Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 in Hindsight


I know some people who don't think much of the calendar change. The days are the "same," even if the year has changed. But, for me, I think pretty deeply about the old year passing into the new. I make resolutions every year, even if I don't stick with them. There's something that appeals to me about the promise of regrouping, refocusing, and starting new. Life is full of second chances. That's what a new year signals for me.

But I can't welcome the new year without pondering the old. This past year was less traumatic than others for me (1996, 2004 and 2005, to be exact), but it was still hugely impactful (is that even proper English?). I grew more into myself, and I can feel the weight of it now. Here's what I'll remember about this year - and please note that this list is different than the "Top 10" list I usually send with our Christmas card/email. Because this is the real deal, with scars and bruises and joy and change.

1. 2008 started off with the best 30 days of the entire year (Danuary), which made this year probably the best year of all 13 married years of my life. Yes, there were downs but there were also some great ups too. I learned to trust my husband even more than I already did, and we strengthened our bonds and tightened our love. He is and will always be the love of my life. He is also the one who exasperates me the most, as I do him. But I know, without a doubt, that God made us for each other and that we will continue trying to not screw it up. It's hard work, but with amazing payoffs.

2. 2008 was the year I started blogging. I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I can't begin to express what blogging has done for me. Not only have I made new friends, but I've discovered (or re-discovered) my passion for writing and learning. My blog has opened my eyes to a whole new world, and helped me feel less alone and more loved and understood. It's a lifeline that I've created to the future me and the future Katie and Jackson, because it's an heirloom that I'm creating for them. It's their legacy, but it's a gift to myself as well. I have found immeasurable joy in such a simple thing.

3. 2008 was a year of learning my limits. I mean this in so many ways. Of course, there's the obvious limit of my lupus diagnosis. I'm pretty proud of myself for stepping off the roller coaster of life after my diagnosis, and paring down the unessentials in my life. I learned that I don't have a boundless store of energy. That was a pretty shocking concept for me, because I've always just gone hog wild and never put much emphasis on limits. (That explains why exhaustion and overextension kept tracking me down.) I'll always have the tendency to do more, because it's in my genetics. But in 2008, I learned there's a cost to "more." Besides the health limits, I learned earlier in the year about my mental limits. I hit a brick wall in May, and realized I had reached my limit with the kids. I was unhappy and at the end of my rope. I admitted it to Dan, and we came up with two solutions: the necessity of me leaving the house at least one night each week, and an additional day of Parents' Day Out for Jackson. Those two solutions haven't made everything peachy and rosy, but they sure have helped me get a grip.

4. 2008 was a year of changes. Of course. If there weren't any changes, then I guess I'd be dead. Right? One change was a small victory: the loss of 16 pounds. (I probably gained 10 back over Christmas, though!) I still have more to lose, but I want to acknowledge the 16 so far. And there were other changes too: I gained new friends and strengthened relationships with old friends, and also saw some friends slip away. I've read that sometimes you have friends only for certain seasons of your life. Life ebbs and flows, and that's okay. There were other changes, like our church. And that brings me to...


5. 2008 was a year of deepening. God's love rooted itself more firmly in me. He did it in small, subtle ways that led to one BIG change. First we started attending the contemporary service at our old church in order to work around Jackson's naptime. I didn't like it at first, but then grew comfortable very quickly. That led to opening some new channels in my heart. Then I started immersing myself in other areas (worship through music, learning my limits & listening to my heart's true desires). On a whim and through a friend's invitation, we visited a new church. We weren't really planning to leave our old church (despite lots of issues), but I got hit upside the head with a desire and calling to attend this new place, Windsor Crossing. It is speaking to me in ways I never thought I needed, and in ways I'd already heard but hadn't truly listened. Does that even make sense? I am compelled and feel such a blatant NEED to be at this church. I'm almost embarrassed to admit how much I need it. Y'all are going to start thinking I'm a Bible thumper, aren't you? I wouldn't quite put it that way, but I will say that I'm not ashamed to admit my need for God's presence in my life. I'm humbled, and so drawn to His nourishment and hydration. This year, He has drawn me close. I can honestly say I have felt His presence multiple times this year, and been moved to tears by it. I can literally feel my soul deepening and widening from the things I've experienced this year.

So there it is, all the cards laid out on the table. The real deal. I started writing this post about three hours ago, when 2008 was still bright and sunny. Now dusk is rolling in, and the sky is fading on the last day of the year. The sun will rise tomorrow on a new day, and a new year. I'm finished looking back and ready to look forward. And I can't wait to see where the path leads from here.

"It's not who you knew and it's not what you did. It's how you live." (Point of Grace)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Mother Letter


Dear Mother,

Oh, the things I would say to you if you were still here.

First and foremost would be, “I am sorry.” Secondly (and a tight race for first) would be, “Thank you.” Of course, most people would say those things to their mothers. But they wouldn’t have the reasons that you and I have, would they?

I think you know why I’m sorry. And although I said it to you often enough when you were alive and we were trying to superglue our fragile porcelain trust back together, “I’m sorry” didn’t work. I’m not sure why. Then by the time it would have worked, we found we didn’t need it after all. The sins were forgiven, and the hindsight we had made “I’m sorry” insignificant. Trivial. These days, I find that I’d still like to say it to you anyway. Until death’s finality had claimed you, I didn’t know so many things about you. I truly didn’t know how very much you loved me. So the “I’m sorrys” of the past didn’t have the weight they would now. They were the flippant “I’m sorrys,” the ones that meant, “Lay off. I’m trying, can’t you see?” Now five years after becoming a mother myself (and four years after becoming an orphan), my “I’m sorrys” would be full of regret and weight, knowing all the things I did to you that cracked your heart wide open. “I’m sorry” is the repentance I need to give you. This time, I hope you accept it so I can cleanse my heart and soul. I have a childish need to feel your forgiveness, to know you have let the grudges go.

On the heels of “I’m sorry” comes exasperating gratitude in the words, “Thank you.” Oh, Mom. I didn’t know! Really. I thought you gave of yourself because that’s just what you did. I had no idea that you gave of yourself because you had no other choice: we kids sucked it out of you. I had no idea it was the calling of ALL mothers. And I had no idea that you lost yourself in the process. I’ve been fighting that for years now. Not that I don’t want to be a mother like you, but because I’m afraid that if I let the children suck me dry, I’ll have nothing left when they’re gone. So, thank you. For all the nights you spent cleaning up my puke. Thank you for nursing us when breastfeeding wasn’t popular. For staying married to Dad. For revolving around me, my friends and hobbies. Thank you for teaching me to write. For making our house a home. For saying no. For giving me faith. Thank you for letting me have my way. For all the times you helped me spread my wings, even when you knew that doing so meant you were losing me. Thank you for surviving three children, a divorce, your son’s cancer, and your own illnesses. In doing so, you taught me how to be strong.

I didn’t know that when you raised me, you were channeling your own mother. And probably your mother’s mother. Because when you become a mother, you rely on the child-rearing knowledge that you already have, which is your own mother’s rearing of you. I didn’t know this until five years ago, when She came into my life. Now I hope and pray that I can model for her what you modeled for me: strength, grace, friendship, commitment, sacrifice and love.

What I wouldn’t give to ask you if you felt this same way (like you’re losing your mind one day and completely head over heels in love the next). I have a feeling you did feel the same, but I wish you could tell me the stories in your own words. And, oh! How I wish you could meet my daughter and son, and they could meet you. I’d like to hear you say what great kids I have, because they are pretty amazing. They are your continuation, the culmination of the years of frustration and heartache, joy and love you put into civilizing me.

So, I’m sorry, Mom. And I’m also grateful. I am who I am because of you. And my children will be who they will be because of you too. The circle continues, like a big spiral of life. Thank you for linking me to my past, and your past too.

I love you. And I miss you.
Elizabeth

Monday, December 29, 2008

The History of the World Starts with Katie

Seriously. You can see it in the photo, can't you? She's right there at the start of time.

No, really. These photos are of one of Dan's Christmas presents. I bought him Adam's Chart of History, which is this really really cool book that chronicles the entire history of the world. According to Sebastian Adams. And only up until 1871. The "book" is technically more of a timeline wall-chart than a book. The thing is about 22 feet long and two or three feet wide. See how it stretches the length of our living room?

But, man, it's cool. It's a "synchronological" multi-timeline (for lack of a better word) complete with maps and diagrams that starts with Adam and Eve and the Stone Age.

The chart covers ancient rulers, wars, statemen, councils and even U.S. presidents. Here's the end:

We're thinking that one day, when the basement playroom is not quite so, uh, destructible, we can hang the chart so the kids can read it and learn about history. Pretty cool, huh?

Jackson at 21 Months

I've already mentioned quite a few ways that Monkey Boy is driving us nuts. He's also adding a few more degrees of angst right this moment, as he is screaming and fighting his nap while I am trying to blog in peace. I am rising above it by writing a post about his wonderful side. Monkey Boy truly does have one, I promise.

He's blossoming into this amazingly cute little boy. He adores his big sister, and usually his first word when I enter his room in the morning is, "Day-dee?" as in, "Where's Katie?" He is spunky and scrappy, ready to tackle and chase anything that moves. When I do crunches during my workout in the morning, he thinks it's an invitation to body slam. He gets a wicked grin and straddles my stomach and starts bouncing, as if he's riding a horse. Then he squawks and squeals because, really, what could be more fun?

I love the way he walked around on Christmas Day with a fistful of football playing cards that Santa left in his stocking, muttering "poo-ball" to himself over and over. And at mealtime, he would sit in his chair and point to our holiday carousel on the counter and say, "Mommy wake horsey up," his way of asking me to turn the carousel on.
I love that you can see the concentration on his face when he's thinking or playing. In my family, we call that furrowed brow "Steeley Eyes." Maybe I'll explain that in another post sometime.

When I sit on the floor to play with Jackson, he takes that as an invitation to read books. He grabs a book from the shelf (usually it's Big Dog Little Dog or Are You My Mother?) and brings it to me and plops into my lap saying, "book." Of course he doesn't want me to read it. He just wants to flip the pages and point to pictures. But it's a start.

I love that every time we get in the car, Jackson asks for his best friend, Liam. He just started calling him Liam about two weeks ago. Before that, Liam was "B-Beth" because that's what Liam always calls me. (Elizabeth is hard for a two-year-old to pronounce.) So Jackson called him B-Beth until Liam kept saying and insisting, "I not B-Beth. I LIAM." I think it finally took. Jackson thinks we are going to play with Liam every time we get in the car, probably because we usually end up seeing Liam at least half the time we go somewhere.

Jackson calls his milk "boppy." Not sure why. He loves to build with blocks and then, like most kids, knock the blocks over.

He loves loves loves balls - throwing them, kicking them, sitting on them. Lately, he's been carrying a rubber ball in one hand and a plastic cat in the other. And if he has room, he'll cram an empty Altoids box in his grubby little grasp too. He carries these things around all. day. long. Sometime he even sneaks them to bed too.


I learned a little trick from my friend Danielle, who credits our friend Mary. They both started telling their kids things like "It's gonna cost ya" to bribe a kiss from their kids. I've been trying this with Jackson, and I think it's starting to work. I'm a little more blunt, though. I just tell Jackson, "Mommy kiss" and now I'm starting to get the kisses. He'll walk up to me and say, "Mommy kiss" and I'll bend down and get one for no reason at all. They are the most gooey, slobbery kisses in existence, but oh-so-sweet.

About two weeks ago, we were listening to Christmas music while driving around and looking at the holiday lights. My iPod was playing "Joseph's Lullaby" by MercyMe. It is a heartwrenchingly beautiful song. Dan asked me to burn it to CD for him so he could play it for Jackson while they rock before bedtime. That song has now replaced the song we've been playing for both kids since Katie was six months old: "Lullaby (Good Night My Angel)" by Billy Joel. When "Joseph's Lullaby" starts, Jackson curls up into your chest and sucks his pacifier (he switches the consonants and calls it "dap-see" instead of "paci") and I am telling you what: you have never felt such peace and love in your life. It makes the Monkey Boy moments worth it. Almost.

"Joseph's Lullaby" by MercyMe
Go to sleep my son,
This manger for your bed.
You have a long road before you.
Rest your little head.
Can you feel the weight of your glory?
Do you understand the price?
Does the Father guard your heart for now,
So you can sleep tonight?
Go to sleep my son.
Go and chase your dreams.
This world can wait for one more moment
Go and sleep in peace.
I believe the glory of Heaven
Is lying in my arms tonight.
Lord I ask that he, for just this moment
Simply be my child.
Go to sleep my son
Baby close your eyes
Soon enough you’ll save the day
But for now, dear child of mine.
Oh, my Jesus, sleep tight.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Week

Here's what I'll remember about this week, or at least what I want to remember (some parts I want to forget):

Baking cookies for Santa. Painting Katie's nails. A painful Christmas party with my mom's club, as Jackson SCREAMED because I wouldn't let him have a fifth cookie. Our Advent wreath. Parachutes on Christmas Eve. Getting sick at my in-laws on Christmas Eve. Reindeer food. Listening to Dad read to me again, through the magic of DVDs and Skype (Thanks, Mary!). Luminaries lining our street. "I got it, Mommy! I got an MP3 player!" Cinnamon toast. Monogrammed vests. A new CD from Santa, with my newly favorite song on it (it's now the first one on my blog player, called How You Live by Point of Grace). Waiting on the stairs. Tulips. Kisses. Dan reading, "Now, DASHER! Now, PRANCER!..." and Jackson's face watching in wonder. The kids crawling under the tree like moles. Sock monkey footie pajamas. Mother-Daughter matching necklaces.

Most of all, what I want to remember is that Christmas is just one day. Full of magic, yes, but just one day in a year of others to remember the Reason. Thank you for all these blessings, God; the ones under the tree and the ones in my heart, and the ones that scream for cookies and bounce with joy for MP3 players.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy 13

Today was our 13th wedding anniversary. (Yes, I know. Stupid idea to get married this close to Christmas. More on that in a moment.)

Grandma offered to babysit so we could go out for our anniversary. Since we already had a big date in November that we considered our early anniversary celebration, we chose to do something low-key tonight. We went to see the movie Slumdog Millionaire, which was pretty good. Our plan was to get wings (my fave!) at Buffalo Wild Wings, but it was packed for the Mizzou game. So we went to a high-class, fancy restaurant. No, not McDonald's. Better than that! We had ourselves some Cracker Barrel. Yummm-meee! Seriously. This Southern girl was happy to have a biscuit and country ham. And there was even candlelight from the kerosene lamp bolted to the table. Be still, my heart. Even better? We got to shop in the store too. Yeehaw! To round out our romantic evening, we stopped at the grocery store on the way home to get the ingredients for my Christmas Day dish that we are bringing to the family gathering. Home by 9:00, and that was our romantic night out. And yet it was perfect.

Now about that 23rd of December thing. Yes, I know it was an inconvenience to ALL of my family and friends. Yes, I still hear about it to this day from certain *AHEM* bridesmaids. But there were benefits: our family was together for Christmas, right? And I saved tons of money on church and reception hall decorations, since Christmas decorations were already displayed. The best part? Every year for our anniversary, we are forced to slow down in the midst of Christmas chaos and take a little time for our marriage. Although that often includes extended family in one way or another (a musical one year with my mom in tow, or last year's dinner at Moe's with my two kids, sister, brother-in-law and two nieces). But we're together, and that's all that matters.

Happy 13th, hooney. Thanks for sticking by me this past year, when things got difficult and scary. Thanks for always coming home to me and the kids, and for loving us with fullness and depth. You are my best friend, and I love you more.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Monkey Boy, or Why My House is Booby Trapped

I'm going nuts. Nuts, I tell ya. All because of a certain little boy named Jackson. Oh, Lord. I thought Katie would be the "spirited" (read: high-energy, exhausting, demanding death of me) child. Oh, no. Was I wrong! Her brother is breaking all the records.

Case in point:

Do you SEE what he's doing in that photo? The other day I caught him climbing the gate that we had to Velcro across the stairs. I moved the gate and now Katie, Dan and I are in danger of breaking our necks, but at least Monkey Boy can't climb it (YET). Instead, he's decided he'll climb the OUTSIDE of the stairs. Ay-yi-yi!!!

On Saturday, Dan caught Jackson on top of the kitchen table pouring a can of Coke down the front of himself. Jackson also loves to climb the sofa onto the counter behind, and he's having a blast pulling Christmas decorations down. And let's not forget how much he loves to crawl behind the sofa to pull plugs out of the wall.

(Do I even have to mention that KATIE WAS NEVER LIKE THIS? Spirited, yes. But wormy and wiggly and able to climb tall buildings? NO. We didn't NEED to lock the pantry door or latch the oven shut! Both of which are necessities now, as seen below.)


After Jackson climbed and stole Dan's water glass off an end table, Dan and I had enough of it. My idea was to rent a storage space and put all our first floor furniture in it for the next nine to twelve months, until Monkey Boy gets some depth perception and the fear of God in him. We decided that would be no fun. Where would we sit?

Instead, the first step in our Monkey Boy Action Plan was to rearrange the living room furniture. The sofa is pushed into the bay window so Monkey Boy can't crawl behind. Yes, the sofa is now blocking two air vents. And, yes, the curtains are smashed into the windows. But now Jackson can't electrocute himself (at least not at those outlets). We also swapped the positions of two chairs and emptied the end table (because now he has easy access to it and it wouldn't do to have TV guides and remotes in there anymore), and we removed the sound system speakers. HA! So far, so good: Monkey Boy can't climb onto the counters anymore.

Our second step was today: Dan went to Home Depot and bought heavy eye bolts and bungee cords. He bungeed the chairs to the table so Jackson can't climb onto it anymore. The bad news? Now Katie can't get into her seat without help because the bungees are pretty strong. Oh, well. We'll just do some bicep training with her until she can manage it on her own.

For now, we may have thwarted Monkey Boy's plans. However, I don't think we've clipped his wings or won the war. I'm sure he'll figure out some new way to turn our house into an amusement park. Stay posted. And if you happen to visit our house anytime soon? Now you don't have to wonder why you can't open anything and will be unable to escape. ARGH!!!

Glutton

I fully sated my appetite for Christmas music this weekend. I feel fat and happy and have Christmas music playing in my head on a continual loop now.

Let me back up to Friday night. Although it didn't involve Christmas music, it did involve the Cha Cha Slide. I made a movie as a Christmas gift for my neighbors, and 6 of the families got together at one house to watch it. It was 30 minutes of photos spanning eight years, and I think it was a hit. There were some wet eyes in the room, as we watched our kids grow up together and were reminded of some really great memories. I'm glad I could share that with them, and give them a meaningful gift. And I'm really glad that I keep my camera handy so I have photos to make into movies!

Saturday morning was spent weighing in at Weight Watchers (I actually LOST weight this week, unbelievably!) and then doing a few things around the house during Jackson's naptime. One of those things was cuddling with Katie and reading books for 45 minutes straight. She is trying to log six hours of reading so she can win a ticket to Six Flags.

Saturday night, Katie and I went to Grace Church St. Louis to see The Little Drummer Boy. (Here's a link to a slideshow of it.) It's the first time I've been and it was AMAZING. Wow. Katie and I both loved it, and I can't wait to go again next year. Here's a short video I took of their second-to-last song. This doesn't even begin to convey how awesome it was.
video
This morning was church at Windsor Crossing. I haven't mentioned much about our new church, but suffice it to say that every single time I go, my heart is split open wide and my soul is bared. Today was no exception. The music was... was... I can't even explain it, y'all. It is just. so. good. Mmmm. They sang lots of Christmas classics, but in updated arrangements: O Come Emmanuel, Joy to the World, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, and Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. I never thought of the last song as a Christmas song, but it shook me to the core. I told Dan that I wish I could bottle up the feelings I have a church so I could sip at them and savor them the rest of the week. Especially in the midst of the holiday chaos.

Tonight I took Katie to one last concert. We went to see Carols and Candlelight at First Baptist Church Harvester. It was a full choir (about 65 singers) and orchestra (22 musicians) that performed carols in their classic arrangements. It was good, and I always enjoy a full choir singing their loudest.

I've immersed myself in Christmas this weekend. It helped tremendously, because I've been feeling pretty Grinchy about the full-time job that Christmas adds to my regular full-time job, what with all the shopping, wrapping, paying bills, decorating, sending Christmas cards, etc. (PLEASE tell me I'm not the only one!) I've been searching for the Christmas Spirit the last 21 days, and caught glimmers of it this weekend. Today's sermon at Windsor was about the Light in the darkness. I'm hoping to follow that Light for the next few days, and into the new year. I hope you all can too!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Half Birthday

Katie is exactly five and a half years old today. We have never celebrated a half birthday before, but I thought it would be fun this year. I had already told her today was her half birthday, so she was expecting a little bit of fun.

She woke this morning and crawled in to bed with me while I snoozed (the best part of her Cycle Break from school!). I had her one gift ready for just this moment. I told her I had a special gift for her, one that I worked hard on and made just for this special occasion. It was a book called "Why I Love Katie." I gave it to her and told her now that she is five and a half and such a good reader, she has to read the whole thing to me. She opened it up and read all 39 pages. Each page is a photo of her, and I PhotoShopped text on each picture saying why I love her. For example:

The second to last page of the book is a drawing she did in her school journal. I just had to include it, because I love how she described herself. (Clockwise from top: I am a... star, friend, sister, cousin, person, princess, daughter, girl.) After that page, I added a handwritten note by me about how proud I am of her. She seemed to really like her book.

After we dropped Jackson at Parents' Day Out (thank God the snow didn't keep it closed yet another day this week), Katie and I went bowling with friends from our mom's club. She had fun using the ball ramp and also bowling granny style. We ate lunch there, too.

Later on we picked Jackson up again and came home to play before a special half birthday dinner. She ate her favorite meal with all the items cut in half: chicken nuggets, grapes and cheese.

For dessert? A cupcake, since it's like a mini cake, i.e. a "half" cake. Right? Right.

I think Katie enjoyed her half birthday, and the extra attention it brought her. Scary thought that the big SIX will be here in a flash!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Blessings

I went to bed last night with a smile in my heart, after reading an email sent by my cousin/friend Marti. It made my heart overflow and I started thinking of all the blessings I have. So I jotted down a list of random things I am thankful for... beyond all the "regular" things like my husband and kids and extended family, plus some pretty amazing friends, plus our home and food and car and employment. (Not that those things are "regular" and therefore not noteworthy, but you know what I mean.) Here's my list from last night:

My health. My family's health. Windsor Crossing. Team Turtleton. Literacy. My blog. True love. Electric blankets. Handwarmers. Lotion. Liquid bandages. Skype. Medicine. The Iron Man telecast. Computers. Candles. Prayers. Music. Prayers set to music. Baths. Losing 16 pounds. Good eye doctors. Memories. Raisins. Advent wreaths. Surrogates - women who have helped fill the hole Mom left. Buffalo dip. Sleep. Favorite pens. Learning. Overnights at Grandma's. Forgiveness. Tivo. Goatees. Heat. Sunshine.

Enough.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Playing in Traffic

Did I mention that I'm in "training" for a half-marathon next September? The reason I put training in quotation marks is because I'm not really in true training mode just yet. I'm keeping up with my regular workouts, but not doing anything hard-core just yet. I figure I can buckle down once spring hits.

Oh, and before y'all get all impressed, I forgot one little detail: we are WALKING the half-marathon. There are five of us who are doing this together and our team is called Team Turtleton. We don't plan on breaking any records. If we just finish the 13.1 miles, we'll be ecstatically happy.
Our team is meeting every three weeks for an extended walk as part of our training regimen. Today was one of those walks, and it coincided with a 5K. It was my first Team Turtleton event. There were supposed to be three of us walking together, but Coach Joe got sick. So my friend Michelle and I hit the road and walked the I-64 Fun on the Freeway 5K by ourselves. St.Louis has had major road construction and shut down a large portion of one of the main interstates. That portion is re-opening tomorrow (as they shut down the other part - ugh!). But before it re-opens, they are doing all kinds of festivities on the highway like carriage rides, music, and this little 5K.

Michelle and I showed up and got to watch all the crazy pros hopping around in their skimpy running outfits, while we were bundled up in our sweats and gloves. We walked the 5K in about 50 minutes, which isn't bad for my first time out of the gate. The best part is the shirt we earned by finishing the walk. Now we're official!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Journey to Bethlehem

We just finished our annual Journey to Bethlehem. It's a local Christmas tradition Dan and I started participating in before Katie was born. A nearby church puts on this HUGE production that is a re-creation of the birth of Jesus. You travel with a "Family" of about 30 people on your Journey to Bethlehem.

First you stand in line for about 30 minutes, and some of the "townspeople" walk around with animals like goats, donkeys and horses. The kids get to pet them and all the townspeople greet you with, "Shalom."

As you enter the church, you are given papers with your Hebrew name, its meaning, and your place in the tribe of Judah. Your Family goes into the church for a dramatic rendering of the news of Caesar's census, and the Jewish reaction to it. Joseph and Mary also have some discussion about what a hardship it will be to travel to Bethlehem for the census. During tonight's performance, it struck me that all these people were in turmoil. They knew they were God's Chosen People, and thought he was sending a "king" to save them and restore their rightful glory as God's Chosen. Imagine their surprise and possible distrust of God when He sent a baby. Yeah, right. A baby's going to save them? They just didn't know, did they? They had one thing in mind, and God had something else entirely in mind. Not a savior in the way they were expecting, huh? Not a savior to end their Hell on earth. A savior to end their Hell in Hell. I digress.

Then your Family leaves the church through the back door, and you meet a couple (who your Family is supposedly related to) and follow them into the woods on your Journey to Bethlehem for the census. You meet Roman soldiers on the path, who are rude and treat you Jews like cattle. They yell at you to show your papers and shoo you on your way. You go into the forest and find a bonfire and a tent, where other travelers have stopped to camp on their way home from Bethlehem. They tell you that they saw some Magi who say there is a special star foretelling the birth of our savior. Your guides are amazed at the news of Magi and news of a baby savior. You continue on the trail to another campfire, where scribes are translating Scripture. The third campfire is where the Magi have stopped on their way to Bethlehem, and you get to see their exotic camels and the pricey gifts they are taking to the baby King. Real camels, y'all. In the middle of the Missouri woods.

The next campfire is where shepherds have stopped to warm themselves, and they talk of seeing the star that the Magi mentioned. All of a sudden, an angel appears in the woods. Seriously. She tells of the Great News of the Savior's birth, then a host of angels appear with her and sing to you.

Your guides urge you on through the woods, telling you to get to Bethlehem so we can find a place to rest and look for the baby. You go to a large pavilion that holds the Bethlehem marketplace, and the Roman soldiers separate the men and women and force your guides to pay taxes based on an inflated census. You cut through the marketplace where people are trying to sell fish, jewels, roosters, bread, cheese, candles and wine. Next is a little inn, where you ask if you can stay the night. The innkeeper says there is no room, especially for such a large family. They just had a family check in and they agreed to sleep in the stable. The woman even gave birth in there. "What?!" your guides exclaim. It's the Savior! You walk into the stable and see the donkeys, Mary and Joseph around a manger. There's a baby asleep inside. Two shepherds rush in and bow down before Him. Wow. Wow. Can you imagine it?

That's the end of the Journey, and it's a beautiful time. The guides usher you into a gymnasium where there is hot chocolate and a million homemade cookies. (Literally, at least 1,000 dozen or some crazy number like that. See in the photo?) There's Christmas music and all the goodies you can eat. And when you walk out, there's a group of carolers singing to you. The most amazing part? This is all FREE. It's an enormous production for about 16,000 visitors over four nights, and it's all free.
It's one of the best Christmas traditions I've ever enjoyed. Katie loves it, and I'm hoping Jackson will one day too. (We got a babysitter for him tonight.) When I told Katie last night that we were going to Journey to Bethlehem tonight, she squealed because she was so excited. I can't tell you how happy that makes me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Talker

Jackson's vocabulary has exploded the past two weeks, right about when he turned 20 months. He is saying tons of things and even short sentences. He calls himself Jack Jack now, and says phrases like "go-way" (go away), "Mommy hep" (help), "Daddy wok" (Daddy's at work), "Day-dee oom" (Katie's room), and "sit down." (He says that as he's doing something he's not supposed to, like standing in a chair.) He also says "Ah-me" (amen) when we say grace at the dinner table.
video
The best was this morning, as I was changing a dirty diaper. He said "poopy" and I replied by saying, "Yes, you have a poopy diaper. Mommy will fix it. Say 'thank you Mommy.'" And he actually did the sign language for thank you. Imagine that! Getting a "thank you" for doing the dirtiest part of my job. It made my day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Child Labor

I put Katie and her friend Sammi to work tonight making Christmas wrapping paper. I am so devious! They thought they were just coloring and painting. Ha! Just kidding... they knew they were making wrapping paper.

First they colored with crayons.

Jackson helped. He's good at chicken scratch.

Then I made star and tree stamps. I couldn't find any washable paint in the house and had to use my craft paint, so I made the girls change their shirts. Then they went to town, stamping about 30 feet of paper for me. They also stamped a large box that holds one of Dan's presents. I decided the box is too big for me to wrap, so I had my elves do it for me instead.

It was fun, and I am looking forward to having Katie wrap presents with me next week when cycle break starts.

Katie made one more project after dinner and bath. She made a Ziploc bag book to give to Jackson for Christmas. It's so cute! The book is called "Jackson's Book." There are six pages inside, and the book is about Jackson's emotions (or Katie's take on them!). Each page has a different feeling, such as "Jackson is mad" or "Jackson is happy." She wrote all the words herself and then illustrated it. What a hard worker!

Katie's in Trouble

Katie was working on her book report Monday night. She decided to color in her school library book, then said "Uh-oh" out loud after she saw what she had done. She called me over and showed it to me. It wasn't a big mark - she just colored in the center of a flower. But I told her that was a bad decision because we don't write in library books. We marked the page with a Post-It note and I told her to show her teacher on Tuesday when she turned her book in. She was very sad and knew she had done something wrong.

She came home from school yesterday and I opened her book bag and found the Post-It note at the bottom. I asked her if she told her teacher. She said she forgot. I asked why the Post-It note had been removed and was still in her bag. Turns out she took the Post-It out and returned the book because she didn't want to get in trouble. I immediately called her teacher who was still at school, and Katie burst into tears of shame. I tried to get Katie to talk to her teacher on the phone about it, but she wouldn't. I explained the situation to the teacher before hanging up the phone. I told Katie how disappointed I was in her for hiding her mistake and then lying to me about it by saying, "I forgot." I told her that Daddy and would discuss her punishment when he got home. Later we decided to take her computer privileges away for a week. She also lost five marbles in the course of the evening (roughhousing with Jackson, whining, etc.). It was a rough night!

Today, Katie's plan was to fess up to her teacher and then report back to me. I am happy to say that when she got off the bus, she told me, "I told the truth" and admitted that her heart felt happy. I hope she's learned her lesson!

A Prayer

Dear Lord,

Help me remember to treat others with kindness and patience. When I have road rage or want to ram a shopping cart in a store, please widen my heart and let me give others the benefit of the doubt. Remind me that shaving off two minutes in line won't save my entire day, especially if my day is already imploding on itself.

When I'm old and crabby because life has worn me down, please help me find some reserve of grace to extend to others. I pray especially that I can be gracious and giving to young mothers. Remind me to open the door for them when their hands are full of diaper bags and children. Banish the Grinch in my heart and help me make funny faces at their kids to distract them from a long wait in line.

Dear Lord, keep me mindful of the love you've given me. Yesterday, today and tomorrow. Let my actions be an extension of your love. Help me to find kind words to say to old men when they are rude to me at Wal-Mart. Silence the anger that wants to lash out at them, and fill me with compassion instead.

Most of all, I pray that your peace and love keeps me afloat the next 15 days. I'm searching for you, trying to feel your Spirit. I know you're there and watching over me, as well as the old man from Wal-Mart yesterday. I'm glad you love me despite the hardness that filled my heart. Thank you!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Visiting Santa

Dan took the kids to see Santa on Saturday. Santa comes to our neighborhood clubhouse, and the neighborhood kids get some one-on-one time with him. Katie was a little shy at first, but then sat right on Santa's lap and showed him the letter she wrote him.

Here's a scan I took of it before she gave it to Santa. It says that she would like: a IMP3 playr, chore chart, a hat [scratch that] cran (crown), a ornament, a oktpos (octopus) [scratch that] a hipow (hippo), a net, magjik money jar, a necklis, dora move (movie), a braslit, and a reng (ring) box.


Jackson wanted NOTHING to do with Santa.

Have I mentioned how much these traumatic little photos make me laugh? Isn't that awful of me? I'm so mean. Seriously! Why would a little kids' tears and screams make me giggle? Oh, but they do. There's a whole site of them that tickles me: Scared of Santa. Does anyone else think they're funny?

I just printed out my kids' photos with Santa from 2003 to now and taped them up on the kitchen wall. We have enjoyed looking at all of their photos through the years - even the ones with tears!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lupus

I was going to write this post and say how excited I am to be featured on the Lupus Foundation's website after I wrote about the fifty year anniversary of the last drug released to specifically treat lupus.

And then I read some of the other stories. They make what I wrote seem almost flippant and jaunty. Awful. I feel awful.

My heart is so sad to read about all the pain and heartache that lupus has caused so many others. I'm also afraid that these types of lupus flare-ups will one day happen to me. My flares have been extremely mild compared to some of these other stories, and mild compared to my own parents' flares. I'm scared, y'all. Pray for the researchers, doctors and families.

On Children by Kahlil Gibran

My "cousin-in-law" Marti emailed this to me yesterday. She read it and was so touched by it that she typed it up and hung it on her wall. To help her remember her job as a mom. To keep her focused on the big picture. To remind her to have a relationship with her son, "to nurture and hold and then release to the world."

It's been hanging on her wall for 36 years. I guess the job is never done, is it?

Thank you for sending me such inspiration, Marti!

Casting Crowns Christmas Concert

I had an amazing time last night. Dan and I went to the Casting Crowns Christmas Celebration at the Family Arena. It was my second time to see Casting Crowns and Dan's first. There were other performers on tour too: Michael English, Natalie Grant, Avalon, Denver & the Mile High Orchestra, and PureNRG. I hadn't heard much from those others (except Avalon), but the main draw was Casting Crowns. I love their music.

They focused mainly on Christmas music (of course, since it's the Christmas Celebration), but sang two of their non-Christmas songs: East to West and Lifesong.

video

I was so happy to be there with friends (two other couples went with us), and especially with Dan. I love Christmas music. I love Casting Crowns. I love Dan. So putting it all together made for a special night.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Words of Wisdom

I just came across a quote that resonated with me. I wanted to share it with you all, as we dive into a crazy busy holiday season that's full of financial worries and stress. This was written by Nell B. Nichols in 1924. That's 84 years ago, and yet it is still true for today. Take it to heart!

"Just one word more--please steal time every day, if you cannot find it in any other way, to lie on the grass, or a hammock, under a huge tree this lovely month…and relax. What a tonic this is for the soul! What a rest for the weary nerves! Our husbands, children, friends--yes, and the nation--will profit by our relaxation. The greatest need today is for calmer homes, and no fireside can be calm unless its guardian is at peace with the world."

You are the guardian of your home. But even more than that... you are the guardian of your soul. Vow to find peace and wonder during the holidays. May you replenish your soul!
Painting by Herman Pekel

Monday, December 1, 2008

Potty Time!

Quick! Before I jinx the good luck, let me tell you about my little rascal. Jackson peed on the potty for the first time yesterday! Dan was the lucky one in there to witness it. I got to cheer afterwards and hand out an M&M. Then tonight when we were finishing up our Advent Wreath time, Jackson grabbed himself and said, "Pee pee." So we ran to the potty and stripped him down, and after a few minutes he did his business again. Yay for Bubbers!

Mind you, Jackson is only 20 months old so I am not going to assume we are on a new diaper-less venture. But it's exciting that it happened!

First Snow

Yesterday Dan and I were jolted awake with every kid's favorite words: "It snowed!" Katie crawled into bed with us and could hardly contain her excitement. Finally Dan got up with her and let me sleep in. (Heaven!) Shortly after I got up, Dan took the kids out to play in the snow. At first Katie went out and stood on the front porch talking to Jackson through the front door. Aren't they cute?
And then Jackson melted down when he realized I wouldn't let him go outside too.
Dan told me he could take Jackson too, so I stuffed him into a size 18 months snowsuit and he joined Daddy and Katie. They were outside long enough for me to get a quick shower.

We got another slight dusting this morning, but the grass is already poking through. All of a sudden, the calendar turns to December and it is freezing here. My fingers are going crazy from the Raynaud's, and I have lost feeling in them a dozen times today. Oh, this is going to be a long winter!

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