Sunday, June 25, 2017

Going on an adventure....and having my thinking changed!

It's hard to believe that this cutie is 11 years old - but she is!  The only thing that she wanted for her birthday was to see a real Broadway show.  Now this is no surprise since this girl loves to dance and has a wonderful voice.  Lia is still very shy about singing in front of people, but those yearly dance recitals have pretty much killed any fear she had of dancing on stage.  Since "Disney Aladdin Broadway in Chicago" was playing, it was a no brainer what her birthday present would be!
I decided to make this a "Grandma Lyn, Mom and Lia" event since Gwen loves these shows also.  Lia was extremely excited when we got to the train station to catch the train to the Chicago and she saw a billboard for Aladdin!
We had a bit of concern when the train we wanted to take into the city was delayed with "track construction".  First the announcement was 10 to 20 minutes late.  Then there was an announcement that the train was not yet moving.  In order to make the show we knew that we needed to be on the train by 11:45.  If the train had not come by that time, we would be forced to drive into Chicago and try to find parking.  It could have made for a tense trip.  But thankfully the train arrived at 11;30 and we made it into Chicago in plenty of time.  We grabbed a quick fast food lunch and ate outside overlooking the Chicago river.  We had perfect weather - sunny and it was actually a bit cool with a strong breeze.  
The show was amazing.  Lia was pretty much mesmerized through the entire production.  There is a major difference between the Broadway productions and some of the other shows I have seen. The music, acting, special effects, costumes - really everything was top notch. Our train ride home was uneventful and we arrived back only a few minutes late.  Such a wonderful experience with Lia.  

As I was driving home after this memory making day, I reflected on just how fast these 11 years have gone by!  Lia is my oldest grandchild and it really doesn't seem possible that I have been "Grandma Lyn" for that long.  

Shortly after I started home, while stopped at a stop light, a seriously silly thing happened.  A car pulled up on the left side of my car and a man jumped out of the front seat.  He was wearing cut off jean shorts, a tie dyed shirt and a bandana tied around his head like a headband.  He proceeded to dance in the middle of the road!  There was rock music from the 60's playing from the open windows of the car, and several occupants of that car were laughing and clapping for him.   My immediate though was , "Wow, that is something that you don't see everyday!"  As the light changed, he hopped back into the car and they sped away.  I was chuckling about this event, which seemed very 1970's, for the next several miles and thinking about some of the crazy things I had witnessed and participated in oh so many years ago.  And then, unbelievably I witnessed a "Chinese Fire drill" at another stop light!  If you are not familiar with this, everyone jumps out of the car and runs around the car and then gets back in.  I am sure that my jaw was on the ground watching this.  I don't recall the last time I actually saw this happen.  By now, I had begun to wonder if I had stepped into some kind of odd time warp and had been transported back to the 1970's!  So at this point, my day had certainly had some adventures that are out of the norm for me.  My drive home was not over yet and even now I find it hard to comprehend that  I saw ANOTHER "Chinese Fire Drill" happen in the drive through lane of the Dairy Queen near my house.  How crazy is that?

Today this crazy-silly end to my wonderful day is making more sense.  Without realizing it, I had started to feel really OLD!  My thoughts had been shifting to the swift passage of time and wondering just how many more of these memory making experiences I would be able to have with my grandchildren.  I would even have to admit to being fearful of the future.   It is never worthwhile to focus on these kind of things.  None of knows the length of our days and we are charged to live everyday with purpose.   I truly believe that those silly events I witnessed on the way home, were a gift for me.  It allowed me to let go of those depressing thoughts and to focus on the truth of the day - time and memories with Lia and Gwen.   And it made me laugh!  

The whole process of "taking our thoughts captive" is certainly a challenge. I am so thankful that I have progressed and don't allow these thoughts to live in my mind for days and days or even weeks and weeks as I had in the past.  More often than not, I can catch myself and stop these thoughts from taking over.  But this is a life-long process that has to be practiced!  I am reminded of this Bible passage from the Passion Translation.... Philippians 4:8

"So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and king.   And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always."

 I am incredibly grateful that sometimes the Holy Spirit finds ways to break into those ugly and untrue and even hurtful thoughts to remind me to "Stop thinking that way!"  I especially love that God will even use a man doing a silly dance on the road and several groups of young people acting like typical kids and pulling off a time worn stunt to get my attention and make me smile.  

Jesus, thank you for a wonderful, glorious day with Lia and Gwen.  Holy Spirit, continue to remind me to be aware of my thoughts.  Thank you for singing and dancing, for big wonderful shows in impressive theaters and for silly dances on streets.  Jesus, thank you for extra grace when we need it during the process of life.  Amen

Monday, June 19, 2017

When an umbrella brings joy in the storms.......

Sometimes you just need an umbrella to dance in the rain.  With rain threatening before Anna's first dance class last week, she was very upset that she did not have an umbrella.  Unfortunately, her Dora umbrella (that she had "inherited") had gotten broken.   Anna was so concerned that her ballet outfit would get wet walking into ballet.  I found an umbrella in my car that we were able to use for the storms which did happen to arrive during ballet.  But I promised Anna a trip to a store to buy her a new umbrella.  Of course Zeke and Ellie both needed new umbrellas as well.  I had to laugh at the clerk as we were checking out at Walmart the next day.  The kids were very excited telling her about their week with Grandma Lyn.  She looked at the items we were purchasing and nodded her head saying "Yep, I can tell that this is a Grandma shopping trip!"  I have to confess that I am kind of a sucker for these kids.  Our purchases included this Frozen umbrella for Anna, a Spiderman umbrella for Zeke, a pink push button umbrella for Ellie, candy, cookies and donuts, as well as the chocolate syrup (that was the real reason for our visit to the store)!

But look at those wonderful smiles on Zeke and Anna with there umbrellas (or "brellas" as Anna calls them!)  They had so much fun going outside to play in the light rain that was happening that day.  If a silly little umbrella makes the rain less scary and brings joy to them, then it is so worth it.

One of the days the present from mommy and daddy were some card games.  We had hours of fun playing "Old Maid" and I was the old maid more often than not.  Even Anna joined in the fun.  It is really amazing how much these kids play together and how well they play together.  I think that it is another win for homeschooling.   The week went by really fast.  I took so many pictures of all the fun things that we did and most days, I dropped into bed at the same time as the kids.  It was busy!

Ballet night was really something,  Anna's first ever class was from four to five and then there is an hour before Lia has her three classes.  Anna did wonderfully.  There were 20 three year olds in her class!  Yes 20!
The amazing teacher is so good with these kids.  I don't know how she does it.  There were many of the kids who wandered around during the class and several who never followed the instructions.  I was very proud of Anna for paying attention and so happy that she fun.  Although hesitant at first, she was smiling by the end!  We had hoped to be able to walk through the farmers market which is right by ballet, but there were storms.  So we opted to go to a restaurant for some dinner.  We dropped Lia off for her classes and drove home in a big storm.  I was thankful that a family friend was bringing Lia home at 9:30pm so I didn't have to go back out to get her.   

When Lia got home, she was pretty upset.  Somewhere in the day she had misplaced her phone.  We talked about taking all of our cares and concerns to Jesus and praying about the location of her phone.  She asked me to have my small group pray that it would be found.  Gwen texted the ballet studio to have them look for the phone and I assured Lia that we would follow up the next day.  When we heard that the phone was not at ballet, Lia was sure that it had been stolen and was gone forever.  We made another trip to the ballet studio to look for ourselves and then to the diner we had visited.  As soon as we walked in the door of the diner, Ellie spotted the phone laying by the cash register.  Needless to say, we were a very happy and thankful group!

I was so thankful for the umbrella covering of prayer that we had during the "storm" of that misplaced phone.  Lia was remarkably calm the entire day.  We talked about the possible locations to look for the phone.  And we prayed!!  She never gave up hope that we would find that phone.  
It was a great lesson for her - and me - to remember that the umbrella of prayer does work.  I was so thankful that Jesus cares about even these kinds of things and helps us in every storm that we face.  While this might seem like a small thing to some, for Lia this was a really big deal.  There were many grateful prayers said that night at bedtime.

Being with these kids for a week was physically taxing for me. I walked and ran and played more than I usually do.  I certainly did more dishes and more laundry than I have for a very long time.  I played more games and read countless books.  I also had books read to me!  There were songs sung and hugs and kisses given.  I applied more sunscreen in one week than I think I have in the last year!
  My time with the kids is my mission trip.  While it is a service for Gwen and Tim and allows them to go and serve, I am truly the one who benefits.  I came away filled up with all the love I received from Lia, Ellie, Zeke and Anna.  My heart is filled with joy. I can't wait till the next time.

Jesus, thank you for pouring out your love on even the littlest children.  Holy Spirit, remind us all to stay childlike in our faith.  Thank you Jesus for answered prayers and all those who help us hold up umbrellas of prayer during the storms of life.  Amen  

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Half way there.......

I've been spending the week with these cuties while their mom and dad are on a mission trip.  As of today, we have crossed over the half way mark of my time here.  The eight days had promised to be filled with fun and lots of outdoor time.  There were lots of activities that were all ready a part of their "normal" week (think ballet and gymnastics) and a couple of added things (swimming at a friends house and a birthday party sleep-over for Ellie).  Plus whatever other things we could cram in.  And it as been a very full four days so far.  This picture was during a "cookie break" from swimming on Saturday. The weather was HOT this past weekend - our first really summer like days.  I was glad that Gwen and Tim had left their backyard pool for the kids to enjoy during this heat wave.
They added their small slide to the pool and spent most of the day in the water.  I did manage to get them inside for a short break during the hottest part of the day.  They had been begging to go to a playground, so we went to Zeke's favorite - the "fake grass park".  It actually has artificial turf on the entire playground.  I spent most of the time there sitting in the shade under one of the large climbing structures.  In addition to being 95 degrees, there was a gale force wind that was turning the nearby baseball fields into mini dust storms.  Sunday was more of the same weather wise.  Zeke started asking to go in the pool at 8:00am.  After several hours of pool time I managed to entice them into the house with a promise of a McDonalds play place!  So we headed off to have an early dinner and some more playtime in the (thankfully) air conditioned play area.  On Monday we were invited to a family friend's house that really looks more like a resort than a just a suburban home!  They have a large in ground pool with both a diving board and a slide.  They have a volleyball court (which to Anna was just a giant sandbox) and just to top it off, they have chickens!  It was 85 degrees at 9:30 when we were welcomed into the pool.  I was incredibly happy to sink into that refreshing water and float around for a couple of hours.  The older girls were invited to spend some extra time with their friends, so it was just Anna and Zeke and I heading home at lunch time.  After a quick stop for an "Icie" treat, home felt really good.  Zeke and Anna were quite happy to play inside for the rest of the afternoon.  Three days of this heat and so much swimming had tired them out.  

Gwen had left special presents for the kids to open on each day of their time away.  This was a thoughtful way for the kids to hear a bit about the trip that mom and dad were on, as well a some fun new activities to make the time without mommy and daddy a bit easier.  One day the special present was a bag full of craft supplies.  The kids spent several hours each making different things.  Ellie took the time to look up on google what a peacock looked like.  She had decided the moment that she saw the bag of feathers that she would make a peacock.  This is a surprise for the special friend who is having a birthday party on Friday.  So if you know Emma, shhhh! Don't tell her!  
Since today was going to be another hot one, we decided to go the library this morning.  They have a really amazing library with a kids area that just goes on and on.  The two hours we spent there were filled with all kinds of activities....

The older kids spent a short time playing on the IPads and Anna found a really cute barn with animals that she played with.  There is a craft section there and all of the kids made a Father's Day surprise for their daddy!  Everybody choose books and suddenly it was lunch time.  

Yes, it has been an busy time for me over the last four days.  I can not believe how many dishes four kids and one adult use in a day.  And with all the swimming, there have been multiple loads of laundry washed and put away.  And the towels....... four kids plus all day swimming and then baths at night and some morning showers equals too many towels to count!  And wash and fold!   Seriously, I have a new appreciation for just how much effort it takes when there are four children in a house.  No wonder Gwen and Tim are always tired! Seriously though, I wouldn't miss this chance to spend time with these kids for anything.  They are so much fun and so full of life. What a joy to be with them.

Tonight I got seriously teary eyed when Lia told me that she missed her mom and dad so much and couldn't wait for them to get home but she wished I could just spend another week with her after they got home.  Yes, it is so worth it to make the time to know these precious little ones.

This morning I posted a picture on Facebook of the kids praying for their mom and dad and the work they were doing on the mission trip.  They truly are taking part in this mission experience through prayer.  We have talked about the reason for the destination of this trip.  The various ministries that are being helped and the people that will be hearing about the love of Jesus and feeling that love through practical things like food, water and housing.  They all know that this is not a vacation for mom and dad, but a serious and important giving of their time and talents.  Thanks to the wonders of social media, the kids have gotten to see pictures from each day and watched their parents helping a group of young people learn about service and sharing Jesus.  If you want to see some of these for yourself check out their Facebook page Fellowship of Faith Student Ministries.  

It is so easy to think that the people who go on these trips are the only ones serving Jesus.  I love the reminder this has been for me of the importance of all the behind the scenes praying people for any mission trip.  I know that this time with Lia, Ellie, Zeke and Anna is my mission trip.  I am so grateful for my faithful small group covering me in prayer.  Yes, it is ripples of prayer going out to accomplish sharing the love of Jesus with the world.  Each layer of prayer is vital and necessary.  My friends praying for me and the children, the children and I praying for the team, the church praying for the youth and leaders, the various ministries who are praying for helpers. All with the same goal, show the love of Jesus to the world.

Won't you join me and be a part of this sometimes hidden but so important work. Pray for this small group of servants.  Or find another group or person heading out on a mission adventure.  Commit to pray for them.  Put their pictures up on your fridge.  Or in your Bible.  Most importantly, just pray.  

Jesus, thank you for connecting us all together in your body.  Help us to remember that each one of us important to you and for your Kingdom.  Thank you for fun times and summer days.  Thank you for your great love for us.  Amen    

Monday, June 5, 2017

The start of Summer fun and renewed hope!

Well Ken and I are once again, a two kayak family!  Ken had purchased a kayak last summer, but I wasn't sure that it made sense for us to own two kayaks.  Let's face it, we have a one car garage and just a bit more stuff than we should have to try to store over the winter.  But as the weather got nicer, I realized just how much I missed being out on the water.  So, there you have it!  Two kayaks to store next winter!
I confess that I did breathe out a bit as I was paddling across that little lake.  I just love the water.  I grew up on Lake Maud and spent a fair amount of time every year on, in or around that lake.  So it does refresh my soul to glide across the water.  Our garage will be pretty crowded next winter, but sometimes it is worth the trouble to have so much enjoyment.  

I needed that time to just float across the lake.  It has been a busy and kind of crazy last month!  We have had so many milestones pass by - some that I have blogged about and some that I have missed.  We passed by Ken's 65th Birthday and I somehow didn't blog about that!  These days, being 65 does not mean that you get to retire (sadly)!  It was also our 43rd Wedding Anniversary, and I didn't really blog about that.  
Then this event happened!  It was actually Lia's 8th dance recital! She has been dancing since she was 3 years old and this recital was actually ON her 11th birthday!   This year Ellie also danced!  I missed blogging about that also.  And then last week, this cutie pie turned 4 months old!  
Just to add to the "milestones" in our family, last Friday was Gwen and Tim's 16th Wedding Anniversary!  My gosh, where did that time go?   Seriously, Gwen and Tim just seem way too young to be married 16 years!  It is one of those things that seems almost impossible to fathom when that wedding seems like it was just a few years ago!  

Yes, time marches on.  And those special dates just seem to roll around faster and faster.  I confess that this busy time has left me feeling a bit buried.  It is hard to begin to blog when there is SO MUCH that you want to talk about.  It just becomes easier to not write anything.  Then today I saw this .....
This gave me so much comfort and hope!  Even though I missed blogging about these special events as they happened, that doesn't mean that I can't still share my thoughts and feelings and all that the Lord has been speaking to me!  In fact, as I let those thoughts sit and "germinate" something much bigger and better just might grow!  

Another "milestone" that I didn't mention yet is the anniversary of this blog.  I actually began to write this blog four years ago.  I really didn't know how long I would continue to blog - or if I would even blog for a month.  Here it is, four years of blogging.  So many new and wonderful connections and friends from around the world.  So much encouragement and so many kind words.  When I started this blog I had been in a season of feeling very buried.  It had been a few dark years, wondering exactly what I was supposed to be doing for Jesus.  This blog grew out of those dark years,  Looking back over these four years, I can see just how much Jesus has done in me from that small seed, sown in darkness.  It hasn't always been easy to keep on truth telling and being honest on these pages.  I have shared through the good times and the bad, through the happy and the sad.  In it all, I have been growing up....toward that marvelous light of Jesus.  It gives me encouragement to keep on... and to press for even more. Yes, I love this picture.  I will keep that image of the new little seedling, drinking in the rain, yet remembering the dark times, hidden and alone.  I will see myself pushing onwards and upwards towards the light.   

Yes, sitting in that Kayak is a great place to remember that seed being watered by the Spirit.  Resting and floating across the water, feeling the sun on my face, is just what this little plant needs! I am so thankful for the reminder today!

Jesus, thank you for helping us to see from your perspective.  What a powerful reminder this is for us to know that we are your seeds.  When things seem dark and we feel buried, you are doing an amazing transforming work in us.  Holy Spirit, keep us always looking towards the light of Jesus.  Thank you for milestones and anniversaries and birthdays!  Thank you Jesus for your love.  Amen

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Being present for the sweet memories!

Today our family had a really wonderful time celebrating Zeke's birthday (but also a bit of a celebration for Lia's birthday, which is tomorrow!)  It was a spectacular weather day and Zeke had chosen all outdoor activities.  I just love this selfie picture of Gwen, Susie and me since, lets face it, we ARE the reason that these get together events happen.  We put them on the calendar months in advance and let me tell you you, it is quite the feat for us to find dates that work for all of us.  I am just so thankful that both Gwen and Susie make it  a priority to be together with Ken and I.

So much fun happens when we are together, and  sometimes the pictures don't even tell the entire story.  Zeke had asked to go mini golfing and also drive go carts.  We have a great place for that kind of fun, and it is a blast from the past for our family!  It is called Funway and we went there often when Gwen and Doug were younger.  They have added a bunch of stuff and it was the perfect place for our adventure today.  To add to the nostalgia, we first ate lunch together at another family favorite spot - Pal Joeys.  Only this was a new location, one that we had never visited before, right on the Fox River.  We dined outside and we all enjoyed the warm weather and the view of the river.  When we got to Funway, mini golf was the first thing on the agenda.  Doug and I stayed in the shade with a sleeping Grace while the rest of the crew hit the course.  As they were turning in their clubs Zeke asked who won!  I loved Gwen's response - "Everyone won!"

The ever smiling Grace woke up - all smiles, of course!  She was quite happy just looking around at all of the stuff happening around her. I love this picture of her since she was quite surprised by the sound of the water cannon just behind her!  
Then it was on to the Go Carts!  We had a bit of a scrambling around since there were height and age requirements to ride alone in the carts.  Zeke decided he wanted to ride with Uncle Doug and since Ellie wasn't old enough (or tall enough) to ride alone, Tim took the wheel for her.  Lia was both old enough AND tall enough to drive the cart by herself!  I wasn't quite sure that she would actually go alone, but she certainly did!  
The first couple of times around the track Lia had a worried look on her face! You can barely see her in the cart, but she sure managed to drive it!  She was all smiles by the third time around and she even sped up a bit!

Zeke had the biggest smile for the entire ride!  It was the perfect way to celebrate his 6th birthday.

To add to the fun, there were bumper boats.  Lia and Zeke wanted to ride these, and Tim had to take Zeke since he was not old enough to go alone.  There are water shooters on each boat and you can soak the other people.  Additionally there are large water sprayers around the pool that shoot at random times.  They were soaking wet  but all smiles when they were done!
We finished the day with a round of ICIES (which Doug decided were just high fructose corn syrup, flavored and artificially colored and then mixed with shaved ice)!  While Doug's description is most likely pretty accurate, they were a cool refreshing end to a really warm and wonderful day.  

I was thinking about those very sweet, cold drinks as I sat down to write this blog.  The entire day was filled with sweet moments.  There was the wonderful feeling looking around a very large table as all 11 of us enjoyed being together.  I loved the precious moment watching Grace break into a big smile when Aunt Gwen was tickling her toes. There was the look on Ellie's face when Grace was so happy looking at the flowers on Ellie's dress.  There was the smile on Anna's face as she used her "stick" to hit the ball into the hole (or sometimes kicking it with her foot).  There was that grin on Zeke's face when Uncle Doug encouraged him to raise his arms as they sped around the go cart track. Then there was that moment when Tim and Zeke managed to get Gwen sprayed with water, even though she was on the side of the pool.  And the moment Lia got her boat behind Tim and Zeke and shot them in the back!  There were all of the sweet faces of the kids, each waiting their turn to hold "baby Grace".  So many precious moments.  

Yes, those sweet moments are things that I actually did NOT photograph!  I had my "real" camera (not my cell phone) during our lunch and afterwards when we walked across the bridge by the river, but when we got to Funway, my camera was no where to be found.  I remembered having it in the car, but it was missing.  Both Ken and I looked through my purse several times (my camera is really small), but it was gone.  I had my phone, so I did get some pictures.  The worst part of losing the camera was that I had not uploaded any pictures in May.  On our way home, Gwen sent me a text with a picture of my camera!  It had gotten stuck into a bag of things that I brought for her and taken to her car!  So my camera is safe with Gwen!  

Here's the thing.  I think I got the message from all of this.  It is really good to have pictures, and I certainly appreciate them since I scrapbook.  But it is also really important to keep these sweet memories by really SEEING them as they happen, rather than seeing them through the lens of a camera. And seeing the small things.   I know that I am often guilty of taking so many pictures that I sometimes miss out on the very thing I am trying to capture.  Today, I spent a lot of time actually watching what the kids were doing.  And it was wonderful. There is something very powerful about really being present!  Right now, my memory bank is filled with sweet, sweet memories.

Given all of the electronics that each of us uses each day, our phones that are never far out of reach, the tablets and computers that are often in front of us, this is a good reminder.  Put down the phone or the camera and pay attention to the event.  Don't miss out on all of the special little sweet moments that make for wonderful memories.  Even when my camera is back in my hands, I will be much more aware of just how often I use it.  Today I am thankful for all of those sweet memories that I didn't miss out on!  

Jesus, thank you for warm weather, for wonderful family times and so many great memories.  Holy Spirit, remind us all to be aware of the distractions that keep us from really being present in the activities around us.  Keep us mindful of the small things that become sweet memories.  Amen

Sunday, May 21, 2017

One on one time is the best time!

Yesterday Ken and I took Zeke out, by himself, to celebrate his 6th Birthday.  (We started this really simple celebration with Ellie's birthday, last March. Here is a bonus shot of Ellie's special time)
 Unfortunately, it was pouring rain yesterday so we could not add a playground visit to Zeke's time.  However he was quite happy with the special Oreo Ice Cream treat as desert after his meal and we topped the time off with a stop at Dunkin Donuts!  He got to pick out a dozen donuts to bring home for the family.  Last weekend we took Lia out for her special day to celebrate her upcoming 11th birthday (oh my, where has the time gone?)
  Lia decided to go to the "chicken" breakfast place.  This is the same place that Ellie decided to go!  There is a cookie bakery near that restaurant and also a small playground.  It was a beautiful day so we all enjoyed the wonderful weather outside.  And Lia took home cookies for her siblings!

But there is something so special about spending time with the kids - one on one.  Or actually two (Ken and I) on one!  We pretty much don't do anything really big, just have a meal with them. And then we do try to do something a bit special with them.  All of them have pretty much talked our ears off.  It is clear that with the four siblings, it is a battle to get heard.  So this time to really listen to them is so wonderful. Their personalities shine through in these times with them alone.  I love hearing about what is really important to them. During Ellie's time we heard her pride in finishing reading a very long chapter book (something that has not been easy for Ellie!)  Lia shared all about her excitement in advancing to new levels in dance classes.  She is especially excited about Ballet working towards Point!  Zeke shared all about a recent trip to Great America and his current fascination with roller coasters. He is also very excited that he can spell so many words now!   Actually, I think the biggest treat for each of the kids was getting to ride in Grandpa's car!  It really is the small things, isn't it?

Yes, our May is one really busy month!  Besides Zeke's birthday and Lia's birthday there is Mother's day and Ken's birthday (which happened to be ON Mother's day this year) and our Anniversary!  Plus we have Lia and Ellie's ballet recital!  So lots of family times.  Yesterday's time with Zeke just cemented for me this one simple truth.  You just have to MAKE THE TIME!  

You have to make the time to spend with each child alone.  You have to make time to attend all of these special events with the family.  You have to make time to be with those little babies before they grow up.  You have to make time for the simple things.

As I was putting the title on this blog, I was thinking about how important my "one on one" time with Jesus is for me.  I love that time to just "talk his ear off" and share all that really silly little stuff that is so important to me.  I love that I can share all about what is happening in my life, what I am concerned about and what I am looking forward to.  What a great lesson these times with Lia, Ellie, and Zeke has been for me.  I just need to approach my quiet time with Jesus exactly as the kids showed during this special time.  They were excited, anticipating the time alone.  And they shared openly from their hearts.  The good news about quiet times with Jesus is that he always has the time!  It is really up to us to make the time for HIM!

Tomorrow, when I sit down for my time with Jesus, I will be much more excited  than usual and I will be picturing sitting across a table from him, just sharing all the stuff from my life.  I am already feeling excited and ready for a special one-on-one time!  How about you?

Jesus, I am so grateful that you told us that we needed to be like little children to enter the kingdom of Heaven.  Thank you for using this time with Lia, Ellie, and Zeke to remind me what our time together should be like.  Holy Spirit, help us all to make time for the small things that fill our souls with joy and bring us peace.  Remind us to make time for one-on-one with Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day and a book review!

Today is Mother's Day and I was trying to decide exactly what picture I might use for this blog from among the hundreds that I have scanned.  There are pictures of my mom and me.  There are pictures of me with my children.  There are pictures of my mom with my kids.  You get the picture - lots of pictures!  It seemed difficult to decide...and then I saw this photo.  And the memories of this picture came flooding back to me.

This is picture is Henry Arnold Toesning (my grandfather) and Nora Henrietta Larson Toensing (my grandmother) and the darling little girl is my mom - Nona Etta Toensing Johnson.  It was taken in 1916 when my mom was around a year old.  This is the only picture my mom ever had of her with her mom.  Nora died in early 1917 before my mom turned 2 years old.  I love that my grandma is looking at my mom in this photo.  Mother's day was always one of those days that mom would say, "I wish I had gotten to know my mom".  In her later years, she talked so much about seeing her mom when she got to heaven.

Mother's day is like that....hard for many people.  Those who want children and don't have them. Those who have lost their mothers.   And those who have lost a child.  My family certainly know that missing and loss.
This is Susie and Doug with Lucas Jacob, right after he was born.  The joy and love in this photo was shaken when he died just 10 days later.  And there were some really tough holidays for the next couple of years.  I can't begin to imagine how hard Mothers Day and Fathers Day were for Doug and Susie.  What I know is that in the midst of that loss, there was hope.  And there was peace in knowing that Lucas was with Jesus.   
This year, Doug and Susie are celebrating with baby Grace Rae.  But that does not lessen the loss of Lucas.  He will always be missed, cherished and loved. 

Recently (and I know that I am really, really late for this) I read the book "The Shack".  The movie of this book was released this spring and most all of my friends went to the movie - some several times.  They strongly encouraged me to see this film.  Several of them had read the book when it was first released.  Some had never read the book.   Gwen was in the exact position that I was.  Never read the book and hadn't seen the movie.  Her friends encouraged her to read the book.  Within a day or two, she was telling me that I had to read the book!  

Timing is always everything.  I believe that I read this book at exactly the right time.  If I had read it several years ago it might not have had the same impact on me as it did.  As I was thinking of writing this blog, I knew that I needed to share what I experienced reading The Shack.  If you have not read the book or seen the movie, my testimony will not effect your ;reading/viewing of it.  

I had to put down my Kindle and stop reading after one very small line in one of the beginning chapters.....The Holy Spirit was collecting tears in a bottle.  Tears being shed for a lost child.  The verse that Susie and Doug chose for Lucas' funeral was Psalm 56:8 - "You have seen me tossing and turning through the night.  You have collected all my tears and preserved them in a bottle. You have recorded every one in your book".    Suddenly there was such reality to that verse.  Reading the words in that book, being drawn into the story, it was if the Holy Spirit just touched me and said, "yes, I am doing that for you, for Susie and Doug and for all your family."   It wasn't a past tense thing.  This is an ongoing and forever thing.  The tears we shed for Lucas,  for what could have and should have been, for the ever present hole in our family, on Mother's Day or any day,  are important and know by God.  I found great comfort in that.  As sometimes happens, I didn't even know how much I needed that comfort from the Great Comforter.  

The second place that I got stopped in reading The Shack was a scene with the main character walking through a garden, talking with God.  I immediately was back in a very long ago dream.  My life - my walk with Jesus - really began with that dream.  I was four years old but I remember that dream with great clarity.  As a matter of fact, even today I can recall how I felt in that dream.  It was really simple.  I was walking with Jesus in a beautiful garden.  It was more than my four year old brain could explain.  There were flowers of every color and the trees were amazing.  We were on a winding path.  Jesus held my hand as we walked along.  He told me who he was and that the Easter story was true.  He told me that I should tell everyone that it was true.  He had died on the cross, but he had risen from the dead and he was alive now in heaven.  If I close my eyes I can still feel his hand holding mine.   I have shared this dream many times.   As I read the book, it was as if the author had stepped into my dream.  I felt my heart begin to race as I read those pages.  It put such a confirmation stamp on my spirit. My dream was real.  Jesus is real.  The Bible is true.   I didn't even know that I needed that assurance, but I know now that I did.  

If you have not read The Shack, I encourage you to read it.  Or see the movie.  I am anxious now to see it!  I believe that it will touch every person who reads/sees it, with the exact message that they need.  Ignore all the controversy over this book and movie. Just let Jesus speak to you through this.  

So today, on this Mother's day, I can picture my mom with her mom in that beautiful garden.  I am so thankful that I will see Lucas again.  I will see my mom and finally meet my grandma.  And there will be so many others.  And it is all because of Jesus.  

Thank you Jesus for sending the exact right messages to us, exactly when we need them.  Thank you for pictures and memories.  Thank you for new books and movies that share your story.  Thank you for my children and grandchildren.  Thank you for The Shack! 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Seeing the phrase "run the race" in a whole new light......

On Saturday I got to watch these two really amazing people run the Wisconsin Half Marathon.  Now granted, I might be just a little bit prejudiced since they are my kids.... but still, this is quite the accomplishment.  And this was not their first race of this kind.  Tim has also done a marathon and other half marathons and Gwen has also done other half marathons.  There is so much about this that just leaves me in awe.  They both have jobs, they have four children, they home school their kids, they volunteer at church in more than just a couple of ways, and they still find time to train for these events.  I never really appreciated just how much training you needed to do until I watched Gwen and Tim fitting in those 12 mile runs - not together, of course, since someone has to stay with the kids!  But what a great example they are for those kids!  All four of the kids were there watching first their dad and then their mom cross the finish line and get that medal.  The kids know and understand the hard work  that went into this race.  They have seen their parents sweating and tired and exhausted after runs.  And they have learned that the hard work does pay off when they see those medals.

So the simple the race.... takes on a whole new meaning for me.

I can't help but think of this verse (from the Passion Translation) Hebrews 12:1...
As for us, we have all these great witnesses who encircle us like clouds, each affirming faith's reality.  So we must let go of every wound that has pierced us and the sin we so easily fall into.  Then we will be able to run life's marathon race with passion and determination, for the path has been already marked out before us.   

WOW!  There it is, right in that verse!  Our training for this marathon of life has to consist of those three things.....1.  REALIZING THE REALITY OF FAITH   2- LETTING GO OF EVERY WOUND, and 3 - LETTING GO OF THE SIN WE SO EASILY FALL INTO!

I don't know about you, but looking at that list feels an awful lot like trying to run that half marathon with no training!  Now I am beginning to understand that you have to start off somewhere.  So our training for this big race that is our life, should start off with small bites.  The secret is to follow the training program that has been set out for us.

In order to increase faith, just step back one chapter in the book of Hebrews!  Chapter 11 is the faith hall of fame.  All you have to do is slowly go through that chapter to get a bigger picture of faith.  Then when you have spent some time looking at chapter 11, go back and look at it again.  And again.  For however many times it takes you to get the assurance that these hero's of the faith are now that great cloud of witnesses that encircle us like a cloud.  Doesn't that help to build your faith?  I think I will be spending some time every day in Hebrews Chapter 11.  It is good training for life.

The next part of the training is to let go of all those hurts, wounds and pains that every one of us has.  This might be one or two really big things, or it might be a series of small and/or seemingly insignificant things.  I am sure that you can bring them mind.  If you can't, just stop and ask the Holy Spirit to show you.  He is a great reminder when it comes to these things that are hindering us.  When we ask Jesus to take these things from us, he is faithful to take them away.  Remember, we are in training and this is a process.  So I know that I will be making sure that I am not holding on to any hurt every day!

The last part of the training is to let go of sin.  Everything for the last paragraph applies.  One note on this - I think each of us know where our greatest temptation to sin is.  We know where we can so easily fall.  We just need to let go of that sin, with Jesus' power and strength.  Once again, this is a process thing, and something that needs to be practiced every day.  I am most surely speaking to myself right now!

This photo of Gwen was taken at just about the half way point of the race.  I had held on to the spot on the race route, along with Lia, Ellie, Zeke and Anna, just so that we could cheer Gwen on for the last half of the race.  You can see that the path for this race was marked with orange cones to keep the runners on the right route.  Gwen said that knowing we would be there, and seeing us cheer for her was just the boost that she needed to keep going.  

The good news about our life marathon race is that we also have a wonderful cheering section along the way.  That great cloud of witnesses is right there with us.  We can also depend on our brothers and sisters who are running along with us to keep us on track.  (Just another plug here for small groups.  If you don't have a group of people that you can "train" with, that will support you and love you in the process, I encourage you to find one!) 

The best news of all is that the path has already been marked off for us.  We don't have orange cones that we can see (in all honesty, don't you sometimes wish that there were such clear directions when decisions need to made?) but we have the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us.  We have the Bible to give us boundaries.  And we have the body of believers to help us along the way.  

All of this hard work is so worth it to be able to run this "life marathon" with passion and determination.  Both Gwen and Tim ran faster than previous races and beat their personal records on this race.  This is a great reminder that each of us has our own race to run.  We are not competing against anyone else.  Each of us has a different path.  No two are alike.  Each has been uniquely designed and is perfect for us.  What a wonderful and amazing God we have.  

Thanks to Gwen and Tim, I will be running my life's marathon with more passion and more determination.

Jesus, thank you for this revelation of your plan for each of us.  Holy Spirit, help us to remember to train well for the marathon that is our life.  Give us grace to do the hard work.  Increase our faith and give us courage and strength to let go of the things that are hindering us.  Thank you for the examples that you give us to encourage us to stay on the path you have marked out for us.  Amen 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Don't say it if you don't want it....

Today I got an extra time to see Grace.  She is three months old and just keeps getting more and more personality every time that I see her.  Today I watched this interaction between Grace and her mommy....
Can't you just see and feel the love between these two?  What an amazing connection we have with our little ones.  Even at this young age, she knows how to get her mom's attention and make her happy.   What a sweet, sweet intimate moment I was blessed to witness!

On Sunday night at the HUB meeting, Dana Morey continued with his amazing message helping us all to change our thinking, which transform our minds.  I love how the Passion Translation of Romans 12:2 reads....
Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think.  

There was simply so many good, powerful concrete ideas contained in Dana's message.  But on the way home, I was thinking about one "bullet point" thing that Dana said and I can not get it out of my head!  It brought me back to an amazing miracle that Jesus has done in my life. Here is that 
bullet point.......IF YOU DON'T WANT IT, DON'T SAY IT! 

Way, way back in 1999  (Doesn't that seem like a very long time ago?), I had been under a doctors care, pretty much constantly, for severe asthma.  As a matter of fact, in April of 1999, I noticed that the new Cardiopulmonary doctor that I was seeing, had slapped a large, red sticker over the front of my chart that said "COPD Patient".(Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)  I had been referred to this doctor because Ken and I had planned a vacation to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary, and it involved flying and a week away from home.  This doctor had tested me and prescribed several new inhalers and oral drugs that would allow me to make this trip.  But as time passed, these new drugs were not helping much.  There is a very odd thing that happens to people with breathing problems.  You get so "used to" having low oxygen levels that you don't realize how bad it really is. By the time I would realize that I needed to hit the emergency room, it was usually an emergency!
Now my church, my pastors and my friends had been praying for me often over the last year.  I would frequently go to the prayer teams, or to the altar for prayer.  I would leave the church and feel better for a few hours, but it never seemed to really STICK!  Sometime in the early fall of 1999, I heard a sermon around "owning" our illness' or infirmities.   I realized that I had been doing that!  I would say "My asthma is really bad."  Or I would say, "I have really serious asthma,"  So I became aware of how many times I used my words to own this horrible and damaging illness.  The last week of October of 1999, our church held a week of prayer meetings in the evenings.  During one of these meetings I realized that I had hit that point of needing to see the doctor as my breathing was very bad.  Before I could leave the church, my pastors and all the elders gathered around me and began to pray to break this illness off of me.  It was a powerful, powerful prayer time that cleared my breathing immediately.  I was able to stay for the rest of that service.  On the way home, I realized the connection between stopping my WORDS claiming this illness and the prayers that night.  However, I expected that, as usual, my symptoms would quickly return.  In the morning I woke up and realized that I was breathing well.  My peak flow meter showed 650.... an unbelievable number since my usual morning numbers were under 200.  I took all my medicine that morning.  As the day went on, it became more and more clear to me that I had experienced a true miracle!  I could feel the difference in my lungs, in my breathing and just in general.  A friend of mine who is a nurse, listened to my breathing that day.  With a stunned look on her face, she asked what had happened!  She said she had never heard air flow in all parts of my lungs before that day.  I made a faith decision to stop all of my medicines.   And I have never been treated for asthma since that time.  My doctors have confirmed over the years, that this is truly a miracle.  The disease that was documented in my charts doesn't just go away.  After about 5 years, they removed the sticker from my chart.    Anytime I hear someone "owning" their illness, I remember this miracle.   Our words have power.  Great power.  So my message tonight is really simple.  Whatever it is..... don't say it if you don't want it!

The miracle of my breathing with ease, is born out of my relationship with Jesus.  It is because of Him, because of the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, that healing was released.  Looking at the picture of Susie and sweet little Grace, seeing the intense love and joy between the two of them, helps me to visualize the connection that I have with God.  We are so blessed to be able to sit on the lap of our God, look into His eyes and see His smile.  What a beautiful reminder of the great love of Jesus.  

Yes, it is good to remember and recount testimonies of miracles.  But it is also a wonderful privilege to proclaim the great love that Jesus has for all people.  

Jesus, thank you for loving us and calling us to come sit on your lap.  Holy Spirit, help us all to be aware of our words and the power that we have in our tongue.  Remind us that we have a daddy in heaven that loves us.  Jesus, thank you for the breath of life.  Amen

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April Showers (and blooming trees and flowers) bring a high pollen count!

I have been feeling a bit "fuzzy" over the last couple of weeks - thanks to unrelenting allergies!  Yes, I love the blooming trees.  And yes, I am so thankful that all of those flowers are blooming!  But NO!  I do not appreciate all of the pollen that is floating in the air.   This is always a difficult time of year for me, but this year has been extremely bad.  It seems that I have had a constant headache that leaves me very tired by the end of the day.  Ken has been out enjoying the warm weather and taking photos of all this "beautiful" spring blooming.  I much prefer to sit inside and just contemplate the arrival of better weather (with much less pollen)!

This was my remedy for today!  I mean really, doesn't that little cutie just lift your spirit?  She is wearing the little shirt that was in her Easter Basket and a "TuTu" (which is what Lia, Ellie and Anna all call their skirts) that is a hand me down from Gwen's girls.  Being with Grace certainly did help me to feel a bit less fuzzy.  It is hard to believe that this little girl will soon be twelve weeks old!  I don't know where the last 3 months have gone.

For the most part, this April has not been quite as filled with memories of all those who I have lost in this month. (I have mentioned this often - my mom, dad, mother-in-law, father-in-law and sister all died during April).  I think this might actually be a bit of a benefit of all the fuzziness in my head this year! But then this happened......

I was sitting in my car in a drive through line, getting a quick cup of coffee.  I had my window down as I approached the window to pay for my drink.  There were a number of cars ahead of me so I was stopped for a number of minutes.  And then the aroma of this bush wafted into my car.  I was suddenly transported to the backyard of Ken's parents home.  There was a large spice bush in the corner of their yard that would just fill the entire place with this sweet smell.    I had not been thinking about Merv and JoAnne until that moment.  For the next couple of hours I just couldn't get them out of my mind.  So many memories in that backyard.  Isn't it interesting how powerful a smell can be?  This is one of my favorite pictures from that backyard.  It is Doug and Gwen with their Great Grandma Baker (Ken's favorite Grandma).
(When I found this picture I noticed how much Grace looks like Doug and Anna makes the expression that Gwen has in this picture!)  Looking at this picture, I can almost smell that bush!

On Sunday evening I had another experience of my senses reminding me of events from the past.  I have blogged many times about a powerful ministry that meets fairly close to my home - Chicago HUB.  I have been attending these meetings over the last twenty years on a fairly regular basis - much more often in the recent years.  And I can not begin to count how many conference events sponsored by HUB that have blessed me during that time. Something very unexpected happened last November.  The leader of HUB, Nancy Magiera,  became seriously ill.  Additionally, the conference center that had been the meeting place for HUB for several years, announced that they were closing as of January, 2017.  Suddenly I faced (like so many other people) the reality that HUB was not meeting each Sunday.  Have you heard the saying that you don't miss something until you don't have it anymore?  HUB is not an easily replaceable event.  There is something incredibly unique about this group of people who gather each week.  HUB stands for His United Body and that is exactly what it is.  There are people of every age from infants to grey heads.  There are people of many races and many creeds.  Nancy always says that there is one common denominator at HUB - the only one that matters - Jesus and His saving work on the cross.  Because of the unity, because of the love of Jesus, there is always powerful worship and amazing teaching.  Well, last Sunday evening, I (along with several hundred other people) celebrated the return of HUB.  It was a new location.  Nancy is still recovering, but doing better.  But hundreds - yes hundreds of us came together once again.  Standing in that crowd, just breathing in the atmosphere, I was flooded with reminders of past HUB events.
As I mentioned at the start of this blog, I have not been feeling great.  And this new location for HUB is farther from home for me.  Needless to say, Sunday evening HUB helped to clear the fuzziness from my head.  I was so thankful to be in that place once again.

The icing on the cake at HUB was the message from Dana Morey.  If you take a moment and click on this link, you will see just a bit of who Dana Morey is.  Yes, the man that speaks before MILLIONS, is a friend of HUB and we are blessed - so blessed - that he comes and shares with us.  On Sunday night he shared the beginning of a powerful message (the message will be completed over the next two Sunday nights) to encourage and teach us how to truly transform our thinking so that we can have the mind of Christ!   Boy did I ever need to hear this message, considering my fuzzy thinking over the past weeks!  I can hardly wait for the next two Sunday evenings to get the complete message!  The nugget from his message that I want to share with you, is that it IS possible to change the way we think!  It is physically possible to remove old thought patterns from our brains and build new ways of thinking.

If you are like me and feeling like your thinking is muddled and fuzzy, this is very good news. I've had a couple of great examples of Jesus reaching me through my senses, even when I felt really distant and covered in a veil of fog.  The smile of a sweet baby, a delight for my eyes.  The smell of a wonderful spring bloom, a pleasing aroma.  The press of a crowd of friends and the presence of the Holy Spirit, a refreshing balm.  Followed by the wisdom and inspiration of a great message.  Yep, allergies are no match for a loving and powerful God!

Jesus, thank you for your amazing wonderful creation that bursts forth in blooms each spring.  Thank you for getting your message through to me, in spite of my clouded brain.  Thank you for HUB, for Nancy and Hank Mageira, and for Dana Morey.  Pour out your abundant blessings on your servants.  Holy Spirit, thank you for drawing your people together in unity.  Amen

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter fun!

Today was  sort of a continuation of yesterday's fun and family for me.  Gwen had the day off of work, so we "celebrated" and took the kids to the mall for some summer shoe shopping and then to their favorite "big park".  This park excursion also included a "picnic" lunch so it was a big hit all around.  This truly is a BIG park with 6 large play areas, a large sand/water play area, stuff for the younger kids, a BIG climbing rope structure and more!  I have been to this park with the kids since Lia was a baby since it was the closest large park to their old house.  Because they now live pretty far away from this park, it is a real treat for the kids to revisit this wonderland of park equipment.  It was another incredibly beautiful day (yesterday was fantastic) so it was a treat to be outside and enjoying the springtime.

Yesterday was one of those days that you just don't want to see come to an end.  The time just sped by and was filled with laughter, fun and food.  All of the kids had a blast....well, I suppose that is a bit of a stretch for Grace....but she ate, slept and smiled through the day!  Our day started with all 11 of us together at Gwen and Tim's church.  We actually took up two rows!  Let me tell you there is nothing better for this Grandma than to look around at all those sweet faces celebrating that Jesus is alive!  We never heard a peep out of Grace during the entire service!  Church was followed by lots of good food.  How wonderful is the aroma of ham baking in the oven and we were greeted with that lovely smell arriving at Gwen's house. After our annual outside picture taking event (these pictures were shared yesterday on Facebook!) the kids had a wonderful time exploring their Easter baskets.  Zeke was thrilled with a small "pocket volcano" that I included in his basket.  (In case you are wondering, this small plastic volcano is filled with baking soda and vinegar and placed in a glass of water, creates a wonderful volcano - perfect for a 5 year old boy!  It can also be used in the bath tub!)  
Grace had a couple of wardrobe changes during the day, including putting on this "my first Easter" bib, just for me!  After the rousing Easter egg hunt, we all walked to the park.  To end the day, we took a family picture and it was a surprising success - even though this was the end of a long, long day.
Every family picture we take has a missing piece.  I can't help but look at this picture and know that Lucas is missing from it.  But while Lucas is missing from this picture, he is always in our hearts.
I love that Susie and Doug included their special Lucas bear in this Easter family photo.  And Susie is also holding Grace's sweet "Rainbow Bunny"!  Grace is our precious rainbow baby.  She is a reminder of hope and love after the storm of grief and loss when Lucas died.  

I can't think of a better day and a better way to remember Lucas than Easter.  Because of Easter, we know that we will see Lucas again one day.  Because of Jesus, our family has been able to go on - day after day, in the last two plus years.  It is the message of Easter - He is risen! - that fills us with joy. 
I just love that Easter this year, happened to fall right in the middle of my weeks of loss.  Not only was I thinking about Lucas, but I was also thinking about my mom, dad, mother-in-law, father-in-law and sister.  I needed the reminder that Jesus has destroyed the power of the grave!  

Yes, this has reminded me of yet another song......Forever by Kari Jobe.  I don't know if you are all sick of me sharing songs, but so often Jesus speaks to me in music.  And this song contains this all important message!  

Now death where is your sting? Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated!

My prayer today is that this message of Easter will touch your heart and your spirit.  Because of Jesus there is joy and hope and love.  There is family and fun and food and playtime.  And we can sing Hallelujah!

Jesus, thank you for wonderful sunshine and bright blue skies.  Thank you for the sweetness of candy that brings smiles to faces of little children and adults!  Holy Spirit, help us all to remember, even in the seasons of grief and loss, that the sting of death has been defeated by Jesus!  Thank you for your sacrifice for us, Jesus.  Amen

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Missing my mom......

My mom died six years ago today.  I never have to stop and figure out how many years it has been, since Zeke was born just a month after Mom died - actually on her birthday.  And since Zeke will soon be six years old - well, it must have been six years.  I was so blessed to have my mom for a long, long time.  She was almost 96 years old.  But I can tell you, it really doesn't matter HOW long - it is never long enough.   These last six years have had so many moments when I would have loved to talk to her.  To get her opinion.  Or to just laugh with her.  Our moms hold a special, special place in our hearts that is not easily filled by anyone else.  I actually took a picture of this photo which is in a scrapbook that I made for my mom.  This very "impromptu" picture was taken by my dad, as my mom and I were working on a holiday dinner in December of 1971.  My mom never liked our kitchen in this house.  It did not have much counter space and we were always trying to work in a very cramped little space.  In thinking back to that lack of working room, it may be why I am so comfortable in my own very small kitchen that doesn't have much counter space! I got used to it when working with my mom!   I love this very genuine smile on both our faces.  
I was searching through our scanned photos for a picture of me with my kids when they were teenagers.  I settled on this picture which was taken on Easter in 1999,  An interesting fact I have discovered -  I am not in very many pictures.  That is because I was usually the one TAKING the pictures at the events!  So it is hard to find pictures that include me with the kids.  Looking back at that picture of my mom and I, I realized just how important it is to keep taking pictures with our kids! I am so thankful that I have that picture of Mom and I and I am grateful to have this photo with both Gwen and Doug!  

Today at my small group, I mentioned that these weeks in April are a bit difficult for me.  During these weeks, my mother, father, sister, mother-in-law, and father-in-law all died.  And even when I KNOW that these dates are just days on a calendar, I still feel that melancholy heaviness trying to get me down during this time.  I am so thankful for the prayers of my friends today, that lifted that heaviness off of my heart.   I was thinking of just how fitting it is that Easter falls during these weeks this year.   It is a time when it is easy to fall into that sad/mourning time as we remember the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  I have always tried to imagine just how distraught the disciples must have been on that Saturday.  When their friend was gone and they could not begin to come up with a plan to go forward.  They had believed their teacher, but it was dark and cold and empty with his death.  But then Sunday morning came!!!  What an amazing, wondrous time that was. For us, even with the heaviness of Holy Week - we know that Sunday is on the way!  Jesus has risen! He is alive!

The best part of this is the reminder for me that Mom is in that amazing place right now, praising Jesus.   And she is with her mom - something that she longed for her entire life.  (Her mom died when she was only two years old)  And the happy news is that one day, I will see her again.  And that makes this day of missing her so much easier.    I know that I have blogged before about the song "In Christ Alone".   My mom loved this song after she heard it.  She said it told the whole story.  So once again, here is In Christ Alone in honor of my mom.  And it does really tell the entire story of Jesus.  

I just love this last stanza of this song. there is a message there for all of us. 

No guilt in life, no fear in death - this is the power of Christ in me.
From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns, or calls me home, here in the power of Christ, I'll Stand!

Jesus, thank you for powerful songs that tell us your story and help us share that story with others.  Thank you for the comfort you bring to all of us who are missing loved ones who have died.  Give us all the reminder of the hope we have in you, Jesus.  Amen