Friday, July 29, 2016

Two Barbies

Soap-caked and scraggly the black Barbie and her white Barbie sister lay at the bottom of the dried up tub. Abandoned, and slightly stuck to the inner side where they were less conspicuous, it had been two days since they bounced and swam with force by three year-old hands through the warm bubbly water. I stood staring at them and my eyes burned with the filling of another set of tears. I had scrubbed her chubby body quickly while explaining where she was about to go, that she was leaving us for awhile. She had cried and I cheerfully chatted on about all the fun she would have, first at her Grandma's, then to Mommy's (where she loves to visit anyway).  I told her how spoiled and loved she would be. I was careful not to let a smidgen of my heartache slip through my voice. It would be unfair. She wouldn't understand, it would confuse her, and it wouldn't be fair to her momma who was taking her back. Two Barbies--one black, one white--a symbol of two families united. Now, as they lay in my tub, her absence was even more obvious. I left them there and walked out of the bathroom. 

Prayer is a powerful thing. We knew when we brought little Ashanti into our home two years ago that it would be prayer that would sustain us through the tantrums and sleepless nights. We knew crying out to God would be our only choice when we were faced with big questions. It would be deep and sincere prayers of gratitude that we would utter because this exuberant and adorable girl changed our world and our family for the better. And, now, it will be in prayer that we feel our Father hold us tight as we mourn the everyday loss of her sweet presence. It was prayer that took her from us too. Good prayers. Fasting and petitioning God for His wisdom for what was right for this tiny person. We felt that growing up with her birth-momma would help her to know where she came from, that the woman who brought her into this world loved her and wanted to raise her, that she had a heritage. We knew we could be a good substitute, if that was God's plan, but we hoped her mother would choose to keep her. And she did. 

We sat around the table on the deck last night and my husband asked our children how they were feeling about Ashanti leaving. There were honest responses about annoying little preschooler behaviour they wouldn't miss, and then there were the stories. The stories made us laugh and then the voice imitations of her raspy little sounds led to even more hysterics. I reminisced about all the surprising and beautiful things Ashanti's mother taught me about her African culture. We had agreed and we had disagreed on a few things. She had questioned Canadian ways, but we always respected each other. 

Our girl was deemed our "goddaughter" by her mother and we had stood by at Ashanti's dedication to the Lord when she was just a few months old. This was a very important title to her mother, she said, and so, she has promised to share her little girl's future with us. How loving and giving of our God to allow us the privilege of rearing a child for a couple of years and then keeping us connected to her so we can see the profound things He will do in her as she grows. All good answers to prayer, no matter how the emotions wash over in this moment.

Two Barbies still lay in the bathtub. One is black and one is white. Two families are united and God is in the middle of it all. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Goodbye Grade Eight

Music composition flows from her like water as her tiny nailpolished fingers strum her guitar. We catch on to the songs if we listen very closely. She doesn't like to perform, which disappoints all of us who ache to hear the last one she wrote, and maybe even the one before that? But no, we must remember the little diddies from rare moments of her singing aloud in our presence. When that happens, we're all walking around humming the cute or profound tunes Molly writes. 

This talent from her Creator was the focus of my speech at the two-family graduation dinner. Molly begged to not have to walk across a stage in front of a crowd like her big sister did. So, we arranged for our girl and her friend, Elizabeth, also a homeschooled grade eight grad, to have some pampering and dress shopping and then a small ceremony with grandparents. My mom and I gave short speeches and so did Elizabeth's mom and then we presented elementary school certificates. I touched on some of my girl's accomplishments and leadership roles, her talents and loves. But, it was that song writing that I was feeling most drawn to as I was composing my speech. My guess (and prayer) is that the Lord will use this one in a big way. 
We love you, Molly! We pray you will always listen for the Lord's voice in all you do and follow Him with all your heart. Congratulations and have fun homeschooling in grade nine! Ha! See you soon  ;)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Finding the Bluebirds

I grasp Annie's arm and stifle a giggle. We spot him at the exact same moment and two sets of binoculars pop up and lend us a nearly perfect view of the golden-crowned kinglet. She verbally describes the lores, the wings, the stripes on his crown. The description helps to confirm that what we're seeing is really the species we believe it is. We high-five and are eager to carry on down the path, but a tiny three year-old hand pulls on mine and I'm reminded we've been here quite awhile. I'm grateful she lasted this long.

We do the bird count as we meander back; "ruby-crowned, golden-crowned, horned lark, meadow lark..." It had been a successful hour of birding in our estimation. But, I wanted a bluebird, the sweet whistle-chirping beauty with the blazing cobalt feathers. Of course, I'd have to pick a dwindling species to be my favourite. Later that day I'd find him and even capture him with my camera--a little extra gift from God, I am certain. And while I am overjoyed in catching sight of new and returning flying creatures, I'm always on the lookout for my darling bluebirds.

Friday, April 22, 2016

All The Rage

They're smelly, puffy, sticky and cheap, and my children want them OH.SO.BADLY. It's all the rage in our world. They're sticker albums, and it's the thing that makes them do their chores quickly and whip through more pages of schoolwork than ever before. Every kid wants to trade them and my sister and I have got this thing mastered. We figure it's an easy reward and even an inexpensive gift and so, we scour dollar stores and craft stores for the latest and greatest. Sticker power is in our hands and we're rolling with it! What we didn't expect, after I'd found my old album from grade seven, is that we'd join the exchange and the competition would end up being between the mommas--history repeats itself :)

serious business
 smelling the "smellies"
"I'd like this one, please."
 a few of my favourites 
Holly's son, Ben begged her to get a book to trade with him since his brother, Sam became more of a collector than a trader--AND, he was not about to trade with 2 year-old sister, Clara, who was not a "real person". Holly obliged, and thus began the sister trade. All of our kids were thrilled. While I joined the fun simply to make my kiddos happy, Holly actually has a page of "untradeables" and won't budge on them!
 Oliver and Ben became daring and traded whole pages! Wish I'd caught the laughter over those deals.
 involving Clara and trying to teach her that she has to give one in return
Emily being sweet with her little cousin
A page from my old album (31 years old!). Remember these?
Did you trade stickers as a kid? Do your kids trade or collect?

The sticker rage is growing and it has spread to our co-op group and gym class. No one can wait to get out and trade. They're learning who makes the best deals, who really is just a collector and who gives away for free. The momma-chatter is now centred around which store and which aisle and what chores did your kids do before you woke up this morning? Simple joys. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"Don't Worry, Mommy's Coming Back"

She's talking to her dolly about how she's going to go but she'll be back. Her dolly is telling her she doesn't want to be sad. The sleepy girl notices I'm listening and then she turns and giggles. She loves it when I sing, "My Mommy Comes Back" and sometimes repeats it to her babies. Quiet moments before bedtime happening here, and I'm thankful. 

1992. how she loves her babies, just like my girls did
1993. that smile, every time 
1994. hanging out quietly after a very busy and noisy day

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

First Day Of School in 9 1/2 Years

It all began with a cupcake. Meg and I surprised my niece by pulling her out of her grade eleven class to bring her a birthday treat and a wee squish. She was thrilled. Somehow that little trip turned into a visit with the guidance counselor, which trickled coversations that led to a flood of events and eventually, Meg's enrolment in her parents' old Christian school. In February, this kiddo stepped onto the bus for the first time since grade one. I took photos like a mom with a brand new kindergartener, and the whole family stood waving at the door.  Things have been quite different around here.
Humouring her momma with a "first day" photo.
Saying goodbye to a little sister one morning.

Amidst the homework and early mornings, our girl adores her new routine and has made countless friends already. There are missing moments here at home, but all in all, the Lord's leading is obvious. Now, we are witnessing our next teenager rise to new heights of responsibility. An unexpected wonder. God bless you in your new school, Meggie!

(Attempting to go back and catch up since January and regretting not keeping up! So many photos! Stay tuned! And, thanks Sarah and Betty for reminding me I have ignored my blog for too long :)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Big Baby

She keeps reminding us that she's nearly an adult, but we don't believe her. We see a toddler when she turns and flashes a cheeky grin. We see a little girl aching to become a ballerina when she twirls into the living room. We see a child who's just trying out her new bicycle when she sits all big in that driver's seat in the truck. Nope, we're not convinced. She's still young and dependent and just dreaming of being grown up. It can't really be happening, can it? She turned 17. But that's just a number. Our big baby still likes being carried and we choose to disagree that this kid, of whom we are so proud, is nearly an adult. 

Happy birthday, Big Baby. We love you :)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Live Below The Line--Day Five

Three sweet, solemn faces stare back at us from their magnetized place on our refrigerator. They are our sponsored boys from Africa, and this week we attempted to experience a tiny taste of what they've known all their lives. It was next to impossible, of course, as our poorest in Canada live as kings compared to some countries simply because of our options and government aid. However, without starving and stressing my children (too much ;), my hope was to elicit more compassion from them and to turn sympathy to empathy with this "project". Their journals depict some evidence of that, but it is only the Lord who will use their participation in the future as He leads them to care for the poor in whatever capacity He has called them each to assist.

At the conclusion of this week, I'm so thankful for the roof over my children's heads, food in their bellies, and happiness in their voices. This video is confirmation of that. Perhaps my gratitude was all this occurrence was meant to invoke. To God be the glory.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Live Below The Line--Day Four

Popcorn shot out of the air popper like bullets and Oliver tried shielding the opening with his hands. Ashanti convulsed with giggles over the hilarity of it all. The two of them were beyond excited to be having a snack--and a filling one at that. Our challenge has caused much complaining whining, I must say, and the lessons may be grasped more in the future when they can apply their experience. I'm counting on it. When one child stood whining with a contorted face about how starving he/she was, I "threatened" to add a second week. Sigh. Perhaps this momma's zeal isn't as contagious as she thought :)
(They look like they're cheering, but really, they're holding their arms up like Moses, so that the popcorn will pop better and not spew all over. I had told them the story earlier about how the Israelites would begin to lose the battle against their enemy as soon as Moses lowered his arms. When he tired, Aaron and Hur had to hold them up so that the battle would turn and be in their favour. That God of ours--He has such mysterious ideas :)

Whether you call it a blessing, or cheating on our challenge, we ate at a restaurant for Emily's birthday tonight. Boy, were those kiddos thrilled to be eating menu food! Since I'm on my yearly January Daniel Fast, I stuck with lighter fare. However, I must say, sizzling mushrooms with garlic are pretty mouth-watering when someone else makes them. In the end, I think the contrast between these past few days and the restaurant meal was enough to demonstrate a powerful point--people living in poverty don't have this luxury, and for that, I believe we were all grateful.

Happiest of birthdays, Emily! You were a good sport wearing those big horns and being "yelled-sung" to with the whole place watching :)

Love how the staff get right into the birthday song.

One more day... praying the Lord will use this challenge to move our hearts to greater compassion for our neighbours, here and abroad, living in extreme poverty.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Live Below The Line--Day Three

Whoever oppresses the poor 
shows contempt for their Maker, 
but whoever is kind to the needy
 honors God. — Proverbs 14:31,  

Do you know anyone who is poor? I mean, really poor. Many families may be struggling to pay off debt, participate in special activities, take a vacation or buy more than second-hand clothing, but I'm talking about people who don't know how they'll feed their children. I'm focusing on those in poverty, in our country, who are facing eviction, who don't own many assets, especially a vehicle. Thankfully, on this continent, our churches, government and other organizations fight to end poverty. The recent acceptance of Syrian refugees and the influx of generosity of Canadians to share their homes, meals, and other donations demonstrates the very desire of Jesus when He commands so often that we care for those in need. If we are never "rubbing shoulders" with the poor, we may be missing this important aspect of our calling. Besides sending a cheque to a worthy charity, why not look into how your family can roll up their sleeves and become personally involved with the poor in your community or beyond. Just a challenge that I know will pay dividends of love and gratitude!

Donning her ruffled apron, my mom gave her for an early birthday gift, Emily cooked up a healthy squash soup for all of us today. Again, a hit, with six out of seven loving it :) She also received a sweet little bird set of measuring cups which she promptly put to use. I think we're all getting used to fewer options for meals and smaller portion sizes. The soup though... that was like icing on a cake we didn't budget for this week :) 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Live Below The Line--Day Two

The pretty girl with the bouncy ponytail and the contagious laugh brought a large black garbage bag of clothes through the door. She chattered on with my mom about who knows what while my I dove into that bag. I was the first one to get my hands on it and I was closest in size to the generous girl we called "cousin". I yanked out a blue sweater and held it up to me. I squealed inside and thought, I won't be embarrassed wearing that old red one anymore. My salvation had come in the form of a fashion rescue and I was giddy with delight. Hand-me-downs were sunshine on a cloudy day at our house and I couldn't wait until school started.
I've been having flashbacks of my teenage years as I participate in this challenge with my family. As a child, so many emotions were involved with our financial struggle that I could barely dog-paddle in the deep waters of stress. It's true, I never felt destitute, as I mentioned yesterday, but there were specific moments when I sensed I embodied deficiency. I'm sure peer pressure and hormones played a large role in those feelings but they were there nonetheless. Today, as my children became a little more accustomed to what they were "allowed" to eat, I reminded them there's an end in sight for us, but perhaps not for others. We talked about how some children may never be able to escape a life of poverty and that they need to think about that when they're tempted to complain about the nutritious egg they had for breakfast. Every moment, every day we do this, it's sinking in a little more, for them, and for me.

Our meals today consisted of eggs and porridge, leftover homemade pizza, a handful of veggies, roasted chick peas, a little fruit, a hot dog and some milk. Each child had a cookie for a snack and I have coconut bread baking in the oven for tomorrow. Besides the odd meals that I can't buy organic or whole grain (and hot dogs are a rare treat they did not complain about :), I've surprisingly been able to feed my children healthy food. A quick text to my sister, Holly, confirmed this pleasant finding as she elaborated on the deals she was finding on delicious, nourishing food. I found it humbling and inspiring when she described how she and her husband would be giving grocery cards to those in need and ensuring those stores were on a bus route. We were both grateful we have an abundance of knowledge on health and nutrition because beginning the challenge with that awareness greatly affected how we spent our tiny budget--another scrap of a mentorship idea to tuck in our back pockets.

Just for you...

My Mom's Coconut Bread:

350 degree oven
-2 1/4 cups whole grain flour (we use spelt or coconut flour normally)
-2 tsp baking powder
-2 tsp cinnamon
-2 2/3 cups unsweetened coconut
-1/2 cup agave syrup, honey or soaked dates
-1/3 cup goat's butter or coconut oil
-2 eggs
-1 1/4 cups brown rice milk or coconut milk 
-1 tsp vanilla

Grease a loaf/bread pan (or use parchment paper). Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cream wet ingredients in another, then add to the dry mixture. Fold into loaf pan and pat into place.
Bake for 50 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.
Optional, for a treat: Drizzle with a lime glaze (1 squeezed lime, 1/4 cup cane sugar, 1/4 cup coconut milk).

This is a dense, delicious bread that can be tweaked with various types of ingredients. Enjoy!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Live Below The Line Challenge--Day One of Five Days

We're club joiners, my sisters and me. What I mean is, we turn all challenges and inspirations into clubs for each other. This time, Holly decided to take the Live Below the Line Challenge and invited us--and a couple hundred people on Facebook :)--to join her. Since we three sisters experienced poverty for a time in our childhood, we understand that perspective. However, as parents organizing, budgeting, worrying, praying about what to feed their children, we can only sympathize. For that, I am exceedingly grateful.

We didn't always know where our next groceries were coming from as teenage girls and a single mom living in a subsidized town-home, but somehow we never felt totally destitute. We had a gracious church that brought us food hampers and we always knew God would provide what we needed... because Mom told us He would. And, He did. When my mother couldn't make ends meet, Jesus brought us our basic sustenance--His Word at work, through His people, walking in a choice to listen to what they read.  

As a result of the Challenge invitation, I gathered my reluctant children and showed them how many verses in Scripture expound upon the importance of God's people caring for the needy. There's a lot. Do a search yourself and be amazed. He cares for them immensely and He requires we do too:

"'He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know Me?' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 22:16)

I desire that my family knows God in that way. And we do, for when we give, there is no more gratifying and blessed emotion than when sharing with fellow humans who are equal to us, but merely in a less fortunate position. Still, my kiddos were quite concerned that they might starve. They were all for giving, but feeling the pain of the hungry? Now that was another story! I assured them that they would not die, but that experiencing hunger pangs was probably a good thing. Our gratitude is directly related to our attitude and theirs needed to change--and so did mine. De-cluttering our home of unwanted things and donating a little money here and there doesn't lead to the true thankfulness that empathy does. And so, they agreed and we began this morning.

(Molly, journaling her response to the Challenge)

Live Below The Line is an organization that raises money to end extreme poverty and human trafficking. My sisters and I and our families are living this week on $1.75 per person per day. This includes all we eat and drink. (We did not join the actual group because we each have charities we are presently working with.) With seven people in my home, our allotment is $61.25 for all of us for the whole five days. That is the average for the poverty line for Canada. I'm sad to think that it's lower in some countries. I wondered, how would I continue to feed my family healthy options? Did we have to say goodbye to organic food? Is it true that we would succumb to Mr. Noodles and potatoes every day? I was concerned only about quality, not quantity. Eating less would be something we could (and should) all get used to.

So, I rolled up my sleeves, tapped on my calculator and got creative with our menu. I began by writing down items that were "unbudgeables", such as, eggs, milk, greens, of some sort, and apples. The rest would be "gravy".  The greatest challenge was the shopping! I've never stood in front of the grocery store shelves for so long, price-checking and comparing. Of course, as a newly-wed I weighed everything and carefully collected groceries that added up to my last dollar, but thankfully, recent married years have been overwhelmingly blessed and not penny-pinched. Finally, I arrived at home with the necessities and deducted food we already had that I didn't want to waste. And, if I purchased a large bag of rolled oats, for example, I divided it according to what I thought we would eat that week. I did not include condiments, olive oil, spices, salt and pepper, since I already owned these. I reconciled with myself that this budget could represent a needy family who may also have acquired these items as well. Perhaps I'm wrong.

The reality of it all began to sear my heart as I stood there between the soup and canned beans. I hadn't thought about soap, shampoo, toilet paper, medicine... and the list went on and on in my mind. I closed my eyes and prayed God would show us exactly what our lesson should be in all of this. I was already begin to feel it coursing through my veins. It was less about buying just the right groceries, less about being part of a new challenge, and more about awareness of the mothers who stand in that very aisle and nearly cry in their plight. Ashanti's desperate whining shook me from my thoughts. "Mommy! I neeeeed fishy crackers!" And I hurt for that poor momma all over again.

This morning was the beginning of Day One and my children began with a muffin--leftover from Sunday breakfast. Tomorrow, I warned them, would likely be oatmeal. (A couple of them don't like it, but if other kids don't have a choice, they don't either :)  There was no snack after math time. That was difficult for them. Lunch consisted of naan bread smothered in tomato sauce, grated cheese (on sale), melted in the oven and a few slices of veggies. I was able to swing a pretty tasty shepherd's pie for supper. I think six out of seven approved and so I am a victor :)

 (a nice, filling snack)

A few things I heard from them today:

"Mommy, I don't like porridge. What else can I have?"
"Do I have to do this challenge?"
"But, I have to be physically active today. I can't afford to not eat well!"
"What's for Snack?"
"You're not going to starve me, are you?" (Daddy, who agreed to this :)
"I think this is a very good idea."
"I'm really learning to be thankful."
"Are you going to eat that?" (gazing at sister's food longingly)
"I think we should do this all the time!"
"We don't really need more food than this."
"I'm happy with just a little."
"Don't forget Mommy bought popcorn kernels and that will last a long time."
"I'm glad you're making us do this."
(In prayer) "Lord, please help us to feel the pain that others feel when they're hungry."

And that was just one day.

Friday, January 1, 2016

It Is Well With My Soul

It's an unopened box and I'm shaking as I untie the strings of 2016. It's not trepidation, but excitement that quakes me. I have the certitude that my future is already covered by God, long before I was born, and I need only to know His will and walk in His ways to find success. Nothing happens to me that has not already passed through His hands. Years ago when I lay curled in fetal position in depression and heartache, I begged the Lord to heal my spirit and fast-forward me to the day I'd once again feel His joy. I knew it would come. I knew my God had me in the palm of His hand. I knew He was the lifter of my head. That's what kept me going and that's what allows me to stand on the brink of a new year and say, It is well with my soul. Where do you want to take me, Lord?

Skating at the arena my sister Hilary rented for all of us! (Even though I have no photos of her :(  Also missing from the pics are Mom and Bruce.)

I've exchanged "Happy New Year" about a hundred times--which is a good thing. But the sound of it becomes tiring and loses meaning after about the 37th time. What is it exactly that we are wishing? I think we desire that everyone we love or meet, who is cordial and returns the phrase, does experience happiness in the year that lies before them. But, the happiest of years are those in which one can say, It is well with my soul. They know to Whom they belong and where they are ultimately going (even if they don't know what tomorrow holds). So, Happy New Year, friends... I wish and pray that you know the peace and joy of Jesus in your heart and that 2016 is a year you look back on and see evidence of how He led you and how that made all the difference!