Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Thanksgiving morning and my heart is bubbling over with contentment and wonder. The last several days my mind has been taking a walk down memory lane and I’ve been really focused on God’s protection over me over the years, and how he used specific people in every phase of my life to offer me that protection and care. 

I think about past teachers who offered me friendship and encouragement…a certain Ms Iutzi comes to mind, my English teacher in Bethel, Alaska. She genuinely loved her students, opened her classroom as a hangout place, was always handing me new books to read, laughed at my jokes, and has continued to be an encouraging person in my life, even now, twenty-five years later. 

I think about my dear friend Louima who became my big brother in college and still is someone I count as family and someone I continue to learn from as he shares his wisdom in his writing. 

I think about my dear friend Telena who became my friend and mentor when I first moved to Tennessee. We’ve shared a lot of life together and her wisdom and common sense helped me a lot as I first started on the path of marriage and motherhood. 

I think about my dear friends Francie and Rob whose ministry has led me to a place of wholeness and healing in my life. 

I think about my pastors at our church who have offered counsel, prayer, and a helping hand over the years. 

My parents and my husband’s parents who have continued to be there for us through thick and thin. 

My friends on Facebook who take the time to write encouraging notes that brighten up my day. 

Strange as it might sound, those friendships represent to me God’s care for me. His protection. His sovereignty that knew I needed those people at those times to help carry me through. 

This is only the tiniest sample of people that have blessed me. I’m thankful for all of you. I’m thankful for God’s care for me. I’m thankful that we have this day to stop and name what has brought joy to our lives. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May you have a blessed day!

A Time for Quiet

We are on vacation right now. Taking part in a family reunion. Back to the stomping grounds of my husband’s youth. It’s a place that feels like home. Lakes, fields, forests. Small towns. Vast northern skies. It’s been almost twenty-two years since our honeymoon when my husband first brought me to Maine. And since then we’ve made regular pilgrimages. I am very familiar with the over-eleven-hundred-mile drive. 

For me, it’s a place where I can get steeped in nature. Forget about city traffic, polution, people everywhere you turn. It’s a place where you just sit and stare at the water. Watch for loons. See an eagle every once in a while. Laugh at the ducks. Take long walks down dirt roads. 

It’s a place where I can slow down my heartbeat. Slow down my frantic thoughts. Slow down the rhythm of our family. Life simplifies to the lowest common denominator. Play, eat, sleep. 

This morning I sat on the porch, watching my kids swim, painting my toenails. After a long time, I finished. Beautiful! I did it! (This is an accomplishment for me to not get nail polish all over the place.) Then my four year old wanted to sit with me and he stepped on my foot. Back to square one. But it’s ok. I’ve got time to fix it. Nothing else is pressing in. 

The kids are reconnecting with cousins. Aunts and Uncles catching up on each other’s news. We break bread together. Pictures are taken. 

I think about the fact that years ago, a family this spread out would never have seen each other again. The distance too far, the cost too high. Now we can jump in our cars, book airline tickets. Set a date. Here we all are. What an amazing time we live in. 

I have hopes for my time here. I hope I can disconnect from the world that is full of human drama and stress. Connect with an older world. The one that is tied to the changing of the seasons, the moving of the sun across the sky. The activity of the clouds, will it rain or not? Tune my ears into the sound of the wind in the trees, the calls of the birds. Smell the damp forest floor. Feel the rain misting on my face. 

I am thankful. Thankful for my husband’s family that has claimed me as one of their own. Thankful for the heritage of this place that we can pass down to our children. Thankful that God provided a way for us to get here. Thankful for rest. 

This is me and my husband, after our wedding, about to get in the car and drive cross-country to Maine for the first time. I had no idea that this was going to become a major theme in our lives. But, I’m really glad that’s the way it’s turned out. 

Fat Fridays: Memories

I’m going to tell you a story about my high school PE teacher (physical education). When I was fifteen years old, my family moved from the island country of Haiti to the tiny bush town of Bethel, Alaska, up in the freezing artic. I enrolled in the local high school as a junior. My previous two years of high school had been done through correspondence courses and a couple classes taught through a little mission school in the North of Haiti. I had not done well with correspondence courses and was significantly behind when I got to Bethel. Because of this, I had to enroll in a lot of freshman classes. Classes like Freshman World Geography, an Environmental science class, and PE. I had not taken any PE classes in years and for some reason, the counselor who made my schedule decided to just get it all over with. So, my first semester at a real high school I was enrolled in PE/health and in Teamsports. Because of the way they did the schedule, this meant that on Mondays I had two PE classes in one day, and the rest of the week I had PE every day one week, and then next week I would have PE alternating with health every day. This meant I was in the gym every day, under the mercy of Mr. Power. Yes. That was his name.

Mr. Power was one of those legendary teachers that everyone was a little afraid of and everyone behaved for. I don’t know if he was ex-military, but he LOOKED like he was ex-military and he ACTED like he was ex-military. Every PE class we did calisthenics, all of us in our assigned spots on the gym floor. Then we did running. Then we would learn, in great detail, how to play a certain sport, and then we would play. Very competitively. He graded on a winners/losers scale. When we did running tests, first place would get an A, second place got an A-, third place B+, etc. I ranked somewhere in the C- range. It was not easy to get a good grade in this class. It also didn’t help that half the girls basketball team happened to be in my Teamsports class, all of them very accomplished athletes. I was the one who was always picked last for teams, and occasionally, Mr Power would pull me aside and send me into the hallway with the top girl athlete from the class so she could give me extra practice on how to swing a bat or catch a ball. (I was not athletic, I was coordinately-challenged, and stuck out in the classes like a sore thumb). The only good thing about Mr. Power’s level of discipline in the class was that at least no one out-right mocked me or made fun of my extreme lack of skills. He didn’t tolerate that kind of behavior. 

Teamsports was a one-semester class and I ended up with a C in the class. Yikes. I was an A student. This was not good. I still had one more semester of PE/Health to get through, and my PE grade in that class was also a C. Finally, I found out about Mr. Power’s extra-credit program. If you stayed after school every day for two weeks and ran two miles every day, he would raise your grade an entire letter. But you had to run the full two miles. No walking. If he caught you walking then you had to start all over again at day one. (Ask me how I know this.) 

Frankly, it sounded too hard. Not feasible. But, I had a friend who was running to get her grade up and somehow I got roped in to running with her. (Thank you Terry Murphy!) 

Let me stop and explain for a minute. We were in Bush Alaska, on the tundra, in winter. We ran inside the school building, through the halls. This was acceptable. We knew how many laps we had to make to get our two miles. We were not the only ones running. The wrestling team would be running through the halls, other sports teams, kids who just wanted to run to keep in shape, other kids trying to get their extra credit as well. The high school was a pseudo-community center. Kids stayed late for clubs and tutoring and a bunch of other reasons. I think when I was a senior I never left the high school before five pm every day. 

So, I ran for two weeks. Got my grade up to a B. I needed an A. I ran another two weeks, but somewhere around day seven or eight, Mr Power caught me walking for a second. So, then I had to start all over again and run another two weeks. And then, my friends were still running after school, and I ended up running more. One day, in the spring, I happened to be in the gym, getting ready to run (just for fun) and Mr. Power walked in and saw me. “Esther Picazo! Are you running? Just because?” and then he smirked at me and walked off in a very self-satisfied manner. And I was mad, cause I still didn’t like him or his teaching methods, and it was embarrassing to admit that he had caused me to take up a healthy habit. But he had. The only reason I started running was because he basically forced me to. 

I continued to run after high school. I took a running class in college where I had to run three miles a day. I was never a star athlete or competitive at any level, but it was a form of exercise I had learned that I could do, and I enjoyed it. 

Looking back, years later, I have had an off-and-on relationship with exercise. But, there was always that knowledge in the back of my head that I COULD exercise, and once upon a time, I had enjoyed it. And I have to admit that I owe that completely to Mr. Power, the teacher that made me run. And I am grudgingly happy that I was able to have him as a teacher. 

The Power of Worship

I started off this morning feeling off-balance. Unresolved conflicts. In the middle of a battle with myself as I try to adopt healthier habits. Children not as happy as I’d like to see them. The overwhelming amount of projects I need to do in my house. A dull February morning, the sunrise trying to push away the gray, but not quite managing to do so. The feeling of not having it all together. 

Then my fifteen year old came downstairs, dressed in cheerful pink, and turned on some worship music on her phone. I found myself singing along. And almost right away, I felt Hope returning. Jesus is good. He is on his throne. My life is in his hands. 

There is something about worship that recenters your perspective. As I write, the sunshine suddenly gets brighter, I can see more blue peeking around the clouds. My little boys are playing cheerfully. I feel a bit more confident that I can handle whatever this day hands me. 

The kids are memorizing Psalm 100. Every morning on the way to school, we practice our verses. It’s a good way to start the day. Though sometimes, I’m not paying enough attention to the words we are saying. 

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

    Worship the Lord with gladness;

    come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];

    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

    and his courts with praise;

    give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Worship does not change your circumstances, but it shrinks them back into perspective. Instead of me standing alone in a pit, it’s me holding the hand of my Father God as we navigate a bumpy road together. 

Come, Let Us Worship our God, Let us kneel Before the God our Maker, For He is Good and his Love Endures Forever. 

Fall Nights

It’s been a good day. A day to notice little things. 

This evening I heated up some soup for my supper. On Sundays I make a big noontime meal and then the rest of the day everyone fends for themselves (Ok, we help the three year old out, but that’s about it). I try to have sandwich makings or bagels or leftovers or something simple people can snack on. Today I heated up the homemade chicken soup which is more like chicken stew, it’s so thick, and two of my girls joined me. We got out the pretty colored bowls of mismatched shapes and sizes that always cheer me up. Sat at the big wooden table my husband made. 

After eating we moved back to the living room, the center of the home in winter time. My teen was playing the part of dj, selecting music off her playlists for us while she read her book. 

Some kids were gathered around the coffee table, having an interesting debate about how to draw animals. 

Another child was sitting on the couch with the dog, also reading her book. The puppy sleeping on the floor close by. 

Another child crawled into my lap and after a couple minutes of rocking in the old chair, she was out. I sat there holding her, enjoying my domain. 

Right now life feels a little crazy. Holiday plans are getting shifted, age-long traditions are being paused. Our country still doesn’t feel stable. I try to avoid thinking about the outside world as it seems out of control and bewildering. 

And so, it feels like a gift, to be able to just sit and see my immediate space. My home. The solidness of family. To feel the peace around me. Belonging. Purpose. Mission, as we try to raise these kids to adulthood. 

As we head into Thanksgiving this week, I’ll get started with the thankfulness now. I am thankful for fall nights, in my home, with my family. 

I Am Rich

I love the sounds of my house. A couple minutes ago I was sitting at the piano, trying to sight-read through a fairly simple Chopin piece I had never seen or heard before. It was slow going. Adagio. I wasn’t really focusing on what I was doing. Honestly, I was just killing time, waiting for my kindergartner to finish his workbook. Right now all the kids are waiting for him to finish his workbook. I told him that when he had finished his school work (workbook and read aloud a story) then I would go down to the store and buy our traditional bags of Candy Corn (and for all you haters out there, we happen to think candy corn is awesome!!). Every October I put out some ceramic pumpkins on my mantle, fill them with candy corn and the kids get to grab some after school is done, or chores, or whatever hard task is in front of them. 

Anyway, I was playing the piano, waiting for David to finish his workbook, and I started just listening to all the sounds of our house. 

We started a fire in the wood-burning stove this morning. The stove has a little fan that blows warm air into the room. It is a soothing white noise. We also have a large fish tank in the living room whose water filter sounds like a little waterfall. We need these soothing sounds. They counterbalance the sound of teenagers hurling themselves down our wooden staircase as loud as they can. And the sound of the three year old talking to himself as he plays his little imaginary games. I have one teenager home this week because her school is shut down for Covid. She loves music and carries her phone everywhere with her, sharing her very eclectic music choices with the whole family. 

You can hear our dog barking outside, faithfully protecting us from any random person walking down the sidewalk. The occasional car drives by on the street in front of our house. You can occasionally hear a siren rushing past on the main road which is only a block away from us. 

The kindergartner has a chronic whistling habit and the eleven year old is constantly humming. And Chopin continues to plunk along in the background. 

There is so much life tucked into the walls of this home. 

(Time lapse)

So, I just got back from the store, candy corn has been bought, pumpkin candy dishes are now full. 

When I pulled up to the Family Dollar, I saw two apparently homeless people, a man and a woman, in the alley behind the store. By the time that I left the store and was heading back to my car, they had settled themselves on the back steps of the store’s delivery entrance. They had bags of belongings and some fountain soda cups from a nearby gas station. They looked dirty and the woman looked like she was crying. But they weren’t trying to make eye contact with me, and I had nothing to offer them. No groceries in my bag, just candy corn. No cash in my wallet, just a bankcard. No words to share, my innate shyness balking at starting a conversation. I remembered that I had supported one of our homeless shelters this past weekend by shopping at their thrift store (thank you Ma’am, your purchase has just helped us feed ten people!), and I just hope that this couple will make their way to the shelter by evening and take advantage of this ministry in our city.

I climbed back into my car and drove back home. And once again, I felt like the blinders had been ripped off my eyes. A glimpse at my true reality. My home, a beautiful mansion. My children, costly jewels, unmeasurable treasures. My life, a dream come true.

And the noises in my house sound like a beautiful symphony. The chaos is simply an outpouring of joy. I feel like the richest woman on the planet as I survey this ramshackle house of mine. 

And my prayer becomes, make me a blessing.

God, you have blessed me, show me how to bless others. 

The Perfect Day

Today has been one of those “Perfect” days. The kind where nothing overly impressive happens, you just feel connected with the goodness around you. 

We slept in this morning. Eight o’clock! Amazing! If you have a house full of small children, eight in the morning is late! 

We lazed around in our pajamas, reading books, kids playing busily. And then, sometime around eleven the kids gave me a list of things they wanted to do: go to the library, go to the park. 

Not till we get our chores done. 

So, we divided everything up and the house got clean pretty quickly. I put on my new cover for my futon couch and pulled a couple chairs from other parts of the house so I could have a living room with furniture again. (Got rid of the couches a while back, and haven’t been in a rush to put things back together again.)

I made a menu for the week and then went shopping and stayed within my budget. (Not sure why, but that is always So Satisfying!) And I bought some flowers to put on my mantel in the living room. 

The weather today is about ten degrees cooler than it has been the past month and suddenly my kids are willing to play outside again. And other neighborhood kids have emerged from their air conditioning as well and so I have a yard full of children all happily playing together. 

This coming Monday is a holiday so I don’t feel as pressured to get everything done immediately. 

My washing machine is busily doing it’s job. By Monday I will have a big mountain of clean clothes to fold and sort and put away.

One of the neighborhood kids was talking to me earlier, he’s new, never been in my house before. He looked around. 

You know, this place kind of reminds me of a mansion. 

I was startled and then laughed.

Well, it’s big, but it isn’t very fancy like a mansion. 

And I sit in my old, faded worn chair in my living room. The walls need painting, the trim has never been painted or finished in any way, still showing the marks of over a hundred years of use. My bookshelves are over-run with books. The floors have also not been finished in the past one hundred years, and my kids skating and scootering and shoving furniture all over the place has done nothing to improve their appearance. 

But things are tidy. There are bright flowers, the soothing sound of water bubbling in the fish tank, the hum of a fan. Silence. And then thunder as a horde of children run down the stairs and out the door. The sun is shining in through the windows. My fridge and pantry are full. I’ve run all my errands. We have plans to play at the park after supper. Tomorrow we get to go to church. 

Yes. It is one of those “Perfect” days. 

And it occurs to me, that most days have the potential to be perfect. It just takes an eye to see, and a heart to be thankful.

“The Peace of Wild Things”

I am sitting by the lake, I’ve been watching my kids swim, but they have now moved on to playing prince and princess and are concocting some elaborate make-believe game. I only have the three youngest with me. My husband and five of our kids left at 4am this morning to go hike a mountain. I don’t expect them home till late tonight. My other two daughters are at their grandparent’s house, in town, a short distance away. It has now been twelve days since we left Knoxville on our vacation, and it has taken about ten of those days for me to finally be able to just relax. We still have a couple more days before we head home and I am thoroughly enjoying the wonderful feeling of doing nothing except some light household chores and watching my children swim in the lake. 

 

It’s been a different kind of vacation. State mandates mean that we can’t go shopping or go out and be around a lot of people. We have seen basically just a few family members and had them do our grocery shopping for us. Aside from a day trip to the beach, we have just stayed in our little cabin and enjoyed the lake and the woods. And it has been wonderful. 

 

My restless husband has been able to help his Uncle and Aunt with a remodel project, my teen girls have hung out with their grandparents and the little ones have practiced their swimming. 

 

My brain has had time to process. Relive, rethink, reassess. And finally, it has just quieted down. I’ve read some good books, done “adult” coloring where there is an inspiring scripture and then a ton of elaborate details to color in. Not something I do often, but I find when I am coloring, the analyzing part of my brain shuts off, and I’m just thinking about staying in the lines, and what color should I use next? It has the same effect for me as playing scales on the piano, or re-reading a favorite book. Occasionally, I will stop coloring and just think about the verse. Meditate. 

 

We don’t get to do this every year. More like every two or three years. But I am glad for these times. 

 

As my brain has quieted and I have rested, I find myself getting ideas again. Getting excited about projects. I am even starting to feel excited about homeschooling some of my kids. I am plotting out schedules, and thinking about books to read and papers we will write and discussions we will have. Spelling charts for the second grader. Homemade calendars.

 

And this is the difference between stressed-out me and healthy me. The ability to dream and be excited about the future. 

 

I remember in the flurry of having lots of babies, I went for years without having any dreams. I was too exhausted. Too overwhelmed. The future was too far away. I was just surviving today. This moment. This minute. This second. 

 

The past months have been that for me. Survival. 

 

And it’s good to feel that quieting down. To feel like the ability to dream is coming back. 

I even told my husband that one day, when all the kids are grown, I want to get a giant fluffy dog. Like a St. Bernard. Or something like that. He immediately pointed out that big dogs are expensive. And I pointed back that all the kids will be gone and I will have money to spend on a dog. 🙂 He’s not over-excited about that dream….yet. I’ve got some time to talk him around. 🙂 

 

Here is a poem I found.

 

“The Peace of Wild Things”

Wendell Berry

Listen

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

Today, I am thankful for nature. For God’s creation. For the beauty he created that provides rest to all people, believer or not. It is one of his gifts to humankind. 

 

And I’m thankful for the time he has given me to just rest. 

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. 

 

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day everyone.

 

To all those moms who have suddenly become homeschooling moms against your wishes and feel overwhelmed and frustrated…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To all those moms who have been homeschooling all along but have suddenly lost all their support systems, friends, playgrounds, libraries, co-ops, extra-curricular classes…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the moms whose children are long grown and have left the nest, off building their own grown-up lives…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the Grandmas who have not only launched their own children but are now involved in the next generation of children…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the moms whose children are not here, lost in miscarriage or premature death…Happy Mother’s Day. 

 

To the moms who became mothers through a different route and who love their children fiercely, Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the women who say they aren’t a mom, but whose lives have heavily influenced a child, Happy Mother’s Day. 

 

To the Brand New Mom who feels like she is drowning in sleepless nights and never-ending feedings…hang in there, things will change…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the moms who are struggling with their teenagers, despairing of ever having a good relationship with your child…I’m praying for you…Happy Mother’s Day. 

 

To the moms who messed up and are now trying to make things right…keep trying…every relationship is worth mending…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the mom who loves her children with all her heart, but feels like she has lost track of who she is as a person…you’re still there and you’re worth finding again…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the mom who is watching their child face health battles…our hearts are breaking with yours…Happy Mother’s day. 

 

And to my Mom, thank you for loving me. You’re the best. I wish you Happiness and Joy and Peace.