Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thorns On theTree - Joy to the World

"Why are you putting it on the tree? It makes me sad," Zay said, his small face covered with a shadow of concern.

He peered up into the deep, green branches of our Christmas tree. Among the soft white lights and gem-hue baubles I'd placed a crown of thorns. Twisted. Sharp.

"It's about Jesus," Samuel said, before I could whisper a word. "What he did for us. What he came for."
A day earlier, my mom had taken the boys on a nature hike near my parents' home. They'd discovered a bramble - thick, gnarled cords of thorns. Mom cut a vine and carried it home. Dad twisted it round and secured the ends.

A crown.

Of thorns.

It traveled to our house, between booster seats and boys, in a basket.

But Zay was unsure about hanging it on the tree. It didn't seem to fit with cranberry garland and glittery snowmen and men in caps round and merry.

The harsh, spiky thorns didn't mix with holiday cheer.

I pulled Isaiah to my lap. We talked about the Babe. The manger. The angels and the shepherds and the stable and the star. But we talked about the rest, too.

Our fall.

Our sins.

His sacrifice.

His grace.

And Zay curled deep, head against my chest. Samuel folded in, too.

"You see, Zay," Sam said. "It is sad. But mostly it's happy. We'd be lost. Without him. He did it for us."


Well said, sweet Samuel.

The Babe, the manger, the thorns, the cross,

Our salvation. Redemption. Hope.

And joy.

Joy to the world...the Lord has come.

Monday, December 19, 2011

His Beauty on Her Face

My friend and I stood in the gymnasium. It was cool and dim, and we waited, through the gentle hum, for the lights to blink and bring forth light. Our children ran around us, a strong, whooping, muscle-pumping band of activity.

And I was captivated by my friend's face.

She was radiant, even in the near-dark. Her face shone lovely, warm and bright. Peace seemed to spill from her, and it pulled me in.

My friend's relationship with the Lord is growing deeper, wider. His love is stretching into new places and her heart is cracking wide to receive Him.

And I want to be close to Him.

And I want to be just like her.

Loving. Listening. Growing.  Changing. Becoming deeply, truly beautiful, from the inside pushing out.

I want His love, His peace, His grace to fill me. In deep places. In still places. Where it's quiet and needing and hidden. But I want the overflow, too, that it changes me on the outside, so that I'm shining with His love, even in the dark.

Lord, fill me, change me, move me, until I'm light with love for You...

Those who look at Him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame. Psalm 34:5


Thanks to all who shared special Christmas traditions and memories. Your comments, e-mails, and Facebook messages were precious.

Audrey James, Samuel pulled your name from his winter cap for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love.

Kelly Davidson, your name was drawn for The Spirit of Christmas.

Audrey and Kelly, if you'll e-mail your addresses, we'll get the books in the mail this week.

And again, Merry, Merry Christmas to all of our dear friends. We're sending warmest wishes for a deep and blessed, Spirit-filled Christmas.

With love,


Friday, December 16, 2011

Just When ( Non-Lovely Turned Lovely)

Just when...

I'm at the end of my patience, and my rope, and the kids are December-tired, surly, and the house doesn't feel like Christmas at all

Just when...

peace is shattered with a sharp word and a broken Lego (it was an accident, I'm sure)

Just when...

I'm wondering about all this effort and if the heart is the wellspring why does the hard and ugly keep a steady flow...

Just when...

I want someone else's job today and I'm slinking to my bedroom for turkey-on-wheat alone because if I sit at the table with the children my very last string will snap and it won't be good or uplifting for anyone...

I peek past the corner and see three boys at the table, heads tipped in prayer, bowing past peanut butter and jelly and lifting soft, murmured words to the Lord Most High.

And I stand in the hall and I'm moved to tears because the Lord is here and He's so close and He hears the heartbeat and frayed prayer of one mama in one small house in one small corner of the very big world. Anything good here is Him. He meets our sin and flows over it and around it and through it.

And He lifts me out, us out, into His mercy and grace.

And it's really Christmas after all.

Oh Lord, I love you so. Thank you...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Receiving - And a Chistmas Giveaway

The little boys and I tucked a seventh chair under our dining room table. Wrapped a bed in soft, winter flannel. Twisted sparking, white lights in Logan's bedroom window.
My oldest son will be home for Christmas.

It's impossible to prepare for him, to rejoice in togetherness, without being touched, in the deepest, most tender place, by God's gentle care and love. Two years ago, I was stretched taut with the uncertainty of upcoming change. Two years ago, I couldn't imagine opening my closed fist, and my heart, to release my son, even knowing that it was necessary and right and good.

But God came close. Spoke through His Word. Brought daily encouragement, promise, love. He provided for me. For my son.

And somewhere in the growth, the stretch, the pull of new trust, blessings came. Many. Fresh and new. And this joy, the homecoming joy, the welcoming a boy-grown joy, is one one of the blessings.

But I had to let go to receive it.

Thank you, God, for teaching me to receive.

A memory from Christmas past, Guideposts, last December: 
Link to "The Ornament" at


As a small, heartfelt thank you for your friendship and time, I'd like to give away a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love, and a copy of Cec Murphey and Marley Gibson's The Spirit of Christmas. God allowed me to have stories in both books.

Just please leave a comment, or send an e-mail... a line or two about something Christmas. Anything Christmas. A blessing. A Memory. Tradition. Then in our high-tech way, we'll write names on slips of paper and Zay will pull two from a hat ~ one for each book.

I'm grateful for you and to you.

Sending warm and wonderful wishes for a very Merry Christmas...(will post winners next Monday).

With Love,

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Christmas Game - A Gentle Pull

The game was small enough to fit in Gabe's fist. But he shadowed me as I loaded the washer, stirred the soup, swept crumbs from morning toast. And my heart beat hard. And my stress grew big. I have so many things to do. I don't have time for a game.

"Do you want to play, Mom? It's called the Christmas Game. I made it myself."

Gabe's green eyes shined hopeful. Behind blond bangs that were way too long. A trip to the barber. One more thing to do.

"I'll play, Gabe, a bit later in the day."

"Can I help, Mom? So we can play soon?"

Persistence. Usually a good thing in my son. But today, with my do-do list stretched over two lined pages and stress piled high, it felt like one more pressure.

"Tell you what.. Let me finish in the kitchen. Then before phonics, we'll play."

A wide-open, tooth-gone-missing smile settled on my son's face.

A few minutes later, we sat at the dining room table. He tottered on his chair. I glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner.

"It goes like this," he said. "You get half. I get half. You pick one from me. I pick one from you.Then you make matches. But if you get the angel, you win."

Oh. A little like Old Maid. In reverse. With an angel.

Gabe produced tiny circles cut from white paper. Each circle had been colored. Two green. Two red. Two blue. And one sweet angel with lopsided wings. He mixed them up. Doled them out.

We played.

And the game went fast.

"You won," I said. "Rematch."

Gabe beamed.

We played. Again. And again.

After awhile, Gabe pressed the circles into a stack. "We'd better get to phonics," he said.

He was right.

But I'd cherished those moments, my son, and a little game that pulled me away from the things that don't matter and toward things that do.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pouring Grace - A Memory From Christmas Past

Years ago, when my six-foot-something-son Grant was small and round, he rooted through the walk-in attic and found his Christmas gift. Our home didn't have many hiding places and the attic was a package haven. Gifts were buried deep in that attic, pushed in far corners, hidden under an old quilt.

And the attic was off-limits at Christmastime. Four-year-old Grant knew it. But he’d been lured by the promise of presents, and December was still young.

He couldn’t resist.
Grant burst into the kitchen one morning in wild fury, sock feet skimming ceramic tile. “Mom,” he called. “Look what I have.The play set! The one I wanted. Right here!” He'd found a Winnie the Pooh play set, with two-inch-tall animals and a kind, smiling Christopher Robin. There was a blue felt tent for camping, and a campfire with orange plastic flames.

He held the package above his head and jumped. Once. Twice. Smiled big as all-get-out. “I’m so, so happy!”
But I wasn’t.

Grant had disobeyed. There was no reason for him to be in the attic.
Except to look for presents.
I wiped my hands on a towel and sat, pretzel-legged, on the kitchen floor. “Come here, please, Grant.” I patted the floor next to me. Grant plunked down beside me and held the package with small, tight hands. “Why were you in the attic?”
No answer. Just shiny, full-of-joy eyes.

“You were disobedient, Grant, to go into the attic. The present was a surprise. I’ll have to take it back.”
Grant's lower lip perched out full. His eyes watered over.

I hugged him and told him I loved him, but he’d lost the blessing of that gift. Partly because Lonny and I expect our boys to obey and partly because my heart swelled for my son and I wanted Christmas morning to be full of breathless delight.
Now, looking back, remembering that day, I wish I had done things differently.

I wish I had poured sweet, rich grace.
I wish I had talked with my son about the importance of obedience. I wish I had considered that the temptation, for a small boy, was maybe too great. Then I wish I had pulled him to my lap and ripped that box open. I wish we had sat on that kitchen floor, sunlight spilling fresh and full in stripes of gold, and I wish we had played. I wish his laughter had wrapped around us and soaked through us and I wish I had let his sweet, little boy joy become mine.

And I wonder why, today, God has allowed that memory to seep into my soul. I don’t think it’s to fill my heart with sadness or regret. I think that maybe, now that my son is fifteen and we’re rushing headlong into teen turbulence, there will be other times.
Times to teach.

But also times, if I can, to hold my son close and pour sweet, rich grace.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mama's Jeans

My mother was in the hospital. I sat alongside her bed, heart pained to see her so still. She’s a mover and a shaker. Runs circles around me. I’m cut more from my father’s cloth. Quiet and reserved.

God crafted Mama with spunk.
“How are you doing, Mom?” I asked. “Do you need some water?”

She nodded and breathed hard. Pneumonia had hit her fast.
I gave her a sip and rested my hand on her sweet forehead. She was feverish.

I wasn’t surprised.
“Are you too warm?” I asked. “Do you want me to pull the blanket back?”

Mom nodded. I tugged the nubby white blanket, leaving Mama covered only by the thin, white sheet.
Through the sheet, I could see her jeans.

I laughed.
“Mom, are you wearing your jeans? Under your hospital gown?”

Mama smiled. “I won’t be here long. I want to be ready to go,” she whispered.

I sat in robin’s- egg- blue chair and shook my head.

My mother. I love her determination. Her energy. Her tireless get-up-and-go. She’s strong willed to the hilt. For a small woman, she packs a lot of punch. I wondered how she, weak as a pup, managed to keep her get-away clothes when the nurses prepared her for admission.
I hope that my boys have Mama’s spunk, in strong, wise measure. I hope that they will be determined, strong willed for things pleasing to the Lord, and full of drive for what they’ll need to accomplish.

Guess you can’t keep a good woman down, I thought as I reached out and squeezed Mama’s hand.
May the same be true for my men.

I think it will be.
It’s in their genes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

From the Fullness - Cure for a Backward Heart

I slip out of bed and pad to the kitchen. The hardwood floor is winter-cold. I pull my slippers from the closet and start the coffee.

The boys are still alseep, and it's a good thing. They'll need to be well rested. It's our first day of school after Thanksgiving. Zay is sick and hot with a strong virus. Logan has returned to college, and the house seems hollow without all of our sons.

A backward heart. If there's one recurring stronghold issue that I slosh through, it's my backward heart. Oh, I wish it were a week ago. We were all together. Looking backwardness is the chorus that rings steady through my life. Even when we decorated the tree, over the weekend, my heart wandered back in time. Samuel chose that ornament when he was two. The year he loved dinosaurs. I wish we could have that time back.

Sometimes I sink so far into yesterday that I don't see the blessings of today.

Someone once peered into my soul and asked a tough question. "Why do you do that? Why do you look backwards so?" I felt vulnerable. Unveiled. I stumbled for words. Groped for reason. The best I could come up was with was a stammer. "I love my life so much, I hate to leave parts behind."

So I stand in the kitchen, warm coffee and warm slippers, and blink back tears that I don't even want.  A helpless longing tugs at my soul, and I can't shake it away.

Life has been good. Life has been sweet. Maybe I'm afraid it won't always be.

Could it be a trust issue with God? That He won't care for my heart? Provide for my life? Deep down, I'm afraid. Afraid of missing. Afraid of loss. I want to twist time hard to hold it still. It's an effort that is always lost.

From the fullness of His grace, we all receive one blessing after another. John 1:16

It's my life verse. My rope. My wrap-your-hands-around-it-and-hold-on-tight promise. From the fullness of His grace..a fullness I'll never understand. I depth I'll never see the end of. Something so wide and rich and deep with love I'll never scratch the sweet surface, this side of heaven.

...we all receive one blessing after another. The context is Jesus and the blessings that flow through His blood. The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (vs 17). Salvation. Grace. Acceptance. A paid-for, blood-smattered, glory-grace invitation to the family of God. It really is more than I can fathom. I long to understand.

But as I stand in the kitchen, coffee growing cold, I wonder if I can stretch it wide enough to cover today, without making the promise small. Will it cover my fear, God? My worry that it won't always be so sweet? It it okay to claim over everyday goodness? Over blessing I can see and touch and hold?

Peace floods my soul, warms my spirit, and I think all is well. I think it's okay. Tomorrow will be covered by Jesus, and there is promise in the full, endless depth of grace. Today will hold blessing, too. And the blessings, the love-of-life sweetness that I'm afraid to hold with an open, unclenched hand?

Maybe I don't need to be afraid.

Because I believe that those sweet everyday blessings fit in the fullness as fragments of His grace.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Brother Coming Home

Zay and I are on the porch swing, coats zipped up against the autumn cool.

“Three days,” he says. “Three days until Logan comes home.”  He holds his little hand in the air, pinky finger trapped tight by thumb.
“Five days, Isaiah,” I say I unfolding his cool, red hand. “All five fingers. But that’s not too long. Your brother will be home soon.”

“Awww,” Zay says.  He scrunches his face to a tiny twist. Then slowly, steadily,  a smile spreads warm and bright.

“Then Logan be home. He’ll be with our family.”
The launching of a child has run deep, ripples stretching into the sweet soul of even our youngest boy. But God has been gracious and good. There has been growth, and strength, satisfaction and joy in growing a son to a man. But the anticipation of time together, when the fabric of family is complete and whole?

Those are the best of times.
Isaiah and I sit for awhile, on the swing. We watch the sun wash through the trees that are now almost bare.

It is good. Very, very good.

Children are a blessing, that’s the Lord’s truth. There’s a plan and a purpose beyond the treasure that is a parents’ blessing to hold.

I’m breathless to see what the Lord will do with my sons.
But there is sweetness, joy, in coming together. There is gratitude, thanksgiving, in a brother coming home.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving and Turkey Tradition

It's only Monday, but I don't want to miss the opportunity to wish you a

Spirit-Filled, Blessing-Rich, Wonderful, Wonderful Thanksgiving.

Sweet Friends, I am grateful for You. Thank you for your friendship, love, support, encouragement, and time.

You are a blessing, and I’m ever-so-thankful.
I'd also like to share an Eliasen holiday tradition ~ Bread Bowl Turkey. My helper-boys have grown and changed over the years, but the tradition of the turkey has held strong.

(It’s also been a great help… keeping small hands involved and busy while I’m in the kitchen baking, baking…)
Here we go. Perhaps it will be a blessing for your family, too.

In His Love,

Bread Bowl Turkey

You’ll need:
1 round bread
1 medium sized dinner roll
toothpicks or skewer sticks
1 pkg Knorr dry vegetable soup mix
1C sour cream
1C mayo
1 small box frozen chopped spinach

Various veggies (we use baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, olives, cherry tomatoes, green onions)
Thaw spinach, squeeze until near dry. Mix with dry soup, mayo and sour cream. Set aside.

Hollow the center of round bread (the dip will eventually go here).
Thread skewers with cherry tomatoes, olives, other veggies.

Attach roll to side of round bread with toothpick and create a veggie face (we use olives for eyes, red pepper for gobbler, carrot nose) and attach with toothpicks.
Cover front and sides of bread with cucumber slices, olives (pin in place with toothpicks)

Create small holes on backside of bread. Insert green olives for “feathers”.
Fill in backside with veggie skewers.
Fill hollow of bread with spinach dip.

Surround turkey with left over veggies.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Love That Guy

We're stretched over the sofa, Zay curled deep in my arms. The house is end-of-day quiet, everyone else tucked in, and we should be.

 But we're drifting.

“Mama,” Zay says, softly, tenderly, “I forgot Mine-O-Mine.”

“Where is he, Zay?”


Even in my slumber-state, I remember seeing Mine-O-Mine, Zay’s red blanket, draped over a chair in the dining room. But the dining room is down the stairs. Through the living room. Across the house.

And I am tired.

“We’ll get him later. Now close your eyes.”

Zay is quiet. For a moment. Then he rolls over and whispers words.“Mama? Can we get him? Now?”

I'm about to tell him “no”. Lonny's been working late. Sport schedules have made me scattered. I'm mama-weary.

 Then he presses palms to my cheeks.

“Please Mama. Mine O'Mine?” he says. “I love that guy.”

I am sold.

Oh, my dear boy. Still small enough to cradle, his spirit gentle and kind. I pull him close and breath the sweetness of his skin. Run my fingers through the angel hair that's soft silk.  Then I kiss his forehead, settle him back to the sofa.

And stand to find the stairs.

The blanket, too.

When he's soft and gentle, tender and small, my heart puddles. There is something precious here. Something simple and sweet that God has allowed me to hold for a short while.

And I don't want to let go.

"Yes, Sweet Boy," I whisper. "I'll find the blanket."

My close-to-sleep child. Treasure of my heart.

I love that guy.
Thank you, Lord, for giving me joy in meeting the small, sweet needs of my sons.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Wish for Autumn Blessings

Hello Dear Friends,

I'm traveling today, returning home from Charleston, South Carolina, after experiencing the sweet blessing of a writers' workshop with Guideposts.

I'll be back with a post on Thursday but don't want to miss the opportunity to send best wishes for autumn blessings ~

May your day be deeply rich, abundantly sweet, and filled with God's grace.

In Him,

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lion Den Living

The warm afternoon was impossible to resist. The boys and I ate lunch inside. But after-lunch? Devotions outside. I grabbed our Bible and we bolted for a sunny spot in the backyard.

The boys clustered, pretzel-legged, on a cushion of gold leaves. I pressed in beside them.

“We’re reading one of your favorites today, guys,” I said. “Daniel and the lions’ den.”

“Yes,” Gabe said, long and heavy on the “s”.
The boys listened while I read the story . They love the part about the angels closing the mouths of the lions.

When I finished, my guys were quiet for a moment. Then Gabe ran his small hands through the still-soft leaves. He picked one up and traced the center vein with his finger. “Those lions were hungry,” he said.
“And Daniel was safe,” Sam said.

True. Daniel was in the hands of mighty God, the safest place to be. But his choice to kneel and pray to the One True God? It doesn’t seem safe. He knew that it meant punishment. He knew that his devotion to the Lord could be costly. But he didn’t waver. He didn’t hide. His chest didn’t hold a fear-driven heart.
Daniel didn’t deny his relationship with the Living God when the stakes were high.

He bowed in prayer and devotion.
Bold faith.

Lion den living.
I want that kind boldness for my sons. In a world turning gray, I want them to hold absolutes. In a world that dangles riches that won’t last or promises that won’t keep, I want them to stand firm on rock-solid truth.

Lord, may my sons love You with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength. May they never bow to another. No matter what the potential cost.
God was faithful when Daniel was thrown into the den. The hungry lions stayed hungry and Daniel was delivered.

The same mighty God holds the lives of my sons.
And as I sat with my boys, safe and warm in the glow of afternoon sun, I prayed that God would give them faith.

Faith enough for Lion Den Living.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Simple Sweetness - Pear Jam

Meagan and I sat at the table. Our kids played in a wild tangle around us. A few with plastic soldiers. A few with paper and crayons.

Meagan is a couple of decades my junior. It doesn’t matter. It’s a friendship that isn’t restrained by years.

We chatted about our husbands and kids and activities and lives.

After awhile, Meagan glanced to the porch.

“Hey, what are you going to do with the box of pears?” she asked.

“Pear jam. But it’ll take a million years. I haven’t had much time.”

“Why don’t we peel them now? Then they’ll be ready to go when you get an hour or two.”

“Really?” I asked.

My friend was already up, routed for the pears. “Really.”

Meagan and I plunked the box on the floor between us. We each pulled a paring knife from the block on the kitchen counter. The kids shifted. Changed activities. But we just sat. Shared. Peeled and peeled until my favorite big, green bowl heaped full.

Later that evening, after the kids were asleep, I stood and stirred a bubbling, copper-bottom stockpot of pears. An hour later, jam jars were filled. I arranged them in three rows. Three warm, gleaming rows of amber-colored jam.

I couldn’t wait to share the sweetness.

But the next morning, when the boys spooned the thick jam over fresh, warm bread, I thought of something even sweeter. I thought of the simple, unadorned joy of sitting with another woman, working together, sharing.

Hearts go deep when hands are helping.

There was something precious, still, and sweet in those hours. The coming-togetherness of task and friendship. Something, I’m sure, my grandmothers knew something about, as they raised their families. But it’s a blessing I’m often too busy to enjoy.

Thank you, God, for the simplicity of this task. Thank you for this heart-connection with another woman.

It was a tender goodness.

An unexpected pleasure I'll long want to preserve.

Monday, October 31, 2011

An Autumn Prayer - Gilded by Heaven

The Norwegian maple in our side yard has gone gold. The limbs stretch wide, covered with thick foliage. When the sunlight sinks in deep, the yard is rich with an autumn glow. Even the light that streams through our windows seems warmer and richer, like it’s been gilded by heaven.

The light is welcome. It pours in, sweet and gold and strong.

As I stand in the kitchen, hands poised above the potatoes I’ll peel for dinner, a prayer forms on my lips. I’m calling out for God.

Oh Spirit,

Flow into this household. Pour in like the sun.

Bring your life to the places that are cold.

Reach in, Light of the World, to the deepest corners.

If there are shadows, dispel darkness with Your light.

Penetrate our home.

Soak into the hearts of those who live here.

Reign fresh within these walls.

Touch our spirits in the most tender place.

Leave us changed,

Renewed by Your love.

I stand in the kitchen and feel as though rays of gold have touched my soul.

The Holy Spirit of God is welcome.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pressing On

“Mom, where’s the end? I’m hungry,” Zay said, head hung low, feet trudging well-packed earth.
“Almost there,” I said. “Then we’ll have lunch. C’mon Little Man, press on.”
We were over-our-heads lost in a sorghum maze. Sweet October sunshine spliced the field. Tall stalks, heavy with deep-colored grain, bent and beckoned us to pick through, move forward, carry on. The boys had bolted into the maze, fresh with energy and excitement and little-boy zest. But as we walked and picked and poked our way across an acre, their excitement waned.
Each time the path brushed against the exit, it whispered back, deep and quiet, into the thick.
We’d get so close, only to be led away.

To get out of that field, we needed to press ahead. Didn’t matter if little legs were tired. Or if tummies were grumbling for the peanut butter sandwiches that were in the car. Or if the fun had been lost around the last bend.
We needed to keep moving. 
Toward the exit.
Toward the goal.

One son had a blister from the rub of his new fall shoes.

Another twisted a tissue around an injured finger.

And as I watched the boys plod forward, I wondered what long-walk circumstances their lives would bring. I wondered about the times when they’d be tired, needing, hungry for something, but in an against-the-wall and nowhere- to- go- but- forward place.
What would their struggles be?
Would they have strength to press on?
It’s a prayer what I want to lift for my children. That they would be men who will persevere. Through tough times.  Hard circumstances. Men who won’t abandon ship, take the easy road, or stop in their tracks because moving ahead means pushing harder with sweat and sacrifice.
It is my prayer that they will be men who will trust in God to lead them, provide for them, take them through the tangles, and deliver them to wide open fields.
Will they trust enough? Persevere in His promises?
I want to claim it for my sons.
Speak it out loud.
Eventually that twisting, twining maze-path opened to a bright autumn day. And as we left the sorghum, I whispered the words.
In the grace of God and the strong name of Jesus, Logan, Grant, Samuel, Gabriel, and Isaiah will persevere.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Catch and Release Parenting

“He’ll be here in a minute,” Logan says, sliding his phone into his pocket. His computer bag hangs over his shoulder, and he shifts under the weight. At his feet are stacks of belongings. Winter coat. Basket piled high with books. A bag stuffed with jeans and long sleeved shirts.

We’re waiting for Logan’s friend, his ride back to school.

The weekend has gone too fast.

I smile at my man-boy, unsure of whether to hug him again or not. These times are hard. For him. For me. I bite my lip as my chest tightens to that mama-clench again.
It will soon be time to let him go.
Catch and release parenting -that’s where I’m at these days, with my firstborn, the child who seems to have been carved straight from my own soul.
Gone are the times of daily, hands-on care. Gone is the boy with the wispy white hair and little hand that was custom made to fit mine. With me stands a man, tall and strong and broad.
And we caught him for a weekend. Wrapped our arms around him. Encouraged him. Shared laughter and sweet time. Two days of “I love you, Son. I’m glad you’re here.”
Now it’s time for the release.
It’s so quiet I can hear the ticking of the old Gilbert clock, the one Logan and my dad just fixed, measuring the last moments of a family complete.
The car moves into the drive.
I pull my son close and then let him go.
Be with him, God, this son I love. Keep him safe. Keep him strong.
I release him to your care, Lord, as he leaves our home.
But of course, I know,
he’s been Yours all along…..

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Butter Bowl

The week had been full. Six-soccer-game full. Five-seven-hour-days-of-books-and-flashcards full.

And the cupboards were bare.

When a friend offered to take my boys so I could make a grocery haul, my heart filled with praise. Thank you, God, for this friend. Thank you for her sensitivity.

The more I gave thanks, the faster the thanksgiving came. Thank you that I can buy what we need. Thank you that I don’t have to shimmy the store between school and soccer tomorrow.

For a mama who usually shops with a multitude of helpers, bolting out alone was good. Shiny- gold- good.

Until I began to herd the crew.

“We need to get into the van. Mrs. Altensey is waiting,” I said.

But Zay had lost a shoe. And Samuel’s sweatshirt wasn’t on the hook by the door. No one had socks.

Agitation scaled my backbone. My friend had been kind. I didn’t want her waiting for a hundred years. I breathed deep and went to hunt for footwear.

But then there was a potty need.

And Samuel wanted to wear shorts.

And frustration formed a wall inside me. It grew taller and thicker and darker until Gabe did the unthinkable and sent that anger- wall crashing.

He asked for a butter bowl.

“A butter bowl? Why do you need a butter bowl?” I asked, my voice a near-howl.

“For a habitat,” he said. “For caterpillars. There are caterpillars in the woods by Mrs. Altensey’s.” His eyes were wide. Wanting.

And I went off the edge.

“We don’t have time for butter bowls. Or caterpillars. Or habitats. I don’t have time for any of this crazy bunisess. Now. Get. Your. Biscuits. In. The. Van,” I lashed.

Gabe’s eyes went wet. His cheeks burned. He turned and ran out the door.

I’d scraped his heart with the sharp edge of anger.

Over a throw-away butter bowl?

How could I, one minute, offer a stream of joyful praise, and the next, succumb to a full-fledge rant over a margarine tub? How could my heart spin a song of thanksgiving then shift, in a heartbeat, to a scream and scorn?

How I need His grace.

But how could He? How could Jesus bleed and die for that? The craziness and helplessness and can’t-hold-it-togetherness of my life. The shift-on-a-dime to ugly? It’s so much easier to ask His grace, His goodness, His sacrifice to cover the big stuff.

I was ashamed to ask Him to pour his mercy gift into that bowl.
My grace is sufficient.

There it was. His Word in my heart. A promise. Assurance. Big sin or moment-to-moment sin. Any of it, one little breath, is enough to keep us from holy God.

But Jesus covered it all.

Even the small stuff that snags me every day.


I pulled the back door open and let the autumn sun fall fresh on my face. Then I went, apology on lips, to find my boy.

I’ll accept the gift I cannot understand.

Because it’s sufficient.

It’s for me.

And He’s already filled my bowl.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I may boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hangin' with the Team

Every fall Lonny takes our boys to Champaign for an Illinois football game. I usually stay behind with a little one. We pick apples. Take walks. And by evening, I can hunker down in a hushed house, sleeping child curled on my lap, and delve into a good book.

This year the boys pressed me to go along.

“C’mon, Mom,” Samuel said. “It’ll be fun. And Logan will be home. You have to come, too.”

I weighed the options. Logan hadn’t been home for a long time. And we had tickets for everyone. Zay was old enough. But then there was the quiet house. Focused time with one child, if Zay and I stayed behind. And the promise of a simple evening.

But Sam’s smile won me over.

“Sold,” I said. “Let’s find the blue and orange sweatshirts.”

So yesterday we piled into our van, windows plastered with homemade posters, Illinois flag suctioned to the windshield. As we left the drive, I peered out the window at the stillness of our house and hoped I’d made the right decision.

A few hours later, we arrived in Champaign and joined the blue-orange stream that flowed to the stadium. The boys walked fast and chatted faster, their smiles wide with anticipation and joy. We settled in our seats just as the game began.

And I had an amazing day.

The autumn sun rested on our shoulders. The boys cheered. Hollered. Shared popcorn. Danced a little. Enjoyed brotherhood a lot. And late in the game, our little one curled up on my lap.

I looked down my line-up of men, a great bench of boyhood, their daddy on the end, arm over the shoulder of one little son, and I was blessed.

There is a sweetness to these times. Family together. Hours shared. Memories carved and pressed deep in our hearts.

Thank you, God, for this afternoon. For the simple goodness of family.

I’m so glad I chose to hang with the team.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Blog Break This Week

Hello Dear Friends,

Thank you for checking in. You are a sweet, sweet blessing...

I want to let you know that I'll be on blog break this week, taking some extra care with our home and the tender-hearts in it. I hope to enjoy some long, lazy walks with the wagon and the boys, pick a few apples, bake a few pies, and take up a paint brush to help dear Lonny who is endlessly scraping and painting our porch (Keep it goin', Guy - lookin' great).

I hope you have a wonderful week, rich with God's blessing.

Until next time (see you Oct. 17)...

In His Love,


Thursday, October 6, 2011


There’s a park, with an overlook, near our home. The boys and I have hiked the trail, to the top, a hundred times. Sometimes we take a basket of books and a blanket and spend the afternoon, river winding beneath us and the valley dense with trees.
The path to the overlook was just a way to get to there.
Last week we took a hike with a friend. Same place. Same trail. But our friend had a different appreciation. She looked at things with different eyes. She took the time to stop, look at, and listen to what was around her.
She didn’t want to miss the beautiful.
“Look closely,” Carrie said. “The ground is soft. You might see a track. The print of a deer or raccoon.”
Five boys hunkered over, hers and mine, and examined the path for prints. Small hands tenderly roved grass and dirt, combed over a bed of leaves. Feet were still. Voices were low.
“I found one,” Samuel said. He stood. Waved us over. Spoke in hush. “I think it’s from a small deer.”
Pressed into the soft earth was the print of a hoof. A tangible tell-tale that something lovely had been there.
The boys were thrilled. And encouraged. Encouraged to pursue harder. Encouraged to look for more.
We spent the morning on that trail. Carrie showed us how to look for markings on the trees where the deer had been trying to rub velvet from their antlers. The boys looked high. They looked low. They’d found adventure and life and beauty on the trail.
They found joy in the search.
And their eager, earnest, intentional pursuit encouraged my spiritual heart.
I want to look for the Lord that way. 
I want to walk through my days, with eyes wide open, ears perked, carefully looking, searching, experiencing, drawing great satisfaction and joy from where He’s been.
Where He is.
I want to see His glory in ordinary places,on the faces of those around me, in the tenderness of whispered words and in the goodness of a giving heart. I want to see Him when my little boy’s hand folds into mine or small heads tip in prayer and when a boy makes a bed for his brother because that goodness, that servanthood, that giving-grace is Him.
I want to walk more slowly, with intention, not racing toward the top, but appreciating, drinking, filling with His presence.
I want to walk with more heightened senses.
To experience the prints of God.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


“Shawnelle, do you have the keys?” Lonny called, from my van, which was to-the-hilt full with boyhood.

I heard him through the open window and poked my head out the back door. “Sure,” I hollered. “Gimme a minute.”

Then I raced to the bedroom and rooted through pockets. Soft brown corduroy jacket? No. Sweatshirt I'd worn to soccer? Nope. Jeans I’d tossed over the back of cozy chocolate wing chair when I’d grabbed my workout pants? No go.


Black purse?  Basket overflowing books? Craggy pickle crock on the porch? Uh-uh.

The. Keys. Were. Lost.
I put on my best smile and meandered to the van. Lonny and I have been married a long time.
He knows to keep a spare.
A few minutes later, saved by Spare’s Security, Lonny and the boys set off for town. I returned to the house, the first of Mama-Time to be spent hounding down those keys. Why was I always losing things? Library books. The skeleton key to the front door. My glasses. My camera.
Lost was not good.
As searched the school room, peering under Saxon math, stacking Zay’s alphabet binder with Gabe’s tattered readers, my mind wandered…lost meant Sam disappearing at the mall, as a toddler, still stuffed in the down jacket he was trying on for size. Lost meant the basketball game when we’d cheered our voices faint and Grant missed a free throw. Lost meant Gabe’s slow, sad tears when his allowance, twisted tight in cellophane bag, went missing at the fair.
But is it possible, that lost could be a good thing? The question stirred my spirit.
What about lost in My Word?
I thought about those times, pulling through His Word, when a new truth or promise had been revealed. My spiritual lungs wound fill with fresh air and my heart would pump fast and I knew that the Spirit was speaking (thank you Jesus) to me, just me, with life-giving grace.
Lost in prayer?
Times of fellowship so sweet that I could almost feel Him near my skin. Times when holiness comes so close and I want to be drawn closer, closer until I’m complete.
Lost in My grace? Lost in My love?
Grace and love twined together so tightly, and although it’s wrapped around me, it’s too deep and strong and wide for me to comprehend. But oh, the times when I catch a glimpse, on the face of my child, in the hands of my husband, in the goodness of a friend or an evening hushed and still. In forgiveness, in freedom, in forever, because of His love.
Maybe lost is not a bad thing. Maybe it’s the best of all.
I was still pondering when I slipped my hand under the loveseat and my fingers met the cold, hard ridge of my keys.
I was grateful.
Yet I knew, in being lost, I’d discover much, much more…

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Going Deep (Beyond the Bread)

“I really like Mrs. Brown,” Logan said. “She’s kind. And she’s a good friend to you.”

I smiled, lost in the sweetness that my near-man- boy would care about such things as my friendships.

“Whatever you do,” he said. “Don’t bake bread with her.” Then he smiled.

And I knew exactly why.

Logan had been around to witness The Bread Years. When he was smaller, I was younger, and we lived in a dear “gingerbread” home in Iowa, I lost a few friends. More than a few. I’d meet a kindred spirit. We’d share our time and our hearts. Our lives would begin to overlap.

Then we’d wind up in the kitchen.

Baking bread.

And sure enough, after the baking began, the friend would disappear. There would be a job transfer for my friend’s husband. It was best for my friend’s family to move back home. One friend even became a surgical nurse for the United States Air Force.


My friend would vanish into a quiet, lonely whisper, and I’d be left with a tattered heart.

After the sting of The Bread Years, I became a bit guarded. I was weary. And wounded. Why pour, at  gut-level, know-me-and-love-me-anyway depth, into another soul when it was likely that she’d hit the High Road? Was the loneliness from losing a friend (well, at least the daily-grind, daily-blessing part), worth the blessing of that friendship?

In my loneliness, at long, last, I decided: Yes.

God made women with tender hearts. Relational hearts. Hearts made to overlap and intertwine and tangle together in the sweet gift of friendship. Who else, but a girlfriend, can look at my face and ask “What’s wrong?” before a word falls from my lips. Who else, but a girlfriend, can listen to the Lord’s prompt and deliver a book or a hug or a box of tea in such exquisite timing that I know it’s really a gift from Him? Who else will answer the phone at midnight for tears of sadness or tears of joy? Who else will take my children when I’m about to snap to the Place of No Return? Who else will pray, pray, pray for my family?

There’s no one like a friend.

So, I’m once again okay with (blessed by) stretching into another’s life. With letting her stretch into mine. The reward s are well worth the risk.

And as for Mrs. Brown?

Well, she prefers store-bought bread.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Paint the Town (Bringing Glory)

Every September my small, Illinois hometown hosts a celebration. It’s called Paint the Town, and it’s a mark-your-calendar event for all ages. Paint the Town was created by the Children’s Art Preservation Association, the goal to offer hands-on creativity that’s affordable and available to everyone.

For the celebration, Main Street is closed to traffic. Five-by-five squares are measured and marked, with only room to work and walk in between. Aspiring artists receive a bag stuffed with chalk, primary paints, sponge brushes, and a Styrofoam plate for blending. Young moms and dads paint toddler feet and stamp squares with bright, tiny prints. Teenagers sprawl across the pavement in a torrent of artistic expression and small children inevitably wind up with red or blue appendages. Great-grandmas and great-grandpas hover in the shade, sip lemon shake-ups and tap their feet to the music of a string quartet. It’s a celebration of art, community, and the last carefree days of summer.

The day after the Paint, Main Street remains closed. The sidewalks are open for strolling, and onlookers are invited to admire the masterpieces. From Clinton Street to Grape, Main Street becomes a gallery. The colorless pavement, normally decorated only with the laid-back flow of small-town traffic, becomes a canvas of color, reds and greens and blues deep as the sea. What was dull and dark and flat radiates life and love and promise.

Lord, thank you for bringing glory to the commonplace...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sweet Season of Abundance

From the corner of my eye I saw the green digitals change. Nearly one o’ clock. I stepped on the accelerator. Multiply my time, Lord. Let me be productive and efficient. The morning had been full, full, full. And the afternoon would be, too. Trip to the grocery store. Home to bake peach pies. Meeting friends for the homecoming parade. Delivering Grant to the high school for the game. Lonny’s parents’ house (pies in tow) for their anniversary dinner. Back to the school to retrieve Grant.

The commitments were racked up. Stacked up. And I had about twenty minutes to whisk three boys through the store. I began to feel a little anxious. Pressed. Like my day was driven by a menacing clock that measured minutes but didn’t allow time for joy.
I approached the intersection just as the light turned red. I didn’t have time to wait. Time to sit. I sighed. Looked out my window. Then I saw him.
The gentleman.
He sat on a bench, outside the retirement home. His shoulders were stooped with age, and his head bent low. His arms hung down, elbows resting on knees, and his hands were clasped. He looked lost in thought. Prayer? I don’t know. But he was quiet. Still. And very, very alone.
Like all he had was time.
I wondered if he, in days long ago, had felt pressed. Pressured. He must’ve been full. Providing for his family (Bringing in the fields? We live in corn country). Raising his kids. Leading his loved ones. I imagined that there were days when it felt like his world turned too fast and there were not enough hours to get it all done.
The light turned green, and I moved ahead. Toward the store. Toward my day. Toward my dear family. Toward my dear friends.
But as I drove, I whispered a prayer for the gentleman. And I thanked God for my sweet season of abundance.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Little Turtle Man

Shawnelle:   C’mon, Zay. We’re late again. Let’s walk faster, Little Turtle Man.

Zay :   Mama, I’m not a little turtle.

Shawnelle:   Oh? You’re not? What are you then?

Zay:   Mom (sigh), you know that I’m a big turtle.

Thank you, God, for this little (big) turtle man. And for the sweet, simple ways that he makes me smile.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sweeter and Richer - Here's To My Friend

If there’s one thing that a woman neck-deep in the delight of raising young men needs, it’s a sweetheart friend to stand by her side. And God has given me many. But this one goes out to my friend Tammy, the Thelma to my Louise, a sister-girl friend, one who understands most of what I’m feeling, because she lives in a dear world of men-folk, too.

Thank you, Tammy, for making me laugh. For balancing my serious nature with your joy. For loving my sons. For having them over frequently. For making me do out-of –my-zone things like riding your horses and bobbing behind your four wheeler on a sled. Thank you for praying for me. For reminding me of God’s good grace. For washing a hundred loads of  our man-boy clothes because an out-of-order washer or dryer is a regular deal.

And thank you for not celebrating my birthday by putting a mannequin on my front porch.

You are precious to me, Friend, and I know that our sisterhood is a dear gift from God.

Life became sweeter and richer the day you came along.

WRITING NEWS:  In keeping with the snowy picture, I’d like to share that Cecil Murphey and Marley Gibson’s The Spirit of Christmas, a collection of Christmas stories, will be available for the holiday season. My story,"Karen’s Timely Gift" (thank you, precious Karen, I love you), was selected to be included.

The book will be released in October but can be pre-ordered now. And like Christmas Miracles (2009), it's beautiful.

Link Here: The Spirit of Christmas

Monday, September 12, 2011

Old Fashioned

“Why do we have to be like this? We’re old fashioned,” Grant said. I could tell by the color of his face and the set of his jaw that old fashioned wasn’t a good thing.
“Boundaries are not old fashioned,” I said.
“I just want to do what everyone else is doing,” he said. “To go where everyone else is going.”
“And I just want to parent you in the best way I know how.”
Grant left my room. Angry. Again.

Old fashioned? Maybe in some ways. My bicycle has a basket and fenders. I grind my coffee in a hand-crank grinder. And if I could find a retro rubber swim cap, with the big, floppy flowers, I’d wear it (sorry, sons, I would). But I don’t agree that not giving our sons everything they want, not allowing them to do whatever they believe everyone else is doing, is old fashioned. I call it holding a standard.
Lonny and I are big supporters of the child rearing class Growing Kids God’s Way. In fact, we’ve taken the basic course a couple of times. I think that we should camp there. We need the help. One of the basic principles, one that fell solid on our hearts, is the idea of bringing the child to the standard. Not the standard to the child. We’ve set family standards that we expect all the boys to meet.
I hurt for Grant. I know that it’s hard to fit in. I know that some of the boundaries that Lonny and I have chosen probably make it even harder. But we have to hold firm on some things. Grant may feel caged. He may feel different. I hope that one day, he can look back and feel how much he was loved.
So for now, I’ll have compassion for a boy trying his best to fit in. We’ll give where we can and give him opportunity to make some of his own choices. We’ll pray for wisdom as we learn to pick and choose our battles. We’ll open our hearts to the Lord’s lead and humbly acknowledge that, at times, we’ll mess up.
But I’m also not going to be afraid to put down a boundary. To set a standard.
Old fashioned? I still don’t think so.
But if it is, that’s okay with me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In the Classroom

It was the first day of our homeschool lessons, and I was pumped. I'd sharpened pencils to fine, black points. I'd polished desks and filled them with tidy stacks of blue-lined paper. I'd even replaced hard, craggy glue sticks with brand new ones. I was ready. Ready to leap head-long into our deep stacks of classics. Ready to revel in math facts. Ready to roll up my sleeves and teach my boys about volcanoes and verbs and the War of 1812.

But the morning didn’t go well. Things didn't go as planned.

“Mom, when it is my turn for math? I’m tired of waiting. Tired. Tired. Tired.”

“Mom, Gabe is sitting too close to me. And he’s gnawing his pencil. Like mad.”

“Mom, tell Zay that it’s ABCD. Not ABDD. He’s saying it wrong. Wrong all wrong.”

So much for my romantic first-day-of-school dreams. The boys' hearts were out of shape.

At first my responses were patient and kind. We need to learn to wait (what if Jesus had put himself first?).We honor one another when we choose to not interrupt. Too many words cause problems, measure them carefully. And don’t worry if your brother eats his pencil (it’s non-toxic after all). But after two hours of realizing how much we’d slipped during the summer, I’d hit the end of my rope. My patience wore out, discouragement settled on my shoulders, and my attitude became as sharp as those number-two pencils.

“I think it’s time for recess," I said. "Mama needs a break.” I opened the back door, ushered the boys to the trampoline, and slumped into a chair.

“Lord this is tough. Their heads don’t work when their hearts are out of whack. And I’m tired. Already,” I whispered out loud.

Show them the fruit, came the gentle reply.

“Fruit? Fruit  of the Spirit? I can’t. I’m frustrated.”

Let me fill you with My Spirit. Let Me fill you up. Then you’ll be ready to pour into them.

I sat for a moment to process the Spirit’s call on my own heart. I’d sharpened pencils. I’d purchased texts and notebooks and flashcards. I’d even gone wild on the desks with lemon oil Pledge.  But I hadn’t prayed up. Hadn't filled up.

Guess I really wasn’t ready at all.

“Fill me fresh, with Your spirit, Lord. And let the fruit flow…”

And then I was ready. In my own strength, no one was going to learn a thing. But when empowered by the Lord, the fruit would come. I opened the door and hollered for the boys.

Oh, the gentle ways the Lord teaches me when I’m trying to teach my sons.

I never want to leave His classroom.