Saturday, December 24, 2011

Come expectant Jesus

Paul mentioned a few days ago how Christmas has a different feel to it.  I have pondered over that comment for the last few days.  I never asked him to clarify, but wondered if he was disappointed that it was different, or was it just an observation?

Tonight I asked him about it.  I guess we came to the same conclusion.

Christmas doesn't have the same excitement and expectation as it used to.  When we were younger as soon as Thanksgiving was past we were eagerly awaiting Christmas and all the magic and gifts that it held.

I guess the feeling is a little different now that we are older.  But I think that is OK.

Becuase I have found over this past month that I still have been eager with anticipation.  I have been eager to share Christmas with my kiddos - both the big ones and the little ones.  My own kids know the Christmas story better than some of residents do.  I have enjoyed sharing the Christmas story with them, helping them to see the awesome miracle that occurred all those years ago when God took on flesh and became like man.

And I love telling them how the story doesn't just stop there.  There is so much more of the story to tell, as you well know.

Today we decided to do another rendition of the traditional Slavakian dinner that we celebrate with Paul's family.  There were a few changes but we kept some of the same rituals:  Paul put a cross of honey on everyone's forehead, we shared a (graham) cracker with honey and wished each other a Merry Christmas.  Instead of wine, we had grape kool-aid.  Paul cut an apple and shared it with the group.  A resident helped me make the Slavakian nut bread earlier in the day.  We had that with fried fish (loaves and fishes).  Instead of saukraut we had brussel sprouts with bacon.  Raisins instead of prunes.  Sweet corn instead of sweet peas.  We did, however, still have the cottage cheese and the cream of wheat.  We set the table with a white tablecloth, hay, evergreen, and coins.  A candle was placed outside the window to welcome the Holy family.  An extra seat was set for the stranger who may stop by.
Why do brussel sprouts get such a bad rap?  These were delicious! Maybe it had to do with the bacon...

It was fun to share this tradition with the residents and tell them what each little things stood for and how different parts of the meal pointed to Jesus.

My hope is that as we all pass through this Christmas season and into the new year, we continue this feeling of expectation.  Because just as we waited for Christmas to come, we still wait for Christ to come.  We expect Him to come.

And some day He will.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

To live among us...

When we first got married I started collecting a nativity set.  It was fragile and certainly one I wouldn't want children playing with.  Even now, with three little kids in our house, I put the nativity set up high on a shelf so it won't get messed with and broke.

Isn't there something wrong with this scenario?

Until this year it didn't occur to me that there was.

But as I was getting the nativity set out this year, showing each of the figurines to our kids, telling them what each was about, telling them to be careful and not brake anything, then placing Jesus high up on a shelf, I realized that I was going about this all wrong.

Jesus came and lived among us.  He came to our dirty, filthy lives.  The nit and grit of the everyday.  He walked beside the sinners, the hurting and blind, and ate meals with them,too.  He didn't come so he could be placed at a distance, to look at and remember from time to time.

How often do we put Jesus on a shelf?  Place Him at a distance and don't want to bother Him with the messiness of life because, well, He doesn't really care about that stuff, does He?

But Jesus doesn't want to be on a shelf.  He wants to be in every part of our lives.  He wants to help us in our filthiness.  He came to this earth, sacrificed Himself for our sins.  He gave up his realm of heaven to be contained in the body of a baby.  To be touched by the children, hugged by the sick made well.  He came down:

To make us clean.

To make us worth something.

To give our life meaning.

I bought another nativity set this year.  One that is down within reach of our children.  One where Joseph rides in a stroller and the Wisemen have front seat in a Lego car.  Funny though, the figurine that gets handled the most and loved on the most?


He has come to live among us.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

And a child shall lead them...

 This weekend we got to spend the weekend with Paul's side of the family:  his parents, his two brothers, their wives, and our two nieces (more on the festivities later).  The picture above is of my youngest niece, Morgan, who is 6 months old (give or take a few days).  This weekend Morgan reminded me of some important bits of wisdom.  I had the privilege of rocking her to sleep not once, but twice, this weekend.  Swoony. It was so so sweet.  As I was standing, swaying, and humming her to sleep I had a few thoughts go through my head:

"Who ever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child cannot enter in the kingdom of heaven."

As I looked at her sweet face I thought of how I really did not cherish the times I was trying in vain to get my own children to go to sleep.  I was always frustrated, impatient, and upset that I was spending time in a room all alone, save for a screaming infant.  But now that my own children are now past that point, and I don't get to do it anymore, it's more of a cherished experience.  I am not proud of those last few sentences...sigh.  As I was thinking through that, I thought about how God wants us to be as little children....and what exactly does that mean.  Because, you see, I am often like a little child.  
I whine
I pout
I'm selfish
I'm impatient
I want things that other people have
I want my way...right now!
Sigh, sadly, I am way more like a child than I would rather admit.  That is quite a pathetic list.

However, God calls us to be childlike not childish.

He wants us to come to Him with open, accepting hearts.  
With a faith that surpasses any kind of explanation.  
Forgiving hearts.
And, just like Morgan did for me, rest peacefully in His arms, with security and no fear of being harmed or abandoned.

Thank you, Morgan.  You are an excellent little teacher.
"While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about"

So, a little bit on our Christmas celebration with the Suvar's.  One great thing we do every year is the Villia dinner.  This is a traditional Slovakian meal that reflects on Jesus' life on earth.  It is eaten every Christmas.  There are several parts to the meal, and I will do my best to remember everything.
There is a candle placed outside to welcome in the Holy family.
There is hay on the table to represent Jesus' humble beginnings in a stable.
Evergreen on the table represents eternal life in Jesus.
Money is placed on the table in hopes of a prosperous new year.
A white table cloth is placed on the table to represent purity.
There are twelve dishes served to represent the 12 disciples.
A cross of honey is marked on each forehead by the oldest son as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.
We start with oplatky, which is similar to a communion biscuit, and break a piece off as we pass it around the table and wish one another a Merry Christmas.  We then have a sip of wine.
An apple is sliced and shared with everyone at the table. A symbol of the blessings in our lives.
Each member breaks open 3 walnuts - good nut=good year.   bad nut= well, you know.
We then pass around the remainder of the dishes to be shared:
Prunes - to remind us of Jesus cursing the fig tree
Sauerkraut and garlic - to remind us of the bitter things in life
Peas - to remind us of the sweet things in life
Bread (Slovakian nut breads! yum!) and fish (shrimp and clam chowder!) - to remind us of the miracle of the loaves and fishes
Cottage cheese with opanskance (small balls of bread)
I know there are some things that I am leaving out, but I think I have the majority of it.  We have done this tradition with Paul's family for the last 9 years, I hope that we continue to do it each year.  I love the deep family roots of it (Paul's dad's family is from Czechoslovakia) and how the whole meal points back to Christ.  Because, after all, isn't that what Christmas (and life!) is all about?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Planning....and it's disappointments

Sometimes life doesn't really go as planned.

I didn't really have to say that - you know.  i know it.

But sometimes acknowledging it makes me feel a little better about the fact that life doesn't really go as planned.  For some reason i so often think it's supposed to.  Even if life continues to prove otherwise.

This week started with some much anticipated time off.  We were on duty for 9 days - 6 of those without school (thank you Thanksgiving vacation!).  But things went, for the most part, smoothly, and we were headed into the week faced with a few days to not have to worry about anything but our own children and whether i should changed out of my pj's before or after breakfast lunch.

The original plan was for me to spend all of Monday helping my mom make Christmas candies.  Something i was really looking forward to.  Alas, not to be.

Tuesday night we were supposed to spend the evening with my parents (sans children) at a fancy restaurant (their treat!)  Alas, not to be.

When we thought we were going to hop in out car and head home after some Christmas shopping, was actually a VERY flat tire in a slushy, cold snowstorm.  Sigh. Life doesn't always go as planned.

But those upsets are minor compared to other life upsets that some other people i know are unexpectedly facing.

This week my grandparents are uprooting themselves from their independence and moving into an Assisted Living/Nursing Home Community.  What was something that was 'down the road a bit' or quite possibly 'never going to happen' suddenly became reality.  Life doesn't always go as planned.

In October, our sweet co-worker and friend was suddenly faced with a life-threatening and rare disease which called for a bone marrow transplant ASAP.  She had to leave a job and community that she was just getting used to (only 7 weeks in!) and move to live in a hospital for a period of time.  She's still there, recovering from a transplant and praying to go home soon.  Life doesn't always go as planned.

This morning when we thought we were going to see all the resident's off to school, we were met with obstinacy and a proud spirit.  We are currently praying for a soft heart and humility.

Thankfully I can fall back on the one thing that doesn't change and has always gone as planned.  My God is constant, in control, and always ready to take me back when i try to take the reins and make life go the way i want it to.  I have a hard time being able to 'roll with things' when i have plans for things to go a certain way. 

But thankfully I can find truth that reminds me that:
My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways 
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Whew! Thank goodness.

How about you?  What isn't going your way?  Can you look through the disappointment and see how God is working it out for your greater good?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

God does funny things.

He can take those things that make us the most uncomfortable and those things that make us shake our head and say "no way, uh uh, that is not going to be me" and He can plunk us right down in the middle of it.

I disliked high school.  When one mentions high school I get sweaty palms and my breathing speeds up and scary images of awkwardness come to mind.  Don't get me wrong, there were high points.

I did marry my high school sweetheart after all.

But there were enough of those scary awkward moments that when I finally got out of high school I told myself I am not going back, no way, no how.  I told myself that I cannot be around teenagers.  Because they kinda freak me out.  I always felt like I needed to impress them.  Even when I was years out of high school, I still felt the pull to impress the present day teenagers.  those 'cool' people.  Always hoping that they thought I was 'cool' too.

But then God said, 'not only are you going to be around 'those' people, you are going to live with them.  and you will no longer worry about impressing them.'

well, except to impress them with the right stuff.

I had to smile today as I looked at what God has put me in the middle of.  I spent the weekend hanging out with 3 high school boys (as well as my own family, of course).  And not once did I have the thought that I needed to impress them.

Well, except to impress them with the right stuff.

We hung out, we played ping pong, we did normal family type stuff (i.e. chores, dishes, dinner).  And I had the opportunity to discuss many parts of scripture with these young minds.  They came with questions, and were genuinely interested in the answers.  Right now, in this time, God is calling me to live life with a bunch of teenagers and impress on them the joy that comes with living for Jesus.  These kids have been impressed by a lot in their short lives.  And now I have a chance to impress them with something lasting.

Jesus saves.  Jesus forgives.  Jesus was willing to die for YOU.  And even now God is ready and willing to forgive you of all your past and your mistakes if you will just accept that as the truth and desire to follow Jesus as your Savior.

Now, isn't that impressive?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Whoo Hoo!

Paul.  I really caught myself quite the catch when I married him.  Paul is selfless and humble in every sense of the word.

And for the last year has been working like crazy to complete his Masters Degree.

And I bet some of you didn’t even know that, and if you did, it’s only because I was the one who told you.

Let me paint the picture for you:  Last November Paul enrolled in a Graduate’s Program to obtain his Master’s in Education.  This has been something that he has wanted to do for the last 10 years and he finally was able to make it reality.  So, for the last year, with a fulltime job, demanding wife, and 3 children under 4, Paul worked away at achieving that degree.
There were many late nights and hundreds of sighs but the last long haul came in mid-August when school started. 

Paul started his student teaching.  Which means he:
Got up every morning at 5 AM to do lesson plans and get to school early
Taught 6 high school math classes to 9th -12th  graders (which means he came up with the lesson plans for each, created all the tests and quizzes, and did all the grading himself)

Returned to the house at 4PM where he stepped into the role of husband, dad, and houseparent

9:30-11:30 PM Worked on lesson plans, and grading papers, and making up tests/quizzes, and completing his college classes

And, oh, yeah, and he was training to run a half-marathon so he had to fit running somewhere in there….like 11:30 at night.

So, yeah, for the last 12 weeks Paul has led a crazy, stressed out life with a very full plate and he never took it out on any of us.



And seriously, for a human being, that is quite impressive.
So, I just wanted to put the holler out to my husband.  Paul, I know you don’t think much of yourself, but I sure do!  I love you and I am so very proud of you for how you have a goal and you go at it and work at it until you accomplish it.

Now he just needs to pass his portfolio defense and he has his Master's Degree!  Whoo hoo!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

To God be the glory...

...great things He has done!

I didn't want it to get too far past the day of Paul and I's half-marathon race to give God the praise! Every mile of the race I was thinking of and praising my Creator. He has blessed me with two healthy legs and a healthy body that can be propelled for 13.1 miles. Thank you, Lord, for seeing me through this training season and through the race today. To You, my Lord, be all glory given!

(i didn't get much for pictures...Ben (our faithful supporter and spectator) I'm looking to you for that one!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Happy Birthday, Owen!

Five years ago today I became a mommy. A whole new adventure as many of you can relate to.

Today we celebrated Owen turning 5 years old. He has waited SOOO long for this day. I think he has been talking about turning 5 for at least 6 months. We were so glad to have both sets of grandparents and my brother Sam be able to join us for supper and cake afterwards.

Altogether there were 16 of us around the dinner table.

I've been having this thought rolling around in my head lately about these teenagers that we serve here at Gateway. Sometimes I get stuck in the thought that this is my job and that my actual life occurs on the 9 days off I have each month. But I've been reconsidering what my life really consists of.

I believe that living at Gateway IS my life. Whew. I said it. That sounds kinda big.

But I believe that my family life currently consists of 3 toddlers and 5 teenagers and a wonderful husband. When I start looking at these kids as more than 'residents' something shifts inside me. I see them as part of my family and not some interruption in my life between my days off. My days on duty go a little more smoothly and my days off are more of a breather, because, you know, we all need those once in awhile.

I say all that to bring it back to Owen and his birthday. We celebrated Owen's birthday with our family, some of those who are related to us by blood, and some of those who are linked to us in other ways, but family nonetheless. Owen was thrilled that we were on duty for his birthday because he wanted the big kids to be there for it - which just made my heart smile.

Happy Birthday, my sweet, sensitive Owen. You are such a thoughtful young man who looks out for others, gets his heart hurt easily, and has a mechanical mind talent that is beyond me. We love you, Owen, and we pray each day that you grow to desire Jesus and your life may bring him glory.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How could this ridiculously adorable face bring me such frustration?

Very easily.

She is very good at it.

My struggle lately has been with Madeline. I don't know if she is teething or not getting good sleep at night or feeling neglected or any number of things that the mommy guilt is telling me I am doing wrong, but some days all I can do is sit and have a good cry. It truly does seem like 80% of Maddie's day involves her crying, screaming, or hanging onto my leg.

I have been struggling with my anger and I feel some days that my tolerance is so short. I find it hard to put into words exactly how I am feeling because it feels so awful to say these things about one of my children.

I have to constantly remind myself that God treasures little children, and even asks us to be like them (not the screaming kind, mind you). I need to remember that God has entrusted this child in my care because He wants me to bring Madeline up to know Him so that He would be glorified through her life. I know these times will pass, replaced by bigger, more complex struggles.

If I cannot be faithful in the small things, how can I be entrusted with bigger things?

But if I look at this situation as a calling that God has led me to I can have a totally different perspective. God has called me to this position of Motherhood, to glorify Him in my work.

Colossians 3:17, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus and in His Person, giving praise to God the Father through Him."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Living in discomfort

Love your enemies! Pray for them that persecute you... If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Matthew 5:44,46+47

A minister at our church just finished up a 7-Sunday sermon on Matthew chapter 5.





This last sermon was on the last few verses in chapter 5 and I've put the ones that have convicted me the most at the top of the blog post here. Yeah, I've heard all about loving my enemies and praying for those who persecute me. I've always envisioned that as those faceless people who hate Christians who need Jesus just as much as me. Those people I have never met but I am praying for them anyways.

However, this sermon pointed my thoughts in a different direction. It pointed out those unpleasant people in my life. Those people I would just rather avoid because they make me uncomfortable. Or they grate on my nerves just a bit too much. These verses are talking about those people, too.

If there is one thing God has been calling me to over this past year, I feel it is to love the unlovable.

That's not really all that easy to do.

But being in this ministry of Gateway Woods, I am surrounded by those people that grate on my nerves and just plain make me uncomfortable. But after hearing the sermon this past Sunday I was just reminded that that is exactly where God wants me to be. We have had (and currently have) residents that live with us that really know how to push my buttons. It would be my survival mode to just "put up with" some of these individuals and hope they move along quickly. But God has placed them where they are for a reason.

And right now they are living with me.

So, do I just put up with them and hope for the best?

Or do I show them Christ's patience, love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Well, if I go back up and read that verse again...I think I have my answer.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bittersweet Goodbyes

This morning we said goodbye to some very dear friends that we have gotten to know over the last 5 years.

Nathan and Rachel Mueller, and their four children, packed up their belongings and moved north to Michigan where they will be attending school to be trained to be missionaries. Their plan is to go live in the remotest parts of the world and bring the gospel story to those who have never heard of Jesus. Although this is a few years off, we are sad to have them leave even though they are currently only a state away.

I cry for my kids who have become great friends with the Mueller children. Kaine and Owen are only 9 months apart, Halle and Hannah only 6 weeks, and Layla and Maddie 2 months apart. Although they are not nearly as torn up as I am over the Mueller's leaving, I am sad for them and their friendship that will now have to be carried on from a distance. We hope to have our kids be their prayer warriors, each praying specifically for the Mueller kid who is the same age.

It's a bittersweet goodbye - we know they are headed for great things as they live out God's will for their lives and bring the Good News to those who have never heard, but are selfishly sad for our loss of neighbors and great friends.

I have taken several pictures of Owen and Kaine playing together this summer, knowing they won't have an opportunity like this again. I also took a few of the kiddos when we had the Mueller's over for dinner a few night before they left. In the one picture Owen and Kaine are looking through a National Geographic book looking for tribes for Kaine to go live with.

Nate and Rachel we cherish the friendship between our young families and pray God's guiding and protecting hand in your new adventure!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Someone stop the train...

i need to get off and take a nap...

Well, we are 6 weeks into this fulltime gig at Gateway (and 5 of those have been summer, mind you!) and i would like to go somewhere and take a nap for an entire day.

But alas, that is not going to happen so....

I'll just post some pictures and update you on life.

We are all moved into our little apartment that is attached to the main house. I like the coziness of it and the fact that we have our own stuff and a private place to retreat while we are on duty (something we did not have while being alternates). Our kids are loving living on campus and being able to be out in the big house with the residents.

Days start here shortly after 6 as either Paul or I get up to go run (we're training for a 1/2 marathon, we've got to fit it in somewhere..). Then we get our kids up and ready for the day before greeting residents at 9:10 for breakfast. After dishes are done, the residents and Paul head off to work for an hour and half or so - usually landscaping or mowing. This gives me a chance to do some secretarial work (there's a lot of paperwork that needs done for the residents), read a few books to our kids, and plan out lunch. After lunch the residents head off to summer school (thank you Gateway teachers!!!) for a little less than 3 hours which gives Paul and i a chance to plug into our own children for a little bit. By 4:00 the residents are back and we are heading into the evening with supper and whatever activities we can come up with the fill the time until the residents head back to their rooms at 9.

That is a short rendition without all the blood, sweat, and tears added in.

I am definitely being stretched in this job as i am learning, constantly learning, to put God first, others second, and myself last. I always need to remind myself that this life is not about me - it's about God and bringing Him the glory.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Tonight we spend our last night here at our home in Grabill, IN. This house, which really doesn't belong to us (thanks employer Gateway Woods!), but has felt like it has for the last 2 years. When we moved into this house Owen was just over 2 and Hannah wasn't even a year. Now we are moving out with an almost 5 year old, 3 year old, and another addition - Maddie the 1 year old. This house has seen our joy and our frustration (both with family life and the job of houseparenting that we try our best at doing right). And now I am shedding a few tears (you know i am emotional!) as we say good-bye to the end of what we know and step into a new role that we are only slightly sure of. I am a mix of emotions at this point in time: apprehension, excitement, sadness, exhaustion - and i am not sure which one dominates over the other. I guess i just wanted to record this feeling(s) so i could look back on it and remember what an incredible time of transition this was and that I can praise God that He was faithful through it all (because I know He will be!).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter and Happy Birthday, Hannah!

This year Hannah gets to share her birthday with my favorite holiday. Hannah actually celebrated her birthday 3 different times before this actual day that i don't really think she realized today was the actual day. However, i didn't want the day to go by with acknowledging the celebration of her birth. Hannah is boundless energy - she is constantly hopping. She is affectionate - she tells us many times a day "i love my mommy/daddy/Owen/Mads" And although she can drive us mad with her whining (we're still working on that) she makes us smile and laugh many times a day. Hannah, we love you and are so glad you are a part of our family!

And to not overlook the whole reason we are able to celebrate - Thank you Jesus that you were willing to come to this earth, die on the cross, and rise from the dead to conquer sin and hell and death so that we can celebrate birthdays and look forward to heaven someday!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The next big challenge

Well, we have become content with our crazy life as it is: raising three children under the age of 4, packing every few days to go live on campus at Gateway, working with delinquent teens (sometime as much as 7 at a time), getting Paul through college to get his Master's, doing our best to glorify God in our day to day lives. Ah, but I have found that although God calls us to contentment, once we find that place, He often calls us beyond it to stretch us some more. And so, Paul and I are taking on the challenge of fulltime houseparenting at Gateway. How does that differ from what we are doing now? Well, right now we live in a little house a few miles off campus and support the fulltime houseparents (Jarod and Molly Steffen) by running the house while they take their 9 days a month off, running doctor appointments, helping with treatment plan decisions, keeping the food room stocked, doing general maintenance around Cypress House and on campus, and completing other various things that come up that aren't on our job description but we do it anyway (no union here!). When we move into the fulltime role we will be living in the house 24/7 with the residents. We have 9 days off a month when our own alternates will come in and relieve us. (NOTE: this is a current job opening, if you or someone you know feels even the teeniest bit led to pursue it - PLEASE PURSUE. It will change your life...for the better. and I'm not just saying that so we can get the job filled!) Anyways, we will be living on campus at the Cypress House, running the house and living with (up to) seven teenagers plus our own three munchkins. I have described it to some as foster care on steroids :) During the school year the residents will be in school from 8 until 3:15 - this 7 hour time frame is the time we can use to have quality time with our own children, and handle all the meetings, phone calls, and issues that arise when working with delinquent teens. When the residents come home from school they are in the house with us the rest of the day. That time is spent doing homework, working out issues, eating dinner, and sometimes getting some kind of recreation in to burn off energy.
Paul and I look forward to the challenge, although we will miss out little house back in Grabill and the evenings we got to spend as just our little family. We have experienced much spiritual growth over the past 2 years that we have spent working at Gateway, and no doubt this next challenge will only lead to more. So keep praying that God would keeping changing lives - both in the hearts of the residents...and the houseparents as well.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

We were talking the other evening at the dinner table about loving our enemies and doing good to those that hurt us. Owen spoke up and said he has a list of rules that he is going to give to the bad guys when they show up at our house. He wanted me to write them down for him:
1 - Be kind
2 - Don't lie
3 - Don't steal
4 - Don't fight
5 - Don't do bad things
6 - Really don't to bad things
7 - Done

Pretty convincing, right? I guess some of the things we are teaching are sinking in.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Madeline!

On February 1st our little Madeline turns one years old! Maddie has been a sweet addition to our family of five. From the beginning she has displayed a laid-back personality, loving to be snuggled or just sit on our laps, and enjoying watching Owen and Hannah play around her. (I am so thankful that this has been her attitude, it helps immensely with our life at Gateway.) As this will most likely be our last baby, I have tried to cherish every wonderful and frustrating moment the first year of life may bring. It's hard to believe a year has gone by already!

We love you, Madeline, and we are so glad that God gave you to us to raise up to know Him and to bring Him glory through the life you live! Happy Birthday!