Wednesday, December 31, 2008

525,600 Minutes

Days like December 31 put me in to reflection mode. The lyrics from the musical "Rent" come to mind:

525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.

525,600 minutes - how do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife

In 525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year in the life?

I find the song delightfully haunting. Stating the number of minutes that make up a year somehow makes each one seem more significant. How many of those did I fritter away in front of the T.V. ? Or waste in anger? Or lose to disorganization?

525,600 minutes in a year--I wonder, if the minutes of my days were recorded, categorized, and put into a pie chart, would I be pleased with the result for 2008? Oh I hope so! I hope I spent more minutes showing love than I spent serving myself, more minutes praying than worrying, more minutes enjoying my boys than I spent scolding them, and more minutes encouraging my husband than I spent nagging him.

Tomorrow the bank account of time receives its annual paycheck, and each of us will have a balance of 525,600 minutes on deposit. How will you spend yours?

Monday, December 29, 2008

First and Last

A few years ago, when my boys were much smaller, I read an article in Mary Englebreit's Home Companion that I have never forgotten. The author wrote about how, as children grow, we never know when it might be the last time they do or say something. For example, every day for years Chandler would play with his wooden train set. Eventually it became once a week, and then only on rare occasions. Right now I can't remember the last time he pulled it out. No one yelled, "Hey, Jenn! Pay attention! This is the end of Chandler's Brio-phase." There were no alarms sounding the last time one of my boys wanted me to read Goodnight Moon, or tie their shoes, or kiss a boo-boo. Blessed mothering experiences fade into extinction without saying goodbye, leaving me wondering where the time has gone and how in the world those baby boys got so big. If I had known it was going to be the last reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, might I have read just a little but slower? If I had known it was going to be the last time they needed me to cut their food, might I have not been so burdened by the chore?

We celebrate FIRSTS all of the time--first steps, first tooth, first words--as well we should. God meant for children to grow and become independent, and each bit of progress is evidence that they are moving in grace toward His plan for their lives. But I don't necessarily want to rush things along. I don't want to miss any opportunity to experience the holiness of those wonderful, simple, everyday moments. And unless I cherish every one, I will miss the chance to celebrate any lasts--because LASTS come without warning or fanfare, and they vanish like a mist.

As 2008 winds to a close, I am looking back to remember both the firsts and the lasts that we encountered, for I am convinced that God is in them. He is, after all, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spangle Sunset

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

Psalm 19:1-5

Friday, December 26, 2008


It was 6:57 a.m. Christmas morning. My younger son was not only awake, but showered. My older son still slept. David had already been up for hours making his traditional cinnamon rolls and their fragrance was just beginning to fill the air. I made myself a toasty warm cup of chai and went in to the living room, which was lit only by the white lights on the tree and the glow of the fire in the fireplace. Wrapped gifts circled the tree and the stockings were heavy with loot. Christmas carols played softly on the radio as I curled up on the sofa, cradling my mug.

I knew deep in my soul that this moment would be my favorite moment of the day.

Slowly I sipped my chai, savoring. I wanted to stop time, or at least push the pause button, until I had experinced every thought and feeling that the morning had to offer. As I pondered what all of those packages might contain, I realized why this moment was so poignant. It represents where I am in life right now: in the throws of anticipation. No one knows for sure what the future holds, but our family appears to be on the verge of major change.

It is is likely...that this will be our last Christmas in this house. It is just a house. Just a house. And yet, it has been so much more: It has been a picture of grace; A lesson in beauty from ashes; A cozy incubator where little boys became young men; A joyful port in this journey called life.

But the ship is sailing, and we have been called aboard.

I feel as though I am standing at the bottom of the gangplank, suitcases in hand; but, in the quietness of Christmas morning, God is urging me to turn and take one last mental picture of this blessed place to fix it in my mind. To remember all that He has done for us during our years in Spangle. When we go to France we will leave the house, but we will take with us the memories of His faithfulness. We must pack those memories away safely because we will need them when (not if) there are rough seas ahead.

I so love to soar on the wings of anticipation of what might be that I can forget to wallow in appreciation for what has been. This morning I waded in to my own gratitude, and within minutes it overwhelmed me. Even now, there is a lump in my throat when I consider what God has given us in this place.



Floods (yes, plural!)

Birthday parties




Rider mowers


Snakes, crawdads, and mudpuppies

A long gravel driveway with a wagon wheel at the end

A post office two blocks away

Running on dirt roads

Coyote howls and Owl hoots

A mud room

Long drives home

The smell of wheat at harvest time

Chirping crickets

A giant rock in the yard

Big trees with birdhouses

Visiting cousins

Cousins stuck here due to icy roads

Beautiful sunsets

I am thankful.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Prayer for you at Christmas

This comes from the Episcopal Book of Offices and Prayers for Priest and People (1896). It is my heartfelt prayer for you this Christmas.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father who settest the solitary in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents; and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one to another; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen. And Merry Christmas, dear friends.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Adventures in Breadmaking

I have not left the house except to walk to the post office or the Spangle Market for over a week. It's not that I can't go to town. Spokane, despite three feet of snow, is navigable. No, I am simply enjoying being a homebody. Spending two days a week working at the church has made me appreciate my time at home in a whole new way. I love my job, but I am rejuvenated when I can putter around the house, not talking to anyone. Being at home stimulates my creativity and inspires me to try new things.

Yesterday I ventured into the world of bread-making. I don't think I have ever made bread before, so this was a first. It all started because I put a beef stew on the stove to cook all day, and I thought it would be nice to have some yummy bread to go with the stew. I could have driven to town and bought a loaf, but that would not have been as much of an adventure as making it myself. Besides, we didn't have any other plans, so it was a good day to sit around and wait for bread to rise. In fact, the reason I never made bread before is because I usually think of it twenty minutes before I want to eat it, and bread can't be made in twenty minutes. Bread making is a long-term commitment.

I looked up a recipe on the Internet, and went to work. Well, mostly I poured stuff into my KitchenAid mixer and let the dough hook do all the work. I LOVE my KitchenAid mixer. I used to think that only people who loved to bake bought KitchenAid mixers. I bought mine because it was black, and it would look good in my kitchen. What I have discovered is that I may have had it backwards. Perhaps the reality is that people who have KitchenAid mixers love to bake. I sure enjoy baking much more now that I have one. It turns out that the only thing I don't like about my mixer is that it is black (oh the irony!) and therefore shows every speck of flour, sugar, and baking powder that gets on it. I digress.

So after my mixer did its part, I had to knead the dough "until it was smooth and elastic." Well, it looked "smooth and elastic" after like, three seconds, but the instructions said this should take 6-8 minutes. Given my lack of bread making experience, I assumed that I had no idea what "smooth and elastic" looked like, and I kneaded the dough for six minutes. I did it just like Caroline Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. She was my only frame of reference because Rachel Ray's 30-Minute Meals never include homemade bread, and that is the only cooking show I get since I don't have cable. Again, I digress.

After kneading the dough it had to rise for an hour and a half, then get punched down (that was fun) and rise for another 30 minutes. I took advantage of the "Proof" setting on my oven, which keeps the oven at a temperature that is perfect for dough that needs to rise. This was especially handy since my house is a little on the cool side given the sub-zero temperatures outside. Am I digressing?

Anyways, after the second rising (?) raising(?)--whatever--I got to split the dough apart, and braid it. Then it had to rise AGAIN. Why in the world does bread dough need to rise THREE times? Even Jesus only had to do it once! Holy mackerel, bread-making is SUCH a high-maintenance-long-term-relationship! Finally, after brushing the bread with an egg yolk, I baked it.

Here is the result:

It tasted as good as it looks. Call me crazy, but I think I might make more today!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I love the snow. Really I do. I only have this teensy weensy little complaint: It is keeping my parents from coming to my house for Christmas. They are not too timid about driving in the winter weather, but this storm has shut down every possible route between their house and ours, and as the song goes, "It doesn't show signs of stopping!" We have been looking forward to having them here for Christmas, but it appears that might not happen. Major bummer! I've been wracking my brains to find the bright side. Here's the best I can do:

The Benefits of NOT Having my Parents Here for Christmas

  1. I can continue to put off cleaning the boys bathroom.

  2. We won't have to take two cars to the Christmas Eve services.

  3. More coconut macaroons for David and Graham.

  4. Chandler has fewer opportunities to share his cold.

  5. Gonzo (their cat) avoids the trauma of travel.

Pretty weak, huh? Yeah. I'm just going to have to be a little sad. I hope they're saving their pennies so that they can come for Christmas when we live in France. Funny thing is, while they can't make it across the state this week, they probably could get to France!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter Wonderland

Record snowfall hit Spokane! We must have 24 inches of snow at our house. The boys have been out in it, but I stayed in my PJs all day and baked. I sure am glad my Christmas shopping is finished and that I can walk to the post office to ship the gifts that I still need to mail. It has stopped snowing for now, but more is on its way this weekend. Tomorrow I hope to go sledding!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Flashback #2: Secret Santas

This week my kids are having a Secret Santa gift exchange at school. They are each figuring out ways to bless the person whose name they have drawn while keeping their own identities hidden. Such fun.

The whole Secret Santa thing took me back to my own youth. I think I must have been in fourth grade when I first played the Secret Santa game at school. I was so excited by the whole idea, and as the teacher walked around the room with the basket of names, I had only one request: "Anyone but Harold, anyone but Harold, anyone but Harold," I silently prayed, as I reached up to draw a name.

Harold was, well, not very popular, to say the least. His thin hair was a little on the overgrown side and horribly greasy. His clothes always looked two sizes too big and way past their prime. He had a persistently runny nose, an annoying personality, and total disdain for personal hygiene. I wasn't particularly mean to Harold, but I did not go out of my way to be nice to him either. And I certainly did not want to spend my Christmas season shopping for presents for Harold. No-sir-ee! Anyone but Harold would be fine with me.

I pulled out the folded slip of paper and waited for the teacher to move on before opening it. Stealthily covering the name with my hand, I peeked to see who I had drawn. Harold. My heart sank. I glanced over at him, only to see him wiping his nose on his sleeve before reaching into the basket himself. Yuck.

At recess all of my friends were talking about whose names they had drawn. I didn't want to tell them, for fear I might be shunned. I haughtily told them that SECRET Santa meant that we weren't supposed to tell, and kept the name I had drawn to myself. I contemplated throwing the slip of paper away and "forgetting" about the whole thing. But even my calloused heart couldn't execute that plan when I imagined everyone in the class having a treat from a secret pal except for poor Harold.

I pouted all afternoon, disappointed that I would have to be Harold's Secret Santa for two whole weeks. One thing I determined for sure--I would be the Secretest Santa EVER, for I certainly did not want to be caught doing anything nice for the class outcast.

When I got home, I began to explain to my parents the tragedy of my day. I somehow expected them to sympathize with my plight--no such luck. They were (rightfully) appalled at my uncharitable attitude and insisted that I take a gift for Harold every single day of the Secret Santa game. Not only that, they took me to Winn's to hand select each item, and then home to wrap so that every gift was ready to go--one a day--until Christmas break. They were determined that Harold was going to be spoiled by his conceited Secret Santa.

I remember trying to be the first one to class each day so that I could slip Harold's gift into his not-so-cute handmade stocking without being seen. Day after day, Harold's stocking was loaded. He was the only kid in class who got a gift every day--which was quite a shock to everyone, including Harold. He loudly (and obnoxiously) paraded his loot around for all to see, as if he had accomplished something great by simply finding a treat in his stocking.

I was counting the days for school to get out so that I could be finished with my task. At the same time, I was dreading the moment when I would have to reveal that I had been the one filling Harold's stocking with all the goodies. I was no dummy--I knew that it would be instantly assumed that I was IN LOVE with Harold, and I would be the victim of playground teasing for the duration of fourth grade. Such agony.

Finally the moment came when all Secret Santas uncovered their true identities. Actually, only a few had managed to remain anonymous for a fortnight, but I was one of the few. When I quietly owned up to having been Harold's Secret Santa, I was not surprised by the "ooooooooooohhhhhhhhs" that rumbled through the classroom. Giggling and knowing glances rippled across the rows of desks, as my face turned beet red. I wanted to shout, "My parents made me do it!" But just then, Harold caught my eye. He had a look of gratitude like I had never seen before, and he ever so subtly gave me a nod of "thanks." I didn't know Harold had subtlety in him. I certainly had never witnessed it before. Almost imperceptibly, I nodded "you're welcome" back.

Mercifully, the Christmas Break dulled the memory of the Harold thing for most of my classmates, and the dreaded playground taunting was never realized. Well, almost never. For the rest of the year Harold followed me around, declaring his undying love for me everywhere I went. All subtlety was gone. Funny thing is, it didn't really bother me. I can't say I returned his love, but I endured it fairly kindly.

As I look back on my Secret Santa experience I can't help but wonder where Harold is today, and hope that he not only has a blessed Christmas, but that he has found someone to return his love. Even better, I hope he has found the One whose love makes life worth living. Because if the truth be told, I AM a Harold: dirty with sin, poor in spirit, and frankly, obnoxious at times. Yet, in my unlovable state, my Savior died for me. He fills my life each day with gifts I don't deserve, and sometimes I parade them around as if I have accomplished something great on my own. He gives, and gives, and gives. And while I can give Him nothing in return, I want to spend the rest of my life following Him around, boldly declaring my love for Him. The best part is, He really loves me back.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Monday, December 15, 2008

'Tis the Season

This is the view out my kitchen window. BEAUTIFUL, but very cold. I think the high today was 7 degrees. So it was a perfect day to stay inside and...


Christmas Sugar Cookies

Fudge and Peppermint Bark.

While I baked, I was serenaded by the Itty Bitties, who sang Christmas Carols along with the radio. What? You've never heard of the Itty Bitties? Well they are part of our family--each one has a personality and a super power all his/her own. But even I didn't know they could sing!

In case you need to know their names:
(Back Row) Dum-Dog and Double Tails
(Middle Row) Rosie, Duckbeak, Duckbeak's Twin, Megabyte, Cleo, and Rosco
(Front Row) Snoball, Beary's Twin, Beary, Snoozy, Drowsy, and Sleepy.

You'll have to talk to Chandler if you want to know their super powers--beyond caroling, that is.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Christmas Flashback

2001: David and I had moved to Spokane for him to pursue his budding career as a pilot, only to have the events of September 11th take our financial outlook from strained to desperate. We were living out the "for poorer" portion of our marriage vows, wondering if we would ever see the "for richer" side of matrimony.

As December approached, we began to agonize over what we would do for Christmas. In the past we had lavished gifts on each other and on our children. Each carefully selected present was a tangible expression of love wrapped up in festive paper and exchanged with great joy. And every year, the last gift I opened was a bottle of my favorite perfume, Donna Karan Cashmere Mist, packaged in the classic gold and silver Nordstrom box and topped with a bright red bow.

But our 2001 Christmas Budget was practically non-existent. There would be no Nordstrom boxes under the tree this year. With heavy hearts, David and I sat down to figure out a plan. We wanted, more than anything, to make sure our boys had a happy Christmas, and so we agreed to spend what money we had on a few gifts for the kids and to forgo buying any gifts for each other. Fortunately, the boys wanted simple things: a basketball (check), a board game (check), and a couple small lego sets (check, check). I crocheted some scarves for my mom and sisters. Our Christmas letter went out without a photo. We skipped buying a tree. We didn't skip a bit of the joy.

The day before Christmas we drove to Portland because we were going to spend the holiday with my parents and with my sister Keri's family. My mom and dad are always very generous gift givers, so the next morning the tree was absolutely buried in presents. David and I realized how silly we had been to even worry that our children might lack a thing! There were many precious moments that morning. My ever-practical brother-in-law had bought each of my boys a nice white dress shirt, knowing that clothes might not delight his two young nephews, but certain that their parents would be blessed by such a sensible gift. My parents renewed our Costco membership, knowing how much we needed it. We all felt completely spoiled.

As the gift opening was winding to a close, Graham spotted a lonely package behind the tree. He grabbed it and read the tag aloud.

"Jennifer Ann. Mom, it's for you. From Dad"

"From my Dad?" I asked, wondering why Graham didn't say "Grandpa."

"No, from David Ross," Graham said, confident in his reading skills, which were just developing at that time, "From MY dad."

As Graham emerged from the back of the tree I saw the gold and silver box in his hands. Tears immediately sprang to my eyes.

With a lump in my throat I quietly croaked, "David, you promised--no gifts for each other--you promised."

I looked up to see that the room--filled with 8 or more children--had gone completely still. My father and sister, hopeless romantics, also wiped tears from their cheeks.

I didn't have to open it to know what it was, but still I slid the bow off and lifted the shiny lid. Donna Karan Cashmere Mist. For years it had been the gift I had taken for granted. For years I had expected it. But in 2001, I had the joy of appreciating its true extravagance for the first time. More tears fell.

In the heavy silence, Graham moved to my side and sought out my eyes. "What's wrong, mom? Don't you like it?" he asked, obviously baffled by my weeping.

"I like it very much," I assured him, laughing between sobs.

Even today a bottle of Donna Karan Cashmere Mist sits on my dresser. I wear it daily, but I no longer spray it on with cavalier indifference. No. I wear it convinced that it is the very fragrance of love.

My husband just couldn't help himself that Christmas. His love for me demands expression in many forms--including the giving of good gifts. Precious gifts, which he lavishes upon me even when he knows he will receive nothing in return. You know what? God's love for me is like that, too.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us! 1 John 3:1a

Monday, December 8, 2008

Awwww, Mom

The Williamson Four For France are the missionaries of the month at Life Center in December, so we hauled a few extra things along with us to church this morning. When we got out of the car, I had my purse and a Bible, David had large box full of fliers, photos, and brochures, and Graham grabbed the laptop computer while asking, "Chandler, what are you carrying?"

Chandler looked intently at his left index finger and said matter-of-factly,"I got a booger!"

No he is not three years old, he is eleven. By the time we made it in to church, Chandler assured us that the booger was gone. I did not ask where it went. I have learned that there are some things I simply do not need to know.

I wanted to end my post at this point, but the boys thought that I should take my share of the blame for the booger incident. I have an apparently rare obsession with facial orifices. (Now there's a statement that is going to point some odd googlers to my blog.) Ever since my boys were itty bitty babies, I have been vigilant about making sure their eyes, ears, and noses are clear of all crustiness. They both have forbidden me from looking into their noses now, but I still let them know when they need to clean their ears.

Yes, I should buy stock in q-tips.

Anyways, Chandler probably thought he was doing an important task by taking care of the booger before church.

And now you all know about one of my motherly quirks for which he will probably have to see a shrink someday!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Be Blessed

Today I had one of those experiences that I thought only happened in movies on the Hallmark channel.

My story actually began yesterday morning, when I walked into Bible Study and was stopped in my tracks at the sight of an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous pair of red patent leather shoes on the feet of my small group leader. I gave her an eloquent compliment that went something like, "those are some super hot-pepper mama shoes!" She smiled beautifully and told me that she got to go shopping with her daughters over the Thanksgiving holiday. Well, I don't think there is anything more fun than mother-daughter-sister shoe shopping, and those shoes where definitely the kind of "score!" you hope to find on such an outing.

Later, when we bowed our heads to talk to God, I was again captivated by the shoes on my leader's feet. "Dang!" I thought, while more spiritual women were deep in prayer, "those shoes are amazing!" When the prayer ended, the first words out of my mouth were once again about the shoes--revealing to everyone that my mind had not been on "things above." I really don't think I was coveting her shoes, but I was enthralled with them--appreciating them like a fine piece of art. Finally Bible study ended, my friend and leader departed in her classy booties, and I went on with a very busy day, not giving the shoes another thought.

So this morning I was dropping my boys off at school when I suddenly heard a knock on my window. I looked out and saw my Bible study leader standing in the middle of the street with a sack in her hand. Our kids go to the same school, so I often run in to her at drop-off or pick-up times. I rolled down my window and she said, "I have something for you" and handed me the sack.

"For me? What is it?" I asked, peeking inside.

"Just a gift, " she said.

"No, no, no," I protested, realizing what was in the sack, "You can't give me your shoes!"

"Yes, I can," she said, walking away, smiling. "There's a note. Read the note."

And she was gone.

I opened the card, hardly believing what had just happened. It read:

Dear Jenn,
I'm so glad you liked my red shoes. And now I get the pleasure of blessing you with them. Ever since Beth Moore encouraged us to give when someone admires something we have, I have wanted to do just that. And today God encouraged me to give the red shoes to you. blessed, my friend. Enjoy your new red shoes!

Have you EVER heard of something so sweet? She GAVE me the shoes right off of her feet! And believe it or not, they are EXACTLY my size: 7 1/2. Here is a picture of my new shoes:

I am BOTH blessed and challenged by my friend's generous act. Now I am hoping to have the opportunity to give something of mine away to somone who admires it. I plan to wear my favorite earrings, don my best scarf, and carry my designer purse, waiting to hear someone say, "I just love your ______!" At that moment, I will take great pleasure in saying, "Be blessed, my friend. Enjoy your new _______."

This story will not end with me.

BTW, shoe-giving-friend, I am deeply blessed by the shoes, but even more blessed by the warmth of your friendship, which inspires me more than you will ever know.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dear God,

How is it that in the midst of all this profoundly spiritual missionary stuff, I can sometimes forget how desperate I am for YOU—the One who gave us the call to France in the first place. Apart from YOU, I can do nothing. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Oh, but I do try. Will you forgive me for chasing after the tasks at hand instead of following hard after you? No wonder my spirit is parched. I need a fresh cup of your living water—make it a grande, please. Teach me once again to drink deeply of you: slowly savoring your sweetness, tasting the goodness of your grace, and relishing the cleansing of your words.

Father, I have sought my own good over the good of others. I have wept for my own injuries while carelessly wounding those around me. I have worked for the praise of men instead of doing everything for your glory. In all of these ways I have poured my efforts into broken vessels, expecting to find fulfillment. But nothing will ever satisfy me except for you. In you I find my hope. In you I find my peace. In you I have everything I could ever need. Help me to abandon my fruitless labor, and trade it for your yoke—you know, the one that is easy. When I choose your yoke, you share the burden with me, making it seem amazingly light. When I choose the yoke of selfishness, pride, or laziness, I bear it alone, and the burden of sin buries me. Still, I choose it so often. Help me, Jesus!

Lord, how long has it been since we’ve had a heart to heart? Yeah, I know I’ve kept up with my Bible Study, prayed at meals and with my family, even sung along with the Christian music on the radio. But it’s been a while since I’ve sat in stillness at your feet, gazed upon your majesty, and waited in your presence for a word from your holy lips. I’ve rattled off my prayer requests with great efficiency and regularity, but I haven’t listened for your answers. Today, Lord! Today I need to see your face, hear your voice, touch your heart. With urgent appointments looming, Christmas shopping pending, dirty laundry stacking, and the to-do list ever growing, I need nothing more than a quiet moment with you. Maybe two.

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10