Thursday, December 20, 2012

Looky, look, look, look

The other night at dinner we were playing a game where everyone took turns thinking of a word that relates to Christmas, as we worked our way through the alphabet. When we play games at dinner time we do so in a very quiet, orderly manner, and almost no one screams, shouts, or talks over one another. Ever. We're so proper. Stop in some time and you'll see...that I'm a total liar. It's usually out-of-hand, but always so fun! We love it.  We're making memories here, folks.

When we arrived at "Z" I said, in a very mature, set-a-good-example, definitely not a 5-year-old tone, "Z is for zero...as in the number of presents I have under the tree. Ohhhh!!! Or, Z, is for Zilch." Josh and I caught eyes and simultaneously started manufacturing new jokes spun off of my Z words, all while poor Avery held her cute little head in her hands, pounding the table, racking her brain, giving anything to call forth the perfect Z Christmas word. (We aren't competitive at all.) Avery failed. I took a cheap shot. 

Zero and Zilch were honestly the only Z words I could think of, other than zebra of course, but I was hard pressed to connect zebras to Christmas, so Zero and Zilch won. Josh and I laughed because we both know the reality of our financial state at the moment, and it's honestly okay. I'd be death-bed sick if I knew there were loads of presents under the tree with my name on them that belonged to VISA. I like the alternative. It helps me sleep at night. 

Bear with me, I have a point. 

Last night I was at a worship gathering when the two singers started singing about it being Jesus' birthday. And I lost it. I started bawling. I can't quote the words of the song. I only know that the tears came when they began singing about Mary carrying a child and bringing Him into the world in conditions suitable for animals. A King born in a manger. It could be that my Mama heart broke for Mary and Jesus, and led me to uncontrollable weeping. Or, it could've been that wells and wells of gratitude and awe burst and broke, followed by fountains of snot. Or, it could be that I could somehow relate, (not in the birthing our Lord and Savior sort of way, but maybe in the misinterpreted sense). Maybe it was the culmination of a thousand things. 

At that moment I felt reminded that appearances are deceiving, sneaky and secret, (ordered by God)...and really, truly, actually awesome. What looks like poverty and hard times at our house is really just the opposite. We are building. Tirelessly (and tired-ly) pushing for a dream. Too stubborn to quit. And it's exciting!

Calling Joseph and Mary a poor, irrelevant couple, unworthy of a clean bed was actually one of the biggest misconceptions ever made. Mary brought forth the light of the world, but most everyone misunderstood the especially bright star in the sky that night, or why on earth wise men and kings would come to worship a baby lying in a manger. 

But God knew better. He knew how history would unfold. He allowed His very essence to have the most humble, dirty, unappealing (lacking every kind of bell or whistle) entrance to the world. HE PLANNED THAT. HE DID THAT. He wasn't worried. Jesus' destiny wasn't in jeopardy. Sneaky right? 

See, I've understood that our present circumstances and appearances aren't the end of the story, and last night I felt especially encouraged that something is brewing. I was past the point of being okay with the big Z words, I was actually thankful, energized and excited. And I cried the ugly, wipe my nose on my scarf cry, happy as a squirrel in an oak tree. (Is that a common analogy? Squirrel in an oak tree? I made it up. Be free to use it. Or not.)

I'll close with this, appearances are a bummer if you lay it all on the line every day for everyone to see. Where's the magic in that? Where's the testimony? How great is the prize if it's not desperately fought for, or extravagantly paid for, in one way or another? What kind of impression will remain? These questions streamed down my swollen tear stained face as I sat there feeling like the Lord just let me in on a big secret: Appearances are misleading. Deceiving. God works behind the scenes, and below the radar. I suggest saving judgements for later. And maybe even scrapping them all together. Let's do this. Let's plow the field in front of us. Let us not grow weary, for surely this is just the beginning of the beginning, or maybe even the middle, but definitely not the end. Let's be the best darn delivery truck drivers, bankers, post office workers, drum builders and stay at home Mom-ers we can be. Let's trust that if we fight the good fight, with clean hands and pure hearts that we will arrive on the other side, victorious. It's possible. It's certain. It's sneaky. Let's do what our Mom's always told us to do, and not judge a book by its cover. Remember that vision gives pain a purpose (thanks Kris Vallotton), and anything of lasting value isn't built over night. And most importantly, remember that God's too cool, too sneaky, and way too wise to wear His plans on His sleeves. If we stick with Him He's gonna make it count. It's His style. It's His plan. He orders the hard stuff. All we have to do is hang on.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas

Christmas has been tricky for us. Especially since my husband and I grew up with different traditions. Me, Santa. Him, baby Jesus. It's a hard season to navigate. My kids adore Christmas, and I love it too. I always have. This year, however, has been exceptionally awkward, more so than in years past.

Common question when you're a Christian: "Do you guys do Santa?" My answer, "Sort of." (Read: cop-out.) And then, "Santa only gets credit for stockings. I'm not giving him the glory for the American Girl dolls under the tree. Haha!" (Sigh.) Not even I'm convinced. And then I want to explain, but I'm not sure how to start so we usually just sort of grin and talk about the weather or some less confusing topic. And I walk away half pondering the question that I've been asked a thousand times, (Do we do Santa -- big fat question mark???), but I'm too busy with life to try to untangle the mess in my brain concerning the jolly ol' big guy so I carry on.

But, here's the deal friends - I'm getting off the boat. I just can't do it anymore. I can't skate through Christmas sort of doing something, totally unclear on why, but only because I haven't taken the time to come to a happy answer that would sit well with all of my Trask's, age 34, right down to 10 mos. I owe it to my kids to be more clear, to be more precise in my (in our) belief that the big guy in the red suit isn't better, or more appealing, (or more worthy of our adoration) than a baby in a manger who foresaw his barbaric violent death, thanks to our sin, and still said, yes. It's a hard sell to little ones, especially when the subject matter is so heavy, but I know we can do better, so we will work toward that end. Merry Christmas! Joy! Joy! :) I won't be mad if you stop reading.

I know there are a lot of ways to address this, and certainly every Christian in America varies to some degree on what's acceptable for their home and what's not, so please read this as a, "this is me, and not you" commentary, and please, for the love, don't think I will judge you for doing things differently than we do. Please don't do that. That sort of reaction makes me want to vomit. Okay? Please? I'm not saying we are right. I just can't shake the sickness in my own gut over what Christmas has become so this is my honest response.

So, last night as I'm washing dishes I blurted out, "We aren't doing Santa this year." 
My 7 and 8 year old in unison, "Whaaaat?!! Why?" 
(2-year-old and 10-month old couldn't care less.)
"Because he's not even real." (Slow down, Jenny Trask. Take it easy.) "Do you know who the real Santa was?" 
"Yes," they reply. (Josh told them that story a few years back.) They continue, "Santa's name was, St. Nicholas. He went around giving gifts to people."
"Right. So, there's a real Santa -- St. Nicholas -- and a fake Santa. It's fun pretending, but it's not why we celebrate Christmas."
"We know."
Indignation is rising. I know better than to continue, and anyway, busyness interrupts so that's the end of the conversation for now.

Here's the thing - I love tradition. I like regularity (kids do too). And I love the magical feeling that December brings, but it's all become a big tangly mess in my mind. I also really like doing fun things to make memories for our family to hold onto, and Christmastime is ripe with tradition, memory-making potential so it's fun trying to find traditions we love and ones we can carry on. This year we are scheduled to visit different countries (from home) to see how they celebrate Christmas. It's been fun so far, but guess what? Almost every country has some form of Santa Claus as part of their traditions. Religion too. But mostly some sneaky guy, creepy elf or freaky witch that comes in at night to leave something. This discovery has only stirred the pot of grossness in my guts. My fix? I boil it down to a few fun basic facts about a particular country's traditions, mostly historical, we eat fun food, and that's that. And then I realized that this is the same thing we've done in our own house. Focus on the cute parts, touch on history, eat, be merry and give gifts. I think we'll stay in America next year. Don't get me wrong, we do lots of things that celebrate Jesus, but then we throw Santa in the mix and with him comes a mess...especially since we have no chimney. :-)

This past weekend we visited Old Salem in NC, and learned how the Moravians celebrated Christmas. It was really interesting and fun. The Moravians had simple Christmas traditions, mostly because they had no money, but also because they believed in focusing on Jesus at Christmastime.  Elaborate nativity scenes were found in most every home and they were used to remind children, and everyone, that Christmas is truly a time of remembering Jesus. They also have a tradition of coming together to worship Jesus by singing over candlelight - their Christmas vigil.  The tradition began with children being given a burning candle made of beeswax which represents the purity of Jesus, and also symbolizes Him being the light of the world. The candle was wrapped with a colored band to help them remember Christ's birth, passion and wounds. As special as this history is, it felt significantly dumbed down by the town of Old Salem for the sake of commercialism and appealing to the masses. What has happened?

Christmas is losing it's magic. It's nostalgia is fading. I can't keep up and I feel like I'm suffocating. I need relief. We need Jesus.

Here's where we are headed -- 

Christmas tree - yes. I'm not getting into history here. We like the Christmas tree. It smells good. We do not worship it. It's not a paradise tree (garden of Eden reference) and when we look at it we don't think of it as being a source of redemption (Jesus hanging on a tree). We just like it. It's adorned with memories and warmth and it's not leaving.

Gifts & spending - Americans overindulge. Enough said. We're implementing this for our kids -- something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read, and something to give (all categories with a spending cap, of course), inspired by Jen Hatmaker. I'd also like to think more about giving experiences as opposed to cheap tee shirts or Black Friday Barbie dolls. (Ie. My kids will remember our trip to Old Salem better than they will remember almost every gift they will receive this year. Long after Barbie is headless, the memory of our trip to the Great Wolf Lodge will remain.) There's nothing like Christmas morning with kids. Nothing on earth. Our kids are extra blessed on Christmas morning only because we live across the country from our extended family so they have gifts from several families to open come December 25th. This is special, and we are so so so grateful, but they are not spoiled by us on Christmas. Finances won't allow it, and even if they did, I'm not sure Josh and I would allow it.

We will also continue to make gifts for teachers, friends and family when and where we can. This is fun, and oftentimes the end result is super awesome and usually something you might pay a good amount of money for, so it's a win-win.

Santa - Sorry, buddy. We will watch Polar Express and Elf because they're like any other good kids' movie -- pretend and sweet. We will also encourage our kids to hush about Santa being a big fat faker when they're at school. 
Pictures with Santa, fine. If we happen to encounter a friendly one who doesn't give me the heebie-jeebies or make our kids scream, and they want to get in on that hype, whatevs.
Mailing wish lists to Santa. Nah. It's just a set up to be let down, unless you're Donald Trump, and can (and will) buy everything on your sweet child's list. Note: Even if we could, we won't. This is the real world.
You can't have it all just for being the cutest kid on the planet. Real life doesn't work that way. Character doesn't come that way. Buying love like that is dangerous.
No more milk and cookies for Santa. Maybe we can make a special treat to leave for Daddy as a gift on Christmas Eve instead, to say thanks for providing for us all year? 
Stocking credit will now belong to us, or we might adopt my sister Andrea's idea and make them "sibling stockings," filled by each other, for each other. I like that idea a lot! 

Nativity scene - yes. We have a lovely one handmade by Josh's dad. It's precious.

Other traditions - 
* We will continue to read, The First Miracle by Jeffrey Archer on Christmas Eve Eve (we have plans with friends on Christmas Eve). 
* We will continue to pray on Christmas morning to thank Jesus for being born before a single gift is opened.
* We will write poems called, "Jesus, Because of You..." each year. No rules here. You can list words. Write sentences. Or be a rhyming machine. It will be fun to look back at our answers as the years pass by and the babies get bigger.
* We will read the Bible story of Christmas.
* We will attend Christmas functions.
* We will give to someone we don't know, in secret.
* We will bake and share our treats. We will craft. We will be merry.
* We will always love school craft Christmas presents made by our babies more than anything.
* We will probably only buy small, meaningful gifts for our extended family -- parents, nieces & nephews, and have a spending cap on our own kids' gifts.
* Josh and I rarely exchange gifts. This makes birthdays more special, and we can buy socks any old time of year. Seriously. 

Bottom line: We will simplify. We will remember Jesus. 

Kids are a bottomless pit of questions. 

Why do we get a Christmas tree at Christmas? Who were the first people to have Christmas trees? Do reindeer really fly? Jesus knew me before I was born? 

This blog is my conscious attempt at having some answers - having some black and whites where there've only been gray's. 

So, now when the question is asked, "Do you do Santa?" the answer will be, yes. We most definitely do. We try to give to the poor and sick in secret, just like he did. We try to protect the ones who are in danger of being abused, just like he did. We give without wanting. Just like St. Nicholas did, and just like Jesus wants us to do. 

Oh, you mean, do we try to get our kids to behave in December so that Santa will come? Go into huge amounts of debt so that Santa will be lifted up and glorified? No. Definitely not. If I can't get my kids to behave between my husband, Jesus and I, there's no way I'm handing the reigns over to some strange fat guy to do the job for me. No.way. Plus, I figure they'll end up in counseling eventually for being let down year after year, and never getting that one thing they asked Santa for, so we're really doing them a favor. 

We will make Christmas sparkle once again. It will be magical, and meaningful and special and joyful. It will. It will. I can feel it.

I believed in Santa when I was little. I don't think he ever disappointed me, but then again, fairy tales never disappoint, do they? Life does, however, but the disappointments are always trumped by the man I know as my King. He's the reason for the season. He's the encounter that matters to these kids He's put Josh and I in charge of. He gets Christmas. Period.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Be One On Whom Nothing Is Lost

Be One On Whom Nothing Is Lost

It's one of those nostalgic phrases that I had to repeat to myself over and over again in order to fully appreciate it's weight. The more I said it, the more movement it created. The movement caused a dusty portion of my brain (overrun by cheap media and an illegitimate language) to perk up.  Neurons fired, lethargy left, and revelation came. Hallelujah!  My name is Jenny Trask and words win me. And Henry won me again with his smart words a few days ago. 

Here's what happened.

I found myself pouring over my latest issue of UC Davis's alumni magazine when I read a familiar quote by Henry James, "Be One On Whom Nothing Is Lost."  (I like to capitalize every word of this phrase to emphasize each word, and to sort of slow down the pace at which it's read, mostly for me, but perhaps it's helpful for you as well. It's not grammatically adequate, but to make my point, I have chosen to write it this way.)

At first I was swept away by the existential ring of the phrase, "Be One On Whom Nothing Is Lost." It encouraged me again to open wide my eyes and ears in order to behold everything and miss nothing. Something I instinctively like to do anyway. It gave me permission to daydream. To observe my surroundings and then linger there for as long as I'd like. To perhaps open my windows to listen (and experience) the contradiction between the whimsical sounds of the forest and the frenzied chaotic musings of my home where little ones fill every square inch with their sounds. To breathe in the moment and savor every morsel of deliciousness afforded to me by God. To truly celebrate my life. I tucked Mr. James's words away in my heart and carried on, thankful that they've come to me again, reminding me yet again to be myself. To celebrate my journey. To pull back from the knit-picky hum-drum workings of life and to zero in on what pulls on the deepest part of my heart: the beauty of life. The details of my life, others lives, the mechanics of life in general, be they pretty and peaceful, or dark and disheartening. His words were a pat on the back. A wink and a nod of encouragement to pursue experiencing life, and to write about it because I've earned the right to do so through experience. I've earned the right. That's a big deal. I've lived something and get to process it, or I've witnessed something and get to re-tell it, be it celebratory or mournful. This is a privilege. This is life-giving. This is a gift.

But, then today happened, and with it, new meaning to this timeless phrase.  I found myself feeling, for lack of a better word, indignant about something, and noticed that more than anything I'd like to use my words to express my disdain and general dissatisfaction with someone, but I knew that it would be wrong to do so, and I was unhappy at the wrongness of using my words. So, in true Jenny Trask fashion I took it out on my bathrooms. I scrubbed and scrubbed, and while doing so I engaged in a mid-paragraph debate with Jesus. It's what I do. No formalities, just mid-sentence/mid-paragraph business. He gets me. We talk. I was carrying on and on, maybe arguing just a little, when He stopped me. And this phrase found me again, "Be One On Whom Nothing Is Lost," only this time without any kind of whimsy attached to it. It came polished and clean, and cold, just like the concrete floor I was standing on. It stung for a minute, but then came relief.

"Be One On Whom Nothing Is Lost." Again, "Be One On Whom Nothing Is Lost." I paused. I understood that even when I am mistreated I must remain one on whom nothing is lost. I must hand my hurt over to my King and grow from the pain set before me. Humility is the high road, and sometimes silence is supreme. In this case it was, and I knew it. Justice comes from God. The gain I received from dying on the inside today was more valuable than what I would've received by misusing my words, and tearing someone else down. I might have lost this battle had I acted the way I wanted so strongly to act, but Jesus and Henry James reminded me that it is more courageous to be one on whom nothing is lost, rather than to lose through flippant disregard for right and wrong. I will savor the good and bad, easy and difficult, and every degree in between. I will do my best to be one on whom nothing is lost, and I pray I can teach my children to do the same.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

10 Years Strong

He cornered me in our closet yesterday, forced a hug on me, and said, "I'm sorry you're still waiting." I knew exactly what he meant. I sank into his embrace and savored the moment as I pondered the weight of his words. And then someone needed something, or squeezed herself into the middle of our hug, (I can't remember which), and that was that. A quick little meeting of our hearts, and then it was time to get busy.

Building a new business isn't for the faint of heart. Let's start there. It's difficult. It's fighting past rejection, shrugging off discouragement, smiling through doubt, and pressing on when you're wore slap out. (Is that how the saying goes?) Anyway, we are no strangers to all of the above. We are in our early 30's, 4 kids, a 3/4 finished house, and we are starting a new branch of our existing business. Hello full-time life! Our new branch is called, The BoxKit. He is our inanimate son, made of wood, invented by Josh. And quite like Josh, The BoxKit believes in going forth and multiplying, and alas, we have a whole line of BoxKits. Daddy, Junior, & Mini, (although we never call the The BoxKit, Daddy, to his face. He prefers, The BoxKit. I have a thing for nicknames. We make it work.) They are a family of 3, but not without frills. They have accessories. They are the start of something, and they aren't afraid. Who could blame them, really? What with Josh building them and all. His hands have a way of keeping fear at bay. They're strong, steady, building kind of hands. Safe hands.

 Anyway, we had big plans for our 10-year anniversary. Nothing concrete, really, only pipe dreams. But we had every intention of being long-gone, sleeping in a hammock built for 2, on some remote island somewhere, listening to Pandora play the story of our lives via Brad Paisley come June 22, 2012. And then life happened. Claire happened. And then her sister, Avery happened. And a few years after that, Avery became a big sister to Josh's mini-me, Noelle, and then Jesus said he had one more for us, so then Joel happened. And our Trask party of 2, became the Trask circus of 6 just like that. We are a happening family!

So this year's big shebang of an anniversary celebration never happened. Well, not in the tropical sense anyway. We've never had (4) kids and this much going on in our lives, ever. June 22nd came fast, and that secret pile of vacation money vanished somehow, much to my dismay.

Our sweet day started like most others, only we woke up more tired than usual thanks to #3. Noelle decided to celebrate the longest day of the year (June 21 - the first day of summer) with a pretty raging party into the wee hours of the morning, which for the most part is quite uncharacteristic of her, but she's a Trask, so, Go Big or Go Home. She went Big. At Home. Her daddy and I considered making a run for it, but we were too tired to try (wink, wink). Instead we situated her between us in our bed where she quickly proceeded to study us, poke, prod, elbow, pat and quietly aggravate us for a steady 2 hours. We had no choice but to evict her from the premises, and escort her back to her own bed. She cried. I hated it for her. I hated it for us.

The morning of, no big deal. A groggy, Happy Anniversary, and we were up and at 'em. Business as usual. We considered skipping out on celebrating at all on the actual day of our anniversary because for the life of us we couldn't make it work. We were unprepared on all fronts. Even Google found me wanting. Speaking of, Google should be ashamed for coming up short on such an important date. 100's of inquiries prior to the big day, and nothing. (Okay, it wasn't Google's fault, but I need something to blame, so, tough luck Google.) And then 10am showed up, looking sneaky, sort of taunting me, daring me to try again, insisting that I reconcile with Google and repent for my pitiful disposition. I caved. I grabbed the iPad, said sorry to Google and made things happen.  I quickly formed a plan, okay'd it with Josh, found somewhere for the big girls to be, hired someone to look after #3, loaded up #4 to serve as chaperone, and we were off. It was an "it takes a village to raise a child" kind of day, but the village came together and we had ourselves a little date...with our 5 month old.


A fun walk through historic Old Salem, touring buildings from the 18th century, Krispy Kreme donuts, and Chipotle, and that's how we celebrated our big 1-0.  The craziest thing we did - we ate donuts before dinner.

Here's the thing. Josh was wrong. I'm not still waiting. I'm living. I'm building a life for all time with my very best friend. He builds houses and drums, and together we build character in smaller versions of ourselves. Not only that, but we're building a marriage marked with perseverance, strong love and commitment. We live a life that's currently saturated with deep, thought-provoking talks with 7 & 8 year olds, poopy diapers, sippy cups of milk, microwaved lunches, lots of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and occasionally cereal for dinner. This is where we are. I can't tell you what's trending on yahoo at the moment, or who the Hollywood "it" couple is, and quite frankly I find it excruciating to discuss politics because I honestly have very little knowledge of what's really going on in the world. Don't get me started on fashion either. I.have.no.idea. BUT, I can tell you who got writing awards on PTO night, who's little feet are click-clacking in high heels too big for her as she makes her way down the hallway, and who's doing what at any moment, anywhere in our house. I know without much investigating who instigated the fight, who's telling the truth, who's stressed out, who pooped, and who needs some attention. I can also tell you who hung the moon, settles my heart and sends me swooning at the very sight of him. My Trask's are all I know at the moment. They captivate me and preoccupy me. The tropics can wait for me. I'm not waiting for them. They will come when I'm good and ready to go, and probably not a second sooner. I will go. With my husband. And we will sleep in a hammock without a care in the world. It will happen.

In the meantime, I will savor long talks with my husband at lunch, movies at bedtime, making fun of our kids behind their backs, and brainstorming about our future. To quote Nacho Libre, "My life is good...reeaaally good." Happy Anniversary to the best, most loving, hardest working, most affectionate daddy and husband in the world. He's everything that's anything to me. He's an inventor with an adventurers spirit. His perseverance is awe-inspiring. He's carried our family on his shoulders for 10 years. My dad once said about Josh, "He's strong for a little sucker." (They were moving a heavy couch at the time.) And I agree.

We will arrive. We have arrived. We are arriving. There's no waiting. Only new days to celebrate new things. And old things. And everything in between things. Ten's a big deal for sure, but it's not as much about standing still to mark a day with an island getaway as it is about being sure that this day will come again and again for the rest of our lives, punctuated with lots of tropical vacations scattered everywhere along the way. June 22nd is only special because it reminds us where we've been and where we're headed, and what we've promised. Here's to the rest of my life with Josh Trask. Cheers!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

2012 Summer Bucket List

Here we go...


The list...in case the pictures aren't easy on your eyes.  :-)

* Build & paint birdhouses
* Lake
* Get donuts in our pj's
* Write & mail a random letter of encouragement
* Ice cream for dinner
* Picnic at the park
* Laminated art placemats
* Yard sale
* Claire lead church
* Avery lead church
* Kool-Aid & ice cube painting
* Layered salt artwork
* Spa day
* Ding-dong-ditch & leave prizes
* Tree leaf discovery: collect leaves, use Internet to identify them, draw leaves & write about each one.
* Take care of our garden
* Learn all books of the Bible through a memory song.
* How I would spend $100- report: Use Internet to price items.
* Fireworks
* Write a new song on the guitar or piano
* Claire start a blog
* Avery start a blog
* Tie dye shirts
* Play dates
* Neighborhood carnival
* Pajama/movie day
* Book-It reading log. $0.10 per book read
* Alphabet tour with camera. Develop pictures. Make a book.
* 2-liter bottle tree painting
* Go fishing
* Scavenger hunt
* Library with friends
* Milk carton boats to float at lake
* Nature walk with camera. Develop pictures. Make book.
* Create kids cookbook
* Visit Blowing Rock
* Sewing project
* Visit Discovery Museum
* Melt & create with crayons
* Pick berries, make jam
* Trampoline sleepover
* Travel around the world with food day
* Blow up diet coke with mentos
* Art lesson
* Cattle sale
* Building project at Lowes
* Mini golf
* Christmas in July party

Monday, May 21, 2012

Feet First

This is the story of shoes...

I recently read a book called, 7, by Jen Hatmaker. In the book the author recounts a conversation she had with a homeless man who told her what the homeless need most, outside of food (of course), is shoes. He said that they're on their feet all day long, and therefore, many of them have ruined feet, aching backs, and burning legs. You mean to tell me my $5- value meal from McDonald's isn't what they really like/want/need? Shameful, shallow heartbreak. (sigh.)

And so begins this shoe story.  A story that wrote itself, through other people.

A short time after finishing 7, my stepdad sat on my couch and told me how his mom was poor and didn't have money for her kids' shoes. He told me how he had one pair of shoes -- his band shoes. He wore them everyday, for all occasions, not just for band. The first day he wore them to school someone caught one of his shoes with theirs and accidentally ripped his shoe. He said, "I was over there in the corner trying to sew up my shoe." Imagining a younger version of my stepdad sewing his shoe nearly broke me down, but he was smiling, so I refrained. He described the shoes. They were black, and pointy at the toes. I squinted trying to picture them. I grinned, trying to hold it together. And then he told me about the time his sister went to school barefoot. He said, "Man. I felt so bad for her. She was over there on the bus trying to hide her feet because she was so embarrassed." And then he laughs, "She came home with 3 new pairs of shoes that day."

And then there was the time my daughter came home and announced that it was a classmate's birthday tomorrow, and we needed to buy her a present.

"Okay. Well, I'm going to Walmart tonight. What's she into? Do you think she'd like a Barbie or something?"

"Well...ummm...maybe shoes? Her shoes are really tore up."  (Stop-what-I'm-doing-pause.)

Trying to wrap my mind around her proposition I say, "We can't do shoes. I don't know her size."

"She probably wears my size."  (My heart sinks lower.)

"But, we don't know for sure, so we can't do that."  (I feel terrible.)

"Maybe a warm coat?"  (You are killing me, kid!)

"Umm, well, we don't have a lot of extra money. How about a warm hat and gloves? And maybe some candy?"

"Welllll, okay. Yeah. That, or a Nintendo DSI."  (Oh, okay, right, let's do that. That's only $300 smack-er-roos. No prob.)

So, the next day my daughter brought her the small gift, and a snack for her to eat during snack time. (This child rarely brought snack for snack time. Maybe she just forgot, or maybe she didn't have something to bring. Either way, a bag of chips couldn't hurt. I heard she loved the gift, and enjoyed the snack. It turns out she forgot hers that day.)

From this same daughter I've heard, "So-and-so needs shoes. He always wears the same ones, and they're all ripped up."

(Jesus? Is that You?)

Before I knew it, I found myself engaged in a conversation with the counselor at my daughters' elementary school.  I found out that there were 29 kids at the school who could use some extra help.  During our conversation the counselor mentioned shoes.  (Hello again.)  She said many of the children will have outgrown their shoes come year-end, and if they haven't already outgrown them, then they will have worn them out for sure.    

So, my friend Sarah Webster and I teamed up, and asked around for $20.00 donations for 29 pairs of shoes. Between us asking, and generous hearts responding, we raised $732- in a matter of 2 weeks. Friends asked friends. Family from across the country sent money. A generous church across the street from the school jumped in. A miracle unfolded. Feet were measured at school, and shoes were in sight. The original plan was to shop at Walmart where you can easily get a pair of tennis shoes for $20.00. But God isn't going out like that. He's way too cool. So, Jesus's friend, James Cook came alongside us and contributed big time. We found 17 pairs of the shoes on our list at his amazing store, Cook's in North Wilkesboro. (Shop there if you can.) We found the highest quality, coolest looking shoes there. I'm talking, Vans, Nike, Puma, and other awesome name brands I'm not cool enough to know. We were shopping in the clearance section, digging through boxes and boxes of shoes that would originally sell for $60.00. Our budget was $19.99/pair. There were only a few shoes marked down to $19.99.  The rest were in the $39.99 range. We were nervous, but the good folks at Cook's encouraged us to keep shopping...so we did.  A stack of 17 shoe boxes later and we were ready to checkout. We don't even know how deep the discount went, but it was bigger than big. Every single pair was marked down to $19.99. Generosity to the max. Sarah and I couldn't get over how different the shoes were, and how each kid was probably going to receive the exact shoes they'd pick for themselves if they could've been there to shop. That's just how the miraculous works. It's like magic, only better. And to watch it all happen is awe-inspiring.
This is Naomi next to the shoe boxes.  She's Sarah's super cute daughter, and our super shopper helper!

We loaded them up and headed out.

BIG THANKS TO COOK'S!

We left Cooks and headed across town to Burlington Shoes. No discounts there, but no problem. God makes the impossible, possible. Wouldn't you know that the 11 pairs of shoes we found there averaged out to be about $19.99/pair. Some shoes were $26.99, and some were $16.99. Most were $19.99. It just worked out. World Industries, Sketchers, Converse...the coolest shoes. Score.

One more pair across the street at Shoe Show, for just the right price, and we were done. I'm not sure you could measure the joy in our hearts, but if I had to guess I'd say it was somewhere in the out-of-our-minds register.

But there's more, we had change - a cool $120.00. We hit Walmart!


29 boxes of peanut butter bars. 29 boxes of cheese crackers. 29 boxes of crayons. 29 bars of soap. 29 million thanks and shouts of praise in our hearts.

Quick stop at Food Lion for paper bags to bag everything in, and we were done. I'm pretty sure I floated into my house. I bet Sarah did too. It felt like we just got to witness Jesus feed 5,000 people with one small boy's lunch, for real!

We delivered the shoes on a Monday morning first thing. No big deal, except for the man who asked us what we were doing. Sarah explained. The man told us how when he was little he didn't have any good shoes, so he saved and saved and then found his way to a local thrift store where he bought himself some shoes. He got a great striped pair for $3.00. He thought they looked pretty cool until he got to school and was teased for wearing bowling shoes. He laughed and told us how he now owns more shoes than he needs...more than his wife, even. He hated the feeling of being made fun of. I hated it for him. But I loved the coincidental run-in with him to encourage Sarah and I that shoes really do make a difference.

Cut to after school. I'm carried away chatting with Sarah in the car line about random, unrelated events, when I begin to catch Food Lion bags swimming through the parking lot. A quiet thanks to Jesus, and my heart soared. I got to see a few of the sweet faces for myself.

One of my daughter's got into the car and told me that 2 of the Food Lion bags were delivered to her classroom. She said, "I didn't say a word but I watched the 2 boys open them. One of them was like, 'Dude! Check out my new shoes. These are awesome! They're skate shoes.'  Now, the other boy, he didn't say a word. He just sat there with the biggest smile on his face."  I looked at my daughter in the rear-view mirror.  She was beaming, almost bursting.  Her joy flooded our car.  The best part is that she knew for a fact that we didn't buy those shoes and snacks, etc. for the kids.  She knew the whole story, from beginning to end.  She got to see God do His work, and she was blessed.  We all were.

Sarah told me she watched a little girl run out of her classroom, shouting, "Mama, Mama. Zappatos!!!"

And then these notes came yesterday...

"To Who It May Concern: We like to thank you for all the gifts you have gave (girl's name). She loves the shoes a lot and uses all the supplies. Thank you again and hope you have a great summer."

"Dear sponsor, Hi. My name is (boy's name). I would like to write you this note to tell you thank you for my new shoes and snacks that you provided for me for my summer break. Everything that you did really helped me and my family out. Thank you."

"Thank you for the shoes and the cakes and crackers. We will enjoy them."

"To Whom It May Concern, Thank you for the shoes, snacks and toys. Our family enjoyed these things from you."

And then there were 2 other thank you's done in crayon, (probably with the crayons they received).

"Thank you for the shoes, food and snacks. We greatly appreciate them. Hope you have a good summer." 3rd grader

"Thank you for the food, shoes, crayons and the snacks. We greatly appreciated it. Hope you have a wonderful summer." 3rd grader

Sarah and I aren't responsible for this shoe story, Jesus is.  He loves the little ones.  He loves the big ones.  He loves the ones caught in between.  And He is faithful to provide.

Thank you to everyone who gave to this shoe project.  You did the work of our King.  You reached further than you'll ever know.  It turns out jumping in feet first pays off big time when you know who you're jumping in with.  Thanks friends.  Thanks Jesus.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dear Mom...Happy Mother's Day!

A little Mother's Day tribute to my Mama.  She's the best!  Pretty, witty, beautiful and mine. 



Hard to find
The words to begin
This story of her
I mean...
It goes on without end
I've known her the longest
From then until now
She carried me to term
And look at us now

She won my first smile
She earned it for sure
She held me close
With her, I'm secure

Such a powerful love
The world's never known
Than the one that grows
Between a mother and her own

I may not remember
That one September 5
When my eyes found yours
And my lungs breathed life

A quick little greeting
A healthy hello
Then off to sleep
In your arms I'd go

Completely at peace
Not knowing for sure
What life would bring
…No matter, no worries
Of you I was sure

I knew in my heart
What the years have proved now
That wherever you are
Wherever we'd go
We'd always be safe
Somehow I knew

You're a force to be reckoned with
A strong, steady lady
Trouble falls at your feet
You make the devil feel fainty

You've taught me so much
From manners to strength
That love's worth a fight
No matter the length.
Hate is a cuss word,
Never leave in a fight,
Settle your scores,
Put dreams to flight.

Your no-matter-whats
Made me feel safe
They may have been extreme
But they instilled in me, faith
That no matter what,
And come what may,
You'd always be there
With an, I Love You, to say.

You have a way with words
And from you I've found mine
You have a knack for writing
Me too, I find

Thanks for all
you've instilled in me
My heart started with you
And Jesus, our King

You're more than my mom
Or my very best friend
You're heroic and precious
And I love you without end

Wherever you are
My heart is at home
Your love will find me
To remind me,
I'm never alone

So from now ‘til forever
I will shine just like you
My eyes are your eyes
And my cheeks are yours too.

I'll end with a thank you
One more time
For all you do
My mama, divine!

And, also, another
(just for good measure),
I love you for always,
My forever treasure


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Willie Hardee

April 22, 2012. My heart was stolen for the bazillionth time by a one, Willie Hardee. We've never actually met, Willie and I, so the relationship is very one-sided at this point. I only admired him from across a dance floor at a wedding. A wedding I wasn't invited to.

Now, before you go labeling me, wedding-crasher/husband-cheater, let me explain.

My friend, Nicole Roberts hired me last weekend as her, (don't laugh), umbrella holder. She's a photographer, and in her moment of despair she asked me if I would come with her to an outdoor wedding she was shooting since it was scheduled on the same day as a 70% chance of rain. Canon and rain don't mix. I said, yes.

My goal for the day was to be the best umbrella holder I could be. I didn't want Nicole's expensive camera dying a tragic death-by-drowning on my watch so I watched her like a hawk. I waited for a quick nod, (or not), and boom, I'd run like an imbecile to cover her and Canon. I'm a good friend.

I did other more important, less nerdy tasks during the day, but for the most part, my mission was to protect the camera and the bride from the rain. I was kind of secret service about the whole thing. Stealth mode was the goal. Nerd-city was probably the verdict. Either way, I did my thang. Canon lived. I rested easy in the knowledge of a job well done. Nicole said, thank you, and threw around the phrase, life-saver. It was a good day.

Okay, back to Willie Hardee. He's the groom's grandpa, and he likes to dance. When I happened upon him he was owning the dance floor, meaning he was the only one on it, save one small boy who was probably about 2-1/2 years old if my mommy age guesser serves me correct. The boy was fascinated with Willie. They danced together like dancing was their way to maintain life. They weren't intimidated by onlookers. They could care less if the dance floor was open for dancing or not. There was music. There was room on the floor. And there was dancing. Willie outlasted the small boy by far. The boy fell several times during their dance party, and every time Willie would bend down to help the little guy find his feet again. You could tell Willie enjoyed his dancing companion. I imagine the boy liked Willie just as well. He looked like he felt safe. Like he was staring wisdom in the face and couldn't, wouldn't let go. Like he could see the future in Willie's eyes and he felt encouraged and hopeful by it. Or was it the other way around? Either way it was magical and emotional. New life and older life. New beginnings, and a legacy secure. It was a wonderful contradiction to witness. Now, it could be that I cried because I was having an, "I miss my 3-month-old little boy" moment, or it could be that tears came because I got to see two worlds meet and crash, and dance and move, and push and pull life into and out of each other. It reminded me of Jesus and the people He calls the greatest in the Kingdom. Pure and childlike is the only way I can describe it. It was almost too much to take. Being just the umbrella holder, I whipped out my iPhone to keep this moment forever. At this point I felt very much like a weirdo-stalker, but I couldn't help myself.
iPhones aren't the best at taking dancing pictures.

Canon had my back. Thanks Canon.

This is Nicole, Canon and Willie.  See Nicole's face?  That's what happens when you talk to Willie.  He's hilarious.

After the wedding I got in touch with Willie's daughter, Ginger (mother of the groom), to sort of repent for falling head over heels for her dad. Well, actually, I knew I'd want to write about him and I thought it wrong not to ask first. And I'm so glad I did. I scored the most precious interview. It's recorded. I got to hear Willie tell me stories as I sat crouched like a cat on my bedroom floor glued to my iPad that couldn't move because it was charging. I got to hear Willie laugh, and cry, and sing(!), and speak honestly from his heart. And to make the interview even more special, I got to hear his daughter ask him the questions I wrote. One of the best parts is how the interview is punctuated with moments of quiet laughter between a father and his daughter. I could hear Mrs. Hardee in the background on occasion too. It was a gift.

This is Ginger, her husband, Bobby, and the beautiful bride and groom, Christina and Jonathan.

And this is the interview. 
(Really awesome photos, courtesy of alivelyphotography, and Nicole Roberts.)

*******************************

How many children do you have? What's one word/sentence you'd use to describe each one?
I have 2. They're both precious. Ginger. She's phenomenal and sweet. Rick. He's precious too. I just love them both.

What did you do for a living?
I was a brick layer all my life.
(Fitting when you think about what brick layers do. They lay foundations and build up. That's Willie, I can tell.)

How did your career shape who you are?
It was good to me. I always had a job. I never drew a day's unemployment. God always kept me busy. And then I went into business for myself. I never advertised for work, it just came. I took pride in it. I'm in good health. I thank God. It kept me active. Always doing something. I worked hard. I didn't try to see what I could get by with. I always tried to do the best I could do. Some people did enough just to get by. I never did that. I wanted my boss's job. I want his job. That's how I worked. I don't know if that's the right attitude to have, but I had it, and thought of it anyway. I enjoyed my work and still do. Of course I don't do much work now. I'm gonna finish up tomorrow what I started today...and that was nothing. (Insert sweet Willie laugh.) I'm gonna finish up and start another one tomorrow. I'm gonna finish that job up tomorrow, and start another one the next day. (Now Willie and Ginger are both laughing...and so am I.)

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Horry County in South Carolina. 9 miles from Cherry Grove beach.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I don't know. I didn't never think much about it. I just took it one day at a time. And whatever come, well that's what come. I quit school when I was sixteen. I went two months in high school and didn't go back. I did construction work when I was 16, making $0.50/hr, and I thought that was cool. I started laying brick when I was 17.
I rode my bicycle down to the beach to the drive-in theatre. A bunch of us boys. When I was...I guess probably 14 or 15. It was a Sunday evening. Traffic was rough and bad, like it usually is on a Sunday. When I came in the next morning I had a surprise. My daddy come in there and got me out of bed. Had nothing but my shorts on, and he tore my fanny up because I rode my bicycle to the beach. He was trying to save me, take care of me, you know. He thought it was dangerous, and it was. I don't remember him giving me one since then. He always beat me with a broom straw. (Willie is laughing big time now.) And when he'd do it, it would bend. Now my mama, she'd tear me up. But you know, I don't remember talking bad to my daddy or my mama. I really don't. When they'd fuss and tell me to do something, I don't remember ever talking back. Really I don't, and I thank God for that.
One time I had a slingshot around the old wash pot there. She (his mama) had the fire going to heat the water to wash the clothes with, and I found a jar lid off of one of them jars you use to can stuff with. I had a slingshot and I put it in there and I shot her. It hit her on the face. Buddy, I got a tearin' up for that. And rightfully so. She took my slingshot and threw it in the fire and burned it up. I ain't never had another one since then. That was my last one. No more slingshots. I didn't know how to use one. I shot the wrong thing. Oh boy. I've been through some stuff now.
Oh yeah, I lived across the road from the schoolhouse. I lived back up in the fields some. I'd go up there on cold mornings and light the fire. I'd be able to crawl in the window at the schoolhouse and build a fire and then when the teachers got there I'd have a big fire going. That was cool. Yeah, I thought so.  (Can you hear the laughter?)

Where do you live now?
I live in Indian Land, South Carolina.

What's your favorite thing about where you live?
I love it out there. I live in the country on 8 acres in the woods. I have a big yard. I love it. I keep thanking God for it out there. Often I say, "Lord, I thank you for this place and I'm serious. I do." I'm thankful for it. It's a nice place. It's close to everything. Close to the mall. Close to Lowe's and Home Depot. Close to everything, really. Walmart. And I love Walmart. Yeah, I do. I don't get to go much. Lynn won't let me go. She always says, 'I'm going to Walmart.' She don't ever ask me to go with her. If I get to go I guess I have to take off and go. (Major laughter.)

What is your proudest achievement/accomplishment in life?
The best thing I can think of is when I got saved. I wasn't that bad, I don't think. I was drinking some. That's one reason I quit drinking. I was thinking about my family. First I quit smoking, and then I quit drinking. Quit smoking in February, quit drinking in July, and I got saved in September. The first Sunday after I got saved was the first Sunday in October. The time had changed. We went to church and there wasn't a soul there. The first thing that had come to my mind was the rapture had come and left us.

(Yep. He's laughing.)

I'm proud of my family. Oh yes. My wife. God gave me a good wife to help me. I thought I was gonna train her up. She was young. I thought I was gonna train her up in the way she should go, and that didn't work. She's trained me. And my children, my grandchildren, my greats. I'm telling you the truth, I'm so blessed. It's amazing how blessed I am. I just thank God. I've got 2 great-grands, and 2 on the way. It won't be long before I'll have 4 of them. I've got 3 grandchildren that aren't married. 6 are married. I've got 3 to go. It looks like my great-grands might be married before some of them are married. (Laughing!) Of course I was 25 before I got married so I can't say nothing.

What are the most important lessons you've learned in life?
What I'm learning now: The closer I can be to God, the better off I am. Put Him first in your life and you'll do great. You'll do good. And hard work will get you somewhere. And too much of it isn't good either. Which I did. I put my work before my family most of my life. I didn't want to, but I did. Of course I knew it was important to provide for them. I guess you can go to extremes with anything. But I'm thankful. God's taken care of me over these years.
(Willie pauses, and adds...) I'm happy, really. I've got my ticket. If I go, okay, and if I stay, okay. I'm not rushing it. But, I'm just ready to go. To leave here. I am.

Let's pause for a second. 

Okay. Moving on...

When are you the most happy (doing what)?
Well, let's see. I was cutting the grass out there on Friday. And I was a'singing. Bobby and them said they heard me singing. I was enjoying that.
Serving God is the best, really. I get the feeling that the anointing of the Holy Spirit is, to me, the best thing there is. There ain't nothing better. That's the best thing. I'm thankful for that. I'm thankful that I found the Lord. He knew where I was all the time. In fact, He knew me before I was born and He ain't never forgot me. I'm thankful for that. Hallelujah. I'm blessed. I'm really blessed. With my family, and everything. With my wife and children, grandchildren and greats. Couldn't ask for no more, no better.

You light up a room. Where does that come from?
I guess it's got to be God. I'm joyful and it's because of the Lord. I don't know what else it could be. It's got to be. That's it. I don't know what else it could be. I want to be a witness. I try to be a witness for the Lord. That's my prayer.

Dancing suits you. Have you always loved to dance?
Yep, I have. I used to dance when I was a kid. My dad was a banjo player. He had a band. They used to go around and play for square dances. I'd get out when I was real young and dance, and people would throw me money. And when I got through dancing I'd pick it up. I'd have my pockets full. They went to schoolhouses and clubs and put on a little show and I'd dance for that. The older I got, the more embarrassed I was, and sort of reserved, and I quit that.
Ginger: Didn't they give you a little hat to wear?
W: Oh yeah, I had a black hat with bells on it. Those girls, they liked that. They'd come up to me, and talk to me, and run after me. In fact, one got me. That one over there. I didn't have a hat on though, did I? I didn't need it. I used to make people laugh when I danced. I played music some too at those dances at the schoolhouses.
Ginger: So, your daddy had a band and you were in the band?
W: Well, yeah, sort of. I played some for dances at the schoolhouses, but I didn't play any other than that. They didn't think I was good enough, but I did.
Ginger: And then you have a bunch of grandchildren that have bands, or are in are in bands?
W: Oh yeah. I've got grand-youngins that play and sing. Man. They got it honest. My daddy, he was good.
I remember the first time I ever saw him drink a beer. Man, I did not like that. That was bad. Now that's not good, I thought. The doctor told him he needed to drink a beer a day. Some people use that for an excuse, and I don't know if he did or not. (Lots of laughing.) But I never did see him out of order. We were down at Crescent beach at the American Legion hut. They were having a square dance there, and he was outside and somebody gave him a beer. And that's when I saw him drink a beer. And that was the night that I got home and found I had a hundred dollar bill after dancing. A man had given it to me. I thought to myself, he didn't mean to give me that, I know he didn't. He was drunk and he didn't mean to do it. So, I went the next day and gave it back to him. He took it, and he thanked me. (Cracking up.) That was the kind of fella I was. Somebody said I ought to have kept it. Well, if I knew he meant to do it then I would have, but he didn't mean to do it.

You were dancing a lot with a little boy at the wedding. What do you see when you look at little ones like the little boy at the wedding?

I guess I see Jesus. It's precious. Jesus had a special thing for children. He said, 'Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not.' He loved children, and I do too. I love babies. They're special to me. I guess it was so precious to see that little boy dancing with me. That was sweet, sweet. The youngest and the oldest out there dancing together. I thought about that and thought it was cool.

Ginger: Tell them about the time you were dancing in church and you got into trouble.
W: Well, some of the people in the church where I went didn't like dancing and thought it was a sin to be dancing in church. I danced in church and they didn't like it. They brought me before the district board. I went up there and they were talking about it.
I got up and I says...

(Willie starts singing...)

David danced
before the Lord
He danced with all his might
His heart was filled
With holy joy
His spirit was so light

Now this is what his wife said...

Michal through
the window looked
To criticize his God
She didn't know that David
Had got the dancing heart...

Oh!

The Holy Ghost
will set your feet to dancing...
The Holy Ghost will thrill you
Through and through

The Holy Ghost
Will set your feet to dancing
And set your heart to dancing too
Hallelujah!

(I'm laughing and clapping for Willie's song!)

The moderator broke out and went to laughing and everybody else did too. And then they dismissed the case. Dancing's good sometimes. I enjoy it.

What's something you'd like to be remembered for?
Well, what I'd mostly like to be remembered for is for being a blessing to people, and for being a soul winner. That's what I would like most.
One time I went to this little store in Conway where I lived. I had been there a few times. I was witnessing to the boy, the fella that owned the place. Some time later he got in a car wreck. He was in the hospital. He couldn't talk. He was in critical condition. His wife could lay her head on his breast and communicate with him. Somehow or another he asked for me to go see him. He was in Florence, about 60 miles away. I went up there to see him in the hospital. I prayed with him and asked him if he had accepted the Lord, or did he want to. He wanted to, and he did. A couple days later he passed on. He died. That was precious to me. I remember that. That was one of the most memorable things in my life. And probably about the best...that I had something to do with bringing somebody to the Lord.
(Everyone is drying tears...including Willie.)

I got married. That was a good thing. And then I got saved. That was the next. And then I had babies. I thank God for it all. It's a blessing to me. I got some in-laws. They're pretty good. I got some good ones.
*******************************

And, that's the interview. Sweet, or what? Okay. One more dancing picture...  This is Willie, his grandson (and groom) Jonathan, and his son-in-law, Bobby (Ginger's husband).


I can't think of anything else to add to this post, except, thanks Willie. Thanks for your heart, and your life, and your mark on this world. Your legacy is incredible. Your life is awe-inspiring and your dancing is spectacular. Your stories will live on forever.

As the saying goes, you don't know me from Adam, but no matter, I love you just the same!

And thanks Ginger. I can tell your daddy thinks you hung the moon. Or, is it the other way around?

And a great big thanks to Jonathan and Christina for letting me crash your gorgeous wedding!

What a special family!





Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Wiggles

As a family we collectively do not like The Wiggles. There I said it. Strange dancing, singing men. I bet they're kind people, we're just not into them. 

Enter yesterday afternoon. 

Me and the kids were scattered across the living room, taking a break from our day. I asked for the remote so I could change the channel because, you guessed it, The Wiggles were on. I hit, "Guide" on the remote to see what else was on. Claire and I instantly spotted, Austin and Ally, one of the girls' new favorite shows. Easy decision. And then, Avery interjected, "Wait. I want to see this." 

What? Hold the phone. Avery is as anti-Wiggles as the rest of us. 

I looked over at the tv and understood why. One of the Wiggles had lost his lovely maiden and was singing and dancing to find her. 

O-kay. 

I could tell Avery was lost in the storyline and really loved looking at the pretty maiden's curls down to there, tossed over her shoulder, and tied up in a velvet ribbon. I remember that part specifically because that darned Wiggle sang it over and over as he questioned common people as to the whereabouts of the love of his life.

Claire resentfully sat through the scene...after she obeyed my command to, hush it.

Avery was on the couch across from me with her arm up and her hand covering both eyes. She peeked through her fingers to watch the Wiggle at last find his love. They danced and sang together. I think she was nervous they might kiss. I'm sure she was blushing. She was swept away completely. I'm certain her siblings and I didn't exist for those 45 seconds. She was sucked in. My little hopeless romantic. 

Claire commented on the look of the lady, "She looks like she's like 40. Ugh." 

Avery shot a dirty look at her and disagreed, "She's pretty. Look at her hair." 

"Yeah, I like her hair too," Claire agreed. 

I like watching our kids watch the world. I like watching them participate in the world. I just plain like them. A lot. The more and more I watch them the more and more I wonder if Avery really does live in a fairy tale world most of the time. Party of one, (plus her imagination). She really is the freest of them all. She is flippant about many things. Things I'm waaay uptight about. I could stand to learn a thing or two from her. I'm afraid poor Claire is more like the grown up me. Thorough and thoughtful, careful and obedient. Granted she's the oldest, but sometimes she could stand to let loose a little more. You know, really savor 8 years old for everything it's worth. I may end up eating my words. Hmmm...
(Side note: Avery is A LOT like the younger me. She's sneaky now and then. I get her. I know her games.)

Anyway, thanks Wiggles for yesterday. Thanks for letting my Avery enter into your timeless tale of prince and princess, and happily ever after. (I think Claire came along for the ride too, but you didn't hear that from me.) And thanks for stomping all over our usual disdain for your antics. You succeeded in collectively capturing 4 Trask girls' attention, which isn't easy to do. Thanks for the break from life. Thanks for the memory. Thanks for letting me inhale the uniqueness of my beautiful girls as only their mama can.

And now, back to refinishing furniture. Josh told me to publicly promise to never refinish the girls' bedroom furniture again. I promise. Happy, babe? :) I honestly, seriously, promise. Oh, my aching body. But, on the upside, I did dust off my conviction that power sanders are seriously one of the coolest tools ever. DeWalt, if you ever need a girl to endorse your products, call me. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Good Morning

"Momeeee? Can you curl my hair?"

Still half asleep, I look up from smearing peanut butter all over 2 pieces of bread to see my Avery Grace and her puppy dog eyes, desperate for curls today. She's wearing a long sleeved peach cotton dress with flowers all over it. She's looking way cute.

"Umm, I'm not sure. Maybe. But you can't wear that today. It's gonna be hot today. Remember? Wear something short-sleeved. Go change."

"But! Ugh! Mooommmm! I don't have anything else. I want to wear this."

"Avery. Go."

(Deep sigh trod upstairs.)

I'm at the slicing Avery's sandwich into triangles, and cutting crusts off Claire's sandwich phase of lunch packing when Avery reappears wearing something better. Claire's red and white striped dress, (that's too big for Claire - Claire, her older sister), with a long sleeved red shirt underneath. Topped off with a thick cotton red and pink striped sweater with a hood, buttoned wrong so that it sits cock-eyed on her, and finished off with a winter scarf wrapped neatly around her perfect neck.

Josh and I look at each other, trying not to destroy her with full-on laughter.  I'm awake now. Don't worry, babe. I've got this.

"No, baby. I said it's going to be hot today. You can't wear that. You have a long sleeved shirt on under there. No."

Claire pipes up, "Yeaaaah...that's because that dress goes down to here on her in the front. She has to wear something underneath." (Duh!)

Houston, we have a communication breakdown. Note to self, teach them the value of the saying, "Keep the main thing the main thing." I'm talking weather, and Claire's talking logistics.

Now, I laugh. Avery's not amused. Not even a *smidge. Josh seizes his opportunity and exits stage right. He knows a formidable foe when he see's her. All 48 pounds of her.

* Smidge = Avery's favorite term for measurement. For example, "Are you feeling better?" 
"Um, maybe like two smidges," as she holds up her thumb and pointer finger to show the precise distance of 2 smidges.

I'm getting off subject. (Wonder where the girls get that from?) 

Meanwhile Noelle is taking off her pajama shirt from the neck down so that it sits perfectly on her torso like a strapless halter top, only everything ladylike isn't covered. It's her preferred way of wearing (and destroying) neck holes in any and every shirt. Shirts beware!

Perfect.

"Okay. No. Go change again. Sorry baby. No. Don't cry. Just change."

So help me if she comes down in another long sleeved winter ensemble I might lose my  mind. Bless her heart. She's just trying to find a dress to match her vision of bouncy, beautiful curls, but we are running low on time. And I am specifically growing tired of playing fashion police. Move it girlfriend.

Take 3. Goodwill Easter dress special. Literally. It's a 100% polyester number with straps at the shoulders, no sleeves. Light green with light purple flowers slathered whimsically all over the sheer fabric. She bought it a few months ago during one of our thrift store trips, and she l-o-v-e-s it. I think it's just okay. But I definitely don't think of it as a school dress. Whatever. It will work. I tie the tie at her neck, glance at the clock, and we book it down the hall to get her curls going.

Claire, aka, relentless clock watcher, kill me now if we're going to be late girl, is slowly moving from cool and collected Claire to full-blown panic-ridden drill sergeant sister. She starts subtly asking how many curls are left, and then the checklist begins. "Where are your socks, Avery? Do you have your glasses?" and on and on. I encourage her to calm down and reassure her that she won't be late, but she's not buying it. She checks the clock for the third time in one minute and then starts moving at lightning speed to get out the door. Shoes on, backpack on back, standing in open doorway, swimming in stress, "Let's GO!"

"Claire, hush."

"Avery? Av-ray? AVERY!!! Are you done?"

I wonder if Claire bumped her head and somehow thinks she's now the mom and dad in the house. Hell-ooo? I'll be the mama, Claire. K.Thanks!  "Claire, STOP! We're almost done."

Major, not-so-quiet, Claire Bear sigh.

It's 7:31am and it's loud as all get out in our house. 

Like the guy who says whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, I finally, at last, announce that we are done. Avery is ready. Everyone is relieved.

Avery and I hurry down the hall. We nearly crash into Josh, who has just returned from buckling our half naked 2-year-old into her car seat. I take that back. Her shirt isn't all the way off. It's now in the skirt position, but she is redeemed by the hoodie she must wear whenever she goes anywhere in the car. She has convictions, and she's serious about them.

I ask Josh to run upstairs to grab Avery a half sweater because it's not quite hot yet. She'll need it for the ride to school. He does a what-the-heck-is-a-half-sweater, and moreover where does one find such a thing dad sigh/grunt and makes a run for it. I clarify, "Get the pink one." He returns with 2 choices. Avery chose the full length hot pink one with fancy buttons. I resign from commenting any further on her fashion decisions. I am Mom. And I am done.

"See you after school. Love you."

For all you Moms out there who keep up with fashion and try to tow the line on trendy, good for you. As for me and my house, we will keep it real. I will not allow my kids to leave the house dressed inappropriately for the season, for fear of overheating and misery on their part, but I will not engage them in fashion wars unless what they pick out falls into the travesty/inappropriate category, which rarely happens anyway. I honestly care only just a little bit about what they wear. The battle's too big for me. Too exhausting. Plus, for the most part, my girls make great fashion choices. Claire rides the wave of conservative and simple. Avery pushes the envelope every chance she gets. Not in the risqué sense, but in the, I know what I like and I don't care if you do or don't sort of way. And Noelle struggles with keeping clothing on her body. She's 2. There's still time to correct this.   We all have our issues. 

(Deep breath.) 

It's 7:40am. Where's that baby boy of mine? It's time to feed him. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

7. A quick book report.

If you don't have a Nicole Roberts in your life, you should get one. But not her, she's mine. (haha!) Nicole is my treasure-hunting friend. She's great at the biblical call to uncover hidden treasure in people, but she's also super good at scouting out the best deals, sales, recipes, books, and she'll even preview movies for me and gauge whether I'm mature enough to handle them or not. See? Shes great! A true friend. She often makes my life easier. Anyway, she's the one who told me about, (insisted that I read), 7 by Jen Hatmaker. And it's awesome. 

You can read the publishers press release about the book and sort of shrug like I did, thinking it's just another self-help book, or you could obey your friend, and buy the book. I did both. Shrug, and then obey. And then I cried. And laughed, like, A LOT. This book is hilarious! And then I did a lot of thinking, reflecting, examining, and eventually, inevitably, I found myself fighting off the urge to vomit over how far off course I was. I am. We are. It's deep, you guys. Deep. 

Here are some of the takeaways for our family.
* We are rich compared to most of the world. Like, loaded. And selfish. (Enter gut-wrenching sad face.) We are shifting our thinking in this area, determined to feed our greedy hearts less, and our impoverished neighbors more. Starting here at home. And just so we're clear, we plan to brainwash our children accordingly.
One small goal for us will be to spend $105-/mos. like this.
$20- for a child's pair of tennis shoes, donated to our daughters' elementary school.
$25- for a pair of adult tennis shoes for a homeless woman or man.
$25- loan to help fund a small business through kiva.org.
$35- to sponsor a child abroad and/or to stop child trafficking.
Small amount of money...big potential.
* We will waste less and care for the earth more. No more romping around like we own this place, leaving a huge trail of trash in our wake. We country folk will recycle. We will use what we have. We will attempt to shop more responsibly, and from fair-trade companies when we can. 
* We will serve where we can, when we can, not veering away from opportunities to meet the less fortunate face-to-face. Speaking of face-to-face. We hope to love our neighbors a little better. 
* We will give our kids room to be passionate about what they're interested in. For Claire, it's helping the deaf (her idea, pre-book). And Avery will continue to address the human flight crisis. Meaning, she's 6 and wants more than anything to fly like a bird.
I wonder what the littlest ones will pursue.
* We will do church the way church was meant to be done. (Read the book...meaning, the Bible.) No offense intended.
* We will simplify, pare down and live within our means, and maybe even below our means. (Wouldn't that be something!!)
* We will continue to try not to waste food. "No, you may not be done! Finish your food!" Just like the book...just because you know there's more food in the pantry doesn't mean you get to throw dinner in the trashcan because it's not your favorite. No ma'am, no sir.
* We will try to pray differently. More focused, vast, yet precise prayers.
* We will try to fast Isaiah 58 style. "Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them and do not hide from relatives who need your help."
* We will tattoo Matthew 25:40 onto our hearts. “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’"

This list is incomplete. We will probably fail in many of these areas, but we will try. And we will not give up. Lord, let us never give up. 

The author said something that ruined me. She talked about how there is more slavery today than any other time in history. And then she said something like, "When my grandchildren ask me what I did to end slavery I want to have something to say." 

And so do I. So do we.

I know this all seems ultra noble and maybe even pretentious, but it's the result of an awakening that's occurred in my soul. I honestly feel like I just woke up after a long winter's nap. Like I'm stretching, squinting, blinking,  and processing where I've been and what's in store. I'm happy for this new day. I'm ready for it.  I'm ready to live closer to the heart of God than I ever have before. And I'll do it in the simplest, most plain way possible. 

Good morning world. My name is Jenny.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Okay, my turn to take a crack at the married couple questionnaire. I'm certain I'll look back on this in 10, 20, 75 years and think, "Oh, I was so naive." Or maybe not. I'm sure I'll think something. :) Either way, here goes.

1. What made you realize that you could spend the rest of your lives together? Were you scared at all?
I had a dream of my husband before I met Josh. The dream came right after I renounced all dating, declaring to the Lord that I would like to be a single missionary forever because dating stinks, and so do guys. :) That night I had a dream, and saw my husband's hair and silhouette...and I fell in love. We met a few months later. We knew about a week into dating that we had found 'the one.' I wasn't scared for the first time in my life. I was something more like, over-the-moon.

2. How did you know your spouse was the right one for you?
Because I told him every, (and I mean every), ugly detail about my past and he looked at me afterwards and said, "I love you." It only confirmed what I already knew in my heart...that he was the one I loved for my whole life.

3. Is there anything you would do differently after almost 10 years of marriage? 
Relax sooner. Let go of insecurities faster. Determine to use my words more wisely. Show my love and appreciation for my husband more freely. Other than that I wouldn't change a thing...especially not these munchkins of ours!

4. What is your advice to someone who is trying to keep the faith that Mr. Right is really out there? 
I like the answer a friend of mine had, so I'll steal it... Remember that God is faithful to provide all of your needs.

5. What was the best piece of marriage advice you ever received? 
These came from my husband, directed to me. He's always said, divorce isn't an option. (Thank God! I've never wanted to divorce him, but I might've divorced me already if I were him.) 
And he once told me, "I just need you to get on my team." That changed me. I realized that I wasn't playing as a team. It was a benchmark moment in my life. 
We've also learned the importance of fighting fair. We aren't allowed to use the words, 'always' and 'never' when we fight. (Ie. You 'always' do that.) It's not fair and it doesn't give the other person any credit for growth.
Also, keep the main thing the main thing. (Thanks Rick Joyner.)
And my advice... Take time to learn about the differences between the male and female brain. We are different creatures. We think and operate so differently. Learning about this was a huge light bulb moment in my life. 

6. What are the most important attributes of a good spouse? 
For me it's the deep down security of knowing that he loves me with all his heart, and that he prefers me and likes me. And also the basics, that he's a Christian and loves the Lord with all his heart. I also find great security in knowing that he can fix or build anything. That he would kill anything that tried to harm us. And that he's an inventive genius. I also like the way he sings and plays music. He's gifted to the max. I'm proud to be his wife. 

7. What is your best Valentine’s Day memory? 
I don't know. They're all mixed in with all the fun moments of our marriage. I liked getting my treadmill that one year on V Day. I also liked getting a shotgun another year on V Day. 

8. You got married young – how did you both manage to grow as individuals yet not grow apart as a couple? 
We had to hold on to our marriage while we learned to become one. We were 23 (me) and 21 (him) when we got married. Now we realize that our individuality is beautiful and wonderful, (we've learned to really savor the uniqueness we see in each other), but like the 85 year couple said, we are stronger together. 

9. What is your fondest memory of your 10-year marriage? 
Our kids for sure. And also the songs Josh has written for me and the house he built for us.

10. Does communicating get easier with time? How do you keep your patience? 
Yes! You learn to NOT become so easily offended. Laughing during disagreements is much more the norm these days. Learning about the differences between the male and female brain has helped me greatly with patience. For example, if Josh is listening to some complicated jazz ensemble on the radio I know that he is lost somewhere in his mind, inventing some new contraption, and therefore talking to him won't be nearly as effective as it would be if I wait to talk to him until later. :) 

11. How did you cope when you had to be physically separated for long periods of time? 
I hate it. But, I complain a lot less than I used to because I really try to focus on the significance of why we're apart, and also that we made the decision together that the trip was necessary. But, I prefer being together.

12. At the end of bad relationship day, what is the most important thing to remind yourselves? 
I chose him. He chooses me. Divorce isn't an option. This too shall pass. Most of all, I love him!

13. Is fighting important?
Definitely. Bottled up emotions only result in untimely, ugly explosions. Talking, disagreeing, airing grievances, etc. is so key. Women are better at this...we talk way more...men like to stuff feelings more. It's a process to meet in the middle. Have a fight. Fight fair. And make up. It's healthy. But no fighting in front of the kids. We've done this...much to our embarrassment.

14. What’s the one thing you have in common that transcends everything else? 
At the end of the day, everything else can leave, but as long as we have each other and our kids, we'll be okay. And the Lord is the head of our home.

I love hearing answers to these questions. If you're so inclined, take the quiz yourself and message it to me. Like I said before...I love free wisdom! :)