Why God gave me these kids

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One of the sweetest pictures in my collection.

One of the sweetest pictures in my collection.

“Oh, God, why did you give me these children???”

I have said these words

More than once

There have been times when I have exclaimed this in a most screaming doleful and lamenting tone.

“OH GOD, WHY did you give me THESE children???

Those moments when mothering is troubling and my spirit is weary. When Nate screamed bloody murder in the bathtub for no reason at all or when Aaron threw handfuls of dirt on the carpet after repeatedly telling him to leave the dirt in the planter. When Ike flew into an angry tirade and it felt like body parts were exploding on the walls. And those are just a few of the stories I could share.

I suppose my OS have their own share of meltdown moments from me as well but we’re not going to talk about that. They can get their own blog and share those stories one day!

But in much larger measure, I have inquired of the Lord,family5

oh God, why did you give ME these children?”

And I can’t say I have totally figured this out but I do see a theme and hear an answer when I enter the holy places of the Lord.

“They brought you closer to Me.” This is the refrain which resonates the most true.

With each successive olive shoot, my need for Jesus became clear. Here’s what I mean.

Nate

Nate

Nate taught me celebration. He was the toe-headed boy who began walking at eight months and wrote the words “hallelujah” in a prayer journal in elementary school. He is my adventurous, always-looking-for-a-challenge child currently plodding away at Ranger School.

Aaron danger boyMy middle Aaron has been used by the Lord to instruct me on the value of submission. As a toddler, it was apparent we were well on our way to raising an absolutely adorable jerk. We had to implement structure and discipline into our home. When he bit into the face of the daycare director’s granddaughter like she was a hamburger at Bull City Burger, we knew something had to give.

wh2202And Ike, oh, my soul, my adorable, orange hair, freckle face OS, he is God’s lesson in absolute dependence on the Lord. The boy who nursed just on one side, pushed his food away as a toddler as if he had been served a bowl of salty mush, Ike has rocked my world in ways I never dreamed. He is ornery and tender-hearted, stubborn as a zit on a middle-age woman and contrite in spirit to the point where it brings me to tears.

Without each of my children, I’m not sure I would know Jesus. Thankfully I’ll never know! God placed each one of my olive shoots in my life to give me life eternally! The Hubs and I couldn’t do this family thing on our own with any measure of success without Him.ikebball2

What about you? Have you ever wondered the same thing about your children? Why did God give you your babies? I’d love to hear!

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Welcome guests with a great salad – get your crunch on!

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IMG_20110120_185631“What I love most is an abundance of simple food of perfect quality and staggering freshness, very simply and respectfully treated, tasting strongly of itself.” Sybille Bedford, in The Artist’s & Writer’s Cook Book, 1961*

Isn’t that an awesome quote?

On Fridays a box of locally grown, in-season produce arrives at my doorstep from The Produce Box. Fresh fruits and vegetables bursting with color and flavor are a highlight to my week.

In our family, salad is a verb. With the exception of my ministry-minded middle who is loath to leafy greens, the rest of the gang enjoys a fresh green salad. Click here for Nate’s favorite salad!

My first experience with homemade dressing was while living in Normandy, France. My French family created their own salad dressing using Dijon mustard and vinegar and it was sublime. Prior to that I thought the only way to have a salad dressing was to buy it! Boy, was I wrong!

I guess you could say I had “un grand moment avec une salade” or “a big moment with a salad” in France.

Really, it’s so simple to make your own salad dressing. Here are a few reasons why it’s worth the small effort involved.

IMG_3010_10241. The taste is far superior to that of a bottled salad dressing. It never ceases to amaze me how many salad dressings there are in the grocery aisle but you could do the same thing at home, quite honestly!

2. Instead of some gi-normous food manufacturer determining your ingredients, you can please your own palate and your family’s.

3. You can substitute, reduce or omit ingredients based on what’s available in your cupboards.

4. Time saving The few upfront minutes I (or one of my olive shoots) invest in making extra dressing beforehand, allows us to conveniently have a fresh salad in minutes. When I make extra, I  just use a clean glass jar to store it in the fridge. When making the dressing for others, I repurpose a jar that used to contain jelly or jam.

I prefer to buy only triple-washed spring mix or romaine lettuce. That’s because despite my valiant efforts to adequately wash the leaves, I’m often left with a gritty bunch of dirt in the greens and ain’t nobody got time for that.

The recipe I’m including below is a favorite.

Add blackberries plus yellow and red peppers to give the salad a summer flair. For a different salad, throw some pears and walnuts for a delightful and slightly fancy twist. Often in the Christmas season, I toss handfuls of pomegranate seeds to make it festive and add a fun crunch. My buddy and writer pal Meredith stopped by one night and got to try pomegranate seeds which totally rocked her world! #truestory

If I have some homemade kale, spinach or beet powder handy, I’ll sprinkle a little on the salad for additional flavor, color and nutrition. Yes, I take salads seriously.

Here’s the recipe, hope you enjoy!

4 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar

1 tablespoon honey**

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Mix it all together and shablam, you’re ready to dress up your salad.

Questions – When you say salad, what is your family’s reaction? Does your family even eat salad? How do you make it appealing?

"My mom makes me eat salad and that's why I have big muscles. She's the best."

“My mom makes me eat salad and that’s why I have big muscles. She’s the best.” Aaron’s buddy Caleb looks by in awe.

*Quote from Simple Food for the Good Life by Helen Nearing

** Raw, unfiltered honey is the best. If you can, get your honey from a local beekeeper. Clover and wildflower honey have the mildest flavor.

Entertaining thoughts about entertaining – getting kids ready for guests

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Lemonhead party!

Lemonhead party!

If we know you are coming over to our house, there are things we do before you arrive. As the mama of three sons, one of whom is currently in Ranger School, I have learned that in military terms, presumably we could call it a “movement.”

We straighten up – usually a vacuum is pushed throughout the area you will visit. There is often dusting beforehand and the bathroom is cleaned. The bathroom deserves its own post though, more on that later.

There they are wearing those collared shirts. We had a guest from El Salvador visiting us among other special people.

There they are wearing those collared shirts. We had a guest from El Salvador visiting us among other special people.

They put on a nice shirt– although my boys moaned and groaned about this, we found that the mere act of putting on a collared shirt indicated they were part of the team. In our family we call it W-H style since those are the initials to our last name. Changing out of regular clothes means something special is going to happen. The collared shirt (usually a polo shirt, rarely long-sleeved)  signifies that our family, every single one of us, not just Dad and Mom, is having company. Even if only one person is invited, the level of alert is heightened.

We rehearse – Just as we had practice training sessions about manners, throughout the years, our family still goes over a list of duties before people show up.

“Ike, you’re in charge of water and drinks. Make sure no one’s glass remains empty.”

“Aaron, don’t talk too much, let others also speak and try to sit still.”

“Nate, when we’re done with dinner, gather up the plates.”

All the guys had a purpose.

So maybe you’re wondering –

Did it always work perfectly? Of course not! We never expected things to be flawless but there was a standard.

Always the life of the party, that's my Aaron!

This guy needs more than a collared shirt! My Aaron!

Did your kids feel like robots devoid of any personality? You haven’t been to our house if you’re asking that question! No, they actually had more freedom because of the rules. We made it fun and not overly formal.

Collared shirts every single time? Not every single time but often. Freshly showered, collared young men are so adorable. Sometimes they would dab a bit of cologne on before bounding down the stairs. The hint of manly fragrance on their middle school necks always made my heart grin and grow wistful. I wish those days back again quite honestly. When the doorbell rang, we were ready for our guests’ arrival. We appreciated them coming into our home.

And I must share this.

Our guests appreciate these touches although most might not even realize what happened behind the scenes. They are just blessed and isn’t that the whole point to entertaining, blessing someone? The minimal preparation we employed allows our guests to be at ease. In some way it announces this family is ready and we have things (slightly) under control.

Last summer, my oldest OS rented a house near Fort Benning and he and his buddies hosted a gathering. Nate called me for advice on menu selection and such. He even wanted to make sure he served a salad (this melted my heart). My boy wanted people to feel welcome in his home. I’m sure my Soldier was a gracious host and maybe he even wore a collared shirt!

And we recently had a 51st birthday party for the Hubs. It was a Lemonhead theme because it’s his favorite candy. The orange hair, freckle face OS  was an integral part of the planning and a huge help before, during and after the event.

But true to form before the guests arrived, Ike asked the standard question. “Do I have to wear a collared shirt?” As this picture indicates, Ike got his answer.

Those are two very lemony collared shirts, don't you think?

Those are two very lemony collared shirts, don’t you think?

Out of all my boys, Ike is very gifted with hos- pitality. His servant’s heart has parlayed into him having a little part-time job at a nearby event venue. He’s the guy walking around with hors d’oeuvres and refilling non-alcoholic drinks. So I guess being a good host, getting kids ready for company has paid off both here and away from home. The more we do it, the better we become as both guests and faithful stewards of our home.

So what are the little things you do before you have dinner guests? Do you even dare try? It is scary! How have you prepared your kids to co-host special times at your house?

Five minute Friday – brave

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photo copy 2Why just typing about the subject of bravery is well, brave.

My heartbeat is increasing with each.word.placed.

An idea has been swirling in my head for a while now and I’m afraid. I scarcely allow myself to ponder this and now I’m nearing the moment of revealing it to you.

A sample of the things I used this week. I feel happy in the kitchen.

A sample of the things I used this week. I feel happy in the kitchen.

What if my idea succeeds? What if it’s a total failure? What’s my motivation? Do I have the physical, financial, emotional resources needed to make it work?

Speaking to over 50,000 teenagers about saving sex for marriage was brave. Sharing incredibly personal stories about my past was something I asked the Lord to help me with every time I did it and that was for nearly eight years.

But now the Lord is placing, (I think) an idea which scares me as much as the first time I entered a high school classroom full of very skeptical kids.

My dining room

My dining room

I’m thinking about opening my home to encourage women with cooking and hospitality. Not as a money making idea, not to sell any kitchen gadgets or products, but just to encourage women in the art of domesticity. This is something so very close to my essence as a wife, mother and homemaker.

I think about this idea when I am chopping red cabbage or stirring up a homemade salad dressing in the kitchen. When I’m roasting poblano peppers or making a pretty table setting for my family, I feel this urge to open my home and show others how to do it. I’m so not an expert which is why I’m afraid to try.

When I think about going forward, I bravely ask God, “Is this what you want me to do?” It’s sad that I don’t know any of my neighbors, what if they reject me? So many questions and doubts but yet an eagerness and an unction to try.

Writing for five minutes is a treasure. Do it!

Writing for five minutes is a treasure. Do it!

Should I do it? What is the brave thing you are contemplating?

Check out this word party. This might be the brave thing you need to do!

One-word prayers

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Before having our first dinner of 2013 –

photo copy 4And after the Hubs had prayed,

I had an idea

(A truly beautiful idea if you ask me)

Initially it wasn’t warmly received

But I insisted

And so we went around the dining room table

Falafel, salad, mung bean sprouts and such, they paused

Cherishing these moments together

Cherishing these moments together

Three precious olive shoots

– A Soldier

– A ministry-minded middle

– An orange hair, freckle face sophomore

The Hubs and I

Offered a one-word prayer for the person to our left

Here are the brief utterances we spoke to each other

The one-word prayers we shared for each other. I am curious to see how these words are fulfilled.

The one-word prayers we shared for each other. I am curious to see how these words are fulfilled.

A simple, carefully selected word emerged from our lips individually

Handpicked from God, I’d like to think

A collective sigh of relief

And blessing manifested

As we feasted (finally) on all we had been given

photo copy 2

Scrubbing Bubbles and the middle school maid

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To make money for clothing and important things like makeup and Bonne Bell flavored lipgloss, I babysat and cleaned houses in middle school.

Stay away from me, Mr. Scrubbing Bubbles!

Scrubbing Bubbles was a new product and the commercials with cartooned, mustachioed scrubbing bubbles made me chuckle. Do you remember the birth of Scrubbing Bubbles or is that before your time?

Well one day, I was cleaning a shower stall. The shower door was closed and I began to coat the tile with a thick layer of Scrubbing Bubbles. As if I were attacking a blaze and holding a fire extinguisher, I doused that sucker. Every tile square received a foamy blast. I wanted to unlock all the cleaning power contained in the Scrubbing Bubbles. As an adolescent fashionista, I needed to keep my job; customer satisfaction, don’t you know.

In the shower stall with the Scrubbing Bubbles can, I prepared to remove all the goo and grime off the tile but then I began having trouble breathing. I didn’t collapse but I began to choke. Since I was a boy crazy, junior high girl, I doubt I had the wits to know to open the door. If Michael Jackson, Keith Partridge or Bobby Sherman would have come to rescue me that would have been a different story but that didn’t happen. I had an epiphany though, something in those Scrubbing Bubbles was rockin’ my world/body. With the door closed, I surely inhaled a fury of aerosol and chemicals.

Screen shot of Scrubbing Bubbles info on the Environmental Working Group

The more I read about chemicals and toxins in cleaning products, the more I wonder exactly what I breathed in that afternoon. When I use soap nuts, I don’t have anything to worry about. I use Extreme 18X (which is a super concentrated version of soap nuts that goes a long way) or make some soap nut “tea” and I don’t need rubber gloves. I’m never concerned about adaquate ventilation either. Did you know that according to the Environmental Working Group, many of the Scrubbing Bubbles products are rated D or F? In my extended family, we have asthma, COPD, migraines and allergies – my loved ones don’t need to be breathing toxins any more than I did as a middle school “maid.”

Obviously I don’t have the original bottle of Scrubbing Bubbles. But this is what the label says now CAUTION: EYE IRRITANT. READ BACK PANEL CAREFULLY. / CAUTION: EYE IRRITANT. Contains lactic acid, solvents and surfactants. Avoid contact with eyes, skin and clothing. Wash thoroughly after handling. May cause respiratory irritation if used with inadequate ventilation. FIRST AID: EYES AND SKIN: Immediately rinse eyes and skin with plenty of water. If irritation persists, seek medical advice. INHALATION: If breathing is affected, get fresh air. CHEMICAL HAZARD: Never use or mix with bleach-containing products or other household cleaners as hazardous fumes may be released. KEEP OUR OF REACH OF CHILDREN AND PETS.

“One day, gf, you’re gonna write about that weird time when Scrubbing Bubbles nearly jacked you up.”

Funny, isn’t it, the weird memories our minds retain? For me it was this strange encounter with a cleaning product. There are greener, safer alternatives for cleaning our bodies, homes and clothes. Soap nuts work. They are 100% organic, biodegradable and effective. Your family deserves someone to be an advocate and a savvy consumer and that’s probably you. Take a look at the products under your sink, read the labels. Look beyond what the brand name company websites tell you about the chemicals they are using. Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts. I welcome them, this is a journey. Here are two other independent reviews of soap nuts also. Check out spoonfulatatime and naturallifemom. I highly recommend these websites for their wealth of information in general.

Twice in a summer

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We argue. We fight. We disappoint each other and intentionally do things to annoy. These are some of the rather unsavory characteristics of my family.

On occasion our clothes are left on the ground, someone “forgets” to empty the dishwasher, the carpet needs vacuuming and the kitchen floor hasn’t seen a broom in a few days.

We battle big things too in this house…depression, anxiety, temptation and Ambien, to name a few.

But then there are these halcyon moments –

And it’s like one of us is a polished diamond

And we get it right

I didn’t grow up going to church. Raising a Christian family means so much to me. Sitting next to one of my guys makes it even sweeter.

Maybe not for the whole day, for that might be too strenuous

But for a snapshot of time, we experience a flash of heaven

Which is what happened Sunday morning…

Aaron helping lead worship. He did a great job and found it to be a very emotional experience.

It was Aaron’s last Sunday at church before leaving to attend college in Chicago. This summer Aaron has acted as one of our church’s interns. For a small church of about 50 people, I must say, they put my OS to work like a boss. In addition to holding a paid, part-time job as a pool attendant, Aaron had many church projects to accomplish. Whereas many nearly 18-year-old young people are majorly chilling the summer before going off to school, Aaron has been learning Greek, reading church leadership books and writing reports about them. Aaron worked tirelessly compiling a hymnal for our church filled with rich, beautiful hymns that are still reverent and true. Each time my OS showed me progress on this hymnal, he beamed with excitement and joy. Aaron and the two other summer interns led an entire church service and my middle OS was so moved by the experience, he ended up in tears before our small congregation recently one Sunday morning. Incidentally as a result, most of the congregation was equally emotional especially the mama with pink highlights in her hair = me!

The three pastors poured into our boy’s life and gave him a glimpse into how to truly minister and shepherd a flock of people. They showed Aaron the inner workings of a healthy church body, how to receive feedback before and after the sermon (something I’ve never heard of pastors doing before attending this church). Through their personal investment in my OS’s life, Aaron is developing into a vibrant and active young leader.

And on Sunday, our pastors blessed him in a grand way before sending him off to the Windy City. Although the Hubs and I knew about this previously, it came as a surprise to Aaron when he was asked to come up to the front of the church. Jerry, one of our pastors, explained to the crowd that Aaron was leaving to attend Moody Bible Institute and this would be his last Sunday with us. He then asked the men of the church to come forward and to pray over my boy. It wasn’t creepy and it didn’t offend my former feminist ways in case the mere thought of this bristles you.

Twice in a summer I have witnessed a moment like this.

My sandy-haired boy bowed his head and I realized at that moment, wow, this is the second child in a summer that I have seen kneeling before Jesus and his followers. (Click here to read about the first time with Nathan). We weren’t at West Point; we were in the suburbs of North Carolina but another one of my olive shoots was submitting his life to the Lord and receiving from His people, words of blessing and protection. Honestly, I think the statistics for something like this happening twice in a summer are quite small. And when I consider my wretchedness, I think it is nothing short of miraculous that something this beautiful could happen to me as a mother. And furthermore, this is the second time the orange hair, freckle face OS has laid hands on a brother and helped usher him into a new season of life. Not your everyday, run of the mill brother stuff but something lofty, holy and lovely.

The prayer didn’t last too long, no one spoke in tongues, snakes were not handled. 😉

Seeing godly men praying for my olive shoot, thank you Jesus for this glorious moment. That’s my orange hair, freckle face guy in the black shirt, his hands on his bro.

As the prayer finished and the men made their way back to their seats, Pastor Rob asked Aaron to stay up front for a moment.

And that’s when they gave Aaron another gift as if the gift of prayer, love, protection, shepherding, accountability and manly, godly leadership weren’t enough.

Sitting next to my boy one last time before college, Aaron getting his hymnal, the actual hymnal

He sweetly handed my boy the very first copy of our church’s new hymnal. The project Aaron had devoted hours on was finished and my OS got first dibs. Aaron hugged our pastors fiercely and shined like a diamond holding that hymnal in his hand. He sat down next to me and while he began flipping through the pages, I patted his knee, tears in my eyes. As sad as I think Aaron might feel about leaving his family, I think he feels even sadder leaving his church. He will be a part of our fellowship even if he’s thousands of miles away.

Here’s one of Aaron’s favorite songs, Jesus, Savior Pilot Me which can be found on page 82 in our hymnal. Surely I will think of the precious child who sat and snuggled next to me even as a teenager each Sunday morning. As a benefit of birthing this fine olive shoot, I too, was handed a copy of the hymnal which Aaron will be signing for me. I cherish it already. (Btw, yes, I’m crying while writing this.)

This is a cool song. Beautiful, timeless words. ❤

So today, we’ll see how it goes. One of us might be grouchy. The Hubs and I might bicker, the guys might not initiate folding the mounds of laundry. We are alas a very human bunch. Still, I will praise the Lord. I will exalt His name. I will rejoice in the blessings I am given, those moments when we transcend our selfishness, stubbornness and foolishness and I see extraordinary beauty in the land of the living. May it be so with you and those you love as well. ❤