Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Advent, 2017

Advent is probably my favorite season out of the entire year. There is so much meaning behind it, that by the time we get to Christmas Day, I am overwhelmed with the gift that Jesus' coming is to us. This year, I had a heightened focus on not being the "White Witch" to my kids. For those of you who have read C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you may remember that the White Witch is the imposter ruler over Narnia who makes it "always Winter, and never Christmas" for the inhabitants of that land.

This year, the Advent season was more about preparing my heart for Christmas. As we walked through the month of December, I had to mentally check myself when I would start to feel out of sorts about things that didn't matter in the long run. I had to choose to not let flour and cookie dough crumbs all over my floors and counter tops not dictate my mood. For my children, I wanted them to sense the wonder that Advent should be different than the rest of the year. We still had our day to day responsibilities, but they were not the focus of our days. We took breaks from school work to bake cookies. We watched movies about Christmas and read lots of stories. We had gift exchanges, and extra time spent with friends. We had LOTS more treats than usual. We stayed up late and played games, or drove around and looked at Christmas lights. I had to remind myself often that the purpose of this season was to point my kids (and more often, myself!) to the expectation of the greatest, and most lavish gift we could ever receive in God coming to live among us. I didn't want to be the White Witch. ;)

We made lots of special memories this year (get ready for picture overload!):

Picking out our Christmas tree is always the best thing ever after Thanksgiving Day. We all wake up eager to get our tree!

 See the shadow? :)

We got this beautiful tree home, and had to saw a significant part of the trunk off before it would fit!

My cookie baking posse was extra enthusiastic this year. My cleaning sensibilities had to undergo an adjustment. ;)

One of the best parts of the season for Olivia was getting to attend the Milwaukee Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker. Getting to go with a best buddy made it all the sweeter.

 The girls even braved the freezing winds to catch this rotating sign out in front of the venue!

The performance was wonderful, with a live orchestra, and lavish set and costumes! We topped it off with a hot cocoa date after the show, and Olivia was in heaven.

We made Christmas cards to pass out at a Nursing home during an outreach Olivia's ballet class had. The kids absolutely loved going to town with paper, markers, scissors, and glue.

Such intense concentration!

He was so excited that he'd made a "pop-up" card, and wrote the sentiment himself!

Julia colored a little, but card-making isn't really her jam (yet).

Olivia performed a little ballet dance for the residents at the nursing home, before passing out the cards we made. She was really nervous before the dance, but then she got out there, and her smile lit up the whole room!

She was so proud.

We also made sure we squeezed in a gingerbread house decorating evening.

They had all had significant amounts of sugar by this point. No gingerbread house making session is complete without eating more than you're using on the house. ;)

God was so gracious to me this Advent and continued to remind me - sometimes gently, sometimes sternly, that the state of my heart was much more important to him than the state of my holiday goings on. I am so thankful that I serve a Savior that knows my weaknesses, and left everything to humble himself in the greatest way imaginable. I am praying that these happy memories are infused with pointing to that unimaginable gift we were given in a manger.

It was a blessed Advent, indeed.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ten Years

My Love,

How can it be that we have already shared ten years together? When people told us at our wedding "you'll blink, and it will go by that fast . . . " I thought I knew better. I mean,  ten years was such a long time. In some ways, it has felt like you have always been here. In other ways, it feels like just yesterday you walked into the radio station office, and Joe introduced me to "his good friend Nate" with a wink and a nudge.

You were tall and skinny, shy, with an infectious laugh, and gorgeous eyes. Over the next few months, I learned that you were fresh out of college, living with your parents, working third shift at a retail store, spent your free time playing video games, and loathed camping, dogs (or any pets, really), and any food with flavor. How exactly did Joe see this playing out?

I am so thankful that God delighted to bring us together. Who better than Jesus to take two people as different as different could be, and bring them together for his glory? We always said we were glad he was smarter than we were. :)

It may have taken some convincing on both our parts in the beginning, but we soon grew to realize the gift we had been given in each other. I, for one, had come to see that beneath your playful, everything-football-loving, competitive veneer, was a man I could follow for the rest of my life.

 You have deep convictions, and a strong will, which gives you the strength to hold fast to those convictions when it's difficult. You are fiercely loyal, which makes you a steadfast friend, and also a trustworthy confidant. You are a hard worker - when you take something on, you don't give up, and won't settle for anything less than perfection. You are not a man of many words, but when you do have something to say, you are thoughtful and I take notice.

You are patient with me. You "lay down your life for me", as Christ did for his Bride, the Church - and serve our family in ways that no one except God will ever see. You are tender with me - and compassionate when I am suffering. Over the years, our version of romance has deepened, and you continue to show me that you love me in practical, and sometimes lavish ways.

By God's grace, you have been faithful to me through more "life" than I ever knew could be packed into ten years. Through four pregnancies, along with the morning sickness, sleepless nights, and newborn fog that accompanied them. The emotional strain of financial uncertainty, and more recently, the upheaval of living in two states simultaneously, and then learning to live together as a family unit once more. Watching close friends' marriages crumble, and even the grief of tumultuous situations within our church body. Through all of this, your eyes have never wandered, and you have never turned to another.

I am grateful to you, for all the laughter you have filled our home with, and the joy surrounds our family each time you come home to cries of "Daddy's HOME!" For all the times you have collaborated to whisk me away for an evening, a weekend, or sometimes just a moment with a kiss. You remind me that I am your beloved bride, and you still see me as beautiful and precious to you when you come in to a woman still in pajamas, disheveled hair, and crying children clinging to her body.

Our marriage has been more work than I ever thought possible, and has created more growth in me than I ever knew I would be capable of. It is true that marriage is a crucible the Lord uses to bring about his purposes of making us more into the image of Jesus. We are not the same people we were when we walked down the aisle ten years ago, and for that I am so incredibly grateful. Prayerfully, our marriage is also a story for the world to see on display the goodness of God toward two needy, sinful people, who depend on his grace every moment.

We had grand ideas for ways we would celebrate this milestone in our marriage - and we ended up celebrating it in a quiet, comfortable way that left both of us content, and grateful for one another.

10 years later, a family Anniversary celebration
We've only just begun, my Love, and I am looking forward to spending the rest of our days together. May we grow in grace, and in faithfulness toward Christ first, and then toward each other. May we continue to depend on Him to be our deepest joy, so that in turn we can serve each other out of love, and not a desire to have our needs met in anyone besides the Lord. I am so glad you are mine.

"Therefore, throughout life, no matter what may lie ahead of us, I pledge to you my life."

I still do.


Wedding photos by: Angel Eyes Photography

Friday, December 8, 2017

Facebook Sabbatical

Technology is amazing. I am 31 years old, and I can remember our family's first "car phone."  I remember when my Dad first got a computer for our home, and I remember when the internet was a new thing. I remember when cordless phones and caller ID were a big thing! It makes me feel old in some ways, and in some ways, gives me the advantage to see how technology is changing our society.

When I was a child, an iPhone would have seemed like something out of Star Trek. Yet here we are, with the world at our fingertips, literally. I can keep in touch with a friend in the Philippines, or friends from growing up years who live all over the United States, friends who live in the UAE, and friends who lived in China, all through the internet, using a device small enough to carry around in my pocket. Friends and family have watched my children grow up via pictures and videos shared online.

After reading an article by Tony Reinke several years ago, "Six Ways Your Phone Is Changing You", I have been challenged to think more carefully about the time I spend on my phone. There are seasons where I use it more often (I'm looking at you, middle-of-the-night-nursing-sessions) and seasons where I keep it in a drawer during the day unless I am expecting a phone call. Ironically, using my iPhone as a phone is rare.

Recently, I've been reflecting on my personal habits with my phone. I realized that anytime I had a period of being still, even if only for a few minutes, I would whip out my phone and click on Facebook. Almost instinctively. I have always been vigilant about guarding family time, meal times, etc from phone usage, yet during the day, I had it with me all the time. I often heard someone asking "Mommy?" and would look up from my phone to whatever child needed me. It was humbling to think of the image my kids had of a Mommy with her nose in the phone all the time.

Now, has my phone made my life easier? Absolutely! This is not a commentary on the evils of the smart phone. Rather, I am choosing to make some hard observations about the way I am allowing it to affect my behavior. I am not going to go back to the dark ages to eliminate the temptation to use my iPhone - the tendencies would still be there, just beneath the surface. In a culture of "all about me, all the time" mentality, we have Instagram, and Twitter, and Facebook to let everyone know how we feel, and what we think, and who we're with, etc etc all the time. Just because I don't have a smart phone, it doesn't mean those impulses will magically disappear.

That being said, I have found that for me, Facebook was becoming a means of superficial engagement. Instead of picking up the phone and making an effort to have a real conversation with someone, or even write them an email, I would swipe through Facebook "I wonder how so-and-so is doing?" Again, I want to be careful here to stress that catching glimpses of people's lives via Facebook is not wrong! However, those glimpses are often not "real life", but only what people want us to see. I want to be more intentional to use my energy toward building real relationships with people by calling, writing, and spending real one on one time with them.

When the school year began, I made the decision to stay off of Facebook for a while. Since we "become what we behold", I want to behold more of Jesus with my time.

That being said, I am hoping to continue to blog more often, because writing is good for me, but it is also a discipline (for those who enjoy keeping up with our family this way, I will include more photos as well!). I will check Facebook once a week, on Wednesdays, and will also plan to post a blog update weekly. I will still occasionally be posting photos, but just not as often on Facebook. I am looking forward to making an effort toward meaningful face-to-face relationships, and more intentional interaction toward those who are long distance.

I encourage you to pause today and evaluate the way your phone is changing you. Are you using it in healthy ways? Or does your phone control you?

Grace and Peace,

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Civil War

It's late. Everyone else is sleeping, and my house is quiet. I should be in bed too, yet before my body can rest, my pen beckons to put my mind to rest.

These past months have been challenging for me. I have wrestled with what I know is the Truth, versus what my emotions are telling me is the truth. I am emotionally weary, and mentally exhausted from this internal battle.

Like static noise on the radio, discontentment threatens to drown out the life God has given me here. Living in the city has felt harsh at times. As grateful as I have been that my husband has a job he enjoys, the new reality of the long hours that come with that job have made our time together feel like ships passing in the night too often. Feeling trapped between wanting to minister to neighbors, and also shelter my children from the vulgar behavior of those neighbors has been arduous. The constant noise of city life as opposed to the relative quiet we enjoyed before has felt stark and cold. The allure of "going back" to the way things used to be has pulled strongly, and looking behind me with rose colored glasses to remember the life we used to have has been a compelling temptation.

Moments when I am so very fragile, the enemy has sidled up to me to whisper lies, pretending to be my friend. "Did God really say . . .?"

And again I am faced with a choice. Succumb to self-pity, and the lie that life is harder here, or choose to trust in God's goodness, and the Truth of His purposes for me.

When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together, 
 that they may see and know,
    may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Isaiah 41:17-20 

No matter where I am living, I am a struggling sinner in need of grace every single moment. God brought me here. Who am I, to question him? Milwaukee is the 3rd poorest city in the United States. At times, it has felt like a desert. A desert of unkindness, a desert of hopelessness, a desert of faithlessness. Yet he has called me here, to plant me here and make this desert flower. Not because I am special or have anything to offer in and of myself, but because I have Christ living in me, and through me, these people "may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this."

When I have had a hard day, or am feeling particularly homesick, it is easy to forget the times that I have had the love of God incredibly lavished on me in tangible ways.

The time shortly after Isaiah was born, and I was feeling so alone, when I talked to a nurse on the phone for a routine postpartum consultation and she commented that she loved Isaiah's "good, strong, Biblical" name. Based on her verbiage throughout the conversation, I took a leap of faith and asked if she might be a believer. She laughed and said that yes, she was and she took the time to encourage me and pray for me. A complete stranger! 

Or the time when I was grocery shopping with three squirrely kiddos and a fussy, crying newborn in the checkout line and a kind woman offered to unload my groceries for me.

Kind strangers from our new homeschool group offered to move us into our new home before they had ever met our family.

God continues to work in my heart. He is good. His love for me is unfailing, because of his precious Son. I continue to fight this civil war between my mind and heart, and he is there helping me. Reminding me that I am not alone, and that I can trust him. My ultimate desire is to make him look glorious, no matter where I am. Some days may still be hard. Sometimes I will still wish for things to be the way the were, but by God's grace, I will continue to fight for contentment, and pray for God to use me here. "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit." - Romans 8:5 This world is ultimately not my home. I choose to rejoice in God's favor toward me, that he has chosen me to be his child, and that he will use me to accomplish his will in Milwaukee.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Bloom Where Planted

 It has been six months since moving into our new home. Almost exactly one year ago, I was packing up a house with three littles while fighting morning sickness and single parenting, preparing to move into the unknown.  Is it possible to fit an entire lifetime into one year?

All our earthly goods - one year ago!
July 4, 2016

July 4, 2017
Since moving into our home here, we have become a family of six.  Talk about transitions! I keep waiting to arrive at that elusive "settled" status, and the truth is, it's just different.  I think I was under the impression that once we got the house organized, and went through the process of adding a new family member, life would return to the way I knew it in Iowa.  But living here is not the same as it was there.  Nate's job is different.  The people here are different.  We are different since moving here. I am still adjusting to the reality that I can never go back to "the way things were."

We have each enjoyed celebrating a birthday in our new house. We have enjoyed visits from friends "back home" and had the chance to welcome family here too.
5 Generations with Great Grandma Schwalm!
We have enjoyed exploring the local parks, and the zoo!  Summer has been good to us, and we have had the joy of spending lots of time outside. Probably the biggest adjustment for my country loving heart has been the major downsizing of green space. I miss the quiet, and the wildlife. Parks have been a welcome respite for me!

Olivia, 6 (going on 16)
Levi, 4
Daddy and Isaiah (and also a photobomber), 3 Months
Peaches (A.K.A. Julia), 2
One of the highlights of the Summer for us so far has been the chance to take the kids to their first Major League baseball game.  Going to any kind of baseball game is fun, and they had very high expectations! But Miller Park did not disappoint.  They had a blast!  And made lots of special memories.

We had great seats! The kids loved the view.
Almost exactly 10 years after attending our first Cubs game together - and more in love than ever!

Although our transition here has been bumpy at times, I really am so grateful for the life God has given us.  We have a beautiful house that we're making into a home, and wonderful people around us that we've had the pleasant blessing of building relationships with.

We've certainly put the fancy kitchen through it's paces!

Taking Daddy Mini-golfing for his birthday!
God has given me lots of grace as I've stumbled my way through these past 6 months, and I am thankful as he continues to sustain me - and remind me that although I'd like to think this was our idea, He is the one who brought us here. For his purposes, and for his glory.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Children's Hour

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Julia, and laughing Olivia,
And Levi with golden hair.

A whisper, then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O brown-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you at all!

I have you fast in my fortress, 
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there I will keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And molder in dust away!

<3      <3     <3

From: "The Children's Hour" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(lightly edited)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Our New Home!

It has been the craziest two months of my life, but I feel like we are finally getting settled into our new home!  I have been just itching to share it with all of you, but alas, this post just kept getting pushed to the back burner.  We have had just a few other things going on in the meantime, like say, having a new baby . . . so you know, priorities!  ;)  I am so excited to finally share a few details with you all!


Moving day was a huge success, thanks largely in part to our wonderful new Classical Conversations community here. Nate's parents came out for the day, and my sweet Mother-In-Love even brought us dinner.  My parents also got in on the action - with Dad coming up for the day to help move furniture, and Mom coming after the chaos died down to bring our kids to us!

The day could not have gone more smoothly, and we know it is in answer to the many prayers lifted up on our behalf!  We had a few minor glitches with furniture initially: our queen sized box spring would not fit up the stairs to our room, so we ended up just sleeping on the floor with our mattress until our "foldable box spring" (yes, really!) arrived.  We purchased new bunk beds for the kids, but when we put the girl's together, there was a hole punched in one of the headboards.  Again - more waiting until the new headboard could be shipped.  It was kind of fun just to "camp out" in the new house though! We were scrambling to get as much unpacked and put away as we could before the new baby arrived, since we had T-minus 6 weeks from closing until my due date.  I was relying heavily on Nate to carry boxes around, and help get furniture into place, etc, as I really couldn't do a whole lot at that stage in the pregnancy.  Two weeks after we moved in, he fell down the stairs, and broke his tailbone!  Really, I cannot make this stuff up.  While at the time, we were dismayed, now it really does seem funny.  He is fully recovered, and we are still so grateful that the outcome wasn't worse (he was holding a drill when he fell!!).

While we are still adjusting to the area, I at least no longer need the GPS to get to a grocery store!  :-P   We have missed our friends from "home" tremendously, but we are grateful to have forged fast friendships here already.  We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is where God has placed us - that he had planned before the foundation of the world to put us here - now, for such a time as this.  We are taking comfort in that on the hard days, when homesickness beckons, or when the new reality can feel harsh.  We are encouraged by the church we have been attending, and prayerfully considering making it our home.  We have already met several of our neighbors, and we are praying that God will use us to minister to them, and that we can be a testimony of the Gospel!  The days are s l o w l y getting warmer, and we are looking forward to exploring more as a family.  Thank you all again for your prayers!  For those of you who have sent text messages, emails, and general "hugs", what a beautiful, tangible example of God's love you have been to me!

And now, for the much anticipated house tour!  I have battled with the computer for weeks to try to get pictures uploaded, and it does not play nicely with my camera.  So, I ended up resorting to a video tour instead.  Hopefully as we get more settled, there will be more updated photos to come, but in the meantime, enjoy "walking through" the house!

Grace and Peace,