Thankful Five #5

Dark days, early sunset and late sunrise - I'm needing to force myself to make a Thankful List!  I'm not looking at my past lists - so forgive me if I repeat myself.

1.  Our children.  They give life purpose.  They help me to understand why our Savior gave up his life for us.

2.  Healing wounds.  There was a time in my life where it seemed so many of my relationships were in tatters.  I'm thankful for time and for words of forgiveness.

3.  My wonderful husband.  Matt is truly my rock.  He is patient, generous, kind and adoring.

4.  Starbucks Via.  I find a hot cup of coffee so comforting in the winter and I don't often have the energy to go out and get some.  Our coffee pot is on the fritz and I'm enjoying this instant blend.

5.  Our church.  I found myself in tears this morning as I watched our congregation pour onto the stage to donate toys and toiletries to our community.  We live in an area with so much money, power and prestige and I love that Willow Creek challenges us to give more and live on less.

Parties and Winter/S.A.D.

I've started the write many blog posts and never get past the first line.

Life has been cruising on as normal.

I've had a bit of a blog crisis.

What is the purpose?

I don't really want to grow my readership or use this blog for much.  It's mostly for me to keep track of what is going on around here.

I suppose having a few interesting reviews or practical advice couldn't hurt.  I'll see what I can do.

At the moment we are recovering from a very busy weekend.  We have been hosting monthly table groups at our home.  These get togethers are so much fun and we love seeing everyone connect but they certainly stretch Matt & I outside of our comfort zone!  So, Friday we hosted that and then Saturday was Anna's 11th birthday party.  The part was super fun and all my planning really paid off.

Today is our recovery day - we are all feeling a bit under the weather and it is beyond dreary outside.

Also to note is that I've been trying light therapy for my S.A.D. this year.  I'm not sure what to say so far.  I really do think it helps.  Yesterday I was in a stress, crisis, I can't do it all funk and the weather certainly did amplify that.  I spent 2 hours unable to get out of bed and much of the day I found myself in tears for no real reason.  But, by the evening (and 2 light therapy times) I was feeling much better and really enjoyed Anna's birthday party.  Today I spent the morning at home and rested while the family went to the first church service.  I was able to come to the 2nd service and really feel pretty much normal.

So - so far I'm making it - although I feel kindof disabled with not knowing how I'll feel from one day to the next and trying to be sure I take care of myself.


Thankful Five #4

Life has been busy.   I seem to hardly have time to think but in some ways I'm enjoying it.  I will find my balance but for now I'm enjoying having lots of things to do and feeling useful.

Here are my Thankful Five:

  1. A fun job - My new job as "Operation Manager" is truly a blessing.  I have never had so much fun working anywhere.  Not even as a dog washer or a restaurant hostess.  I know both those jobs sound thrilling.
  2. Fun times with each of my girls - I have been able to enjoy playing Elefun with my 5 year old, Rummikub with my 8 year old and coloring with my 10 year old.  How cool is that?  I'm learning to set aside my own frustrations with parenting and discipline and just have fun!
  3. Geocaching - This is a very cool "sport".  People hide caches all over the place.  There are at least 40 in our small town.  We have found 5 and many were in places that we go all the time.  We would have never even know there was a little container there without our compass.
  4. A trip by myself - It's true, I get to go on a trip all by myself for the first time in many years.  I am headed to Arizona to see my brother and his family, many aunts and uncles and my Dad too!  I just can't wait.  I'm sure I'll miss my family terribly, but a little absence is sure to make all our hearts grow fonder.
  5. Peace with the job change - I recently got together with the family that I used to babysit for full time.  I have struggled with knowing if I made the right choice by not choosing to continue watching their little boy (and new little one!).  Their recent life changes involve moving into the city!  This means it wouldn't have worked for me to continue.  I am excited for their new life - they are choosing to be closer to the ministries their heart's are passionate for and I feel peace about my choice.  And we are still great friends.  


Half Marathon Synopsis

Last Sunday I rolled out of bed at 4 am.  I hadn't slept well, I was dreaming of running and getting lost and who knows what else.  I was kindof relieved to be getting up and finally accomplishing my goal of running the Chicago Half Marathon.

It was great weather, a bit overcast, 60ish degrees and well - dark to begin with.  We carpooled to the race to get good parking and arrived around 5:15.  By 6:30 we were ready to go.  We had all used the bathroom several times (you should have seen the number of port-a-johns!), checked our gear and were standing just feet from the start line.  Okay - more like the start block.  I have never seen anything like it.

They set up the start line in lettered segments they call corrals.  You have a letter on your bib that matches where you should start.  The idea is that the slower people start later than the faster people.  So, we gathered into a corral (you can actually start anywhere - they don't check) and readied ourselves. 

I was running with three of my Team Rise training buddies.  This was awesome.  It really helps the nerves you feel standing in the midst of 12K + runners to have three friends to stand there with you.  Two of them had done this before which was even better.
Jenny, Kathy and I
10 minutes later we reached the actual start of the race.  With all the electronics and interference, I quickly realized that my Pandora and Runkeeper apps were useless.  Oh well.  I did have some music on my iPhone but I hadn't really checked to see what.  I ended up listening to Old 97's, Prayer Chain and Norah Jones.  Not exactly running music, but it did keep me calm.

The race went well.  We ran hard, laughed a lot and I stared wide-eyed at the craziness of it all.  We ran shoulder to shoulder, dodging other racers for the first 3 miles.  We all agreed that this was good distraction.  One of the gals kept close track of the time and we found that we were ahead of our pace quite a bit.  A good way to start!

As we headed into mile 5, one of my running buddies decided to actually run now.  That was the last I saw of her until the end.  She is nearly 10 yrs older than me and is an amazing athlete!  Kathy, Christine and I stuck together nearly to the end.  We kept each other going, we talked when we needed distraction, we kept quiet when we were too tired to breathe.  I was amazed at how much their support carried me through.  
I was so happy to see Anna (and family) at mile 10!
The last mile was tough.  Kathy sped up to try to beat her goal.  Christine and I stuck together until she sped ahead.  I just tried to keep upright.  

With a finish time of 2:08, I ended up ahead of my best ever pace and loved every minute of it!  Best of all, I was able to raise well beyond my goal of $2000 and really make a difference for Angola!  

I'm happy to let you know that someone has offered to match every donation from now until the Chicago Marathon up to $50,000!  Please donate now if you haven't yet.  It'll go twice as far!

Go Team Rise!  We still have a large team running the Chicago Marathon on October 7th!  
I made it!  


My Ideal Day!

I am joining into the fun and writing a prompted post for Jason Womack's Ideal Day Contest.

I would love to win my ideal day, wouldn't you?

courtesy of Will Merydith
My ideal day begins with quiet.  It started the night before with a night for 2 (me and the hubby of course) in downtown Chicago.  We awaken to our beautiful lake view and order room service for breakfast.

After our leisurely breakfast and warm showers, we head downstairs to visit several of our favorite museums.  We take our sweet time going through every facet of the Field Museum.  We enjoy reading every plaque and flyer as we enjoy the lack of whining, complaining or anyone having to pee.

We have a lovely lunch in a classic Chicago restaurant (fill in any here) and head home for pizza and movie night with our kids.  They, of course, miss us and are well behaved for the evening.

Ah - when do I get to have my ideal day??



I've always lived with this knowledge that I am flawed.  I hear these phrases in my head,

"You're just like your mom."
"You're too shy."
"You need to listen more."
"Don't speak your mind so much."

Some of the words are true - perhaps all of them are true - but they are not helpful.  I have found them so loud in my head that they completely paralyze me.  And on the really bad days, they generally spiral down to even worse, completely untrue statements of failure, despair and shame.

About a year ago I was so burdened by it all that I decided to go for some counseling.  My mother is a trained counselor and I grew up going to counseling throughout high school.  I know that when it is all more than you can handle, you get help.

I found a great counselor and began a process.  I discovered where those phrases came from - the root of the downward spiral I so often slide down.  It was dramatic and powerful when I decided to stop blaming and pitying and just love myself.

At the same time as the counseling I read an amazing book about self confidence.  At the time, I was so embarrassed to be reading a book about self esteem, that I didn't check it out from the library - I just sat and read it in the corner.  All in one sitting.

As I typed the list in the beginning, I automatically typed the next four phrases.

"Do more."
"Give more, take less."

This is the new end of my spiral.  At first I had to work very purposefully to think those thoughts.  I didn't want to.  Honestly, it was hard.

But, over time I have been able to add even more.  Thoughts I never thought I'd be able to think on my own.

"You are a good friend."
"You encourage others."
"You show love and kindness to those around you, regardless of status."
"You are worthy."

Those words come from God.  Those words are only true because of His work, His sacrifice and His gift.  He is the true transformer of my life.  Without Him I am nothing.


Weekend Rewind: Let Sleeping Babies Lie

Weekend Rewind:
This post was originally written on August 2nd, 2009 by my husband, Matt.  I love to read his perspective on parenting.  He writes so beautifully and expresses things perfectly!

Sometimes I feel like being a dad is more than I can handle. Taking care of the children? That, I can handle. If that were all there was to parenting, my job would be a breeze. But the hard part of parenting is that other half.

Kids aren't just pets needing food, water, a chew toy, and a warm place to sleep. They are little people -- little people that are going to grow up to be big people. And they don't know how to be big people. It is up to Angie and I to teach them that part. The onus of that role can be overwhelming for many reasons.

For starters, sometimes I don't think I know how to be a big person. I stumble my way through my own life wishing I had clear answers to all of life's questions, clear goals with a clear path to attain them... I rarely have any of those things.

Nonetheless, I do my best to teach my girls what I can, inventing the material (and often the teaching methods) as I go. That seemed to work well for the first three or four years. After all, for those years I was The Daddy (TM), the source of all that is fun, good, and happy. But things have gotten much harder now that Anna and Claire have gotten older. They have (dare I say it?) caught onto the fact that I'm not always 100% sure, 100% right, and 100% consistent. They're like the veliciraptors in Jurassic Park (I can't believe I'm making this reference) testing the fences systematically, looking for any weakness that can be exploited. And when they find those weaknesses, they take full advantage.

But that's what kids are good at, right? Learning? I mean, come on, in their first two years, they learn a foreign language starting from zero while they are simultaneously going through the most rigorous "physical therapy" sessions they will ever encounter: learning to use their entire bodies at once.

So by that count, I certainly can't blame them for the learning thing. But there's the rub. I try to teach them. I try very hard. I try to be consistent and loving and stable and accurate and all of that. And I think I am doing a fairly good job at those things. They still fight with each other, though. They are disrespectful to each other, and even to Angie and I. They say "hate". They stick out tongues. They scream, kick, and pout. (Yes, I know I do those things, too, sometimes... but not in front of the kids.)

What makes it hard, what makes me hate (oops... just said it) being a parent sometimes, isn't per se that they do those things. It's that I view those actions as marks of my own failure. It's that I already poured myself into the task of trying to teach them not to do those things, but I apparently didn't get it right. I run out of ideas. I can't think of another way of saying, "hitting your sister or anybody else is not the correct response when your gum falls out of your mouth." At times, I just run dry.

Lately I've felt like I was going through an extended period of dad burn-out. I still smile with them. I hug them, give them kisses, go to their shows, help them pick out dresses and all the usual daddy stuff. But if I'm honest, way down deep, I don't feel it. I don't enjoy being a parent. That's been the sum of it for the last few weeks. All of that has left me feeling frustrated and powerless. Oh, and grouchy.

And now comes the part about how an hour at Starbucks changed that. No, it doesn't have anything to do with coffee (come on... like caffeinating wasn't the first thing I tried...).

We went shopping after lunch today. For shoes. Yay, my 11th favorite kind of shopping. The girls all needed new shoes, and Angie happened to notice after lunch that we were near her all-time-favoritest-shoe-store-in-the-whole-entire-world (No, I'm not going to tell you the name). I grudgingly acquiesced to her pleas, on behalf of the children of course, and we headed to the store.

Of course, sometime between when our left turn signal turned on and when we actually turned into the parking lot, Katherine (nickname: "I-don't-sleep-in-the-car-EVER") fell into that deep, impermeable reserved-for-toddlers-and-rest-home-patients slumber. She was out like a light.

Shoe shopping potentially interrupted by sleeping toddler, from the mother's perspective: CATASTROPHE.

Shoe shopping potentially interrupted by sleeping toddler, from the father's perspective: OPPORTUNITY.

I eased the sleeping child from her seat, and issued the grand gesture of a father greatly appreciating the chance to escape the shoe store: I nodded toward the adjacent Starbucks. "I'll be in there," I mouthed.

Okay, I admit it. I probably could have shouted "HONEY, I'M A-GOIN' TO STARBUCKS TO GET ME SOME LATTE!," and Katherine wouldn't have so much as snorted. The motioning and mouthing -- those were theatrics. They were to explain to Angie that My first concern is, of course, the well-being of our child who so obviously needs to stay conked out while Daddy gets his coffee fix and lounges in big overstuffed eggplant-colored chair.

I headed off the the shop, bought a drink, and sat down. Katherine fidgeted a bit during the whole checkout experience, but as soon as I sat down, she went completely limp. She was fast asleep, drooling (as I learned later) all over me. She was spread-eagled across my chest and lap, with her head on my shoulder and her nose pressed into my neck. In short, the moment she went limp, I was immobilized.

So I sat.

I sat for a long time.

I sat immobilized for a long time.

I sweated a lot, too, because a limp sleeping toddler emits more heat per hour than the entire Sahara dessert emits in a year. (Some day I will prove that.)

But, as any father will attest, holding a sleeping child when there's just nothing else you can do about it is an existential experience. I found myself thinking about life, about fatherhood, about Anna and Claire when each of them was Katherine's age. A few times, I caught myself thinking, "I'll do better with this one. I'll be more effective." But I knew I had nothing new to offer Katherine over what I'd offered Anna and Claire. Some day, I thought, I'd be telling Katherine, "Don't hit your sister! Don't sass your mom!" Yes, this precious, innocent, pretty-much-perfect-in-every-way girl would some day be a velociraptor detecting every parental inconsistency in my regime.

The convergence of "Anna and Claire the velociraptors" with "Katherine the Innocent" took an odd turn in my mind. I remembered Claire bringing crying Katherine her blanky. I remembered Anna pushing Katherine in the stroller. She wore an expression of pride that rivaled my own. This is my baby sister, and I take good care of her. As I thought, I realized that for the most part, all three of the girls were happy, polite, and loving. I could, without any trouble whatsoever, imagine each of them growing up to lead successful lives with happy, meaningful relationships. Yes, my parenting wasn't (and never will be) perfect. Yes, they will learn how to take advantage of my lapses and omissions. But if I keep working hard to model positive behavior for them, they were going to learn that, too.

Oddly enough, that realization led to one more: I do, in fact, actually enjoy being a parent. Why else would I be sitting at a Starbucks with a giant stream of drool running down my shoulder for all the world to see while remaining basically immobile under a 24 pound squishy space heater? And why would I look forward, on every evening commute home, to opening the front door? Why would I get up early to take a walk with Anna? Or spend a few minutes playing with dolls with Claire?

Sometimes parenting sucks. Sometimes I hate it. But those are just moments. The plain old vanilla fact of the matter, though, is that I am absolutely 100% in love with three little girls and their mom. A few bad moments? Meh. It's a small price to pay.

By the way, can you pass me that latte there? I'd get it myself, but I've got this kid sleeping on my shoulder....


Thankful Five #3

Note: thanks to Carrie for this great idea!  And welcome Becky to this great exercise.

I am thankful today for:

  1. The official end of my daycare job.  I had fun but I'm ready to move on. 
  2. I'll miss this guy
  3. Running.  It's been a welcome change to have an interest of my own and a goal to strive for.  
  4. Girls who know what they want.  We had long hair around here for years, now they are choosing to keep it shorter. 
  5. 5 yrs old and ready for school!
  6. Our own home.  After renting for so many years, I really enjoy knowing that this is our space, it's not borrowed.
  7. A wonderful husband.  15 years in and I can't believe how he's grown. He's quick to help, does not complain and loves unconditionally.
I think I could probably even add some more items.  What a surprise for me!  I generally struggle to pick just a few things to be thankful for.  I think this is good for my soul.


My kids are fighters.

School begins next week.

Who me? Chaos?

We are so ready around here.  We have gotten our class lists, visited the new school and are ready with school supplies in hand.

I'm a bit nervous about 2 new schools, my youngest in Kindergarten and my oldest in her last year of elementary school.  It is amazing how much they have changed in just one year.

I can see all the girls growing up and my hope is that they can be kind and loving to those around them.  Although I don't think it'll be to each other any time soon.

Every read those posts from Moms who have wonderful children?  They seem to always be posting photos of their kids hugging and sharing toys and making each other breakfast.  Seriously? If I wanted a picture of something like that I'd have to be some kind of superhero.  That split second is nearly impossible to capture.

In my space I'm going to have to be real.  My kids fight.  A lot.  They call each other names, they pinch each other, they even occasionally chase the appropriate younger sibling around creating terror and panic.  It's chaos.  Often.

There are moments of love and kindness.  I try to praise them anytime I can although it is admittedly hard when my heart rate has not lowered yet from the chaos.

Anytime I'm really frustrated I can just quote the words of my wise mother: "Just wait, you'll have a kid just like you someday."


Thankful Five #2

I would love for this to be a habit.

I'm totally thankful for these two!
But, every time I've tried to start writing I find my mind is filled with everything I'm not thankful for.  I'm not thankful for loud screaming in my ear, I'm not thankful for stepping in cat barf, I'm not thankful for dirty floors, you know?  So, here I am - definitely needing a re-align.

Things I'm thankful for:

  1. New school clothes for my girls
  2. New running socks and shoes for my feet
  3. New challenges at my job
  4. A 15 year anniversary date this Friday
  5. My dishwasher

Hopefully there are no repeats there.  I am so thankful for my life and the all the love that surrounds me.     And many, many days I am especially thankful for that dishwasher.


Hooray for growing up

We had a remarkable birthday celebration with Katherine.

It is something else to have your youngest child turn 5.  This is a monumental age for us.  Generally all the girls have had a little more interest in Mommy starting at this point.  I'm hopeful.  Katherine has always been all about Daddy and I have really hoped for more of a connection with her.  I'm noticing that she doesn't complain quite as loudly when I have to read her the story, or put her to bed or take her out on errands.

It's also remarkable to see her personality starting to stabilize.  She has always been a bit unpredictable - crying at odd times, screaming when we least expect it, keeping us guessing.  Now I'm starting to understand her a bit.  She doesn't like to be left out but she's learning that she can watch her older sisters play and as long as she is quiet they don't really mind.  Now that we are at the end of the summer, she can't quite play by herself.  She's so used to one of her sisters supplying the game, setting, ideas and fun.

I'm excited for her to start Kindergarten this Fall.  I'm excited to see her become more independent this year.  I'm a bit sad that she won't have A. to play with this year since I've decided not to babysit full time anymore.  But, I'm happy that she is going to have time to be independent, explore her interests and get a bit more attention from me.

She is a gem, a gift and truly a precious part of our family.


It's time to 'fess up

I've got to keep it real with everyone.  That's just who I am and sometimes it's a bummer.

I didn't post my run on Facebook on Saturday. I didn't even mention it.

I was scheduled for a 7 mile run this Saturday.  Last Saturday I had a great 8 mile run and was able to run it at a 9:45/mile pace. Next week we go back up to 9 miles.

Well, a couple things didn't go right this week and I had a horrible run.  Our runs have been starting at 6AM to avoid the heat of the day.  It takes me about 15 minutes to get to the run site.

What went wrong:

  • I set my alarm for 5:40PM instead of AM. (Dang it!)
  • I do not naturally get up before 6AM so I am pretty reliant on my alarm.
  • I awoke at 5:55AM and needed to be there at 6.
  • I did not eat or drink before I left to meet up with the team.
  • I was hungry when I went to bed the night before.
  • I got new shoes.
  • I usually rest on Fridays, but I ran in order to break in my new shoes a little before Saturday.

So, ugh.  I ran for about 4 miles and was ready to stop.  I pushed through another mile and started to feel strange.  I was feeling light headed and when I started to see spots I decided I'd better walk it.  It was very humbling.  I am competitive but had already decided not to run with my usual partners. So, to still not be able to make it even at the slightly slower pace was so discouraging.  It worked out fine really, I was able to start to run again after just a little bit and probably ran a little over 7 miles in the end.

I'm trying to remember that some weeks are just hard.  I know the contributing factors and the better I take care of myself with good nutrition, sleep and hydration, the easier it is.


Going to keep running

So, the time has come.

Yep - got this beautiful couple at the store yesterday.  They are so gob-smacking beautiful I almost don't want to wear them.  Except, I do and I will.  ASAP!

I went to a real running store (the clerks wear running clothes instead of suits) and got some actual potentially expert advice.  It was like going to a spa after only having gone to Great Clips your whole life.  I felt pampered, appreciated and loved.  I'm totally taking my kids there to get their school shoes.  They better appreciate the cost of all that lovin'.

If you care, the shoes are Brooks Ghost 5.  I wear orthotic inserts (thanks to my parents for the genes) and needed shoes with some stability but not too much.  I've been having some significant foot pain the last few weeks after my runs, so I'm hoping this helps.

I also bought some much needed new socks and they are so beautiful I almost took a picture of my feet.  I told Matt that my feet (size 9!) actually looked cute with these socks.  Note: running socks are not cheap so it helps if they are cute.

Wish me luck!

PS - you can totally support my run here.


Called to be a party host

We felt called.

That's a strange phrase.  It's often mentioned in spiritual circles.  I'm "called" to missions.  I'm "called" to be a parent.  I'm "called" to transfer jobs.

I'm not sure quite what it means.  Calling involves voice, sound and a request.  But, when you do feel called to do something there generally is no audio component.  It's more of a subconscious feeling.  The calling comes from someplace beyond yourself.  And the calling usually pulls you into something you wouldn't normally do.

I think in order to be called you have to be listening.  I have found myself listening more and more.  Instead of pushing that voice away, or using all my insecurities to build a wall around my internal dialogues, I have left myself open.  I'm open to any and all possibilities.  My choice has been to give over my subconscious thought life to God.  To open my heart and ears to His words.  Many prominent thought leaders and celebrities praise the value of opening up your heart and ears to your inner self.  More power to you!  You can do all things through the power of you!  Except those words are meaningless.  At the core of my being, I am imperfect.  At the core of God is perfection.  His words are worthy to be heard.

So, what does this have to do with a party?  Well, Matt & I felt called to offer our home as a meeting place for new families from our church.  Our church is large (2K people) and is a satellite church of an even larger main campus.  We found ourselves with 40 RSVPs and a party to plan.  I was honestly a bit overwhelmed and scared.  Our house is not beautiful and I am not a decorator.  I'm happy to report the party went amazingly well.  Many people really didn't know anyone at the church (even after attending a year!) and were so happy to get to know some people.  We will continue with a monthly get together at our house.  Yay!

Other areas we have stretched ourselves in (being called):
Adopting a refugee family from Burma and making weekly visits.
Helping pack hundreds of thousands of seeds for families in Africa.
Running a half marathon to benefit kids in Angola.
Presenting our refugee story in front of our church and children's ministry (upcoming!).
Making our home more open to others.
Becoming regular Sunday school teachers.
Putting our kids back in public school so they can be a light to others.
Living with less stuff.
Giving away furniture to a young refugee family from Sudan.
Keeping our eyes open to need and opportunity around us.

What are you doing with your calling?  Are you listening?


Ever get blog anxiety?

So, a lot more people are reading my blog.

Good, right?

Perhaps - but I've got a bad case of blog anxiety.  I feel like I need to plan some posts, think more carefully about what I write about.  Definitely don't write anything boring or mundane.

Oops, that's stressing me out.  And, I'm afraid to write anything.

So, honesty rules the day today.

This blog is not fancy, not extraordinary, doesn't do great crafts and certainly won't be teaching you how to bleach your socks back to whiteness.

Me, creative?

But, I do hope to challenge myself a bit to write more creatively, more often and about whatever happens to be going on.  I'd like to document some of the things that are going on in my life.  Why anyone wants to hear about this besides my close friends and family, I may never know.

Glad you are here.  I hope you leave a comment sometime so I can be reminded that there are some real, interested reader people out there.  Not just the ones that searched for "barbie sleeping bags"or "how to dress up like an 80's pop star for halloween", stuff like that.

Okay, thanks, bye.


Welcome to America, Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts that I shared here on my blog. Please read the first and second parts of the story for better understanding.

A tiny population of immigrants can hardly afford a church, or even to share space with an existing church. They meet in two bedroom apartment not much bigger than Suan and Sing's. Zomi people prefer to sit on the floor or on low stools, and so the central room of the apartment is completely emptied of its daily furniture, and thirty or so Zomi sit on the floor. The children meet in an adjacent bedroom, where several mothers teach them Bible stories, songs, and verses. In the main room, we sing hymns and praise songs. The tunes are familiar, but the words are in Zolai. Then prayer requests are shared, followed by a period of congregational prayer. After that comes the sermon, and then more singing and prayer.

One of the young women in the church -- a high schooler who has been in the country for several years -- was assigned to be our interpreter. She translated prayer requests, updates on church members, song lyrics, prayers, and even the sermon. On that day, Suan was asked to deliver the sermon. She translated Suan's heart-melting story as he told the small congregation how his family had rebounded from the brink of despair in Malaysia, and how they looked with optimism toward their future here. 

The next few words from his lips caught me off guard. They needed no translation, for they were my name and Angie's. Our translator leaned over and told us that he was citing Matthew 5, "You are the salt of the earth." He used Angie and I, and the efforts of Willow Creek and Exodus, as an example of how the church can "season" the world, can bring zest and flavor. I looked over at Angie and could see tears in her eyes. We didn't know we were going to be salt. We didn't know we could be salt.

Salt is a funny thing. During certain periods of history salt was so valuable that it was used as currency (giving rise to the saying "worth his salt"). It is used as a seasoning and a preservative. That is, it has both aesthetic value and utility. Humans require salt in our diet. It's necessary for life. And yet nobody sits down to a nice big bowl of salt. We sprinkle it. We mix it. It only performs its function when it is blended with other things. 

Why did Jesus call us the salt of the world?

Suan and Sing are beginning their fourth month in Chicago. In only a few months, they have learned a surprising amount of English, and they have ventured out into the city on buses and trains. Pancakes, it turns out, have become a typical breakfast for their two children. 

Suan worked with his refugee case worker to find his first job. Hearing the other children in the building fluidly switching from the Zolai language of their parents to their newly acquired English reminds me once again how quickly children can learn, and how much hope their parents bestow upon them. 

But more than anything, being invited into this small village of refugees tucked away in an urban neighborhood on Chicago's north side, I have become acutely aware --  through their faith -- that the church, the whole church, really is the salt of the earth. Like the Zomi, spread from their home in the mountains of Burma, salt is sprinkled out, mixed into other things. 

The church can only be the hope of the world when we allow ourselves to be mixed, to be spread. Only then do we bring both the utility and the beauty of God's work to the world.

This is a guest post from my husband, Matt.  Matt is a software developer with an amazing gift for writing. His passions include theology, philosophy, grilling and reading. He wrote this story as a way to share our recent experiences with refugees and the organization that connected us with them. (We have changed some names for privacy.)


Welcome to America, Part 2

This is the second of 3 parts of this story that I will be sharing here on my blog. Please read the first part of the story for better understanding.

It has been a few months since we first met Suan and his wife. Our first visit, the day they arrived from Malaysia, was the day we delivered the welcome pack. With several other Zomi refugees in attendance, as well as a staff member from Exodus World Services (EWS), we opened boxes, made beds, stocked the kitchen, and furnished the small studio apartment. Suan struggled to understand what was happening. Our daughters, while anxious to help, also struggled to understand. At four, eight, and ten, our girls had never before spent a moment of their lives in an environment where English was not the dominant language. Their exposure to non-Americans was scant. And here we stood in a cramped apartment with a dozen other people, struggling to communicate what shaving cream was for or inquiring where they would like their toolset to be.

I would like to say that that first day was an amazing, spirit-filling experience. But I would be remiss if I did not state how difficult those first hours were. Had our EWS friend not taken the initiative to schedule our next visit, I sometimes wonder if I would have just let things go.

But our second trip went better. It was on that trip that we made pancakes. And the third was even better. As we met other Zomi refugees and they became part of our lives, we realized that we had become something like an extension to their urban village. We were, in many ways, the outsiders hoping to be accepted, hoping to understand what was happening.

Suan, it turns out, has a gift for music. He was known in the Malaysian refugee community for his singing, and he is now the worship leader in the small Zomi church that meets in Rogers Park. Our first visit to that church marks a moment in my life that I will never forget.

Follow along with Part 3.

This is a guest post from my husband, Matt.  Matt is a software developer with an amazing gift for writing. His passions include theology, philosophy, grilling and reading. He wrote this story as a way to share our recent experiences with refugees and the organization that connected us with them. This is the second of 3 parts I will be sharing here on my blog. (We have changed some names for privacy.)


Welcome to America, Part 1

"Do you have any questions for us?" Angie asked Suan and his wife through our interpreter, another Zomi refugee who has picked up a fair amount of English in his few years in the United States.

Angie's question set off a series of back-and-forth exchanges in Zolai, the language of the Zomi people. The Zomi are from the Chin territory in Burma. As a minority (strike one), largely Christian (strike two) nation in Myanmar's Eastern border, the Zomi have suffered under the military junta that still controls the Burmese government. Many have fled as refugees, and some of those refugees have been given a home in the Chicago area.

As the chatter died down, the interpreter, Pau, turned back to Angie and said with an embarrassed laugh, "Um, yes… my wife would like to know what the bag of white powder is for." Answering our uncomprehending stares, Sing, mother of two daughters, gesticulated toward the kitchen.

"White powder?" mumbled Angie. Then again addressing Pau, she asked, "Can Sing show us?"

Who would have thought a simple little exchange like this would lead to the fulfillment of one of Angie's childhood dreams?

Angie grew up a stone's throw from Phoenix, Arizona. Having only one sibling, a brother four years her senior, she tended to rely upon her active imagination to fill those scorching childhood summers in the desert. Envisioning herself as Julia Childs, little ten-year-old Angie would stand before her bedroom mirror and host a cooking show. In a matter-of-fact tone, she would walk through the process of beating an egg, mixing dough, or baking a pizza. She was always careful to explain the details to her imaginary studio audience.

As Angie grew up, the practical concerns of everyday life replaced her childhood fantasy. She had all but given up her aspiration to host a cooking show until that very moment when Sing pulled the paper back out from under her sink: All Purpose Flour.

The Zomi people are an agrarian society. In a climate conducive to farming, they grow corn, rice, fruit, and vegetables. Apparently, they do not grow wheat. They had never seen wheat flour, and hadn't any idea how it should be used. And as Angie realized this, a light rekindled in her eyes as she enthusiastically offered to show them how to cook with it.

When Pau translated this to Zolai, Suan and Sing nodded their assent. Someone, I'm not sure who, ducked out the front door of the small studio apartment provided to the refugee family, and called down the hall. The Rogers Park apartment building into which Suan and Sing were placed houses several other Zomi families, and in some ways they act like a tiny village inside of the large urban Chicago building. As Angie was busy finding the necessary kitchen utensils, other Zomi families streamed into the apartment, removing their shoes (as is the custom in Burma) and making a beeline for the tiny five-by-five kitchen nook.

Glowing with the enthusiasm of Rachel Ray, Angie began demonstrating how to make pancakes. Explaining the function of each utensil as she went, she scooped, leveled, mixed, poured, and cooked. Her audience stood rapt, interrupted only rarely by the exclamations of an inquisitive Zomi child.

Fifteen minutes later, the plate of pancakes passed from hand to hand. I'm not sure that our American cuisine immediately won over the hearts and stomachs of the Zomi refugees, but all of the pancakes were consumed. Everyone expressed their thanks to Angie, "lung dam mahmah." Thank you very much. Angie glowed.

Follow along with part 2 and part 3.

This is a guest post from my husband, Matt.  Matt is a software developer with an amazing gift for writing. His passions include theology, philosophy, grilling and reading. He wrote this story as a way to share our recent experiences with refugees and the organization that connected us with them. This is the first of 3 parts I will be sharing here on my blog. (We have changed some names for privacy.)


Only the good? (Thankful Five)

Here sits a nice happy, family blog.  I struggle with posting either only the good in our life, or keeping it real with a bit of the bad.  I also struggle with only wanting to write about the bad (possible venting) and just put up pictures of the good.  Pictures speak for themselves right?  I don't want a picture of tears and fighting.  But, a picture of hugs, laughing and good experiences is awesome!

So - today is a non-picture taking kind of day.  The camera is tucked safely away, possibly it will come out for tomorrow's holiday.  If we can drag ourselves out of the nice A.C. to the suffocating heat, that is.

I think I'd better take some advice from my new friend and co-worker, Carrie (check her out here!).  Let's see what I am thankful for.
  1. A house large enough to find an escape when it's all just too much.
  2. A husband who wakes up when I can't sleep and scratches my back to help me settle in.
  3. The makings for a really good sandwich just happening to be in my fridge.
  4. An upcoming trip for my 10 year old and lots of family to show her love.
  5. A very healthy family at the moment.
Ah - I feel a little better.  Okay - I feel a lot better.  I think that is a practice I need to do a little more often.  I'd love to hear what you are thankful for too!

(Happy thoughts mean...  yep, a picture!)

Last week we visited our favorite Chicago beach.


Running is not my piece of cake.

Running a half marathon is not a piece of cake for me.
How I wish running was this easy.

I feel like it should be easy.  I tend to compare myself to people who have been running miles since they were toddlers and I feel kind of pathetic.

I must battle this - I try to remember that those people are just more obvious because we see them out running all the time.  The rest of us "normal" humans are enjoying hamburgers, french fries and probably too much TV.  We watch people push themselves to their limits and cheer them on from afar.  We don't enter into their crazy world.  We don't really think of trying to push ourselves.  I didn't see any point to it all.

Oh, yes, there is the reward of personal accomplishment.  But I personally don't find that motivational.  I could choose much easier and less tiring ways to succeed.  I could be an expert knitter, an amazing gardener, even being a great cook wouldn't require so much sweat and exhaustion.

So, I have chosen to run for someone else.  To push myself for someone else entirely.  I expect no reward and will really marvel in my success (if I make it!).  I'm running for kids who can't go to school and for an organization that has a proven success rate in building schools for others.  It sounds lame to say I'm running for Africa (at least to me) but it's true.  I'm running for a village and a group of families.  Really, to keep it real for me, I think about the mothers of these kids.  I'm a mother and I so value education for my girls.  I cannot imagine if that was not an option.

I want that to be an option for all kids and a chance for whole communities to push out of their current situation.

Running update:

Currently I have just finished a 6.2 mile run - I'm almost halfway!  I can hardly believe it.  I couldn't run without my team and I look forward to every Saturday morning and our runs together.  I'm also running 3 days a week - varying distances.

Fundraising update:

I am 70% of the way to my goal for this September 9th run!!!  I would be thrilled to blow my initial goal out of the water.  How much is possible for one inexperienced, non-runner, mother of 3, drive everywhere, city girl to raise?!

Join me now! 


Stretching outside myself

I signed up to be a party host.

Not kidding.

BBQ at our house!  Everyone is welcome.
Well, it's not really just me - Matt's name is on there too.

Why, would we do this, you ask?  And how does one even do it?

Well, our church organizes something called "table groups".  They are monthly get togethers at someone's house.  We have gone to one for about 7 months and we love it!  It's not a "churchy" activity, just a chance to get together with other people and talk.  We are able to bring our kids and we all share a meal together.  We've had Mexican night, casserole night, breakfast for dinner night and now we are doing some grilling nights.  The people are amazing and the food is always great.

So, why would we change anything?  We have enjoyed it so much but the idea is to get to know people in your neighborhood.  This group is about 20 minutes away in our old town.  We love going over there but it seems we should probably go to one where we live.  And there weren't any openings in a group by our house.

Enter Matt & Angie opening their home to others.

Stretching on every corner of our comfort zone.  Pushing the limits of security.

I'm feeling the stretch. I think we both have this immature feeling that it won't be successful, that our group will be a dud.  It sounds lame, but I don't know if that insecure part of me has grown up yet.

I'm reading some books on being a good hostess, I'm buying some extra chairs, I'm preparing to let go a bit and allow others to feel welcome in our home.  Spill something, no problem.  Break our toys, no biggie.  Scared the cats, they're just animals.  What's the worst that can happen, really?


A summer schedule update

I have faithfully printed out a new schedule at the beginning of each week.  We have time for TV, computer, reading, play, lunch, snacks and more.  It is not written in stone but gives us a general outline to follow.

The verdict:

Kids - some of them love it and some of them can't read yet.  So, the child that needs a lot of structure finds great comfort in a plan.  She doesn't always like the lack of activities on any given day but she has found ways to entertain herself.  The one who can't read would be fine with less structure.  She just waits to be told what we'll be doing next.  And my middle girl is pretty happy no matter what.

Mom - this is the best plan ever.  I finally have something to point to when they are bored.  I can say - oh well, you should be watching TV right now (they are pretty excited when I remind them of that activity) or you should be working on your chores.  If they play nicely together I try to leave them alone.  They generally do enjoy being together.

Dad - I think he enjoys not having wandering, annoying, bored, frustrated children in the house.  Since he works at home and shows up upstairs several times a day, it helps them if they are fairly settled and occupied.

Outings (like this one to the Graue Mill) are part of our weekly plan.
We have found time this summer to take family walks, have family game nights, enjoy our fire pit in the evenings, read books aloud and just enjoy being together.  There is a sense of calm and peace most days that is truly welcome and wonderful.


Email account for my 10 year old?

Wow have I been struggling with this one.

My 10 yr old has been asking for an email account since school let out.  Apparently a lot of her friends at school have them.  She won't be returning to that school so they gave her their email addresses to stay in touch.  Great idea, right?

Except - my daughter is 10!  I'm thinking that's young to have her own email.  Google agrees - their standard policy is no accounts to anyone under 13.  (Perhaps this will change over time.)  So, I decided to find out how all these kids had their own email.

To put it bluntly, they lied.  Now, I should say that they didn't go and create accounts without anyone knowing and then use them to send out millions of spam messages. Their parents approved (and probably set up the accounts) and then I think are monitoring their email somehow.  I'm not sure why Google doesn't allow parents to create "junior" email accounts that are connected to their own accounts.

I'm leaning towards this whole "lying" idea and creating an account for her.  I trust her and am mostly worried about her receiving spam and/or unwanted email.

Ideas to make this safe:
1.  Set up a filter so everything that goes into her inbox also goes into mine.
2.  Have her password and use it to check her email occasionally.
3.  Read her email before she is allowed to login.
4.  Assume she is trustworthy and do nothing.
5.  Use a different email provider.

I'd be curious to hear what you think and/or what you have done about email for kids.  Thoughts?

I'll be sure to post an update when I decide what to do about her email requests.  Right now she just uses my email and I move her messages into a folder with her name on it.  But, I don't really like her being able to read my email if I'm not paying close attention, you know?

Update 8/2012: She's now 10 3/4 yrs old.  She's been using my email for for the last 2 months.  I decided to get her her own address.  Now I just have to tell her about it.  Thanks for all the great advice!


The 5K - in photos

Well, you all heard about my 5K experience but I realize you have been anxiously awaiting pictures. (At least of something other than my pretty bib.)

Well, here they are.  My dutiful husband (did I mention we are about to celebrate 15 yrs in August?) snapped these photos with his iPhone. He has been so supportive and got all the kids up and ready to come cheer for me.

The start - can you see me? Me either.

The finish.
One of the best things was having Anna waiting for me near the end and running with me up to the finish.  The other best thing was all the food the coordinators had out for everyone.  There were donuts and muffins and fruit and quiche and cookies and more!  They had giant tubs of water everywhere.  It was absolutely decadent and much needed.


The 5K

I feel a little behind the times.

I just ran my first 5K at 34 years old. I don't feel that old.  But, I don't really feel any younger.  It is such a strange place to be at.

The run was fine.  I was super nervous and pretty much wanted to throw up.  It is a strange feeling to be starting with 300 some other people all crowded together.  I certainly wasn't in a hurry to get going but I couldn't help but think - "I can certainly run this faster than him/her."  I doubt I will be thinking that for one minute at the half-marathon.  This race had many families (entry age minimum was 6) and racers of all ages.  I felt pretty comfortable.  And super nervous.

I tried to pace myself and actually did a pretty good job but I was just so anxious.  I wanted to be going faster but I didn't want to make myself sick.  I know how much harder it is if I push past my limits and I would end up being slower really.

I'm happy with my finish time but I realize that I'm just beginning.  I only ran 3.1 miles, I still have 10 more miles to add on in the next few months!

Back on the road today - I start running 4 days a week now.  I'm hoping for cool early mornings!



Mommy is on timeout.

Kitty Peace
This day started out badly and has continued on a bad streak.  My oldest informed me that the minor changes I had made to our schedule were unacceptable.  Then the conversation turned into all the reasons she is unhappy and why she wants to move and how the neighbor kids are mean.  Phew.

I want to fix it for her.  I want her to be well liked and popular and generous.  All the things I wasn't as a child.  My mom tried telling me that I had to be less bossy and more outgoing or else I'd never have any friends.  I'm tempted to say that same thing but I know that those words left me feeling alone and unlikeable.  So, I try to listen and offer gentle guiding words. It feels pointless.  Kids don't give much positive feedback.  I think you just throw kind words in their direction as often as possible and hope that some of them hit the mark.

I'm on timeout to remind myself that I'm not a failure, that it's okay if we don't go on an adventure each day.  It's okay to be frustrated by the petty arguments of children.  It's okay to eat when hungry and not worry about my waistline.  It's definitely okay to take a timeout before losing my temper.

Thinking calm thoughts....


Summer cooking, junior style

Middle of the week. I skipped my workout this morning to sleep in. I was awakened at 6:30 to Anna unloading the dishwasher, cleaning her room and doing other chores.  Huh?  Thank God for my schedule!
Anna prepares something yummy.

I asked her to be a little quieter (I'm a light sleeper in the morning) and I went back to sleep.

At 8 AM she came into our room, proclaiming that breakfast is ready.  Huh?

Matt and I went into the kitchen to find homemade crepes.  Matt makes crepes on a regular basis and Anna has been wanting to make some "changes" to the recipe.  So, she put every different kind of sprinkle and candy possible right in the batter.  But, she has learned something after living with her two non-candy eating parents.  There were 2 plain crepes for us to enjoy.

Truly, the crepes were good.  They were a little dense.  She made 5 crepes out of the recipe, whereas it is supposed to make 15.

I'm working on seeing all the cooking lately from our 10 year old as a huge blessing.  And I'm totally signing her up for cooking school asap!


Mommy, the child whisperer?

If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

I struggle with being a bit cynical and pessimistic when I write.  I like to complain and vent.  A lot.  And most of it is better unheard.  So, the silence on the blog means that I am adjusting to summer.  The kids are home and they are struggling with change of schedule and habits.  And I am too.

Katherine, the chicken whisperer
Some days are bad and some days are worse.  And then there are little pockets of peace, calm and niceness.  But, for now they are just pockets, snippets of time.

I remind myself that I adore my kids, that I have sacrificed and changed my entire lifestyle since they were born.  I had them by choice and I even spent most of my younger years hoping to be a Mom.

As a friend said, "You can't send them back, right?"  Nope and truly I wouldn't want to.  But, these transitions are hard.  I should be the calm in the storm but too often I am the storm itself.

As I implement my new schedule, I hope for the peace of planning and the smooth sailing of structure. Hopefully we can attain this before school starts up again.


this is not going to be easy

For the last 2 years I have been watching a little boy.  He was 9 months when he started coming and is now 2 1/2 yrs old. At first he came just 3 days a week and then the last 6 months or so he has come almost full time.

I've made the decision to stop watching him starting next Fall and I'm amazed how hard this is.  Turns out I've fallen in love with this little guy.  The last few months he has been in a terrible stage of independence, aggression and will power.  It's totally appropriate especially considering that his mom was about to have a baby but it was very hard.  Katherine and he would just fight and fight most of the time. I complained a bit about it to anyone who would listen.

But, now that he's home with his family and the new baby has come (yay!), I find I miss him greatly.  His mom says that he views himself as a part of our family.  Turns out, so do we. He loves seeing Matt and demands hugs anytime Katherine is getting one. He called me Mommy until just recently - which did make outings easier but always made me a little uneasy.  I knew I wouldn't watch him forever so I didn't want to really love him as much as one of my own.

But, I do love him.  I do care about him.  And right now, I'm heartbroken about breaking this special connection we have.  Oh, we'll still see him. I thought his mom might refuse to speak to me ever again but she is understanding and compassionate. She has also become a close friend.

I'm so thankful for all the time I've been able to spend with this special guy.  I'm going to miss him.