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