The Everglades, Part Three

One of the most popular trails in Everglades National Park is the Anhinga Trail. It’s know for its abundant wildlife. A number of people mentioned that it was a “must do” walk, so we made sure to leave time on our way out of the park (the trail is near the entrance of the park, 40 miles from our campground.)

We were not disappointed! The kids just loved seeing all the alligators and I LOVED the birds. It makes me long for a good birding lens. A 100mm doesn’t quite cut it, but I still had fun!

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The railings were DISGUSTING...my my kids thought they were cool.

The railings were DISGUSTING…my my kids thought they were cool.

The vultures are really destructive and they are everywhere. The park supplies tarps to protect your car. People should use them!

The vultures are really destructive and they are everywhere. The park supplies tarps to protect your car. People should use them!

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The Everglades, Part Two

Other than my time in the Word, I feel closest to God when I am in nature. I absolutely cannot look at the incredible beauty that surrounds me and at the same time question God’s great love. He created everything in nature for us to enjoy and for Him to receive glory. I love what it says in Genesis 2:

“Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food…” (verse 9, emphasis mine).

He made nature for us to enjoy. When I am outside, and I see the tiny details He paid attention to…the way a spider weaves its web, the order of a leaf’s veins, the tiniest critters most people miss, I am overwhelmed. I stand in awe. Often, I walk and I giggle as I see God’s creation before me. He loves us that much!

We love to walk. We love to open our eyes and LOOK. When we were in the Everglades, I tried to get out and walk as much as I could. The mosquitos were really bad, so it was hard to do many of the trails, but I still got out every day. I filled my soul. I watched the birds and the bugs and I let my heart feel God’s great love.

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The Everglades, Part One

Back in December, when I first started struggling, I knew that the cold and lack of sunlight were a huge problem for me. After living so many years near the equator, we’re used to year ’round sun and year ’round warm temps. Being stuck inside the last few months has been very difficult for me, and even though I’ve been taking my vitamin D and have been using a sunlamp, I knew I needed more. Plus, I know that for our family, getting away is our means of pressing the reset button. We needed it.

We have some family in Tampa and some friends in Orlando and with the need for sun and fresh air, we headed south. After a few days in Tampa we headed down to Everglades National Park. This is the best time of the year to go and so I knew it was now or never. We voted for now.

We spent four days in the part completely unplugged. We camped in our tent, we had no electricity, and we had no cell service or internet connection. It was bliss. If it weren’t for the killer mosquitos (which apparently were in their “bearable” season), it would have been perfection.

I LOVE camping. It’s not that I really love roughing it or being without electricity. It’s not that eight people in a tent is always easy or fun. But what I love about camping is that it strips all the extra stuff away. I don’t worry about doing laundry. I don’t worry about cleaning up. I don’t worry about checking email. I don’t put on makeup and I often don’t even bother changing clothes. When all of those little tasks are taken away, you are just left with time. Time to read, time to play, time to sleep, and time to talk. We did all of those things.

I read five books. We played a lot of football. We went to ranger talks. We stared at the stars. We ate s’mores and chatted with new friends. We earned five new junior ranger badges. We went on a backwater tour and we watched lots of birds. It was a beautiful time together and I kept saying one morning, “I finally feel like I can breathe.”

Here is the first installment of our photos…life around the campsite. Tomorrow I’ll share photos of my walks and birdwatching times and then on Wednesday I’ll share photos of the most popular trail in the park. Lots of gators!

It feels good to play with my camera again!

Kite flying

Kite flying

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First family football game. The girls and dad huddle up.

First family football game. The girls and dad huddle up.

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Snoozing and snuggles in the tent.

Snoozing and snuggles in the tent.

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Zachary thinks washing dishes is overrated. Why not use the tub as a pool instead?

Zachary thinks washing dishes is overrated. Why not use the tub as a pool instead?

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Love these goofy kids!

Love these goofy kids!

Mom can be goofy too.

Mom can be goofy too.

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Hot french toast

Hot french toast

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Catching butterflies

Catching butterflies

There were butterflies EVERYWHERE. It was so fun to run trough fields and be surrounded.

There were butterflies EVERYWHERE. It was so fun to run trough fields and be surrounded.

Working on her Junior Ranger badge.

Working on her Junior Ranger badge.

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Twelve Years

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I wanted to be a mama.

Really, it’s all I ever wanted.

I dreamed many dreams about holding my babies, about a little girl running around in braids, about pouring out love immeasurable.

During my freshman year of college, hitting the lowest possible low a human heart can hit, I sat at the sink of my dorm room making a choice: a choice to end the pain or to hold out hope for a family.

Hope won out and God’s grace and love quickly filled the many broken parts of me. I switched schools, waited while others planned their weddings, and prayed for the little girl in braids.

After three miscarriages, many tears, and learning what a sacrifice of praise was, God gave me a beautiful gift. Alaina, her name chosen while I was still in high school, was born in a hospital in Bangalore, India.

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And now, twelve years later, my mama heart still beats strong.  In a world that uses awful phrases like, “just a mom,” my heart is filled with songs of praise that God would allow me the privilege of watching and taking an active role in one of HIs creations growing into His eternal purpose for their life.

And what a privilege it has been to be a mama to this girl. There aren’t words enough to describe my sweet Alaina. Perfect, she is not. Perfect, I am not. That’s why we have the hope of eternity. One day we will fully be like our Creator. Until then, we stand amazed at the many facets of His personality we get to display here on earth.

She’s patient.
She’s eager to learn.
She’s dependable.
She loves the Lord.
She loves her siblings.
She is an amazing cook.
She’s beautiful.
She’s stylish.
She doesn’t complain.
She loves to travel.
She’s creative.
She’s intelligent.
She loves to read.
She loves to write.

She, like the rest of my children, are a blessing to me. But more than that, oh so much more than that, I pray that she will be a blessing to others. I pray that the ripple effects of a life lived in love and grace will extend to the farthest sea. I pray that Alaina will see and understand God’s great love for her and that He purposely chose her for this family, for this time, for this place. None of it was an accident. None of it is without purpose. He has great plans for this girl and I will continue to pray that she will willingly enter into this great love and purpose for her life. It’s gonna be a good one, of that I am sure.

And now, more for my enjoyment rather than yours, a very long photographic walk down memory lane. Twelve years. I am so thankful.

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It Is Well With My Soul

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A few weeks ago, Jason met with a pastor of a local church, sharing about our Wycliffe ministry. As they talked, Jason learned that the pastor, heading up two different churches in the area, had taken part in learning about soul care. He asked Jason the question, “How is your soul?”

Jason and I chuckled a bit, not so much about the question, but the silence that I am sure followed. It’s not an inquiry most people expect. Never one to let a question go unanswered, the immediate response in my heart was, “It is well with my soul.”

It was a clarifying moment. In all the struggles of the last few months, from the overwhelming wave of depression (which thankfully receded to just a high tide), to the almost-two-month-strong headache, to the super-mom cape coming off as a counselor uses words like “burnout” and to the constant reminder that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, I can honestly say that it has been well with my soul.

There hasn’t been any, “Why, God?” moments (other than in regards to the far too early death of a friend and former coworker who left behind three precious little ones). There hasn’t been any questioning of why God has allowed this wave to come. There hasn’t been a pulling away from God, an avoidance of Him or His Word. Quite the contrary, really. My Bible time has remained precious to me and He has been quietly filling my soul with sweet whispers of grace and goodness.

It is well with my soul.

I still don’t feel like myself. I still struggle to concentrate. I still deal with a headache that refuses to give in. I still haven’t picked up my camera since a wedding at the beginning of the month. I still hear my sweet little six-year-old pray, “Please let mommy get better.” I still wonder where my creative and passionate spirit has gone and I wonder if it will come back. But even with all of that, I still know my God is near. It is still well with my soul.

 

A Merry Little Christmas

Although I wasn’t feeling well, it was very important to me that I be present for Christmas. I spent a lot of time praying that I would be well enough to be with the kids and have fun. I didn’t want this to be “the year mom ruined Christmas.” Even in my struggles, I am very careful with my words and attitudes toward the kids. They are precious to me and every time I speak to them, even in discipline or training, I want them to know deeply that they are loved and valued. So much is communicated through tone of voice! When mothers are fighting their own struggles, it’s easy to let the kids take the brunt of it. But their little hearts are just too precious for that. I promised myself that if I couldn’t be kind and gentle in my words, I excused myself and went to my room.

Thankfully, the Lord answered my prayers and although physically I wasn’t doing well, I was able to be mentally present enough to enjoy our Christmas traditions such as decorating cookies, making our spaghetti Christmas Eve dinner, making Thai Mango Sticky Rice for Christmas breakfast, and getting through a long day of opening and enjoying gifts. We had a wonderful turkey dinner in there too. I am thankful that I don’t think the kids will have any memories of me being sick this year. Instead, they will remember happy times as a family and with grandparents and what is probably the biggest Christmas they have ever (or will ever) have.

And just a note on the gifts. There were a lot this year. Part of it is simply having six kids. Part of it is that for the first time in many years, Jason and I exchanged gifts. We have spent the last three years in transition and therefore say  no to the kids (and ourselves) all the time. We don’t want to buy stuff that we can’t take with us. And while that is still true, we expect to be in one place for a bit longer this time and so this was the year we said yes. Our kids are the most grateful and loving kids and they have never complained when we didn’t have money to buy much or when we don’t purchase things through the year. Christmas and their birthdays are the only time we buy them things. It was fun to indulge them a bit this year. When they have grateful hearts, it is so fun to surprise them with abundance.  I wonder if this is how God feels too.

And now for the pictures.

CHRISTMAS EVE

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CHRISTMAS DAY

Launching the water bottle rocket

Launching the water bottle rocket

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Real live baby dolls

Real live baby dolls

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They are trying to wait patiently.

They are trying to wait patiently.

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These two were up earlier than everyone else.

These two were up earlier than everyone else.

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Someone isn't happy to have to wait to open gifts.

Someone isn’t happy to have to wait to open gifts.

Sticky Rice!

Sticky Rice!

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New airplanes

New airplanes

A taste of the chaos

A taste of the chaos

Grandpa helping Zach with his trains

Grandpa helping Zach with his trains

No One Expects the Wave

Yesterday, it was cold in the house. Christmas day had been warm in North Carolina and our heat was off. Forgetting to turn it back on before bed meant for a chilly morning, especially for someone whose blood has been thinned by living so many years near the equator. I sat huddled in my chair in the kitchen, coffee steaming next to me, reflecting on the past few weeks. They’ve been hard. Really hard.

I also thought back to the December 26th ten years ago. Alaina was in the bed next to me, Caleb was in his crib, and in our 11th story hotel room in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we awoke to the rattles of the crib. Startled but tired, we looked around the room confused, laid our heads back down, and gave in to the sleep our bodies needed.

It wasn’t until evening that I remembered the morning’s alarm. In an internet cafe, I opened an email to see pictures of the sea wall at our school in Penang, Malaysia. It was obliterated. Reading quickly for information, and learning that a tsunami had hit southeast Asia, I realized that the sleep-disturbing rattle was in fact, an earthquake.

That earthquake and the subsequent tsunami changed everything. So many lives lost. So many homes destroyed. So many questions left with gaping holes where answers should be.  No one expected the wave. By the time the warning was issued, it was too late.

It’s one thing when you know something big is coming. You prepare for it. You seek safety and security. You run as fast as you can from the danger. But when you don’t see it coming, the surprise can knock off your feet and off your life.

With coffee half gone and Bible still open, I let my heart and mind draw the connections between the December 26th so long ago and the one in front of me with 20 hours still remaining. My personal wave is nothing compared to the big wave of 2004, and yet I can’t help but wonder why there are are also holes where there should be answers. Believe me, we are seeking answers.

I’m not trying to be cryptic. We’re okay. Our kids are great, our family is great, our marriage is great. I, on the other hand, am not great, and we don’t know why. We’re not sure if it is emotional causing physical or physical causing emotional, but we’re chasing answers to both. It’s been three weeks and I wake up each day hoping today is the day the dove returns with the olive leaf.

And now to the point of all these words: I never saw the wave coming but I am so glad I was prepared.

Three and a half years ago, while I was living out my word for the year (rooted), I finally tapped into the life-giving nourishment of daily time in the word. Sure, I had had many previous seasons of regular time in God’s word, but they would inevitably end. Months would go by, sometimes years, before I would once again seek eternal food and drink instead of trying to sustain myself on temporal supplies.

Three and half years of treasuring God’s word has been preparing me for a wave I did not see coming. I had no way of knowing that the normally happy, busy, go-for-it girl that I am would break.

The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, But as for a broken spirit who can bear it? Proverbs 18:14

Pick your metaphor: walking in the valley, walking through the waters, walking in darkness, walking through the fire. They all work. They all describe the state of my heart and spirit.

However, as much as the metaphors apply, so do the promises:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. Isaiah 43

Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. Psalm 119

When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. Isaiah 43

 When I was in high school and early college, I struggled with depression. It was bad. Really bad. Some thought I should snap out of it. Some thought I was choosing it. Some were oblivious to it. Regardless, I spent many years completely locked inside my broken spirit. I wasn’t prepared and had no way out.

I’ve spent close to 17 years free from this darkness. I braced myself each time I had a baby, expecting that someone like me would surely succumb to postpartum struggles. Instead, I had the opposite reaction. Postpartum euphoria. Not many women would get up and make four different kinds of pancakes for her family and guests 36 hours after giving birth.

So imagine my surprise when this wave hit. It came out of nowhere. I couldn’t have predicted it or planned for it. However, I was prepared.

I have saturated my heart with truth. For more than three years I have filled my heart and soul with God’s word. The pages of my Bible are worn from use, my journals overflow. I know God’s truth. I know His character. And I know that He is with me now.

He doesn’t take us out of the valley, He walks with us.

He doesn’t eliminate the waters, He walks with us.

He doesn’t quench the fire, He walks with us.

Like Joseph, I stored up in times of (emotional and physical) plenty and it is serving me in times of (emotional and physical) want. I don’t know how long the lean times will last, but I know the storehouses are overflowing. God prepared me for this and I trust in His purposes for me.

As you prepare for a new year and you fill your thoughts and planner pages with all sorts of resolutions, I urge you — no, BEG you — to choose the most important resolution. Choose His Word. Choose it over TV, choose it over sleep, choose it over work. Be honest with yourself about your excuses and start filling yourself with food that lasts. Prepare your heart. Prepare your mind. When the wave comes, no matter what kind of wave it is, you’ll survive. And even more, you’ll know that you will survive. No one expects the wave, but we can all prepare for it.

Life Around Here

December 5

Life around here is full. Isn’t it always?

A few updates and quick comments:

1. We recently sent out our first Wycliffe ministry newsletter. If you signed up to receive one and didn’t, check your spam folder. If you would like to sign up to receive our updates, you can do so HERE.

2. It’s been a busy month since we returned from our Wycliffe training. Homeschool, Jason working, me with photo shoots and a number of other projects I am involved in. I don’t do busy very well and at times it has all seemed too much, but I just keep reminding myself that this is for a season. The goal is to get us to Papua New Guinea, to support Bible translation. If we have to work a bit harder and longer than normal, God’s grace and strength will sustain us.

3. I restarted my photography blog. It will mostly be for my own personal photography work, but lately I have been sharing a lot of shoots I have been doing. You can visit it HERE.  Feel free to subscribe in a blog reader (I use Feedly).

4. If you don’t follow me on Facebook (or just don’t spend much time there), you can now see my photo a day project HERE. The captions aren’t there, but at least you can see the photos. There is also a direct link in the sidebar —->

5. Over the next few weeks I hope to get this little blog of mine spruced up a bit. Forgive any oddities while I am in the process.

Saying Yes to Our Kids

Saying Yes

 

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I know we did! In fact, it was one of the best Thanksgivings we have ever had. It was such a joy to see the fruit of the hard work and training we have done with our kids come out in ways that made our holiday so enjoyable. In this fifteen minute post, I share more about our day and some lessons about saying yes to our kids. You can listen here or download below.