Saturday, December 9, 2017

Let's go fly a kite - even if it is December!

 Monday was December 4.  But because this is Chicago and you just never know what the weather will be, it was a really wild weather day!  It had been very unseasonably warm during the week before.  Like weather in the 50's - where you didn't even need a jacket.  But then on Sunday night we had a really odd weather shift.  The winter weather literally BLEW in!  The wind was just ridiculous!
Ken texted me very early on Monday morning (like 5:35am) to warn me to be careful driving up to Gwen's house because of the high winds.

But when you are a six year year old boy and you hear the wind blowing, what is the first thing on your mind?  Flying a kite!  So, even though it was December, we dragged out the kites from the garage and did some assembly.  Zeke's tractor kite did not come with a tail, and my years of (attempting) kite flying, I knew we had to find some way to add a tail.  So we tied two winter scarfs together and tied them to the kite and stepped out into the wind tunnel (back yard)!  Now when I say wind tunnel, I am not really exaggerating very much.  There were 50 mile an hour winds with even higher gusts.  I warned Zeke that it just might be too much wind.  He was determined to see that kite fly!
I just had to include this cropped close up of Zeke's face in this picture.  What a look of shear joy and wonder at that kite actually flying!   And boy did it ever fly!  Ellie found a much smaller plastic kite that came with very long tails attached.  This kite also managed to fly - at least for a little while!
By the end of two hours of mostly watching the kites dive bomb into the grass, the kids and the kites were pretty well done in.  And so was this grandma! We retreated into the house with somewhat crumpled kites, plastic pieces that were bent and frayed from the wind and lots of tangled kite string.  But also three very happy, smiling kids and one grandma (who looked like she had been standing in a wind tunnel for a couple of hours)!

It was a wonderful way to spend two hours on a Monday morning - when you are blessed enough to be home schooled so you are not sitting in a classroom, stuck in a desk.  This is especially true given the fact that by Tuesday morning, snow was blanketing the ground.  There will not be another chance to fly kites for several months.

You can sure learn a lot from a determined six year old boy (and equally determined 8 and 11 year old girls).  The rational adult in me said "It is too windy to fly a kite." and "It is December so we should not be flying kites."  These determined kids found the kites, got them assembled, figured out a tail for Zeke's kite, untangled some kite string, and then worked together to get these kites up in the air and flying.  What an accomplishment!

I have to confess that it is not only the adult thing that would have kept me from flying those kites.  I would have been very sure that it just would not work.  I like to think of myself as a realist, but actually I am more of a pessimist.  Thinking that things will never work.  And I am often so fearful, that I would not even try something.  What a blessing it is that I have been given the opportunity to be with my grandchildren.  They push me into situations that bring me so much joy and wonder.  Things that I would have missed out on, if I wasn't around them.

To recap some lessons that I learned from this....
*It is never too windy to fly kites!
*It is good to fly kites when you also have winter scarfs (for kite tails) and winter gloves (to keep that kite string from burning your hands) readily available!
*Never pass up an opportunity to do something slightly "out of season".  (That may mean running through the sprinkler when it is 70 in October OR flying kites when it is December)
*Don't be afraid to take chances.  You just might actually succeed!

Looking at Zeke's face in that picture gives me a little insight into why God so often used children to accomplish his plans.  When David was facing Goliath, he didn't think about the difference in their size.  He just knew that if God had told him to do it, he could do it.  The little boy with the loaves and fish didn't look at his lunch and think it was worthless.  He took a chance and brought it to Jesus.  I want to approach life with that same attitude - no matter how windy or stormy it is - no matter how impossible the situation might seem. I want that "Can Do" attitude! Yes, I will be remembering this kite-flying day in the future.

Jesus, thank you for giving us the chance to learn from children.  Keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to all that you have to teach us.  Holy Spirit, help us all to move when you give us that prompting to go and give us more courage to step outside of "normal" into your perfect plan for us.  Thank you for kids and kites and very windy days in December.  Amen

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Shoes that make a difference...

Last week both Ken and I got new shoes.  I was especially thankful for these new shoes since I had been having trouble with both my feet and my knee recently.  Let me tell you these new shoes  feel a bit like walking on pillows.  I just did not realize how bad my old shoes had gotten.  Which brings me to the point of this blog.  We are so blessed to have multiple shoe stores that are close to our home, we have the funds to purchase shoes, and we actually have more than one pair of shoes! 

Gwen happened to mention to me that someone she knows had sent her a link to a fundraising page for "Shoes that Grow" to be given to children in Mumbai, India.  I have actually heard of these shoes that will expand up to 4 or 5 sizes to continue to fit a child as they grow. 

I have been on several mission trips  outside of the United States. On each trip I was shocked at just how many of the children were bare footed.  In both Kenya and Uganda  I would estimate that 75% of the children that I met did not have shoes.  Seeing the dirt, the rocks and the general garbage laying around, it seemed impossible to imagine having to go bare footed.  While I have never been to India, I can imagine that this problem is just as serious there.  

I have decided to donate to this fundraiser in honor of my four adult children - Gwen, Tim, Doug and Susie.  Each of them have always had shoes and all of them are now buying shoes for their own children.   It really seems like such a small thing, yet I believe that this will make a difference to some boy or girl who may not have anyone to buy them shoes!

The link that Gwen got from her friend is Erica Roane - fundraising page.  While I don't know this person directly, I trust that these shoes will be purchased and brought to India.  And the cost of $15 per pair makes these even more amazing.   Please take a moment and click on this link to read more about these shoes. 

I don't often promote fund raisers on this blog, but this has just been on my mind since Gwen mentioned it.  The new shoes on my feet have also been a reminder of the blessing of having shoes.  

Thinking about this verse  Psalm 119:105
     Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path
it is my prayer that these shoes will come with the Good News of Jesus that will guide these little ones into the path of their destiny.  

Jesus, thank you for the opportunity to help children who are so far removed from me.  Thank you for Erica Roane and her heart to help this children.  Holy Spirit, remind us all to look outside of ourselves and our immediate families to see those in need.  Guide our steps as we each do as you direct.   Thank you for comfortable shoes!  Amen  

Friday, December 1, 2017

When your tower falls...........

I am so grateful for the time that I get to spend with my grandchildren.  Some Mondays (when Gwen is teaching preschool and Anna is attending preschool), I get to just be a kid with Lia, Ellie and Zeke.  On this day Zeke and I had been playing dominos - actually just matching the patterns.  But it was a fun time just talking with Zeke.  When we had played several rounds of matching, Zeke decided to build a tower.  I watched his careful thought process as he began the stack...
and his concentration as it got higher and higher and more unstable.  Until finally....
it all came tumbling down.    

I have been thinking about all the changes that are happening in my world right now.  Ken has only a few short weeks of work until he retires.  And these last weeks have been really difficult for him, as his entire work space has been packed up and shipped across the country.    
So for him, all those years of working seem quite a bit like Zeke's tower.  Built up, year after year.  One company leading to the next company.  Thinking he had a few more years to add to that tower.  When suddenly,  it all came crashing down due to a decision made by his employer to move the company out of Illinois.

I am extremely proud of Ken and thankful for his decision to just move up his retirement date (by a couple of years).  Right now we don't know exactly what things will look like after January 1, but I am confident that we will just start building a brand new tower!   We are looking forward to more time to travel.  Ken is certainly looking forward to more time for photography. It is amazing how adjusting your perspective can change everything!  Instead of being a really negative thing, this new phase of our life has the potential to be really exciting.  We are very blessed to have adequate resources to allow us some freedom in making plans.  I am grateful that we will have even more time and opportunity to spend with our family.  

Zeke had the right idea.  As soon as that tower came crashing down, he set to work building an entirely different kind of structure.  Sadly I did not capture a photo of this new building.  But it looked nothing like his first tower - yet it was wonderful.  I left Zeke happily building to go and make lunch.  I have spent many minutes thinking about this day and those domino buildings.  Isn't this a great reminder for us all.  

If you feel like your life has been knocked over and all you see are pieces laying on the ground, take a cue from Zeke.  Just stop and imagine all the wonderful things that you can now build.  Your new life might not look anything like was it was.  But just think about all the amazing things that you can create out of the pieces that are there.  With the help of Jesus, we can do wondrous things!

I love these verses from The Passion Translation -  Psalm 55:16-17

But as for me, I will call upon the Lord to save me, and I know he will!  Every evening I will explain my need to him.  Every morning I will move my soul toward him.  Every waking hour I will worship only him, and he will hear and respond to my cry.

So with God's help, I am looking forward to new and wonderful things in 2018!

Jesus, thank you for reminding me that something great can come out of what seems like destruction.    Help us all to keep our eyes on your purposes and to see beyond our current circumstances.  Holy Spirit, give us all creative ideas as we look at those broken pieces and give us peace as we begin to build something new.  Thank you for always hearing AND responding to us, Jesus.  Amen

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thanksgiving recap... now on to Christmas!

We had a busy and wonderful week over Thanksgiving!  Quite honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to make the time to sit down and write these blogs.  It is certainly not for lack of things to share.   I thought I would kick off with this adorable "thanks" turkey that Susie had for the kids to create when we celebrated together.  I love this so much.  We did the traditional sharing around the table also, of our thankfulness and it was especially easy to be thankful with Grace sitting happily with the family in her highchair!  It has been a very thankful 10 months for us. 

We celebrated in our "traditional" way this year, which is somewhat "un-traditional".  Gwen and Tim and the kids came to our house on Thanksgiving day.  However, we do not celebrate this in the traditional way.  Oh, we watch the Macy's parade followed by the kids very favorite thing - the dog show!  We have lots of snack foods out.  We do eat a meal together - but not turkey.  It is our tradition to have lasagna for lunch.  I know it sounds a bit odd, but it works for our family.  This is because during that parade and dog show the adults are seriously scanning the huge amount of sale flyers that are enclosed in the ridiculously expensive papers that were purchased early that morning.  (When I say expensive, I mean it!  I needed a twenty dollar bill to make that purchase)  Now I know that many of you have strong opinions about shopping on the holiday, how unfair it is for the workers, etc, but I want to tell you that for Gwen and I this is a very real and important part of Thanksgiving.  There were plenty of years that we got up at 3 or 4 morning to go shopping.  The worst years were when some stores opened at midnight.  There was no sleeping for us those years.  I know that it is a hot topic but just let me say that it works great for Gwen and I.  This year we left the house at 3:00pm and hit five stores.  We were home before 9:00pm.  We got plenty of sleep and then left the house around 5:00am for the second round of stores on Black Friday.  We were especially thankful this year that the weather was moderately warm and we only stood outside in lines twice - once on Thursday and once on Friday.

Gwen and Tim and the kids always spend the night at our house on Thanksgiving night.  This is a big treat for the kids, who otherwise would not have the chance to have a "sleep over" with Grandma and Grandpa. 
Our Thanksgiving tradition continues with our real "Thanksgiving" happening on Friday at Doug and Susie's house.  Doug always smokes the turkey outside and it is always yummy. This years bird was a whopping 26 lbs!  We took family pictures at their house, but since these will most likely be in my Christmas Cards this year, I decided to keep them under wraps for now.  It was a glorious day on Friday with highs in the 50's so we took the kids and the dogs to the park.  Grace got to go on the swings and the slide and even ride the bouncy horse.  After our meal was consumed and all the clean up was done, Susie made cookies with the kids.  
Grace had her first taste of my Grandmother Johnson's recipe for "Butter Butter Cookies".  Needless to say, we all enjoyed these tasty treats.  As a special bonus this year, Gwen and Tim and the kids spent Friday night with a "sleep over" at Doug and Susie's house.  Really a wonderful thanks filled few days.

I think tonight I am feeling especially grateful for my family.  Our adult children all get along.  There seems to be plenty of laughing and talking and lots of hugs.  Even the three dogs got along well.  Unfortunately, not every family has this same report.  I know of several families who experienced much less wonderful holiday times with adult children who just can not get along.  There are also families where the adult children can not get along with their parents.  My heart is heavy for these families.  For often petty and selfish reasons, they are missing sharing time with those who should be the closest to them.  I believe that my family has learned the power and strength we have when we draw together.  The loss of a precious son, grandson, nephew and cousin helped us learn this lesson.  Each of our loved ones is a treasure that could be lost at any moment.  So time together is the most important gift we give each other.  So we choose to celebrate and be thankful together!

During the next weeks, as we are approaching Christmas, my prayer is for much reconciliation and thankfulness for families that have been hurt by conflict.  The love of Jesus is so needed!  Won't you please join me in a prayer for love, peace and joy between sisters and brothers and children and parents? 

Jesus, thank you for your great love for us.  Holy Spirit, remind us all to treasure our family members - even those with whom we disagree.  Keep our hearts tender to those closest to us.  Give us an extra measure of grace and peace during stressful times.   Jesus, help us to keep love a central focus of our family.  Thank you for special times to step out of our routines and be thankful.  Amen

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Operation Christmas Child boxes....

Today I finished packing and preparing my Operation Christmas Child  Boxes, in honor of Lucas.  I decided to do 6 boxes this year (one for each of my grandchildren) - all for two to four year old boys.   I love that this activity allows me to think about and remember Lucas while reaching out and making a difference in the life of little boys around the world.  I love the new plastic boxes that I ordered directly from Samaritans Purse.  They are much easier to pack and can fit more than you would think.  I made a list of everything that is in my boxes, just to give you an idea of how much these boxes hold.  Each of my boxes has....

A stuffed animal, 2 rubber balls, 2 small trucks, a small Etch A Sketch, a whistle, plastic farm animals, sunglasses, pencils and pens, colored pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers, scissors, paper, 4 wash clothes, 3 bars of soap, 3 toothbrushes, flip flops, hat, bandana, and a collapsible drinking cup.

I love the videos of children receiving these boxes and the stories of the impact of these gifts, shown on the Operation Christmas Child page.  Just click the link above and you will be amazed at the stories there.

The statistic that I saw this year that really stopped me dead in my tracks is on that page.  98% of these children have never received any kind of gift or present in their life.  Not only that, most have never even seen simple toys like those small plastic farm animals I put in my boxes.  So hard to comprehend this when children in our family - and in our community - have so many things.
Our family is really striving to cut down on the amount of THINGS that we give as gifts and instead are focusing on spending time together in fun activities.  This has been a big hit with the kids and the adults have enjoyed having a reason to make time to be together.  We have gone bowling, gone roller skating, visited the water park (more than once), had our nails done, gone fishing, gone to the video arcade..... you get the idea.

Three years ago, when Lucas died, our family was changed forever.  We each have a much different perspective now on life in general.  I don't take things for granted anymore.  Time spent with each other is so precious now.  We all hug more, laugh more and share more. We also cry more.  Things like Operation Christmas Child touch us in ways that are deep and meaningful.  Jesus is really the center of that change for us.  Because of Jesus, we know where Lucas is right now and we know that we will see him again.  The gift inside of that Operation Christmas Child box that is most important, is the booklet that will tell that child and his family about Jesus.

I wrote a message to these little boys on the inside of the lid of my boxes.  It was simple.  Jesus Loves You!  And next to that, I penned the words, "I am praying for you".  These boys will be too little to read those words, but I am trusting that some older person will share that message with them.  I will be praying for these boys tomorrow when I take my boxes to the drop off location.  And I will remember them in the days ahead.  I have a spot marked in my Bible... 2015 - Four little boys in Kenya or Madagascar  2016 - Five little boys in South Africa.  When I discover exactly where my boxes go this year, I will add that notation.  I will not forget about these little ones.

There is so much need and it takes many people to make this Operation Christmas Child work.  Even though it may be too late to pack a box this year, please go to that web site and look at the donation page.   There are many ways to be involved.   You can even create a box on line!  Do this in honor of someone special in your life.  Or in remembrance of someone you have lost.  Do this to bring that incredible smile and shout of joy to one small child.

Jesus, thank you for Operation Christmas Child and all the people who work to bring these boxes to those in need around the world.  Holy Spirit, remind us to be grateful for all that we have and to look for ways to bring the joy of Jesus to others.  Jesus, even right now, bless those six little boys who will open these boxes.  Thank you Jesus for the gift of Lucas to our family.  Amen

Friday, November 10, 2017

Honoring Veterans closest to me....

I just spent a rather frustrating hour or so looking through photos.  I was looking for a picture that I can see in my mind, but alas, I never located it.  I thought I was pretty organized, but this past hour has proven that I have a lot of work to do on my old photos.  I finally found a few photo's that will have to do for this blog.
I decided on this photo, taken in 1961, because these four guys are the veterans that I would like to share about on this Veterans Day (eve).  From left to right this is Greg Johnson (my brother), Roy Jackson (my brother-in-law), Jerry Johnson (my brother) and my dad!  All four of these men served our country in the armed forces.  Greg was in the Air Force.  Roy was in the Army.  Jerry was in the Army and my dad was in the Navy. 
I have shared in the past, about my dad and his service during WWII.  This picture just reminds me what a very big deal it was for him to leave and be gone for YEARS!  I can't imagine leaving a wife and two young kids - but so many men did.  He never shared much with me about his time serving in the Navy.  I heard most of the stories from my mom.  How I wish I would have asked him more questions about his time in the Navy.  

This is a screen shot I took today from a story my niece Nancy posted about her dad, Roy Jackson.  He was honored today for his service in the Army from 1953-1955.  He received a wonderful quilt as a gift.  Even my earliest memories include Roy, since my sister brought him home from college when I was only 4 years old. Karen and Roy met after his time in the Army.  I have very vivid memories of pictures of Roy in his Army uniform on the wall in Karen and Roy's home.   
This is my brother Jerry, and I am not exactly sure of the date of this photo.  I want to say it was 1962.    Jerry was away serving in the Army when I was in early grade school.  I remember telling people that he was "far away in Okinawa" - which really didn't mean anything to me.  All I knew was that he was not home and my mom and dad were worried about him.  
This is my mom and me with my brother Greg (in uniform) and my brother Jerry.  Greg was in the Air Force in Thailand.  He was gone during my late high school years and was still overseas when Ken I got married in 1974.  

Yes, these four men all served their country and sacrificed to keep us all safe.  It is interesting to me how many of my friends have no veterans in their families.  In addition to these four guys, Ken's dad and brother-in-law also served, as well as another one of my brother-in-laws.   

I know that not having your brothers around all the time is not the same as missing a parent.  But I know that my life was shaped by their time away in the military.  I remember especially the holidays that they missed with our family.  And I remember how much my mom and dad missed having all of their children together.  I think I felt this especially, as the youngest in the family.  We are all unique because of our experiences as individuals.  We share the experiences of our families.  And even more so, of our communities.    I feel that sense of pride and honor that is just a part of my family - as citizens of the United States of America.  I think that is one reason that I am so offended by the recent "protests" of our National Anthem.  I think about these four men and so many others,  who sacrificed and served for all of us.  And the many who are away from their homes and families right now.  Every member of the families of our veterans and service men and women have been changed because of their connection to the military and our great country.  

This is a time to stop and remember and be thankful for our homeland.  For all the great blessings that we have here in the United States. And to remember to pass on our stories of those who have served for our freedom.  Lia, Ellie, Zeke, Anna and Grace don't have fathers or grandfathers who have served in the military.  So I will be sure to tell them about the many in their family tree who have served and earned the right to honored on Veterans Day.

Jesus, thank you for the blessings that you have poured out on the United States of America.  It is your hand of mercy and grace that has built and preserved us through the years.  Holy Spirit, help us to give honor and respect to those who serve us - whether in the military or as law enforcement.  Jesus, break down the barriers that are dividing our great nation.  Fill this country with your great love.  Amen  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Reminder of new life......

Today I found this really interesting object.  It is hard to tell from the photo exactly what it is, but it is something I have never seen before.  It is an acorn from an oak tree that has started to grow.  It is especially significant to me because I found this acorn at Lucas' grave sight.  Our family had gathered there to remember Lucas on his 3rd birthday.  I have mentioned before that this cemetery is really beautiful.  It is filled with tall, old trees - including a towering oak tree that shelters Lucas' grave.  I noticed all the acorns scattered around, and this was the first one I picked up.  What a wonderful reminder of God's plan for new life.  It may seem odd, but standing in that place, holding on to this little acorn, I felt the presence of Jesus.  There was assurance and hope today.  Assurance that Lucas is safe with Jesus and hope in the knowledge that we will see him again one day.  And Grace is evidence of the new life that Jesus has brought to our family.

On our return to Doug and Susie's house, we took this picture.  I love that this picture has all six of my grandchildren - Lucas represented by his picture and our precious Lucas Bear.   At nine months old, Grace was really not aware of the purpose of our gathering today.  She was just happy being with her family. 
I would title this picture "Grace, surrounded by her adoring fans"!  And besides her cousins, there were two grandma's, a grandpa, an uncle, an aunt and mommy and daddy.  So there was plenty of hugging and kissing of that sweet face.  

Grace will grow up knowing about her older brother Lucas.  She will hear many stories about him and see reminders of him all around her.  I often watch as Grace looks carefully at the pictures of Lucas. While our family chooses to remember Lucas especially on his birthday, he is always in our hearts.  

I wrote a card for Lucas today.... it reads..
Lucas Jacob Rowley

We will always love you.
You are in our hearts forever.
We see you Celebrating with Jesus
there among the Angels and the Saints
Dancing in the Spectacular Glory.....
                   of Heaven!

It is so fitting that today is All Saints Day.  The old hymn "For All The Saints" was one of my mom's very favorite hymns.  I have been humming that song all day.  I especially like this verse (there are way a lot of verses of this hymn)....
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Yes, Lucas is shining in that glory right there with my mom.  How fitting since his name means "Light".  I can see that beautiful little boy, running and dancing in that amazing light of heaven.  

Jesus, thank you for that wonderful little sprouted acorn.  What a great reminder that you ARE the life and it is you that brings new life.  Thank you for time with family to remember and reflect.  Holy Spirit,, help us all to keep our eyes turned toward Jesus.  Jesus, give us all a hope and vision of heaven.   Amen