Friday, December 10, 2010

I'm Mary...

One Christmas, Mom and I were Christmas shopping in a Hallmark store in Houston, two preschoolers in tow. We had just picked the girls up from Mother’s Day Out and run in for a minute. It was one of those hoity-toity stores where the clerks follow you around from aisle to aisle just waiting for you to break something, so we each quickly grabbed the hand of one of the kids.

Ashley had on that cute little red Christmas jumper with straps that tied at the shoulder and were finished with green Christmas tree appliqu├ęs that hung down the front of the dress. I don’t know when or how she got away, but after only a few minutes, I looked up and saw my little red- headed pixie climb up on a rocking horse in the window display, pull the back of her dress up over her head like a shawl, pooch her skinny little stomach out as far as she could manage and loudly announce, “MY NAME IS MARY. AND I AM JUST ABOUT READY TO HAVE THIS BABY.” I grabbed her off the rocking horse, turned to Mom and said, “Lets go, Granny. Ashley is about to deliver,” and we rushed out of the store in stitches!

Every Christmas we look back and realize that at every turn of the road we never really realized how blessed we were. The kids were only little a few minutes, it seemed, and we sometimes didn’t find the time to enjoy every minute of it!

This year is no different, except now it is easier to see... Christmas blessings from me and my house, to you and yours.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Nuts and Bolts Nativity

The little church we went to when our kids were preschoolers had very limited resources. Looking back, we probably didn’t need that much, to start with... We just had one class of babies, one class of one year olds, one class of two year olds, and so on. So maxxing out at about 5 preschool classes, we just didn’t need THAT many resources. Except in December. Except at Christmas.

It really was a challenge to share the one Nativity puzzle we owned among all the Sunday School rooms when everyone ultimately needed it the same day. We decided that when one teacher finished using it, they could run it down the hall to the next room so the next class could take a turn.

I’ll never forget the day it happened. My friend Emily was teaching the four year old class. She set up the block corner and added the one container we had with all the various sized nuts and bolts in it. Nuts and bolts are a great “manipulative” and a wonderful home made puzzle, as the kids can spend a lot of time matching the correct sized nuts to the correct sized bolts. Promotes cognitive thinking skills as kids match the sizes, fine motor coordination as they screw and unscrew all the nuts, and all that preschool developmental jazz.

But in the middle of Sunday School, in the block center, the most astonishing thing happened in the four year old class that long ago December day. As I was delivering the puzzle to Emily’s room, she waved me off. “We don’t need it today. Look.” It was there on the floor in the block center .

The biggest nut and bolt had become Joseph. The medium nut and bolt had become Mary. The itty bitty one was, of course, the baby Jesus. And all the other nuts and bolts were gathered around in worship.

The kids had figured it out as they played in the center and Emily told them the Bible story.

Teachable moment…. Especially for me.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Don't Forget the Wonder

It’s Christmas again.

I remember the year it seemed like Christmas for the very first time…sharing the wonder of His birth with our then little two-year old daughter, Kari. She was hearing the angels singing for the very first time, seeing the lights and the Star, and knowing the joy of His birthday is such a fresh, sensitive way.

If she asked me once, she asked me a hundred times, “Mommy, Jesus was born in a barn???” And it bothered her so much that she renamed her only baby doll “Baby Jesus” and prepared Him a bed in her room, beside hers, in a tiny doll bassinette with lots of warm blankets, and pillows and …and that’s the secret of joy, isn’t it? Prepare Him room. Let every ♥ prepare Him room.

And don’t forget the wonder…

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Christmas Musings

I guess I learned to love Christmas from my Dad. It was, hand’s down, his favorite time of year. Enchanted by the delicious magic of it all, his blue eyes twinkled brighter at Christmas than any other time. The things I remember most are the things Mom and Dad did with us, and in making our own entertainment we were rich beyond imagination… Driving around looking at Christmas lights, watching people at the mall (especially children), huge extended family holidays at Mama Jo’s old sprawling Oklahoma farmhouse with more people than you could count,

lying by the tree and watching the lights twinkle to the Christmas music Dad always kept playing. (Back in those days, the lights were bigger and had individual “twinklers”, not like the strands we have today. Dad named them after choir members at church to get an even bigger laugh…the one that always came in late was “Dave”, etc.)

Family was priceless, friends were always welcomed, snuggles were longer and warmer, and Christmas came amidst the beauty of it all.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Precious Hope, Precious Saint, Precious Friend

1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints. Psalm 116:15

I could simply stop here and let the Word speak for itself about Frances Ivins. Precious hope, precious saint, precious friend.

Precious Hope.
Jim, thank you for leaving your door open, so we could love her to the end. Frances was so astonished at everyone who wanted to come see her when she got home, and how loved she felt. She left with as much grace as she lived with.

We were able to hold hands and chat a few days ago. She told me she was at peace. She knew where she was going. She loved angels, was always giving me something with angels on it. So I bought her a little angel at the Craft Show, made from olive wood from Bethlehem, and pressed it into her palm the night I went to see her at the hospital. We had just found out it would only be a few days. She said, “I’m taking it with me.” We cried. But she wasn’t afraid. She was at peace. She knew she’d be welcomed by her Creator, the One who invested in her soul so much of His creativity.

I can imagine her delight in the perfection of Heaven. Her wonder when she met her Savior for the first time, and touched His face. And He said, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Welcome home." Precious Hope.

But in a few weeks, after she worships a few days, and feasts a few days (she hasn’t’ been able to eat for a while, and she loves a good Mexican food lunch), she’ll probably have her little part of Heaven redecorated and organized, the pearly gates oiled and leveled, and the streets of gold swept and scrubbed. If I know Frances.

Precious Saint.
She made it easy to love her.
Her heart was big . Her vision was Kingdom minded. Her touch made everything better.

We became friends when Frances started working in the Resource Room. Things just clicked for us. She was trained in good preschool ministry long before I arrived, and we had the same heartbeat for doing it the right way. Frances helped many inexperienced teachers tow the line of biblically and developmentally appropriate activities by her gentle guidance and helping them see a better way to teach, guiding them to use the curriculum, giving them a better activity to use instead of the one they had picked out, or jazzing up a mundane Bible learning activity with a little bit of pizzazz.

She did it for the kids. She gave in and filled orders way after the stated deadlines, b/c if she didn’t’ the kids wouldn’t have anything on Sunday mornings …she told me time and time again she did it for the kids. She kept little pictures of children taped to her computer screen who needed praying for, when she got a picture or an email about a child who was ill, or in need. She did it for the kids.

But she did it for the teachers too. She supported us. She enhanced us. She trained us. She suffered through us, and with us and prayed for us. I can see her rolling her eyes at me with all my last minute plans, and saying, “oh brother!” BUT she’d stay late or come early to do what she could to make me successful…whether it was decorating for a teacher’s meeting, or blowing up a balloon arch for an extra umph on Promotion Day or decorating for Christmas ADVENTure. We moved Nativity Scenes around from here to there, sometimes with minutes to spare…and she and Jim came earlier and stayed later than everyone else to make it happen, and put it back in order when it was done and everyone else had long gone home.

Nothing was more beautiful or satisfying than when Frances decorated the chapel for Christmas ADVENTure, our family worship celebration to begin the Christmas season focused on the true, biblical meaning of Christmas. The plaid bows she had artfully made were fluffed just right on the pews, the Christmas lights sparkled in the pine trees, and the manger scene sat right under the stained glass – the focal point of the entire worship celebration. I remember her happy smile, because it was all so breathtaking…and her heart was that the children would walk into the chapel with wonder, and be astonished at the simplicity and beauty of the baby King.

She was our backbone. She had an unparalleled commitment to kids ministry, to excellence. To organization. She was classy. And her love, her big heart, and her work ethic made us all better.

Frances did all things well. She was humble. She wanted to point to the Father, never to Frances. Always behind the scenes, never wanting the glory… Precious Saint.

Precious Friend.
For me, a trusted friend. She always called me her boss, and I always corrected her and said, “friend.” But the level of trust we shared was unspoken. She was so organized. She worked hard. She kept an eagle eye over things for me downstairs in the preschool area. She took the Resource Room to the next level – churches all over the convention come to tour her Resource Room and ask how to set one up like it. She was visionary. She kept things running that I never even knew about, she expected and provided excellence. I know there were times she actually scrubbed bathroom floors or light switches with toothbrushes, to make sure they were clean enough, because I know she loved her church, loved her job, understood kids ministry, and wanted things CLEAN! She would say, “The Lord deserves our best. We can do better than this.” I know she also had Pa building things in his workshop so we’d have all the things we needed at half the cost! She worked part time in the Resource Room for many years, but it wasn’t just a part time job for her—she enlarged her boundaries, she lived and breathed it, worked at home on her computer at night, always thinking of things, always pinching pennies to keep us under budget, always excellent—so we finally had to make her full time to try to compensate for all those extra hours! Frances even texted me one night from the hospital at 11:50 p.m., in ALL CAPS: I MISS MY JOB!!!

But how could we ever repay her? She served wholeheartedly. Her creativity. Her joy in serving, behind the scenes. Her way of making everything special—just going the extra mile. Her persnickityness to have everything in its place and everything in order. That was our Frances.

She always threw a party on the Thursday of Vacation Bible School. Now anyone who has ever taught in VBS knows that on Thursday you literally hit the wall. That’s the day you’re totally exhausted, the kids are tired and cranky, you haven’t made up your beds or had a home cooked meal all week long, and you’re wondering if you’re going to make it even one more day. So Frances throws a swimming party. So we can relax and chat and laugh, and soak up some little measure of friendship… She cooks this amazing Mexican taco casserole (who knows when in the world she has had time to do that), has an immaculately clean house, and invites her resource room staff and various friends over for lunch and the afternoon. As long as you want to stay. A friend party.

A true friend of the heart, we trusted each other. Nothing to hide between us, we prayed for each other. And each others kids. And each others grandkids. She Understood. Knew each others strengths and weaknesses. Knew each others hurts and pains. Let our guard down, together. Because of love. Because of trust.

She crossed over in faith. We grieve, but not as the rest who have no hope. We love you, precious friend. Have you in our hearts.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Alaska from the Back of the Bike, Day 10

Wednesday, June 30

Hiked to Russian River Falls, a 2.3 mile hike, where we watched the salmon jumping the falls. Absolutely astonishing! We hiked part of the way up with a friendly guy from Texas, enjoyed the conversation. Pretty scenery on the way back down the Skilak River Road, but it was gravel and pretty dusty…not Duane’s favorite type of surfacing on the motorcycle.

The blue sky came out in its full intensity, so we decided NOT to waste the beautiful afternoon and took another half day trip down to Homer, an artist community at literally the tip of Alaska on the Cook Inlet. Most of the days have been cloudy to partly cloudy most of the time, so you just don’t want to waste a bee-yoo-tee-full day! So off we go again.

Along the highway across the inlet, you can see the Ring of Fire volcanoes. Mt. ReDoubt and Mt. Eliamna are the closest. So incredible that God cleared it up for us, because this day is absolutely breath taking! You can see steam rising from the top of the volcanoes.

At Homer, we walked to the lands’ end and bent down and touched the ocean. Picked up a few rocks to bring home. They are black, like river rock, but they have a white stripe running through them.

A while back I decided to forgo the crummy tourist souvenirs and purchase something on a trip that helps us remember the adventure and is worth keeping. We usually decide on a piece of art, or pottery, or something like that. Our bed and breakfast had some whimsical Alaskan pictures that caught my eye, so I asked Dick about them. He said they were by a native Alaskan painter, Barbara Lavallee, and they had purchased them in Homer…so we went to an art gallery in search of some prints. Nabbed one, Tidepool Pals, and had it shipped home.

Dinner in Homer at Captain Pattys. Fresh grilled halibut and clam chowder. Mmmm… can’t get enough of this fresh halibut.

The way back was hazy. It is still daylight, you know, at 11 p.m., but we couldn’t see across the inlet at all. However, we began to see eagles riding the thermals and drifting above us, or simply nesting in trees. On the way home, we saw a Mama Moose, too. I smile as my head hits the pillow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Alaska from the Back of the Bike, Day 9

Need to finish the last few days of my vacation log. Have been distracted for a few weeks, but here goes!

Tuesday, June 29

Breakfast at the Lodge. Then we prepared for our salmon fishing, bear watching experience. High Adventure, the outfitters we were going with, recommended bringing a sack lunch, so we stopped at a little sandwich shop and picked up a fully loaded box lunch with a little of everything included.

So we took a float plane over Double Glacier and Cook Inlet to Wolverine Creek to fish for sockeye salmon. The plane landed and pulled up to a flat bottom boat that was anchored to a patch of land in the water about the size of my sofa. We stepped off the plane, into the boat, and motored a little bit further into nowhere. Pulled up to a shallow, rocky creek that was emptying into the lake and threw out the anchor. It was very shallow, and you could see the salmon circling the boat and pooling up at the base of the creek. Nearing the end of their life cycle, they were preparing to swim back up the creek to lay their eggs and die.

Greg. our guide, was very good, and patient. He taught us how to salmon fish by simply throwing out the line and waiting for them to swim through it. (The best part was when they started to fight and splashed around everywhere trying to break the line!) He didn’t get flustered when the other couple in our boat nailed him in the nose with a hook or he had to dive into the water to catch their pole which fell in. I caught the first one fairly soon – about a 4 pounder. We caught our quota – 3 each- but managed to take the rest of the afternoon to do it. However, we ended up with 18.6 lbs of sockeye, which we took to get smoked. Yummmmmm.

While fishing,, a grizzly comes running downstream and dives in to the water after the fish. She was so skinny, you could tell she just recently un-hibernated, woke up, was starving, and trying to fatten herself back up. She hung around the creek all afternoon, occasionally diving in, occasionally actually catching a fish that was starting up the rocky, shallow creek. When the float plane came to pick us up, we flew low over the terrain on the way back. We saw a huge moose with a full rack of antlers, and several more bear. They almost looked like little animal figures someone planted down there for us to see. Hmmm…I wonder.

Oh Happy Day!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thumbthing Special

I've developed a great respect for thumbs over the past few weeks, since i haven't been able to use mine. I've made a not-so-exhaustive list of things that are impossible to do without a thumb or two.

1. Close a zip loc bag
2. Pull a cherry stem from the cherry, even holding the cherry in your teeth
3. Button your garments, especially pants
4. Fold towels
5. Push the automatic lock button on my car
6. Turn a doorknob
7. Turn on a water faucet that has to be held continuously for the water to continue flowing out.
8. Unscrew the lid from a jar of jelly
9. Turn the pages of the Bible
10. Put papers on a clipboard.

So tomorrow i am getting my thumb fixed. Catch you later!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Alaska from the Back of the Bike, Day 8

Monday, June 28
We spent a few hours in Wasilla and Anchorage trying to find a computer virus repair person. Finally gave it up, when several people kept telling us it would take 3 -4 days to clean the hard drive. It only has 7 gigs, for crying out loud. Ipods are bigger than this thing.. I guess my journal will be hand written for the rest of the trip.

Saw a sign along the highway almost to Anchorage that said, “Watch for Moose.” Then started noticing great circular patches of grass that were smushed down by the side of the road, and even in the medians, like a herd of something had been resting there. Later found out that’s where moose are nesting at night.

Loved the ride from Wasilla to Kenai. Finally, it is a sunny after noon! My fav part of the trip was around Turnagain Arm, where salt water flows in and beluga whales are often seen following their food source. We didn’t see any, of course.

Suddenly we are following a river, and the water is a beautiful turquoise color.
This is the Kenai River. Incredible colors.

Got to the Kenai River Raven Inn in Soldotna. We are the only guests here this week. It is a beautiful bed and breakfast. We have a big ol’ garden tub in our room, a private deck, and a view of the river…except you can’t see it very well for the trees. Dick and Stevie, the hosts, are friendly. Dick has lots of good tips for how to spend your time and where to go to see what. He’s the cook, too. Cheese and crackers for dinner, then i think i'll go soak for a while in the tub...glub, glub...

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Alaska from the Back of the Bike, Day 7

Sunday, June 27
Been on the road for a week now. Today is Day 7. Rain again. Traveled from Tok to Wasilla.

The trees look like they belong in the Ewok Forest, or something equally Star Warish. Apparently because of the permafrost, the evergreen grow very tall and very skinny, so they just look really really awkward as far as being a real tree goes. They definitely would look more at home in a sci-fi movie.

Passed more glaciers. Cool how they push so much silt down in front of them, nano-inch by nano-inch by nano-inch.

Got to Wasilla early in the day. We’ve been on a Mexican food fast since we left Texas, so when we drove around Wasilla looking for a place to eat, our bike naturally just turned into a random Mexican food restaurant. It was decently good.

Staying at the Inn at Lake Lucille in Wasilla – so nice. Our room has a view of float planes landing on the lake. So tired I lay down and went to sleep at 7, fully clothed and on top of the bedspread, as soon as we unloaded the bike.

Some time during my nap, I heard Duane mumbling something about a computer virus, so I figured we were doomed. Have been using the Dell notebook to journal the trip every night, and he’s been using it to download his Garmin GPS stuff and make reservations for the next night down the road. Woke up at 10 p.m to shower, then slept til 7 a.m. Woke up finally rested. Tomorrow we reach our resting place for a few days -- the Kenai River Raven Inn in Soldotna.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Alaska from the Back of the Bike, Day 6

June 26
Breakfast was yummy! Glad the room had a refrigerator so we could have chocolate milk! Went from Whitehorse to Tok today. Right outside of Whitehorse, guess what we saw walking down the road? A white horse. Is that random or what??? Maybe they named the town after him.

It was a beautiful ride, at first. Ice fields stretched down the mountains like long snowy fingers. Loved the blue sky.

Frost heaves were so bad the road was totally torn up. Duane figured out how to ride over them like skiers going sideways over moguls, and it wasn’t so bad when he could do that – pretty ingenious, huh! My neck hurt by the end of the day, though, from all the jolts and bumps, and holding that heavy motorcycle helment on my head. Frost heaves were originally caused when the Alaska Highway was built and the road crews scraped off the permafrost to build the road. Now it freezes and refreezes all the time causing the road to buckle like crazy.
It was extremly windy and so freezing cold around Kluane Lake -- a big, big lake that the road seemed to follow forever around the shoreline.

Stopped for lunch at the visitors center at Beaver Creek. Talked to Ryan, the forest ranger guy inside, and told him my theory about the lupine and bluebonnets. He had never heard of bluebonnets, and i think he didnt' believe me at first....but pulled something up on his computer, and low and behold….they are of the same lupinus family. Duane is proud of the giant potato chip he found.

Went through U.S. Customs. Sigh. So glad to be “home” again. Tired of figuring out the exchange rate, buying gas by the liter, frost heaves, and never knowing the temperature. If you look really close at the picture of the international border, you can see how it is even cut through the mountains and trees in the distance. Stopped for the night at Youngs Motel and split a pizza and salad at Fast Eddys restaurant. It never gets dark now, the days are over 19 hours long. So we just pull the curtains and go to sleep. Saw our first bald eagle today!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Alaska from the Back of the Bike, Day 5


Left early for Whitehorse, Yukon. Cold and rainy again. Road bumpy with frost heaves and one long stretch of gravel. Ate breakfast at the grocery store, as there is nowhere in Dease Lake to eat and the grocery has a cafe that opens at 7. Heated clothing again. Stopped at Cassiar Mt. Jade Store. Over 90% of worlds jade is mined in the Cassiar Mountains. So I bought a tiny, itsy bitsy little jade star to hang on the Christmas tree as a memory of the trip. It was $30. However, it is simply beautiful.

The road out of Dease Lake was soooo bad. When we finally got to the Junction of the beginning of the Alaska highway, we stopped for gas. There were Johan and Karolina! They had been following us the whole way to make sure we were safe, and they were also just going that way... they saw more bears, but we were so busy concentrating on the road conditions we missed them. aww.

The rest of the day was a mix of cool and rain and sun, but we kept heated jackets on most of the time. Ate a picnic lunch late in the day – it was a buggy lunch. We fought mosquitoes while we sandwiched. Then took a short walk along a boardwalk to Rancheria Falls. Pretty. Keep seeing some flowers that look an awful lot like the Texas Bulebonnet.

Got toWhitehorse and staying in the Skky Inn. Very nice. Dinner at the Klondike Rib & Salmon Barbeque. It is a pretty famous restaurant in these parts, only open part of the year, the wait usually is for hours, and the people line up around the block. We chatted with some friendly people from California while we waited. Duane had ribs and i had a great salad and fish and chips. We ordered Bumbleberry pie al a mode for dessert -- it included apple, rhubarb, blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry. Klondike is a restaurant in a tent, basically. But everything was extraordinarily yummy . Stopped at a grocery store after dinner and got fixin’s for tomorrow’s lunch, as well as chocolate milk and cinnamon rolls for breakfast. We saw Royal Canadian Air Force fighter jets land at the airport across the highway from our hotel. Comfy bed...good night!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Alaska from the Back of the Bike, Day 4

June 24

Woke up to the sound of rain on a tin roof. Lovely. Left Stewart, BC for who knows where up the Cassiar highway, Hwy 37.

Had a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel for breakfast. Interesting. Duane did a bacon & egg on english muffin deal. It was cold and rainy. I layered up- not going to get cold today. We couldn't take pictures on the way back because the clouds were hanging so low over the mountains you couldn' t see anything. So glad i got some yesterday! I believe the glacier you can see from the road, the big blue one, is called Bear Glacier. I love how the evergreen look around here-- the needles hang down like long lacey fingers.

We started seeing bear almost immediately - two at a time. A black one and a brown one each time. Got pictures. Duane turned the bike around and we almost came right up on them.

Stopped at a rest stop and ate a homemade turtle we bought from the Bitter Creek Inn last night. It was soooo good. The caramel tasted like a homemade buttery praline.

We didn't go far today. Ended in Dease Lake for a late lunch and just stayed there. The roads were gravel and hard to manuvere. We met a lot of nice people along the way- everyone has stories about what is down the road, weather, conditions, bear, etc. A sweet couple in Bell 2 noticed our Aggie frog togs and struck up a conversation. They were believers. Her first husband was an Aggie. Mosquitoes are terrible when you stop for gas or picnic.

At Dease Lake, a couple from Belgium -- Karolina and Johan --talked to us a lot and showed us pictures of where they had come from. They were very fun-- always standing outside the hotel smoking (and talking) , because it was non smoking inside. Hotel wifi was pathetic, so didn't get to write and can't remember a lot from the day. It was hard to get to sleep though. The days are longer and crawling in bed at 10:00, it is still light outside.

Noreen, the hotel manager, was very kind and let us do a load of laundry, as all our clothes got wet from the rainy day, the water soaking up through the bottom of the bag. The bag sits on a little rack behind the bike. (Did i mention that we didn't bring the trailer this time, so our clothes consist of a couple of pair of jeans, a few long sleeved shirts, fleece, heated clothing, and a few other necessities?)

This beautiful plant is a fuchsia. It was at a restaurant in the most incredible hanging basket you have ever seen!
Tonight Duane gave me another sweet gift for anniversary - a LeeHee necklace that says "before i formed you in the womb, i knew you."