Merry Christmas!!

It’s Christmas Eve. It is rainy and now, finally, snowy here in East Tennessee. Kind of like wet rain-snow. Looks promising, but the ground is nowhere close to being frozen. But, it’s enough for the kids to proclaim that we’ve had a White Christmas. 

My husband isn’t working today so we had the rare privilege of sleeping in till 9am. Of course, we had kids running in and out of our room starting at 7am, but we had no pressing reason to jump out of bed and it was nice to Loll Around. 

I went and got my Christmas Dinner shopping done and my husband went and picked up my Christmas present which was a  brand new mattress and box springs. Our old ancient mattress and box springs were extremely well-used, broken from children jumping on it and the mattress had permanent dents which automatically rolled everyone into the middle. I am SO HAPPY to have a new mattress!!!!

We’ve made Christmas cookies, which this year were no-bake cookies and then melted chocolate which we dipped pretzels and store-bought cookies into and then covered them with sprinkles. Not fancy. Very easy. A little messy. Pretty much the level of fuss that I was up for this year. 

My older daughters are hanging out together in my living room, giggling and arguing over books and stories and who knows what else. Another group of kids are putting together a Charlie Brown Christmas Puzzle. Other kids are reading or running around. I’ve got the Carpenter’s Christmas Songs Album playing on our tv and there is a fire in the woodstove.  Not sure if it can get better than this. 

Of course, the day has had it’s sour moments. Me freaking out when all my kids descended on the melted chocolate and tried to dip pretzels all at the exact same moment and then someone knocked over a cup of water right into the middle of the chaos. Breaking up some fights between kids. The crazy puppy went and peed on my brand new rug. We’ve loaded the dishwasher twice and there are still dirty dishes. I mailed Christmas boxes to my son in Pennsylvania, paid extra money to get them there in plenty of time, and he still hasn’t received them. He said there’s a possibility someone stole them after they had been delivered. That has me bummed out. Earlier this week I cleaned out my purse and threw away all the extra papers, including the receipts with the tracking info for the boxes. Argh. I got news today that friends of ours have their whole family sick with Covid. We have another friend who is still in the ICU fighting Covid. 

The future still feels very shaky. This past year will probably take me years to fully process and recover from. I have been struggling to let go of the stress. But, in the last days, as I’ve managed to conquer my overwhelming TO DO lists and things have been checked off one by one, I have been able to relax. 

And now, I can take a little time to be thankful. Thankful that Jesus came to earth. That Mary and Joseph were willing to play their parts. Thankful that God decided to first tell the Shepherds about the birth. Those insignificant, lower class Shepherds who had no political power, no social position. Thankful that wise men from the East were adventurous enough and had faith enough to follow the star to Jesus. Thankful that this was only the beginning, that Jesus would grow to a man who loved everyone, who treated women with dignity, who touched the unclean, who healed the lowest in society. Someone who said, You are Seen, You are Valued, You are Loved, and finally, You have been Saved. 

May the God of all Comforts, comfort those who are mourning. May the God of Peace give you rest from worry. May Emmanuel, God with us, surround you with his presence.

Merry Christmas! 

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this beautiful fall day in East Tennessee, I sit on the porch with a full stomach after feasting with my family, watching my children run around in the outdoors. And I am thankful. Thankful for family, home, God’s provision for all our needs. I’m thankful for friends and church family. I’m thankful for my online community and all my readers that make this blog fun.

May you be blessed today and full of the joy and peace that comes when you take time to be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving!

Birthday Memories

Today is my birthday. Yay me! I am feeling happy and relatively peaceful and relaxed. My day has been pretty ordinary, but I don’t have any errands to run. No appointments to go to. Lots of projects to work on, but no urgent deadlines. My husband is cooking supper tonight and I will probably guilt trip my kids into cleaning the house as a birthday present for me. It’s been a chilly morning and I am so happy that Fall is progressing as it should, unlike last year when summer went over several months more than we wanted it. I even lit a fire in our woodstove. 

This morning I had a sudden memory of my fourteenth birthday, and it was a fun memory to re-live. 

We were living in the North of Haiti. I was attending a little mission school at a nearby Baptist Hospital Compound. There were five of us in high school that year. We all came to school every day, sat at our little cubicle/desks and worked on our own correspondence courses. We had a grown up in the room to help us if we needed it, but we were all pretty much working independently. There was one other girl besides me, Olynda, who was a senior while I was a lowly freshman. Except, in that school, it really didn’t matter. We were all friends. 

As my birthday was approaching, Olynda and I started talking about birthday wishes. What would be the best birthday ever? I said something along the lines of being kidnapped by my friends, and then we’d all skip school and go to a nearby waterfall to play for the day. We laughed and giggled as we elaborated on the guest list and all the things we would do. 

I didn’t think too much more about it after that.

The morning of my birthday came and our family did the normal birthday tradition of getting up early to open presents. Afterwards I was getting dressed, getting ready for breakfast. My brother surprised me by asking if I had brushed my teeth yet. What? Why are you telling me to brush my teeth? That’s weird. I’ll brush them after breakfast. He was very urgent, telling me to go brush my teeth now. Good grief. Irritating older brother. 

I was standing in the living room talking to my mom when I saw her eyes flicker over my shoulder. I glanced around and there was one of the volunteers from the Baptist Hospital, an American nurse named Kristy who offered tutoring help to the highschoolers on occasion. I started to turn around. What is she doing here? It’s early morning. What on earth? Then she rushed up to me and stuck a pillowcase over my head.  I think I went into a bit of shock cause the next couple minutes were a blur. I heard Olynda’s voice and a lot of giggling and I was pushed through the house and into a car. I can’t remember exactly, but I was probably saying something along the lines of, I can’t believe you actually did this!! 

The really funny part was that this all happened during a time of political unrest, and we had to drive through a police checkpoint on our way to the Baptist Compound. Before we got there, Olynda yanked the pillow case off my head. Sorry, we can’t drive through the checkpoint with a pillow case on your head. We all smiled and looked as normal as possible as we drove through, then Olynda stuck the pillowcase back on my head.

When we got to the Compound I discovered that Olynda had arranged and prepared a birthday breakfast with our friends. And while it wasn’t hooky from school or splashing in a waterfall, it was definitely one of the best surprises I have ever had on my birthday. 

Thank you Olynda (and Kristy!) for the great memories!

My Cats are Lame

My cats stink at being cats. 

 

We have had a mouse in our upstairs for a couple weeks, and you think, well, surely if you have four cats, this will not be a problem at all. In fact, the first time my daughter frantically texted me from her bedroom (on a night when my husband was not home), telling me she saw a mouse in her bedroom, my first response was, put the cats in your room! They’ll save you! (Cause I’m sure not going to do anything!) And my daughters ran and got the cats and the cats’ response was to get comfortable on my daughter’s beds (the cats are usually refused entrance to the teenaged hallowed domain). 

 

I talked to my husband about the mouse problem and he suggested that our cats would surely take care of it. Just give them a minute. 

 

Several minutes or weeks later, (today actually) my daughter complained again about a mouse in her room. Ugh. I guess it’s time to go buy some traps. I hate killing things. Even annoying mice. 

 

Then tonight as I was trying to get kids to bed, my daughter starts yelling out in the hallway. 

 

THE CAT HAS A MOUSE!! 

 

I ran to the doorway of the room I was in and saw the cat with a very alive mouse in the hall. 

 

Playing with it. 

 

Not hurting it. 

 

Not killing it. 

 

Not dragging it away out of our sight. 

 

Nope. 

 

Just letting it go and then chasing it whenever it ran. 

 

I looked around for something to jump up on, just in case the mouse ran in my direction. Little kids started running into the hall to see what was happening and I was yelling at everyone to get back into their bedrooms. Yelling at the cat to just kill the mouse or take it away! Then the mouse ran under a folded sheet that happened to be on the floor. (I have no idea why there was a folded sheet on the floor, it seems to be a favorite pastime of my children to haul things off the linen shelf and just leave them on the floor, it’s a mystery.) 

 

The cat was circling the sheet, trying to figure out where the mouse was and the five year old thought he should come and pick up the sheet, just to see what would happen. I’m yelling for him to get away before the mouse runs up his legs. Then the eleven and thirteen year old boys run out of their room. 

 

What’s going on? 

 

GET THE MOUSE!! YOUR CAT HAS A MOUSE! CATCH IT! 

 

They both quickly jumped into macho-man mode and tried to catch the mouse. Working in tandem, one son pinned the mouse to the floor with a stuffed animal. 

 

Ok. What are you going to do now? 

 

He shrugs. I don’t know. 

 

Then he lets it loose again!

 

DON’T LET IT LOOSE AGAIN!!!

 

But he redeems himself by scooping up the mouse with the sheet and making a run for the stairs to take it outside. 

 

YAY!! You are our hero!

 

Dumb cats. 

Big Siblings are the Best

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I did not grow up in a large family. I had one brother. He was and is a good brother. I’m thankful for him. But, my kids like to point out that I have no idea what it’s like to have multiple siblings. They usually bring this up when I am asking them to have more grace, more patience, for their younger siblings. You only had one brother! You have no idea!! And yes, they’re right. I can’t fully empathize. 

 

Right now, I am thinking about how fortunate my younger children are to have so many older siblings. 

 

I am sitting in my room, and earlier, I heard my 16 yr old in the kitchen, patiently showing the 7 yr old how to make a quiche. My 19 yr old buys books for her siblings for Christmas, always trying to get them excited about a new book series or author. She also bought a plane ticket for her 11 yr old brother so he could go visit her and spend some one-on-one time with her. My 18 yr old has moved into his own place. He regularly comes and picks up his younger brothers to come over and play video games, or his teen sisters to come over and hang out. My 14 yr old  is always picking up the 3 yr old for a cuddle and maybe a tickle fight. The 11 yr old helps the 5 yr old learn how to play Minecraft. 9 yr old sissy helps 7 yr old sissy pick out a special outfit. 

 

I can’t imagine anything better for the self-esteem of a child than to have a household of older siblings who give them special attention and help. 

 

It reaches to the spiritual realm too. Today my 9 and 11 yr olds got baptized. My heart is full. And there was a special joy to hear my 7 yr old declare that one day, she was going to get baptized too! She wants to be like her big siblings. And her big siblings are worth emulating. 

 

I have proudly watched my older children lead the way. And I hear the younger children being influenced. One day Mom, I’m going to go to college like Anna!…Maybe I might try going to a Bible College, like Levi did…When I’m big, I’m going to be a helper in VBS, like Ruthie!

 

No. My family is not one big happy party. We have fights, irritations, upsets. Sometimes one sibling doesn’t like another sibling for a period of time. Sometimes a child just needs a break from everyone in the family. But, right now, I am just aware of what an awesome influence my older children are on my younger kids. And I am thankful. 

 

The Road to Acceptance

Happy Palm Sunday everyone! It is a sunny, warm day, blue skies, light breeze. I’m sitting out on my deck. We had lunch out here today. Hot dogs and watermelon and a salad tray. Easy to make. Easy to clean up. Fun to eat. 

 

The last time I wrote, I was simmering in anger, feeling like my head was going to explode. Today I am feeling calm. Hopeful. More accepting of where we are at. How did I get from point A to point B? I would say God definitely used my family and friends and community. A family member and an old friend both surprised me and took care of some physical needs we had. A kind lady from our church sent me a card and a gift. I had a good phone conversation with my mom. I took a walk through our neighborhood and waved and said Hi to LOTS of neighbors who were sitting out on their porches or in their yards. My kids all decided to hit the pause button on their bickering, and for the last several days have been playing happily outside in the sunshine. My teenagers have been laughing and joking together and acting like they’re best friends. Domestic Peace. 

 

I also took a Productivity Class with Brian Durfee of productivity-max.com who happens to be an old friend from our church. We did it via Zoom and it was quick and painless and left me with some good tools and tips to try and reign in some of the crazy in my life. It gave me a good dose of hope, that I too, might join the ranks of the organized. 

 

As I sit here, enjoying the breeze, watching my little kids ride their bikes around the yard, I am feeling very much like God gave me the gift of peace this weekend. 

 

This morning we had a little church service with our kids. We read about Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey, people shouting Hosanna. We sang songs. We talked about prayer requests and prayed together. Then I turned on a video that our church’s children’s ministry made. The children’s pastors greeted the kids by name and they sang some songs and all the different Sunday School teachers sent in a video greeting to the kids. My kids were overjoyed! And their eyes got so big when they heard Mr. John calling them out by name. They enthusiastically joined into the song time, dancing all over the living room. And I felt myself getting teary-eyed. These kids have been in our house for a month now. I don’t take them on errands. They’ve just been here. And they miss their friends and church and school, and life seems a little scary to them right now. And hearing their teachers talking to them on the TV just lit up their faces. 

 

After the kids service was done, my husband and I and our teens sat and watched our own church service that our church put out. Worshipping together and hearing our pastors was encouraging. I am so thankful for our church family. 

 

One of the pastors exhorted us to continue to reach out and get together with each other using the technology we all have at our fingertips. I need to do that. I’m so frustrated at all my limitations, that it makes me not want to be creative to see how I can actually still make connections. 

I guess, what all of this is leading to is Acceptance. This is where we are at. I have no control over the situation except to live in my home, take care of my kids the best I can, and see what I can do to be helpful to the world around me…while maintaining a 6 foot distance. 

Surprise!

Well, we’ve had a lot going on at our house since I last wrote. Two days ago I suddenly acquired a sibling group of three more children into my family. Six days before Christmas.  

 

Surprise! 

 

First, let me say that I am very humbled that God and all the powers that be were willing to entrust me with these children. Second, it’s absolutely terrifying. You want me to do what??? I have spent a lot of time on my face before God (mentally, because I’ve been too busy running around doing everything that has to be done), and he has showed up in a very big way. 

 

The first night we had the kids, I couldn’t sleep. My brain was too busy making lists of everything we needed to get these kids settled in AND have Christmas ready for the WHOLE household. I finally gave up on sleeping and moved into the living room, got the fire going in the fireplace, snuggled up on the couch and just let my brain do it’s thing. As I finished making up my lists I told God that I needed him to Provide in a really BIG, EXTRAVAGANT way. 

 

Twenty four hours later, almost everything on the list has been checked off. 

 

And how did God achieve this? Well, he used my family and friends and church. As I have reached out to ask for prayer and tell people what is going on, the overwhelming response has been, yes, we will pray…what can we physically do for you? And I have been able to resist the urge to think, I can do this, I don’t want to bother people asking for help, and instead I’ve been able to say, This is what I need…thank you for helping. 

 

And this is what Christmas is all about. Jesus came to earth as a baby, he paid the price for our sin and he has given us all that we need so that we can learn to be like him. The God of love. Love God, love each other. Not just mushy sentimental love, but physical, something you can touch, love. What are your physical needs? Let me help you. 

 

I am just at the beginning of this wild ride and would appreciate prayer for our family as we walk this new road. 

 

Life is full of surprises. 

 

Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me

After posting earlier this week about what a bad day I had, it seems appropriate to write about today. 

 

I woke up in a good mood. 

 

Let’s say that again.

 

I woke up in a good mood.

 

Wow! 

 

This does not happen often! That’s not to say that I wake up in a bad mood every day. It’s more like I wake up with a mood of determination. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. And I keep saying this as I stagger around early in the morning and get dressed and fix breakfast and wake up kids and drive them to school and then feed the younger ones and get them settled. And then I finally sit down for a little while and I relax a bit and just try to get comfortable with being awake and up and moving. 

 

But today, I woke up in a good mood!! 

 

It was pretty crazy. I was cheerful with my children. Efficient. We quickly got all our chores done without me yelling and then made plans to go out shopping with the family for various seasonal things we needed: shoes, socks, underwear…Fun stuff. Though, my husband surprised me and got me a little three gallon aquarium in which to keep my baby guppy that I rescued a while back. (Baby guppy has been living in a large glass kitchen bowl). 

 

The day went smoothly. We got home from shopping, grilled hot dogs, then the kids played with their neighbor friends. Andy and I were able to just hang out together, talk, catch up after a crazy week. 

 

It makes me think of Psalm 23. The kids have been memorizing that psalm on the car ride to school every day. We just finished up the last verse this week. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” 

 

It’s been a tough week. It’s been a tough season. Sometimes I think it’s more like, It’s been a tough life. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” It seems like a lot of times it feels like we’re walking through dark valleys. But then the rest of the verse happens, “…I will fear no evil for you are with me…”

 

I feel like God has definitely proved himself over and over that He is with me. I do not have to be afraid. But, you know, even when you’re sure of God’s presence and his working in your life, it still doesn’t mean you feel cheerful. Determined. Yes. Encouraged. Definitely. But cheerful? That one seems to be a lot harder. 

 

Today I felt like God’s goodness and mercy were poured out on me.

Here. Here’s a glimpse of joy. Here’s a glimpse of heaven. Waking up in a good mood. Spending a good, relaxed day with your family. For a moment in time, simply narrowing my vision to my immediate surroundings, forgetting all the turmoil that is waiting out in the world, just consuming the goodness that has been laid before me: a bright Fall day, beautiful family, wonderful husband, God’s bountiful provision for all our needs…”You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

 

I shared my bad mood with you this week, so now I will share my joy with you. God is good. 

House Fires and Photos

We have had a crazy couple days. On Sunday my parents house burned down. Or, burned? There is still a house standing, so it didn’t technically “burn down”, but just saying “burned” sounds weird. It is no longer livable and a large percentage of their belongings were destroyed. My parents were out of the country when it happened and so my husband and I became the ones in charge of the situation. Let me just say, my parents can be very relieved that I married who I married, because my husband has been superman in a cape. I have basically stood off to the side wringing my hands. My brother also stepped up to the plate, long distance, and got all the insurance stuff moving while my husband worked on the grunt work of cleaning out paths of debris so you could walk in the building and boarding up broken windows and doors. The two of them have been amazing. Me, I have listened, nodded my head, said uh-huh, and hovered on the sidelines, available, but not sure how to help.

I ended up with 3 totes of water-soaked, charred photo albums. This became my baby. I told my brother I would try and find a company that could help with photo restorations. I called around. Everyone I talked to were full of lots of useful advice on how I should go about drying the pictures, and then, when the pictures were dry, I could bring them in. I asked one lady on the phone, is there anywhere I can take these where someone can help dry them? Oh no, she said, we really don’t have room for that. I’m sure you have a lot more room at home. Right. We have houseguests at the moment. I informed the lady that I had, literally, thirteen children in my home at the moment. There was nowhere safe I could lay out pictures to dry. She also didn’t seem to realize that we were talking closer to a couple thousand pictures or more. Not, a little handful. My mom is a photographer, my late grandmother was a photographer, and my mom is interested in family history. We’re talking about a 100 years worth of family photos here, from families that liked to take photos.

I finally took the very unorthodox method of sitting on a stool on my lawn and spreading wet pictures all over the grass. When they dried, I would then gather them up and put them in a box. I have been doing this for two days. I still didn’t finish all the photos. My brother, who drove down to help, finally came this evening and took the rest of the photos from me since I am now having to shift my attention to my son’s high school graduation which happens this Thursday, and all the hoopla that goes along with that.

It has been an interesting experience, going through all my mom’s photos. There’s pictures of me in the hospital, covered in wires. I was born a month early with weak lungs and then got pneumonia. According to the little notations on the photos, I didn’t go home till I was nine days old.

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Then there’s a pic of my parents when they were engaged. They were so 70s!!

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I found an awesome picture of me with my maternal grandparents when I was three years old. This picture means a lot to me. My mother was British and has two sisters. My mother married an American, one sister married a South African, and the other sister married an Englishman. Needless to say, I didn’t see my relatives on that side of the family often. My grandparents were missionaries in South Africa, our family was in Haiti or the US. I met my grandparents three times in my life: when I was eight months old, when I was three years old, and when I was ten years old. My grandfather died on the trip home after that last visit. I met my grandmother one other time when I was fifteen. They were amazing people, I loved them, and I wished that I could have had a chance to know them better.

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I found my dad’s baby book. My grandmother’s careful, elegant handwriting, detailing important facts of his first year of life. There was a picture of my grandparents holding my father. I have always been proud of the fact that my grandparents had an interracial marriage in an era when that was not very acceptable.

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As I gathered up all the dried photos, scattered across the lawn, everything got mixed up. Pictures of my children mixed up with pictures of my mother as a baby, mixed up with pictures of the Picazo family, mixed up with pictures of the Rigby family. All the time periods blurred together into a box that represented Memory. Memories that we were here. Memories that we lived in families, we hugged our babies, we smiled at birthdays, we got married, older generations died, newer generations were born. Memory of the human story. So Universal. So Personal.

In the end, I have played a small role in helping my parents with this tragedy. But I think it was an important role. Keeper of the Memories. I wasn’t really preserving these pictures just for my mom. I did it for me. For my children. For my grandchildren. Here is the story of our family. Let me tell you about these pictures.