Sunday, December 29, 2013

the joy of giving

The Christmas season is drawing to a close and the New Year is quickly approaching. I finally have a moment to sit and reflect upon this beautiful season. The highlight of Christmas this year was witnessing Annike's progression in understanding the purpose of gifts during this season.

Christmas with small children is a lot of hearing them look forward to the presents they will get. I remember the feeling too as a child when I couldn't wait to tear into those enticing packages tempting me under the tree.

In the final weeks before Christmas we did our best to combat the "want" feeling with gentle reminders... What is Christmas really about? Giving. Who is the real gift? Jesus.


In an effort to emphasize the "giving" side of Christmas, I usually have Annike shop for a small present to give to a few family members. It takes a lot of parental direction. "I think Daddy would like a new toy animal!" she says, or "How about getting him this coloring book? Maybe he will let me color my favorite pages!" Unfortunately, the ability to give unselfishly does not come naturally to all people. But I have learned it can be taught, and it can be practiced over and over until we get better at it.

This year was different. Of her own accord, Annike made the most precious compilation of themed animal books to give as gifts. There was a book about rain forest animals, aquarium animals, baby animals, alphabetic animals, swamp animals, zoo animals, and a few more. Each contained pages and pages of colorful drawings. Each made with careful attention to detail. Many included narration.


She was excited to wrap them all on her own. On Christmas morning, instead of running to her stocking or the first present she planned to open, Annike raced to find these presents she had so carefully wrapped herself and placed under the tree. She couldn't wait to give these gifts to their recipients. Joy overcame her as the giver of good gifts.


I felt so proud, and so hopeful as I watched her. Once in a while all of those things I keep repeating over and over until even I am not listening to the sound of my own voice, get through to the heart. For once I didn't have to remind her with a gentle prod and a false smile that it is fun to give... because she already knew.

Belated Merry Christmas!

(This was the best gift that came in my stocking!)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

keep it simple

This is the first year I can remember that I wasn't excited about getting all of the Christmas decorations out. Something to do with the way that my house already feels so cluttered all the time. On top of all of the toys everywhere, and the other people living in this house who don't seem to be bothered by any of the mess, we added a baby. He came with a baby swing and a bouncy seat and a bassinet and a whole lot of hand-me-down clothes and he added some burp clothes to the arm of every chair in the house. I was dreading the additional Christmas clutter.

The Christmas season can be a struggle because at Christmas there is so much more... more parties, more mail, more shopping, more pressure, more stuff. More of everything except time. Less time. When you add more to an already full life, you just get... overwhelmed. Every year it catches me by surprise.

We tied to keep it simple this year. There are the stockings, and some lights around the windows, and the Christmas tree. It was a good decision to only hang half of our usual ornaments because as it is the ornaments seem to be migrating around my house.

We took a weekend away with the family. Vacations are different with 3 kids to manage and nap schedules to remember, or ignore and pay the consequences for later. But even so, we took a step away from the holiday anxiety. For one weekend I didn't have to think about the presents I still need to buy, the Christmas cards I haven't sent yet, or anything on my holiday to-do list. We had a simple weekend with the kiddos and the snow.

Sometimes less is more.






Yosemite was a genuine winter wonderland. Especially for those of us who live on the central California coast and see no snow. It seemed to me that God just wanted to show off his attention to detail when He created this place.










This little guy slept, and slept, and slept in his cozy stroller.





And once in a while he woke up!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

sharing

We are having a little trouble sharing around here. More specifically, two little girls I spend a lot of time with are having trouble.


It is a familiar story, I am sure. One sister is playing with toy A, but put it down for a moment in a perceived "safe" location. The other sister comes along and picks it up, but the first sister thinks it is still hers. Who is wrong?

The rules of sharing can be a bit of a gray area. Does it go to the person who had it first? Does the youngest player get priority? Do we place a time allotment on all toys? Perhaps we should break the toy in half? Buy two of everything, and might we finally have some peace around here?!


None of those are the answer at all. Because sharing is not really about obeying a set of rules that dictate priority, the way that someone always has the stronger hand in a game of poker. Sharing is a heart issue. And it seems that when the girls are arguing over a toy that they are always both wrong. Little hearts in the ugly process of being refined.


I have come to realize that the rules they learn about sharing here in our home are also the rules they will follow outside of our home. So if we allow someone who pitches a fit to get a toy, then she learns to make a big fuss every time she wants something. And if we divide up the toys so that each child is the owner of her own play things, then they learn to hang tightly to their possessions. These rules are character-shaping.

I would much rather think that what my children learn about sharing here in our home, when no one else is visiting or watching, doesn't matter. The easiest way to handle any scuffles is to placate or distract or ignore. Here, honey, why don't you play with this instead? But I have to view these arguments as a greater opportunity to build character. Building character apparently takes work.


So what exactly is it I want them to be learning in these arguments over toy animals and plastic kazoos?... in these character building opportunities?
I want them to realize the joy in unselfishness.
I want them to be generous.
I want them to learn that sharing is the way you show love to the people around you.

Then why is it hardest to share with those we love the most?


It isn't just the little hearts that are being refined in this area. You hopefully won't find me screaming at someone else for holding my stuffed animals, so at least there has been progress in my life! We only have trouble sharing things that are really important to us. But I sure do feel possessive over that quiet hour in the afternoon when I get to sit down and check my email. Or the slow way I want to wake up in the morning. Or getting to sit in my special place on the couch. And the thing that can really make my heart boil is if my husband is taking it easy while I am running around picking up every one's messes and cleaning and cooking for the household. My selfish heart doesn't want to give him that quiet space because I am too busy wishing he would give it to me instead. Not the greatest example of sharing.

Today, when I had this quiet moment to myself, a still small voice was whispering for me to spend the moment reading my Bible. No, screamed my self, I don't want to share this time with anyone! Not even God! And there lies the root of the problem.

But I listened. I gave the first fruits of my quiet time to God. And it was God who gave back to me as I emerged from the time filled with the joy of sharing, ready once again to be a living example of it in my home.


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."  
Philippians 2:3-4

Friday, November 29, 2013

thank you

We had one of the best Thanksgivings ever. Celebrating with the family I grew up with. Besides the great food was the great company, which seems to get better every year. Thanksgivings keep getting better, as life keeps getting fuller, and the things we have to be thankful for multiply.

Reflecting on the things I have to be thankful for this season, over and over I come back to being reminded about the amazing people in my life... my children, my husband, my parents, my family, my friends.

The past few months have been a transitional season for us as we added a fifth little body to our family. The regular daily routines got tough for a while, but we are getting back to normal (the new form of normal, of course) and I would like to dedicate this post to the people who helped make that happen. I am especially thankful for the people who gave freely of themselves to help meet my family's emotional and physical needs during these post-baby months. Some were good close friends, some family members, and some people I might have only considered acquaintances until recently. All of them were living examples of Christ to me.

Simple things have humbled me with gratitude... like someone from Annike's school who sent home a goody bag with some special treats for me after the baby was born. And people who offered to pick up my daughter at school so I didn't have to climb into the car. And others who offered to take my 2-year-old so I could rest, even if I never took them up on it. And all of the amazing women who made a trek out to our house to bless us with a home-cooked meal, and save us from ordering pizza again. Someone even brought us a meal from 2 and a half hours away... humbling.

I am thankful. I am oh so thankful...
...for the people in my life who are filled with the wisdom of God and share freely, deeply, about their own experiences.

... who send me notes to say they care.

... who call me up, who text me, who send me an email just to check in.

... who showed up to surprise me on my birthday.

... who took time off of work to help me when the baby arrived.

... who ask me specifics about my life and challenge me to be more.

... who love me even though they recognize, and are sometimes bombarded with, all of my faults.

... who urge me to let some things go.

... who selflessly encourage others.

... who tell me I look good even when I know I don't.

... who love my kids like their own kids.

... who enjoy holding my baby.

... who have passed on baby clothing and baby needs to me.

... who are Godly examples to my children.

... who know just what to say when I am discouraged.

Sometimes it doesn't feel like enough.to just say thank you.

The thing about this list is that it involves so many separately wonderful people. No single person could have spread so much love. It was simple, small acts done by individuals that added up to be a huge collective blessing. Thank you for filling my heart with so many reasons to be thankful. Thank you.

Monday, November 18, 2013

quotable

I've gotta write this stuff down, lest the innocence of childhood is lost forever in the recesses of my forgetfulness.

Recent quotes about Karsten

Annike: (said in reference to the picture below)
"Awww... He looks like a little bee larvae!"
You know? I might not have put it that way, but I think you're right.



Annike: (said with the excitement of a 5-year-old who has just had a lightbulb go off in her head)
"I know! I can marry HIM when I grow up!"
Phew. Glad we got that one figured out.
I am sure she will change her mind in approximately 18 months when he is destroying everything she has ever worked hard to perfect.


Sommer: (said with the tenacity of a 2-year-old)
"No, Baby Karsten! Mine!"
Okay... we have a little work to do on this sister.


Note that Sommer is in the baby's bouncy seat. She is actually adjusting much better than we expected, but doesn't exactly play the part of the adoring sister yet.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

chicks

I never in my life thought I would be living on a farm with farm animals and a barn and a real tractor. Life is one big beautiful adventure. Especially with my husband, who does things that I would never in my sanest moments consider. Usually I wouldn't consider them for well thought out reasons. But I do need to give him some credit because in general his wild ideas end up blessing and enlightening our little family.

Like his latest foray into the dark to rescue chickens.

A house in an apple orchard down the street was abandoned by a rather large family. More specifically, it was a 2 bedroom dilapidated shack with at least 3 families living in it. They left behind quite a few chickens and a rooster, along with a lot of unsalvagable junk. Christian thought it would be a good idea to "adopt" some of their chickens since quite a few of ours have been consumed by the coyotes, foxes, hawks, you name it. These chickens were young and fast, and Christian couldn't catch them in the daytime. So my determined husband sneaked down to that old house in the dark on at least 3 different occasions with flashlight to bag us some chickens. Yep, we are real country folks now.

Unexpectedly, in the dead of the night, Christian found a mama chicken sitting on a nest of 7 eggs well hidden in a cluster of banana plants. He has always been good at looking for things. There was a good chance those eggs were duds, but he took the eggs along with the hen just in case. Three days later we found 7 baby chicks in our barn!


The girls are in love.




Karsten isn't quite sure what to think. You can't tell from the picture, but he got pooped on. Farm boy in the making.



Once upon a time we had a lot of baby chicks on our property when we were crazy enough to lease some of our land to the chicken farmers (see the initially shocking story HERE), but we haven't been a part of that for a few years now.



You can bet that I will never find myself in the dark on a strange property covered in trash hunting for chickens. But sometimes I think that we get used to playing life a little too safely. We can get away with being squeamish about things our ancestors would have had to face boldly. I am glad my husband seeks to bring new life to our little farm in whatever way seems practical to him. It reminds me that the big or little things in life don't always have to be played safely. A little dirt and a little determination can birth the next adventure.



Monday, November 4, 2013

costumes

I don't remember Halloween being so much work as a kid. Oh, yes. That is because it is only a lot of work for the parents.


My mother will say it is payback for me because I once asked her to make me into a pink flamingo. She spent hours on a costume complete with a beak made from a recycled pinata and a tail stuffed with balloons to give it shape.


I bought ears and tails on Amazon for my little zebra and Dalmatian and still found it a lot of work.


By the way, whoever thinks that pumpkin carving is an activity for children is wrong. They can't draw well on pumpkins. They can't use knives without carving off their fingers. And my kids can't even help scoop out the pumpkin guts because they aren't strong enough. They sure enjoyed watching Daddy and I do all of the work for their kitty pumpkins, however.


The challenge with impressionable little people at Halloween is to have fun but avoid all of the scary. We are still figuring out this balance. This year we joined a group of Annike's friends from kindergarten and trick-or-treated around the staff housing at the local Christian high school. No creepy dark porches. No weird people walking around. No scary masks. No cars flying down the road we needed avoid. It was perfect for us.


I also appreciated Annike's school's choice to celebrate Reformation Day in lieu of Halloween. They invited all of the students to dress up in Medieval or Renaissance type costumes to commemorate the day. I found it refreshing to be given a healthy suggestion for how Christians can participate in this holiday. Instead of being given a list of "what not to wear" on this day known for its dark costumes, kids were given direction and a positive outlet for how to be a part of the fun.


Annike was a little Renaissance maiden in this beautiful period dress borrowed from a friend whose mother handmade it. She complains whenever I want to put her hair back, but this time I insisted. After all, if the parents are doing all of the work putting costumes together, then don't we get to insist on some of that parts that bring us pleasure?


Oh yes, and Baby Karsten, you ask? What was he doing during all of this on Halloween? Sleeping, of course. Like the sweet little glowworm that he is. In fact, he slept so much that I didn't actually get a picture of him in his costume until a few days later.

We will end this post with another comparison photo of my little children who have all worn this very same costume for their first Halloween, somewhere between 5 and 6 weeks old. Just so you know, my husband had trouble telling the babies below apart.





Top to bottom: Annike, Sommer, and Karsten. Love these little buggars!
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