Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mother's Day Bonus

For Mother's Day S. and the kids hopped on the riding lawnmower and trekked through the neighborhood to find a rototiller. About 10 conversations, 3 petted dogs, and countless stops later they found one. They all proudly participated in getting my garden ready for seeds. (Complete with scarecrow. Darla and Hudson were determined to make a scarecrow the topper.)
That was a few weeks ago and weeds have already started to pop up. Everything in me wants to be frustrated that I haven't put those seeds in yet. It's a reminder that I have been forced this year to let go of all sorts of expectations (insert deep, calming breath here).

Cleaning day is the weekly, non-negotiable in our house. Nothing makes me feel refreshed like the smell of pine sol, vacuum lines in the carpet, and knowing that all the corners have been treated with pledge. This week it got pushed off a couple days because we've had a full week. I've had some battles emotionally that manifested physically. By Tuesday night I was thoroughly exhausted and looking forward to early bedtime. Instead of restful sleep I started having spasms in my shoulder and couldn't get comfortable. Then I started thinking...and over-thinking...why even bother laying in bed? A couple late night TV shows and two bowls of cereal later I knew my Wednesday would be shot.

I woke up Wednesday knowing that some of my expectations would have to be let go. Moving in slow motion, I mentioned to the kids we were running a little behind in our to-dos because I was tired and not feeling great.
When I came out of the bathroom from getting Everett ready I looked out the window to see my hard-working Hudson in the rain with the rake and a determined face. He was raking the weeds out of my garden for me. I fought back tears and marveled out loud. Darla saw how moved I was and immediately ran back to the bedroom to make my bed for me.
She came out crying. "Dad already made the bed! What am I supposed to do to bless you!?"
Soon enough S. suggested she clear and wipe down the table. She did.

When Hudson came in, wet and proud, I told the kids how much it meant to me that they would see me having a hard time and then think of ways to serve me.
Darla ambitiously said, "Mom, we'll clean the WHOLE house today. You can do whatever you want."
Hudson said, "Yeah, Mom. You just sit and watch the garden. We'll clean the house."

Sure enough, I came in the kitchen a short while later to see that they were both on hands and knees with washcloths and water wiping down the floor. There were crumbs pushed around and huge puddles of water (not to mention how wet they managed to get themselves). I didn't care that it somehow looked worse after they were done. I told S., "I will not be wiping the floors down this week because the kids worked so hard, I can't bear to undo any of it."

Yes, this week I had to let go of some of my expectations. Simultaneously other expectations have been surpassed. My husband modeled to my kids only a few weeks ago how fun it is to "bless Mom" and work hard at something before I see that it needs doing. Instead of lamenting at a not-quite-clean-to-my-standards house, I am celebrating that I have kids who love to bless me and a husband who teaches them what that looks like.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thank you, John

This past fall when I began the study of the book of John, I in no way anticipated what a tumultuous year it would be. Amidst the chaos I pushed to go weekly to Bible Study Fellowship and been thankful that it has been a constant when every week has felt up in the air. (an aside: if you have an opportunity to study Scripture through the BSF organization- do it! It has taught me much about what I thought I knew and challenges my kids every week, too. They have the classes everywhere.)

The last week of the study is reflection; what I learned this year and how my life was transformed. I sat down to 'reflect' and found myself laughing somewhat cynically. "Lord, this has been a year lacking clarity. What I'm learning is just as cloudy as the rest of my life. What have you taught me?"

Immediately I imagined what the disciples must have felt toward the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. They probably thought they had a lot figured out; "Jesus is the Son of God, He is teaching about love, bringing to light the Old Testament Scriptures, fulfilling prophecy, healing people. Certainly the next step is to demonstrate His power politically. Certainly we're about to become some sort of royalty by association. Bring out the big guns!"

Then things start happening quickly that don't line up with the assumptions made. When soldiers come to seize Jesus, Peter assumes this is where they start kicking butt. He lops off an ear...and Jesus reprimands him. Huh? They start the trials and they start them illegally. Everything about it screams injustice, lies, evil. This is supposed to be the Son of God bringing justice and knocking down deception! Soon Jesus is changing hands from the Sanhedrin, to Pilate, to Herod and back again. Everything is in chaos, people are throwing out lies, everyone has their own agenda, and two disciples betray Jesus in the midst of the accusations.

If I were one of those disciples who had walked with faith, held onto Jesus' words with hope, and vowed loyalty to the end, I would feel as though the rug was pulled out from under me. "But Lord, can't you reign over the injustice? Are you helpless? Since when is there suffering if it's your will? This is out of control! Where are you in this?!"

It only gets worse. He's crucified (and during the very Passover event that celebrates God's sovereignty!). He's buried.

I can't fathom the despair in the three days after Jesus' death. I would be walking around; aimless and empty. All I poured into, all I'd been doing for years...gone. Nothing to show for it. No leader in sight. How do I reconcile that kind of disappointment? That lack of clarity? I'm hurt. I'm confused. I'm thinking that no master plan's all chaos. God must not be who I thought He was.

Then the resurrection. Whoa...this was the plan?! All along?! Oh, you even warned us ahead of time and in our stupor we forgot it all?

I love Acts 2 because Peter has regained clarity. He understands that what Jesus did was not a failure in expectation and prophecy, it was the fulfillment of it. He realizes that Jesus did kick butt: He defeated death. He was the ultimate sacrifice and forgave our sins. Jesus' picture was so much bigger than the people's picture of political freedom. It made way for eternal life. Peter gets it, he preaches it, and lives are changed.

As I sat in what my kids have dubbed "mom's quiet time chair" I was gently reminded that Jesus was God's perfect plan. He beautifully orchestrated the time of death, the water and blood from his side, that not a bone was broken just like the perfect sacrificial lamb of the Old Testament. He orchestrated the weather, the darkness, the tearing of the curtain (did you know that curtain was the thickness of a man's palm!? Oh, the power and terror in that moment!).
Yet, as it was happening it didn't look orchestrated, beautiful, or planned to the bystander. It looked like betrayal, selfishness, filth, blood, and mocked innocence.

I realized first that I know the outcome of the world's story and the disciple's didn't. How much easier for me to have faith. I have the Old and New Testament. I have my own experiences. Jesus' forgiveness is complete and I get to bask in it. Even if my own life lacks clarity, I have so much. I know my eternity is secure and even if from here to there is miserable, I know I have that.

Secondly, why do I expect my life to look relatively painless and clear when the life of Jesus (who WAS perfect) looked painful and muddled in the midst?

I learned much through the book of John. This week I remember that Jesus' plan doesn't fail when people are filthy and full of betrayal. Jesus' plan doesn't fail when it looks desperate, when the clouds roll in. Jesus' plan doesn't fail when it's hard to get out of bed in the morning or when my dreams are on the altar.

My response? I want to "pray in the garden" even when I'm tired and would rather check out of a dark situation. I want to be looking at the face of Christ for my reassurance, instead of the mob. I want to trust the outcome instead of getting lost in the moment. I'm asking God to forgive me for my disappointment in His plan- He's purposed it all and has a way to glorify Himself in it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Celebrating Sean's 32 years

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations." Isaiah 61:1-4

When S. first found this passage he thought, "This is what I want to do! This is God's passage to me!" Then later the Lord showed Him that this is what JESUS does. Because S. has Jesus in him, Jesus can accomplish these things through him but it is not S. himself accomplishing it.

I would venture to say that in this past year Jesus has done these things FOR S. S. has been the poor, he has been the brokenhearted. He spent the first half of 31 "bound". His salvation was never in question, but the war going on in his soul was not making him feel free or healed. Thankfully, Jesus continues the good work He begins in us. This year Christ has given liberty to my husband, He has comforted S. in his mourning, given him beauty within ashes, and has sent roots deep. Jesus is rebuilding old ruins.

I'm confident that God will still use Jesus in S. to accomplish these things in the lives of others. This year I'm simply thankful that Jesus is doing it in the life of the one I love. I'm thankful for a husband receptive to the Lord. S. has modeled humility, determination, and a willingness to receive whatever the Lord purposes.

"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations." Isaiah 61:10-11

Happy birthday, Love- I'm looking forward to 32 with you!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Everett celebrates two

The morning of Everett's second birthday was pandemonium as a gigantic garage sale was going on in our front yard. I got him dressed but apparently I didn't do a good enough job. He rummaged through his things until he found his favorite yellow hat and some beat up boots he calls "dire boots" (fire boots). I tried to switch for a more subtle baseball hat and weather appropriate sandals. I should know better. Everett is determined with strong opinions about everything from food (he has yet to eat an egg and I serve them nearly every morning), to apparel (see above pictures), to which toys he is entitled to (the neighbors can hear the screams if another child innocently picks up his lawnmower).

Since before his birth, Everett has surprised me by what a blessing he is to our family. I found out I was pregnant with him right after S. started dealing with anxiety, was up to his ears in ministry commitments, and we already had two toddlers. I was initially nervous but God gave immense favor through Everett. Not only was my pregnancy great but his birth changed the climate of our little family. Simply his presence seemed to soften edges. His first year we marveled at what an easy going, delightful boy he was.

At two we are getting to see Everett's unique relationship with his siblings. He adores Darla and seeks her out for help and nurturing. Now that she has started reading, he brings easy reader books and climbs into her lap.
I'm so thankful for Darla and Hudson now that Everett is in the "why Mommy?" phase. Now it turns into, "Why Dah-la?" And the eager big sister happily answers the why trail. (She's even been known to turn it around to "Why Everett?" which causes them both to collapse in giggles.)

Everett has a hard time pronouncing "Hudson". Some time ago Darla referred to herself as "Sissy" when talking to Everett. He didn't catch on (thankfully!) but soon after Hudson followed suit and referred to himself as "Bruthy" when talking to Everett. (Even typing this makes me laugh). Quite unfortunately, the name "Bruthy" stuck.
The other morning I was finishing my quiet time when I heard Everett call from his room "Mommy! Up!" I took awhile getting his milk. Soon the yells of "Mommy! Up!" changed to "Bruthy! Help!" Tender hearted Hudson raced in to get him up.
Everett has started to get 2 of everything when he goes to the toy box: one for himself and one for "Bruthy" to play with him.

When Everett was an infant, I for some reason was compelled to sing "This Little Light of Mine" to him while tucking him in. I don't particularly like that song so I always fought the urge and picked a different one.
Recently I can't seem to sing anything when I tuck Everett in because he is full of interruptions. He's busy. He wants to sing it himself. He fidgets. I never get more than a line in.
Last week I remembered how naturally "This Little Light" came to my head. I began singing it. When he saw that there are motions that involve blowing and yelling "No!" it became his favorite. Now when we sink into the rocking chair he sticks his index finger up, ready. I suppose the Lord knew what it would take all along to keep his attention.

My prayer for this next year of Everett's life is that the Lord would continue to go before us, equipping us with the right songs, the right discipline methods, the right expressions of love for him. I pray that he will always love and be as passionate about prayer as he is now. (He stops us to pray an average of three times during a meal). May Everett's passion be used to seek the Lord whole heartedly and may his charismatic personality be used to draw others to Christ.

Happy birthday, Everett Clifford!

Come on home, Gage & Jude

I desperately wish I was allowed to post the picture of my new nephews, but until my sister and brother-in-law have legally adopted them we can't post their pictures online. Let me assure you that they are handsome little Ethiopian boys.
Gage Moses Tafesse Ellis is 4 and named after a dear friend Logan Gage who is a thinker, a pursuer of Truth, a man of integrity. He is named Moses after the Israelite man adopted by Egyptians- to later return and free his people. It was the study of the life of Moses that brought Jasmine to a place to consider adopting. He will keep his Ethiopian name, Tafesse because it is who he is and where he comes from.
Jude Harrison Abush Ellis is 2 and even smaller than our little Everett. The name Jude is biblical and Harrison is the name of my brother- not only does he share with Jude in being adopted into our family but also has overcome a past to passionately pursue Christ. Abush is Jude's Ethiopian name.

We are hoping and praying that Gage and Jude will get to come home within the next 3 months. (It better be soon because their bed is all made up and their new siblings are ecstatic! (Pearl-5, Eve-4, and James 2)

To help with the enormous expenses of the adoption we decided to do a garage sale at our house this past weekend. We prayed that God would make it worth it and began asking people if they had anything to donate.

...and boy, did they. Once our garage was filled from floor to ceiling, we began tarping the furniture in the driveway.
The week before the garage sale Lance and Jasmine got a bill for the next stage of the adoption process: $6,500. It had to be paid sooner than expected. Half jokingly Jasmine said, "Think we should make that our garage sale goal?"
Last week a dear family member sent a check saying she couldn't make the garage sale but wanted to help. Enclosed was a $5,000 check. Jasmine called half-crying, half-laughing, and all the way jumping up and down. A couple days later came a check from good friends- $300.

Our goal for the garage sale became $1,200. Our cousin Sommer came from Portland to help. Jasmine's sister-in-law Leah, my sister Megan, our mom, sister Ericka, friend Tara... people kept showing up either bringing items or help. We set up for nearly 12 hours on Friday.

Saturday morning we had customers by 7:15am. They kept coming...and coming...and coming. Leah had the espresso machine going, people had donated baked goods. It became quite the party!

At the end of the day we gathered; dirty, exhausted, sore feet, determined to never look at another trinket or price tag for a l-o-n-g time. We counted the money. It was nearly $3,000. Our grand total for the week was nearly $8,000!

Our God is a God of exceeded expectations. He is a God that loves the fatherless and cares for his own. He is a God of provision and of miracles. He is a God who puts it on people's hearts to give, to sacrifice, to support and encourage others who are following His commands. He is a God who knows how to throw a party!

Our kids & their garage sale finds- plenty of dress up for the girls!
This is obviously early in the day setting up (note the perky smiles)
What the yard looked like Friday night in preparation.
The not so perky faces after 12 hours of set up.
The sun coming up as we are ready for customers Saturday morning.
...and the loot (no way of getting it in one frame- this doesn't even include a driveway full of furniture)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Recent moments

Popcorn and movie night. Yes, Everett picked to wear this hat for the event. And yes, he chose to wear it all the way through the grocery store yesterday.
Date night. Yes it was good and no, I'm not posting details.
"Really we'll sleep like this, Mom. We won't talk or bother each other at all. Please?"

Tuck-ins are a treasured time in our house. I now know why my mom still tucked us in until we moved out. It's the best time to review the day, get the giggles, pray, and unwind together.
Last night Darla was struggling; she has had some skin problems causing her pain and then she bloodied her tooth after knocking heads with Everett. I asked Hudson if he would pray for his sister.
"Dear Jesus, help Darla. Help her have a good day. Help her have a good day when it's Everett's birthday soon. Help her get her tooth out so it doesn't hurt. Jesus, you forgive Darla. Take punishment out of her heart. Amen."
Not to be outdone, Darla prayed for Hudson, "Jesus, help Hudson to sleep good. Help him to not have any bad dreams, any silly dreams, or any scary dreams that just big kids think are funny. Help Hudson to not pee in the bed. Thank you for Hudson. Amen."
They gave huge hugs to each other that lasted for a few minutes. Hudson was laying down so Darla put her head on his chest. He played with her hair and they giggled. It was a sacred moment that I was blessed to observe.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Footprints in the Sand

I was never a fan of the "Footprints in the Sand" poem. It's one of those framed things in everyone's bathroom. I thought its purpose was to give you something to read while you are sitting on the toilet. Even the phrase sounded cliche to me.

A few weeks ago as I was feeling discouraged and starting to wonder if my prayers were coming back void, I made a request. I (humbly) asked the Lord to give me some "footprints in the sand" moments.

I know He is faithful. I know His plans for me don't hinge on other people. I know He doesn't hang me out to dry. Unfortunately in these past months, my feelings often won't line up with what I know to be True. I was exhausted from preaching to my unpredictable emotions. "Lord, I believe you are who you say you are. I believe your promises for me. I know you will use my current situations to bring yourself glory. Please be gracious with me as I struggle to line up the way I feel with your truth. Please give me some footprints in the sand moments. I want to look and say "A-HA! You ARE carrying me!"
Yes, my faithless eyes beg for the tangible. (Dear Israelites; I have deep empathy and am not self righteous enough to think I would have made less whiny decisions in the desert for 40 years.)

I would have loved the Lord to answer with neat and tidy sitcom resolutions to my life (at least for a couple big ones like a job and where to live). What I have received has not brought much resolution but it has opened my eyes to the One who carries me.

It started with an unexpected, surprise visit from my dear cousin Hessel who I have not seen in a few years. Few people can challenge, convict and encourage me like he can. As he has since we were young; he spoiled me, asked me hard questions, let me cry, and modeled integrity in a life surrendered to Christ. My time with him was not coincidental.
Then I had a spontaneous visit with my dear friends Shawn and Jill followed by a day with my cousin-but-really-more-like-a-sister, Sommer who is living a life quite similar to mine right now. All are people I have gone a long time without seeing; ones who have known me for life and prayed for me. I realize God has used these people to "carry" me.

Then the Lord reminded me how He creatively meets our practical needs. We were able to sell a little trailer we've had sitting next to the house. We received a couple checks "for no reason". When Sean gave back his computer to MVCTK this week, God provided money specifically for a new computer for him. Then in organizing paperwork we discovered a big check from closing out the gas at our old house. Yesterday a kind man brought us some beef and berries (ahh... love Lynden).

The temptation has been great at times to make things happen on our own. Then the Lord reminds us that He is the Provider and His best is worth waiting for...regardless of how risky or how ridiculous we might look. The time we have is not wasted. The end of April hit us hard; have we really been in this strange, in between, re-building stage for 4 months?

I'm reminded often of the Israelites' journey through the desert. God's purpose for them wasn't merely to get them from point A to point B. He designed those years to establish Himself as their God, to show them His character and their own unworthiness. They left Egypt a faithless, directionless people without identity. They arrived at the Promised Land as God's people- set apart. They were still unworthy but they knew they had been carried and more importantly, they knew who they had been carried by.