Friends Greatly Missed

http://solacearts.com

There are many things I’d love to say about this family. First, I miss them like crazy. Originally from Sweden, they spent a few short years here in the US filling many hearts with joy, and showing us all how to have courage in the midst of hard times. Last fall, they returned to Europe for good and I have been missing them ever since. Sofia and I bonded in a time of great suffering for their family (their oldest was diagnosed with Leukemia just a few months after I met them…you can read more about it on Jacob’s website). We journeyed through ups and downs together, faced personal fears together, and explored big dreams together, months later I’m still a little sad over the distance now between us.  I’m so glad I have these photos of them during their last days here in the US.

http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com

Sofia is an inspiration. She inspired me to write and submit and essay about her journey to an essay contest for a respected blogger last fall, and out of hundreds of entries, the essay was chosen as one of the top-honored essays. I was really surprised to be named among the winners (I wasn’t crazy about my writing…it’s not easy to squeeze an epic tale into 800 words or less!), but I was grateful for the opportunity to share about the beauty and courage of her story. You’re welcome to read that essay here.

Sofia & family – I think of you often. We simply must conquer the 9 hour time difference between us so we can catch up over Skype on all the little things! I will keep praying for Jacob. Hugs from us to all of you. Miss you much!

http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.comhttp://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com

Painting

http://solacearts.com

One thing I find is an easy but fun activity for my kids to do on a rainy day is to paint. There was a time that I was adamantly against all activities that risked making a huge mess, and the idea of toddlers and preschoolers painting, in my house, with brushes and paint and water, made me break out into a cold sweat. For a while, I thought of it as a who-would-ever-do-that-to-themselves activity, and as such, we didn’t do much of it. Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that if I spend my time and energy trying to keep them from making messes that inconvenience me, they are going to internalize a belief that they should not go, explore, do, and create with freedom…which is not at all what I want for them. Granted, it still has to be manageable, but I’ve learned that the best things in life get messy and that’s ok. For those who aren’t so sure they are ready for a painting day, I put together a few tips that have helped me make this activity fun for them and not a big deal for me.

1. Get a cheap dollar store tablecloth to keep with the paint supplies. And if you don’t have one, use a kitchen trash bag laid out flat at each workstation. I just fold up the tablecloth (without cleaning it) and store it in the painting box. I sometimes keep the kitchen bags for a few sessions, but eventually I toss them out.

http://solacearts.com

2. Use washable, watercolor paint. I’m sure we’ll try some other kinds in the future, but for now this is what works for us. I’m still searching for a ‘favorite’ brand. Crayola works fine, and RoseArt works but isn’t great, and our favorite paint thus far (the round palette) is an unmarked mystery brand and I’m not sure where it came from. If you have a kids washable watercolor paint that you love, I’m all ears!

http://solacearts.com

http://solacearts.com

3. Use a ceramic bowl for the water. A cup will work, but a bowl, especially a heavy ceramic cereal bowl does not tip easily. I typically let each of the kids have their own bowls at their workspace instead of sharing, and they always enjoy making the water turn different colors.

http://solacearts.com

4. Find a great container to store all the paint supplies in one place. I actually use these clear plastic tubs all over the house. (more on my organizing methods, which are functional but not impressive or beautiful, at a later time). Our tub is labeled for the kids (any tub with “Kids” on it is open for their use…tubs not labeled with that are off limits)…plus I do have another tub of painting supplies for mommy. 🙂 The tub includes all our paint sets, brushes, kitchen bags/tablecloths, and sometimes the apron makes it in there. Most often, the kids take their shirts off  of their own accord during painting. Well, actually, half of the kids spend 90% of the day in their underwear already, so the apron doesn’t get used much.

http://solacearts.com

5. Don’t be afraid to display artwork for a while and then toss it out. Seriously, I if I have to save every paper they fill with paint or marker drawings or scribble words, I will drown in paper. I love celebrating their creativity for a time and then moving on. We often talk about how it is good to let go of some things to make room for new things, and everyone understands the drill around here. I do keep a tub (like the one pictured above) to drop the more ‘special’ art pieces that I plan to save for a longer time (or forever). That tub will be sorted and archived in a more permanent way whenever I get to it, but the tub is a quick way to get it out of my hair and keep it safe from little hands, gusts of wind, and the abominable paper monster.

6. Paint alongside your kids, even if only for a few minutes. When I stop what I’m doing and sit down to paint with them, they absolutely love it. They like to watch how I do things, and they also like to chatter on and on while they fill their pages with beautiful colors.

7. Have everyone help clean up. My kids know (as with pretty much any ‘special’ activity at our house) that in order to participate in the fun, they must also participate in the cleanup. One usually dumps the water and rinses the bowls. Another rinses out the paintbrushes. And I have to say, they really love doing anything that requires cleaning stuff in the sink. And the last one puts all the paint sets and washed brushes back in the container. The only thing left for me to do is fold up the tablecloth and make sure all the painted pages get to the right place. Easy peasy. It’s actually one of the easiest-cleanup activities we do.

http://solacearts.com

Now Reading

http://solacearts.com

A is now reading with ease and gobbling up books. It has been interesting as we are out and about (especially driving) now that she can read billboards and advertisements. Lots of funny thoughts and questions. All. The. Time. The kid never stops talking. We’ve even asked her if she’s a chatty Kathy, but she says, “Of course not. I’m a chatty A!” Little M shows more interest in books at 1 year than any of the others did, and I think that may be due to the fact that the big sis has started reading to her. It is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen.

http://solacearts.com

For those who haven’t been around us to hear for themselves, M also has her own little voice. She has a signature sound that is something like a squeaky ‘huh?’ ‘what?’ or ‘uh?’ and we all get a giggle out of asking her leading questions to which the answer is always ‘huh?’

http://solacearts.com

Here you see the big brother squeezing in to see as well. Love a good kid-pile on the couch.

http://solacearts.com

 

Embracing Motherhood, Part 1

a-0002

This is probably one of my favorite photos of me and A when she was my only child, circa late 2007. She is slouched over my J-filled belly and nuzzled into my neck…a place reserved for a special few. She had such faith in me as a mama even though I was new at it. We bumbled through together, and I guess we still do. Bright and shining, she is. Filling my world with energy, imagination, and lightness of heart.

I’ve recently been reflecting on my mothering journey and how interesting it is to look back on the seasons. When I became pregnant with A (surprise, three months after our wedding) my life and plans were de-railed in the most glorious way. We were on the Five-Year Plan which turned into the Have-Three-Kids-in-Five-Years Plan, and then one more after that for good measure. What is really ironic is that I never saw myself as a mother. I never especially wanted to have kids, mostly because I was afraid that I would mess them up, or at least pass on my personal issues (which I guess is still a risk), and with all the heartaches I carried in my later adolescent years, I just didn’t want to go there. I actually hadn’t even planned to get married for a long time (or ever) until I met my now-husband who spent a good 3 years trying to woo me before I trusted my heart to him. What I mean to say is…this motherhood gig was not at all my plan, my dream, or even my wish until God changed my heart via a positive pregnancy test. I finished the one term of grad school I was enrolled in at the time, but I didn’t return after that, and now I have a full house of kids instead of a Masters degree.

Anyway, I guess I wanted to share all of this to say that we all make plans…but sometimes God’s plans are different. And in my experience, although often not as glamorous or self-gratifying, His plans bring more fulfillment than anything we can find on our own. So if His plans are on the table next to yours, it would be worthwhile to reach out and embrace them, though it might take all your heart, soul, mind and strength to do so.

I’ll leave you with some excerpts from my journal, dated November 2005 – shortly after I found out I was pregnant, followed by a photo of K, holding A for the first time:

There is a miracle inside me. I am certain. A brand new life, a brand new joy. A new baby is to join our new family sooner than we expected. I have wrestled and surrendered, wrestled and surrendered. The Lord holds me in a place where I am to receive and embrace my womb and whomever may be growing there. I am anxious about the changes that would come with a baby so soon, but I also feel peace. We don’t know what is going to happen, but something between K and I speaks a firm and silent ‘yes’ to what may come. We realize it is soon, but we are full of joy. I would not want to undo what is done, no matter how soon it has come. Miracle inside of me, I embrace you.   

Lord, only You know what will be woven into the tapestry of our lives. You know the children that will come. You know the blessings You have prepared for us. And You know the provision that You will swiftly send to us as we need it. I trust You, and I thank you for this blessing. 

Jesus, what joy You have brought to me, after years of weeping and mourning. You have prepared this little wonder, this overwhelming gift for K and me. Please hold our hearts and teach us more about how to walk with You, to hear from You, and order our lives in a way that pleases You. 

Hello, little one. Inside me, you are growing, and your father says (after looking it up on the internet) that you are about the size of the ball on a ball-point pen right now. Just a wee little one you are. It is remarkable to me that my body feels different already and you are barely big enough to see. I am in awe at the process of conceiving and growing a child within my body, and I am so excited to see your little face and little hands when you are born. I am overjoyed at the opportunity I will be given to pour all my love into you. You are already loved.

first-0001

Rain

raindrops
Restlessness. Angst. Worry. Disappointment. I feel myself pull away from everything and turn inward. I get easily irritated with my kids and let the reigns go on the plans for the day. I check out. I can’t put my finger on what is wrong with me, but I also can’t seem to take in a therapeutic deep breath without feeling like I’m taking in water instead. I flail. I search for hope. For a quiet in my soul. I remember that today is a gift, even with all its troubles…acknowledging that my troubles are quite small even if at moments they feel big to me.

I learn of a mother that labored to welcome a baby sleeping, and the few hours she had with him dead in her arms are all she has for a lifetime. I promise myself to hug mine as often as I think of it and thank God again and again for the little ones in my care. I hear of a young man who should be in his prime years of life, enjoying his wife and dreaming big (as he was doing not more than a year ago) who is now fighting for his life against a rare and aggressive cancer with hospice at his home and death at his door. I feel sad for what cancer takes from one…from all. I weep for the aches, the pains, the uncertainties of many.

I long for Jesus. For the healing He brings to the broken and the hope He offers to the hurting. For the strength He gives to the weak. The strength He gives to me.

Prayer Requests & How to Subscribe

hike-0010

Prayer has played an instrumental role in my life story. I’ve barely scuffed the surface of the events of my life thus far on this blog, but I’ll give you the short version. I am a deeply passionate and emotional person whose story was once full of heartbreak. I have seen very low and very dark days, and there were stretches of time that I could not see those dark days coming to an end. Ever. I couldn’t smile for years. I couldn’t laugh or let people in. I couldn’t accept that anyone would ever love me and I never believed that I would know what it feels like to be whole, fulfilled, and joyful.

From the depths of my pain I cried out the Lord and He heard my cry. He brought people into my life that covered me with their love and covered me with their prayers…and as they prayed, things started to change. It was slow and hard. I almost didn’t want to let go of my heartaches, because they were so familiar, I thought they belonged with me always. And now, several steps into that journey, the Lord has healed places in me that I never thought possible, and has brought about blessings that cause me to weep for joy again and again. Every day. The dry, thirsty ground is now drenched in grace and loveliness.

hike-0017

It is such a deep and meaningful part of my journey, that I want to make it a priority to seek the Lord daily for the requests of others who are in search of wholeness…in search of the good things God gives when we hand over our heartaches and baggage to Him. In search of wisdom, insight, counsel, or encouragement.  So I’ve added a button on the sidebar where you can go and submit prayer requests. I don’t mind if they are big requests or small requests, because I’ve learned that the Lord cares about all our requests when we search Him out with humble hearts. So if there is anything on your mind, send me a note and I will pray on your behalf.

Also, you can now subscribe to the blog by RSS or email! Thanks for reading.

Jeremiah 29:11 “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” 

hike-0006

My Crew

Many days are marked with love and simple joys. I smile and whisper thanks under my breath for all the good. There is nothing easy about being a mother, but seeing the growing, thriving, laughing and spinning fruit of my labor makes my heart so full. E has been all about “huggy hugs” these days and be forewarned, if you don’t huggy-hug the right way, on demand with the arms wrapped all the way around and a tight squeeze, you might get end up with a disgruntled superhero on your hands. E wears his Batman costume approximately 6/7 days of the week and has promised to rescue me if I’m ever falling off a bridge. Thanks bud.

http://solacearts.comhttp://solacearts.com

Watch out for the J-Monster. He’s a rough-and-tumble type with a mean snuggle. He has recently taken and abnormal interest in doing chores of his own free will. He especially loves scrubbing anything I’ll let him touch with a soapy sponge, and you can bet that my walls and cupboard doors are sparkly these days.

http://solacearts.comhttp://solacearts.com

This little miss is reading everything she can get her hands on. I’ll have more photos to share soon of her reading books to her baby sister. Melt me.

http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com

And this one clearly loves sitting in the grass…Have you ever seen such a lip?

http://solacearts.com

Boston

http://solacearts.com

I’ve been searching for words all afternoon. Not sure I’ve found them. Except to say that you can bet I am and will be praying for those in Boston and beyond who are feeling the deep impact of an event of this magnitude. I think of the terrible injuries, physical and emotional, sustained by people and families and hearts that want to be full of faith for a world marked more by love than hate, but instead they feel doubt, fear, and anger closing in. I am familiar with the internal struggle in the aftermath of tragic events, which can be a struggle even (or especially) for those of us who were not there but imagine what else could go wrong in the world around us. I’m sure that more than one person I know will be falling asleep with heaps of questions and worries on the mind.

It is hard to understand why things like this happen. Clearly it takes forethought, planning, and execution to accomplish something like this, and it makes me uncomfortable to think about how misguided one (or many) could be to craft such a scheme. A plot to attack people gathered to cheer on a time-honored physical demonstration of the enduring spirit of humanity. What a low blow.

I guess I want to speak to the worriers (like me)…the ones who wonder what tragedy is waiting just around the corner to leap out and catch us by the throat. Awful things do happen too often. That’s true. But we cannot live ruled by fear, or even by anger…there is no freedom in either of those. Freedom can only be found choosing to be not afraid…to waste no energy on the doom of the future and spend all that we have loving, sharing, uplifting, and overcoming today’s troubles together. Freedom is found in opening our hands to receive supernatural strength, enduring faith, and unending love from God so that we can share all of those things with others in times of need. Without Him, all we have are eyes that only see the shadows, wings that are broken, and hearts that are faint.

When Goodbyes Come

flower-0001

Dear friends from my childhood said goodbye to their father/husband in the wee hours of the night last night. His name was Bill, and he was a really special guy. I haven’t seen him in years myself, having moved away from my hometown and been on the move ever since, but I can hear his warm, deep voice, “Well hey there, Miss Em!” resonate throughout my heart with the little twang at the end of his phrases. I have such fond memories of much time spent with Bill and his family in my young life. My dad and Bill used to be fishing buddies, and from the time I was really young, I went along on trips and grew accustomed to catching 5-7lb rainbow trout out of their favorite fishing spot. He was a no-nonsense, hard-working, deeply loving man who invested a lot in my family, for which I am very grateful.

fish-0001

forest-0001

Because I know so many  dear friends and loved-ones are mourning his passing, I wanted to pay a small tribute to a great man. I hold the memories dear and will not forget the adventurous, genuine spirit of our dear Bill. Much love to those who need it today. May the Lord be near to you in your grief.

waterfall-0002

Home

home_plaque

This sign sits on my desk. I’ll confess that it is often buried under the piles that accumulate in my workspace, but I re-discover it every few days weeks when I clear down the mess and I love the small reminder that it is to me to be intentional about the environment I create in my home. It has taken me quite a few years as a married and mothering woman to get a handle on what I can practically do to bless my family each day. I’m not naturally gifted at home decor, organization, or really anything in the realm of domesticity, which is something that I’ve learned to accept about myself and also look for ways to improve.

A few years back, it dawned on me that our home was in haphazard disarray. Truthfully before then, I didn’t notice it one bit. I was too busy sorting out issues of the heart and adding children to the family to worry about a pile of laundry (or…umm…several piles of laundry), cluttery piles and unkept beds. There were no systems for anything around here. I was tired. I was overwhelmed. I had one, then two, then three children. It was a really hard season. Not until #4 arrived did I start to find myself seeing clearer and breathing in grace.

A few things have happened that started changing my world…the details of which are too many to share in this moment, although I may share soon. The short version of the story is that I went (or am going through) a personal transformation that has changed my whole perspective about who I am, what I’m here to do, and how I am to do it. And to start, I’m to let go of worry. When worry is close, faith is far. So much of my time was spent worrying and wasting all kinds of energy on things that are not the most important things. What is most important right now? My attitude. More specifically, my attitude toward my home and family.

I think about how much my attitude influences my children, and even my husband. When I’m cheerful, willing, and diligent, I find all of them are also more cheerful and responsive to me. Do you know what a gift it is to have responsive children? They’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. We have squabbles and epic messes and challenging days like any other family. But I know they hear my words, and very often, they listen closely because I am taking the time to be more thoughtful about how I speak, teach, correct and demonstrate. I think about how this home is the beginning of their story, and how desperately I want their story to start well…their hearts to start whole, full of love and wonder, and for wisdom to take root in their lives. I feel the weight of responsibility to do everything I can to sow those seeds.

The household stuff is still a major struggle for me. Every time I rally to organize a corner or a closet, I feel like I should have a cheer squad there, whistles and hollers, and a nice colorful ribbon at the end to celebrate my victory…but the ‘can-do’ attitude it takes to jump in and do what needs to be done each day with a joyful heart is coming easier with practice.