Life lately.

It's quiet in the house.

   It's 8:38 and everyone in the house is asleep, but me.  Randy fell asleep while telling the girls a story, William is deep in dreamland, and I even thought about turning in myself before I realized it's STILL ONLY EIGHT THIRTY.  That's what this crazy time change will do to ya.

   Much has happened this month and I really have no idea where to start....so in the meantime, I'll slap a few pictures on here of a few glimpses of life lately.

   I really ought to warn them about being a Duck fan....."They'll break ya heart, kid." (name that movie)

It's always frustrating when the girls come bounding in and wake up a sleeping me and baby......but sometimes I embrace the craziness and now this picture will always be one of my favorite photos, bags under eyes and all.  

The girls started ballet classes and it has been a learning experience for all of us.   As time goes on I am only more and more aware of the vast differences between my two daughters, and the things that come naturally and easily for one, are difficult for the other.  I am constantly reminded to celebrate their differences and my hope is that I never make them feel less than/more than the other in any way, but totally celebrated for who they uniquely are.  And I just love the mission statement in the dance studio that reads:  "To teach all dance from a heart of surrender and excellence.  To love and encourage dancers to know Christ in new and deeper ways.  To nurture and facilitate personal and spiritual growth in pursuit of becoming vessels that bring glory to God."

My siblings, left to right, oldest to youngest: Shannon, Shelley (me), Shawn, Shelby, Shane, Sheryl, and Shaylon. 
My family was out to visit and we had a wonderful time being ALL together out at the coast.  I hope to do a re-cap of our vacation together but I can't make any promises when that might happen.

   It feels strange to return to this space.  This blank page.  Strange because it's been so long, and strange because lately I just haven't felt the courage required for the vulnerability to write.  And so while I have MUCH to catch up on,  maybe for a time it will just be a little hello here and there.  A little "Hi there, we're still alive" type of thing. Because I just can't seem to find it in me these days to offer the transparency and authenticity that I hold myself to in my writing.  And if I can't be that, then I'd just rather remain silent.

  I suppose it is only natural for life to have different seasons and for some seasons to feel so full and useful and successful and meaningful, and for other seasons to feel like you are just putting one foot in front of the other.  I'm quite sure that it is only natural that some of those seasons cycle through and come back around, but they always seem to catch me by surprise when they do.  Much like the Christmas decorations that stores like to roll out mid-October.  It's like....what the?!?...oh yeah, it is almost that time of year.  That sort of feeling.

   Which is all quite ironic, because I know in my heart even as I live it that these will be the days I look back on.  The years I look back on and realize were perhaps the richest of them all.  And so why is it that in the midst of the "best days of our lives" I can feel so lost?  Still searching for a way to contribute, a way to be part of something bigger than me, a way to be really useful?  Sometimes I just feel so much like Thomas the Train.  At the end of the day, he didn't really care about anything other than just wanting to be really useful.

  And even while I say it, I know how silly it all sounds.  For a busy mother of three to be waxing poetic about "being useful".  Because I am, after all, very NEEDED.  So many, many needs.  But don't you ever get that feeling that your gifts or talents are just going to dry up and blow away from disuse?  That after so many years of lying dormant because of simply being "busy" you're going to forget how you ever used them before?  That you won't remember how to dream?

   I guess that's what I'm afraid of. That by the time things slow down and I'm able to put two thoughts together again and actually figure out how people drink a cup of coffee while it's still hot...it won't matter any more.  Because I won't even know what I want anymore.

   It's not that I don't want others to succeed.   I mean, I'm happy for the "mompreneurs" that get the book deal or the HGTV show or the magazine feature.  O.k. so I might sob into my pillow for a hot second (or 10 minutes) but really, truly, good for them.  It's not that I want everyone to fail.  I don't.  It would just be nice to be a part of something too, every now and then.

   Oh goodness, no one wants to hear this.   I usually edit most of this stuff out but tonight I just don't have the energy.  So you can just move along to some other blog or podcast or periscope or whatever it is that the kids are doing these days, and I will be back to my sunnier outlook another day.

Over and out.



   Go ahead and do yourselves a huge favor and throw this book into your Amazon cart.  It's only $4.69 and if you have Prime you can get it in two days and it will change your life.  Thank me later.

   It has been a very long time that I've read this short of a book (a booklet, really) with this big of an impact.  And why make it longer?  Timothy Keller said in 44 pages what some haven't been able to say in 400.  This DIRECTLY addresses some painful issues I have been wading through lately.  Slogging through.  Trudging through.  Seeming to never quite find my footing or any solid ground to stand firm on.  The battle just drags on, and on, and on.

   The gist of the book is: WE'VE GOT IT ALL WRONG.  Everything in our culture today shouts "We need better self-esteem".  That somehow, magically, everything wrong in our lives would just disappear if we could just think more highly of ourselves.  But not only is that wrong, but it is actually causing the problem.  He kicks things off with stating that thinking highly of ourselves "is the reason we cannot get along, the reason there is no peace in the world, and the reason we cannot live at peace with one another." OUCH.

   He uses the example of Paul to give us an example of how this all works.  First of all, Paul knew a thing or two about the human ego.  Think about HIS backstory.  That is one overinflated, painful ego. But God works a glorious redemptive work in His life, and that painful history becomes something beautiful, and a personal theme of Paul's in Corinthians.

T. K. says our ego is four things.
1. Empty
2. Painful
3. Busy
4. Fragile

   Soren Kierkegaard says that "the normal human ego is built on something besides God.  It searches for something that will give it a sense of worth, a sense of specialness and a sense of purpose and builds itself on that." Hold the phone.

  Go ahead and read that over.  Can you even believe how SPOT ON that is?! I am freaking out a little.  I can not even begin to relay how true this has been in my life, sadly.  How, (for practically as long as I can remember now) there has been a little part of me frantically grasping and striving and reaching and straining and SEARCHING for things that will give me a sense of worth.  Specialness.  Purpose.  Identity.

   And that's because our ego is empty.  So we search around for these things to fill it, and put them in there one by one, and they rattle around and of course never even coming close to filling it because it is a GOD-shaped hole. It's like eating a single Cheerio and wondering why you feel hungry all the time.

  Secondly, it's painful.  T. K. points out that we never think about a part of our bodies until there is something wrong with it.  Have you thought about your forehead today?  Probably not.  But I'll bet if you have a migraine you've thought about it quite a bit.  In the same way, our ego hurts us all of the time because there is something WRONG WITH IT ALL OF THE TIME.  We may think people hurt our feelings, but they don't.  Our feelings are fine.  Our EGO gets hurt.

   And so, that brings us to his 3rd point...our ego is busy.  Busy, busy, little bee.  It is maxed out trying to fill up that emptiness.  And how, in particular?  By COMPARING and BOASTING.  In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points out that "Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person."  And it's so true.  Have you ever found yourself delighted with something, only to realize that someone else has it, and now you need something better?  Universal battle, people. The struggle is real.

   And last but not least, (and certainly NOT a shocker) our ego is fragile.  T.K. says it doesn't even matter if we have a superiority complex or an inferiority complex---feeling inferior just means our overinflated ego is deflated.  But that means it was overinflated to begin with.  So in danger of being deflated or deflated already----it's the same thing.  And it makes the ego incredibly fragile.

   "My drive in life comes from a fear of being mediocre.  That is always pushing me.  I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being but then I feel I am still mediocre and uninteresting unless I do something else.  Because even though I have become somebody, I still have to prove that I am somebody.  My struggle has never ended and I guess it never will."  --Madonna

   So we realize we have a problem. What do we do now?  Paul's secret--his self-worth and identity was in NO WAY tied to what people thought of him.  But there's more to it than that....it also wasn't tied to what HE thought of himself.  Our culture would tell us to remedy this ego-issue by "thinking highly of ourselves" or "decide who you want to be, and be it" or "it only matters what you think of yourself".

But it's a trap.

   It can't deliver.  Why?  Because even if we aren't letting others judge us, we are still judging ourselves.  Paul refuses to do that.  He says he KNOWS he is a sinner, but he doesn't connect it to his identity.  When we think of ourselves as a bad person, or a worthless person, and have no confidence, it is because we are judging ourselves, and the verdict is that we are not good enough.  And that's what all of humanity is searching for----the ultimate verdict that we are good enough.  Worth something.

But Paul refuses to do that because the ultimate verdict is already in.  

  Paul removes himself from the courtroom because the trial is over.  It is the Lord only who judges him.  His opinion alone, is the one that counts.  "And the problem with self-esteem whether high of low---is that, every single day, we are in the courtroom.  Every single day, we are on trial."

But how do we get there?  How do we get out of the courtroom we're trapped in??

   Humility.  But it's not what you think it is.  C.S. Lewis says that if we were to meet a truly humble person, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble.  They would not be telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually self-obsessed).  The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us.  Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of less of myself, but thinking of myself LESS.

And I will leave you with perhaps my favorite quote from the book:

 "A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person OR a self-loving person, but a self-FORGETFUL person".  
And that, my friends, is freedom.


3 months old.

   I'm a little late on this guy's 3-month update, but better late than never!  William continues to stretch out and pack on the lbs, clocking in at 14.2 and 25" currently.  For the most part, things have gone surprisingly well, although he is battling a cough right now that just does not seem to want to go away.  It has lingered f-o-r-e-v-e-r and so we're just trying to get all of that figured out.

   William is lucky enough to have two first cousins within two months of his age.  Parker (pictured above) on the Smucker side and Kason (pictured below, only a few hours old) on the Graber side.  I can't wait to watch these sweet boys grow up together!  

   In light of all that's been on my mind and heart lately with the school shooting and gender confusion in our culture, raising a son feels more weighty than ever.  I am raising a man who will have influence, leadership and authority in his home, church and community.  Randy and I will be the first influencers in his life.  The first motivators.  The first role models.  The first counselors.  The first advisers. 

   Sometimes this feel overwhelming and even a teensy bit terrifying, but mostly, it's just such an honor and a privilege.  Never let the fear of "the state of our society" deter you from having kids.  We don't need to raise our children in fear of what culture or the world around them will do to them.  Will we be perfect in our parenting?  Nope.  Will we make mistakes?  Definitely.  Been there, done that.  But we still don't have to live in fear.  For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.  

I cannot get that Roseburg shooter off of my mind.

   Not to give him glory or recognition, or make him a celebrity, but something we HAVE TO RECOGNIZE is that somebody, somewhere, somehow, in that young man's life, missed him.  It may have been his mother, father, grandparents, friends, or all of the above, but in any case, someone missed him.  Someone wasn't seeing him, caring about him, nurturing him, and calling him to greatness.  Someone wasn't teaching him that God doesn't give us a spirit of fear.  

Because he gave into fear.
He gave into weakness.
He gave into cowardice.
He gave into hate.
He gave into powerlessness.
He gave into destruction.

   And perhaps now, more than ever before, the world needs a generation rising up who hears those things.  We need sons and daughters being surrounded with strength and love and HOPE.  Not perfection!  I would never even dream of attaining perfection in my parenting.  But we cannot let that stop us!  There is too much riding on us to let perfection bring us down.  

   We need to stand up tall in the MIDDLE OF OUR MESS and be thankful for the opportunities to show grace, forgiveness, redemption and second chances to our children.  They need to see that too. Imagine what a different world this could be if the children grew up seeing that.  

If only that young man had grown up knowing that. 


We are living in dark times.

My heart is heavy.

   Yesterday, a gunman (who doesn't deserved to be named in this blog post) walked into a community college here in Oregon and spewed hate and venom and bullets.  A survivor told her dad (before she was rushed off to surgery) that he was singling out Christians.  Asking people huddled in fear and terror on the floor to stand if they believed in Jesus and when they did, saying "Good.  You will get to meet God in about one minute" before shooting them.

   And as horrific as all of this is, even before I knew it had happened, I was feeling weighted down by the darkness in this world.

   I had been doing so well....not writing or ranting about the things that were casting a shadow over my heart.  Because it just doesn't feel worth it.  Not that I'm afraid of offending people with it.  I'm not.  But because it honestly doesn't feel worth the pain.  I still can't even watch those undercover Planned Parenthood videos.  I feel like my heart would literally explode in anguish.

   But somewhere along the line, something broke.  And it was the most unlikely of straws that broke the camel's back this time.  It wasn't Planned Parenthood.  It wasn't ISIS.  It wasn't even the shooting in Roseburg.  It was a young boy named Corey.  (Click this link to find out more)

   Corey is a gender-confused boy who, (like Matt Walsh pointed out) at an age far younger than we allow children to drive, or drink beer, or get a tattoo, is being encouraged by his mom to "transition" into living life as a girl.  And, for his 14th birthday, his mom gifted him his first package of estrogen patches.

  I can not even begin to describe the turmoil I have felt over this young man.  I don't know if it's because of the abuse and confusion and neglect that he is currently experiencing, or because of the dismal future that lies ahead of him, but I feel sick.  And you know what?  Our culture is applauding it.  Celebrating.  Rejoicing.

   I was on my way home from a Zumba class and quite unexpectedly, I found tears streaming down my cheeks as my heart was completely overwhelmed at the thought of this boy.  Why was no one fighting for him??  Is there really no one in his entire world that cares enough to step up and say, "I can see you're hurting.  I can see you're confused.  I can see you're lost.  I will help you.  I will fight for you.  We will make it through this."

   We are DESTROYING OUR CHILDREN, PEOPLE.  Maybe we're not all having abortions and literally killing them, but we are destroying their identity, their future, their hope.  Who will fight for them?  Who will show them the way??

   And then there's Jazz Jennings, who at the tender age of four, began his battle with gender confusion.  Instead of helping him, his parents gave up on him.  They deserted him in his hour of deepest need.  They dressed him as a girl, and encouraged him to pursue this path of destruction and despair.  You can find more on his story here.   I mourn the loss of those two boys.

I am so sorry Jazz.
I am so sorry Corey.
I am so sorry you didn't have anyone in your life to show you light and truth and hope and love.

   We CAN NOT afford to be naive and ignorant about this issue.  We cannot afford to simply look the other way.  It is real and it is happening all around us, and our children are growing up in a world where the lines are grayer than ever.

   And perhaps the reason it is most deadly and dangerous?  It goes so much farther and deeper than which public bathroom to use.  It is deadly because if Satan can get our children to be confused about who they are, even when they can literally LOOK INTO A MIRROR AND SEE THE TRUTH, than what CAN'T he get them to believe?  If they can't believe an absolute truth about their own physical bodies, how will they ever believe an absolute truth about their eternal reality?  If they can't believe in absolute truth about human genders, how can they ever believe in an absolute truth about a holy God?

   When we wrap our arms around confused children who are lost and desperately searching for hope, and we whisper in their ears...."Your body isn't who you really are".  Then what we are really saying to them is, "There is no hope.  What you are, isn't real.  Nothing is real.  Nothing is true".   And Satan wins.  He wins and wins.

   I feel like sinking into a pit of despair.  But I will cling to the hope that is found in Psalm 11:

In the Lord I take refuge.
    How then can you say to me:
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
    they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
    at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”
The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
    his eyes examine them.

The Lord examines the righteous,
    but the wicked, those who love violence,
    he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
    fiery coals and burning sulfur;
    a scorching wind will be their lot.
For the Lord is righteous,
    he loves justice;
    the upright will see his face.

The Lord sees.
The Lord knows.
The Lord is in his holy temple.
The Lord is on his heavenly throne.

He's got the whole world, in his hands.


Little bits of life.

Our grapes this year went bananas.

   I didn't even let the children eat many this summer because I wanted to be sure we had enough to make grape juice.  50+ quarts later, I stopped counting and started kicking myself for not letting them eat to their heart's content.  That is TOO. Much. Grape juice folks.  

   My kitchen was a disaster, everything was sticky, I had a kink in my neck and I was perpetually grumpy.  Which just provides me material for chapter #26 for my bestseller entitled, Why Canning Isn't Worth It.  

   I know we'll be grateful for that sweet taste of summer in the middle of winter with a bowl of popcorn while watching something with Debbie Reynolds in it, but man.  It nearly killed me.  At least it's over.  And much to my surprise, the green grapes make just as nice a juice as purple.  I mixed in a few purple and so it made the sweetest pink color, like grapefruit juice, and will be so fun for parties.  


   William continues to charm our socks off.  For some reason my girls never developed many nicknames, but with this guy, we can't seem to get enough of them.  Jocelyn was mainly Joce, Jocie, or occasionally, Jocer Arafat.  Charlotte had Charlie, Charli-babes, and her most recent (courtesy of her daddy) Charles Nelson.   William, on the other hand, has had none of the ones I assumed we would use, like Will or Liam.  So far it has been Bud, Buddy, Bubs, Bubsie Wubsie, Sweet Bubbers, and a whole lot of other nonsensical ones that just seem to fit him perfectly.  I hope they don't turn into a "thing" though, you know, like the 40-yr-old man you meet at the park named "Bubba"?  Anyway.  It's what comes most naturally for now, so I guess we'll roll with it.  

  The girls have their own set of terms of endearment.  If they add "Boom" to your title?  You know you're doing something right.  

"You're just a BOOM daddy." 
"You're just the Boom-est mama."

High honor there, folks.

   We have traded the days of potty training and sippy cups for preschool and learning to ride a bike, and I honestly believe these are some of the best days of our lives.  When they are walking down the aisle all dressed in white, THIS is the age I will see them in my mind.  Not necessarily an infant in little footie jammies, but this age.  Right here, right now.  Ponytails and skinned up knees and residue from popsicles dripping down their chins.  3 and 4 will forever be some of my favorite ages of all time.  It will break my heart to see them go.  

Charlotte especially, has just really been coming into her own lately.  

   She is just brimming with personality and brings so much joy to our lives.   I can already tell, this girl is just going to be one of those that things come easily for.  It makes my heart swell but it also makes me pause and remind myself not to lose her in the shuffle.  

   The shuffle of attention to an older one who deals with social situations differently.  The shuffle of the daily care for baby brother.  The shuffle of passing over her to tend to others because she is already strong, confidant, secure.  The squeaky-wheel-gets-the-oil type of shuffle.  I want to remember to give her the time that she needs.  Her little tank needs to be filled just as much as the others, those needs just may look different.

   After a particularly hard day with my little charges, Randy came home from work with a a vase of fresh flowers and an iced coffee.   

   I think one of the most beautiful things about being married to someone is the fact that someone in your life will really learn to KNOW you.  To know how to speak that secret language of love that only you know.  People will come and go in and out of your life, friendships will bloom and fade, but in a marriage, someone will be there every day.  Will try to understand you, speak love to you, care for you.  

   And of course, it's not perfect.  But I don't think it should be.  If it were perfect, and we never had dirty socks to turn inside out on laundry day, or fingernail clippings left on the end table, then fresh flowers and iced coffees wouldn't be as magical.  The imperfections serve a purpose...they serve as a backdrop for the striking beauty of relationship.  The good and the bad, for better or for worse.  

And trust me, he's seen my faults and flaws and ragged imperfections, and he still loves me. 

And I think that's what it's all about. 

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