Friday, May 30, 2014

Red, White and Balloons - Letchworth State Park

As I mentioned in this post, most of our family spent Sunday afternoon at a nearby State Park for their annual balloon festival.  This was our first time and I really hope to be able to go again next year.

If you've ever been to Letchworth State Park, you know that it is referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East (as are several other gorges, etc. on this side of the country).  The history surrounding it is filled with stories of Indians, the famous story of Mary Jemison, the Council of the Six Nations, etc.  As we walk and view the gorgeous scenery of the park, it is easy to picture the Native Americans living there 200 years ago.

If you are from this area, you also know the gorge is deep…very, very deep.  The cliffs go straight down.  The barrier walls are so low they are basically pointless.  Sometimes the pointless walls are nonexistent.  You have heard the many stories of people who have died there.  Every. Single. Year.  These are the stories that make my mother-heart panic every time I get within 10 feet of the gorge.  I used to go to Letchworth all the time as a kid. I never panicked.  Once, just my husband and I went.  No panic attacks.  I go with my kids….and I flip out.  Seriously.  I have never experienced such uncontrollable fear as I do when I am at Letchworth.  I have learned to just walk away when I get like that….holding onto the hand of my youngest child, of course.

However, Sunday was different.  Well, once the balloons took off.  When my focus was on the balloons above, down the stream, and even below me…I wasn't concerned with the danger of the gorge.  Gone were my motherly concerns and my child-like spirit of wonder returned for a few minutes.  I oohed and ahhed with my kids and snapped many pictures.  I was in awe of these massive, floating works of art.

There is no way I could capture the wonder of it all, but I loved capturing the brilliant colors.

filling the balloon

a pile of colors

about ready to launch

"we have lift-off"

I love New York


loved seeing the TOP of this balloon as it floated below us

deep in the gorge

While I absolutely loved watching these, I doubt anyone could ever get me in a hot-air balloon.  If I lose control on solid ground at the edge of a cliff, can you imagine what I would be like in a tiny basket hundreds of feet in the air with nothing but a little flame to keep me afloat?!  

Makes me grateful that it is "On Christ the solid rock I stand…" My God is a rock, though my faith may sway like the basket.  Trusting in Him always in all things.  

May you have a blessed weekend trusting Him.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Aunt Thelma

I think we've all done it.  I have done it more times than I care to admit.  I get together with someone and "commit" to call, write, visit more often.  I will write or e-mail a few times, "gets in the way" and, before I know it weeks, months and years pass without communication.

Sometimes, I get to re-connect and make the commitment again and do better.  Other times, I never get that second chance.  Sometimes, I find out that the next time I talk to that person will be in heaven.

My aunt died this morning.  She was my dad's "twin."  She was older than my dad, but her looks and personality matched his exactly.  She loved life.  She loved people.  She laughed.  She listened.  She made her home in Florida and California and I only saw her a handful of times in my life.  The last time was 7 years ago when a bunch of us met up in Daytona Beach to memorialize my father - her brother.  I will never forget walking into the restaurant the first night and seeing her.  It had been years since I had seen her last and I was shocked to see my father's face!  I am not sure I have ever seen a brother and sister look so much alike.  I got to know her during those few days and she told me much about my family I had never known.  She was a true treasure - a woman who loved life and loved God.  She was an example that I could have benefitted getting around more.

After that reunion, some letters were exchanged, but I selfishly focused on my own little world.  I didn't make the time to sit and write a letter or make a phone call.  Even after my cousin told me Aunt Thelma was ill, I never called.  I rationalized that I wouldn't have the right words.  Of course, that was ridiculous....with my aunt I didn't need the right words.  I just needed to tell her I hadn't forgotten about her.  But, I didn't do that.

As she was so much like her brother, I know she didn't have hard feelings.  I am not even sure she was hurt by my lack of communication.  Which makes me sadder because those who don't form expectations deserve so much.

When will I learn to stop just thinking about those I love and start communicating that love to them?  Hardly a day passed when I didn't think of my Aunt Thelma, but years have passed without me telling her that.  Now, I cannot tell her.

I'd like to think I will keep in better contact with my remaining family on my dad's side.  I have already looked into plane tickets for this summer.  I am praying a little thing like money won't hold me back from seeing their faces.  I do hope that I will write and drop a line...even via technology...more often.  I think of them all the time.  I am realizing more and more what a precious - and temporal - gift they all are.

Right now, I do smile at the thought of my aunt being reunited with her parents, her sister, and her brother.  They are smiling, laughing, talking all at once, and loving...even more than they did here on earth.  She is hugging my dad, like I wish I could.  I hope she is telling him all about our time in Florida when we were all together.  I hope she tells him that his kids loved him and miss him.  I hope she knows we loved her and miss her now.

I love you, Aunt Thelma.   To my Aunt Peggy, Uncle Richard and cousins....forgive my selfishness.  I love you, all, and please know I will try to do better in letting you know that more often.

Aunt Thelma is the smiling lady to the far right

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Gift of Today

I really should be in bed, but I quick wanted to just share the gift of my day.  

My husband has been working like a mad-man for several weeks.  It's what happens when you are a farmer and winter goes long and then the rains come.  He has to make up for lost time, runs from the tractor, to the planter, to the spray truck and then all around again.  Over and over for weeks.  He comes home to eat and to sleep.  Here and there we get snatches of conversation.  Every so often an "I love you & miss you" text is sent and received.

But, today.  

Today he was all ours.  He and I woke up this morning around 6:30 and he took me out for breakfast. Muffins, hot chocolate, and early morning chatting.  Later, we went to church together as a family….together, meaning in the same vehicle.  No reason for him to drive separately as he didn't have to rush home to get to work!  

After a wonderfully restful nap, we then packed up 6 of our kids (our oldest is at my brother's house) and headed to a nearby park to enjoy their hot-air balloon festival (of which I will post pictures of in a couple of days).  We walked, we marveled at God's beauty, we marveled at the colorful balloons, we ate, we played….we savored our time together as a family.  

We returned home around 9:00.  Once I put the children to bed - all of whom had smiles on their faces - my best friend and lover took me out to dinner.  Oh, it was fast food, but it was just the two of us.  Talking, laughing…dating.  We parked our van in a field (don't get nervous) and talked some more and listened to some music we grew up on.  

Today was a wonderful day.  God has blessed me abundantly and I am thankful for His gifts….

Summer.  Family.  Memories.  Love. 

Now, I am going to go to bed.  I know my dreams will be sweet.  I hope that yours are, as well.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

School's Out

We are finishing up our school year over here.  It is always good to put the year of hard work behind us and look forward to a time of rest and refreshment.

It's been quite a year. It was my first year having all seven of my children in school (or, in homeschool terms - "doing" school). My youngest began the year without knowing how to read - he really didn't even know the sounds of most of the letters in the alphabet.  Now, he's finishing the last of three 1st grade readers.  He will be entering the 2nd grade next year while my oldest will be going into the 12th grade.

Back when my oldest was 5 years old, the alphabet never looked so scary.  And numbers! How would I ever teach him to read or to count?  Now I wish I could just be teaching him to read again.  The future has never looked so scary and uncertain.  College?  Job?  Who will hire him?  What influences will surround him?  Will he make it?

But, I digress.  That's a whole other blog post.

This year, many lessons were agonized over.  Tears were shed.  Angry words were spoken.  Some tests were passed while some received a failing graded.  Some of my children sailed through subjects while others repeated one lesson for days until they got it.  Just when someone thought they had a handle on a concept, the next day everything turned upside down.  In the end, however, lessons were learned and each of my children are successfully entering the next grade.

These things are a part of every school year.  The emotions, the work, the successes, the failures….it's all part of learning.  School - the various subjects, the assignments, the tests - prepares young people for life.  They are learning to stick with something even when it becomes difficult.  They are learning to do things whether they like it or not.  They are learning how to deal with obstacles.  They are seeing their weaknesses and learning how to overcome with God's help…and some hard work.

What my children didn't fully realize this year is that I was learning along with them.  Oh, I wasn't taking Biology tests, learning penmanship, or doing Algebraic problems.  I was learning lessons that I will never forget - that will follow me throughout the rest of my life.  I got a glimpse of just how sinful I am.  I got a glimpse of just how amazingly merciful and gracious my God is.  Some days, the lessons were agonizing.  I spoke angry words.  I cried for hours and days with few people ever knowing.  There were many mornings I didn't want to get out of bed.  Then, there were the days I felt the strength and grace of God so much that I felt my test had been passed with flying colors and I was ready for the next grade. Two days later, everything would turn upside down.

This morning, I sat on the couch next to my youngest while he read.  I thought about how I sat there earlier this year in my sin and in my selfishness.  I thought about how I sat there in the middle of the year…
                             reaching and grabbing onto the hand of my Saviour.
And I thought about how I sat there today…still humbled, still holding onto His hand,
                                                           but healed,
                                                                               wiser.  Only by His grace.

Just as I hesitantly graduate my son to the 12th grade, I hesitatingly take a step out of this chapter with many lessons learned and ready for the next thing God has for me.

It's been a tough year.  My kids have struggled with many of their lessons.  So have I.  But, they have learned them and are ready to move on.  As am I.  My kids look forward to a summer off.  I look forward to a summer communing with my Lord.  By His grace, we'll each enter the next school year rested and refreshed…and ready for our next lessons.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Weighed Down with Blessings

The memories created this past weekend are ones I will forever cherish.  From Friday night through Sunday, I was inundated with blessings.

Friday night was our annual HOPE Night - a culmination of our homeschool co-op's year.  Each grade level presented something - from the 2 year olds right up through our college-age guys.  The kids were happy, sang and recited with excellence and God received the glory.  I was especially pleased with the 7-9th grade Public Speaking class I was honored and blessed to teach this year.  They have been working hard on a skit entitled "At the Cross" (can be found here).  The audience "met" characters who knew Jesus or met Him on His way to the cross.  Peter, John, Mary - the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Simon of Cyrene….just to name a few.  My prayer was that what Christ did on the cross would become more real to "my kids" and then they would be able to make it more real to the audience.  I believe my prayer was answered.  Afterwards, "my kids" (my students are much more than students.  I have grown to love them.  Therefore, I naturally refer to them as "my kids.") surprised me and all came marching up the center aisle to present me with beautiful flowers and a basket overflowing with things I love - coffee gift cards, chocolate truffles, caramel creams, scarves, nail polish, things for my hair, etc.  Their outpouring of love made me cry.  How humbled and blessed I am to have gotten to know these wonderful young people.  How blessed I am to be a part of such a ministry.

Saturday evening, a handsome young man escorted me to the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra's presentation of the music of John Williams.  Ok - the handsome escort was my 16 year old son.  The Kodak Hall at Eastman is just as beautiful as it has always been and to be surrounded by friends and beautiful music is a bit like heaven for me.  I smile now remembering the look of intent attention on my son's face as he listened to his first Philharmonic concert.  I cannot wait to go with him again.

Sunday was a day filled with love.  My husband went out early to get things for breakfast, only to find me already in the kitchen with my youngest daughter helping me whip up some pancakes when he got home.  He got some of my favorite things - a way he shows his love for me.  My kids wrote notes for me and were generally kind. We went to my mother's church, as did my brother and his family.  We heard a wonderful message honoring moms and then the whole crazy gang went for lunch to a cozy family restaurant with delicious food.  The day was beautiful with clear blue skies, warm temperatures and bright sun, so the drive home was very nice.  I got a bit of a nap and, after eating dinner with my in-laws, my husband and I went for a walk with our 3 youngest.

Truly, a weekend dreams are made of.  So, you can imagine my confusion when I went to bed feeling sad last night and woke up this morning in the same condition.


It took me a while to realize it, but, I truly was laden down with blessings.  So much love had been poured on me and, while I tried to bless others this weekend, I wasn't able to "off-load" as much as had been heaped upon me.  It was almost as if too much "glory" had been placed upon me.  Glory is not easily handled by humans as it is truly meant for God.  I knew the only way I could obtain a lighter heart was to bestow blessing and love on others.  By loving others, I glorify God; therefore, I am returning the glory given to me back to where it belongs.

So, I immediately began praying for others.  Then, I texted those people to let them know I was thinking of and praying for them.  This shows love.  I wrote cards of sympathy to friends who are grieving and I began to write thank you notes to the many who blessed me over the weekend.  I was able to sit and chat with a traveling preacher's wife and just enjoy the sunshine with her.  I was able to open my home for a very casual supper tonight - but those who joined us had fun and, I hope, felt love.

By showing acts of love and trying to bless others, my heart is, indeed, lighter.  The focus is off of me and on others.  The glory is going to God, just as it should.

I have learned that being sad and feeling weighed down isn't always from too many cares - but sometimes, it comes from too many blessings.  We must sometimes give away blessings in order to really experience the joy of the blessings given to us and feel lighter.

So, tonight, I feel loved.  I feel blessed.  I feel happy.  I feel ready to continue loving and blessing others.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Love, Cherish, and Take Pictures

Last night, one of my friends on Instagram posted this picture:

She asked that we pray for a family who lost their three-year old, Ryan, tragically. The drawing is in memory of the little boy.  *this drawing can be found here*

I clicked on the link to the Instagram feed of Ryan's mother, Jacqui (@babyboybakery).  On Jacqui's feed were many, many photos of little Ryan and his parents - a family obviously very much in love with each other.  The most recent photo in her feed was of Ryan running through Disney-land.  His mother wrote that it was a milestone for him to be running past his stroller rather than riding in it.

The picture was posted Friday.  Ryan died Friday night.  He was hit by a truck while he innocently ran to get a frisbee that had landed in the road.  You can read the story here.

Tragic. Sad. Heart-breaking.

I never knew Ryan existed until after he no longer did…not on earth, anyway.  I will probably never meet his parents.  They obviously don't live the same kind of life I live nor do they even live on the same side of the country in which I live.  Opposites in many, many ways from the looks of it - except in how we love our children.  Without ever speaking or typing a word to me, Ryan's mom has reminded me of what is important and to cherish every moment with my children.


Ryan's mom posted picture after picture of her son finding joy and awe in the every day moments of his life.  He didn't have cancer or some life-threatening disease.  He was healthy and full of life.  She had no idea she would never see his fourth birthday.  Yet, she cherished every moment.  She cherished the times he ran, the times he spent snuggling with her and his daddy, the times he played and the times he just enjoyed a snack.

And she took pictures.  Pictures that are now treasures.  Pictures that will make her cry and cry, but will one day make her smile and, yes, laugh again.  Pictures in which she will remember her "everyday" angel.

I used to think it was a bit over-the-top to take pictures of the kids doing "nothing."  However, Ryan's "nothing" moments are everything now.  They are cherished moments.  They are moments his mother will relive over and over whenever she sees his face looking back at her from the screen or the frame.

There are thousands of mommy-photographers out there that will intimidate you with their expensive cameras, huge lenses, odd terminology and advice about the perfect picture.  Ignore them.  Get out your fifty-dollar camera you bought at Target or pull out your cell phone and start capturing moments.  Your child holding your hand, swinging on a swing, getting licked in the face by the dog, rolling down the grassy hill.  Capture those moments.  And don't forget to aim the camera at that gangly, awkward teenager.  They may make odd faces or grumble, but the moments with them are fleeting even faster.

Our children may live to become old men and old women.  However, our time with them is short.  In some cases, shorter than we could possibly imagine.  I have been reminded to make the most of my time with my children and capture even the mundane moments.  One day, they won't be mundane…they will be precious memories.

Pray for Jacqui and Dan as they grieve the sudden loss of the son they adored.  As you think of them, take a picture…or two or ten…of those you love and cherish.