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.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

More from Annie Riess - My Baby Leaves Home

Hello friends,

Oh, this one tugs my heart as we've once again delivered Logan to school. There he stood, with his childhood best friend, in their apartment. Taller than me. Stubbly chin. A man. No longer a boy.

And I can't understand how it happened so fast.

Annie Riess, thank you for sharing your words and wisdom this week, for taking me back to God's truth, and for reminding me of how dear each day is. 

I'm grateful.

And I'm blessed.

With love,


                                                             My Baby Leaves Home

                                                                    Annie Riess
My baby leaves home this year!  It's hard to believe the years have passed by so quickly! 

            It just doesn't seem like 18 years since we brought this little bundle home, following a very difficult pregnancy. 

           There had been many complications and then… He was "over baked” when he finally arrived nearly three weeks overdue – causing more complications.

            The doctor said "Truly this is a miracle baby!"   If we had lost him before he was  born,   we would have missed out on all the joy and laughter he has brought to our home.

 I recall dedicating him to God and now, as he leaves our ‘nest’ I need to pause, rededicate him, and give thanks for these years we've had together.  I realize that this difficult time of saying good-bye, could well have taken place many years ago, in a much more painful and final manner.
By the time he was four, he had grown into a little charmer with a great sense of humor.  He kept us all laughing.  One day our laughter turned to tears when he had a severe reaction to his routine booster shot.  He was screaming and writhing with pain because of the pressure on his brain.   As they were loading him into the ambulance, the doctor pulled me aside and said, "Mrs. Riess, you must realize that you have a gravely ill son, he may not make it." 

           Well, he did make it, and managed to live through several more very close calls. Thankfully, each time he was spared from death and today we are following the usual pathway of separation.

I thank God for the years we've had together.  So even though I am sad this part of our lives is changing forever, I am looking forward to the next chapter. We will be separated by distance, but never separated in our hearts. Yes, the years have gone by all too quickly.  I realize what the Psalmist meant when he said:  Teach us to number our days!” (90:12)  Each day is a blessing from the Lord, to be savored and lived to the full.
Annie Riess farms with her husband Ken, in Saskatchewan, Canada, where she teaches piano lessons and writes freelance. She loves the Lord and has experienced many miraculous answers to prayer.
Annie also enjoys cooking, baking, and making cards, but most of all she savors time spent with her friends and family.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Guest Blogger Annie Riess - My Baby Goes to School

Hello Friends,

I'm excited to share that Annie Riess will be guest blogging this week while I'm half-crazed getting the boys' homeschool year underway.

I met Annie in Rye, NY, when she and I shared the blessing of invitations to the 2008 Guideposts Writers Workshop. Before the workshop, I was moved by a story Annie had written. When I met her in person, I was even more moved by Annie's wisdom and heart for the Lord.

I still am.

Thanks, Annie, for sharing with us this week.

Have a blessed Labor Day...

With Love,


                                                           My Baby Goes to School
         “Why do I have to go all alone?  We always go everywhere together!”   Our first-born son cried, as we gathered in front of our farm home to see Ryan off to Kindergarten.

He looked so small and helpless as he stood there silhouetted by the rising sun.  He did not want to go alone.  He was heartbroken and just stood there kicking gravel with his foot and sobbing.    

  Yesterday I had taken him in for his first day, and had helped him find the correct bus, which he came home on.  Today was to just be routine.  But routine, it was not.  Silently, I wished that my mother-in-law wasn’t there with us.  She must be thinking we were a little too sentimental.  After all she had lived to see six children off to school, and then off on their own.   

            Ryan took another step down our driveway.  “I don’t want to go to school.  I want to stay home,” he lamented.   “I want to ride my bike and play in the sand pile, like I always do,” With each request and the tears that went with it, it was becoming more and more difficult to stand there waving goodbye pretending we didn’t notice or care that he was in such distress.  He took a few more steps then turned and wailed “Dad, you need me to help you, can’t I stay home?” 

            With only a brief pause, my husband Ken bravely called back: “No …not today.” 

This was so much more difficult than we had anticipated.

            At last, Ryan noticed the bus coming down the road and thankfully he turned and ran down the driveway toward it and disappeared up the steps.  I heaved a sigh of relief, but was careful to hide my tears as I turned back toward the house.  Abruptly, I was stopped in my tracks by a moaning howl that quickly built into the most guttural wail I had ever heard.  It was like the shattering of a wounded soul and it came from Grandma! 

“I should have known she would take it hard.”  I admonished myself, as we embraced and the anguished wails became almost deafening.  Grandma has practically lived with us ever since Ryan was born; she too grieves for him and his days at home with her.”  In that moment I realized that she found this just as difficult as I.  How could I have wished she were not here?

            On that beautiful fall day I learned a lot more, than how to let my baby go.  I learned that things are not always what they seem, and I must never assume I know what other people’s thoughts and feeling are. 
 I just might be proven wrong.  

Annie Riess farms with her husband Ken, in Saskatchewan, Canada, where she teaches piano lessons and writes  freelance.She loves the Lord and has experienced many miraculous answers to prayer.
Annie also enjoys cooking, baking, and making cards, but most of all she savors time spent with her friends and family.