Monday, March 31, 2014

March gifts and heartaches

March was a terribly hard month for us, as B.'s mother passed away. I'm only now able to write a little bit about it, and share the gifts God gave us to cheer us a little during this hard time. These gifts  are part of my 1000 gifts list.

800. Hand made quilts
My mother-in-law Joy made so many beautiful things. She used to own a ceramics store, and she gave B. and I a beautiful nativity set which she then helped me paint in my favorite colors (green, red and brown). In the last five years she fell in love with quilting, and before she died she made B. and her other four children beautiful quilts. She even finished several for the older grandchildren (Stars's quilt is shown below), and picked material and designs for the rest of her grandkids (her three daughters have promised to finish them)

801. Revelation 21:1-7 "there shall be no more death"
The last words my mother-in-law said were "hi baby," when she saw her five month old great grand daughter, Jocelyn. How wonderful it was to have this sweet baby to lift all our hearts during this hard week, a gift of new life as another life passed on. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law each read from the Scriptures at her funeral, and asked me to read from the Scriptures, too. I read Revelation 21:1-7 "and He will wipe every tear from their eyes; and there shall be no more death."

802. Attacking cancer cells
Blaze and Dreamer and I were studying in science how white blood cells attack germs. Blaze says: "what if you could stick germs to cancer cells, so the white blood cells would attack them and get the cancer cells too. Wouldn't that help Grandma? (this was a few weeks before she died). I told her she needs to become a doctor!! what a brilliant idea.

803. Bambi's children
One of my most favorite and most re-read books when I was a child, and not as sad as the more famous book, Bambi, by Felix Salten. I was reading it to the girls at bed time, but the night we were supposed to finish it, I was out late somewhere with a friend and B. put the girls to bed. They talked him into reading them the end of the book (he'd been surreptitiously listening to it all along and was kind of keen to hear the ending too)

804. What book to read the girl next? hey, how about my book?
After finishing Bambi's Children, I started to think about which childhood favorite I wanted to read to the girls next.  Blaze is 12 years old, and she's getting close to the point where she'll be switching from reading middle grade to young adult. Right now she still loves animal stories and will read anything with horses or dogs in it (or unicorns).  I tried out the first four chapters of my unicorn story (the first story I ever wrote) to see if they liked it. Liked it?? They begged for more! Ah, even if I never get published, this was worth it all!
 color pencil illustration for my book (2001)

805. By faith, not by works
We've been studying American history and we had a lesson on the Mormons trail to Utah. Which led to a discussion of the Mormon religion. Which led to a great discussion of how different religions believe you get to heaven (usually by doing good things), and finally, to how the Bible says you get to heaven: not by anything we do except believing that Christ died for our sins, and "by faith you have been saved through grace, and this not of yourselves, not by works, lest any man should boast." This! This is why I love homeschooling!

806. Russian coins, paper rubles, and Lithuanian amber
Another Laramie homeschooling mom invited other homeschoolers over for an slide show at their house about Lithuania, where they had recently moved from because the government does not permit homeschooling there. We loved learning about Lithuania's history and culture and the family even gave us old rubles and little pieces of amber.

807. Talking like a cat
One of my big goals with homeschooling is to get the girls to love learning, and sometimes the only way I can think of to do that is to make them laugh. I'm not above acting ridiculous to make them laugh (pretending to be someone, including a silly voice). Today I could tell the girls needed a break from the history stuff we were doing so when they started playing with the cat, Cleo, tempting her with a piece of string, I narrated Cleo's take on the situation: "oh no, they've got the string out. I can resist; I will resist! But oh, look! I love the way it twitches when it moves... must POUNCE!"

808. A gift for teaching children
Our children's ministry director at church watched me teach my three year old class and gave me a wonderful compliment afterward: said I had a gift for teaching children and he even learned some thing sfrom watching me, ways to engage children more. Now if I could just apply this home school (Lord help me to teach my own kids with more energy, enthusiasm and creativity!)

809. "This is ready to submit"
Of all my writing and critique partners I've had over the years, the one who has helped me the most gave me her critique of my fourth novel (the science fiction one) and said "This is ready to submit!" The way she described my main character was exactly how I'd envisioned her.  I had edited my opening chapters based on her first critique, and when she saw my edits she said I was an "editor's dream". 

810. An English tea Lipizzaner
While making birthday cards for Grandma and Grandpa H, whose birthdays are within two days of each other, Blaze wanted to draw them things they liked (Grandma, tea and flowers; Grandpa, sailing and golf), but she also wanted to draw horses for them too, because everything she draws is pretty much a horse (just like me at her age!)  So she drew Grandpa's horse on a golf course with a sailboat sailing on a nearby lake (his horse was a mustang). Then she drew Grandma's horse next to picnic blanket with a tea cup and plate of cookies, and flowers (Grandma's horse was an English Lippazaner. I told her it should be a Spanish Lippizaner or an Austrian Lippizaner; but she insisted it must be English, because of the tea)

811. The conference call in real life
Heather shared this with me, and in turn I shared it with everyone at work... makes me laugh everytime. I can relate to every single one of these things during conference calls.

812. Seahorse tails
I took the girls into my favorite aquarium store in Ft. Collins, and we were especially delighted by the tank of seahorses, how they would wrap their tails around water plants and even around each other, like their own version of holding hands

813. Bible game - what part is false?
In my endless quest to make Bible study engaging for the girls, this is one thing that worked: the girls like it when I read them a passage from the Bible in which I change one thing, and then they have to figure out which part is false

814. A love note "blog"

Often times when B. asks me what I'm doing on the computer, I'll say I'm writing on my blog (besides this personal blog, I also have a writing blog that I post at least once a week on). I'm not sure he really gets what a blog is about, but one night I found a love note on my bed-stand from B, titled "My blog".

815. 2 Samuel 22: 29-30 "You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light"
This whole song of David is amazing (see below for another verse); but this one really struck me, how personal it is: my darkness. He can take my dark times, and turn them into light.

816.  2 Samuel 22: 11 "He mounted the cherubim and flew; he rode on the wings of the wind"
This is speaking of God! God riding... made me think of the cherubim as a sphinx, or an angel horse. (yes, my imagination can get carried away. But I love how God's words can set my imagination on fire!) Verse 9 is also fuel for imagination: it talks of God breathing fire. Breathing fire! like a heavenly dragon.

817.  1 Thessalonians 4:1 "live in order to please God"
A dear friend of mine from church in Laramie (Lisa M. S.) now lives in Nebraska, just a half hour away from my in-laws house in Springfield, South Dakota. We went to church with her and her family during our time in South Dakota during Joy's last days: much needed encouragement. The pastor preached on 1 Thess 4:1, about pleasing God. "If you try to live to please yourself it puts you in constant conflict with others. Living to please others also causes conflict because you can't please everyone. Living to please God is the answer."

Monday, March 24, 2014

What do you look like when you love?

A friend of mine, H.L., recently went to Donald Miller's Storyline conference and told me some of the highlights (Anne Lamott spoke there! WOW!) Though I used to be a huge fan of Donald Miller, I have some mixed feelings about him these days, especially after his recent blog post about how he doesn't attend church anymore because it's not fulfilling to him.  But H.L. had lots of good things to say about this conference and all  the people sharing how God has led them to live better stories, amazing stories. Here's a blogger from Converge Magazine, who  shared her interesting perspective on this event from 2013.

All this brought to mind a post I wrote here in 2010 about "What I want to give God this year" inspired by Donald Miller's book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I wrote:
 "Miller challenges us to live a better story. Good stories have characters that take great risks, or face great conflict. The main character faces conflict and for a while you're not sure if he's going to overcome it. And the very best stories have sacrifice in them." 
I was blown away by the story about "How Jason Saves His Family" in this book, and re-reading this post from 4 years ago inspired me again, and also made me revisit the question of "how am I living a better story?"  What have I done in the past 4 years since this challenge?

Well, nothing like the ideas that I talked about in that post, though they were good ideas and I am sorry  I did not pursue them (sharing more about missionaries and their work with my daughters, sponsoring a child from Compassion International). Wow, this blog has actually made me accountable because I forgot to do some things that were very worth doing, but it's never too late to get started.

But while my ideas from 4 years ago didn't pan out, I do feel like the overall challenge to live a better story did take root in me and grow. Not as much as I'd like, I'm still not much more than a seedling, but there was progress. Also, the progress didn't happen until a year ago, almost exactly, when I found the puzzle piece that I was missing after reading Donald Miller's book. He shared lots of ideas but his ideas didn't quite fit me. I mean, he was a single man with no kids, and I'm a married woman with kids; he could pursue things I couldn't, though like I said I came up with some good ideas that I could do (and didn't).

But a year ago Beth Moore asked this question on her blog, What do you look like when you love?

What do you look like when you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength?
Because THAT person, Girlfriend, is who He’s looking for in you.
When we’re trying to hash out God’s priorities for us, that’s IT in a nutshell. “Teacher, which commandment is the most important of all?”
And that’s what He told them.
So, let me ask you this: when you are teeming with love for the Lord your God, who are you right then? What is your passion? What is it that you are bursting to do? That’s probably the stream of your calling. I’m not asking you who you see in front of you when you feel the most love for Jesus because that could be your pastor or your teacher or your worship leader. I’m asking you who is INSIDE OF YOU when you are flooded with the fiery love of Christ? Right there in that passion you’ll start discovering that purpose.
And that’s the road down which you will find what He put you on the planet to do. You don’t have to figure out what to surrender to. Just surrender your heart to Jesus. Every single ounce of it. Ask Him to give you a love for Him that surpasses anything in your human experience. A supernatural capacity. And ask Him for it every day until He does it and then ask Him to do it some more. If you’re a writer, your exploding love for Him will bring it out. If you’re a liberator, you will not be able to keep yourself from seeing to the oppressed. If you’re a teacher, you won’t be able to quit studying except to share what you learned with somebody. If you love Him with your whole heart and that whole heart bursts to sell everything and move to China, Girl, get your passport!

I don't know why I've hung onto this post for a whole year without sharing about it. Maybe it's because I wanted to see something come of it, instead of just talking about it. After reading this a year ago I can still remember jumping up and down with joy. That's it!!!!  I've always so felt inadequate, so lame because I'm not on fire for missions or evangelizing or serving more at church or other ministries. But I love the Lord passionately, with ALL MY HEART.  When I am flooded with awe and wonder of my Lord, it pours out IN MY WRITING, and also, when I teach. I LOVE to teach about the Lord.

A moment after this revelation/confirmation/affirmation, I had doubts. But I'm not PUBLISHED. Only a handful of people read my blog. What if it's all a waste of time? What if I'm only doing it for myself? And as far as teaching, I've offered to teach Bible studies at least half a dozen times and it never goes anywhere (or maybe only lasts for a short season).

But does work have to be BIG and NOTICEABLE to be worthy? Maybe the short studies I did teach did make a difference, to someone. I have been teaching children's church for years, the three year old class. Three year olds - I often think, that's no big deal. But Beth's post gave me a different perspective. I actually like teaching three year olds more than any other age group I've tried, including adult women. I LOVE teaching three year olds. I love how their faces light up and how I can make them giggle and how their hands shoot up enthusiastically when I ask them a question. And you know what, I also learn a lot myself, while teaching three year olds. You'd think it wouldn't be deep spiritual stuff, and I crave deep spiritual stuff. But learning how to distill deep spiritual stuff down to what a three year old can understand is challenging and enlightening. And sometimes their 3 year old perspectives cut straight to my heart too.

So as I was going through this revelation about teaching, it also hit me hard, here's another one of God's marvelous directional arrows that He sometimes uses to point me a direction he'd like me to go.  I had been vacillating about home school, even after a very clear arrow from God a few months earlier.  I had doubts. But this erased those doubts. From this point in March last year, I fully committed to home school and God honored my commitment and has brought it all to pass, despite obstacles and conflicts, yup now I can look back and see the long long story with all its conflicts and delays and doubts.... And I never could have dreamed how REWARDING it would be.  He wants me to be  a teacher. Years ago when I first discovered I loved to teach, I had imagined a different sort of teaching but God steered me right to where I was meant to be, and I love it.

Now I'm still not sure exactly where God is taking me with my writing. But I do know that my love for God pours out in my writing.  But it seems a semi-selfish pursuit, since none of its published (yet). I have finished one book and have started querying it to agents. I wasn't sure what to work on next and took a two month break from writing in January and February to think/pray about my writing.

Then a couple weeks ago at church (during the preaching, and it was really good preaching, too) the thought occurred to me: why don't I work on that children's story again, and share it with my kids? I had written a unicorn story with Narnian-type allegories to Christ and the Bible years ago, and then moved on to other more "grown up"  projects. I wondered what my kids would think of it? Was this a  God thought? So I read the first couple chapters to my kids and they LOVED it and begged me to read more it, much more than they've ever begged me to read other books (and they've loved the Narnia books we've read together so far, and Bambi's Children, and many other classics).

So I am pouring out my love for God in editing/revising a story about unicorns and God for my girls. I am also tossing around another writing/reading related idea, listening to other people's stories and writing for them. I am teaching my girls, and three year olds at church. Maybe sometimes the sacrifice and the struggle in living a good story is that at first it wasn't the grand story you were expecting. Perhaps God will move me on to other storylines later. For now, I am fulfilled and living in awe of His Glory.