Sunday, November 30, 2014

1000 gifts: 30 days of thanksgiving

I don't usually share much on Facebook, but I've seen others do the 30 days of thanksgiving in November, and I did it this year too (except the version here on the blog is numbered for my 1000 gifts list). This list is mostly written for myself and for my family. I don't expect anyone else to read all these details, but I decided to leave these posts "public" just in case they might inspire someone else someday to start keeping a gifts list. Keeping this list has changed my life.

938. Dark mornings, but getting to see beautiful sunrises
Getting up while it's still dark, before the time change, is really hard, but I'm thankful for getting to see the beautiful sunrises (that I don't normally get up early enough to see)

939. My sisters-in-laws, who are making quilts for all my girls. 
Thank you Melissa, Monica, Crystal and Josey. This one Melissa is doing the embroidery on for the twins.

940. Snuggles in the morning
Starlet is almost 8, but she still loves to snuggle with me in the mornings before school. Serious got up early this morning to snuggle with me too.  I don't want them to outgrow the snuggly stage!

941.  the teachers at the twins' school that give them so much help and encouragement
The twins get one-on-one help for 2 hours a day to help them catch up with their reading! Our public education system is amazing in Wyoming.

942. "Pitchwars" -a writer mentorship opportunity
This program pairs two writers up with one published or soon-to-be published author so they can benefit from his/her experience. Veronica B. was my mentor and Natalie W. was the other writer I exchanged manuscripts with. Results in 5 requests from agents!

943. thankful for our veterans and our freedom

944. thankful for our cozy wood stove with near 0 temperatures outside

945. all four of my girls taking a break from Minecraft and busy writing stories

946. Getting bumped on a flight - but reimbursed with $500 voucher
This meant B. and I were able to get tickets to Seattle to visit Stars!

947. the deja vu feeling of Stars picking us up at the airport 
after all the times we've picked her up at the airport while she was growing up

948. A library that looks like a cathedral (Suzzallo library at University of Washington)
The students call this the Harry Potter library. Stars also gave us a tour of the beautiful campus. She's starting at a community college (to save money) but hopes to transfer here. Smart plan!
949. sunset from the tallest building in Seattle, the Columbia Center From up there, the Space Needle looked like a miniature toy! (you can just see it in the background of this picture)  It had a breathtaking panorama of the city, Mt Rainier, Puget Sound, all the beautiful lakes and Cascades in the distance. We stayed up there for over an hour, from twilight to full night because Stars said it was worth it to stay to see all the city lights, not to mention the sunset.  

950. Monorail
Another I loved was the monorail train in downtown Seattle with the glass roof. Makes me want to travel by train more.  

951. Huckleberries
Stars is trying to save money and using public transit instead of driving (parking is so expensive in Seattle, too) so we drove her car back to Laramie to sell it for her. It was a two day, 20 hour drive but through some of the most beautiful mountain country of Washington, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. And every time we stopped I couldn't help put splurging on huckleberry treats - huckleberries don't grow in southern Wyoming where I live, and they are one of my favorite treats. Even had huckleberry ice cream! 

952. Meeting friends in Idaho Falls
Amy & DJ's family moved away last year, and it was so much fun to have lunch with them when we drove through Idaho Falls. Miss them and their kids so much.

953. Swan Valley
I've never driven through Swan Valley before, but didn't figure I'd be lucky enough to see swans - but we did! Swans swimming in the Snake River! That drive through Swan Valley, along Palisades Reservoir, Snake River Canyon, and along the Hoback River is stunning! At one point we had to stop because there was a band of big horn sheep in the middle of the road, licking road salt.

954. My parents 50th anniversary!!! (November 21)
So incredibly thankful for them, words cannot express it. I wanted it to be special but Mom didn't want to do anything big, because Dad can't handle much company (due to his Parkinson's disease). We just had a few friends over for hors d'ouerves and champagne. My mom has a gift as a hostess that I deeply admire. My dad was much better than I thought he would be, too. He couldn't hold a conversation for very long but he was able to make a few snappy comments like his old self, such as "Not bad for a guy who can barely count to 50." 

 I wrote to all their friends and family and asked that they send cards and notes and photos and many did which really made my parents happy, especially some they hadn't heard from in a while. 
My parents' favorite car, Ford Galaxy, 1964
Anniversary dinner, 2009 at our house

955. kisses on both cheeks so you don't go lopsided
I love how my mom makes the twins kiss her good bye on both cheeks because if you only kiss her on one side, she'll go lopsided the rest of the day

958. Amazing grace! Jesus became real to me 21 years ago almost to the day.

959. Giant floor map to explore
The Geography Department arranged for this giant National Geographic Map to "visit" the University of Wyoming for a couple days. My girls got to walk all over North America (here they are visiting Baja!)

960. Little helpers in the kitchen
My helpers making apple crisp for Thanksgiving. And making silly jokes: Why did the baby ghost cry? He had a boo boo.

961. Skype to see long distance friends and family

962. Another local writer helping me stay going on NaNoWriMo
I had a really hard time getting going with my unicorn story during National Novel Writing Month...there were some nights I just couldn't find any inspiration; or whatever I wrote I ended up deleting because it was so far from the vision I wanted in my mind. But Emily kept asking me how I was doing, and we met several times to write together, and that helped me persevere.

963. Made up words, multiple personalities, and making wands
When you ask Blaze a question sometimes she answers with made up words like "Inkabob!" or "Dooba dooba?" or a couple other oddities... it's starting to grow on me. Dreamer said one day "I have so many personalities!!! I need to write them down to keep them all straight." One of her personalities is a geographer. Another is a geologist. Another is a fashion designer. Another is a singer/songwriter. She designs a new outfit for her doll every day. She also loves making wands. She finds a stick and uses her pocket knife to shape it, then paints it and decorates it with various ribbons, bangles, sparkles,  etc.

964. "The Lord stood near him"  (Acts 23:11) How have I never noticed that before?

965. Psalm 62:5  Find rest, oh my soul, in God alone. My hope comes from Him.
From Beth Moore: "The Hebrew word for hope is tiqvah which literally means "a cord, as an attachment" . The psalmist contrasted the disappointment he often experienced in man with the security he found in his faithful God. His cord or rope was attached to God alone. We're all holding onto a rope of some kind for security; but it anyone besides God is on the other end, we're hanging on by a thread!"

966. A neat study on similarities/differences between Paul and Jonah
(also from Beth Moore's study). They were both messengers of God, both were caught in a storm. One was willing to follow God's calling, even in chains. He was shipwrecked, but gave praise to God, and his life was filled with joy. The other wasn't willing to follow God's calling. He saved the ship by his own sacrifice, was saved in amazing circumstances, but still delivered his message with bitterness.

967. An intense moment picturing Jesus across from me
Had an intense moment where I pictured Jesus sitting by me in my meetings at work, and in my day to day activities with my coworkers, parents, and acquaintances... listening to my conversations. How would a friend feel if I never mentioned him, all day long, except at home or among Christian friends - but never acknowledged him to all the others I interact with? 

968. After 30 days of thanksgiving, having a completely full heart

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What I'm learning, and a dream revisited

What I'm thankful for - I've seen other people post "30 days of thanksgiving" in November on
Facebook, and I decided to do it this year (I'll sum it up in my 1000 gifts list, coming soon). But here are a few highlights: trips to Buffalo and Seattle. Getting to visit my stepdaughter, Stars (her screen name) and old friends.  My parents 50th anniversary.

What I'm struggling with - rising prices, B.'s hours at work cut back, realizing I can't afford some of the things I really want. I love to travel, but it's so expensive! B. and I were able to "piggyback" on my travel to Pittsburgh this fall for a conference for work; work paid for my plane ticket, so all we had to pay for was his plane ticket, a rental car and two nights hotel so that I could revisit my hometown, Buffalo and take B. around to all my old favorite places and visit some old friends. That short trip was a financial strain though. I realized then, we can't really afford to do this anymore.

What God is teaching me - I have this constant debate in my head: should I go back to work full time? I feel so blessed being able to work part time and home school, but it's hard to give up travel, and it's hard to give up little luxuries. For instance, I really want a new winter coat... I've had the same coat for 10 years now. (Good thing it's an LL Bean - it's still in incredible shape! Bean stuff lasts forever!) But other demands always come along: needing to get my daughter a winter coat, for instance. Or having to replace our printer. On the other hand, it's pretty awesome that whenever I really do need something it's always provided. That winter coat that Blaze needed? We found an absolutely gorgeous shearling coat for $10 at a consignment store. And as for giving up travel? Since Stars moved to Seattle this summer, we've been wanting to visit her, but we couldn't afford both the trip to Buffalo and to Seattle. But then the airlines gave B. a $500 voucher because his flight to Pittsburgh was overbooked and he got bumped to a later flight. And guess how much two tickets to Seattle cost? Yup, almost exactly $500. So we got to go to Seattle for a wonderful weekend visit with Stars. I just love how God works these things out.

It's hard as the financial strain increases,  but it's also amazing to see how God not only works it out to provide our needs, but even gives us our "wants" too, above and beyond needs.

Where I am in the Word - After a long stretch where I put aside Beth Moore's studies in order to study the Word on my own (1 and 2 Thessalonians), I'm now back to working through Beth Moore's "To Live is Christ" (the book of Acts).
Acts 23:10,11  And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks. But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, "Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also."
First of all, I'd never noticed before that simple statement, "the Lord stood at his side" and spoke to him. That gave me happy chills! Second of all, Beth Moore really challenged us to think about Paul's calling to Rome. Paul knew without a doubt that he would be God's witness at Rome; the Lord himself had stood beside him and told him! But he doesn't actually get to Rome for at least another two years, and then he arrived in chains. The study asked this question: 

"Can you think of something God revealed to you but that took years to fulfill?" 

I thought about this for a while, and then I remembered a dream I had about my parents, over 5 years ago.  In a nutshell, we were at a dinner with my parents, and a Christian friend of mine asked my parents if they knew Jesus. And they said they did! Even my father! And in the dream, I knew absolutely that they weren't just saying that; they really believed. They had saving faith. 

Was that dream a promise from God? I can't say absolutely for sure: but I CAN say it wasn't sent by Satan, that's for sure! I still have faith that this wonderful thing will happen: my parents will confess saving faith. I don't know if it will happen like it did in my dream, and I don't know WHEN it will happen... but I am going to stubbornly cling to my belief that it WILL happen, someday, somehow.

But faith can't just be passive. I need to share the Word with my parents. I haven't, for a whole year now, even though that last time I got to share with them was absolutely amazing! (the story of that is here) But it's time again now to put some action along with faith.  
James 2:21,22: But was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 
In September and October, Blaze and Dreamer and I were reading Voice in the Wind, by Francine Rivers. That book is just amazing for raising good things to discuss with the girls about marriage, being unequally yoked, belief and sin, not to mention history (it's set after the fall of Jerusalem, in ancient Rome and Ephesus). It's one of my all time favorite books and I've read it at least 5 times now; the girls loved it too (and are begging me to read the sequel, now). At one point near the end as I was reading to the girls, a conversation between Marcus and Hadassah moved me to tears (pages 426-428, which is based on the story of guards at the tomb in Matthew 28, and how they were bribed). Marcus is trying to prove to Hadassah how useless her faith in her unseen God is. And meanwhile her heart is breaking as she sees how lost and unhappy he is. His arguments were ones my father would approve of: all the reasons why he thinks its foolish to believe in Christianity. To every Biblical defense Hadassah gave, Marcus had a smart and worldly answer. Until Hadassah turns to Marcus's dying father and asks him this: 
"If you stare into the sun and look away, you see the sun, my lord. If you stare at death, you see death. Where does hope lie?" 

His eyes flickered. He leaned back slowly. "I have no hope."

Marcus turned. He saw the dullness in his father's eyes, the pain etched in his face. Marcus was suddenly filled with deep shame. Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe it was better to have false hope than no hope at all.
This broke my heart, because my father is slowly dying of Parkinson's. He does not speak of it, but he must be looking at death: what hope does he have?  I have hope that transcends death, and I must keep sharing it with him. I keep praying for the courage to share, and praying for God to work His miracle, and lift the veil so my father can finally see the truth. 

My plan for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow is to share Isaiah 61:1-3 with my parents:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. 

What I'm reading-I haven't read anything on my own in November because it's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I'm concentrating on my writing. But for school, I've been reading Anne of Green Gables to the girls (more about that below). In October I read C.S. Lewis's Letters to Children (I can't let a year go by without reading C.S. Lewis!) and I finished reading the Magician's Nephew to the girls as our bedtime story. (More great discussion with the girls about this story: saving that for my 1000 gifts list, coming soon)

What I'm writing -While I wait to hear back from four agents (!!!!) who requested pages of my science fiction manuscript (thanks to #pitmad and #pitchwars) I am keeping myself occupied by getting back to work on my very first of my four stories, my "baby." Here's what I wrote to my writing buddy N.L.W.:  "I'm really stuck on the Valley. Your first book is your hardest and man this book is hard. I have this vision in my head of what I want it to be, but I can't even fully articulate it much less write it. Good news though: I tried my old trick of journaling out my frustrations and it really helped. Right after that I started to get ideas again."

What's both hurt and helped me this month is that the girls and I have been reading Anne of Green Gable for school. It's hard to be reading such excellent literature (and I do consider it literature!) when you are struggling to write your own; everything I write comes out so weak in comparison. L.M. Montgomery's characters are so dramatic and real; even quiet Matthew shines. Her settings are  magical. Anne's rapturous descriptions still make me smile, and her escapades make us all laugh and make the girls beg me to keep reading! This book is really pushing me to make my book better: to really dig deep, to find my passion and pour it out. To really examine my characters and play their hearts out across the page; to really look at my settings and find not just the beauty, but the mood; and what the beauty means; what the moods mean.

What I'm anticipating - being home for Thanksgiving. I love to travel, but I also love to be at home!

What's inspiring me - Anne of Green Gables and my writing are inspiring me on my creative side. My bible study in Acts is providing spiritual inspiration. My Overeaters Anonymous group provides me with strength and inspiration in the physical realm. We now have 5 regular attendees!  One of them (J) shared last week about how compulsive eating fogs up his mind and puts him in survival mode, where it's all about him and he doesn't have anything left over for other people. But when he's eating mindfully, not compulsively, he finds both clarity of mind and delight in focusing on others. That is so true for me, too. Our greatest fulfillment comes not from pleasing ourselves, but from pleasing the others in our lives.