Tuesday, May 02, 2017

3 Things I've Learned - Twelve Years Later

Hello, dear friends.

When I started this blog in 2005, I had 3 children under the age of 6. It's hard to remember what that life was like. Pictures tell me it was filled with toy cars, Legos, PBS, and enough chicken nuggets to build a small fort.
Our crew -- year unknown...2010? But we were obviously happy because, I mean...see what we're eating?

Today, I have 4 children under the age of (almost) 16. Our lives are full of cords and their chargers, books, Apple TV, sports equipment, and still...sadly...chicken nuggets. Sometimes.

I love looking back at posts like this, where it was all I could do to get a small moment of alone time. I was simply treading water at times, keeping my head above the waves, desperate for friendship and connection in the midst of raising little people. (Here's a hilarious old post where I ponder the future of a very famous athlete...so embarrassing...)

We're out of the dizzying years of toddlers and preschool, and in the thick of teen brains and school-age drama. Here's a collection of what I've learned, or rather, what I think is important to remember.

1.) There is no EASY child. I hate it when people say kids are "hard" or "easy," as if children are a Geometry test. Every child is a challenge because every child is a unique and interesting set of DNA. We decide somehow that children are "easy" when they are obedient, quiet, and do all the thing WE want them to do. Pretty sad, really. Instead, I've realized that every Mama has her own journey to travel. I will not look with pride or envy at a journey that is not my own. I will link arms with you, friend, and do my best to listen and love you as you go.

2.) Auto-pilot is not for marriages. My husband and I did not have a regular date night, nor did we have extravagant yearly outings. All we did was take a date every now and then, and every now and then, we got away from the kids for more than one night. It was oxygen for our marriage. We sent silly texts to each other. We smiled at each other across the room. We didn't argue in front of kids (well, not too much...) and we tried to be playful and affectionate at all times. It hasn't been perfect and we mess up a lot, but it's still good. Very, very good.

3. Sometimes just being there really is all you need to do. Wait, seriously? Just be there? Yes. Just be in the kitchen, the car, at the game. Be there and be nice. When they are ready to talk, you are available. You'll live your life and they'll watch you. They will learn and they will grow and they will become these cool people who make you laugh so hard at the kitchen table, you can't breathe.

I read a lot of books. I prayed a lot. But I think I needed to relax a little more, laugh a little more. These days are shorter than you think. Enjoy them, Mama.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

What I'm Into (November 2015)

Oh, hello! I'm copying Modern Mrs. Darcy, who does a little monthly update on what she's reading, watching, cooking -- whatever is just floating her little boat at the time. Here's my version...

What I've Been Reading...

One of my new favorite authors is now K.A. Holt - a middle-grade author of novels in verse like House Arrest and Rhyme Schemer. Both books have boy protagonists who struggle with being labeled a "bad kid." Great for any age, but especially 5-8 graders.

I finally read a classic I've always wanted to read! Of Mice and Men! I absolutely loved East of Eden, which felt like the Mother Book of All Books, but I'd never read this tiny novel. I was stunned by the ending, which I think was the punch Steinbeck wanted. I wish I'd read this book in college and had the opportunity to discuss it with people much smarter than me. Let me know what YOU thought of the book - please!

Another favorite this month was The Nest by Kenneth Oppel. This one pleasantly surprised me. I can't even really describe it, except to say it's about a little boy struggling with good and evil. And wasps. Just read it.

As always, I put EVERYTHING I'm reading on the Goodreads website, so "friend" me to see all the books I'm reading and have read this year. (I'm trying to read 100 books in 2015; I think I'm going to make it!)

What I've Been Listening To...

Tori Kelly became my best friend this summer with her album Unbreakable. Wow. But just when I got tired of those songs, she came out with "Hollow" - a single I'm loving with lyrics that feel more spiritual than most songs she's written.

Now, this is where you'll really think I'm crazy, but I found an old chorale piece from my college days - "All That Hath Life and Breath Praise the Lord" on iTunes. It time-travels me back to a place in my life where I was singing EVERY.DAY. and I really miss that. Especially singing REALLY HIGH. That was fun. Here's a video of a choir singing it. It's not MY college choir, but it's strangely similar...

And since it's that time of year where I dig through my old holiday music, I jam out to old Whitney Houston Preacher's Wife soundtrack, the Jackson Five Christmas album, and Israel & New Breed's A Timeless Christmas. Christmas means soul music, people.

Where I've Been in the World...

I was so blessed to head over to Minneapolis for the NCTE Convention (English Teacher Nerd Fest, as a particular son of mine called it.)  My friend Kristyn (4-6 grade teacher) and I ate at the Melting Pot, walked the SkyWalk 100 times, listened to Lois Lowry (author of The Giver) talk about childhood and reading, and yes, met the most amazing writer on the planet: Kate DiCamillo:

Kate wrote Because of Winn-Dixie, Flora and Ulysses, The Magician's Elephant, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, among several others. I still can't believe she spoke to me and took a picture with me. It was a pretty amazing moment. (See Facebook/Insta :)

What's Keeping Me From Losing My Mind...

How are you heading into December? Worried? Anxious? Excited? I'm a little of all three. We are in the thick of basketball with 4 children, but I'm thankful for each day. I don't need to hurry; there are enough hours in the day for what matters most.

If you don't normally do an Advent study, consider She Reads Truth! It's an app and a website that help me stay in God's Word on a daily basis. That's the one book I read everyday, no matter what!

Your turn-- What are you into lately?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

5 Things I Learned in September

I'm linking up with sweet Emily P. Freeman today, as she invites other bloggers to share what they learn each month. Go read her books, for crying out loud! She's a favorite.

This past week, I've tried to decide what I've learned this month, how to share it here. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Sip, don't guzzle.  I seem to be "guzzling" lately - reading too fast, eating mindlessly, speeding when there's no need ('cause sometimes there IS a need, right??), and simply losing my ability to focus. This is never good for my soul. I can almost feel it drying up and wrinkling when I go this pace for too long. Thankfully, the Lord brought a book into my life that stopped me "mid-guzzle." The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski is the kind of book you sip one rich word at a time.

I didn't realize how much multi-tasking I was really doing until I read this book, which led to a hurried soul, unable to rest in the Lord. I will be taking my time with this one.

2. Give room for the Holy Spirit.  I am learning that, too often, I try to be the Holy Spirit to my children. What I mean is that I try to control their decisions, their convictions, (and anything else I can control, let's be honest) which results in them relying on ME instead of GOD.

If I can't help them listen to HIS voice, I inevitably insert my own. I am not God. I am not the Holy Spirit. Dear child, you must know Christ on your own. For example, I really wanted my oldest to make a particular decision that I believed would be so good for him. It would help him grow and develop as a believer. Instead of pushing him, I was delighted to see God truly help him come to this decision on his own. Without my interference! What do you know?!

Lesson learned. Back off, Mama, and pray more.

3. One Password is All I Need

There is no way on God's green earth I can keep track of all these usernames and passwords, people. And is it just me, or is it a little disconcerting when everything starts to go digital?! A paperless society is coming, folks, and may the odds be ever in your favor.
Well, in the meantime, let the One Password App help you out. I put in ONE BLOOMIN' PASSWORD and I'm in. This is where you can store all your other username/password combos. Cool.

4. Preaching is Actually Fun.  This past week, I presented a message at our JH/HS retreat for school. I was a little nervous, but excited to share. I mean, teaching is basically like preaching, right? Well. Sort of. I found myself thinking about the message constantly, and feelings of doubt and anxiety kept me from falling asleep some nights.

But the actual preaching itself? Pretty exciting! I love the way the Lord moves and works in ways I never anticipated. I think everyone should preach at least once in a lifetime -- it certainly changes the way you view your Pastor!

5. Selfies vs. Shark Attacks

It's official: more people have died in 2015 from taking selfies than from shark attacks. This article goes into more detail, but it's the random bizarre fact that won't leave my brain. We have officially been killing ourselves by being obsessed by ourselves. Mercy.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

This One's For Torny

{"Torny" is what I call Nathan Tornquist. I know it's weird, but there are many Nathan's in my little world, so that's what he became, somehow.}

Nathan is a student and friend at the school where I teach. This year, he should be enjoying his Junior year, playing soccer or shooting hoops, or just being a normal teenager. Instead, he's laying on his couch at home, patiently waiting for a miracle.

Around February of this past year, Nathan contracted mono. He went home and never seemed to get any better. He suffered from extreme headaches and fatigue, which kept him from simple tasks like reading, walking, and everyday life. That began his life of doctor visits, medications, and confusion about what was really going on. (You can read more at his CaringBridge website)

At the time of this writing, it appears he may have Lyme's disease that has gone untreated for a very long time. We continue to hope and pray along with his parents that this will end soon for Nathan. It's been a long, dark process of questions and tears.

Parents, can you feel this pain with me? Do you understand how difficult it would be to watch your son or daughter suffer and not be able to fix it? Some of you know. Some of you get it.

I've had sick children in my house, even to the point of a trip to the Cities for further testing, but nothing - NOTHING - like this. So, instead of really leaning in and praying for Nathan, I honestly stopped remembering to pray for this young man. It was too confusing and painful to think about.

But early this summer, Nathan sent me a Facebook message. A simple note reaching out for prayer and encouragement. It haunted me. It reminded me of one of my greatest fears: the suffering of my children. As I was driving after receiving that message, I felt like God said clearly to me, "Fight for Nathan." Three words. I had no idea what that meant, exactly, but I couldn't NOT do anything anymore.

I emailed 3 other people and asked if they would help me "fight" for Nathan. It simply meant we would commit to visiting with Nathan on a consistent basis, just going to his home to talk, pray, sing, read scripture, and encourage him. Can I be honest? I was scared. But all 3 people said "absolutely."

Hanging out with Nathan has shifted something in me. I go there to encourage him, to pray and talk about what he's going through, but I leave with a new sensitivity and understanding of what it means to FIGHT.

Fighting, in the spiritual sense, sometimes means simply SHOWING UP. It means, "I'm here. I don't know what I'm doing, but God does, and I know He's a good God." Listen, I have never been good at compassion and empathy. When my kids fall, I am a "eh, shake it off, kid" kind of Mom. This is WAY out of my comfort zone, which is definitely a good thing.

Would you pray for my Torny?
Would you simply listen for who God might be telling you to fight for?
And what if YOU are in the battle and your arms are weary? Pray for a few soldiers to come alongside you. Fighting is what soldiers do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Books for Reluctant Readers

You might be wondering if tweens/teens actually read anymore.
I mean, they have Xbox, smart phones, and Netflix, right? Books can be very easy to ignore. But I'm here to happily report: they ARE reading. In my experience as a teacher, I see this age group as passionate and engaged with books. There is hope for the future of America. Amen and Glory!
Here's the thing: it takes a lot of time and energy to find good books for kids. Not everyone has hours to peruse Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but for me? It's probably the best part of my job! I've seen these books win over teens time and time again, so, I'm delighted to share with you.
When you bring them home, don't offer him incentives or nag, just set them on the coffee table or on his dresser and say NOTHING. In fact, it might help to say, "Ya know, these might be too mature for you, but I thought I'd risk it." (Insert evil laughter)
I have intentionally thought of boys when writing this post, but girls have also loved all of these titles.
So in no particular order:
1. The Homelanders Series by Andrew Klavan - There are 4 books in this series about a boy on the run. The link I have here is for all four books in one volume, which might be a bit much, but it's a great value!
2. The Michael Vey Series by Richard Paul Evans - I cannot recommend these books enough. Boys and girls both have loved these books about an ordinary kid with extraordinary powers. There are four books out right now, but the final series will be seven books total.
3. The Ascendance Trilogy -  by Jennifer Nielsen - These might be more fun for younger teens (grades 5-8) but they have been a winner every time. If they like these books, check out her latest title in a different series called The Mark of the Thief.
4. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson - This author is unbelievable. He's been writing in the Fantasy genre for many years, but now he's breaking into more Adventure/Action writing. This book would be more for older teens.

5. The Beyonders and Fablehaven Series by Brandon Mull - These books are for fans of fantasy and adventure. Also, don't miss his new series, Five Kingdoms.

6. Outlaw by Ted Dekker - If your older teen hasn't read any Ted Dekker, now is the time! Dekker has so many great novels to choose from that are filled with great truths told through compelling (and sometimes downright creepy) stories.

Summer Reading Tips for Teens:
  • Institute a "tech-free" time each night. Maybe by 9:30/10 PMall screens go off and the books come out.
  • Get your teen to the library once in awhile, or head to Barnes & Noble for a quick check on what's new.
  • Reading on a screen is okay, but I think it usually leads to other games/distractions. Fill your house with books, so there are no excuses!

Friday, February 27, 2015

3 Favorite Books From February

There is a huge sigh of relief that comes at the end of February for me. My soul shouts:
YES! We made it! The coldest months are behind us and even though there could be a few cold days ahead, they will succumb to the inevitable, delightful Spring. Amen and Amen.

Here are a few of the best books from the frigid month of February.

Wait. First of all, if you haven’t watched a Kid President video, I’m sorry. Stop everything you’re doing and watch this:

I promise, it’s probably the best thing on the YouTubes and Googles combined. I simply adore him and the message. I’ve been intrigued by him from the start, so I had to read The Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome, of course. It’s filled with stories about people who are doing awesome things like helping kids read in poor communities, giving away eyeglasses, and handing out cupcakes to homeless people. It’s impossible to read this book without feeling inspired.

Good News for Weary Women by Elyse Fitzpatrick was another encouraging book - lots of highlighting and YES in the margin. I appreciated her no-nonsense way of taking my attention to the scriptures to find my identity and not Christian culture. Sometimes we see other Christian women and think – Oh, should I be doing that? Or this? Christ’s sacrifice for me makes me righteous. NOTHING. ELSE. I needed that.

You know I love getting good books for my classroom and I found GOLD this month with Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt. Oh my goodness. This companion book to The Wednesday Wars is nothing short of genius. I loved it because it broke my heart and put it back together again. No biggie.

Other books I read this month: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm (middle grade fiction), Home is Where My People Are by Sophie Hudson (memoir), The Honest Truth (middle grade fiction)

Your turn! What books have you read lately that I need to know about?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Six Books That Blew My Mind (Part II)

Well, howdy! Welcome to Part II of the six books that blew my mind. This post isn't about books I've just read in the last year, they are the books I've read over my lifetime that I cannot recommend enough to you. Scroll down to see the first three, The Gift of an Ordinary Day, Montana 1948, and The Gift of The Sea. Here are the rest!

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

What drew me to this book...

It almost seems cliché to even put this book on the list, but I would feel dishonest if I didn't write about it here. It really is a life-changing book.

In 1996, fresh out of college, I was required to teach this novel. I was embarrassed that I'd never read it before myself. But I cracked it open, and finally realized what all the fuss was about.

This book is not only an excellent story about a girl, her father, and a small town in Alabama. This is a story about what it means to be human and walk on this earth with people who don't happen to look like you or live like you.

The book moved or changed me by...

exposing the deep racism of the our country, especially in the south, in the 1930s and 40s. It made me laugh, cry, get angry, and fall in love with literature all over again. And, miracle of miracles, the movie adaptation is just as excellent as the novel. I think everyone reads this book/watches this movie wanting a Daddy like Atticus, no matter how wonderful your Daddy was. (Oh Gregory Peck! Actor of the ages!)

One quote or section that stands out to me from this book is: (This is the scene in the courtroom that always makes me weep. The verdict has been read and almost everyone has left the courthouse. Everyone except Scout, her father Atticus, and the black people in the balcony.)

Scout (Jean Louise)describes the scene:

"Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus' lonely walk down the aisle. "Miss Jean Louise?" I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Syke's voice was as distant as Judge Taylor's: "Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'."

5. The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

What drew me to this book?

This is a "Christmas" book for the advent season, but I think a person could read it and enjoy it any time of year. I read Voskamp's first book, One Thousand Gifts, but I was more moved by this book for some reason. I think I appreciated the build-up to the coming of the Savior and the way she opened up my eyes to parts of scripture in a new light.

The book moved or changed me by...

helping me slow down this past advent season and really worship Christ. My December is usually just bonkers: basketball season starts up, the house needs to get "Christmas-y" and I feel the pressure to buy gifts and send out cards, and...oh, you know. A Mama's Nightmare in 3-D.

But this book seriously helped me rise above all that. I wanted a Christmas where Christ really was the center. Could it happen? Yes, but it's a daily battle! It was in the journaling response section after each daily reading that helped center my thoughts on Christ instead of my lengthy to-do list. (I hope that Voskamp's future books have this sort of set-up...)

One quote or section of the book that stands out for me:

You don't need to climb mountains named I Will Perform.
You don't need to climb mountains named I Will Produce.
Every mountain that every Christian ever faces, the Lord levels with sufficient grace: The Lord Will Provide.

6. The Beautiful Daughters by Nicole Baart

What drew me to this book?

I'm so excited to tell you about this author. I have enjoyed her previous novels like Far From Here and Sleeping In Eden, but this book (which hasn't even been released yet!) is by far my favorite. I have a friend who is reading it right now, but I'll try to remember as much of it as possible for you.

I had connected with the author, Nicole Baart on Twitter and she'd been so kind as to send some goodies to my classroom for my students who love her books. I won this book through Twitter when Nicole was giving away advanced copies.

I completely DEVOURED it.

There are several layers and stories going on at once, and it kept me guessing until the very end. It's the saga of best friends who lost touch with one another and reunite through a series of tragedies. I especially loved the vivid descriptions; I feel like I've been "in" this book, if that makes sense.

This book moved or changed me by:

I want to be clear that this isn't "Christian fiction" -- I'm not even sure I know what that genre really means. The story doesn't end with a neat, clean finish. Life is messy. Relationships are complicated. Faith can be hard to hold onto. I do know that Nicole loves the Lord, and writes through that lens. But she's not afraid of hard topics such as sex trafficking or abuse or doubt. 

She writes bravely, which translates into a glimmering diamond of a novel.

I'm sorry; I don't have a quote to share because I don't have the book at the moment.
Look for it in late April!