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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sixty-Five Years


Sixty-five years ago my Grandmother and Papa got married.

Sixty-five years of marriage.

Sixty-five years of family.

Sixty-five years of love.

Sixty-five years ago that handsome baseball player with the broken leg hobbled through the park and saw the loveliest sight he had ever laid eyes on...my grandmother.

He soon learned that she was not only beautiful but smart, determined, hard-working, serving and loyal.

It seemed only natural that she would be drawn to him. He needed help. She helps everyone.

He was also more than a ball player. He was hard-working, smart, witty, sensitive and responsible.

They got married.

They survived a war while oceans apart.

They adjusted to life after the war.

They built a lovely home with a beautiful and bountiful garden.

They raised four children.

They are still enjoying retirement. They travel together, play bridge together and serve in their church.

They are now surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

They have staying power. Sixty-five years worth of staying power.

Throughout my life, I've endured many times of instability.

When my parents divorced and I needed stability, I could go to their house. The routine never changed. Every night dinner was eaten at 5:30, homemade by my Grandmother, enjoyed by my Papa.

Every Friday night, TV with apples and popcorn and an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors. The flavor changed from time to time, from mint chocolate chip to pink bubblegum, but the routine never changed.

Saturday morning breakfast of fried eggs and a noontime meal of hamburgers.

It's still the same. The smoothness of their household routine never changed...has never changed.

The stability of their marriage never changed. The steadiness of their love never changed.

They are people who have demonstrated that love is a choice. It is a choice worth making and marriage is a promise worth keeping.

Through the ups and downs of life they have stayed together. Their marriage has lasted. They have lasting power, staying power.

They've established a legacy of faith, of love, of laughter and of service.

It reaches from coast to coast. From Oregon to Maryland and many places in between their sons and daughters are living their legacy.

It's large.

It's lasting.

It's strong.

Sixty-five years strong.

Happy Anniversary, Grandmother and Papa, I am so thankful for you and your legacy! I love you!!! XOXO

Monday, January 29, 2007

Julia Blogs!


Julia is now blogging. This is so exciting!

Andrew and I have been encouraging her to start her own blog. Her teacher says she needs to work on her writing. She is very to the point in writing. Her paragraphs and reports consist of the sentence, or maybe two, that state...her point.

This is really great if you are writing newspaper headlines, a radio announcer's script or public service announcements. There's not much room in there for gab.

Julia definitely has the gift of gab. She can talk your ear off. Talking is one of her favorite ways to make a boring day go by faster. Sometimes I have to get her to call her grandparents on the phone so I can rest my ears from listening. Don't get me wrong, I love that little voice. I'm just saying she's not usually short on words.

However, she hasn't yet realized that writing is somewhat like talking...only better. You can write for as long as you want without others responding while your thoughts are going smoothly or interrupting your eloquent masterpiece.

I think she first started to see the possibilities of a blog when she and Alyssa were fighting.


Speaking of fighting, arguing and name-calling, we have been working on giving others grace, turning the other cheek ("But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39) and considering others more highly than ourselves ("Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Philippians 2:3)

It is easy and natural to fight back, hit back, call someone a name right back. It is easy to return evil for evil; however, it is doing the hard thing to be kind to those who hurt us. The Bible clearly states that mean-treating someone is never okay. We are instructed over and over to love our enemies.

"But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44) "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." (Luke 6:27)

In fact, God's Word tells us that treating those who are mean to us kindly will "heap burning coals on their head."

"If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. " (Proverbs 25:21-22)

This has been a hard one to learn, to understand, to live here in the Smith household. After all, according to Dr. Dobson the only way not to have sibling rivalry is to not have siblings. In the Smith family, siblings are in abundant supply!

Why does God want us to treat those who persecute us with love? I believe it is because it takes grace to do this. It only takes human nature and the flesh to treat others in the same manner they treat you. To treat someone much better than they deserve takes grace from God and in doing this we are, in effect, witnessing of the grace God gave us in Jesus when we do this.

When my children started to learn that by returning kindness for evil they were telling others about Jesus, they began doing it a little more.

However, in the process of learning this rule, Julia and Alyssa were fighting. Alyssa was tormenting Julia with verbal threats. Julia, at her wit's end, retorted, "When I get my blog, I'm going to put a story on it saying you're the meanest sister ever!"

Not a proud parenting moment, but a funny one.

So, that was the beginning of Julia's quest for a blog.

Now that she actually has one, she would never ever put anything bad about her sister on it!

So, this weekend we began the set up. Julia wanted a pink blog, "like yours." She wanted it to be called "The Glad Chatter, like yours." When I asked her what she liked, she said, "Let me see yours."

This put "imitation" in a new light. I always knew they were watching everything I do, repeating everything I say, trying to discover what they like while using what I like as a starting point. I just didn't realize to what extent.

I was flattered, truly, I was. I also wanted her expression to be so uniquely her that it would bring her pride and joy when she looked at it. I was glad she was studying the model of my blog; however, I wanted hers to reflect her personality and her style...born of me while uniquely her.

This is how we are reflect Christ. Being born of Him while being uniquely us. We are each to be an individual expression of Christ.
Who knew blogging could be so spiritual? I hope I can remember this when she picks out an outfit, a hair cut, a restaurant, an activity, an interest, a best friend, a college, a job, a husband...

I want her decisions to reflect where she came from and who she is.

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children." (Ephesians 5:1)

Andrew and I tried to start brainstorming with her, coaxing out her uniqueness, her originality, her beautiful one-of-a-kind creative spirit.

After publishing and deleting a pink blog called "The Glad Chatter Jr." she got into the flow of things. She started having fun and experimenting with things she likes, things that make her the Julia that she is.

That mature-spirited little girl who has her own opinion about everything now has her own blog!

Go visit it!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

National I Love Babies Day


January 25 is a special day, a day worth celebrating, a holiday of sorts, for me. Today is the sixteenth anniversary of the day I fell in love with babies.

I mean I have always loved children. Being the oldest of nine cousins, I was always welcoming a new young 'un into the clan. I remember the first time I met all of them except the cousin two years my junior.

You could always find me entertaining them at family gatherings. I would walk around outside with the little ones pointing to things...tree, flower, cloud, etc.

As they got older we climbed trees, played tag and played hopscotch. I collected rocks, walked to the park and gathered acorns. We raked leaves and jumped, played football, soccer and baseball.

When I was in third grade, I started begging to babysit. I took the safe sitter class and begged some more. Finally, in fifth grade, I was crowned the title of "babysitter."

I played "sock" ball (a made-up indoor ball game that uses a roll of socks as the ball), raced cars, built block buildings, dressed Barbies and rocked baby dolls. I could put on puppet shows and play hide and seek for hours on rainy days.

In junior high and high school I was the girl who would rather babysit than go to a football game or a movie. I always knew that I love children!

I couldn't wait to have my own children. I loved to babysit and dream of my own home, my own children, my own family.

By that time I could cook a mean corny dog, scrumptious macaroni and cheese, crunchy fish sticks and chicken nuggets and buttery canned vegetables...and clean the kitchen, fold clothes and pick up toys.

I could rock babies, sing lullabies and even rock stuffed animals if need be.

I gave baths, changed diapers and got children to sleep with relative ease.

I had this babysitting thing down...I always knew how much I love kids!!

Then I came to college. I continued to babysit. I continued to love on children.

Then on January 25, 1991 my life changed forever. I fell in love with babies. You see, one particular baby, a baby with a very special place in my heart, entered this world...all seven or so pounds of him...and then I held him...on his birthday (well, maybe the day after)...and I fell head-over-heels in love with him...and with babies.



I loved the softness, the smallness, and the sweetness. I loved the short, shallow breaths, the limp cuddly body and the new-baby scent that I so deeply inhaled. I was in love...sweet, heavenly, blissful love.

I had always known that I love children, but now I was crazy about babies. It happened so suddenly that I wasn't expecting it. I had always thought babies were just littler versions of children, loveable yes, but un-unique from children. I was wrong...they were better, so much better. I couldn't wait to become a mom even more than I couldn't wait before that day. The tiny fingers, tiny toes and tiny, cuddly body that settles way down into the bends of your elbows were just too much for me to bear. I love babies!!!

Now, I hardly recognize the handsome, polite and sensitive young man that baby is becoming. I have to look twice but I can still see that little baby...still feel that little baby when he gives me a big, strong hug...I always will.

When I pushed that energetic toddler on a swing, I saw that baby, wondered how he could grow so fast.

When I heard that precious two-year-old refer to himself as "Tatter" I memorized that sweet baby-sounding voice.

When that proud four-year-old asked me to marry him, I saw that baby when I looked at him.

When that smart five-year-old learned to read and decided to tackle Pilgrim's Progress, (yes, the one by John Bunyan,) I presented him with the treasured book.

When that cute six-year-old donned a tuxedo and became my ring bearer, I remembered that baby, saw that baby when I looked at him and couldn't believe it was him walking down the aisle.

When that responsible nine-year-old taught Julia to walk, I saw that baby learning to walk all those years ago, felt that baby in my arms and was excited that he was there to witness my baby's first steps.



When I held each of my own babies I remembered that baby boy's birthday, felt that sweet baby boy in my arms again who taught me how easy it is to fall in love with babies...made me fall madly, deeply, irreversibly in love with babies forever.

When I smelled my own babies' scents, I smelled him again. When I rocked them in the hospital, I remembered rocking him...I marvelled at how quickly the years fly by...how time marches forward so swiftly. I wondered if my babies would grow up that fast...they have.

I can't believe it's been sixteen years. I can't believe I can go several months at a time without seeing him. I can't believe that I can see him at church sometimes and have to stand there and stare and think for a second before my mind registers who this is, this young man, this teenager, this tall and handsome and polite young person calling me by name...the same one I've know his whole life, yet at times like these I wonder if I know him at all.

And, then, I play ball or color or read or cuddle with Hunter and I remember all the things I did with Stafford...and I know. I know that we share a special bond. A love set in stone that was cemented the very day he was born, the first time I met him. Because of Stafford I know how much you can love a baby you've never met before. I believe in love at first sight. There is absolutely nothing in this whole world that could ever damage that love...the love that was birthed with that little boy sixteen years ago.

That baby boy is now a sharp, intelligent, athletic and Godly young man of sixteen who is now taller than I am and going to come driving up to my house in his pick-up truck any day now. He is in high school playing JV and Varsity sports.

I just really can't believe it at all...that the time has gone by so quickly and that he's so excited about the future...the same future that his parents and I want to put on hold for just a few minutes so we can fully enjoy who he's becoming. I pray I make the most of the few short moments I have with him, for I know that just as quickly as they come, they'll go.

He will soon graduate, go off to college, and do many other wonderful, grown-up things in his lifetime that will make a mark on the world.


The first wonderful thing that he did for me that changed my world was being born. His birth awakened something in me that I celebrate every year on January 25.

When I see Stafford Powell Brantley, I will always remember holding that little baby boy and falling in love...with him...and with babies...forever.

Happy Birthday, Stafford!! I love you!!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sisters and Chores


"...for you are receiving the goal of your faith..." (1 Peter 1:9b)

My girls wanted to go the "in" parents-night-out for all cool elementary aged children. A night at the gymnastics place. Fun, food and flips all night for $25 a person.

I told them that they had to earn it and that they had to both earn it. I wouldn't let one of them go alone. My girls would brave the great-big-gymnastics-world together! This was more for my peace of mind than anything else.

They folded and put away clothes, cleaned and organized their bedrooms and bit their tongues when they wanted to argue. It still wasn't earning them enough.

Then came Super Daddy to the rescue!!!

Andrew brought a HUGE box of postcards home. All they had to do was stamp each one. He was placing them on a salary of 25 cents per roll of stamps.

If Julia has inherited anything from her father, it is the entrepreneurial spirit. She got Hunter working for them by telling him if he gave her his quarters, she would give him a piece of candy for each one. She knows that boy loves chocolate!

So the three of them began work, fast, furious...short. Five minutes and Hunter was tired. I think he stamped three postcards. He was in bed asleep before the first roll was finished!

Alyssa might have done ten postcards. I heard her say, "Julia, I guess I'm not going to be able to go. This is too much work."

What Julia heard Alyssa saying was that she was giving up, calling it quits, resigning to forget the goal. The effect on Julia was to prove to Alyssa nothing is impossible.

Julia started working even harder and even faster. She tells her sister, "Don't worry, Alyssa, I'll make enough for both of us."

Talk about a proud moment. Julia was so determined to make money, she believed she could make $50. She was willing to do all of Alyssa's work when Alyssa couldn't do it. She was willing to share what she made with her sister.

Well, Julia actually made about $17. We, of course, rewarded them for their huge effort.
They had what they still refer to as "the best party ever!!!"

I had a wonderful week just watching them keep their goal in sight and working together, being overly kind to each other every minute of every day.

We, too, are to live each day with a goal in sight...finishing strong, living life by faith.

"Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:9)

We live each day with our goal of seeing Jesus one day before us. We rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and the free gift of salvation because what we do is not enough to save ourselves.

Because He made a way for us to receive the impossible...forgiveness of sins and a restored, righteous relationship with God..."we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved." (Hebrews 10:39)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Trying Winter Things


Here in College Station, Texas, it's officially winter and it officially feels like it!

Winter most places means cold, snow, ice and all related activities. We spent the last month or so wondering if it was going to get cold at all. Well, it's cold and we're stuck inside!

After utterly exhausting all my creative resources...and not to mention, patience. I finally relented and let my kids play outside. We had already cut, colored, made books, play dohed, read, built castles and fought wars. We hid and sought and even played silent hide and seek in the dark with flashlights. We had a snowball fight with cotton balls and raced cars all around the house. We dug through closets and looked at old pictures and searched for old games. We made play, made fun, made games and made messes and then...

One particular child of mine, who shall remain nameless, bundled up and went to get the mail. Ignoring all protocol of opening doors in this house, due to being set free in the sleeting, freezing, wintry mix, as the weatherman calls it, the door was left open and the dog got out.

Now this dog went, fast, lightning streak fast, she must've had cabin fever. My flat response was, "Don't come back in without the dog."

Now the other two kids were almost out of control...what an unfair twist of fate. They didn't ignore door opening protocol or even open the door for that matter, nor did they let the dog out. So, why should they have to stay inside. This is the stuff that makes a kid's life so unfair!

Well, after a thirty minute chase through the freezing, falling ice-rain, the dog was rescued...frozen fur and all.

The child was intact...and laughing. Hence, the relenting. After bundling up, rubber boots, hats, jackets, and gloves. They went into the backyard. After our frozen pond and ice slicked patio furniture, the largest draw was the trampoline.


(Mom and Dad, I know you're clutching the keyboard gasping, "No, she didn't!" and I know you raised me smarter than that but...)

They broke the sheet of ice that was was crusted across the black nylon by sliding as hard as they could into the frozen net that I was praying wouldn't crack and break under the tension.

They had a blast! All the while, I congratulated myself on being the cool mom I had always aspired to be as kid.

Julia and Alyssa jumped and skidded for about an hour. The result was everyone slept deep and early last night.

In case you're wondering, Hunter lasted only about ten minutes before he was freezing, wet and well, hurt. Not seriously, but enough to make him want to come in and curl up by the fire. He doesn't really enjoy being cold, wet or the smallest player in a game of ice-wrestling on a slippery surface.

This reminds me of another wintry activity that we try and continue to try...

Not too long ago, some friends invited us to go ice skating. My response was to tell them they could take Julia but based on prior experience the other children were too young.





They came to pick up Julia. Alyssa decided she didn't really want to miss out on the fun. She thought she could ice skate even if the last time she went she was miserable. She changed super quick-like as a testament to the fact that she really wanted to go.

She went.

At their departure, Hunter began crying desperately because he wanted to go too. He was big now, he reasoned. He was sure he could do it this time.

We went.





Julia who's never known fear, was skating like a pro...when she wasn't in the arcade socializing!

Alyssa skated the whole entire time with no breaks. She learned how to hold onto a cone and skate around without losing her balance. What a great thing! Apparently, this is what they teach the kids in ice skating lessons. She had an incredible time skating on her own. She was truly experiencing the exhilaration that comes with conquering something that was previously unconquerable. I was so proud and well, also astonished. She was jubilant! Quite a transition from our previous experience.


Hunter, well, he went around twice, with help from our friend's dad. He didn't like it and was almost immediately ready to go. In his defense, I think it was one more lap than the first time he skated. Little accomplishments are praiseworthy too.



All of this growing up and accomplishing new things that was taking place was causing me to think. I mean, the last time I skated with Alyssa she hated it. She was coming off the ice this time declaring, "I'm the best ice skater girl ever!!!" Her soaring confidence had taken a complete 180 since the last time we skated.

Isn't this how life is? We dearly desire to do something. Maybe it seems fun or exciting or useful. We have no training or knowledge outside of watching others or reading about it. We try it. We fail...

Do we try again and again or do we stop?

Things that were previously too difficult become a little easier each time. God gives us all the help we need to accomplish the things He's called us to. When we need a hand, He's there; when we need a cone for balance, He provides. "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1)


Each time we progress a little more, until we accomplish what we set out to do. Then we keep trying and each time we do it a little better. Sometimes practice makes us one of the best at what we do. Sometimes practice brings only the satisfaction of personal accomplishment. Either way, we fulfill our dreams. We overcome. We've made progress.

I hope I am the one who keeps on trying.

I'll be the one encouraging Hunter next time to jump on the trampoline in an ice storm or just to ice skate.


That's what God does for us. He takes our hand, speaks to us what we understand and gives us milk until we can eat solid food from His Word. He gives us opportunities each day to choose right, to learn His ways and walk in them. With Him there is always a new beginning...each day, each week, each month, each year. We have a new birth into salvation and new cleansing from sin each day as He perfects us.

"solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong." (Hebrews 5:14)

Just like I'll never give up encouraging my children and giving them opportunities to exhibit their growth, God will never give up on me, on us. What an awesome promise.

"being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)

There's lots of wisdom in "practice makes perfect" and "try, try again."

Monday, January 08, 2007

My Sheep

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1

We're working on being quiet. I realize that in today's society it is not acceptable to be quiet...to be still. "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10) I want my children to be able to be still...to sit and listen for the quiet voice of God...to develop this habit early and to practice it throughout their lives.

In my family growing up, the unspoken rule was, "He who speaks loudest of all gets heard." When visitors tried to get a word in edgewise, they were encouraged to, "Just talk louder!"


Consequently, I became the loudest person ever. Loud talker lady would have been my Seinfeld name. Seriously, I got "Most Likely to be Loud" in high school. What an overachiever!

Let me take a moment to explain something. I don't know how this foolishness of youthful "wisdom" came to be a rule in my head. My mother is not a yeller. She is one of the quietest, gentlest people I know. Of all the things I should have caught from her, having a quiet spirit...and voice is definitely one of them. So, don't be misled, I am to blame for believing this ugly, loud lie that I carry on in my home from day to day.

My theory on teaching my children to listen, stemming from this oh-so-godless-proverb of my upbringing, has always been one of speaking over the top of their cries to quiet them down...which is another way of saying...yelling. Then, once I've quieted them by yelling at them to get their attention, I can teach them to be quiet. Aren't there just a few holes in this theory?

One day in the car as the baby was crying, two were arguing and fighting, and yet another one was competing with the noise for my attention, I had a breakthrough moment.

I just knew that as I yelled at them to get their attention, I was definitely not teaching them to turn away wrath with a gentle answer...I was actually doing the opposite. They were all yelling and carrying on because they were doing what they had been taught to do...by me!

Yikes!

There were no gentle words...no gentle hands...no gentle anything in that moment.

Except the gentle voice of God, "My sheep know My voice."


So, I responded. To one child I said in my quietest, gentlest voice, that I could hardly hear myself, "If you can hear your mom, turn around and sit still in your seat quietly."

She immediately did it.

Same thing to the next child.

And the next.

All results were the same.

We implemented a new rule. We take turns talking to one another without interrupting. We are learning to be mutually submissive to one another by allowing the person talking to be heard completely, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Ephesians 5:21) We are submitting to the person talking...by not talking ourselves. We are becoming better listeners and more polite talkers. By obeying God's Word. We will "be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." (James 1:19a)

I'm learning. They're learning. We're learning, together.



"My sheep hear My voice...and they follow Me." John 10:27

Immediately, when they heard my voice addressing them, they stopped and did the right thing. One was crying out for my attention. When she heard me say her name, she stopped.

Two were arguing with each other selfishly, when they heard me reassuring them that I was there with their best interest at heart, they stopped.

When they wake up at night afraid and crying, they are calmed, reassured, relaxed enough to go back to sleep when they hear my voice and feel my touch.

When they are sick or hungry or tired or bored or hurting just a word or touch from me can make it better. Their needs are met. They can rest. They know what they are to be about. Just a kiss from my lips can heal virtually every boo boo in our house.

Wow!

What a model of how we are to know and rely on the Good Shepherd.

In the chaos of life, the hardness, the busyness and burdens...I hear His quiet, gentle voice. I do the right thing. I'm reassured, my needs are met, I know what I am to be about.

I feel His gentle, loving touch. I am healed. I stop hurting and know that Someone has my best interest at heart.

When I hear His voice, feel His touch in the dark I stop crying, yelling, worrying, arguing, complaining and striving. He is there. He is here! Praise God!

Praise God, His sheep hear His voice.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

New Memories


I have some favorite Christmas memories from the season that I'd like to share...some of my favorite new memories stemmed from old family traditions, like four generations gathering together in love...some from new family traditions, like "Lights in the Heights" with our family...some from friends and, of course, fun.

This year we got to do some amazing things over the holidays. We went to Christmas in the Park where Julia danced. There were several "moments" of the evening.

Watching Alyssa dance on the stage to her own music like no one was watching before the performances started was priceless...my little girl's growing up. She's becoming a performer, an entertainer in her own right!


Watching Julia perform was so fun...she loves to be on stage! She waved to us every time she turned our direction in her dance...too cute. She also stayed on stage just a little bit longer than everyone else in order to take a personal bow...she's been doing this since she was two-years-old and started her first dance class... again, priceless!
Then the crowning moment of the evening was the hayride we took together with the Hong family, in the freezing cold...we were so thankful for the hayride having waited almost two entire hours for it in the line through the field of mud on the edge of the super-busy, traffic-filled parking lot (talk about a challenge in perseverance)! The hayride was perfect, though, and made the wait all worthwhile...the songs were great, the cuddling was wonderful...a Christmas memory was made.

We worked on many Christmas creations...spending less time in front the tv, computer or other alone-type projects and more time creating (making messes). We made gingerbread houses. Guess which one Daddy made and which one Julia's team made...




We played long and hard with the play-doh factory and made a jungle (and a BIG mess).

We made snowmen, paintings, reindeer, baby Jesuses, cards, tree ornaments, Lego spaceshiops, scrapbooks, calendars and just plain old-fashioned cut, colored and glued.
We built cities, raced cars, created a jungle and camped out under the Christmas tree. If they could dream it up, make it up or build it up, we did it and are still trying to clean it up! But, it was lots and lots of fun! I'm becoming a firm believer in the bigger the mess the more fun it is...go figure.

Then we read and read and read. When it was bedtime, we read some more!

I loved that Christmas Eve was on a Sunday this year. One of the highlights for me was getting everyone dressed up in Christmas clothes!!! We looked Christmassy and the service was so special.



I loved watching my baby crawl around staring in wonder and fascination at the lights and special magic that accompany the specialness of a baby's first Christmas.

We love Christmas movies. We went and saw The Nativity Movie, a must-see for everyone. I loved it, I cried, I worshiped...a great movie. We watched Home Alone and laughed and laughed and laughed!

On Christmas Eve we went to look at lights in the limo...sounds like sorority mixer "Lights in the Limo." We took our friends Michael and Alex (and their mom, Kathryn). It was wild, it was loud, it was fun (although I was extremely carsick!!). Maybe it will become a tradition.



We saw family...almost all our family except some out-of-staters on both sides (who we missed). Our kids LOVED cousin time...makes for cute cousin pictures. We only have cousins on my side (so far) and cousins,we have. My brother has four kids. Nick is 13...the man of the group, but then there's Jack(8), Cooper(3) and Sophie(8 mos). So, seven kids 8 or under makes for fun times, lots of hide & seek, lots of football, lots of laughs and lots and lots of love.


We carried on our family tradition of acting out the nativity story. We read the Biblical account of Christ's birth and the children acted it out in full costume which the Mitchell family has been doing since we were kids and my cousins and I did it...a treasured memory to be sure.

We hope your holiday was filled with lots of love, old traditions and new memories too!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

On Death

I have a friend who recently lost her father. We prayed for him before he died…to be healed of cancer, to recover quickly, to live. We prayed that we would know and see his healing and his salvation.

The family got called to the hospital when he took a turn for the worse. They went. My friend got to tell him she loved him. She said, “Daddy, it’s so important to me to know you’re saved.” He raised his hand in response.

He had made peace with God at some point…years before or at that moment…it doesn’t matter…he is with God now. We have peace.

Before he died, we prayed. We prayed he would be able to communicate with his family. He didn’t. We prayed for a recovery. There wasn’t. We prayed that his daughters would make it to his bedside in time to be together with him. They didn’t. He died.

So now, the clich├ęs start. Most, however true, do not comfort. He won’t be sick anymore. He’s free. It was his time. He had a good life, a full life. We hear all these and more.

Do we believe God is sovereign? Yes, emphatically yes. Do we believe God is good? Once again, yes. But, do we feel pain at the loss of a loved one? Yes.

I once read in an article by John Eldredge that said death is not natural. It is a pain that we were not meant to feel. God created us to live forever (on the earth) glorifying His name and bringing Him pleasure. Man’s pride, his desire to seek equality with God, to make his own decisions apart from God made God number each man’s years to be no more than 120. “Then the Lord said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3) The Lord numbered our days so that we would die and stop fighting against God’s laws and ultimately, His love. When we die and have salvation, we are at perfect peace with God…forever.

The idea of Jesus dying for our sins to give us the free gift of eternal life was Plan B not because God didn't know we would need a savior but because we were in desparate need of a savior. His plan to bring redemption through Jesus Christ has been in place long before time began. Long before anyone every experienced death, God knew we would need Jesus. But we started out in the garden, that perfect place of oneness with God. Because of our sin and pride, God had to establish another way for us to be in communion with Him forever. The Way was established long before any law was ever broken. The fall was predicted be a kind, loving and good God long before anyone ever inhabited the garden. One of the results of mankind’s sin is death. Death causes pain. Death is not natural; we were not meant to die. Of course, one could argue that we were made to die because, again, God knew we would eventually die. But, redeemed this quality of death through Jesus Christ by giving eternal life to all who place faith in him. So, again, we were not meant to die.

Just because the truth is we were not meant to die doesn’t mean God does not appoint each man a time to live and a time to die. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 2) God is in control of our lives, each one. This pain we feel upon the death of those we love is a direct result of the fall of man.

The pain we feel in death could be one of the biggest injustices we suffer as a result of the fall of man. But, seeing the pain from this point of view allows me to understand a little more why God allows it to happen. We brought it on ourselves, so to speak. Mankind reacts to God’s loving direction in the same way an immature child reacts to his parents’ discipline. The end result of disregarding someone’s loving and wise authority is always pain.

If we keep an eternal perspective, we are reminded that we will only be separated from those we love for a little while. This life on earth is over in the twinkling of an eye. A day is like a thousand years to the Lord. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8) This eternal perspective allows us to grieve as ones with hope “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) But this perspective does not protect us from the intense pain of being separated, however temporarily, from the ones we love.

Jennifer Kennedy Dean said of her husband’s premature death from cancer that spending time with God was her only comfort, her only refuge. She spent time with the same God who had her husband in His eternal presence. That comforted her, made her feel close to him, to fellowship with a God who could transcend time and space (being omniscient) to be with her and her husband simultaneously. She said it did not stop her grief or her pain; it gave her a Godly response to the pain. It stopped bitterness, pity and depression from settling in and started an unending flow of praise from the seemingly bottomless pit of suffering.

In the grand scheme of things, we fall back on the truths we know. They do not take away our pain but they produce hope and manifest healing in us. We know God has appointed a time for each to die. We pray we can live our lives with this idea in front of us: we have limited time and opportunity to love, to do good, to live.
“Man's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (Job 14:5)
"Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” (Psalm 39:4)

The reason death hurts is that it is not natural. It is part of redemptiom in a Perfect Plan made by a Perfect God who is creative enough to make a way for us to be in perfect fellowship with him forever. Discipline hurts for a little while. As John Eldredge says, “Death is never natural.”



For more on John Eldredge’s ministry see
www.ransomedheart.com

For more on Jennifer Kennedy Dean’s experience with the death of her husband see her blog at
www.waynedean.blogspot.com Her ministry page is www.prayinglife.org

Monday, January 01, 2007

Old Year...Old Stuff; New Year...New Stuff


"Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done." (Psalm 105:1)

Well, by stuff, I mean challenges...achievements...that kind of stuff, well, resolutions...sort of. I don't care too much for traditional New Year's Resolutions because they are almost always things people should be doing anyway. For example, we should all eat healthy, take care of our bodies, exercise regularly and live within a healthy weight range. We should all focus on relationships and make them top priority in our lives. We should all look for creative outlets and strive to increase our knowledge base on a regular basis.

I tend to "save" resolutions for things that are fun, bonuses in life...like scrapbooking. In the grand scheme of things does it matter if my scrapbooks are cutsie with a theme? Not really, the goal is to have a record of our family history. So, scrapbooking was my 2006 resolution. I did it!


Speaking of 2006, let's celebrate some of the greats...the moments...let's not forget to remember. "Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done." (Psalm 105:1)


February...Palmer. February 14, Valentine's Day, 2006 will be one of my greatest. Little Palmer Jett made his debut into this world. What a gift of love.

We had some great times around our home too. Andrew and I attempted a major update here at the Smith casa. New floors, paint, landscaping and a few pieces of furniture made the home that we've lived in for over 8 years uniquely ours. It was a busy and fun, fun, fun process.

My baby girl, Alyssa started Kindergarten this fall. What a moment to see her so grown up and to say, "Please, don't walk me into the school...I can do it by myself!!!" With school came getting up and getting dressed each day...in her own words, "I made clothes my friend." Huge.

My Hunter boy, he now sleeps in a big boy bed, goes potty in the big potty and is a big brother in addition to little.

Julia became closer in age to the teenager-like persona she possesses and fell in love with sports...soccer and basketball. She is now becoming responsible for completing her own weekly homework assignments and reading in English and Spanish.

So, none of these things were even remotely resolutions, but challenges, opportunities, events and milestones. Each accomplished with grace and praise from and to God. The year that had seemingly mundane moments mixed in with the miraculous was meaningful and full because God has blessed this family abundantly. So, the new, the things that must be done in 2007, the things that will be done in 2007, the things that will be tried in 2007...we give God praise in advance for those opportunities, challenges, milestones and events. We ask God for wisdom in how we handle these opportunities to be made more like Him. "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity..." (Ephesians 5:15 & 16a)

But, even if I don't call these newly presented obstacles resolutions, they are new. They are challenges. They are stuff.

The stuff 2007 is going to be made of (or at least start off looking like) has presented itself.

Palmer will take on walking, running, speaking words, eating table food, drinking from a cup and many other things with the wonder and joy of a carefree child.

Hunter will learn to color between the lines, write his name, play teeball among many things as an energetic three-turning-four-year-old boy. He will master them all with determination and wit.

Alyssa will learn to read...in English and Spanish. She will learn to spell by herself and write her own humorous stories. She will complete weekly homework, bring home readers home and have her first cavity filled.

Julia will play basketball on a team, go to overnight Summer camp, learn to spell in Spanish and get number grades at school.

Andrew will learn to manage family (mainly, me) as employees and look for creative ways to increase business while working with me. Did I mention he will become my boss at the office?

I will become a real estate agent. Actually, I have been one for quite some time, but I will learn more about the business as I begin to help my husband by trying to sell houses at our office.

I'm sure many more opportunities, challenges, obstacles and stuff will present themselves...my prayer is that we will make the most of each opportunity.

"Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity..." (Ephesians 5:15 & 16a)

Happy New Year from the Smiths!