Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Project 366 -- Lunch Preps

Day 74

As an extra large family that home schools, we've found that traditional American lunch foods like sandwiches take too long to prepare. Instead, our mid day fare is often a simple casserole. The kids cook lunch on a rotating basis in the late morning while I read aloud to the whole tribe in the adjoining room. Today my 20-year-old daughter, Lissie, was the head of the food-prep team. She was combing a favorite, free cooking magazine which we get from Kraft Foods once a quarter looking for ideas when I snapped this picture of her.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Project 366 -- Former Orphanage Mates

Day 72

Natasha (on the left - 12) and Tatiana (14) are biological sisters whom we adopted from Russia seven years ago.

The girls didn't live together when they were little. They were separated by the dysfunctionality of their mother's life, and there was no father figure. Natasha lived with her younger sister, Amy (now 9), and their mother in a western region of the vast country, very close to the borders of Ukraine and Belarus, while Tatiana lived in Moscow with a grandmother. What united them? A better question is who united them. The Lord abounds in lovingkindness (Neh 9:17), and He demonstrated it in the lives of these two sisters when He caused their paths to intersect such that they were placed in the same orphanage. There they became fast friends. Yesterday, as we waited for our order at the Blue Bunny ice cream parlor, I snapped this photo of their continuing friendship as they shared the side of a booth and happy conversation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Project 366 -- International Geographic

Days 69-71

After lunch clean-up is finished each school day, I read a chapter book to our four youngest, Alexander (12), Natasha (12), Amy (9), and Oksana (7). Today while I read a biography about British missionary William Carey, the youngest girls played with Play-Doh. Alexander dabbled happily at the Play-Doh, but his interest was truly sparked when I gave him a geography assignment.

The biography mentioned young Carey's fascination with William Cook's first-time exploration of the Western coast of Australia and the island of Tahiti. I asked Alexander to find Tahiti on our globe. I couldn't resist taking photos of his effort to find the elusive land form.

Even between the two of us we never did find Tahiti, but while I continued to read Alexander enjoyed exploring the globe further on his own. He is a dedicated, curious learner and a delight to our family.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Project 366 -- Unheard of!

Day 68 - March 17

Buds on the trees in mid March in northwestern Iowa?!? Unheard of! Trees don't normally begin to show signs of growth for another month--at least. Our average high is still just 47 degrees F, but we've been running more than 30 degrees above average! Tomorrow the high is predicted to be 83 degrees! The lilac bushes already have small leaves. Last year, which was unusually cool and wet, the lilac leaves finally made their appearance in late May.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Project 366 -- Devotion

When big sister Katie returned from Ethiopia earlier this week, five-year-old "Peaches" smile stretched all the way to her eyes. A year ago, Peaches was living in an orphanage. But God had a big plan for the little girl whose Ethiopian name means "I have a sister." That big plan included the love and security of a family--including a sister who adores her.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Project 366 -- Reunion

Day 66 -- March 13

Tonight my dear friend returned from 10 days in Ethiopia. I was privileged enough to catch the reunion between Tanya and her youngest child at the Omaha airport. Our family was there to welcome home the entire team from our church who went to love on the people of that country, including our 20-year-old son, John.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Project 366 -- Arizona Wonders

Days 59-65

Traveling with my husband to Tucson last week gave me the opportunity to photograph many plants that definitely don't make their home in the upper Midwest. We were in awe of our great God's creativity and majesty!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Wake Up Call

I'm reading a powerful and convicting book called How to Live Right When Your Life Goes Wrong by Leslie Vernick. During a bout of insomnia last night, I read this section which struck deep:
"How we act and live stems from what is in our heart. A change of heart requires much more than simply changing sinful behaviors into more Christlike behaviors. A change of heart requires us to allow God to rearrange the desires of our heart. The things that motivate us in our natural self most should no longer control us; instead, the love of Christ should control us, the glory of God should control us, and the mind of Christ should control us.
     "How do we know if we have idols of our heart? Take them away and watch your reaction. What happens when you don't have power and control? When you don't have peace and serenity? When you don't have respect or security? When you don't have a fat bank account? When you are not recognized for your accomplishments? When you are ignored or humiliated? What happens when you don't get your way? We often don't know our heart is so attached to our idols until they're threatened. Then we fight like mad to keep them!...
     "God is a jealous God. He is jealous of our love. When we love things more than him, he hates it. Ephesians 5 says that when we love something, we will nourish and care for it. When we love our idols, we embrace them, devote ourselves to them, and make it our business to please them, whether they be our love of approval, love of money, love of success, love of being right, love of ourselves, love of pleasure, or love of people. We also live in bondage to our fears, such as the fear of conflict, fear of failure, fear of disapproval, fear of rejection, fear of humiliation, fear of intimacy. Our fears are a helpful way to look at the other side of what we love. For example: We love success; we fear failure. We love peace; we fear conflict. We love to please people and make them happy; we fear disapproval or rejection...
     "What rules your heart? What we love most will rule us. Or to put it another way, what we fear losing will control us. God says He is a jealous God and he wants to be first in our heart. Many of us repent of wrong behaviors, even wrong thoughts, but we don't understand that we can't grow to be more like Christ unless our heart loves [Him] more that we love ourselves--or our own desires." (pgs. 94-95, 97)
For a long time, I have struggled with being a person who gets irritated with her children all too easily. I've read books on anger and memorized many Bible verses addressing anger in my longing to change this behavior that I know is sinful. I've made some progress, but much less than I've hoped for. At times my slow change has deeply frunstrated and even confused me. I've tried so hard. The passage above helped me understand that I need to refocus my efforts. I need to stop being so conscious of my responses and become consumed, instead, with loving God. He is worthy of being loved heart, soul and mind, after all.

In the middle of the night, I confessed to God that I don't love Him with all my heart. That was hard to do! I told the Lord that I now recognize that I love myself, being honored by my children, comfort, ease and control of my circumstances more than I love my Him. This was a humbling admission because for years I've convinced myself that I loved God wholeheartedly. But the evidence is irrefutable based on careful contemplation of the passage from Vernick's book.

A discovery like this could leave a person disheartened! However, I feel so hopeful! I know the Lord to be a prayer-answering God. I began to cry out to Him last night to my change my self-centered heart. I told Him emphatically that I want to love Him first and foremost, with heart, soul and mind fervor. I'm excited to see what the Lord will do as He answers my prayer. In the meantime, I will be seeking to know Jesus, since we're told He is the exact representation of His Father. (Hebrews 1:3). I'm thankful for last night's insomnia. The lack of sleep proved to be a vital wake up call!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Project 366 -- Reflections

Days 57 & 58 -- March 4-5, 2012
The most recent post on our family blog, Unto Him We Live, tells how we took our 20-year-old son, John, to the Omaha airport yesterday for a 10-day trip to Ethiopia with others from our church. I took the photo above as Lissie watched for one of the team members to arrive.

When Lissie gave me her permission to use this picture, she told me that the photo captures what she'll look like in nine days as she eagerly watches for her twin's plane to land.

Lissie misses John terribly, and this is just his first full day gone. What a bond the two share--begun in the womb and still strong more than 20 years later! I have no doubt that some of the movement that I felt while pregnant with the two of them was John cracking a joke and Lissie giggling riotously. In our family, we frequently say that Lissie's always been John's greatest audience. Her consistent willingness to laugh at his puns and quips has probably contributed significantly to the development of John's winning sense of humor that his whole family appreciates and is currently missing.


This second photo lacks the human interest but is also a reflection I captured at the airport yesterday:

The photo was taken of an empty store front in the Omaha Airport (at the bottom of the photo you can see some of the wiring left when the souvenir shop went out of business.) I was facing the interior of the airport, but the bright sun reflecting on the parking garage makes it look as though I was photographing the exterior. The seams in the store's glass frontage caused the parking garage to look rent (as in ripped) or rippled. The picture feels all too much like modern art for my taste. But in this year when I'm trying to practice nearly daily with my camera to increase my skill and abilities, my experiment of photographing an empty shop was an effective learning experience.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Project 366 -- White Wonder

Days 53-56

I like how little Oksana appears a bit fairy-like as she's peeking through the bushes at me in these first two photos.

In the third photo, I was enchanted by the tenacity of the ice on the curved branches of the Weeping Hickory. In the final photograph, the luminous, little ice sculptures clung to the branches just where crabapple blossoms will appear in a few weeks.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Molehill Maker

For anyone who doesn't recognize these ugly mounds, they're molehills. Because the weather has been so mild, the ground hasn't frozen solid as it normally does during the winter in the upper mid west. This has allowed the moles to dig and damage and dig and damage. Our yard's a mess.

I wish it was just our yard that was a mess. But I'm afraid I've been too much like a mole myself. I, too, have mastered the practice of "dig and damage and dig and damage." The problem with my skill is that its the souls of my children that are being hurt. I've spent way too much time digging for misbehaviour, calling out their faults, and, in the process, damaging their souls. Instead, I should be on the look out for their efforts to do right, no matter how small, and put my energy into encouraging them. I KNOW Proverbs 16:24: "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the soul."

Multiple times in the past, the Lord has used His still, small voice to redirect me in the use of my tongue. Kind words are so powerful! God declares they have the power to heal. They can be bandaids for bleeding hearts. I've SEEN my kids thrive on praise for a job well done. I've SEEN them positively beam when I build them up.

Why? Why would I return to destructive words that belittle and discourage my beloved children? I can think of two reasons, and both have their roots in my own sin. The first is that I'm allowing the dangerous thought, "I deserve better! How could you...?" to rule my thinking. And when my thinking goes that direction, hurtful words are almost certain to follow.

The second reason is that I've taken my eyes off  my own sin. If I'll focus on my "log", their "splinters" (Luke 6:41) will fade into minor issues that usually require no more than a gentle "course correction". Christ hung on a cross for my sins. There is no room for me to be proud; my sins were enough to require His crucifixion. As a popular song says, "I was the thorns in His crown." If God's love was so lavish that He gave His only begotten son that I might be saved, my love for my children needs to be lavish as well! When they do do wrong, I am to imitate the Lord in the forgiveness He demonstrated to those who caused the suffering and death of His son. If I'm busy lavishing love on and freely forgiving my kiddos, I'll find very little time to criticize and tear them down.

I'm ready to stomp out molehills, both outside my home and within our four walls. I would be so grateful for your prayers. (And when you pray for an adoptive parent, you're truly participating in orphan care.Those who've adopted are so helped, encouraged and blessed by a safety net built of the prayers of friends and family.) Please pray that the Lord will give me a broken and contrite heart as He breaks me of the the sin habit I've slid into of being overly critical. I long to use my words to glorify God by encouraging and building up our amazing 10 children who are still living at home. Down with molehills!