Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving, Without the Glitter

What does Thanksgiving mean to you?


Pumpkin Pie?


Black Friday?

The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special that comes on ABC at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Central Standard Time?  What?  You don't have it marked on your calendar!   Go do it right now!  I'll wait.

It was my pleasure and privilege to celebrate Thanksgiving several weeks early this year.  It reminded me that Americans have not cornered the market on Thankfulness.  Giving Thanks did not originate with a bunch of guys that wore funny hats and ate wild turkey.  No, Thanks-Giving is as old as the Mercies of God and as universal as His Faithfulness.

A Cornucopia of Blessings

 In the tribal villages, Thanksgiving is a season.  It's the end-of-harvest celebration.  It's a time to visit and a time host.  A time to give and a time to receive.  A time to praise and a time to feast.

 Each church takes a weekend to host their own Thanksgiving service.  Other villages around the area are invited.  A favorite question to pose to the guests is, "How did you get here?"  It is, I suspect an interesting story, how each group arrives.  I was asking the same question myself?  Most of the villages are off the main road, back in the mountains.  During the rainy season, some roads are accessible only by motorcycle or by foot.  Some of the guests may have hitched rides in the back of pickup trucks, traveling hours around winding curves and across deeply rutted tracks.   Even though there were scores of guests, I didn't see hardly any vehicles. 

Our group arrived in Bro. Paul's trusty 4x4.  A gift from a sponsoring church in America, this truck has been a true workhorse.  It travels thousands of miles every year across a country that by all accounts has more traffic fatalities than just about any other.  If I was to start making a gratitude list, Bro. Paul's driving would be near the top.  I told him that it didn't feel too foreign to have him drive on the "wrong" side of the road.  He really didn't spend much time on that side anyways.  Half the time he was on the right side of the road, passing the tuk-tuks and bicycles, the pedestrians and motorcycles and the slower moving trucks with passengers crammed in the open bed.  As we wound around and around the narrow mountain roads, the lively conversation in the cab would be punctuated with rhythmic honking.  Like a ship in the fog, he was letting oncoming traffic know where we were at so as to avoid a collision.

This picture was taken from the truck. The hillside plunges straight down so steeply that you can't even see it from the picture. Nonetheless, it is covered with tea bushes. There is no wasted space.

Thanksgiving in America reminds me of a hothouse poinsettia, covered in glitter.  Showy, traditional, at times, inauthentic.  Forgetting it's true origins it has become a parody of it's self.  (You can tell how much I like glitter covered poinsettias!)  But in that truck, as the hillsides fell steeply away on one side and rose sharply on the other, brilliant flashes of red caught my eye.

"Is that...?  Is it really...?  A poinsettia!  There are poinsettias growing wild on the side of the road!"

I fell in love with poinsettias in that moment.  It was so refreshing to see them as God meant them to be, clinging to the side of a mountain in a jungley rain forest.  Bringing glory and praise to their Creator who had planted them in that specific spot.

And so it is with the tribal celebrations.  This is the true origin and meaning of our American Thanksgiving.  An agrarian society, dependent upon God's provision for their sustenance, giving praise and thanks to their Creator for providing the year's harvest, inviting their friends to share in the bounty.

There are songs and personal testimonies.

  Preaching and exhortation.

 More songs.

 Giving gifts of food and receiving gifts of hand crafted hats and scarves.

 More songs.

 In all, the meal is important but not necessarily the centerpiece of the day.  I know the ladies worked long and hard to make the special pork balls and other traditional foods, and the food is duly appreciated by all!  But it makes me ashamed to see what an idol American feasts can be.  And don't even get me started on Black Friday! 

It's not that I'm down on American traditions.  Not at all.  I am looking forward to celebrating with my family this week, and yes that includes football, turkey and pumpkin pie.  But it is good to be reminded that true thankfulness is bigger than a meal.  It's larger than a hectic weekend.  It goes beyond our brief American history.  It's what God's people have been called to live, every day.  And they do, all around the world in all sorts of conditions.  And it's beautiful!

Praise ye the LORD:  Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights.

Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.

An angelic hostess.  I thought this a good place for a picture of Miss Susan ;-)

Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him all ye stars of light...

Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons and all deeps:

Fire and hail; snow and vapor; stormy wind fulfilling his word;

Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars...

Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth:

Both young men and maidens;

old men and children:

Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven...

Praise ye the LORD!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!  May it last all year long.  I, for once, am going shopping on Black Friday for a poinsettia, preferably without the glitter!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Lahu Stew

We interrupt this regularly scheduled travelogue to bring you a hearty meal, fresh from the village!

Lahu Stew, or as it may be more properly termed, curry  (except that it doesn't rhyme!)  is a delicious and nutritious staple of Golden Triangle dining.  This versatile pottage is appropriate for all seasons and welcomed at every meal.  The flavorful broth is the must-have accessory to every bowl of rice.  Don't be the last person in the Northern Hemisphere to roll out your own personalized bowl of stew. Click on the handy link below for your rush copy of the treasured family heirloom recipe.  It can be yours today for the very limited offer of three easy payments of $19.95  Call now and have your passport number ready.  Operators are standing by.

Top Secret Lahu Stew

Okay, I can't vouch for the absolute authenticity of this recipe.  But it did the trick for giving the kids a taste of what traditional Lahu cooking is like.  Please note, all measurements are approximate and the ingredients are merely suggestions.  In other words, I threw some odds and ends into a pan and served it over rice.  But, still, it's pretty close to the real deal, if I do say so myself!

    Start with either two family sized cans of French Onion Soup and two cans full of water (not authentic at all, but it's what I had on hand)
10 cups of beef broth, either canned or made from bouillon cubes (still not quite right, but getting closer)
several meaty bones and cuts of meat, including but not limited to beef, pork (I used country style pork ribs) chicken, fish or black dog (nothing keeps you warmer in the winter!)

Cover the bones with water, add onions, garlic, ginger, chopped kale or other hearty green, peeled and diced pumpkin or butternut squash.  Season with salt and pepper, curry paste or powder, and chopped red and green chilis.  Simmer several hours until meat is tender.  Serve over rice with a side dish of bamboo worms.  Papaya makes a nice dessert.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Around the World in 80 Hours, Or Something Like That

It is the standard question you get when traveling overseas:

"How long did it take for you to get here?"

I tightened my grasp on Robert's supporting elbow as I squinted my eyes to better facilitate the heavy duty mathematics that answering such a complex question would require.

"Um, three days, I think.  More or less.  Give or take twelve hours.  Well, it depends on when you start counting . . .   How long did the trip take you?"

The couple ahead of us in the immigration line shared quizzical glances before responding,

"Oh, twenty four hours, counting our layover of course.  Wow!  What took you so long?"

Indeed, what did take us so long?   I can tell you, getting to Thailand in the first place was no easy feat.  I consider it a miracle that I even got to make the trip.  Every step of the way was attended by tremendous blessings from God.  This whole thing came about because He made it happen.

 The first blessing is that we know Brother Paul Brown and his lovely wife, Sister Susan.  Bro. Paul was my family's pastor.  He baptized my mother when she was a teenager.  He married my mom and dad.  He baptized me as a young adult and married me and Robert.  To say I've known him my entire life is an understatement.  He was well acquainted with my grandparents and even my great grandparents!  After forty years of shepherding the same church that he himself grew up in, he gave up everything to come to Thailand and join in an already established ministry to the hill tribes of the Golden Triangle.  Little did he and Miss Susan know of the dramatic turn that things were going to take upon their arrival.  But that's getting ahead of myself.  Suffice it to say that I have had Thailand, the hill tribes and the Brown's on my heart from the very beginning of their ministry.  When they invited Robert and I to come visit, I was ecstatic!

The second huge blessing is that my husband works for a major airline.  We can fly standby for a very reasonable rate.  In fact, it's about the only rate we could afford.  What we gain in affordability we have to trade in for convenience.  Flying standby is hazardous, without a doubt.  Our unsold seats could melt away at a moments notice, leaving us stranded.  But, that just adds to the high drama of traveling halfway around the world.  Why not go for adventure?

The biggest obstacle to our leaving was what to do with our poor orphaned children for three weeks.  This caused me massive anxiety for months.  I wasn't sure if I could leave them for that long.  And with whom?  Five children is no small undertaking.  Add in special diets because of food allergies, allergy shot appointments, music lessons, karate tests, cooking lessons and the massive amounts of laundry generated daily . . . it would require a truly brave soul.  Or a number of truly brave souls who organized into a Hudson clan care-taking village of awesomeness.   Yes, I have amazing family and friends!  My sister, mom, in-laws, church friends and homeschooling friends all banded together to make sure everyone was well cared for.  Thank you so much, Joanna, Anita, Ron, Joyce, Royce, Deanna and Sherry!  This trip could not have happened without you.

Our amazing church has been such a blessing and support to us as well.  With a generous love gift, they helped us get from Incheon, South Korea (which is as far as our airline could take us) to Chiang Mai, Thailand as well as helping out with other ministry related expenses.  Of course, most important is the prayer that surrounded and supported us from beginning to end.  I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God!

The logistics of packing for Robert and I, packing for the kid's various activities, preparing food and other supplies for those that were staying at our house, practicing for mine and Cy's karate tests and the 1001 other tasks that go along with an overseas trip kept me in a fair state of panic for the last week leading up to our departure.  I couldn't sleep.  I couldn't sit still.  I couldn't keep focus on a task.  I could, however, eat.  And I did.

A lot.

I also spent a lot of time with the punching bag.  I knew if I could get past my test on Monday I would be able to simmer down a bit and focus on packing Tuesday and Wednesday.  If all went as planned, we would go to music lessons as usual on Thursday, leaving for OKC on Thursday evening and flying out from Will Rogers International Friday morning.

Things did not go as planned.
They never do.

I broke every board in my test, Monday evening, but one.  It. Would. Not. Break.
I tried.  Repeatedly.  Here's the proof.

Both of my hands and down my wrists looked like that.  Finally, my instructor told me that I could wait to finish the test when I returned and he would get me a different board.  I finished my fights and self defense demos, but the green belt would have to wait another three weeks.  I went to bed exhausted, counting on a good night's sleep so as to be ready to conquer the next set of obstacles.

That restful sleep never happened.  I was still too keyed up.  I went to bed Tuesday night hoping for the same thing.  Negatory.  Sleep was just not going to happen that week.  I opened my eyes Wednesday morning with a running list of all that I was going to do that day, thankful that I still had one more full day to prepare. That's when Robert emerged from his closet office with an itinerary in hand.

"To make all the open flights, we are going to have to fly out of Oklahoma City at 5 a.m. Thursday morning."

5 a.m. tomorrow!  That means we need to be at the airport by 3!  That means we have to be in OKC tonight!  There goes all my carefully laid plans.  Time to utilize the Full Bore Panic!!!

Joanna showed up at 6 p.m. to take the kids to church.  I hugged them all and told them that we would drop by on our way out of town so we could give our official goodbyes.  Robert arrived home from work at 6:30.  I figured we would be ready to leave within the hour.  Robert started drafting his will, just in case we went down over the Pacific.  Then I have to copy it myself by hand.  Then he purchases travelers insurance.  Then he packs all the books he wants to study.  I slowly start to go insane.

Joanna was back and the kids safely tucked in bed long before we were ready to leave.  It's 11 p.m.  I haven't had supper yet.  I'm grouchy when I haven't eaten.  Full Bore Panics require a lot of fuel to sustain.  By the time we reach Robert's parent's house, we have about 45 minutes left for a power nap before leaving for the airport.  This is what I look like at 3 a.m. on 45 minutes of sleep and nearly 24 hours of Full Bore Panicking.

With this wild eyed look, I think I'm ready to run for President!

So, when did this odyssey officially begin?  Was it when I opened my eyes at 5:45 Wednesday morning?  How about when we pulled out of our Coweta driveway at 11 that night?  When we left for the airport at 0'darkthirty?  Impossible for me to say.  I just know I was giddy with excitement!  

 There was a last minute panic at Dallas when the gate attendants would not let us on their flight to Shanghai.  Evidently the Chinese government requires visas or proof of a connecting flight.  We had not yet purchased tickets for the final leg of our trip, because we couldn't be sure of when we were going to arrive.  There was another flight leaving for South Korea at exactly the same time that we could transfer to - if they had available seats.  But first we had to make sure that our luggage didn't go to China without us!  The Korean gate attendants were dubious that we could make their weight limit.  I was regretting all those panic driven snacks.  Some last minute calculations were crunched and they let us on board at last.

This is where things start getting fuzzy.  We flew west, chasing the sun over the Rockies, across Canada and down through Russia.  There was 15 hours of sunshine, which was totally discombobulating!  It made me smile though, to think of God's eternal day.

We landed in South Korea with a 24 hour layover ahead of us.  We decided to leave the airport and get a hotel room nearby.  Best decision ever!   It was so exciting to get my first glimpse of Asia!

Our hotel had a delightful little mudroom for us to leave our shoes in with complimentary house and shower shoes.  It had the hardest bed I had ever slept on, which includes church camp!  (I discovered that is very typical for this part of the world.  I had to adjust to our overly cushy beds upon my return)  I can't say I got much sleep, but after resting in a real bed I was ready for the final leg of the journey.  Before we were due at the airport we had the opportunity to explore the little neighborhood that the hotel was located in.  Then we had a good 8 hour stretch to explore "The World's Best Airport".  And you know, I do believe it is!   It's more like an enormous mall with spa's and napping nooks and cultural centers.  And the cutest little baggage cart toting machines that played "There's No Place Like Home".  We met a man with a bright red cross that read "Believe in Jesus" in three different languages.  When we smiled and waved, he came over and asked to take a picture with us.

"When you see me, pray for me!"  I believe said his name was Pastor Sam.  I may not have remembered that accurately, but to me he will forever be Pastor Sam.   

Now you can pray for him too!

At last it was time to board our final flight for the five hour trip.  Before, I would have thought that quite a long flight.  But now?  Pshaw, what's a little five hour puddle jumper?  We touched down in Chiang Mai around 9 p.m. , anxious to see our hosts and get some real sleep.  But first we had to go through customs.  Which brings us back to the conversation with the seasoned travelers ahead of us in line.

I started trying to explain our circuitous route, to their increasing bewilderment.  They got their chance to escape when the customs officer called them up to present their papers.  When our turn arrived, the officer pointed to the blank space on our arrival slip, "Address During This Visit".  We didn't have the Brown's address.  We searched high and low, in my purse and Robert's money belt.  Nope, no address.  The officer waved us out of line until we could come up with something.  I turned my phone on, hoping to access the free airport wifi to get out a Facebook message.  But no, that would require entering my passport number.  What sort of identity theft fiend would require that?!  But alas, there was no other way  Finally, Robert bit the bullet, entered his passport number and connected to the elusive wifi.  Miss Susan answered our desperate S.O.S.  Just then a customs official approached us.  She took the paper and the address on our phone and wrote it down for us, an act which seemed overwhelmingly gracious and hospitable to these two exhausted and loopy farang.  This was our first taste of Thai hospitality.  Every one we met was very gracious.  It made me feel at home instantly.

 And just like that, we were through customs.  Hospitable politeness aside, I'm sure they were ecstatic to see us go.  Everyone else had been processed some time before.  It was just us two silly farang (foreigners) left.

 Our travel was over, but the journey was just beginning!


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Welcome to Thailand: A Prolougue and an Introduction

Endless offerings.

Endless prayers.

Endless chants.

Endless cycles.

This sacred "naga" or snake is over 400 years old

Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai's sacred mountain is just the place to sit and contemplate eternity.  You are confronted with it everywhere you turn.

It's bejeweled body slithers alongside 306 steps up mountain to the temple. Climbing this is said to earn merit.

 I am surrounded by antiquity.  Chiang Mai, itself is an ancient city dating back to the "new city" capital of the Lan Na kingdom, built in 1296.  Not quite a hundred years later, this mountain was marked by the legendary white elephant as holy ground.  The sacred beast was given a shard of bone, said to have been the Gautama Buddha's shoulder, to carry.  The elephant wandered about the mountain until reaching the summit, where it trumpeted three times and fell down dead.  A shrine was built on that very spot.

Over the next 700 years, the temple complex blossomed like a tropical flower.  Today it is an enormous in scope.  Golden domes glisten and jewel encrusted idols glitter.  Gongs and bells, chimes and chants keep time with the march of centuries, the march of souls.  Souls seeking eternity, souls lost for eternity.

I hold my breath as I enter the first shrine.  The air is thick, but with what I could not say.  The giant statues of Buddha hold my attention until a slight movement in the corner catches my eye.  A saffron robed monk is seated cross legged on the floor.  I panic for a moment, my head is not supposed to be above a monk's, but I have no intention of kneeling.  I slowly edge towards the door.  Seeing monks on the street is a novelty, seeing them inside a temple suddenly feels very different.  This is not a costume party.  This is life and death.  Eternity is at stake.  He is on the other team and I'm on his home turf.

Deeper into the complex we forge.  In the very heart of this mountaintop temple sits the Golden Chedi.  I suspect this is the final resting place of the moldering shoulder bone.  Faithful pilgrims march around this glistening dome with lotus buds and tapers clasped devoutly between praying hands.  Around the perimeter of this holy walkway others are lighting tapers and bowing to jade statues.  This is my first glimpse of Buddhist worship and it is sobering.  Further still, along the walls of the courtyard are many niches and rooms.  In each room there are cringing, crawling devotees, looking for a sign, a favorable fortune, a healing, a blessing.  There are idols of all shapes and sizes.  Monks are in abundance, some solemnly receiving adulation, others jovially sprinkling the grateful worshipers with holy water.  The incongruity is jarring.

I stand in the corner, overwhelmed, burdened.  I can do nothing but pray  

"Father, send someone to this woman.  The one over there, shaking the fortune sticks.  Show her You are the answer.  Here's another one, lighting tapers.  Lighten her darkness, Lord.  This one, right here in front, bowing before the giant, cold Buddha.  Liberate their souls.  You only are God.  You only are Savior."
You can see some of the votive offerings placed in the hands of this statue. A giant moth reposes on it's shoulder.

I wonder about the monks.  Do they sense the Holy Spirit when His people visit this place?  Do they recoil from the Light like I do from the Darkness?

One woman glances over her shoulder at me as I pray.  Is it my presence that is intrusive? Or is it Christ's?

It's time to go.  But there is one more opportunity to bear witness in this silently deafening place.  A roll, to be signed and wrapped around the sacred pagoda.  I inscribe, "Jesus is Lord and Savior."

Doi Suthep belongs to Him.

"Ho, every one that thirsts,come ye to the waters!"

Welcome to Thailand!  Land of Smiles.  I certainly was smiling a lot during my three week visit. I feel so incredibly privileged to get to know firsthand the many faceted ministry of my good friends, Paul and Susan Brown.

As much as I relished the beauty of the mountains and jungle, it's the people who have stolen my heart.  I don't want the above description of a Buddhist temple to make you think I have contempt for Thai culture or for Thai people.  To be an emissary of Christ does not mean you have to reject a beautiful and ancient culture.  Jesus is not a "white" savior.  He died for all sorts of people throughout all times and all regions and all cultures.  Truly the Gospel is Good News for everyone!

Join me as I attempt to relive the adventures of the last three weeks.  I will introduce you to some unforgettable people in remarkable settings.  I hope to clearly explain some of the exciting opportunities to share the Gospel throughout South East Asia.  And, I hope to challenge each one of us to share this good news right where we are at, in our own corner of the world.   I dare say, there are many lost Baptists who are no closer to the Kingdom than a Buddhist.

Truly the fields are white unto harvest!

"Pray ye therefore that the Lord of the Harvest will send forth laborers"

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Because He Lives; A Chat With My Future Self


Hey, Mary, wake up!  I have something important to tell you.

"Huh?  What time is it?  And who in the world are you?"

It's me, your future self.

"My future what?!"

Your future self.  I'm from September 18th, 2016.  I just thought I would drop by and have a little chat.  You don't know this yet, but today, September 18th, 2010 is going to change your life.

"I'm sorry, I think I'm still asleep.  How is this even possible?  And what do you mean today is going to change my life?  Kinda like 'Today is the first day of the rest of your life'?  Or, 'Carpe Diem'?  Apparently my 'future self' reads way too many Dear Abby columns."

It's called memes, honey.  Everyone in 2016 reads them.  In fact, this whole "open letter from your future self" idea is totally a Twenty Teen sort of thing.  But never mind about that.  When you give up your lame slider phone with the Qwerty keyboard in a few years, you'll understand.  But that's none of my business.  Now pay attention!  This is important.

Last night when you went to bed, you had a vague moment of unease that maybe something was wrong with the baby you are carrying.  You weren't sure if you were bleeding or if it was just your imagination.  You are determined not to be held back by anxiety, so right now you are refusing to contemplate that you are on the brink of losing your fourth baby.  I understand that.  In fact, you have no idea how bad things are going to get in the next 12 hours.  But, I'm not here to scare you.  I'm here to reassure you.  Everything is going to be okay.

Tomorrow morning you are going to wake up, excited to experience a beautiful autumn day with your family.  By early evening you are going to wonder if this was the last morning you will ever wake up beside your husband.

It's not. 

Twenty four hours from now you will be tossing and turning in a hospital bed, wondering if your life will ever get back to normal after this devastating loss of your twelve week baby.

It won't.

And yet it will.

What you don't know yet is that this healing process is going to take years.  It will span two more pregnancies, two serious hemorrhages, anxiety, depression, flashbacks.  You are going to wonder what happened to the happy and strong girl of September 17th, 2010.  Where did she go?  Will she ever find her way back?

The answer is no.  She's gone.  But a stronger, more joyful woman is going to take her place.  One who has faced some of her deepest fears and found that Christ's love is stronger than the flashbacks.  It's deeper than the pain.  The darkest depression is no match for the Light of the world.

You are going to be beset by denial.  You won't believe this is actually happening to you, again.  You won't make the best decisions.  You will feel stupid for some of those decisions.  You will feel ashamed.  It won't make sense why you would feel ashamed, but you will stuff that feeling way down inside and try to move on.  But you won't know how to move on.  So, you will try to deal with the gathering storm of depression the way you always have, by trying for another pregnancy.  But this next time it's not going to work. You see, God is hemming you in.  You have avoided dealing with so many things over your adult life.  You insisted you were fine when you clearly weren't.  Because God loves you, He's going to make you sit down and deal with things.  And that is very gracious of Him.  It really is.  You aren't going to be able to grow without it.

So, don't give up on God and don't give up on yourself.  All things are going to work together for good in God's own time.  In fact, He has already made everything beautiful in His time.  That's going to be an important thought for you tomorrow. 

Second, be honest with yourself and others.  It's okay to be weak.  You don't have to always be brave.  Sometimes it's good to let others in. Let them see and hear the ugly thoughts.  The scary thoughts.  True friends will always love you.  And true friends will always point you to Jesus.  One of your very best friends is going to give you a book on Gratitude.  Read it!  Read it outside with a cup of tea.  Read it in the tub.  Read it late at night.  Read it over and over again.

Don't live inside your head.  This is going to be your biggest downfall.  You will want to retreat into your thoughts and relive every horrifying moment over and over and over again.  This will spin out of control into terrifying flashbacks and these will drag you down into a morass of emotional deadness.  When Paul admonished us to take every thought captive, he wasn't kidding.  Physical and emotional trauma, relived every day, will literally suck the life out of you.  Some things we can control, some things are beyond our control.  You are going to be tempted to think your memories are beyond your control.  But when you relive them through the lens of gratitude, their power over you will be broken.  Focus on the present treasure you have in Christ, the future treasures you have laid up in Heaven and your current mission in life.  Your mission, which you will have no choice but to accept, is to love and serve the people that God has placed in your life right now.

 You might find it helpful to have an outlet for your thoughts so that they don't stay bottled up in your head.  I hear there is this nifty thing called "blogging" where you can write whatever you want, hit publish and people all around the world will instantly read it.  Oh, and there is no editor, so that's kind of scary.  I know you will thrive when you have a way to open up to other people.  So, don't be too intimidated.  Just start typing!

One other thing, become an advocate for life.  All life.  You can go to the local abortion clinic and plead for the lives of the unborn.  And that is a great thing to do.  But it's not the only way to advocate for Life.  You will come to the startling realization that God has spared your life twice.  Twice!  If it was the 1800's you would probably not survive.  But God has a purpose for your life.  Live it fully.  Every day.  That means look into your children's eyes and tell them what a gift they are.  Recount the short lives of their siblings in Heaven and make sure they know that all life is precious to our Creator.  Show them that every person is created in God's image and has an eternal destiny.  Remind them that if that is true, then we have never met a mere mortal.  All that cross our paths have been divinely appointed by God.  Make the most these divine appointments.  That may mean nothing more than a warm smile at the elderly man sitting on a bench at the grocery store.  You may be surprised how loudly a smile can affirm the sanctity of life.

I really hate to tell you this, what with all the cheery news I've been delivering.  But, 2016 is kind of a scary place.  Terrorism is global.  Christians are being killed in every country, including ours, just because they follow Christ.  There are riots all across the country.  Everyone is accusing everyone else of being racist, islamophobic, homophobic, not conservative enough, too conservative, not using the right car seat, not watching your children closely enough, watching your children too closely. 
Nobody is sure anymore about what the legal definition of gender is, much less what legal and socially acceptable marriage looks like.  Everyone is confused and angry.  Everyone wants a scapegoat to pin all the blame on.  The two presidential nominees are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for Pete's sake!  We need to be a light in this dark and clamoring world.  A beacon of love and hope.  God never makes a mistake and none of your pain and sorrow is going to be wasted.  It's a life long process.  Embrace it.  Look for ways to love people, and your own burden will be lightened.

Be of good cheer.  Christ has overcome the world.  Because He lives, you can face tomorrow and the next day and the next year.  That's all I want to say.  If you just remember this one thing, you will be okay.


Mary!  Did you fall asleep?  You didn't hear a word I said, did you?  You are impossible, you know it.  But that's okay.  Sweet dreams.  I'll see you in six years.

"Rob, I just had the weirdest dream!  I was talking to myself and I wouldn't shut up and - "

"Are you sure you were dreaming, dear?"

"Very funny, Rob.  Anyways, she told me or I told me or, whatever, Donald Trump is going to run for President in 2016.  Get this, as a Republican!  Hahahaha!!!!
 It seems there was something else that she said, I just can't remember what it was.  Something about the Gaithers.  For some weird reason I want to sing, 'Because He Lives'.

 Time to get up! 

We have a beautiful day ahead of us."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Teaching From Rest, Still Tired

So, with my chronic insufficiency being established in the last post, I would like to chronicle what the last two weeks of my ill prepared home school actually looked like.

To begin with, I shouldn't be two weeks into our year already.  I had every intention to start officially this week, after I got all my ducks in a row.  I was going to spend a relaxed week in OKC with the grandparents.  I was going to spend a week at home getting all my curriculum in readiness.  I was going to spend a week deep cleaning the house so that we could start things off on the right foot.  And that meant a clean right foot.  Not a right foot encased in dog poop.  Not a right foot, encased in dog poop climbing over the seats in the car before leaving for church and thus endangering all who entered the vehicle afterwards in becoming besmeared with dog poop.  Definitely not that right foot.

Where was I?  Something about the futility of trying to keep children's feet clean I think.  Oh yeah!  I was going to start this school year off right.  What happened?   I gave up.  The summer got to me and I just couldn't take it any more.  I have finally realized that I need the rhythm of school days to keep me grounded.  I also need more frequent breaks during the school year to keep things fresh and refreshed.  In short, I need to go to a year round model.  The only problem with that is that many people start their year round school in July.  I realized with a start that I was already a month behind!  Cue panicked frenzy!

The second thing that changed was giving myself permission to tweak our curriculum and make it serve our family instead of becoming slaves to the program.  I made the bold move to drop history, art and music appreciation from the daily load.  I also relegated science to one evening class a week, wrote off Thursday as impossible and bought 3 bags of preloaded school supplies and 4 plastic crates.  Oh, and one box containing 5 reams of copy paper.  That, my friends is the extent of my planning for this year.  And it has made all the difference in the world!

 I also gave myself permission to stop comparing myself to other peoples schedules.  I would literally drive past a school during school hours and torture myself thinking about how my children were not seated at the table "learning" at the same time that all those other kids were diligently filling out their worksheets.  And don't even get me started on the guilt that would shoot through me as I lounged on my porch swing and watched the yellow bus clatter by.  " Are we doing enough?  Am I working hard enough?  Are my kids smart enough?  Disciplined enough?  Do they have enough free time?  Too much free time?  Too much screen time?  Not enough sleep?  I really stink at reminding them to take their vitamins and brush their teeth.  Will bad breath hamper their professional career? What if they never learn the distinction between noble gases and peasant gases?"  But not any more!  At least not any more for this month.  I am determined to do what brings peace to the home and let the rest go. 

Last year I tried locking all five kids in the master bedroom with me while I circulated between the 2nd grader in the "closet study" and the 4th grader at the desk and the Kindergartener on the tablet and the two toddlers who wreaked havoc continuously.  We were all miserable.  This year, Ana is a little better at sitting at the table with us and coloring or playing with blocks.  This has freed me up so much to conduct more of a traditional class room.  Here is how our days have played out so far:

6 a.m. - Rob and I get up, stumble into the kitchen to get coffee, drink coffee while having devotions, first together and then separately.

7:15-7:30  I invite, cajole, summon and finally threaten the kids to get up and get dressed.  They have family worship with their dad while I do my workout.

8:00 The kids fix themselves a simple breakfast of toast, eggs, fruit, cottage cheese or yogurt while I shower and dress.  Ideally they would also clean up the kitchen and practice their violin without being told and without fighting over the peanut butter.  That doesn't happen very often.  Actually, it has never happened.

9:00  My goal is to have everyone dressed and ready to walk out the door by 9 whether we actually need to walk out the door or not.  Some days we're ready by then, some days it's 9:15 or 9:30.  I am encouraged though, so far this is quite an improvement from last year.  The first order of the day is Table Time.

I got my idea of Table Time from Sarah Mackenzie's new book, Teaching From Rest.  She describes her morning symposium as being a time in the day where they all worked together on the things she felt most important.  The things she wanted to accomplish if nothing else got done.  She also wanted to spend time encountering Beauty and Truth with her children.  Morning Symposium is the time to do this.  For us this means beginning with Catechism practice.  It has been a source of embarrassment for our Sunday School Superintendent that his own children came in dead last at learning the Catechism.  But since he has taken over morning devotions, that has freed me up to focus on Catechism and memory drills.  Already the kids are showing more confidence and enthusiasm in learning the foundations of our faith.  I'm very thankful!

The next thing we do together during Table Time is math fact drills.  I have a stack of papers printed off of math facts.  I set the timer for 5 minutes and the older two boys race each other to see who can complete the most.  What I love about this is that it is a limited commitment.  When the timer goes off, you stop.  No laboring to finish the page.  That in itself is very freeing and it inspires them to greater feats of mathematical prowess.

After math drills, we take out our spelling.  This is again a stack of papers I printed off of the Easy Peasy All In One Homeschool website.  I have Dee copy a list of words everyday until he can write them down on his own with no mistakes.   Cy has shown remarkable improvement in his spelling over the summer, so I am starting him out in a witty book called Painless Spelling.  I found this little jewel in the bargain bin about five years ago.  I have been impatiently awaiting the day I can finally utilize it in our little academy.  I hope it actually helps.  If not, we'll move on to something else.  The world won't end.  

During this time in the morning, I am also circulating between Alvin and Elle as they work in their respective work books, also printed off from the Easy Peasy site.  Alvin is doing Kindergarten reading and 1st grade math.  Elle is an exuberant preschooler.  Ana is still a crayon munching Visigoth.

The last subject covered in our Table Time is a brief read aloud session.  This only takes 5-10 minutes.  Right now we are reading about great inventors.  Later we will rotate through several books including a charming tale about the constellations and another that relates the stories behind great paintings as well as a children's anthology of Shakespeare.  This "loop" of materials is another idea gleaned from Teaching From Rest.  You could implement this in any number of ways to better utilize the materials you have on hand that you have always wanted to use, but never got around to.  And did you know you don't have to read every chapter of every book?  I know, it sounds like heresy.  I indulged in just such shenanigans this morning.  I skipped right to Alexander Graham Bell and left decades of steam engine development in the dust.  It felt wonderful!

10:15  By this time the bright young scholars are getting restless.  We take a 15 minute "recess" and practice our karate together.  This has been another area that we have neglected.  Since Alvin has a test coming up next week and I have one in October, now is the perfect time to make this a daily event.  It also helps get out the wiggles!

Around 10:30 or thereabouts, Cy betakes himself to the Closet Study and begins on his computer assignments for Math and English.  Dee joins me on the porch swing with an old reader from the 40's that we are both actually enjoying.  The younger kids play under the trees in the front yard.  Ah, the elusive home schooling idyll.  I don't achieve it very often.  It makes me happy whenever I do.  True, they all had a sand war while I was on the phone, thus necessitating baths before lunch.  But there was something about it that felt so right.  This is the Holy Grail of childhood, is it not?  Scraped knees and sand in your eyes and a three inch layer of grit in the bath tub.  Magical indeed.

After setting Dee up on our second computer for his online Math and English assignments, Alvin joins me on the swing and we read his lesson online from my phone.  After Dee is finished with his computer time, Alvin and Elle each gets theirs.  By this time our collective patience has evaporated and we are ready for lunch.  I spend the first 10 minutes of my break hunched over my phone.

And speaking of lunch, I guess now would be the time to mention this weird little diet I went on over the summer.  It's actually not a diet, but more of a method of eating.  And following this method, I have lost nearly 20 pounds!  What makes it bizarre is that I set my timer for 10 minutes, eat slowly, then take a 5 minute break from eating.  After my break I eat until comfortably full, about 10 more minutes.   Well, that 5 minute break can kind of drag.  So, I pull out my handy dandy Life of Fred.  Have you never met Fred Gauss, the 5 year old professor of Mathematics at KITTENS University?  Please, hop over here and discover the most entertaining math program available!  My kids adore Fred.  It isn't like school at all.  It is a zany adventure that introduces them to all sorts of concepts.  The best part is that Fred begins at the elementary level and progresses through college level calculus and statistics.  I do have a niggling fear that there is not enough actual work involved, so that is why we are not using Fred exclusively just yet.  But for a lunchtime treat, he's perfect.

1:00  After lunch I put Ana down for a nap and then we all gather for our last school activity of the day, our Naptime Story.  We just finished the entire Little House Series.  Right now we are cruising through the light hearted Cheaper By the Dozen.  The kids think it's a hoot.  I'm secretly hoping they will catch the Efficiency Expert bug and start thinking of ways to eliminate wasted time and motions.  Hey, a mother can dream, can't she?  (disclaimer: this book, though set in the early 1900's does have some language that you might not deem appropriate.  Motherly editing is advised)

That's the end of our day.  I take a nap.  The boys play with Legos, read, build forts and watch documentaries.  We tidy the house around 4.  Thursdays are a completely different animal.  We actually do leave the house at 9 a.m., alas and alack!  This is the day we run errands, go to the doctor, visit the library, have music lessons, go on nature hikes and grocery shop.  When we get home we watch some of our library videos.  After supper we condense our science lessons down and watch assigned videos, read the links provided and conduct experiments according to my discretion.  If I'm too pooped, I don't worry about it.  No more guilt driving past the local elementary school!   

It may sound like we have a lot going on, but if you look carefully you'll see there are really only 3 main subjects.  The Three R's are really all I care about this year.  I am endeavoring to attain mastery in these areas and not worry so much about the others.  Karate and Music, History and Literature are an integral part of our every day life.  We do them week in and week out, regardless of the season.  It's how we relax and have fun.  We don't even think about how to fit these things in, they flow naturally throughout our day.  That is why I am ditching the other courses that are suggested online.  They take time away from the best parts of our day that are unscripted and refreshing. 

We desperately need things to be simplified.  My motto this year is, "Today do less.  Do it well."  It's simple and profound advice.  Like most simply profound advice, it should be easy, but it's not.  When you have a large-ish family, nothing is easy.  What keeps me going is the promise that God's grace is going to be sufficient.  I can't foresee my children's futures and adequately educate and prepare them for every eventuality.  I can do my best to teach them how to learn and to teach them how to lean.  To lean on God for guidance.  To seek His wisdom first.  He will prepare them for the works that He has already prepared for them before the foundation of the world.  It's really not all on my shoulders after all!  And that is why I can take a nap on the front porch swing and relish every delicious, sun soaked second without guilt.  And in the spirit of this year's motto, I'm going to nap well!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Ready or Not, Here I Come

I'm not ready for school to start.

Never mind that we just completed our second week of academics.  I'm still not ready enough.  I don't think I'll ever be ready enough. 

I'm sure having a beautiful homeschooling planner would buoy my spirits.  I'm positive a nifty spreadsheet for the year would be exceedingly reassuring.  Even better, a complete set of boxed curriculum with every thing needed neatly packed inside would surely give me peace.  No money left over, but surely the peace of mind would be worth it.  Or maybe I should just pack them all off to the neighborhood elementary school and be done with it.  Then I wouldn't have this nagging guilt from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. that my kids should be strapped to their chairs with No. 2 pencils duct taped to their hands.

No doubt about it, I'm not only not ready enough, I'm just plain not enough.  I have insufficient patience, insufficient energy, insufficient resources and an insufficient number of limbs to do the job that I have set for myself.  I need at least two more sets of hands.  At least.

But all this is okay.

Because I need to be reminded that I am not sufficient in myself to think anything as of myself or my educational prowess.

My sufficiency is of God.

Thank you, Lord!  Thank you for being bigger than phonics, bigger than improper fractions, bigger than violin practice x 15 minutes per day x 3 wiggly boys.  Thank you that you are even bigger than my delusions of scheduling grandeur.   

I am slowly learning that I don't have to have everything all figured out in order to take the next step.  God is faithful to provide for us when we step out in obedience to what He has called us to do.  I am reminded of Peter, stepping out in faith to walk to Jesus over the waves.  He was climbing out in faith and obedience.  He was right where the Lord had called him to be.  But he still got overwhelmed.  He still took his eyes off of Christ.  He started to sink like a rock.  Just because I'm certain I am where I need to be, doesn't mean I'm out of danger or am actually prepared to keep my eyes on the Lord, regardless of the tempest around me.  This is why I'm not ready for this new school year.  This is why I will never be ready.  I'll never be prepared for every eventuality.  I will never be enough.  And I love it that way! 

When I am weak, He is strong on my behalf.     

Ready or not, Academic Year 2016/2017, here we come!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Nip It In The Bud!

A killer frost descended across Oklahoma over the weekend, nipping our glorious spring blossoms in the bud.

I know this because I kept getting updates on my phone and they were extremely annoying.

Annoying because they invariably chimed whilst my head was stuck in a trash can, for alas, just a few hours after my last hope-filled post I became ill.  Very ill indeed.  I betook my bed and did not forsake it for 36 restless hours.  The only reason I'm out of bed now is that the rest of my family also became ill, very ill indeed, and desperately needed their mamma.  Being temporarily bereft of an upstairs maid, downstairs maid, governess, nanny, housekeeper, cook, butler, chauffeur, or even a lowly scullery maid, I hefted myself off my fainting couch and sought the arduous way to Ye Olde Wal-Marte.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Sweet Miss Sherry had saved the day on Friday by delivering Gatorade, crackers, homemade soup, anti-nausea drugs and love.  I couldn't even sit up straight and without her we would surely have all perished.

My handsome Knight in a shining Suburban took all the kids on errands Saturday morning as I continued to convalesce.  I spent several happy hours sipping beef broth and reading The Fellowship Of The Ring.

But evil was astir in the Shire.  Something was not quite right with my happy hobbits.  Sure enough, they began to drop like flies.  One after another they all began puking in inconvenient places, which called for my return from my peaceful bedroom exile.  By the late afternoon it was clear, we needed more Gatorade!  I tried my best to think calmly and rationally about what else we might need, but I was thoroughly discombobulated.  Shortly after my return Robert got sick.

After an icky night with icky sounds echoing from all corners of the house, I woke up feeling utterly contaminated.


That's what I forgot to get at the store. 


All I received was blank stares and eye rolls.  Like anyone ever brushes their teeth uncoerced around here.  I quite literally could take all day to replace the toothbrushes and no one would care.  It was kind of a luxurious feeling.  But there's no time to luxuriate.  I became the skilled nurse, cook, parlor maid, nanny, butler, and all round slave to a household held hostage under the black flag of the Norovirus. 

It didn't take long for me to look around at the chaos of my surroundings and get Fed Up.  Fed Up with scores of junky plastic cups covering every flat surface but none belonging to any individual.  Fed Up with spilled drinks and grimy toddlers who have contaminated each and every drinking vessel.  (Wonder who got us all sick in the first place.  Not blaming anyone in particular, Ana!)  Fed Up with medicines and medicine cups all over the cabinet and counter and even more fed up with calling poison control every time Ana figures out how to open yet another bottle.  Fed Up with never having what I need on hand when the dreaded stomach virus strikes.  Fed Up with feeling yucky!  And when I get fed Up, this happens:

What is this? you might ask.  These, my friends, are two boxes that once held Pioneer Woman dishes.  Dishes that my Knight in a shining Suburban bestowed on his beloved for her birthday present.  These boxes are awesome!  The box on the left holds all of our medications that we don't use every day, separated and organized by my favorite invention ever, ziploc bags.  The medicines and vitamins that we do use everyday fit neatly on one shelf of the kitchen cabinet, out of Ana's reach.

The second box, on the right is my handy dandy Stomach Virus Survival Kit.  Contained in this stylish and 100% recycled container:
disposable gloves, for touching the untouchable
paper towels, for cleaning the unspeakable
anti-emetics, to be carefully hoarded until the next emergency or Miss Sherry needs them back
gatorade powder
ginger tea
saltine crackers
ramen noodles
canned soup for whoever is not sick and needs a quick meal
and not included, but it would be a great idea, a fresh pack of toothbrushes

Next on my Fed Up checklist, those pesky cups

I purchased these sports bottles for each child, being careful to avoid the ones with the plastic straws.  I have very bad luck with plastic straws.  They tend to get lost or moldy.  I'm never convinced that they are clean enough.  I like these because they are heavy enough to not fall over willy-nilly when empty, the cover pops off at the push of a button and they are perfect to take with us on the go.  I took the tray that heretofore had housed Cy's various and sundry medications and turned it into our official drink tray.  Each child has their name written on a piece of paper which is tucked into a ziploc bag.  Voila!  Instant waterproof name tags!  Each bottle is expected to be placed on the appropriate name tag.  No leaving them in the bedroom or the living room or outside.  No drinking out of a random stranger's cup.  No drinking out five separate cups and then claiming to not have a cup out at all.  Did I mention I'm Fed Up?!

I'm also Fed Up with never finding a pencil, eraser, scissors or markers when I need them.

So, I bought myself a combination locking pencil box!  There are pencils AND erasers contained within.  No more being lazy with ink pens and just scribbling and writing over the wrong answers!  There is also a full complement of colored pencils, crayons, permanent markers and dry erase markers, to be dispensed by me and to be promptly returned to me.  I will count the pencils each night! Mwhahahaha!  I love the power!  My Precious! 

Uh, wait . . .  Please disregard that outbreak.  I've not been feeling myself lately, but I'm over it now.  And no, I'm not rubbing my hands together in a sinister manner and chortling under my breath.  I'm rubbing in lotion and humming.  Now if you will get back to the story . . .

There it is, a clean and uncluttered space with a plan to keep it that way.  I don't feel Fed Up and I don't feel quite so icky anymore. 

Tomorrow is Monday and once again I will take up my quest to bring order and harmony within the borders of my domain. 

Will the chilling frosts of untoward circumstances nip my fledgling schedule in the bud?

Or have I nipped the bane of Fed Up-ittiness and all around icky attitudes in the bud?

I guess we'll have to turn the page and read the next chapter.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hope Springs

Only a lunatic would implement a new schedule the weekend of the time change.

Don't ask me how I know this.

But, whining and grumbling aside, I am sitting down to write during my dedicated "blogging hour" for the very first time.  It's an exhilarating feeling! 

I better type fast, there's only six minutes left before the official "lights out" designation.

Dadgum Daylight Savings!

In other news, spring has defiantly burst the bonds of winter.  Daffodils, redbuds and tulip trees are in full bloom.  Bradford Pears are officially passe, having reached the height of their glory last week.  I am astounded how that two weeks ago, there was only the merest hint of life about the stately pears.  This week the blossoms cover the ground like snow and brilliant emerald leaves cloak from tip to trunk.  We have a freeze warning in store for the weekend.  Such is spring in Oklahoma.

The rising temperatures have also lit a fire under me to get school in hand and do whatever it takes to be finished with our lessons by the end of May.  This will require doing double lessons every day for the next ten weeks.  But, like the weather of the past two weeks, I am hopeful.  Maybe a chilling freeze will nip my optimism in the bud.  Maybe we'll crash and burn yet again.  Maybe I'll throw my hands up in defeat come Memorial Day.  But hope springs eternal and hope is what March is all about.

I am hopeful when I see my middle son, who has attention problems, get excited about reading his very first chapter book  all on his own.

I am hopeful when my oldest son announces that he has lost ten pounds and how happy he is about riding his bike every day.

I am hopeful when I see that the new schedule really is working and that locking five children in my room during the hours of 10 - 12 is not as cruel as it sounds.  Every day this week I have brought a bucket of toys into the master bedroom, collected the kids and locked the door.  Elle and Ana are limited in their destructive capability to one small area.  Alvin helps look after them in between Kindergarten assignments.  Cy is fairly self sufficient on the laptop at the desk, but I'm nearby if he needs help.  Dee is cloistered in the closet at with the older laptop.  It's really a pretty sweet retreat, perfect to give him the concentrated attention that he requires.  I circulate between the three boys and Ana, who is in the throes of potty training.  I also sporadically fold laundry on the bed, plan menus and grocery lists and sneak glimpses of Facebook.  When the clock strikes 12, I kick everyone outdoors and heave a sigh of relief.  Usually we have finished our two lessons in math, reading and grammar.  History, science and geography are saved for after lunch.  We might survive the school year after all!

I am hopeful when I hear snatches of murmured prayer coming from my closet.  I thank God for a husband on his knees!

I am hopeful when I settle into my rocker, coffee in hand to greet the new day from my new retreat, also known as the patio room.  Devotions in my bedroom simply weren't working.   Being able to look out across the backyard at the sunrise gives me such a peaceful and thankful start to the day.  I can't believe I've lived here six years without discovering this!

I am hopeful when I hear Elle expounding on who her favorite presidential candidate is: "Ted Cruz, he's just a winner!"  She's only four, but she can list all the major candidates of the season.  She's so much like her daddy.

I am hopeful when Cy spends the evening peeling potatoes with me and telling me all about the decline of the samurai and the merits of their code of honor (which he has copied by hand and keeps in his pocket to refer to throughout the day!)

I am hopeful when I see Alvin and Dee studiously copy words and phrases onto their artwork all day long.  Sometimes from the Bible, sometimes from the cereal box, nearly always it turns out unintentionally hilarious.

I am hopeful when Ana goes quietly to bed.  She stretches me every day.  But, oh is she worth it!  She is loud, fun, and determined.  She is on a mission to flush every toilet, wipe every wall, and open every childproof bottle cap.  She is delighted with the novelty of going to the bathroom.  She loves babies and animals of every sort.  She can be sweet and snugly one moment, angry and defiant the next.  She reminds me of how I must look to my Father above.

I am hopeful as this Resurrection Season rolls on, Christ living in me, the hope of Glory.

Thank you, Lord for March!      

Thank you for hope.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

In Which I Turn A New Leaf And Begin A New Series

We seemed to hopscotch right through winter and into spring.

Unless it is all a trick and we take two giant leaps back into the frozen tundra.  I never put anything past Oklahoma.

I've been keeping my head down, leaning into the wind, trying to get my bearings.  I feel like everything I have ever learned about cooking and nutrition have been dumped on the floor and stomped upon.

It began with a "chance encounter" with some old friends at a Mexican restaurant over the Christmas holidays.  Robert and I were out on a rare date when we simultaneously spied and were spotted by our good friends, Bro. Dan and Sis Janet Roten.  It was remarkable because they live about 200 miles away!  It was Providential because Robert and I had every intention of leaving the house hours earlier than we did and there were several other places we had intended to eat and Los Cabos was totally a last moment decision.  But there they were and here we were!  We had a wonderful evening of fellowship, sharing salsa and memories.  As was inevitable, the men turned to their theological and ministry discussions while we ladies gabbed about family and health.  Janet began explaining the new diet lifestyle that she had embarked upon, Corn Tummy or something like that.  Oh, yeah.  Wheat Belly!  That's what it was.  It sounded weird and slightly radical.  But it also sounded like something I needed to look into more closely.

You see, my oldest son has a number of food allergies as well as environmental allergies.  This has been the roughest six month stretch with his asthma we have ever encountered.  He just had his tonsils removed in hopes of improving his sleep.  Somehow my hyper action figure toddler has morphed into an overweight teddy bear that has joint pain and is always tired.  He has random stomach aches and breaks out into unexplained rashes with dark circles under his eyes and a chronically stuffed up nose.  He is only ten.  My world was rocked 18 months ago when he was diagnosed as allergic to corn, rice, peas, almonds (among other nuts) and oats.  The day that I unwittingly served him oatmeal for breakfast and a southwestern soup with corn and rice in it with peanut flavored chocolate chips for dessert was the first day he broke out into hives the size of dinner plates.  I called the allergy clinic right then.  Ever since I have thanked God that Cy was not gluten sensitive because all the gluten free foods were made with corn, rice, pea and almond flour.  There would not be any safe grains left!  And that is exactly the point of the Wheat Belly lifestyle.  There are no safe grains.

That might seem a little over the top.  And for a healthy person, it probably is.  But when I thought about it, it makes sense.  Cy is already sensitive to most grains.  He feels ill after eating pasta of any sort.  He has random rashes and a forever stuffed nose.  Maybe it's all the grains that are at fault?  I determined to give the grain free lifestyle a try after the holidays.

In the middle of all this, Ana has been struggling with chronic diarrhea, scalded red cheeks and scalded red arms and legs.  These symptoms began around Thanksgiving and have waxed worse and worse.  I took her to the doctor as a precaution.  She prescribed her a round of antibiotics in case it was e. coli.  That didn't help. I put her on cashew milk and used lactose free milk to cook with.  That didn't help.  I switched to coconut milk to cook with.  That helped slightly.  We reduced her cheese intake and switched to drinking coconut milk and eschewing all nuts.  That helped a little more.  By this time I could tell when something was bothering her because her face and arms would turn lobster red while eating and she would complain in a most pitiful manner of it hurting.  The next day would bring blistering bad diapers. 

Last Wednesday I texted Miss 'Manda to discern what the night's menu at church would be.  Cy has really struggled with my new grain free mania that has thwarted him from indulging in our fellowship meals.  He just wants to be a normal kid and eat what everyone else is eating.  Being the kind and caring momma that I am, I tried to accomplish just that.  But in a grain free, nut free and dairy free manner.  So, what was our Wednesday night feast to be?  Biscuits and gravy with cheesy eggs and french toast.  Alright, I got this.  I googled Paleo biscuits and gravy.  Sweet potato biscuits with bacon?  Yes indeedy!  Coconut gravy with coconut milk and coconut flour and sausage?  This is going to be the best grain free, dairy free, nut free biscuit and gravy dinner ever!

Fast forward three hours and I am the proud creator of soggy orange biscuits and glumpy gravy that exudes an exotic tropical fragrance.  Yay.

But I made it and it's safe and by golly gum Ana and Cy are going to eat it!  And myself of course.  I told Cy at the beginning of the year that I was going to do this diet with him.  I'll be right there every step of the way, supporting and encouraging and yes, even suffering alongside. 

As Cy glummed his way through the most bizarre biscuit and gravy dinner of his short life, ever so often he looked my way with puzzled hurt in his blue jean eyes.  "I'm not even allergic to wheat." he would mutter under his breath. 

"I know son, not officially.  But you see, this guy that I have never met wrote in this book I have never actually read about how modern wheat is just Frankenstein unnatural and it does something bad with your gliadins, whatever those may be, and it makes you unhealthy and your joints ache and well, it's called Wheat Belly so I'm guessing if you don't eat wheat, you lose your belly.  And I want you to know, I'm right here with you.  I'm eating the exact same things you are."  He never actually said, "Whatever, I think you've lost your mind, mom."  But he was clearly thinking it.  He moped out the door to join the other kids.  As soon as the door to the fellowship hall slammed shut, I sprinted to the empty french toast pan to graze on syrup glazed crumbs of joy.  Did I feel ashamed?  Only a little.   It didn't last long.  Okay, actually I hate myself for it.  Doggone it!  Those sweet potato biscuits lied to me!  And the tropical coconut gravy with sausage?  Humph!  Not what this Okie gal craves!  I understand how hard this is on poor Cy.  It's killing me!  In the meantime, Ana is sitting in her highchair with blooming red cheeks.

It's the eggs.  It has to be the eggs in the stinkin' flourless biscuits.

The next day my fears were confirmed.  We were eating made from scratch Chinese BBQ ribs, Cauli-fried "rice", grain free cabbage rolls and egg drop soup.

"Owwweeee!", Ana wailed from her seat as she held up her scarlet wrists.

I am now searching for grain free, dairy free, nut free, egg free recipes.  Ana has official testing scheduled in March.  Cy is slogging through lettuce subs for lunch and eggplant pizza for dinner.  I am doing my best to be faithful to the diet even when Cy isn't looking.  I really don't mind trying new recipes.  I feel much better not eating carbs.  I love getting rid of processed food.  I know that my family is going to be much healthier as a result.  But, it's very confusing.  Every week I am at a loss what to plan and what to buy and how to rehabilitate the flops without wasting expensive ingredients.  But, I am encouraged.  This is a fantastic opportunity, not to be missed!

 I have a chance to help reign in Cy's weight before he's a teenager.  Now is the time to turn the tide and give him an opportunity to experience life at a healthy weight, not at risk of diabetes and heart disease,not to mention bullying and low self esteem.  I fully expect his allergy symptoms and asthma attacks will lessen as we eliminate processed foods and chemicals and gradually move to an organic, whole foods lifestyle.  I expect to see reduced inflammation in both him and myself.  I hope to lose the last10 pounds of baby fat that are stubbornly hanging on.  I hope to see benefits in my husband and other children, even if they continue to eat wheat.  Their refined carb consumption has already drastically declined.  I hope to see better attention in Dee.  He shows signs of an attention disorder, but has never been diagnosed.  Eliminating processed foods is a must for anyone with attention disorders.  As for Ana, she is my mini Cy.  She has the same fair skin and blue jean eyes.  She has wavy strawberry brunette hair and a wild streak a mile wide.  She never sits still unless she wants a "snuggie".  And those snuggies are anything but quiet and peaceful!  She has boundless energy, just like Cy at two years old.  But I can see that she also has his silent struggle against the invisible invaders that attack her immune system every day.  I hope to change her path, to keep her from developing asthma and hives and joint pain and never feeling rested.

2016 is going to be a year of discovery and change.  I'm excited but scared out of my skull!  I hope to start a new series of posts chronicling the flops and successes.  The discoveries and setbacks.  I'll share my favorite recipe of the week and give brutally funny reviews from the family.  Maybe I'll gain a new audience of folks trying to feed their large family for cheap on a restricted diet.  Maybe I'll just spark gratitude in those of you who can still indulge in your Fritos and Little Caeser's Pizza.  I just have one request, slip me a fabulous flour biscuit with full dairy gravy every once in awhile, will ya? 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

I Survived Christmas 2015! - Part 2

So, where were we?

Oh yes, Dee had the absolute worst black eye I have ever seen.  I'm so proud of him!

He was pretty proud too.  His black eye was the star of every gathering.  I think he is going to miss it when it's gone.

In the meantime, Christmas rolled on around us, right on schedule.  We enjoyed Christmas Eve with Robert's family.  Homemade lasagna, Dirty Santa, the kids gifts from the grandparents complete with squeals of delight, classic movies.  It was a wonderful family evening. 

Christmas Day was with my family at Aunt Brenda's house.  Homemade gingerbread, smoked brisket, the traditional beef jerky Aunt Anita from Mississippi always sends, discussing the significance of the ornaments on the tree, gift bags for the children and the adult gift exchange.  This is what I look forward to every year.  Priceless memories.

Robert went back home the next day to study for the message he was preaching on Sunday.  I transferred our little family to my mom's house for the weekend.  Saturday began with balmy 60 degree weather.  I had checked the forecast before packing, back on Wednesday.  I was expecting this semi-tropical haven in December.  Of course, a cold front would push some rain in, but it didn't look like a big deal.  I packed mostly short sleeves for all of us with light jackets.  I actually prayed as I zipped up the suitcase, "Thank you Lord for warm weather this week so that I don't have to worry about packing heavy coats and gloves and all that clunky stuff."


In twelve hours our state went from 60 degrees to sub-freezing, tornado warnings, thunderstorms, major flooding, ice storms, earthquakes and a blizzard.  Just your typical Oklahoma December.

 When I woke up on Sunday morning, the pouring rain of the past 12 hours was beginning to freeze.  I wanted to go to church with my mom and brother, but I wasn't sure if church would be cancelled.  I started getting us all ready and dressed, just in case but I knew we would miss Sunday School.  9 a.m. is just too early, as you already know.

Just as we were nearly dressed, David called from church, where he had gone ahead.  9 a.m. isn't too early for him to get around, you see.

The Worship Service had been combined with Sunday School so that every one there could get home before the really bad weather hit and there was no way I could make it to church before they were finished.

Aw man!  And the kids were all dressed so cute, too!  But then again, I was relieved, since it was now bitterly cold with a howling wind and frozen ice pellets blowing sideways and we had no coats.  Yes, staying indoors with hot cocoa and a family movie sounds like a good idea. We all settled in.  There was just one thing left on my agenda for the day.  Robert's best-friend-from-highschool's parent's 50th wedding anniversary that we had promised to attend.  Robert, bless his heart, had gotten up way earlier than 9 a.m., driven over an hour to the church he was preaching at, delivered his message, got in the car, and drove two hours back to the City just to go to this wedding anniversary party.  And he really wanted his family to be there with him.  But I didn't want to get the babies out in the freezing weather with no coats.  Beside, the roads were becoming slick in spots.  It was decided that my mom would keep the kids and I would meet Robert.  That worked.  It was a lovely party.  I didn't know the people very well, but they were important to Robert as a young man and it was great to hear their versions of all the hijinks Robert had perpetrated.  As we pulled on our (borrowed) coats, Steven invited Robert to bring our kids over to his parent's house to play games together.  That sounded like a lot of fun, but first we were going to have to drive back and pick up the kids.  This is when Disaster #2 struck.

I had some misgivings about getting out after dark on uncertain roads while snow continued to fall.  I had secretly hoped that Robert would be tired enough to just settle in for the night at my mother's.  The kids, however, were raring for an adventure after being cooped up indoors all day.  I wouldn't let them play out in the freezing mud without coats while wearing church clothes, doggone it!  I'm such a mean mother.  Anyways, they were ready for a little excitement.  Robert drove carefully down the residential street, made a right turn, navigated a construction zone, splashed through a pud-


-dle.  That was no puddle, my friends.  That was a sink hole large enough to swallow a cow.   Or a pig, perhaps.  A large dog?  Okay, I don't know how large the hole was.  It was covered with water.  It looked like an innocent puddle.  A van eating puddle of destruction!  We whacked our heads on the ceiling.  The engine promptly quit in protest.  A wisp of smoke drifted from under the hood.  We sat there and looked at each other.  Did we just witness the untimely demise of our van?

Robert cranked the key.  With a cough and sputter, Ol' Faithful wheezed back to life.  But she was clearly wounded.  A faint burning smell wafted through the interior.  But, what else was there to do but go ahead with the plans and meet up with Steven's family.

Once arrived at our host's home we all piled out and commenced to invade their relatively peaceful domicile with our wild heathens.  It was a little awkward.  At least I felt awkward since they were still in the middle of their own family gift exchange.  I hate it when that happens!  Elle had a slight panic attack at seeing so many strangers.  Ana just clung to me and whimpered.  I couldn't think of a thing to say to my hosts and both girls were attempting to hide behind me.  What to do, what to do . . . I know!

"Ana, let's go get a drink!  Do you want a drinkie?"


"Sure you do, come on, your cheeks are all red.  You're look hot."

Sure enough, she did feel a little warm.  And she appeared to be heaving . . .
Oh no!

Too late.  She was throwing up.  Not baby spit up.  Big girl vomit.  In my hair.  Down my shirt.  In front of all these people whom I had been vainly trying to impress with my sophistication.  I'm trying to get her off the carpet and over the sink, but my feet weigh a thousand pounds.  I'm wading through concrete.


Steven offered to let us use his tub to give her a bath so the games could continue.

Thank you, but no.  I am holding a ticking time bomb.  There is no telling how much more there is to come. The other four children are equal risks.  The whole joint could be swimming in vomit within the hour.  We have to go.  

Amazingly, we got back to my in-law's house without any more hurling.  I bathe my poor sick girl and we snuggle together underneath warm towels.  I'm still waiting for the barfy deluge I am certain is coming.  In the mean time, we need to address her fever.  I usually bring a bottle of baby Tylenol and a thermometer with me when I travel, but not this weekend.  My mother-in-law rummages up an ancient bottle from the back of her cupboard.  It expired in 2002.  But, hey, 13 years out of date is better than nothing, right?

Ana refused to drink it.  Smart girl.
I can't tell you what concoction Robert's mom gave Ana to break her fever.  It's top secret.  I can tell you that orange soda and ice cream were involved.  But that's as far as I'll go. 

Thus dawns the sixth day of our holiday vacation.  Monday was grey and snowy.  Ana was feverish but not barfy.  The boys had hit the outer limits of sugar tolerance and were bipolar zombies.  I was a werewolf bit cranky.  It was time to go home!

We had just finished running a few last minute errands before we left town.  The engine was still smoking.  A grumbling rumble made me wonder if the muffler had a hole in it.  Robert said if we just kept it under 50 mph we should make it home alright.

Okay.  This is going to be a long drive.

 We took the I-44 exit, heading east to Tulsa.  A junky blue pickup puttered along in front of us.  Robert didn't want to slam on the brakes on an icy curve, so he gently moved to pass the wizened old man who was clutching the steering wheel.  True, there was not exactly a passing lane, but there was enough shoulder to pull it off.


In that exact moment Ol' Faithful wheezed her last.  The engine knocked about with a terrific clamor, the whole van was vibrating and shimmying to beat the band.  We coasted off onto the shoulder as the wizened old man puttered past us in his junky blue truck.


After offering a fervent thanksgiving that we were not halfway to Tulsa, Robert called his dad to come get us.  As we waited, Robert tried pouring some extra oil into the engine.  He could see it stream right on through a gaping hole onto the pavement.  We had burnt up our engine.

Even though we were still in Oklahoma City, it took awhile for Robert's dad to get to us.  It seemed like forever.  The bitter cold seeped in and we were thoroughly chilled in no time.  The boys did their best to keep us entertained, though, reading jokes to each other.

Cy: "What does a mouse and a wheel have in common?"
Alvin: "A dead mouse!" (not the real answer, by the way. Do you know?)

Just when I was ready to rip the corny joke book out of their frozen fingers, our cavalry arrived in a GMC Suburban.

Thank you, Lord!

Crank up the heat!

Ron graciously loaned us his suburban to drive home in while he works on repairing the van.  He called yesterday with the official diagnosis: both the oil pan and the transmission pan were ripped up.  The engine is toast.  We need a new engine, if not a new vehicle. 

That was some pothole.

I have so many things to be thankful for.  We weren't in a horrible accident.  We weren't stranded between Wellston and Stroud.  Ana didn't have E Coli, Salmonella, Ebola or even Comet aspiration pneumonia.  Don't ask why that was a valid concern . . . 

Although our state experienced extreme weather in every corner, we were safe and comfortable.  Nothing we needed was lacking.

Dee has a great story to tell at karate. (where they all know how to appreciate a black eye!) Thanks to it being the end of the year, this might turn out to be the cheapest emergency room visit ever.  Thank you, Lord for insurance!

I am reminded once more that God is good, all of the time.  Even if the worst case scenario had played out, even if I had had a Job's sort of weekend, I still have a shelter in Jehovah.  I give thanks for the mercies He showered us with in 2015, up to the very last second.  I look forward to certain grace for 2016.  Life is uncertain.  God is faithful.

Happy New Year!