HEAVEN

On our trip to Disney World, we rode “It’s a small world”.  Twice.  We had mapped out a plan entitled ‘jr. pirate adventurer’, a tour for boys ages 4-8.  It included 22 steps.  We killed it.  All 22 steps and had time left over.  When we exited Peter Pan’s Flight, our final ride, we noticed no lines/no waiting at the infamous boat ride across the ‘street’.  So we hopped aboard and traveled round the not-so-small animatronic attraction.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of this experience, it is a boat ride through several rooms.  Each room represents a continent.  There are thematic dancing dolls all singing in their native tongue the song ‘it’s a small world.’  The song is played over and over and over again throughout the ride, the tune sticking in your brain like crazy glue forevermore.

I enjoyed the ride, and its catchy tune.

I love cultural variation.  I appreciate the interpretation each society has on life.  Studying other cultures humbles and enlightens me.  It sheds much needed perspective on my American brain of the value of time, the expression of symbols, and the art of dance.  We have much to learn.

The final room of the ride has no continent ascribed to it.  All the dolls are dressed in similar white cloth and are singing in unison. When we got to the final room, Josiah immediately said, “Is this the heaven room?”

I quickly shot back, “No honey.  There is nothing spiritual about Disney World.”

But when we got on the ride the 2nd time, I looked around the final room and whispered to Michael, “you think this is Walt’s interpretation of heaven?” <Uhm….I may have referred to Mr. Disney on a first name basis the entire time we were in his park. I mean, you get close to a guy when you walk around in his imagination for 16 straight hours.>

Michael responded to me in a rarely used sarcastic tone, “yes, Christi Anna, and the angels will all be playing harps and singing in English…”

“Well, maybe they are all singing in their native languages and we can just understand it…because it’s the ‘heaven’ room” I retorted.

I got the ‘you-are-not-going-to-get-me-to-go-there-no-matter-how-long-you-talk’ look.

But try as I might, I couldn’t distinguish from one animatronic doll to the next.  They all looked the same. In unison, in song.IMG_6718IMG_6720

The thing that I think struck Josiah, and me, was the stripping away of the social constructs of race, ethnicity, and culture.  Perhaps that’s what heaven will be like.  In our heavenly forms, there will only be equally illustrious shades of brilliance.  There will be no ethnicity, save that we will be citizens of one Kingdom.  And the culture will be like nothing we’ve known. 

The famous song on the ride indicates:

‘it’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
it’s a world of hopes, it’s a world of fear’

Indeed.

Heaven will be different.  

‘And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.’ Revelation 21:3-5

And there will be no more night. The deep dark suffering will be over.  There will be no sickness, sorrow, nor need of slumber.  There will be neither poverty, unwanted children, war, nor bullies.  There will be no paralysis, no anxiety, no hunger. There will be no rejection, no disappointment, no hate.  No indifference, deployment, or need of a doctor.  No more emergency, no deadline, no depression, no abuse. No waste. No violence. No greed. There will be no more death.

In short, Heaven is infinitely greater than Disney World.  Infinitely greater than the ‘happiest place on earth’.  Infinitely greater than you could ever think or imagine.  Infinitely better than the happiest day of your life.  Infinitely better than your first married kiss.  Infinitely better than the moment your sweet clean baby drifts off to sleep in your arms, and you have nowhere to be. Infinitely better than the crisp mountain air in the fall, when the leaves are in all their earthly splendor.  Better than coffee…on the beach…at sunrise. Infinitely better.  For His word tells us:

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.

And you have a personal invitation.

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STILL

It’s still in my home right now.  Not a creature is stirring, not even my dog.  2 of my kids are sleeping, because I suggested it and they complied immediately, obviously relieved to give into their exhaustion.  My husband and oldest are on their ‘special day’, which has been in the works this entire summer.  I am getting ready to tackle my final VBS as a children’s pastor (for which I need to do much preparation)….but for the moment, I am going to relish the quiet and be still.

We just got home from Family Camp.  Where Michael and I were asked to be camp pastors/speakers, which aligned perfectly with our theme for the summer, ‘family’.  How could we say no?

Family Camp snuck up on us like a ninja.  We had it on the calendar, but it got here before we could get there fully.  We had spent time in conversation and prayer, but nothing was finalized until late late late the night before we left.  The day we left, all I had to do was pack for the family, and get the kids there by 5:30 (Michael would meet us there from work).

It took me 8 SOLID hours to pack.

I kept walking to my closet to get the suitcase down.  But it was so high, and heavy.  There are 4 suitcases in one….I just stared at it and tried to convince it to come down on its own.  There was bedding to pack, towels, shoes, clothes (for camp??? What in the world do I wear to camp??)  I was so irritated, sweaty, and rushed by the time we left our driveway at 5:17, I was convinced I should hand over the baton because there was nothing pastoral that I had to offer to AN-NE-BODY.

I silenced my kids on the way there.  If I could have just a moment of quiet….

Be still….

We arrived to camp, and because my husband knows me well (I forgot all the paperwork), he had begun the paperwork to sign us all in.  They run family camp just like regular camp.  Boys on one side of the lake, girls on the other.  Bummer.  Wait….  They run family camp just like regular camp.  Boys on one side….girls on the other….  Guess what?  I was in a cabin with 2 other moms of boys.   Thank you Jesus for knowing what I need. My cabin was quiet.  QUI-ET.  Except for the excited chatter of three moms reliving their own camp days, our conversations dragging waaay past ‘lights out’.  One of the moms even snuck out to meet her hubby (it was their anniversary).  Camp felt exactly like it did in 7th grade, when I came to know

….and know that I am God…

Growing up in a pastor’s family, faith has always been a part of my life.  Apparently, I asked Jesus into my heart when I was three.  But it wasn’t until I went to camp as a middle schooler, all on my own, that I remember having a decisive faith experience.  Where I encountered God in a way that was new and authentic.  I knew that He is.  I wish I had never wavered.  I wish I had stayed the course and never went off track.  But when I re-surrendered myself to Jesus 10 years later, I was transfixed back to that alter at camp, and I knew I had a fresh start.  My….how His grace abounds.

It wasn’t until the ride home today that I realized how much I slowed down, how still I was, while at camp.  I didn’t bring my computer, I didn’t check Faceboook or email, and I only texted Michael for logistical purposes.  Okay, and once to tell him I was still madly in love with him (because he set up our coffee maker in the camp kitchen and programmed it so I would have good coffee each morning). Okay and once to respond to a hilarious text from Kelly, and one from Adair.  But only swift responses…no conversations.  Geesh….get off my back.

But on the way home, I felt like I was going so fast.  I looked down at the speedometer and I was going 10 miles under the speed limit.  After 3 days of only walking from one location to the next, my minivan felt just like a rocket.  And I was in no rush to get home.

I didn’t speed up.

I just reflected, and still am, on my time at camp.  On appreciating his creation.  On walking.  On rain.  On walking in the rain. On singing with a guitar by a campfire. On humiliating myself in silly games for sheer fun.  On building a family pine car and racing it.  On meeting new people. On playing volleyball…(oh wait, I already mentioned humiliating myself.)  On stepping out of my comfort zone.  On going without (much) makeup (hey-I’m not a cavewoman). On letting my kids grow up a little.  On conquering fear (climbing that ridiculously high tower and ‘sliding off’ the edge…having to put all my trust in a thin rope/harness and a 20-year-old belayer). On a camp staff who work like mules without grumbling or complaining.  On joy. On Philippians 2. On becoming more like the servant Christ was.  On Michael and the boys washing my feet.  On me washing theirs. On Jesus washing Peter’s.  On Jesus.  On our new family mission statement.  On the importance of being still.

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It shouldn’t take camp to be still.  It should happen regularly, I don’t know, like maybe weekly?  What a brilliant idea.  It should only take the Sabbath to come for me to be still.  It should take me making an observation of something God commanded long ago.  Of course, this camp time corresponded with my finishing Jen Hatmaker’s book, ‘7’, and the final chapter which focuses on stress, and our call to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.

Originally, the Sabbath had to be planned for, food gathered a day in advance. It wasn’t handed to the Hebrews on a silver platter. This principle remains. I still have to plan for the Sabbath, tying up loose ends and gathering what we’ll need. I still have to prepare the family for rest, enforcing healthy boundaries and protecting our calendar. I still have to set work aside and trust in the wisdom of God’s design. “Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath” (Exod. 16: 29).

Hatmaker, Jen (2011-12-19). 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (p. 216). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

What a gift is the Sabbath, to those who observe it.  How I need to heed this command.  O how I need to be still.  For 6 days will I work, and on the 7th, I shall take time to honor my God.  To ‘be still and know that I am.’  

I better get busy preparing.  Sabbath begins at sundown.

KELLY

33 years ago today my world got a little bit better.  I had to endure the first 16 days of my life without my cousin, Kelly.

But then she was born.

Our moms are sisters and so we were destined to be together in family.  It just so happens that we are also the most amazing kind of friends. We grew up 500 miles apart, but the good thing about long distance relationships is that when we got together we made it count.  We spent countless hours in the woods together, on the beach making sand castles, and walking up and down the sidewalks of our small town in Indiana.  We jumped waves, had screaming contests, played dress-up, and she and I were in charge of passing out the gifts at Christmastime.  Most of our memories were made in the basement of our grandparents’ home, where we made blanket forts, ‘haunted’ houses, wrote poems, had sleepovers, and shared all of our holiday meals.

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And when we weren’t together we were writing each other actual letters to be sent through the actual mail.  I received my latest letter from her 16 days ago, on my birthday.  Because that’s how awesome she still is.

Kelly is one of the most beautiful people I know.  First of all, she is ridiculously beautiful on the outside.  I probably wouldn’t like her if I didn’t know her..she’s just that pretty.  But her outer beauty is exponentially amplified because she is so incredibly beautiful on the inside as well.  She loves people with an intentional love (you should only know the thought and care she puts into every single gift she gives and card she writes).  Her generosity is evident in the way she spends her time, energy and resources (she and her husband have recently started the most amazing ministry where they provide free housing to people who are displaced due to medical trauma…she also once gave her favorite Bible to a homeless man who had none of his own).  She is wise beyond her years, compassionate beyond belief, and her gentle yet bubbly spirit is contagious to everyone she meets (if you know her, you understand this….if you don’t, I wish you could!!).

We have been dreaming together since we were children.  For most of our life we lived far apart, but for 2 glorious years we were roommates in college.  It was one of the many things we had planned to do together when we were young.  To room together in college and be in each other’s weddings and be pregnant together.  We also planned to be pediatricians and run a practice together.  I guess 3 out of 4 isn’t bad.

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Now that we have small children, it’s hard to have all the conversations that we want to have.  We crave time together.  We still gather for holiday meals in our grandparents’ basement and enjoy the ocean together, only now it’s our own children who are playing together and experiencing the moments that childhood are made of.  I love that we’re still making memories.  I love that we get to watch our kids play, and pass out the Christmas gifts, and jump the waves.  I love that no matter what stage of life, I can call and she will listen.  I love that her heart breaks with my sorrow, rejoices in my happiness, and believes in my doubt.

What a beacon of light Kelly is.  During those college years I was stumbling around in my faith and she was such an anchor for me.  If it weren’t for her, who knows where I would have ended up.  I am so grateful to God for her.  Kelly, thank you for loving like you do, for bringing an immeasurable joy to us all, for your peaceful nature, your gentle spirit, your kindhearted thoughtfulness, your faithfulness to our Savior, and your never-ending fountain of encouragement.  I love you so very much.

I think Grandmother said it best, in her poem entitled ‘Kelly’:

I see you now above the binding cords of earth,

Climbing, soaring upward on wings of joyful mirth;

Chasing the winds of success with triumphant, easy grace,

Gliding high on faith in God through the sanctity of peace.

The little girl that warmed our hearts with laughter and with fun,

Now brings more joy and pleasure than the day that she was born;

Still tender, full of wonder, unspoiled by the passing of time,

A sacred, daily reminder of God’s pure and perfect design.

-Frances Pierce

I hope you have had the most wonderful birthday imaginable!!!

‘I thank my God every time I remember you.’ Phil. 1:3

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MAGICAL

40 days ago, Michael told our kids that we were going to Legoland and Disney World:

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He read the boys a letter of appreciation for their sacrifice while he was in seminary.  And to honor that, we wanted to do something really special.  They were beyond excited.

So after a rigorous count down (like every 5 minutes for the past month, we counted the days, minutes, seconds), we embarked on our journey at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday night.  And I must have planned the trip when I was still in my twenties, because when I saw the arrival time on the GPS:

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I thought, ‘what in the world was I thinking?? We can’t drive all night, spend all day tomorrow with our friends, then wake up, go to Legoland from open to close (to get our money’s worth), check in our hotel, go on a timeshare tour at 7:30 the next morning, then do every single thing the resort has to offer (to get our money’s worth), then wake up and be in the Magic Kingdom from open ’til close (to get our money’s worth), then wake up, collect ourselves, and drive all the way home…’

I must be crazy.

But the adrenaline kept me going.  I was excited.  Too excited to sleep.

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I put on Josiah’s batman headphones and rocked out while everyone else slept and I took the 1:30-4:30 a.m. driving shift. We arrived at our destination at 4:30 a.m. and realized that no one else in Florida was awake.  So we pulled over in a CVS parking lot and slept for an hour.  Except Josiah.  He stayed awake during that final hour.  When he saw a palm tree at 4:40 a.m., there was no convincing him to go back to sleep.  His vacation had begun…

So, with the help of Yelp, I found a little breakfast place and called them.  They opened at 6:00.  Perfect.  We pulled in and with an extremely cheerful waiter, we had a fabulous breakfast.  Of course, Zachary spilled his chocolate milk (even after a warning about the shoddy lid from our waiter) all over the table.  And we had to brush our teeth in the parking lot.

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But when I walked out of the restaurant, reenergized from good coffee and an excellent eggs benedict, this is what I saw.

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That’s just not a bad way to start the day.  We live in the woods, and I rarely get to see the sun rise or set.  There is such comfort in that daily occurrence.  I stopped and praised Him for His beautiful handiwork.

‘From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.’

I really hesitated planning a ‘theme park’ vacation because I was afraid the kids would be too enamored  by man-made cement, brick and mortar, plastic, steel concoctions and forget to appreciate God’s great handiwork.  As if a theme park or fancy hotel could cover it up…  We saw God’s creations the entire trip.

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Whoops, how’d that last one get in there?  Oh,that’s right…because God made coffee.  And that’s just true.

And there was also this:

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This is just a few of the 500 little creatures with whom we shared our hotel room.  And before I killed them with my flip flop (sorry, but I did. They were trying to get my honey and peanut butter) I snapped this photo.  Even though they are pests, it is really something to see how hard they work.  They made a perfect line all the way from the entrance of the condo to the kitchen, neatly lining the edge of the floor. I admire their tenacity and work ethic.  Then they died. The end.

Our first day was with my best friend since 2nd grade, Erin.  We have been friends for 25 years, and because of distance and life demands, we have only been able to see each other twice in the past 10 years.  We are both moms now and we have the added obstacle of a 3 hour time difference which makes it extremely difficult to chat on the phone.  If she can talk, I’m doing dinner, if I can talk she’s trying to get kids out the door.  But there is an understanding and a deep friendship love that we share, which makes seeing each other just….easy.  We can pick up right where we left off, and it’s hard to explain what a comfort the familiarity of her voice is to me.  We, amazingly, (thanks to our very understanding husbands) were able to talk without interruption for almost 2 solid hours in the ocean.  Our hands and feet were pruny.  Our hearts were full.

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And then we just relaxed and watched our five children run around and play together like they’ve grown up together since birth.


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Because in a sense they have.  They already know each other because Erin helped shape me, and I her.  We experienced childhood together.  Elementary. Jr. High. High school. Youth group. Camp. Family strife.  Brothers. Prom. Driving. Boyfriends. Mistakes. Graduation.  Life.  She’s one of my dearest and I’ll treasure that day so close to my heart until we can see each other again…hopefully sooner than later.

That evening Erin and Billy treated us to dinner and we shared a wonderful meal and great laughter together. Love them.

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Have you ever seen a child look more like her mother???

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We got back to their condo and piled the kids up on the floor and fell fast to sleep.  My cup truly running over.

The next day was Legoland.

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(You should read Nolan’s face as extremely excited….but that’s his new ‘cool’ pose).

It was super, duper hot.  We were sweating within 30 seconds of getting out of the car.

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See the glisten in that photo? Yeah, that’s sweat. The humidity was 1,000,000%.

So imagine my anticipation of the water park, which I scheduled right after lunch (and paid extra for). You know, during the hottest part of the day?  Well, let me give you a little tip for when you visit FL.  God likes to throw the smack-down between 1-4 p.m. every single day in and around Orlando.  The water park closed.  The driving school closed.  The boat ride closed.  And Zachary, Josiah and I were stuck under a shelter waiting for the storm to pass, while Michael and Nolan were in another location doing the same.

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Here we are being thunderstruck.

Finally we stumbled upon the build-a-car-and-race-it-down-the-track activity that was inside and out of the storm/humidity/heat.  Zachary had long since removed his shirt (because we were supposed to head to the waterpark), and they made us dress him.

‘Why?’ Michael asked.

‘Um, we just like for everyone to be dressed.’

‘Oh.’

This was also the time that we discovered 2 huge blisters on Zachary’s poor feet from his new flip flops.  Thankfully, I had read about the dangers of flip flops and packed tennis shoes.  So we switched them, and the kids went to work.

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See the cute guy in the green shirt?  He outwardly loved this activity so much.  Cars/engineering?  Are you kidding me? He was in his element.  At one point he came over to me and said, ‘Some bratty kid keeps stealing my wheels.’  He was really really into it.

After spending a really really really loooooooooong time trying to help the kids choose a lego set that was within their budget, we came upon a 12 minute 4-D Lego movie that wrapped up our final 15 minutes at the park.  It was perfect. It almost redeemed the not-getting-to-do-the-water park fiasco.

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(Note: Nolan’s ‘cool’ face)

After we left Legoland, we went to 1. Get coffee and 2. Check into our hotel.  Ok, here is one thing.  It is hard to drink coffee at a theme park.  It’s hard to find it.  It’s hard to drink it. (They’re pretty serious about not letting them on the rides.) And it’s hard to enjoy it slowly over conversation, the way coffee should be experienced. So we were feeling pretty pitiful by 7:30 p.m., when we finally got our lattes.

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Next was check-in.  Now, keep in mind that we had lost a night of sleep, spent from 7a-11p enjoying Erin’s family, and a full full day of Legomania at this point.  So by 8 p.m. that evening, we were so ready to put our kids to bed so we could have 1 minute to talk to each other settle in and relax in our hotel room.

Check-in took 2 hours.  From 8p-10p.  Our kids are 7, 5, and 4 years old.  You know how that went.  So we got to bed at close to 11 that night, and then had to be at our timeshare tour by 7:30 a.m.  They had a ‘complimentary’ breakfast and a 90 minute (read: 4 HOUR) presentation.  We brought all of our children and refused to put them in the convenient child-care area.  Hey, 2 can play at this game.  Our poor sales lady offered our kids crayons and coloring sheets ‘so we could talk.’  Ha.  By the end our kids were playing ninja tag between all of the sales reps.  (Coloring sheets neatly stacked and untouched.)  Here’s how we ended the conversation.

‘Look, it took my husband 8 months to pick out my engagement ring after he had decided to propose to me.  So, if you think you can convince him to commit to you for the rest of his life, you’re insane.’

Michael nodded and we gave them a blank stare until the harassment sales pitch ended.  I will say that we walked away actually considering it.  But no way in the world would we buy something like that on the spot. No. Way.

The rest of that day we spent enjoying the resort.  The facilities were really nice.  It was packed, but really beautiful.

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Not too bad for the city in Florida which is the furthest from the ocean.

That evening, our kids were cranky.  It had been a lot of days with a little sleep.  And by dinner time, they were starting to show signs of overindulgence.  We had a serious talk with them about gratitude and decided to postpone the arcade, which we had promised they could do after dinner.  Instead, they went straight to bed.  As a mom in a country with so much, I vacillate between wanting my kids to experience all the fun things and teaching them an accurate perspective of the world.  Most kids just don’t live like we do.  It is never lost on me that 25,000 people die of starvation every single day, while I enjoy eggs benedict, gourmet coffee, and mouthwatering brick-oven pizza.  And I don’t have this figured out.  I love vacation.  And I love the little children of the world.  We sponsor our daughter, Reina, from Bolivia through World Vision.  Her picture is in our home and we pray for her often.  But sending a check and saying a prayer just doesn’t seem like much, when we live the way we do.  I want my kids to understand. And I see the importance of family vacation.  And I don’t have this figured out.  I just don’t.

Anyway…

The next day was the Magic Kingdom.  And in a wave of sheer brilliance and intense fear, I made these shirts the day we left.  2/3 of our kids are flight risks, and I was completely sure that they would wander away and get lost.

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They didn’t.

I had planned to be there from the secret 8 a.m. opening until the 11 p.m. Electric Lights Parade.  We had one day, people.  And I was going to squeeze every single possible magical moment from it.  We were prepared.  We had a plan.  We had water, snacks, lunch, energy, and anticipation in our backpacks.  And a few surprises up our sleeves.

By 8:05 a.m., we were running into trouble. Zachary kept complaining about his feet hurting, and I felt so bad about his blisters.  But he had tennis shoes on.  He just kept saying ‘it’s too tight!’  Upon examination, we discovered that we had put his shoes on with an extra pair of socks in the toes.

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We rode the uncrowded (no really, it wasn’t bad) ferry over to the entrance.  We entered the park and then something called ‘Disney’ came over us that allowed us to execute our plan with seamless precision for the next 16 hours. It. Was. MAGICAL.  I can’t explain it.  There were down pours.  We happened to be sheltered. There were tons of people. We didn’t feel crowded. It was hot. We were cool (thanks to our clever mister bottles).  I planned, Michael navigated. Our kids walked that entire park.  By hour 10, they began to take turns in the stroller.  And we took turns carrying them. Which wasn’t hard.  I don’t know why.  I carried Josiah 10 steps to our front door when we got home and thought I was going to die he was so heavy. If a ride was down, we stopped to enjoy fireworks.  If a line was too long, we enjoyed overpriced lollipops.  Our day was so efficient and enjoyable, we were able to ride Splash Mountain twice.  And I think we would all agree that Splash Mountain is, hands down, the best ride in the Magic Kingdom.  There were no catastrophes, no disappointments, no complaining, and in 16 hours, only one argument. No kidding.

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The castmembers (Disney employees) kept telling us to have a magical day.   We did.  But it wasn’t magical because we were at the Magic Kingdom.  It was magical because it was intentional together time.  It could have happened anywhere.   At a campfire.  At the park. Around the dinner table. At a church picnic.  This just had the added flare of Splash Mountain.

When Michael and I got the kids loaded in the van at midnight, gave each other ‘ring pound’ (when we fist pump our wedding rings together after accomplishing something only the 2 of us could accomplish), and smiled, we claimed a parenting victory.

One thing is for sure.  Our family’s future includes more intentional together time.  Whether that is on a bike ride at the local park, serving together at church, or another theme park trip.  The destination isn’t so much the point as the value of being together.  Thanks Walt Disney, for taking a risk and understanding the value of family time.  The Coats family sincerely appreciates your dream realized.

PLAY

So…I don’t want to put Shaun T or Jane Fonda out of a job, but I think I’ve found the most effective workout routine.

Play with your kids.

Michael has deemed this summer a summer focused on our family.  We need it.  Our kids have sacrificed a LOT of time with us because of seminary and our crazy schedule.  We’re saying ‘no’ to things that don’t fall in line with our summer theme.  We’re dating our kids.  We’re dating each other.  We’re loving one another extravagantly and specifically.  Our focus is each other.  Fall will come and bring demands and pull us away to things that are important and urgent and worthy of our time, no doubt. But for now, we are focused on our family.

Last week at the pool I was sitting with a friend who had let her children bring those squirter toys.  You know the ones…that shoot water 47 feet across the pool.  Parents hate them. Kids love them. Anyway, her kids and their friends were playing with them and they were getting a bit rambunctious.  She called her son over and said, in a conspiratory kind of way, “Hey….fill it up with this ice water from the cooler!  You’ll really freeze him out!!”  Then she giggled like she was 8.  My jaw dropped.  I thought she was going to scold him.  I would have scolded mine.  But why?   They were just having fun…and the kids thought it was hilarious.

I love her.

She’s always doing things like that.  She lets her kids jump in puddles in their good clothes.  She makes movie night a big deal, projecting the movie super big so it feels like a theater in her home.  She plays with her kids.

So, the beginning of this week came and I really didn’t have too many things scheduled.  I do a summer program at church, so that was Wednesday.  But other than that I just had the kids at home.  Michael had a few extra shifts, so it was going to be long days for me.  And in keeping with our summer theme,

I decided to play with my kids.

It was an actual decision.  Playing with my kids doesn’t come naturally.  I like being a grown up.   I always have, even when I was a kid.  I’m not very good at playing.  Michael is good at this.  He does things like this:

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And I sit and fold laundry and laugh happily from the sideline.  I like the view from there.  It’s safe.

So I think I took my kids a bit by surprise when I did a cannonball into the pool this week.  Actually, Nolan said, “Are you trying to be dad?”  Geesh.  Harsh.  “No, I can play too!” I squawked like a kid left out at recess.

I chased them.  I played in every one of those jumpy houses on our Wild Wednesday to Safari Nation.  I did the maze.  I did the obstacle course and the slide.  I did the zipline. Twice. I played ball tag.  I shot balls from air guns. I ran.  I swam.  I jumped off the diving board.  I tickled them.  I boosted them.  (I don’t know if you know what that is. In our family it means that we pick the kids up over our heads and throw them as hard as we can in the water.) I boosted them 148 times.  I told a story in the hammock, the crisis of which was resolved with a ‘fart pack’ which catapulted the character to safety.  They laughed with such delight.  They laughed all week long.

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And truth be told…I had fun doing it.  As I swam underwater (hair and all Mamas…you know that is a big deal), I remembered what it felt like as a kid to go to that imaginary place where nothing bad could happen.  I squealed with excitement during ball tag, anticipating from which direction my chaser would come.  I laughed with abandon at the fart jokes, disgusting as they were.  And I enjoyed my kids.

And I am the sorest I have ever been.

I have done the insanity work outs, and I am not kidding, I’ve never hurt this bad.  Last night Michael took me out on a date and I could barely lift my arms to curl my hair.  I had to rest and take tylenol by 4 p.m.  I felt like jello.  One day this week I told the kids we were going to play ‘survivor’.  They were in charge of the food all day.  Hey, I can either feed them or play with them.  Turns out, I can’t do both.

So, FREE, not 3 easy payments of $59.95, here’s how to get in shape.

Want great arms? Boost your kids.

Want great abs? Laugh with your kids.

Want great legs? Chase your kids.

I guarantee it will be the most rewarding exercise you ever do.

Go PLAY!!!

SEED

Last week I was afraid I had been ripped off because it was too busy a week to be a summer week.  I took the kids to a VBS at a friend’s church, prepared for my first-ever sermon (no biggie), and I had to get Nolan to camp which turned out to be drama.  I had written a sappy reflection about letting him fly, and when he woke up the next morning he hugged me tightly and told me it had to last me four days.  Awwwww.  Everyone was in such a good mood.  Nolan was all eager and brotherly and in a super old voice was like ‘you guys can play with my toys while I’m gone.’  Zachary was funny and easy.  Josiah was pensive and obedient. We drove the 30 minute drive to the camp and as I pulled up I thought ‘I don’t remember specifically what time registration begins.’

‘Hi Logan’ I call to a counselor I know, who is spraying out a bucket. Not sure how she is managing that with the swarm of kids that should be rushing the front door. ‘What time does registration begin?’

‘Oh, Hi Christi Anna. It’s in 6 hours.’

Seriously?

How did I miss that?  I know how.

PAPERS.

There are too many papers in my life.  There are reports cards, end of year projects, mail, bills, cards, crafts, permission slips, flyers, registration forms….UGH.  Registration forms.  Should have looked at those.  I did fill out the behavior policy form, the I-will-not-sue-you-no matter-what-happens-to-my-child form, and even retrieved from the doctor the my-child-has-had-all-his-shots form, but somehow tucked between the sample daily schedule and the adventure awaits section, I missed the registration information….

Deep breath in.  Irritation with self out.  No problem.  We will resume with our day.  Grocery. Pick up more kids. Unload groceries. Pool for 3 hours.  Return extra kids to rightful owner.  Back to camp.

Enter > worst time of day for my kids. 4pm.

Zachary walked through the camp screaming “I HATE this home!!!! I want MY HOME!!!!  I’m so TIRED!!!”  Josiah was frustrated with Nolan because he had agreed to allow Nolan to borrow a multi-colored pen, which he was now regretting.  He let me know this by standing in front of me while I took each step. He was standing and I was walking, all the way to Nolan’s cabin.  Nolan was pushing his luck with asserting his independence and dropping things everywhere.  He had packed 23 books, and his suitcase was at least 87 pounds.  And it was 7 million degrees inside that cabin.  I couldn’t wait to leave.  I had no problem dropping him off.

Love you. Bye.

When we picked him up on Saturday morning, his voice was hoarse from exhaustion.  He told me that he was only exhausted the last 3 days…(of a 4 day camp).  That camp has accomplished what no one else in the history of Nolan has accomplished.  They wore him slap out.  And I think they accomplished something else.

“WE STAYED UP TIL 11:30 IN THE NIGHT WORSHIPPING GOD!!!!” was one of the first things he squeaked out.  He really was hoarse.  “We went deep in the woods and talked about God and made a cross out of candles!!”

Try not to cry in front of his friends.  Try not to laugh at how precious that is.  Try not to worry about the fact that he could have started a forest fire and Smokey the bear would be mortified if he knew this was happening on a regular basis.

‘That’s awesome buddy!’ I cooly reply.  Secretly exhilarated with the seed that I know has been planted.  Secretly believing that this experience has enriched him in a way that I could not.  Secretly knowing the value of him spending time with those counselors, who might as well be wearing capes for spending their summers the way they are.  

On the way home I sat beside him in the back of the van, and we talked all the way home.

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As he napped that afternoon, yes he napped….he was so tired, I thought about my role in cultivating that seed which has been planted.  I thought about how I needed to be sure to tend to the soil.  I thought about how I should nurture it and water it and fertilize it.  And I thought about how much I love the body of Christ.  Because I know I can’t plant every single seed of his faith.  I know to raise up my boys it takes a whole entire body of believers.

I know God is faithful.  I am just so deeply grateful for those camp workers who dedicate their hot Carolina summers to doing their part.  May the seeds they plant be ever fruitful.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown….

Let it be so.

FLY

Today I am going to take my baby to camp.  For four days and three nights.  It seems like such a long time.  Isn’t that how long the Israelites wandered in the desert?

I think I’m going to feel a bit lost without him here.  He’s such a part of our day.  The constant ideas, arguing, laughter, banter, questions, romping, energy….wholly exhaust and energize me.  He is life and beauty and he represents to me the unexplored wilderness of parenting.  We are trailblazing together, being that he is our first born.  He was first to walk, first to pee on me, first to speak, ask about where heaven is, start school, and get his feelings hurt by a friend.  He was the first on whose behalf we had to endure the gut-wrenching anxiety of the parent-teacher conference, only to find out his teachers love him and understand him almost as much as we do.  And now, he will be the first to stay away for an extended amount of time….

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Last night as he was packing and reviewing his checklist, again, I began to remember back to my camp days.  I remember that it was there that I had an encounter with God when I was an adolescent that I count as a distinct marker in my faith journey.  I started to get excited about what God might have in store for Nolan while he is away.  I’m starting to expect something on his behalf.  He is anticipating the fun he will have, but my heart is stirred in anticipation of what God may do while he’s there!

I just have to let him go….

As I said, I spent time at church camp when I was a child.  Those were wonderful experiences for me.  I was an anxious child and I needed the opportunity to grow in that area.  My mom and my aunt used to trade kids back and forth in the summers.  We lived in Indiana and my cousins lived in North Carolina, so swapping kids must have been quite a chore.  When I was 2, my mom put me on an airplane with her sister and let me spend 2 weeks with my grandparents.

I spent time away from my mom.

I survived.

I remember one time when I was probably 5 or 6 laying on my grandmother’s couch, head in her lap, and she was twirling my hair in her fingers.  I was homesick.  I told her ‘I miss my mommy.’ She replied to me so tenderly,

‘but I’m your mommy’s mommy.’

What a comfort.

Nolan has already given me some advice about how to not be childsick the next few days.  ‘Mom, if you miss me you can just look at this picture of me..or that one…or you can just think about me.’

My mom was so good at allowing us to spread our wings.  She encouraged us to venture out.  Even when she couldn’t be with us, and maybe especially when she couldn’t be with us, she allowed us space to stretch out our wings.  To take trial lift offs.  To glide briefly through the air and land safely and gently back to her loving arms.

She expected on God for great things for us as well.  When we were yet wayward, in our late teen/early twenties, she began to pray over our family the prayer of Jabez.

‘Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked.’ I Chronicles 4:10

Now, when my mother prayed this prayer, it was not to be given more land or financial relief.  It was a much deeper request than that.  She prayed that God would extend the territory of ministry for our family.  As a mother, she wanted only for God to be glorified through our lives.

It was within a matter of a few years that we all surrendered our hearts fully back to God. The summer that Jonathan was teaching in Australia, Jeremy was preaching in Africa, and I was living in Indiana (and she in North Carolina) she wondered if she should have prayed that prayer at all!  Talk about enlarging the territory!  And although my brothers are still further away geographically, we’ve never been closer than now, as we embrace our holy heritage.

Parenting is about releasing.  It’s about allowing space to test what he’s been taught.  To trust the One who entrusted him to you in the first place.  I don’t know where you are in your parenting.  Maybe you’ve released him to school.  Or her to childcare.  Or him to the agony of middle school. Or her to college.  Or maybe you’ve had to endure the unparalleled grief of releasing your child to the arms of our Heavenly Father long before his time…

Nolan’s camp is only 30 minutes away.  I count the camp director a personal friend. I have her cell number stored in my phone.  I’ll try not to call.  I’ll try not to happen by the camp on the ‘way’ to the grocery store. I’ll try to believe that he’ll remember sunscreen and brushing his teeth and changing his underwear.  I’ll try to just pray when I have the inkling to check on him.

I’ll try to give him space to fly.

Because only if I allow him the space to fly, will he ever be able to soar.  My greatest hope for my children is that they come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and they trust Him daily as their guide, and glorify Him with their lives….

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Isaiah 40:30-31

Here goes nothin’.

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BOYS

My dad always said girls were made of sugar and spice and everything nice, and that boys were made of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails.

He was right.

Boys love gross things.  Last night, Zachary tooted, laughed and said, “my fart is refreshing.”

There is a smell coming from Nolan’s bookbag that I cannot identify.  I am scared to go in there and search.  I just keep reaching in for his bright yellow folder, which I can get without touching anything else.  Then I slip it back in…..and hope.  5 more school days…then it goes in the trash.

On our way to school the other day, Josiah picked up a slug and moved it (so it wouldn’t be stepped on) and wiped the slime on his shirt.  He had already changed once because of the  smeared syrup on the first set of clothes.  I took him to school with slug slime on his shirt.  It’s clear, though.  The slime.  Slug slime is clear.  I have that stored in my brain as an actual piece of useful information.

Today, when Zachary picked up a frog, he showed me the best way to hold it so as not to get peed on, and then he kissed it right on the mouth.

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I am learning so much.

But a lot I already knew.  The Lord prepared me for this phase of my life by giving me brothers.  And my mom’s best friends growing up had mostly boys.  In school I had more friends that were boys than girls.

Because of those boys, I crossed bridges I would never have crossed (I mean that literally.  There is a bridge at Grandfather Mtn. I would never have attempted without my dad and brothers.)  I have made leaps I would never have leapt (I went cliff jumping with Michael when we were teenagers).  Because of those boys, I have played slip-n-slide in the mud. Because of those boys, I have laughed my whole life.  Because of those boys, I can mother my boys.

But I’m so prissy.  I like to be clean.   I don’t like sticky things, dirty things, or playing sports.  I don’t like action movies or violence or scary things or unrestrained adventure. (I finally just finished reading ‘The Hobbit’ to my boys, and I hated it.  Sorry.  I know that bothers people, but it wasn’t for me.  Endless peril and no love interest.  It was awful.)

When I found out I was having a boy with Nolan, the thought entered my mind ‘you may never  have a girl’.  I brushed it aside and thought nothing more about it.  In fact, I laughed.  ‘Very funny, God. I already have no sister, so no way would You not give me a daughter.’

When I found out Zachary was a boy, I wasn’t surprised.   I grieved briefly over the realization that I would never attend ‘salon day’ at the American Girl doll store, and then I breathed a sigh of relief.

Really, I love boys.  My husband is a boy and he is the best person I know.  Boys are hilarious, unpretentious, practical, and don’t need very many shoes.  Almost every problem they present can be remedied with food.  Last week Josiah couldn’t find a particular lego so I gave him a buttermilk biscuit.  I didn’t hear another word about the lego.  Problem. Solved.

Don’t hear me wrong.  I am not a fan of current pop culture which capitalizes on reducing the complex male counterpart of our species to simpletons, the way women have always been.  Now, in sitcoms, women are smart and men are stupid.  Women solve everything, while men sit on the sidelines looking perplexed.  The shift towards gender equality in this country is warranted.  But the pendulum has shifted so far that it seems ‘girl power’ trumps all.  There are many heroines, and few heroes.  More women are entering college now than men. I appreciate the advancements, I really do. I enjoy the liberties afforded by those attainments.

But I am trying to raise courageous, courteous, generous, responsible, respectable, honorable, noble men, who will love honor and respect their wives and choose Christ no matter what the world throws at them.  We are constantly searching for opportunities where our boys can be mentored by men of that caliber. They have an amazing father who fits that description.  And we are grateful for coaches, camp counselors, and church leaders who take their mentoring roles seriously.

So today, I am raising my glass (well my coffee mug) to ‘boy power’.  Here’s to ‘snakes, snails, and puppy dog tails.’  Here’s to roughhousing, and action, and high-risk adventure. Here’s to monster trucks, turbo engines, and racing.  Here’s to football, wrestling, and UFC.  Here’s to fighting and farting, boogers and BMX.  Here’s to running, jumping, climbing, and eating.  Here’s to nobility, honor, courage, fortitude and bravery.  Here’s to the stuff men are made of.

And here’s to Tom, Jonathan, Jeremy, Michael, Nolan, Josiah, and Zachary who have helped me become the woman I am.

Let’s hear it for the boys!

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LURE

The other day Zachary decided to take Prancer (our dog) for a walk.  Prancer was so excited at first.  Zachary is so energetic and magnetic and happy and eager to spend time with Prancer.  Zachary walked him around for about 2 minutes (tops) and then tied him to the playground.  Prancer got himself wrapped around the slide and ultimately stuck.

I had to go and untangle him.  Prancer then followed me back to the porch and sat very close to me.  When Zachary came back over to get him, he looked at me with pleading eyes and rested his head on my knee.  He planted himself firmly beside me, and no matter how he tugged, Prancer would not allow Zachary to lead him away.

He had been lured away  before.  It resulted in a hopeless feeling.  It resulted in trouble.  It resulted in being stuck, almost unable to breathe.  He knew the outcome, and what he needed to do to protect himself.  He needed me.

What lures you away?  I wonder if it looks as cute and sweet as my precious Zachary.  One more click on that questionable site?  One more bracelet on an already maxed out credit card?  One more angry outburst? One more time with the forbidden fruit?

‘but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.  Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.’ James 1:14-18, 21

There are messes that we create which have to be untangled by the very hand of God.  There are times when we have to rest in Him, with eyes fixed on Him, so as not to be lured away.  Know your weakness.  Trust Him to see you through it.

‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ 1 John 1:9

His grace is greater than you can imagine.  It is overwhelming and all encompassing of your past, and your present.  It is perfect and endless and amazing.  You need only to receive it.  And then…..He will never lead you astray, He will only lead in the way everlasting.  Follow Him. Trust His voice….

‘The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.’ John 10:3

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

I’m standing on the Rock today.  Trusting Him, and Him alone.

NEVER

Sometimes my kids drive me so crazy, I actually feel like a bonafide lunatic.  That’s the reality of having 2 small and 1 medium boys (they have recategorized themselves). There are a lot of  ‘I would never’s’ that I’ve had to eat in the past seven years.  It is so easy to be a good parent when you don’t have any children.  I was such a good parent 8 years ago.

Then my kids were born.

Here’s my current ‘eaten’ list.

1. I will never allow my kids to snack while I am cooking them dinner. (Sometimes feeding them just makes them quiet enough for me to finish my thoughts.)

2. I will never allow my kids to use an electronic device during a service.  (I made it all the way to Michael’s graduation last week on this one.  But I hastily threw their iPods at them so I could actually soak in the moment!  And I confess, it was Angry Birds.  Is it really any different than playing tic tac toe??? Is it?)

3. I will never snap at my children. (I have learned the value of asking for forgiveness from my kids.  Sometimes, they even use my techniques on me when I am about to snap. Because they have used the freezer handle as a gymnastics bar for the 387th time or tracked leaves and snail slime on a freshly mopped floor (this is only a big deal because I mop soooooo rarely….)  ‘Mom, are you frustrated?  Mom, why don’t you take a deep breath?  Mom, maybe you need some rest.’)

4. I will never forget anything really important regarding my children. (see here)

5. I will never let my kids run inside. (That is dumb.  I gave it up as soon as they could run.)

I use the phrase ‘I never’ a lot less now.  I use the phrase, ‘I hope’ frequently.  The next time you see a mom doing something that you would ‘never’ do, give her a break.  She probably would never do it either.  It’s just that she’s really tired, she’s had a really long day, and probably needs to pee.  Instead, pray for her.  Or walk beside her.  Or watch her kids while she goes to the bathroom.

You never know when you might need the very same support.

#thegoldenrule