Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Year Quietly Closing - And a Link to "Held Fast" (Logan's Cave Rescue)

Dearest Friends,

The year quietly closes. There are so many things I'm thankful for. Small moments. Milestones. Family and friends and God's sweet grace. As we gather together, a bevy brothers sprawls over the floor. Lonny and I are tender to be in the center of it all. And I'm grateful. I'm grateful for the togetherness. I'm grateful for the gift that God gave us in holding and delivering our first born son.

That miracle, that blessing, will continue to be strong on my heart.

So, from our family to yours, we wish you a Happy New Year. Thank you for being with us in 2012.

May the Lord hold and keep you.

With Love,
Shawnelle and Men

Link to "Held Fast" from the January 2013 issue of GUIDEPOSTS.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Birthday Sweet Sam - Just Like His Grace

I'm wrapping a birthday gift.

And I'm lost in thought.

It's Samuel's birthday. It's a tender time each year.

Twelve years ago, Lonny and I were in the sanctuary of our church home. It was the evening of the Christmas program. Lonny's arm, like always, was looped over my shoulders. There were candles and music and greens.

And a friend came down the aisle as Mary, holding her newborn babe.

And my heart broke.


I'd had a miscarriage two months before. The pregnancy had come after stacked-up years of want. Lonny and I had prayed. Our two young sons had prayed on small, bent knees, too.

 And those pleas had been answered. Then my body pushed away what my heart held dear.

Lonny squeezed my shoulder. He pulled me close, like he could keep out the pain. My friend coddled her baby in the soft light of the stage. I wrapped my own arms around my hollow middle while anger and hurt caged my heart.

I didn't know that a few months later I'd be pregnant again.

I didn't know that right before the next Christmas, I'd hold my own sweet Sam.

I snip a length of ribbon and tie it around the box. Samuel will like his gift. He's grateful and easy to please. And when he shakes the present and rips the paper, I'll see what I always see.

I'll see God's gift of grace.

Because with Samuel, God reached straight into my hurt. He reached into my anger. He reached into all that was jealous and raw and hard inside.

He reached into far away, dark places.

And He pulled me close and made them light with grace.

It was nothing that I deserved.

It was only by His love.

I finish the gift and set it on the table. Shiny ribbon curls catch afternoon light. It will soon be time for cake and candles, family and song. And my heart overflows from the goodness of it all... not even because the Lord gave me the desire of my heart (oh, I'm forever grateful for that) but because in compassion and love He reached low to touch an empty place with the beat and promise of life.

Isn't that just like Christmas?

Isn't that just like His grace?

But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15

Merry Christmas, friends, from our home to yours. May your days be filled with tender whispers of His grace.

("The Greater Miracle", the full story of the year God gave us Samuel, is in Cecil Murphey's book titled Christmas Miracles.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Home, The Holidays, and The Sweet Gift of Heritage

We're packed in the van. We're off to see Christmas lights.

It's tradition.

There's music. Hot cocoa in travel cups. And a bevy of boys pressed in tight.

The light display is in a neighboring community. It's the community where my grandparents lived for years. There's no reason to go there now, except to see lights at Christmas. My grandparents went to heaven a few years back.

So we drive for a half-hour. We weave through the town. I'm twisted backward in my seat, troubleshooting everything from a kicked-off shoe to a cocoa-sloshed coat.

When I turn around front, I see their house. Mamo and Papo's home. It's on the way.

But the sight hits me hard.

"Oh, Lonny," I say. "Look at their house."

It's beautiful. Someone is loving it. There are lights. A yard display. The home is brick and bold and is sparkling Christmas, too.

I watch as we whir past. Past the their bedroom window. Past the living room where we'd gathered close.

"Lonny," I say. We're already a few blocks gone. "Can we go back? For just a minute?"

He smiles. He knows. It doesn't matter that three-fifths of the boys are about to come unglued.

So we turn the corner. We head back. And in the silence of darkness, we sidle next to the curb.

For a moment, I could be a girl. I could be small and sitting in Mom and Dad's big, blue Olds. I look at the steps. I look at the door. I know the sound of the bell. And I know that the knobs in that house are cut class. I look at the window. I've sat on the other side and looked out. Now there are lights. There's a family inside. There was once, long ago, too...

we'd go every year to decorate Mamo and Papo's Christmas tree (and a thousand times in between). There would be a stockpot of something simmering. Papo would have the boxes of ornaments down. There were tin can angels dated back to my mom. There were bulbs that stretched  to a string of Christmas-pasts. Papo would hold us on his lap. He'd listen. And love. He'd call my three sisters and me "Baby Girl". Mamo would run her soft fingers over our arms as we spoke. Or she's twist them through through our long, blond hair. She'd make us feel like we were the only ones in the world. Sometimes my cousin Toddy would be there, garland wrapped around his neck, pouncing from behind the tree,  eyes glazed with holiday cheer, and he'd make a four little girls gasp and giggle with little-boy-wild.

My own boys begin to go wild in the back. They are bustling. Singing loudly. Patience has run short and the cocoa has run dry.

"Ready?" Lonny asks.

I nod to tell him so. But my heart twists and sitting there I miss them until it hurts.

"Can we go, Mom? Can we see the lights?" someone asks from the back.

The van begins to move.

And I'm moved, too. Because as we pull away, and I'm twisted backward again, I can see them. My grandparents. I see Papo in my oldest son's gentle, quiet ways. I see him in Grant's eyes - the pure blue color and the sparkle that makes me wonder. I see my grandfather's honesty and goodness and the way he loved the Lord. Mamo isn't far, either. She's in the way I learned to listen, the way I touch my own babies, a way of loving passed from Mamo to Mama to me.

"You okay?" Lonny asks.

And I am.

Christmas gifts are wrapped and unwrapped. Here and gone.

But the gift of heritage?

That one keeps giving.

That one is for keeps.

Lord, thank you for my grandparents, for my parents, for those who lived and loved and taught me to do the same. Be with Lonny and me, in our home, as we raise our boys and as we create a heritage for those to come. Amen

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Prayer by Max Lucado

Dear Friends,

All that will come today are whispered prayers.

As a mother I hold my children close and grieve for those who have lost their precious babies.  Lost to this world by something horrific, unimaginable, and beyond-words dark.  Yesterday, my pastor read this prayer by Max Lucado.  It reminds us that Christ came into the darkness of this world to provide hope. Hope in who He is. Hope in what He would give. And hope of what is yet to come.


Max Lucado's 'A Christmas Prayer'

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Blessing of Time - (And "The Christmas Ornament")

It's a rare moment. The boys are out. The house is quiet.

It's just me. A cup of tea. And a greyhound named Sis.

We're in the living room. The tree twinkles bright. I love moments alone. I enjoy quiet and still.

And it's then that I see the ornaments.

It's then that my heart feels full.

The ornaments were made by my oldest son. I admire the shiny, white globes. I remember when he made each one. They signify life. Love. And the passing of time.

I usually kick and scream to the tick of a clock. I usually wrestle hard to hold the hands still.

But not today.

Today the passing of time makes me smile. Today the passing of time brings me joy.

Because today I can see that time can bring healing.

Time can tame fear.

Time can settle a shaken heart.

When Logan gave me the first ormanent, he was a small boy. When he gave me the second, he was a young man about to leave home. Back then I couldn't even imagine pressing through. But the days have been filled with the God's grace. The days have been held in His hands. Through the days His faithfulness has flowed. He's allowed me to grow. My son has grown, too.

There have been pains to it all. The stretch of change. The pull of letting go. But it's all good. I've seen the fruit of His activity. I've seen His tender love and care..

So I sit in the quiet and sip tea.

I sit in the stillness and smile.

It's just me, the dog, and a twinkling tree.

Covered by the blessing of time.

Link to my story, "The Christmas Ornament", Guideposts, December 2010.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sweet Tradition - A Christmas Box and a Basket of Prayer

It's been a wild, wild weekend (more on that later). So this morning I'd just like to share some tradition, sweet tradition, that's been a blessing in our home....

"Mom," Sam says. "It's time for the Christmas box!" His eyes are round. His smile is wide. It warms me to know that this child, stretching too fast out of little-boy, is small and sweet inside.

"You're right," I say. "Go get the box."

Sam shoots around the corner. I shout after him. "And get your brothers, too!"

The Christmas box is a simple, square box with a lid (ours is glittery gold). At Christmastime, it sits on the mantle. It's filled with twelve index cards, and written on each card is an activity for the day. We call ours the Twelve Days of Christmas (but there's grace in that, too - the days don't have to be consecutive and Mama chooses the card).

The activity ideas are simple. Some are for serving (take cookies or make cards for neighbors, help stamp Christmas cards). Some are for learning (use an old family recipe to bake a Christmas treat, read a beautiful Christmas story - Mary's First Christmas by Walter Wangerin Jr. is one of the most lovely I've found). Some are crafty (mold Baby Jesus, Mary, and Joesph from clay, loop a simple green and red paper chain for the tree, or assemble an easy treat for winter birds). Some are just plain fun (take a family car ride to see Christmas lights, turn lamps down and sing carols around twinkling tree, watch a classic Christmas movie, or listen to holiday music and dance).

Whatever the activity, there is focus. Time shared. Intentional togetherness in a season that can feel crazy-wild.

I now hear footfalls. And voices.  A bevy of boys-of-all-ages pounds down the curved stairs..

It's time for the Christmas box and I'm excited, too.

There are memories and  joy inside.


Just another tradition I'd like to pass along...there's a basket on our dining room table. It's filled with the Christmas cards we receive. At mealtime, one boy chooses a card. Then we pray, as a family, for the loved ones who sent the card.

Now, what sweet and simple Christmas traditions do you hold in your homes? It would be a blessing if you'd share...

With love,

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Living Laughter and Love - Meeting Our Kids Where They Are

                                     I've heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words.

                                                                      That's good.

                                         Because I wouldn't know what to say about this...

                                                                           or this...

or this...

Except that Sam and I are at the desk studying about what lives on the rain forest floor. And the little boys are getting crafty on the schoolroom floor.

There are papers. And snippets. And a crazy-lot of tape.

Sam and I read on. But the laughter is loud and we're distracted. Silliness steals the room.

I've heard it said, too, that if you can't beat them, join them.

And so joining them is what we do.

I feel a little embarrassed at first, wearing a snout cap made by my boys. But they only laugh louder. Then there's the wild whir of scissors and scraps and Sam a hat, too.

Meeting our kids where they are. There's got be be some wisdom in that.

Even when one's wearing a snout hat.

And laughing on the schoolroom floor.

Thank you, God, for the blessing of togetherness - for sweet times when we can just let go, live, laugh, and love.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Living Gratitude in the Moment (Night Visitor)

I hear light taps. Then a man-voice at the bedroom door.

It takes me a minute to wake. Lonny's pulling me close. The house is cold so we're snuggled deep. Everything is soft and gray and then there's the man voice again.

This time I'm alarmed.

"Mom," comes the voice. "It's just me. It's Logan. I have Isaiah."

I breathe deep. "Come in," I say. I push the covers back and the cold rushes in. I can see, in a stripe of light from the hall, that Logan is carrying his little brother across the room. He's carried him from upstairs.

"Bad dream?" I ask.

Isaiah nods as Logan bends and settles him next to me. Isaiah presses in. His neck is sweet and warm. He smells of soap and sleep. He fits perfectly into me. Into us. In a moment I know that he's fallen asleep.

"Night," Logan says. "Love you."

"Love you, too," I say. Then he's gone. Out the door. Up the stairs. I can hear the creaks and moans of this old house.

This happens sometimes when Logan is home. Zay wakes and finds his way to Logan's room. Logan returns him to his own room and tucks him back in. Zay wakes again. Logan brings him down.

I'm tired, and in the dark, I can't see that it's my youngest boy I'm holding. I feel his warmth. His hair is fine and soft on my cheek. My arm rises and falls with his small chest.

It feels the same as it did years ago. I'm tired and it could be long ago. It could be the oldest boy. Feels the same. Smells the same. Fits the same. It could be any boy in between.

But he's the youngest, and for a moment I'm awake enough to panic. I'm awake enough to wonder just how much longer this sweetness can last.

I know how quickly the years move. They flowed fast from this little boy to the man-boy who carried him down.

It's a heartbeat.

A quiet pulse of time.

But the room is dark, and we are warm. There's even breath behind me and even breath curled in my arms.

I'm not going to worry.

I know that parenting is about preparing. It's a process of protecting then preparing then learning to let go.

But right now, I'm going to hold on.

I'm going to live in this moment.

And I'm holding on tight.

Help me Lord to live in the appreciate, without worry, the blessing of right now...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

(Not So) Small Gesture - I'll Stay Right Here

Grant and I are shopping, and it feels like the world's gone mad.

There are long lines of traffic. Long lines of shoppers. My patience goes short as the day goes long.

"I'm ready to be done," I say.

Grant just smiles. This is his thing. The crowds. The lines. The wild-and-crazy, too-many-people stuff that pushes me to the brink.

I'd rather be home.

I'd rather be still.

But we're standing in line. There are six registers and the trail of customers snakes to the back of the store. We're close to the front. But my arms are tired, my boots are pinching my toes, and I'd rather shop online.

"You okay?" Grant says.

"Sure," I say.

And a register opens. And we plunk our treasures down.

The cashier gives me the total and I root through the dark cavern of my bag. I fish out my checkbook and I'm about to sign on the line when Grant surprises me.

His arm comes around my shoulders. His lips are swift on my cheek. "I love you, Mom," he whispers.Then, smooth as always, he's standing there, hands in pockets, this sixteen-year-old man-boy ready to take on the world.

And I'm taken.

And I'm sold.

And I'm lost.

It was a small gesture. So swift and smooth no one would notice.  No one in the world.

No one but me.

The last few years have been a strained time for us. Grant's been finding his own faith. He's been seeking. Searching. Pressing against our boundaries hard. There's been conflict. When Grant was little, I once told him not to touch the hot stove. His hand shot straight for the coils. He had to know for himself. He couldn't take my word. It's been like that.

Our faith could not be his.

He's had to find his own.

And now it's restoration time.

Our boy is coming home.

So I stand in the store with the madness all around. I finish the check and try to press my heart back inside. Grant's standing beside me and I don't want to cry. Not here. Not now.  I'm grateful when he takes the bags, and he and I wind our way to the door.

I still don't like holiday shopping. I haven't much use for the stores.

But this tender place of healing with my boy?

I'm praying we can stay.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Living Gratitude

It's the day after Thanksgiving and I want to hold on to thankful.

I want to see God's good gifts. I want to recognize and celebrate blessing. I want to live in a don't-take-it-for-granted way.

And I want my boys to live gratitude, too.

So that's the beat of my heart. I want to press the day through a lens of thanksgiving.

Until we climb the steps to the attic. Until we pull the plastic Christmas tree down.

"Mom, I want a real tree. Like the ones we had before," Samuel says. We're lugging one-third of the way-too-green tree down the curved stairwell. "This color is weird. And it doesn't smell good."

He's right. I miss the romance of the cut-your-own-tree thing. It was tradition. We'd go out the Friday after Thanksgiving. The lot we went to was rustic. We'd bundle up and trudge over a bridge. We'd climb hills. We'd roam and wander and wind through trees, looking for the perfect tree to satisfy all. It would be a Douglas fir. Short needles. Old-fashioned looking. Not too big. Not too small. Not too perfectly shaped.

But perfect for us.

Hauling my in-laws' old tree from upstairs wasn't the same.

"I know, Samuel. I'd rather have a real tree, too. But we decided to use this one.  It's frigid-cold outside. Real trees dry out fast. And Logan leaves tomorrow. If we want him to help, it has to be today." I tug the tree but the branches are stuck in spindles. Remember gratitude. "We're lucky Grandma and Grandpa gave us their old tree."

A half-hour later the tree's in the stand. We fluff branches. A decade of dust fills the air. The tree is even greener in the light. And the shape is too perfect. It's a perfectly shaped plastic tree.

And I begin to fuss. Lament. Complain. So much for the sweet trip to the woods. So much for the boys tugging on the saw. So much for strapping the tree to the Suburban and listening to Christmas music on the way home.

Lonny and the boys fluff on.

But all I see is the dust. And a homely old tree. A tree that smells like attic. So much for the evergreen scent. So much for tradition. So much for memories. They're out the window, too.

I complain louder.

Lonny offers to shove the tree back into the attic (and I think he means it). He offers to take us to get a tree. But now it's too late and it's still too cold and suddenly I'm a woman who can't be pleased.

And the boys chime in.

"We don't like this tree."

"This isn't fun."

"I'm starting to sneeze."

"Let's go get a tree."

Now we're a wild, nagging, ungrateful bunch. The tree is in the corner, but the small boys and I hack it down with words.

And I look around. And it hits me that we're mourning a tree, but it's really gratitude that's been lost. There's not even a shred left. Thankful has gone ugly and Mama set the tone. Related Post: Mama Sets the Tone.

Lonny and the two big boys fall into chairs. And I want to fall into tears. I need to ask for forgiveness. I need to set things straight. I need to pull things together but I don't know how.

My grace is sufficient. It's sufficient for you.

Is it God? Will it cover my blunders? Will it wash over my mess?

We sit for awhile. I apologize and I'm broken. I hurt for what we've lost. For what I've taught the boys. But their grumbling continues. It's too late. We've gone full swing.

Then Logan stands. He begins to string lights. Grant lifts a strand, too, and they're winding lights over the tree.

 They're covering the unlovely with soft, golden light.

And I know it's His grace that covers me, too.

His grace is sufficient.

It swells in my heart.

It swells in my home.

The little boys lift strands of lights. They want to join in. The complaints are quiet. There's chatter and laughter and togetherness and love.

And me?

I'm humbled. I stand and watch.

And I'm living gratitude after all.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving From Our Home to Yours


                                                                Working together...
                                                                 sharing together...

                                                             giving thanks together...

                                            Happy Thanksgiving from our home to yours.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gratitude - A Gentle Reunion

The household is waiting. Waiting for big brother to come home.

Broken toys are piled on the paino. There's a cake in the oven.

And three little boys line the back window, hands pressed on cool glass.

"When will they be here?" Zay asks. He's been watching down the road.

It should be time. They should be close.

"Soon," I say. "Why don't we play a game? Read a book? It'll help the time pass."

"No," Zay says. "I have to wait here."

I go about business in the kitchen. There are endless chores. Stacked dishes. Crumbs on the floor. Traces of life piled high.

And the little boys wait.

And the clock hands move slow.

I watch the boys as the boys watch the road.

Finally there's a whoop! A shout. The boys see my parents' van. The grandparents went to retrieve our boy.

And now they've brought him home.

The boys are out and the porch door slams. I stand in the doorway and watch them pound the stairs. Then I'm after them. Fast. It's a reunion I don't want to miss.

Logan's barely out of the van when Zay presses into his arms. The other brothers swarm. They want to be held, too, but they wait because Zay is small.

And there it is - the gentle reunion.

Logan's standing still. His hands stretch over Zay's back. Zay pushes in deep. His eyes close. His hands don't meet over Logan's shoulders, but they're holding tight. He doesn't let go.

Time has passed. We've grown. Changed. But the family beat carries on.

We're all still for a moment. Then the fullness of life rushes in. There are questions. Stories. Chatter and helpers accompany big brother in.

It's almost Thanksgiving.

A coming-together time.

And I'm grateful before it begins.

Thank you, God...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving Meal Preparation - A Way Keep Small Hearts and Hands Full

It's the week before Thanksgiving. The boys are talking tradition. Mashed potatoes. Pumpkin pie. We're making a grocery list - fast, wild scratches on a paper on the fridge.

We're planning to come together.

And I want to pull the boys in.

They love to be in the kitchen. Whisking. Whipping. Chopping (don't read this, Mom). But the busy of Thanksgiving morning can be enough to drive a mama mad.

So we have a plan.

A turkey plan.

A plan to keep small hands and hearts full.

                                              How to Make a Fruity, Tasty Turkey

Gather supplies: apples, raisins (it's nice to have gold raisins,too), dried cranberries, toothpicks, and grapes.

Set a work station - close enough for some supervision, far enough to give mama some work space, too.

Show children how to string raisins and cranberries on toothpicks. Patterns can be fun.


Press the decorated toothpicks into the back of an apple. These will be the feathers.

String another toothpick and place a grape on the end. Press into the front of the apple. This is the turkey's head.

That's it! The children have a contribution. They're preparing while I'm preparing. (They usually make one for each place setting.)

The boys get the blessing of giving and sharing - bringing something from God's goodness to the Thanksgiving table.

But the blessing of holding my boys close and still giving them space to grow?

That one is all mine.

Monday, November 12, 2012

When The Ordinary Turns Extraordinary - Why I Love Today

Today is an ordinary day.

I'll wipe counters. And noses. I'll spend the day with a stack of books and a stack of boys.

I'll take a walk at noon. To stretch the dog. To stretch the sons.

I'll start dinner at three. Then run like wild until five.

And the evening will evenings always do.

But today I'm in love. I've fallen in love with today.


today I can hold a hand.

I can listen deep, with focused mind and heart.

And I can make  someone special feel like he's the most special- someone in the world.

Today I can help mold a character.

I can speak words of life.

I can invest.

I can give.

I can love.

I can use this day to know Him more. To let His love flow.

Over me.

Through me.

And into this day .

A day that's extraordinary after all.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Slow to Anger and Abounding in Love - A Little Pirate's Lost Key

Lonny's been stretched. Pulled tight. Pressed hard. Even the wild and wonderful of life can make one tired. I can hear it in his voice when I call him at work.

"Why don't you come home for lunch?" I say. "I'll make sandwiches. See you in a half-hour?"

Lonny agrees. I make lunch and the boys go out to play.

"Mom," Gabe calls through the open window. The sky is murky gray but the air is still warm. "I'm burying treasure. Come see!"

I find him in the side yard. He has the garden shovel. And a smile brighter than the day.

"Where's the treasure?" I ask.

"Can't tell."

"What's the treasure?" I ask.

"The key."

Just then Lonny comes down the patio steps. "The key," he asks. "What key?"

Gabe looks at his dad. Then he looks at me. I can see words wash over his face. Maybe the key wasn't a good thing to hide.

"The van key," Gabe says.

"You buried the van key?" Lonny asks. Color now floods his face. I can almost hear his thoughts. We only have one key. We meant to get another. Rain is about to come and why would he bury the key?

"Where did you bury it?"

"Somewhere along here."

"Why did you bury it?"

"I just don't know."

Gabe is pointing to the sidewalk that cuts through our side yard. He looks like he may cry. I don't know what he was thinking. But my own heart tugs hard.

And for a second all is silent.

Then Lonny does the most beautiful thing.

 He takes the shovel. He puts his hand on Gabe's shoulder. "Let's find that key," he says. "Where do we start?"

There is now a soft mist falling. I go inside and watch from the window. Lonny and Gabe move along the walk. Lonny's turning over soft mounds of dirt. They are talking. I can't hear the words.

But I'm witnessing an extension of God's good grace. I'm seeing His rich, sweet, compassionate kind of love.

Lonny's teaching. Turning dirt. He's tired. But he's leaning into the Lord. And He's tender with his son.

After a few yards they find the key. Lonny slips it in his pocket and they go to their knees. The rain falls hard as they pat the earth back down.

When they're finished I wrap Lonny's sandwich.  He gives me a hug and travels back up the steps.

Gabe stands beside me and watches.

He's a just a little boy.

But I think he understands the treasure that he's found.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cattails and Happy Thoughts

It's lunchtime and the boys and I are walking. Sissy, our greyhound, stays by my side and the boys pound ahead. The air is crisp but the sun is full. It slips over our shoulders as we wind away from city blocks toward the trees that stand stripped but strong.

The boys laugh.

And I listen.

They run. They stop. They plunge into the brush for an acorn or a walnut or a leaf they can't pass by.

It's precious to see their hearts go free. There are sticks for poking. Rocks for kicking. Ground to cover and energy enough to spill over it all.

Now the boys are bolting down the curvy road again. Sis and I can keep up. She's made for running and I'm used to chasing boys.

"Look," Gabe calls. "It's a cattail. It's beautiful. There are two. Let's go!" Three blond brothers are knee-deep in bramble. I stroke Sis's head and wonder how two cattails will satisfy three boys.

"Hey! Over there," Zay calls as the two cattails pluck free. He points across the road. There's another cattail. It's smaller, like him. He claims it as his own.

Soon we're traveling down the road again. The boys are carrying cattails and I count the seconds until they become swords. One. Two. Three. I'm right.  Now there are jousts and jabs. They're laughing and fencing as we walk down the road. I listen and I'm grateful and I tell them to be careful. But I'm waiting for the fun to turn hard. Moods can shift fast. A misplaced jab. A harder poke.

I've seen the wild fury of a boy with a sword.

I'm walking.

And waiting.

Thinking it will all break loose.

I'm still waiting for the demise when Zay discovers if he presses against the brown velvet of his cattail, hundreds of cotton-white seeds fly free. They dance and drift in the breeze. The boys think this is cool and soon the air is thick with white whispers.

"It's snowing," Samuel calls.

"A blizzard," Gabe says.

"No," says Zay. "They're happy thoughts. We're sending happy thoughts on the wind."

The boys agree and sing together. Happy thoughts. Then they're running again, hands held high. They're twirling with the seeds and laughing.

The sun is still warm on my back. Sis is at my side in an easy stride. I ponder, for the millionth time, about how their minds turn.

Happy thoughts.

Carried on the wind.

I'm in wonder.

And it sounds good to me.

As I write, Sandy is lashing against the coast. We're going deeper than happy thoughts. We're lifting heartfelt prayers....

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lasting Love

I'm sitting in my van. In Mom and Dad's drive. I'm waiting for my sons to load in. Two are charging down the hill. Two are coming from the side yard. One has yet to show.

And Mom and Dad are on the porch. They're above me. They're smiling and waving down.

I smile and wave back. Something about seeing them standing there tugs my heart. It's something about the normalcy of it all. It's something about the everydayness of today. They're standing there, a lifetime of commitment and love, standing close, lives melding into one as they have for years.

And the everydayness peels back.

 And I'm touched deep by the beauty of that longstanding love.

Mom and Dad recently celebrated their fiftieth anniversary. To prepare for their celebration, my sisters and I looked through stacks of photo books from Mom's cedar chest. There they were. Mom and Dad. Peering back at us from pages gone yellow from age. Their early years. Dad in military uniform. Mom in their first house, her belly big and round with me. Then there are tiny girls nestled in arms. Jumbled on laps. First one. Then two. Three little girls. Then four. There were birthdays and Christmases and Easters with white bonnets and lace.

 But there were ordinary days, too.

And I understood, looking through those books, that those ordinary days weren't really ordinary at all.

It's not that they didn't struggle. There was a war. A broken steel industry. Prayers to pull a child through dark nights.

But they made it.

They were solid.

Through it all they held tight.

Through it all they danced.

The last boy arrives and climbs right in. Seat belts snap and there's a van full of noise. We're settled tight and ready to go. I start the van and back down the drive.

But I glance at Mom and Dad one more time. His arm slips around her. She shifts and presses in. They're not waving anymore. They're talking. Something gentle passes between them.

What they have is beautiful.

It's extraordinary.

It's a blessing that belongs to them.

But today, like always, I carry it with me, too, as I go.

Andrew Petersen - Dancing in the Minefields

Monday, October 22, 2012

Growing Pains - Growing Peace?

The family is gathered. There's a fire, and we're circled close. We're all here, and there is joy. It's peaceful and easy, being together. Autumn has thrown a ground cover of gold and the air is thick with the season.

I look at the faces around the circle.

My heart is full.

And I no sooner whisper a praise of thanksgiving when the sadness begins. It's my signature struggle. It's sadness and worry and fret that everyone is growing too fast. Time is spinning and my boys are changing and it's suddenly as though sadness has pulled up a chair and joined our family circle. I feel the beat of time in my heart. I see it on their faces.

I love growing these boys.

I love growing closer to the man God gave me.

But I love it so much that I'm tight-fisted. I love it so much I don't want to let go. I love it so much that fear of losing it has come to steal my joy.

When we moved to this big, old house, Sam was still a babe. I watch him now, steadying his roasting stick above the fire. He's chatting with an older brother. It's a grown-up sort of chat. I'm lost in watching them. Listening. It's beautiful But it's happened too fast.

There's a rustle behind me and Zay's found the marshmallows. He's jumping and rushing and charging around for another stick. He finds one and someone tears the bag open and his small fingers push the treat over the point. He's fast and he thrusts it into the fire, deep into the flame. It catches fire and burns black. Lonny takes the stick and blows away the flame.

"Let me show you," he says. "We'll get it golden brown."

There's a new marshmallow and Zay stands in front of Lonny and both of their hands are on the stick. They hold it into the heat, above the flame. Lonny guides him to turn it and Zay's safe in his arms.

It's a gentle teaching.

Lonny's guiding him along, teaching him something new, letting him learn in the safety of his strength.

Just like I'll teach you, I believe God whispers. I'll hold you close and teach you when it's time to learn something new.

Raising these boys is what I know. It's what I love. But watching this love and learning pass between my husband and son, I understand.

"I trust you, God. I trust you to teach me, too."

We sit around the fire for a long time. Night wraps around us. The laughter and chatter grows quiet as the flame grows smaller, too.

We're all here.

There's joy again.

And a slow, warming peace.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Gettin' Ready (Hands-Off Learning)

We're crazy-close to being late. As usual.

And Zay is buttoning his own shirt.

His tiny fingers work with might. He tries to push the shiny, white button through with his thumb. Then he pulls with the fingers and thumb of his other hand. His chin presses into his chest and his hair falls forward. He pushes and pulls and has two buttons through and it's then that I notice he's mismatched. The buttons and the holes aren't properly aligned.

"You're off, guy," I say.

His hands drop to his sides and he examines his work. He sighs and begins the process in reverse.

And it takes every restraint to not fly my own fingers over the buttons. I want to button him up and shut lateness down and dash out the door because we have other things to do.

But he's getting ready.

He's learning.

Sometimes the best way to be hands-on with teaching my boys is to be hands-off.

These boys won't be here forever. I've witnessed, in fact, that it goes pretty darn fast. And the moments start small. It's buttoning a shirt. Tying a shoe. Completing a chore.

I'm getting ready, too...

ready to someday send him into the world. And the readiness? It starts with baby steps.

Like buttoning a shirt.

So I stand close and watch. I pull my hands back so his can succeed. Hands-off can be tough. It means letting him take the time to learn something new. It means giving him the allowance to make his own mistakes because often this is how we learn.

Someday he'll be way beyond these buttons. He'll go into the world. He'll have his own work, work God has set aside for him, in advance, to do.He'll have his own family. He'll need to provide and protect. He'll do his own thing for the glory and the kingdom of God.

Most of his life will be beyond these doors.

And it's my job to get him ready.

When the job is done, Zay looks up and smiles. I smile, too.

Today it's buttons. Tomorrow the world.

Way to go, Zay!


Monday, October 15, 2012

Simple Giving

Logan is home for the weekend. It's been a couple of months. He's home to celebrate my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary.

But the joy is mine.

"I found this," he says. "At the library's used book sale."

We're standing in the kitchen and he's fresh in the door. My eyes wander over him. He's thinner. His hair has grown. But he's solid. He looks good and he's strong.

He pushes the book into my hands and I'm surprised, again, that the hands that once folded into mine now belong to a man. I feel the weight of the old book. The cover is ruddy and loved and worn. It's John Steinbeck's short novels. One of my favorites. And he knows. We read together over the summer when the days weren't numbered and time wasn't short.

"There's this, too," he says. And he opens his hand.

There's a rose on his outstretched palm. It's red and gold and a gentle shade of brown. It's been created. Twisted. Rolled and turned and made lovely from autumn leaves.

My son smiles at me.

"It's beautiful," I say. And I try not to cry because things like this, these simple things, were almost lost last spring.

I take the rose and look at the boy and I could break from this easy love.

He gives me a hug. I know that these moments must last for months. And I know, too, that his friends are on the way and he'll be out the door again soon but this moment, this here and now, is mine.

"I love you," I say.

"I love you, too."

My son's come home to celebrate a precious family event.

But with simple gifts and kind, sweet love he's celebrated my heart, too.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mercy Moments

                                    We find them in the woods on a warm, dusty path.

                                                               Mercy moments.

                                     The boys run ahead and their laughter rings clear.

There's a show of strength
and a still moment for rest.
The struggle and's removed today.
And this quiet place fills.
It fills with whispers of praise.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

He Loves Me

We're walking along, down the country road, and it feels like we're pulling weight.

And we are.

It's the not-getting-along. The sharp words and fast fists. It's this cloud of character grit that's settled hard.

The sun is warm. The sky is the deepest shade of unbroken blue. Fall colors burst bright around us.

And we're mumbling. Grumbling. A brother steps on a brother and we're brawling in the road.

I feel like giving up. Throwing it in. The fruit seems far and these behaviors are new and I'm not sure why they're here or how to make them go.

Maybe it's me? Am I distracted? Too hard? Too soft? Is it them? What am I missing?

I thrust my hands into my pocket, more out of frustration than a need to be warm, as we stalk down the lane.

And I find it there.

A tangible reminder of love.

It's a walnut shell. A half-walnut shell. Zay had given it to me months ago. It's been in the pocket of my sweatshirt. All while the months were warm.

I pull it out. But I already know the blessing.

It's shaped like a heart.

When he'd given it to me he'd said, "For you, Mama. I love you. Remember."

But today when I hold it in my hand, I hear something else.

I love you, Daughter.  And I've promised to never leave. I'm here and I love you. Remember?

So we walk on and I hold tight to the half-walnut in my hand. After a bit I slip it back into my pocket.

I still don't know what's up with the boys.

Is it me?

Is it them?

I don't know.

But it's okay.

Or it will be.

Because He loves us.

And He's right here, too.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Prayer for Wisdom from Heaven

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. James 3:17-18

 May Logan, Grant, Samuel, Gabriel and Isaiah grow in the kind of wisdom that is from heaven. May they sow in peace and raise a harvest of righteousness...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Working for Peace and Family Tone

Sounds can make you smile. Tap your toes. Remember something sweet.

Or make you want to run stark-ravin' mad down the block on a Wednesday afternoon.

I leave the school room for a moment, a brief, skinny, shoot-into-the-kitchen moment, and something breaks loose. There are sounds. Coming from my sweet babes. Shouting. Shrieking. A hurling of sharp words.

All in a moment.

A sliver of time.

How did we fall so fast?

I head back in, chasing run-away bliss. I try to sort through the he-said, he-said, but it's loud and the voices are carrying and words are coming too fast and we're speaking over one another. Soon I join the ranks and I'm railing, too. I glance at the open windows because we're now all a wild, surly mess.

"Listen" I finally say.

But no one listens.

I let them rant. Ramble. Until they stop. Then they look at me.

"What do you want our family to sound like?" I ask.

They look at me again like I'm mad. But I wonder, if our words are the overflow of our hearts, what about the tone? The way we use the words? The tone we take when we talk with one another?

"Our tone, " I say."Let's set a family tone.Should it be honoring? The way we speak?"

I get one crinkled nose and a couple of nods.

"How about the volume? Let's say, to be honoring, it's no louder than this?"

They just look. Three pair on pond-green eyes. Wide.

"How about the words we use? Should we be careful? Should we weigh those words? Before we spit them out?"

More nods.

"And we can choose to be gentle or to throw words in angry ways. What do you think? Hmm? Zay?"


I nod now.

And so we have a family tone. It's a goal. Something to shoot for. I don't know if it will work. But it's a yardstick. A way of measuring the way we use our words. A way to work, to stretch, for peace.

How are we doing?

Time will tell.

But if you're walking by, and the windows are open, don't tell me what you've heard.

I may not want to know.

Just yet.

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don't repay evil for evil. Don't retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. For the Scriptures say,"If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it." I Peter 3:8-11 (NLT)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Family Day

The small print on today's calendar square tells me that it's Family Day.

It's also go to the dentist, two soccer games, homeschool six hours, late afternoon doctor appointment, drive a child to work and back, try-to-do-the-laundry and squeeze-in-dinner day.

That's right.

Family Day.

In the wild and wonderful, in the beat of the "every day", in the fullness of family life and the breathless abundance that is God's daily grace, may you

be blessed by small things,
hold those you love close,

feel the sun on your shoulders,

create a moment,
and let yourself be lost, for just a heartbeat,
to a sweet slice of something wonderful.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Family Fountain, A Teaching Tool, and A Dolphin Tale

Morning Friends,

I've been wanting, for some time, to do a resource sharing thing on the blog - Family Fountain. Just a couple times a month. Maybe every other Thursday...(though Family Fountain Friday has a nice ring). There are so many neat resources - tools to help us raise our kids, refine our marriages, grow in our walk with the Lord...

So, here we go. Let's give it a whirl.

Have a blessed day. A sweet weekend. May rich blessings be yours!

With love,


"Are you excited to go to the zoo, Zay?" I ask.

Zay looks up from his action figures. "Oh, yes," he says.

Lonny and I have planned to take the boys to Brookfield Zoo. It's a big, family event.

"What are you most excited about?" I ask.

He sets Batman and Spidey on the rug and looks at me like I should know. "The dolphin show."

"Yeah," I say. "That will be great. They're beautiful. And graceful. And smart."

Zay nods and his too-long bangs fall over his eyes. "Yup. And when it's over, everyone will get a free dolphin."

"What?" I ask.

"A dolphin. A real one. They're free." He picks Spidey from the floor. Mumbles something about a villain.

"Why would you think that?" I ask.

"The brothers said so," he says. And he doesn't doubt their words. Not. One. Bit.


Two blond boys are busted.

It's unusual for the boys to tease their little brother. But someone's spun a tale and someone's going to be sad. Free dolphins? C'mon guys. In our house we tell the truth. Time to blow the dust off Twenty-One Rules...

The Original 21 Rules of this House is a simple, straightforward book to help with character training. It was written by Gregg (father) and Joshua (son) Harris. The rules are simple. We teach the principles anyway (when someone is hurt, we comfort him, we consider one another's interests before our own) but it's been wonderful to have an easy, bound collection of ways to honor God and love one another better.

There's a poster page and a coloring page for each rule. And the authors give permission for families to copy coloring pages.

The rules (I'd call them values) are Bible based, but authors don't include a Scripture reference for each behavior. Familiar Bible stories can reinforce the rules, but they leave this to the families.

For us, The Original 21 Rules... has been a sweet, easy, re-enforcing tool to aid in character training.

Glory to God!

(I found a scrapbook page display stand at Michael's. The small poster pages slip nicely inside. Each week we display a page and work on that character quality (of course, the others, too...)

 Family life brings endless opportunity for refinement!

So, back to the busted boys. We'll talk about telling the truth, about why honesty is important, about what God's Word says about that.

 Then we're off to the zoo.

It will be great.


Even without live, free,  take-home dolphins.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Morning Tea

She drives over early in the morning. I see her van coming up the hill. I open the side porch door slowly. Slow enough to shush the whine of the old door.

She comes in quietly, wearing sweats and smile.  I push the door farther. I'm wearing pjs and a robe and I'm sure my hair is wild with morning. Doesn't matter.

Carrie is my friend.

We pour mugs of tea and tiptoe through the house. My family sleeps upstairs. Hers sleeps back home. We wind a path over Legos and Hot Wheels. We trace the sweet path of this life.

And soon we're outdoors.

On the front porch.

We settle into wicker and sit quiet for a moment. Sipping tea. Watching the still of the river. It's early and our small town hasn't come to life.

"How are you?" she says. And we're off. We talk about our days. Our week. Our boys. We laugh that when she came over earlier in the week she heard my guys call "Hey, Mom" a hundred times. Just like her house. Just like her sons.

We have a close bond.

There's much to share.

Then morning begins to birth over the river. The sky turns a lighter shade of gray. Then it's a painting. It opens up to shades of blue.

And as the day stretches, as morning unfurls, as it opens wide over the river, our hearts open wide, too. We share deep things. Spoken in hushes. Hidden fears. Struggles that become more light because they've now seen the day. We're no longer laughing. We're listening deep. With our ears. With our hearts. With all that we have.

We listen deep because we're friends.

Then from behind us there's noise. The sounds of a household coming to life. It's morning and the boys are tumbling down the stairs and the coffee is probably perking and the pace of the day has already been set.

Our time is over.

Not over, really, but there will be a pause.

A pause for life.

Until the next time it's early, and I stand in the door and watch her van creep up the hill.

And I'll be grateful.

Grateful she's here.



 Sweet blessing... I have three stories in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can''t Believe My Dog Did That. Release date was Saturday.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Steeple, Character, and Grace

We're two weeks into school, and I may run away.

Not really.

But I've entertained the thought.

So we sit in the sun and reach for the last shreds of summer. Recess. I watch the boys run and play. Their boyishness charms me. They're scaling the swing set then they're wild on the trampoline. How could it be, that just moments ago, they'd pressed my patience so hard I thought I'd snap?

Character training.

I think over the summer we let too much go. Now we're pushed in tight with one another's sharp edges.

There's an old, red brick church across the street. There's the rumble of machinery, too. The steeple, tall and white and strong, is coming down. The boys see and hear and bolt to the fence. Their hands wrap around wrought iron and they watch.

The church was built in the late 1800's, I'd guess. But there hasn't been a service for decades. It's been an apartment building for as long as we've been here. But the steeple? It's beautiful. It's marred with years and is damaged from a recent storm. But it's white against blue depths and it has stretched into the river valley sky for a long time.

"I hope they fix it," Sam says. "I hope they fix it and put it back up."

"They will," Gabe says. "It's old. It would be sad. Really sad to take it down."

I sit on the swing and hear their voices and share their desire. I hope they restore the steeple. It has character.There are panels and lines and strength and history behind the peeling paint.

But it doesn't take long to see that the steeple won't be restored.

There's a cap. An angled cap. It's on the ground. Waiting to be hoisted up.It will work. It will fill the void. The rain will wash down. It will serve a purpose.

But a great deal of character will be lost.

Later in the day, the boys stand in the same spot. They grip the spindles and peer through.

"Why didn't they fix it?" Gabe says. "Why didn't they put it back up?"

I see concern settle firm on his small face.

 "It would be hard work to restore that steeple," I say. " It was weak and peeling and half falling down. It would've taken a lot of time. A lot of money."

The boys still peer through the bars.

" The new cap, the new top, keeps the rain off, keeps the top closed, and was up in just one day."

"But something is gone," Gabe says. "And it makes me sad."

It makes me sad, too. But I stand there and see my sons. I see myself, too. Really see.

The days have been tough. Our character, theirs and mine, is not as strong as it should be. It's weak. It's flawed. We're weathered and our paint is peeling hard.

Character building takes a lot of work.

It takes time. It takes energy. It takes keen attention to detail. And it's expensive. There's a cost to it all.

Just like the tower.

Just like us.

So I take the boys by the hands and we head across the yard. The rest of the day awaits. Recess is over again. It's time to settle down. Summer's over and we need to be restored.

It's okay.

I won't run away.

We'll work hard together. Character is worth the price.

But only, only in His strength and grace...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pictures and Promise

On the very day our friends move, on the day of sadness and missing and loss, the Lord does this beautiful thing, and His hand is near.  It’s the gentle love of a Father. And He speaks in ways we can understand, and not for a moment should we ever forget that He’s the giver of gifts and grace…


“Let’s get going,” I say. “Let’s load up the van and take your things to the fair.”

The little boys look at me. Our friends have just left. The air in the house feels thick and it's hard to breathe. It’s best to get out. To get busy. It’s best to encourage hearts and minds and to press forward. Straight ahead.

We’re off to the fair to deliver the boys’ contest goods: breads and cookies , Lego mansions, charcoal drawings and a Ferris wheel of Tinker Toys. The big boys tote boxes. The little boys shuffle their feet and look at the ground.

And we all climb into the van.

And we all buckle in.

“Let’s check the mail,” Logan says. “Can you stop? On the way out?”

We sidle up to the curb. Logan’s brown arm reaches to the mailbox. He opens the door and retrieves a bundle.

And what’s on top?                                                               

A package from a friend. Logan and I recognize the handwriting at once. It’s the script that’s been on cards and letters and packages and notes as far back as Logan can remember. The package is slender, but not without bulk. He hands it to me. I can tell from the weight , from the feel, what it is.


From Miss Sarah. One of our most precious friends.

Sarah’s family lived around the corner when Logan and Grant were small. Her three children were dear to us. They still are. But back then, they were playmates, and Sarah was a come-on-over friend.

Then they moved. Far. And my boys? Their hearts were broken. They hurt hard. They stood on the drive and pushed back tears and felt the empty of all that, too.

But that was ten years ago.

And in God’s grace, our families are still close now. Even the small sons, and they weren't yet born when Sarah's family lived close.

“Look what’s here boys,” I say, over my shoulder. They lean forward. I tear at the envelope and the pictures slide out. They are from this summer’s visit.

 There’s a visit every year.
And we pass the pictures around. Sarah's daughter and me in the kitchen. Miss Sarah and Grant sharing a joke. And there’s the gun show. And fun in the pool. That day there had been laughter and joy and good times all around.

And now, today, the boys aren’t crying anymore. We’re lost in the blessing.

We hear the whisper of His grace.

In His hands, relationships can flourish. In His hands, relationships still grow. Miles don’t deter his goodness. Miles don't carry us beyond His grace.

We spend some time, parked snug against the curb, laughing and sharing and remembering. Smiling again. His gift has made dark places light. He’s brought promise and hope.

In a brown envelope. Through the mail. From an ever-close friend.

After awhile, while the boys are still clutching bright pictures in small hands, I start the van.

And then we drive straight ahead.