Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in pictures

Click on the pictures to see a larger image

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013, the year of "NEW"

2013 was a year of change, transitions and lots of "new" in our life.

One of the biggest changes was the purchase of our new home at the end of June. We have been blessed beyond our expectations and dreams with this new home. Lawrence and I still recall some of the 40 homes we considered and even put offers on and pinch ourselves that God made a way for us to buy the one we did.

Along with the joys of our new home has come more responsibility and a lot to learn. We are still figuring out how to take care of our property and our home's interior needs. We are super grateful for friends and family who are more knowledgeable and skillful than we are and are willing to offer that to us as we need it.

Purchasing our new home led to new routines, including my exercise regimen. It may sound trivial, but our membership to the Y was crucial for my overall well being for the last 4+ years. Having to drop that membership, I had to figure out how and what to do in order to keep my mind and body in shape.

I have long loved to run, but with my chronic back issues, I gave it up for good, or so I thought, six years ago.  In God's kindness, I have been under the care of a chiropractor for the last three years who has brought significant improvement and relief in my back. I have been pain free for the majority of the time I have been treated by him. So, I thought I would give running a try again.  Lo and behold, in the last six months, I have surprised myself by reaching 5 mile runs with comfort.

Running has opened the door for relationship with one of our neighbors, Kim, and I have enjoyed taking several runs with her in the last several months.  She has three boys: a set of twins who are my boys' age and  her oldest who is 11.  Soon after we moved into our home, Kim and I enjoyed several afternoons talking while our kids played well together.

Once settled a bit, we began to reach out to other neighbors and discovered several, wonderfully friendly families in our neighborhood who appear to want to build community with each other. Lawrence and I are very excited about the potential opportunities for this.

New relationships abounded in 2013 for us. After 13 years at our church, we left for a variety of reasons. Though not an easy decision, it was necessary and has proven to be beneficial for us in many ways. While we have not yet settled into a new church "home", we have been attending a church about 20 minutes from our home that has been a good fit for us in this season.

We have remained a family on the 'fringes' so to speak, but have still been able to get to know a few individuals and families.  We are encouraged and challenged by the lead pastor's messages each Sunday morning and greatly appreciate his heart for God's mission of advancing His Kingdom in the local region and the world.

Leaving our old church initiated conversations afresh between Lawrence and me and among others on how to "do church". While we pray and read God's Word, talk with each other and trusted friends on this topic, we are also asking questions anew on how to do marriage and parenting as well in a way that honors God and reflects His image.

To help us navigate through these conversations, Lawrence and I began marriage counseling this past fall with a most excellent counselor, Eliza Huie. We are grateful for her grace-filled, biblical insights and input into our relationship. Though it be slow and small and so very inconsistent, we have seen change, maturity, and most of all a more loving and gentle handling of one another as we work through conflict and learn how to communicate with one another. Yes, even after 11 years of married life, three babies and two moves, we are still and just (?) learning how to communicate with one another.

New ways, new patterns are needed. This is evident to us both. Leaving the old ways is oh so hard, and we are still blowing it most of the time.  Ask my family who observed such old ways between Lawrence and me over Christmas vacation. Yuck. But, we are committed to growth, to change, to learning how to love like Christ. I think this is going to be the longest and possibly most painful journey of our lives, but one worth taking.

In addition to a new home, new church, new relationships, I took on a new role as 'tutor' at the homeschool co op with which the kids and I participate, Classical Conversations. While the role of a CC tutor is not the same as that of a typical classroom teacher, it has scratched the "itch" I have to instruct a crowd of more than my own three monkeys. It has required sacrifice on my part to plan for and execute each Monday's classroom time, but one I have gladly embraced (most of the time).

The last bit of "new" for our year was by far the most exciting and worthy of celebration. Lawrence's brother, Sam, married a wonderful, godly woman, Carrie, in September, adding another Tia for our kiddos and sister in law for LA and me.  To boot, they announced at Christmas that they are expecting their first baby in July, 2014. We are all thrilled for another Almengor grandchild/cousin/niece or nephew!!

On my side of the family, there will be another set of twins born in March, 2014 to my brother, Garrett, and his wife, Kristin, who have two boys already.  Who would have guessed two sets of twin grandkids for my parents?! And, my youngest brother, Brandon, proposed to his girlfriend, Brooke, and they are planning a wedding for May, 2014.

So much new! So much change to adjust to. Most of it is welcomed though some of it came via the path of grief and loss.  The dust is still settling, but it will settle. We will adjust. We will embrace it all eventually. We will learn and grow through all these transitions.

I trust 2014 will be a year of laying down tracks that we will be able to run in for years to come. As you think of our family, will you pray for us as we adjust to all the new in our lives? Will you pray that we will be thoughtful, purposeful, and most of all, make much of God in the new patterns, relationships, roles and responsibilities He has brought into our life?

We would love to hear from you, too, on how we can pray for you in 2014. Leave a comment here or email us directly and stay in touch!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Craving Connection

This is a cathartic post for me. I have needed to write it for a long time. It is likely to bite me in the proverbial butt making it public, but there's something about being "out there" that feels necessary for me. I am sure I can talk this over with my counselor, Eliza, at our next visit. :)

My heart is breaking today. This season of transition harkens back to one of the first major life transitions I made after my father passed away and my mom re-married, all within a year's time.  And it seems to always evoke a melancholy response rather than an adventurer's spirit. Nevertheless, I consider myself adventurous, relatively speaking.  I actually like change. I like 'new'. I like the idea of adventure. What I do not like is the transition period from old to new. THAT period of time is undefined and challenging for me.

Relationships shift, and this is what becomes so problematic for me. "Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other, gold," keeps replaying itself in my head. And, I'm stuck. I love making new friends. I think it comes naturally to me. I love "jumping right in" to friendship, both feet first. And my "old" friends, well they have a permanent place in my heart if not anymore on my calendar. And, this is the rub for me. I don't enjoy being on either side of this real life dynamic.

I am craving connection today big time. Tears stream down my face even as I write this. I am not entirely sure why. I have talked long with Lawrence about this dynamic of my heart. I have prayed. I have rehearsed the truth that Jesus plus nothing is more than all I need, more than all I could want, my greatest desire satisfied.

We will have been in our new home for six months on Christmas Day. It has been just a little longer since we left our previous church. I have spent that time evaluating, praying, watching, waiting on the Lord, seeking to be faithful to serve, to be a giver and not a taker in friendship and in my family, seeking to once again ignite that passion that once burned so brightly for God's purposes of using me to advance His kingdom.

There have been people we so much wanted to have to our home, with whom we wanted to maintain relationship. It has not happened. I do not know that it will. I have "been around the block". I know how this works. There is only 24 hours in everyone's day, and life is FULL...bursting at the seams for most of us.

And reality is, we can only keep up and intimately pursue very, very few people, especially when in the season of raising a family.

I want to be pursued, truth be told. I crave connection. I know the value of community. I have lived there. It is good for us to be needed. It is good for us to need and receive from others. This is how God designed us to operate at our best, in community. I believe it. I live it. I want to continue to live it.

But, there is a shedding at times that happens in life. Friends move on. You move on, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively. Paradigms shift and along with that so go friendships.  It is okay when I am on the end that moves away. It is much harder to be the one away from whom someone else has moved.  It draws out great insecurity for me and far too much introspection.

Did I do something to offend?  Have they finally had enough of me (because I know I am among the high maintenance type of people on this spinning globe)?  Am I just too serious for them? too uptight? not enough fun? not relaxed enough about life? too thoughtful? too much or not enough....and so I am sent down the path of self destructive thinking, self absorption.

Oh my goodness, how I hate this place!

The emotional energy I must expend to think my way out of this pit is exhausting. God is kind. His Word is sufficient. He tells me that in Him, I am enough. I have been creating in HIS image.  He has prepared good works for me to walk in. I have purpose, and He promises to fulfill those purposes in my life. I cannot mess it up! Praise Jesus!

I was bought at a price. I am not my own. I do not live for my own pleasures or to be made much of. I was made for God's pleasure and to make much of HIM. God draws near to the lowly in spirit, the humble in heart.

So, I ask for forgiveness and seek to bow lower, be made lower. I plead, "Jesus, be enough. be enough, truly, not just in my head but in my affections, in the depth of my heart where I FEEL."  And, I confess my addiction to feeling good feelings and I affirm again, "Lord, I will live for you alone. I will live to walk in the good works you have established for me before the beginning of time."

I take a deep breath.
I look over at my three kids playing so well in cardboard boxes. WOW! What blessings I have. I know this. Why do I always want more?

So, hear I am again, Lord-- this really flawed, cracked vessel asking you to fill it and fill it again because your love seems to run out of the cracks, and my cracks are LARGE, more like gaping holes!

And, I have chocolate covered pretzels on my counter waiting to be packaged up to hand out to our new neighbors today.  You put this in my heart to do. Will you somehow bless someone else by our efforts?
Will you fill me with your love afresh so as I interact with my children and new neighbors today, they will feel the love of Christ oozing out of my 'cracks'?

And, these relational shifts that are happening? Will you hold me tight, be enough while the dust settles from all the movement?

Friday, December 06, 2013

First loose tooth

My baby is approaching another milestone, reminding me yet again that children do not stop growing and changing and inching closer to leaving the proverbial nest.  She is about to lose her first tooth, or at least we are all praying to that end. Two of her adult teeth are poking through her gums behind her baby teeth. The baby teeth are plenty loose and ready to come out.

I have an awful childhood memory of a friend of our family abruptly take me by the hand in the middle of a church service, walk me downstairs to the basement bathroom, where no one would hear my wailing I suppose, and yank on a loose tooth until it came out. This may not be exactly how it happened, but that is what my childish mind and emotions made of it and how I remember it to this day.

Given my traumatic experience, I do not pull my children's teeth, but instead let them figure it out in their own way on their own time table.  One result of this method is that I missed T losing his first tooth because it came out at a friend's house.

Last night as I tucked B into bed, she asked me to pray that her tooth would just fall out rather than her having to pull it out. I obliged and joked with her that she would likely lose it at her friend's house the next day. I told her I would be so sad if I missed her losing her first tooth. Her reply was less than sympathetic. She said, "Mom, I won't be sad if you miss it. You shouldn't be sad if you miss it. I'll send you a postcard!"