby Jesus for those of you who don't know who 'Jofuss' is) I might actually die from cuteness overload.)  And I thought: "This is the greatest job in the world."  What other occupation could you be in where people approach you several times a day just to tell you how much they love you, and to cheer you with countless hugs and brighten your days with smiles and laughter?  What wonderful years these are!  And how gracious God is to allow us- as mothers- to get to play such a big part in their lives.

I was overwhelmed with thankfulness this morning.  How dear my children are, how much I love them and delight in them, and how grateful I am to get to be their mommy.  Yes, the days are long and often challenging, but God is gracious and is so faithful to give strength and perseverance with each new day.  It is such rewarding work, isn't it?

Blessings to you and your children today.  (Don't forget to tell them how much you love them!)

Happy day-after-Christmas! (& our Handmade Christmas recap)

I kept meaning to get on the computer during the past couple of days and wish you all a Merry Christmas, but... there was just no time.  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, and reveled in the amazing gift of Jesus!  

We have had a great week together as a family.  We began our festivities on Sunday night- the week before Christmas- by pulling our mattresses into the living room and sleeping by the tree.  Then we surprised the kids with a Pajama Ride announcement (which included a trip to DQ and a drive to look at Christmas lights.)

Settling everyone into bed before our Pajama Ride.

Then we spent a couple of days doing the finishing touches on our handmade gifts for one another and other odds and ends (wrapping, grocery shopping, baking, etc).

Doing some knitting with the girls.  (Doesn't Audra look so wiped out from her knitting project? ;))

On Thursday night we celebrated my grandpa's 91st birthday-- which doubles as an extended-family Christmas party.  There were over 100 of us there- and it was a joyous occasion.  So many aunts and uncles and cousins and their kids and my grandpa smiling with happy tears in his eyes through it all.

Friday was our own family Christmas.  We had a yummy breakfast of coffee cake (birthday cake for Jesus~ candles and all!), sausage, bacon, and Orange Julius-drinks in the blender.  Oh, and hot cocoa, too- with dollops of vanilla ice cream.  Then we read from Luke and prayed and opened our gifts for one another.  Here's the rundown of our handmade gifts:

Audra drew Adelia's name.  Mark and I puzzled a bit over what she could give Adelia- since, at 2- she can't really *make* many things.  One thing Adelia loves is food- so I contemplated making homemade crackers until I decided that I was spending enough time in the kitchen and why complicate things when she'd be just as happy with popcorn?  But then- THEN: Mark had the brilliant idea of making a "snack mix" for Adelia.  Bingo.  I grabbed a few bags of snacky stuff at the grocery store, and Audra did the work of dumping out the bags, stirring, and transferring into a container.  Then I made a label for the top that said Adelia's Snack Mix (made by Audra), and Audra happily colored all over the label.  We wrapped it up together and we were done.

She was so focused.
When Adelia opened it, she pretty much thought it was the best.gift.ever, and ate it throughout the rest of the day.

Adelia drew Ella's name, and she had a lot of help from me.  I gave Adelia some paint pens she went to town decorating a blank canvas that I had.  Then I found a picture of the two of them- Ella holding Adelia as a baby- and used some stickers and scrapbook paper and mod-podged it all on the canvas.  It turned out pretty cute.  I don't have a picture of the front of it, but here's the picture of Ella opening it: 

(I had also knitted up a hat for Ella and sewed a bird ornament from this book so I had Adelia give those to her, too.)

Isaias drew Audra's name, and he drew her a paper doll- knowing how much she loves getting into Ella's paper dolls.  It was such a sweet, thoughtful idea.  Mark and I helped him come up with an additional idea, too (just in case she wasn't quite as enthused with his torn-out stick-figure paper doll as he might think she would be).  Mark sat down with him one afternoon and looked up coloring pages online and let Isaias choose a bunch of them for a coloring book.  He did a great job- choosing nativity scenes, kitties, Hello Kitty, Little House, and all the things she loves.  We printed them out, 3-hole punched them, and he wrote Audra's Coloring Book ~from Isaias on the cover.  Then Isaias selected some crayons and put them in a baggie and wrapped it all up for her. 

Audra looks at her coloring pages as Isaias looks on.

Isaac drew my name- and he had remembered me saying a couple of months before- on a day when I was craving something sweet but we had nothing at all sweet in the house- "All I want for Christmas is some Swedish Fish, some Skittles, and some chocolate." (Immediately after that little declaration, I regretted it because I saw a slight look of panic on Isaac's face and figured he had 1)drawn my name, and 2)was trying to figure out how on earth he was supposed to make mommy some Swedish Fish, Skittles, and chocolate!)   He did great.  His idea was to make me a treat jar to keep by my bed, so he decorated the outside of a jar and then made a LEGO smiley face and taped it on top of the jar and filled it with Swedish Fish.  He also drew me several small pictures (he called them "pennants") that I can hang up on a little string near my treadmill so that I have something to look at while I'm on the treadmill.  (Is that not the cutest thing?)  I loved it all.  :)  And the Swedish Fish are all gone. 

Ella drew Isaac's name and has been thoughtfully saving the tickets she's earned from school store in anticipation of gifting them to Isaac who is saving earnestly for a LEGO set he desperately wants to purchase from school store.  (Mark found a nice LEGO set at a garage sale ($3) and added it to our school store but priced it *really* high (100 tickets)-- knowing that Isaac knows how much that set is worth and recognizing that Isaac will have to buckle down and save for-- something he is not very good at doing.  He wants that set more than anything but keeps getting distracted with other school-store purchases, so he's only saved up about 30 tickets for it all year.)  In the past two months, Ella has carefully been putting away nearly 40 tickets for her gift to Isaac-- to add to his saved 30.)  This was the gift I was most anxious to see opened-- it was such a thoughtful gift from Ella and I knew Isaac was going to be overwhelmed with the magnitude of all of Ella's tickets.  Both Mark and I were teary-eyed and Isaac was literally speechless when he opened his gift.  He really could not believe that Ella would be willing to give up all of her tickets for him.  

Isaac, staring at the container of Ella's tickets

(Ella has also been knitting Isaac a green and gray striped scarf, but she didn't finish in time for Christmas, so she drew a picture of it and told him that it was his when she finished.  (He's seen her knitting it and had hoped it was for him and is excited for her to finish!))

I drew Mark's name.  (I had thought that drawing one of the kids' names would be so easy-- I could sew for the girls or knit for the boys, but-- MARK?  What could I make him?)  I Googled "handmade gifts" and it took me just a couple of minutes to decide on an idea of a Memory Jar.  I sat with my journal for several quiet-times and wrote down memories, then eventually transferred all of those ideas onto slips of colored/patterned paper and filled up a Memory Jar- 365 days worth of memories for Mark to open.

Mark- trying to figure out what his gift was

Finally (and you're amazing if you're still reading because I know this is a long post!), Mark drew Isaias' name, and puzzled over what to make him until he settled on a football theme (Isaias loves football) and decided to created a game for him.  [If you have boys who are into football you're going to want to pay close attention and do this for them or have them do it.]  Mark cut out a picture of a player from each NFL team from a Sport's Illustrated NFL Preview Issue (free at the library!) and then printed out corresponding team logos (from online) and made a deck of 64 cards.  Each card was given a value of 1-10, based on the actual offensive and defensive ranking for the teams this season.  We used clear contact paper to "laminate" the cards and on the back of each card it said: Isaias' NFL Challenge, along with some football clip art.  Rules of the game are similar to the card game of War, where your cards (or in this case, teams) face off, and the highest number takes all cards.  When there's a tie (or in this case, "overtime"), they play it out just like you do in the game of War.  This was a HUGE hit and our three older kids played this for literally hours that day and days since.  (I KNOW.  How creative is my husband?!  He should patent this.)

Isaias opens the box and all the cards tumble out

Two hours later...

So that was our handmade Christmas gift exchange.  We all want to do it every year, and we will.  We did our Samaritan's Purse giving later.

Saturday we spent the whole day (10:00 am to 10:00 pm!) with Mark's wonderful family- and the kids had a blast with cousins and uncles and aunts and grandpa and grandma and pizza and lots of laughter and games (Twister!  Hide and Seek!) and gifts.  

Sunday morning we did our stockings here and then headed to my mom and dad's (joining my brothers) for a full day of Christmas there- complete with a huge breakfast and snacks all day and games and puzzles and singing and prayers and gifts and lots of laughter.

We are so, so blessed to have such wonderful family so near.  Mark goes back to work tomorrow and we have one week to undecorate, rest, tidy, and ease back into a more scheduled life. 

What was your favorite gift to GIVE this Christmas?   (Mine was probably my gift to Mark- because I knew he would be blessed and it is such a fun gift because he gets to keep "unwrapping" it for a whole year!) 

Why I said yes

It was on this date, December 15th, fifteen years ago, that Mark proposed to me.

As he knelt to express his love for me and his desire for me to be his wife, I happily said yes.  We had been dating for three years and I knew him well.

I knew that during Mark's first couple years of college, he was also taking care of his grandma who had Alzheimer's.  He spent his weekends caring for her.   In her tired, confused mind- she often called him the wrong name- and she could be awfully stubborn about things.  Sometimes on a Friday or Saturday night, his grandma would insist that it was "time to go to church".  He would patiently explain, "No, Grandma.  It isn't Sunday.  No one is at church right now."  But she would get herself all ready for church, and insist upon going.  So Mark would carefully help her out to the car and he would drive her to church.  They'd reach the dark, empty parking lot, and she would have a puzzled look on her face and realize that no one was here for church, and they'd go back home.

I remember thinking then- when I heard the stories Mark would tell me of his time with his grandma- that he was a remarkable man.  What guy in college is spending his weekends taking care of his ailing grandma?  My Mark was.

When we began dating, I was eighteen; had just moved out of the house- and had two little brothers still at home.  Micah was seven and Seth was two.  Whenever we'd go to my house, Mark would end up on the floor with my brothers, playing with them.  I loved this.  I knew he wasn't doing this to impress me or anyone else- he just genuinely liked them and got down on their level to play with them.

We'd file into church next to my family on a Sunday morning and Seth would reach up to Mark, wanting to be held.  Mark is so tall that his arms offered the best view.  Seth liked to be held in a sitting-up position, but facing outward.  (Not real comfy for whoever was holding him.)  Mark would steadily hold him just that way, facing out, during the whole of the worship service.

For years Mark taught the two-year-old Sunday School class, and those two-year-olds loved him.  They would climb all over him and he made them laugh and they were just so taken with him.  He loved each one of them.

I watched Mark with my brothers, with his nephews, and with his two-year-old classes, and knew he would be a good daddy someday.

During college I worked at a Christian bookstore.  Usually I had the closing shift.  We closed at nine o'clock, and I was by myself, vacuuming, closing out the tills, and locking up.  Not so when Mark began dating me.  He would drive out to the store about half-hour before closing and just browse the bookstore while I closed up.  He wanted me to be safe: it was dark, I was alone- and he would just show up.  I never asked him to nor did I expect it of him.  He just showed up one night and kept coming, each night I was closing.  And I felt treasured by him.

I lived with a bunch of other girls through college.  We had meals together each night, and divvied up the household chores.  Chores were always expected to be done on Saturdays.  I worked Saturdays, so when I came home from work those nights I had my chores to do.  I remember coming home from work one night (with Mark) to discover that my chores had all been done for me.  I wondered aloud which of my roommates had done this?  I think I even asked a few of them, and it was one of them who told me that Mark had been by earlier in the day to do my chores for me.  (I think that week my chore was the living room/dining room area and the kitchen).   He did it simply to bless me, knowing I would be tired when I got home that night.

He was the most romantic guy-- he courted me with near-daily cards and flowers and thoughtfulness packed into every date.  When he knew I would be celebrating my birthday while on a missions trip, he tracked down a birthday card well in advance and sent it along with me.  I still remember being on a sleeper-train riding through Poland, and opening my birthday card from Mark- which was a Polish card!  How he found me a Polish birthday card, I'll never know- but somehow he did.

I watched the way he interacted with his siblings and the way he honored his parents.  He loved them.  He spoke well of them, and there was great fondness and camaraderie in his family.  I loved that.

He spoke well of everyone, actually.  Any time I would complain to him about anyone, he always- annoyingly- believed the best in a person; giving them the benefit of the doubt and encouraging me not to be quick to judge someone else's motives.

Mark quickly became my best friend.

I was deeply afraid to get married.  I was so fearful that someday I would be left-- the way my mom had been left by my dad.  It was my greatest fear.  I wanted to know, for sure- that this would not happen to me.  I wanted assurance that this man, Mark, would never be that man.

But that day, on top of that hill- fifteen years ago, I was unafraid.  I knew Mark.  I knew his character.   I knew he loved and feared God above all.  I knew he loved me. And I trusted him.  That's why I said yes.

Fifteen years later and he's still the guy who will lay aside his own interests, his own time and comfort, for someone else.  He is still selfless- always thinking of others before himself.  He is still great with children: he is an amazing daddy to our five.  He still courts me with cards and flowers and thoughtfulness.  He still loves his family and others well.  He's still my best friend.  He is trustworthy.  He loves and fears God more today than he did back then, and I admire him more than anyone on this earth.

Christmas gift-giving

The view from my favorite spot on the couch

We're doing Christmas a little differently at our house this year.  We decided to draw names amongst ourselves and give homemade gifts (using what we already have) in lieu of purchasing presents for one another.  (Stockings are still fair game, but the only presents under our tree for one another will be homemade.)  The reason we decided to do this is twofold:

1)  None of us need a thing.  We are so rich already.
2)  There are so many people on earth who truly DO have needs- real needs like food, clean water and clothing.

So we decided to start this new tradition in order to be able to give more generously to those who do have needs.

Our kids were completely on board.  The idea of making a gift comes very naturally to them-- and they have been full of creative ideas for their name-draw and that alone has been such a joy to behold.  I love it that this requires us all to be more thoughtful, and I think much more time is spent thinking of the individual we're giving the gift to (as we mull over what they would like, and as we put in the actual time of making the gift.)

I can't wait to tell you all about the handmade gifts we've been secretly working on around here-- after Christmas, of course.

Oh!  And-- I must tell all of you fellow book-lovers about this idea (one that I first heard about at Amanda's blog, at the end of this post): You know the moment when you get out your bin of Christmas books to enjoy for the season?  Wrap each book in wrapping paper, and then put them into your bin and let your kids open one each day leading up to Christmas- so that they can have the joy of rediscovering their treasured Christmas books all over again!  (Isn't that the BEST idea?)  I can't wait to do that next year.

Two other Christmas gift-giving posts, from the archives:

The Part of Christmas I'm Most Excited About
Our Favorite Kind of Gift-Giving

Wednesday, December 7th

Last night we had a bit of a long night.  Audra (2) woke up sometime around two o'clock, hollering for daddy, and he went in to settle her.  (Me? I went back to sleep.)  I don't know how long he was in there, but I heard her calling again at around 3:40.  Mark was getting out of bed to go to her and told me then that this was the fourth (!) time she had called him since that initial two o'clock wake-up.  I was awake, then- and listening to all the goings-ons, and hoping she wasn't going to wake the other girls, and ready to assist if he needed me.  Then I heard Ella's voice, and Audra asking, "Daddy?  Will you please scratch my back?"  ;)  He did that, yes he did, at 4 in the morning, because that's the kind of amazing daddy that he is.

We all went back to sleep sometime in the 4 o'clock hour.  I left a little after 6 to exercise and when I got back, I came back to bed.  I then asked Mark for a recap of the night (in my foggy middle-of-the-night state I hadn't understood why Audra had initially called out-- Did she have a bad dream?  Was she sad/scared?)  As Mark was giving me the timeline of events, he said that after the second time he'd soothed Audra back to sleep, he went back to bed only to hear Adelia (3) calling out for him.  He went in to her- quickly- as to not wake Audra again- and Adelia asked him to find one of her stuffed animals that she likes to sleep with.  (I think he said no, he could not find that right now, as it was dark, and to please go to sleep.)  He went back to bed, and then Adelia began calling "Dadddddyyy"- quietly at first, then more loudly.

Then Mark overheard Audra, now awake, holler from her bed to Adelia: "He's MY daddy!"  Mark heard them bicker about that for a few minutes (Adelia replying, "He's my daddy!" and so on...) and then they quieted.  Mark and I were laughing about it this morning- it reminded me of the whole idea of getting your dance card punched- it was as if Audra was telling Adelia that she had daddy reserved for the entire night and Adelia could not use him.  Silly girls.  Wonderful husband and father.

Default: theirs and mine

One day as I was trying to get the kids ready to go somewhere--- which always seems to be an extremely Long and Trying Process at our house, and one in which I'm usually exasperated at my children who want to play or goof around instead of getting on their hats and coats and shoes or boots, or in which I'm usually exasperated by the child (not always the same child, mind you) who is not at all ready while the rest of us are standing at the door ready to go--- I had a thought.

It was simply this:

Their 'default' is play.

It's the way God created them, these children of mine.  And it's a good and beautiful thing.  They naturally, inherently just want to play.  (My personal default happens to be work, hence the exasperation on my part.)

My boys in their room together-- with clear instructions to clean their room-- will inevitably end up in some drama or giggles or play-fighting or jumping or climbing or a dumping out of a toy bin in order to build or play something.  That's just the way they were made.  They look for it, they celebrate relationship with each other by playing together.  Any two of my children who pass by one another in the process of doing their individual chores will interact with each other on some level and that will lead to a disruption of my personal work-default and an entry into their default of play.  If I want to leave the house, and right now, please, or we're going to be late!-- one of them will find something to do instead of getting their shoes on and will end up sitting comfortably on the floor, playing.   It puzzles me, truly- and I usually think it's absurd:  Hello?  We are leaving.  As in, now.  Do you see us?  How could you possibly be [sockless, shoeless, coatless] and PLAYING right now?

And yet: it's their default.

Now- I'm not eschewing obedience or my desire and intention for my children to learn responsibility and a good work ethic.  I want those things, and we are fully in the process of teaching our kids those things.  But it is helpful for me to remember that it is a process.  They are firmly, cheerfully situated in their God-given play-mode and it will take years of gentle, faithful, patient instruction and our own example to teach them and show them that there is real joy to be found in work-- and in the reward of getting to play when your work is finished.

In the meantime, I am finding great joy in observing their playfulness-- in everything they do, and I'm marveling- truly- at their ability to pause in any given moment and laugh and play and relate to one another, forsaking all work.  I think I could (re)learn to do a good deal more of that myself.  I am- more often- settling my exasperated self with the truth of how God has designed them, and by realizing that more often than not- they've gotten it exactly right.