Sunday, October 30, 2011

Things I love...

* Having family come and visit and deepening relationships
* Beautiful days full of sunshine, sunglasses, scarves, and flip flops
* Sharing experiences with my kids that involve pumpkins, racing, and picnics
* Shrimp stir fry
* Bonfires
* Someone doing my dishes
* Someone making my coffee
* Someone making me a drink
* Dates with my husband
* New adventures on my date
* Family snuggle time
* Watching my kids carve their first pumpkins
* Eating pumpkin seeds for the first time of the season
* Time with my Aunt Carol and Aunt Barb, two women who I grew up admiring and loving and watching them love my kids and my kids fall in love with them.
* Middles obsession with collections and small puppies
* Baking with my kids
* Finding recipes that work with our diet so we don't have to sacrifice tradition
* Sleep
* The warmth and smell of fresh clean sheets
* Watching my middle son's love of homeless people, experiencing his choice to introduce himself and find out who they are
* Special time with middle grocery shopping
* Holding hands with my husband
* Giggling with my kids
* Reading stories with my kids
* Praying with my kids
* Conversations with big when he is not under the influence
* Big's tender heart and compassion
* Little's silly dances
* Little's five dimples

This weekend, I was reminded of why I love my Aunt's so much.
This weekend, I fell in love with my kids a little bit more.
This weekend, my heart opened for my husband even more.

It was a good weekend, filled with so many things I love.

(One thing I don't love? Teething. Colds. Buggers. Poop. Crying. There was a lot of that this weekend too.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I haven't been out speaking in about six months.

It's been a long time, and I have been able to tell. However, God knew exactly what my life would become and I believe it was intentional. There was no space in my life, my head, or my heart to be a leader to others. To inspire others. To even put normal clothes for others. It wasn't my time.

This past weekend I got to go away to MO to a camp and retreat I have spoken at before. I fly into KC and then drive for three hours down to camp. This not only provided an opportunity to do what I love, but to also reconnect, refresh, and unwind my soul.

I decided to only bring my bible, Thomas Merton's, "No man is an Island" and "The Shack" as reading material. I was hoping, planning, and expecting to get some good time talking and listening and reconnecting with God. My daily life provides a whirlwind of activity and constant cry's out to God, but this was going to be long winded and dedicated time. I was excited and nervous, as I always am when I try to listen as God speaks. He usually has love to pour on me, but I haven't ever come away from time listening to God where I haven't seen some place in my life that could change for the better.

This is what I learned this weekend.

I have noticed how often I pray for wisdom. I pray for myself, my Paul and I as parents and I especially pray it over my children. I want them to be wise in their choices and living. As I was reading scripture in my cabin, I realized while praying over what I was reading that as much as I ask God for wisdom, I am not searching his word for it. When I read scripture most often it is for praise or encouragement or just to read anything to get his word in my heart. I don't intentionally seek it and search it for wisdom. It seems kind of elementary, but God revealed to me that he wants to speak wisdom into my heart and into my parenting, but I need to be reading and searching for his wisdom.

Lesson learned. God was kind as he showed me my missing piece to this puzzle.

The second thing was how often I pray for myself or my issues. This came about in two parts. First, that it would be good to pray not only for myself and my family but for all of those who I love and even those I don't know. I need to be pulled out of my own little life and remember so many others who need to be lifted up in prayer.

The other piece of this is that I often struggle alone, talk to God alone and pray alone over my issues. This leaves out my partner and best friend. After I have struggled with an issue and God has helped point me to an answer, that is when I inform my husband. He usually gets taken off guard and it's hard for him to catch up. I want to remember and need to include in my struggles. But more than that, I want to invite him in the prayer process with me. When we pray, it is most often just for our children and daily strength. I want to pray over things that God is doing in my heart, open our conversation to see what he is doing in our marriage, and if one of us is being led in a specific way, that God would keep us united in that process.

I can't just assume that what God has told me, he has told my husband, unless we are talking and praying together.

Two fundamental foundational practices, but I had forgotten. Time away this weekend, provided the opportunity to reconnect with the basics, and fall in love with the Lord all over again. I mean this in a way of spending quality time with someone, not just frantic, crazed, cry out for help kind of way, even though that is still good, it's not the same.

God has a way of providing what we need to keep taking the next step. One step at a time.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Moments make a difference

Most days I can look around and you would have no idea what I had accomplished. OK, most days I look around and I don't even know what I accomplished. I think most of us can say that.

When we measure life by what we accomplish than we will forever be disappointed, depressed, and unsatisfied with life.

Does what I say really matter?
Is what I am doing really making a difference?
Am I contributing anything to the betterment of mankind and the earth that God created and entrusted us with?
What am I doing with my life?
Does anyone see me? Does anyone hear me?

Almost exactly one year ago my husband and I were on Mackinaw Island with my parents at an adult retreat. They host this retreat once every three years and we get to stay in the grand hotel, and it is MARVELOUS! I spend three days digging out all my fun clothes, accessories, and jewelry that doesn't fit in my normal life, and I let it live in the fantasy of fancy. It's lovely, and romantic, and refreshing. (Paul just looked at me today and said, do we get to go back next year? No honey, two more years, but I feel the same way!)

Last year we took a bike ride around the island. Here's my folks.

And here's Paul and I. Yes we are on a tandem bike, its the romantic thing to do. (And lazy thing to do for the person on the back. Yea, that's me. I'm no fool, but the view is nice.)

On our way around the island, which is an 8.2 mile ride, we were talking, laughing and enjoying each others company. Then each of us individually were noticing these rock statues.

I remember seeing my first one, and thinking, "that's fun. Someone created a fun statue and its still standing."

Then we saw another one.

Which lead to dozens more.

It was beautiful. We all felt the same thing and stopped to take it in. For more than two miles the statues just kept showing up. Then we saw some folks building their own. Paul decided to do one too.

Some folks built their own. Others were adding to what previous artists started. They were continuing the project.

I don't know who started the rock project, but here is a small look at where it went and where it is going.

The horizon is filled and scattered with one idea transformed into hundreds of interpretations. I don't know if one person or one group of people started the rock project, but in its idea and execution, it inspired others to participate.

To move.
To act.
To add.
To create.
To be apart of something.

Mile after mile we saw these rock creations. Dozens turned into hundreds and then we stopped counting. We built our own. We added to others. We watched others stop in awe, take photo's. We listened as others talked about it. We witnessed dozens of others be moved to create their own. To be apart of the project.

To be apart of the idea, with their own creativity put in.

I'm not sure that the original creator(S) thought this would catch on as it has. Rumor has it (according to the web) that the rock project also exists on the east coast and in other countries along their coast.

One idea.
One action.
One creative moment.

It's turned into island wide project, that went global.

I give and give and give. I pour out into my children and youth groups. I try my hardest to be there for friends in need. I talk and talk and talk, and wonder, truly if any of it matters.

I, like you, have no idea where my words and actions land. I can't control what memories of me my children will choose to hold onto. I have had people repeat my own words to me, and nothing is scarier to me than that. Hearing from them, what they gained of what I said or did.

We are creatures that pour out ourselves into others to strengthen life, but most often we have no idea about the effect of our pouring out. What result does it provide? Did it do anything?

A life is filled with small moments. The moments that make up the whole of our life. I think often times I am weighed down by the grand gestures, or looking at someones whole life instead of the moments that lead them there. This is how ridiculous it is. I saw the movie, "Social Network" and was struck by how one person changed the course of history. I thought, what I am doing with my life? I think of Mother Theresa whom I admire with the depth of my soul, and think, can I love and live like that? What about all my friends who travel the width of the world and are giving up everything to love and serve those in need. I see all these great and grand lives and I feel small. I wonder if what I do matters at all.

But I think of this huge art structure and how one person inspired hundreds by one moment.

This is the truth that we need to hold on to. It isn't in the grand scheme of life, but in the moments that make up our life. Those are the moments that inspire and change the course of history. When I pour out into the people around me, I will most likely never know what effect I had on their life. I will not know how God uses me to help, love, inspire, change others. Just as I can think of dozens of things others have said to me that have influenced my life, and they don't know that.

If I live for the grand idea of the whole of life, I will miss the moments I live in every day. The moments where I hold my kids tighter. When I can sit on my stoop and then neighbors start gathering and we start talking about life and faith. When my kids want to give money and pray for the homeless man on the street. When I pray over my children. When I talk to customer service and we have a nice chat and we both feel blessed by it. (not usually the case) When I can weep and share my burden with my mom and her encouragement and listening ear is when I can feel God sharing life with me.

I may not get to Haiti this year. Even putting that our there, I want to take it back. I am starting to cry already. Going to Haiti each year feels grand to me, and when I feel sad a little depressed about it, I have to remember, that I can serve, love, and pour into anyone and all people. They don't need to be half way around the world.

The important thing to remember is that we must pour out. To give. To love. To listen. To invest.

I believe compassion is mercy without judgement. Getting to know someone. Loving them for the sake of love and letting God take care of the rest.

Make your moments count.

You never know when loving someone catches on. When listening to someone becomes all the rage instead of giving advice, give your ear. Give your heart even if its scary. Give your honesty to yourself and be free from expectations that only you hold to yourself. Give your life to Christ and find the fulfillment of loosing yourself to one who loves you more than you thought possible.

To find this truth, one must pour out and live in the moment.

When we add up all the little things of life into the whole of life, that is when the picture becomes complete. We see all that our moments of our lives have made a difference.

Be encouraged today that God is working through you whether you believe in him or not, he believes in you.

God is in each moment.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Life Lessons with Middle

Sometimes I think I have this idea in my head about what time with God would look like. Time where he teaches me, calms me, reminds me of his power. Time to talk with him and time to listen.

Ideally, this time would be when I am alone, the space around me is quiet and I can concentrate. I would also have have a book of inspiration, the Bible, and my journal.

Lately, when I think about my conversations and times of learning from God, none of these things are present. I'm not even alone.

What I have learned in the last two weeks is that if we are paying attention, we will notice that most of the time, these ideals won't be our reality. We just need to be present with our minds open, our hearts attune, and our ears listening, with our eyes keeping watch. God is ever present and always speaking.

Since Big has been in school, I have had lots of time with middle in the car. Without Big to share the conversation with, middle has my undivided attention to ask all the questions rolling around in his brain. And as all four year olds do, the questions are never ending and always completely random to the adult ear.

In the last two weeks middle has developed a thirst for theology and all questions relating to God and his power. Cement trucks, car engines, stores, money, food, poor people, superhero's, his questions all start somewhere in here and end up in the Bible. Here is what we have been discussing;

Why is a cement truck always moving?
What does a solid mean?
What does a liquid mean?
How does a car get liquid gas and turn it into a vapor that comes out the back?
If its like magic than it is more powerful than God?
Why didn't the disciples just go to the store when they were hungry?
If we are like the disciples and we go to the store, why didn't they? And if God can make a lot of food with a miracle why doesn't he just always do that?
When that guy in the Bible went up to heaven in the Chariot, God wasn't with him, and you said God is always with us. We should draw a picture of God in our Bible so we know he is always there.
Are engines hot?
Why don't we pour water into our cars to cool them off?
If we are going down hill, why aren't we moving? (while we are stopped at the light)
What moves the car, the wheel, the pedal or the tires?
Can clouds move through anything?
If things go through clouds than why didn't Jesus fall through the clouds when he went up into heaven?
Why can't we reach the end of the rainbow?
If I was bigger than Noah would I be older than him?

(And this is just a small taste of what I get. I didn't include my answers because frankly that would take way too much time. My husband and I have the unfortunate ability to answer our children with very adult answers which just brings on more questions. But we love their curiosity and don't ever want it to go away.)

The thing about all these questions is that it has revealed to me things I knew but didn't realize I really knew. Ever do that? Not ponder how liquid becomes a gas, but then when questioned about, you realize you know how its done? This has been what it's like with middle. His questions range from the deep to the wide, and I am surprised by my limited knowledge that I don't ever explore.

But there is also the faith issue. The theology, the understanding, the belief in something that I go weeks, or months, or years without pondering, and then when questioned, I have to answer. I have to think about what is it that I believe. If I don't have an answer, it challenges me to think about it, to truly develop an opinion about what I am about to say.

What is my belief about people being inherently good or evil?
Do I describe people as good or bad, or just people who make good or bad choices?
How does God make grass grow?
Why if God can feed the 5,000 with a miracle can't he feed the homeless person?
Why is it so hard to make good choices?
Why doesn't Jesus fall through the clouds when he flies up to heaven?
If God is always present, why isn't he painted in all the pictures of the Bible?
How can God be in my heart and up in the sky? How can he be in all places at one time?
Do I really believe that God is all powerful?
If God is really bigger than the boogy man then why do I get scared?
Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?
What kind of bodies will we get in heaven? Is it our baby bodies or our old bodies?

You know what's hard about having and not having answers to these questions? (and yes these are all questions that I received from my son these past two weeks in the car, or his questions have lead to me to ask the questions above myself.)

The answer to these questions don't just shape my life, my faith, my journey, they are also shaping the highly influential lives of my kids. My answers shape their understanding of God and who he is, who they are, and what life is about and how they exist in it. That task feels overwhelming and exciting.

The exciting part is watching how God uses my son to help teach me, challenge me, and encourage me in my faith, all the while to also shape his. If there are good guys and bad guys and life is that black and white, than which one am I? Can I switch teams, or am I always good or bad? (PLEASE don't let that be true, because I'm pretty sure I would exist on the bad guy team. It's just in my nature.)

So here I am everyday in the car, waiting for my time with the Lord. Waiting for him to teach me, challenge me and make me think about and own my faith. Two days ago, we picked Big up from school and had to head down to the energy assistance office in south Mpls. After that we headed to uptown because we needed some items from the Co-op. On our way out of the store, there was a homeless man standing on the corner with his cardboard sign. Middle begged me to give him a dollar so he could give it to him. Middle rolled down his window and gave the man two dollars and introduced himself. That's when we met Kurt.

Driving away, I suggested that we pray for Kurt. In our prayer we discussed that we didn't know Kurt situation and we hoped that someone who had more could come and help him. We prayed that through all the circumstances in Kurt's life, he would see God's hand guiding him and that he would never feel alone. We prayed that we would see Kurt again in Heaven. When the prayer was over, middle suggested that we should have invited Kurt home with us because he had more money in bank and he wanted to give it to Kurt to help him. I told middle it was a really great idea, but that it wasn't safe to invite people into our homes that we don't know.

Middle's response?

"Mom, if we invited home with us, we could get to know him and then he would be our friend. If we get to know him, he won't be a stranger anymore."

Mmmm....and there was the truth.

If we would only get to know him. Her. Them. Whoever it is that we keep at a distance.

After that, middle asked that when we don't have anymore money, could we stand on the corner and draw a cardboard sign? He was excited to work on his letters.

Hmmmm... Not sure how dad or papa will feel about that. Clearly we still have some work to do. I did mention to middle that we were blessed to have friends and family who help us when we are struggling. Which then threw us into another conversation about Kurt and how alone he was. We prayed again. Middle couldn't give up on the idea of giving Kurt more money, but then wisely noted, "But mom, if we give Kurt all our money we won't have any. We still need money too right mom? To buy toys?"

Close. Or food. We would use it on food.

I was touched by son's heart. A heart of compassion. A heart free of judgement. A heart willing to see what God would and could do if people stopped to get to know one another.

I love my afternoons with my son and with my creator God who can bring his truth into all avenues of my life, even when I sleep through our appointed time.

Don't get me wrong, I think appointed times are critical, crucial, effective, helpful, and full of blessings and wisdom. However, life happens sometimes and we can't ever assume that just because we didn't show up, God won't. He'll show up whenever he wants, and mostly when he knows we need it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Milk, school and crazy

Big's first week of school he came home so excited that his school offered Rice Milk. He loved that he could have milk with his friends.

Mom sense 1 went off. *weird that a school offers rice milk, huh, but it's a trend setting school in the city where all sorts of opportunities are offered. Maybe it is true.

Big was really sensitive about not getting enough play time after he came home from school. He was really whiny! Really, really, whiny. He would throw a fit and say he hated that he didn't have enough time to play.

Mom sense 2 went off. *Completely understandable watching my son adjust to his new schedule, and he doesn't have as much time play, but man is he whinny. Really, really whinny.

Big took a shower and I came to inspect the job not done. His hair was clearly not washed and I asked him to rewash it. He yelled at me that he wasn't lying and why don't I ever believe him. I'm so rude to not believe him when he is telling the truth. He was so upset it drove him to yells and tears. He wouldn't rewash his hair, so I did it for him. We had a not so nice moment, and I was frustrated by his response.

Mom sense 3 went off. *Being a person who struggled with lying before, I get how frustrating it is to tell someone something and have them not believe you because you past has influenced the present. It's frustrating and the consequence to one very bad choice of sins to commit. I get it. But tears? Really? When you get to play in the water some more, you really have to cry over that? It felt a little too much to me and there was no distracting him in it.

For a whole week Big was really struggling with the morning get ready check list and his responsiblities after school. Very easy, normal kid things. However, when I would remind him of his responsiblities of emptying out his backpack, putting his lunch bag away, taking off his uniform, he was distant, frustrated and had his walls up. He told me being home was no fun and he didn't like responsiblities, even though I have seen him thrive doing it at school.

Mom sense 4 went off. *Everything was starting to feel broken. Adjusting to a new schedule, dad has a new job, life has changed and we are starting to realize that its for good, but all this disconnect felt wrong. I understand that my children have their own life, needs, desires, joys, hurts, but I didn't feel like our relationship should be so strained so early as we navigate being a bigger more responsible kid as a kindergardener.

Then I volunteered to read for Big's class two weeks ago in the morning during teacher prep time. I watched my son put a clothes pin in his pocket on the board. I asked the music teacher what that meant. She explained to me that one pin was for hot lunch and one was for milk. I told her we didn't do any, so he shouldn't be putting a pin in his slot. She told me that if the pin was there, he would recieve it and our account would be charged. There was some more conversation about it and I was left slightly confused. I emailed the teacher, who only speaks Chinese in front of the students so email is the only way to communicate. I asked her to explain the system to me, and told her that beyond Big bringing his own snack, he couldn't have milk. It makes him sick.

*Yes I do define being emotionally and mentally out of control as being sick. His body can't handle it. It makes him crazy and steals our son replacing him with someone else.

The teacher than explained to me that at snack time they always offer milk, and Big has always raised his hand, so he has recieved it. For two and half weeks, he has had a glass of milk every day.

Ahhhhhhh.....and that explains alot.

I remember one morning specifically, I was taking Big to school and we had a fight. I hate fighting, even more fighting and then taking my son to school to be with other people for the whole day. I was loosing my day to make it right. To have good time with him and repair what was broken. And it was broken. There was yelling, words exchanged that shouldn't be on both ends. Frustration, hurt and pain was our morning, and now I was saying goodbye for the day. He would be left with brokeness for the day instead of love and encouragement.

Oh how I hated this! It felt so wrong and I didn't know what to do. In the evenings when we had time together, there would be good moments, but mostly he was just frustrated by all he had to do, or we were never doing the thing he wanted and so he was upset. Everything started to feel like a battle again. Every word, every action, every activity, every direction. All of it felt hard.

I talked to Big and his teacher and explained that he couldn't have milk. I told Big that his teacher didn't understand anything about Rice milk and I would send some to school with him, but he can't have the school's milk. I had all the players in the game on board now.

It took one week to get it out of his system. Then we had this weekend. My son woke up and offered to help make breakfast. I only asked once for him to get dressed. The shower senerio repeated itself and even though he was annoyed with me for the hair issue, I suggested that we experiment. If he rewashes his hair we'll see if it smells like shampoo and if it does that we know he didn't wash it before. I told him I'll sing the ABC's and when I'm done he can be done. He looked at me, said he was annoyed and then said, I can beat you before you're done. The challenge was on. This felt good. This felt right. This felt like my son. He could communicate what he was thinking. He could be annoyed but still play a game with me.

And there was no fight.

There was no challenge.

It was not hard.

I'm not saying that he is perfect. FAR from it. He is still emotional. He is still independant and has hard time focusing on projects he doesn't want to do. He is a normal kid with his own thoughts and emotions.

However, I still can't believe how much food affects him and his behavior. I can't believe how much it breaks us. How it keeps Big from being himself.

For about two weeks, one week for sure, our whole system felt broken. It felt off, and way to hard, but mostly just broken.

Once we knew he had milk and we fixed it, I just kept thinking about all the families who live in this broken place. A place where everything is hard. At every turn you are faced with a challenge. Being with your child is no longer a joy. You start to blame yourself for all thier outbursts, or worse, you start to blame them. A place where the only times you have together are difficult ones and it broke my heart.

I now stand as a big believer that the food we eat has drastically changed and in my very humble opionion it is effecting not just us but especially our next generation. I struggle with my anger and frustration at the food industry for all the way they changed the things we put in our body. You tell me why sugar needs to be in lunch meat? Tell me why yogurt needs to be neon bright?

I'll table this for now, but one of my greatest heartaches right now is watching children and families living in brokeness due to the food that we consume. The anger, guilt, shame, frustration, disappointement that is happeneing because children are being imprisioned by the food they eat.

My greatest joy though is watching moms facing this choice and choosing to try eating allergen free and experiencing thier kids being freed from thier prison. It is hard to do, but I can't stress enough....

It is so, so, so, so, so, so, so, worth it. (did I get enough so's in there? I hope so.)

*Let's throw a disclaimer in there for good measure. I understand with my whole heart that there are other real issues that can effect kids and families. That life circumstances still highly effect families even on a healthy diet. I understand that kids, and adults, can't respond in a healthy way every time something frustrating happens. What I am saying is that I think what we eat and put in our bodies deserves a credible place in the solution to solving all the brokeness. It is ligitimate and a very real thing to change your diet to effect your mood and happiness.

Trust me.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hello Concert Hall!

So this morning we received free tickets to Target's "introduce your kids to classical music" morning at the Ordway theater in St. Paul MN.

Here's us in front of the theater.

Here's what made this morning so fun and interesting;

1. We told the kids we were taking them to a kid concert at a theater. They instantly went to go get dressed up for the occasion. Middle decided that he would wear his play clothes UNDER his dress clothes so he can do a quick "costume" change after the concert. So look at the picture closely and you can see his jeans peeking out of the bottom of his pants. He wore two shirts, two pairs of pants, socks the whole bit. We had his play shoes in my purse.

2. The whole way to the theater, the kids kept asking if we could go up on stage. Was dad playing? Were there going to be space to run around? Do we clap along and can we dance? Clearly my kids are only used to one type of concert, so this was very good for them.

3.The kids sat through the whole concert! Little made it almost to the end. I only missed five minutes and I thought that was really impressive. The St. Paul Orchestra presented "Inside Mozart's piano" and they had an actor portraying Mozart and describing this one piece he wrote. He intertwined humor, a crazy laugh and described the music to the kids. The whole concert was 45 min and perfect for the kids to pay attention. It was really fun and Big kept asking all sorts of great music questions. Middle just kept taking off clothes because he was so warm. Go figure.

4. After the concert we played by the fountain. Here was the best picture we could muster of the kids.

Sadly I think shot is better.

If you notice the seat at the bottom of the fountain, the kids took 20 minutes to play on it. At one point there were other kids also walking around on it. I didn't see it happen, but all of a sudden Big was in the same spot as some other kids and he was going to fall into the fountain, so he lept to the higher ring on the fountain. I was sincerely impressed with his jump, even though in the end he did end up in the water. Water up to his calves. We all laughed and the other dad helped him out.

It was a fun morning listening to Mozart, getting all dressed up and venturing into the city. Playing at the park a little and home for a tasty lunch.

At this point I can probably take Big to the orchestra when he is older, but my other two have no interest. Way to boring according to the peanut gallery.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fun fall day

It started in college. A whole day off during the best season of the year soaking in all the goodness of life. Leaves crunching under your feet with the wind starting to chill and blow at your back. Picking apples off the trees and devouring raspberries. Celebrating the art of baking and creating food from scratch by spending the afternoon in the kitchen and then sitting down with friends to enjoy the spoils of your labor. An all day event celebrating life, friendship, inspiration, and love.

I love fall, like so many others. This past Saturday we celebrated once more with friends with a harvest dinner after a morning of picking apples and raspberries.

our day is best described in photo's but I will disclaim that the best parts of the day were moments to be enjoyed, not worrying about capturing on camera. So there are photo's but they were taken quickly for the benefit of friends who couldn't join us and grandparents to see cute grand kids. If I were an artist, the pictures would be better, but alas, welcome to fun fall day.

***Side note for Laura. If you aren't Laura, than you can pass this paragraph and move forward. Or read on and share this intimate moment with me and my friend. Remember in college when my tooth was going to fall out and I couldn't bite into the apples that we were picking? You would find the perfect apple, bite into it and then give me the bite. We ate a handful of apples that way, and I believe we said, a true friend would eat your apple. This year, Big is missing two teeth and another one is loose. He couldn't bite into his apples, so I did for him what you did for me years ago. My soul always long to be near you this time of year more than normal, but you were especially close to me this year.

When we got to the orchard, we discovered a lot of fun can be had by building a tower out of tires.

Or just dirt. Yes he is saying he is king of the hill.

After we played, we picked raspberries. The fact that food grows on short bushes just her height was like a dream come true for my daughter who is ALWAYS hungry.

Then came the hay ride to the apples.

And the traditional godmother/godson photo on the hayride. Happens every year, and their just so cute.

Look mom, its perfect!

My daughter won't eat an apple at home, but she will off a tree. Guess I need to get an apple tree!

This photo seems a little out of place for her disposition for the day. Considering she was queen cranktastic, it's ironic we are both smiling as if we liked each other. Pretty sure she was mad at everything, even at this moment.

Then here is our attempt at a family photo. Paul and I doing our job, being ready for even slightest chance our children will comply and behave. Middle is hiding behind Paul, Big is the star of the show, and little is watching it all wondering how she got there. It's our best effort, which should tell you something.

After apple picking, comes crab apple ball. Find a large stick, find a sucker who will pitch to you, and practice your swing to see how many apples you can obliterate into tiny pieces.

The cheering section doesn't get any cuter or any more indifferent.

After a wonderful morning outside harvesting apples and raspberries, we went home where we greeted 30 friends with a harvest dinner. I was characteristically unprepared, but loved having all the company in the kitchen to prepare the soup feast. We had soup, summer squash, corn bread, veggies, fruit and enough wine and apple cider to serve an army. We threw blankets over tables and on the ground, put candles in mason jars and for the next five hours, just relaxed and enjoyed each other's company while the kids ran around.

I'll be honest a big part of the fun was being surrounded by all things homemade. Here are the boys pumpkins they made for centerpiece filling a little harvest basket.

Here is a look at the pumpkins I made from fabric that I picked out two years ago! I finally did it! I used to say I only sewed straight lines, but that is no longer the case.

Here is a small look at the food to be shared by all. Food brought by friends, and food prepared from our gardens. It was delicious!

Our yard may be small, and we may be surrounded by boarded up houses, but it didn't dampen anyone spirits! Fall harvest was still in the air.

The moms and babies gathered together!

My kids have a costume trunk filled with outfits to transform them and they love inviting their friends to dress up with them. I think it's just an excuse for them to dress up, though they never needed an excuse before. I think you can pick out two Iron Mans and spider man. No there are no girl options yet.

After supper, we moved the tables, hung the twinkle lanterns and started the bonfire.

While we enjoyed the bonfire, the kids played glowbowling. We took 10 small plastic bottles, filled them with water, added a bit of food coloring and dropped in a corridinating glow stick. The bottles glowed, and the kids bowled. They loved it! Look how cute these little ones are. Didn't capture a photo of them playing, we were too busy enjoying watching them.

They kids also entertained themselves with the bean bag toss. I took old scrap fabric and made some bean bags the night before and it was a huge success. They were competing with boxes, special squares on the quilt, bowls... you name it and they were trying to launch the bean bags into it for points. Here's the fun bean bags. I was pretty happy with how they turned out.

We used primarily real dishes instead of plastic to reduce our garbage waste.

(This is a SMALL taste of piles that also took over the other two counters in my kitchen along with empty wine bottles and cider containers.) That meant the clean up was monumental, but while I was sitting by the fire, my husband did an hour of dishes. While I was saying goodbye to friends, other friends put all our tables and decorations away in the garage, and the clean up was as much as an event as the preparation. We all came together to create and participate in fun fall day.

I remember sitting by the fire, looking around at the incredible people God has put in my life and I was overwhelmed with feeling thankful. It was a celebration day of God's beauty in life. Nature and people alike.

It was a good day.

A very good day.

Too quick to judge

Last night I took my two boys to volunteer at church while Families Moving Forward was there. If you know nothing of this ministry, FMF is an organization that takes a certain number of families and houses them in different churches each week to take care of their housing and meal needs. This allows families to focus on work and saving money. My job with my children was to play with the kids after dinner and help with homework.

We joined everyone at the tail end of dinner. This allowed my kids to play right of the bat, and I was able to visit with some of the parents. It was great getting to know of these parents and talking about how hard it is to provide for the needs of our kids. We talked about the major dysfunction in meal assistance and how harmful the food that is provided is to the body. We talked about our families special diet and the food that is offered to them. It was so enlightening to listen to these parents want more fresh fruit and veggies for their kids, and sometimes their only option is a pudding pack.

I spent a good portion of my meal time with a single dad named Jason, who incidentally is trying to move into a place two blocks from where we live. I'm not sure if I gained more points with him once he learned that. He looked rather surprised that we live in North. I say that because I believe his words were, "WOW, a white chick? You live in north? Get out?" I'm not sure I understand. The diversity is huge all around this city, white people included. But he was super excited to get the names of the programs that have helped us in the past in creating a safer and cleaner place for our kids to live. So there I was, helping at the homeless ministry sharing tips on government programs and how to find that helping hand when you need one.

After playing basketball with the kiddos, Mary, Jason's daughter who is in the second grade, asked me to help her with her homework. She was the star student for the week and she had to complete a poster that was all about her. There were questions like, "What is your favorite color? Favorite food? Who is in your family? Where do you live?"

Simple enough question right? Where do you live? Except if you are Mary or another 37% of grade school students and an even higher percentage of high school students, according to our local Camden neighborhood paper.

Where do you live?

Mary's answer was written without hesitation on her large poster board paper that will be displayed and highlighted to all the students in her grade and school.


That's where Mary lives. She lives in a church. Her mattress is on a classroom floor shared by a handful of other people. The only other person in her family is her dad, who is trying his best to provide what he can for her.

If Mary has a nighttime routine with her dad reading to her, saying prayers, tucking her in, it is disrupted by other kids playing out in the gym. It's disrupted by the doubt and fear of what will happen next. She gets to stay at a church for one week, and then they move. Again.

Mary lives at church. And hopefully not for long, but she is only one of the dozen that were there yesterday. One of hundreds that live in the system just in our city.

I am not here to defend or protest the system, the programs the issues wrong with hand outs and hand ups. I am not staking my claim on either side of this issue.

What struck me was two things.

First, I'm confident you wouldn't know that Mary was homeless or that she lived in a church, unless she told you. She would go to school with her backpack and her clothes that maybe you might notice she wears more than other kids. But lets be honest here. In full disclosure, I have my favorite five outfits and most likely its the only thing you see me wear. If you knew me when I was pregnant at all, I had one skirt. ONE that I wore everyday. I'm not kidding. If it was dirty, I wore my pajama's until it was clean. Then I wore it again. My husband would joke that living with me was like living with the Scooby Doo clan, always wearing the same thing no matter where they were. (I think he burned the skirt. I know he hid the pajama pants.)

My point is, you often don't know the story behind people. We look at people, but we don't see them. We judge before we really get to know. I can only imagine how difficult school must seem to a young girl who moves every week. Who has to check in at her host church every night at 5:15. What does she do until then? She can't go to a friends house. She invite others over to her home. She can't go to a birthday party because she can't afford a present. She goes to sleep every night without security. Focusing on school would be increasingly difficult and nearly impossible if it were me. How is she supposed to succeed at her grades? At her friendships?

You wouldn't know Mary was homeless by just looking at her. You might I assume I was by looking at me. You never know what someones story is until you ask. Until you invest. I encourage us all to keep our judgement at bay. We are quick to judge so we can either understand in our own conclusion what we do not know, or dismiss it so we don't have to deal with it. Judgement hardens the heart. Understanding ushers forth mercy.

The second thing I noted that evening, is that my kids were genuinely confused about where Mary's mother was. I asked the boys what they thought and they said she either died or someone took her. I asked why they thought someone would take her, and Big's response was, "Because there is no reason a mommy wouldn't be with her kids."

My heart broke. I didn't correct them. Some truths aren't meant to be shared at such a young age, and I want my kids to believe that there is nothing that would take a mama away from her kids as long as possible. That will always be their truth.

So we prayed for Mary and her dad and her mom wherever she was. We agreed to leave that unknown truth to God. Only he knows where Mary's mom is, but we prayed that God would bring peace between Mary and her mom, whatever happened.